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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Bayldon, Francis Joseph (1872–1948)

by Nan Phillips

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

Francis Joseph Bayldon (1872-1948), master mariner and nautical instructor, was born on 23 April 1872 at Partney near Spilsby, Lincolnshire, England, second son of Rev. Joe Wood Bayldon and his wife Jessie Caroline, née Nicholls. He was educated at King Edward VI Grammar School, Spilsby. In 1887 he was apprenticed to Devitt & Moore, shipowners, and became a cadet officer in their passenger clippers, Rodney, Harbinger and Illawarra, sailing to Australia via Cape of Good Hope and returning round Cape Horn. Successful in examinations for first mate in 1894 and for extra-master in 1896, he transferred to steamers later that year.

In 1897-1901 Bayldon was with the Canadian-Australian line, plying between Vancouver and Sydney, as an officer on the, Aorangi and the Warrimoo. He was on the Burns, Philp & Co. Ltd's Moresby in 1901-02, and was chief officer and master for the Pacific Islands line for the next eight years. In March 1905 he searched for and found the disabled and drifting Pilbarra near New Caledonia.

Bayldon had been commissioned in the Royal Naval Reserve in 1898 and was promoted lieutenant in 1907 in recognition of his work in hydrography: while sailing the south-west Pacific, he had co-operated in Royal Navy surveys, correcting somewhat sketchy charts and adding new detail, including the Bayldon Shoals, near Tulagi, Solomon Islands, named officially in 1912 by the Admiralty. His observations of the zodiacal light were published by the British Astronomical Association in its journals in 1898-1900, and by the Lick Observatory, United States of America, in 1900. His treatise On the Handling of Steamships During Hurricanes on the East Coast of Queensland (Sydney, 1913) was highly commended by master mariners.

On 2 July 1898 in Sydney, with Catholic rites, Bayldon married Stella Clare, daughter of shipowner Captain William Summerbelle. He retired from the merchant service in 1910, highly qualified in all branches of seamanship, a marine surveyor and a compass adjuster. On 3 May he opened the Sydney Nautical Academy (later the Sydney Nautical School), 'catering for all types of nautical certificates and later on for Civil Aviation licences as well'; he had some 3000 successful students. He sold the school to Captain W. D. Heighway in 1947, and it later formed the basis of navigation studies at Sydney Technical College.

Ardently interested in maritime history and exploration, Bayldon was a fellow of the Royal Australian Historical Society and contributed articles to its journal, including one in 1925 on the journeys of Torres from the New Hebrides to the Moluccas. In 1929 the Hakluyt Society severely criticized it in their volume, New Lights on the Discovery of Australia (series 2, number 64). Bayldon, who had first-hand detailed knowledge of Torres Strait and near-by areas, was incensed and took every opportunity to counteract what he considered were 'most misleading deductions'.

Bayldon was a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society of London and a foundation councillor of the Geographical Society of New South Wales; he was also president of the local League of Ancient Mariners and vice-president of the Shiplovers' Society. A member of Australia's 150th Anniversary Celebrations Council, he was responsible for the rigging and outfitting of the scale model of H.M.S. Supply of 1788. He was appointed M.B.E. in 1938.

Bayldon was a member of the parish council of St Mark's Anglican Church, Darling Point. He died at his home at Edgecliff on 21 July 1948 and his ashes were scattered over the Bayldon Shoals. He was survived by his son Dr Francis Wood Bayldon. His extensive nautical collection is now at the Mitchell Library.

'The doyen of Australian seafarers', Bayldon was a quiet, gentle man with a 'wealth of experience and ability, and well respected', 'remarkable in that day and trade for his erudition and gentility'. His brother officers knew him as 'Gentle Annie', but 'he was not a prude, for he drank, smoked and swore'. He was, in part, the model for Captain Dobbin in Kenneth Slessor's poem of that name.

Select Bibliography

  • Australian Geographer, 3 (1929), no 6
  • Pan-Pacific Who's Who, 1940-41
  • Navy (Sydney), Dec 1948
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 4 July 1931, 5 Dec 1964
  • Mackaness papers (National Library of Australia)
  • G. A. Wood papers (University of Sydney Archives)
  • private information.

Citation details

Nan Phillips, 'Bayldon, Francis Joseph (1872–1948)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 26 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

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