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Sir John Hayes (1768–1831)

by Margriet Roe

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Sir John Hayes (1768-1831), naval officer and explorer, was baptized on 11 February 1768 at Bridekirk, Cumberland, England, the son of Fletcher Hayes of Tallentire on the River Derwent. On 7 December 1781, when 13, he joined the Bombay Marine as a midshipman in the Bombay (Commodore Empson). Hayes rose by the normal steps: a second lieutenant in December 1788, by July 1805 he was promoted temporary commodore which rank became permanent in 1811 when he took part in the capture of Java. Made deputy master attendant at Calcutta in 1806 and senior captain in 1808, he was promoted master-attendant in 1809 with a seat on the Marine Board, from which he was removed in 1812 because of intemperate behaviour. He became senior officer of the Bombay Marine in 1816. For his services in the Burma war Hayes was created K.B. This honour he took lightly, even painting his patent green, for he felt that East India Co. men had received less recognition from the British government than men of the regular army for services in the numerous engagements against the French and Dutch between 1793 and 1815. An intrepid, able naval officer all his adult life, Hayes took part in the campaigns against Tippoo Sahib in 1782-92, the siege of Ternate 1801-02, the conquest of Java 1811 and the Burma war 1824-26.

Despite his fine war record Hayes is best remembered for a private voyage undertaken between February 1792 and December 1794. Glowing accounts of New Guinea's economic potential related by John McCluer, a brother officer, fired Hayes to lead an expedition financed by some Calcutta merchants. On 6 February 1793 the Duke of Clarence (250 tons) and the Duchess of Bengal (100 tons) left India. Because of adverse winds Hayes could not sail direct to New Guinea, so he decided to voyage round New Holland. Reaching Adventure Bay on 24 April he left Van Diemen's Land on 9 June. In that time he discovered and named the Derwent River, possibly exploring it so far as New Norfolk, and naming the features of the terrain. Risdon Cove and Cornelian Bay still bear the names he gave them. Hayes went on to New Caledonia, and the Louisiade Archipelago, where he was probably the first European to land and communicate with the people of Rossel Island in July 1793, before he landed his crews, ailing because of scurvy, at Dorey Harbour early in September. On 25 October 1793 Hayes took formal possession of what he called New Albion. He left Dorey on 22 December, where a group of settlers and the unseaworthy Duchess remained, and called at Bouro, Kupang, Surabaya and Batavia. There he met the Bengal Squadron, and possibly on some secret mission was ordered to Canton, where the cargo gathered at New Albion was profitably sold. He eventually returned to Calcutta on 5 December 1794. The venture had been an economic success but in all other respects disappointing. Hayes learned that the French under Bruny d'Entrecasteaux had been in the Derwent estuary shortly before him. The company refused either to administer New Albion or to publish more than thirty copies of his journal. The fate of the manuscript is obscure. After his rebuff from the company Hayes probably sent it to England, hoping to find a publisher there, but the ship carrying it fell into French hands. The company's attitude to his voyage pained Hayes but he remained in its employ until his death at the Cocos Islands on 3 July 1831. On 17 August 1795 he had married Catherine Payne at the New Church, Calcutta; they had four children.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 3, vol 1
  • I. Lee, Commodore Sir John Hayes: His Voyage and Life (Lond, 1912)
  • C. E. Lord, The Early Explorers of Tasmania (Hob, 1920)
  • R. W. Giblin, The Early History of Tasmania, vol 1 (Lond, 1928)
  • Bonwick transcripts, 2/489-91 (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Citation details

Margriet Roe, 'Hayes, Sir John (1768–1831)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 23 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (Melbourne University Press), 1966

View the front pages for Volume 1

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


Bridekirk, Cumberland, England


3 July, 1831 (aged ~ 63)
Cocos Islands

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