Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Benjamin Franklin Helpman (1814–1874)

by Malcolm Uren

This article was published:

Benjamin Franklin Helpman (1814-1874), sailor and harbourmaster, was born on 20 December 1814 in Devonshire, England. He was probably educated at Winchester and entered the navy on 16 December 1829. He saw service mostly on the West Indies and North American Stations and in 1837 was posted as mate in the survey sloop H.M.S. Beagle, which until early 1840 was engaged in surveying and exploring on the north-west and northern coasts of Australia. Although he passed his examinations and was appointed lieutenant in 1841, a year earlier he had left the navy and been appointed captain of the Western Australian colonial schooner Champion. While in government service he made many coastal voyages and several overseas in this tiny ship. He also led several important expeditions, including one in 1846 to Champion Bay to examine coal deposits on the Irwin River, and another in 1851 to the Abrolhos Islands in search of guano.

On 14 December 1842 he married Ann, daughter of Captain Walter Pace of the East India Co., who had settled in Fremantle. They had five boys and four girls. He retired in 1854 and settled with his family in Warrnambool, Victoria, where he joined in a shipping venture with his brother-in-law, Stephen G. Henty, who on 14 April 1836 had married Jane Pace while in Fremantle. They bought a small steamer, and named it Champion; Helpman went to England to bring her to Australia. He was in command when the Champion sank after a collision with the Lady Bird off Cape Otway in August 1857. In 1861 Helpman was appointed harbourmaster at Warrnambool and in 1869 he also became collector of customs. He died on 18 February 1874.

Select Bibliography

  • W. R. O'Byrne, A Naval Biographical Dictionary (Lond, 1849)
  • E. M Christie, ‘The "Helpman" Journals: Being Extracts and Comments on the Manuscript Journals of Benjamin Francis Helpman of H.M. "Beagle" 1837-38-39-40’, Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia: South Australian Branch, vol 45, 1944, pp 41-99
  • Western Australia Survey Dept, Explorers' Journals (State Library of Western Australia).

Citation details

Malcolm Uren, 'Helpman, Benjamin Franklin (1814–1874)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 20 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]


20 December, 1814
Devon, England


18 February, 1874 (aged 59)
Victoria, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.