The Woodforde Family

A History of the Woodforde Family from 1300



Dr John Woodforde and The Rapid

he new province of South Australia was declared on 28 December 1836 following the arrival of HMS Buffalo under the command of the provinces first governor, Captain John Hindmarsh.

Eight other ships had already arrived from Britain, the first being the Duke of York on 27 July 1836. Of these, the vessel to have perhaps the most far-reaching impact on the future colony was the 162 ton brig Rapid, which brought the first Surveyor-General, Colonel William Light.

The Rapid was built in 1826 by Frederick Preston at the Norfolk port of Yarmouth, and during her early years made trading voyages from various British ports to the Mediterranean--Gibraltar, Trieste, Zante, Constantinople, and even Odessa.

In 1836 the Rapid was purchased by the South Australian Colonisation Commissioners for the sum of £1700 and refitted for use as a surveying vessel. She was the first of the Commissioners' ships, and followed in the wake of three vessels despatched by the South Australian Company.  The Rapid was owned by the commissioners whereas they only chartered other vessels.

Colonel William Light was actually appointed to the command of the Rapid, relinquishing it to first officer William Field upon arrival at Kangaroo Island. The second and third officers were William Pullen and Robert Hill. The seven gentlemen 'of a superior Class whose Passage is not defrayed by the Emigration Fund' were no doubt these four officers, together with assistant surveyors William Jacob and William Claughton, and Dr John Woodforde, surgeon to the survey.

Maria Gandy, Light's mistress, seems to have been a supernumerary and receives no official mention, but its listed in the roster of passengers.

They were probably allocated four cabins adjacent to the gunroom aft. The seventeen emigrants comprised Mrs Bradley, who was wife of the boatswain, three surveyor's labourers, and thirteen 'well-selected seamen'. The crew in their forecastle, and some special arrangement such as small compartments in the cramped between-decks for the Bradleys and the labourers, and all is well. However one well-known passenger list has another nine names. Some, such as Gepp of Gepp's Cross, certainly came on subsequent voyages.

The Rapid hauled out of London's City Canal on 1 May 1836 after a delay due to the weather. Writing some six years after the events he was describing, Pullen commented that 'the details of a long sea voyage have been so often detailed that I shall not say anything about ours, suffice it was a very pleasant one'. He went on to describe his messmates: the Colonel, a real worthy old fellow [aged 50!] as ready to join in our jokes as any other; Field, a fine gentlemanly fellow now settled in the Mount Barker district; Hill, a rough good-humoured old fellow very much given to drinking deep; Claughton, a seaman who had been in the East India Company's service, also rather addicted to grog; Dr John Woodforde, the surgeon, ill with seasickness most of the voyage; and young Jacob, hardly from home before, with simplicity beaming in his countenance. 

Pullen recounts how he and Field shaved their heads in the heat of the tropics. Not to be outdone, half the crew shaved off their right whiskers and a narrow strip of hair over the top of their heads, the other half the left whiskers and a strip from ear to ear, and the one individual without whiskers took off a strip in both directions. All very well until it was necessary to explain the peculiar appearance of the men to a ship met in mid-ocean. Jacob was the butt of many of their jokes. On one occasion he managed to outbid his mates to acquire a preserved sea serpent, and much later learnt it was the tail of the last pig killed for eating on board.

The continuing good humour and pleasantness of the voyage was a tribute to the commander's personality, just as the progress of the ship was a tribute to his seamanship. Despite her name, there is nothing that would have led one to expect that the Rapid's direct passage of 114 days to the new colony would be the fastest of the ships of 1836. For all his problems, Dr John Woodforde kept a diary which adds some details: after leaving on 1 May, they passed Madeira on the 15th, crossed the Equator on 8 June and performed the 'usual absurd ceremony', and rounded the Cape of Good Hope on 12 July.

Little time was lost upon arrival at the new settlement at Nepean Bay on 22 August. Light had already taken the opportunity to observe the low line of sand hills stretching away to the east as the vessel came in past Encounter Bay, and the hatch boat had been hoisted out, rigged, and placed under Pullen's command. Light employed the boat to first make various excursions around the bay, and on 7 September set off in the Rapid to commence his examination of Gulf St Vincent. He was delighted with what he found. After a careful examination of Rapid Bay, they continued north to Yankalilla, Aldinga Bay, and the sandbanks off the entrance to a mangrove-lined inlet.


Dr John Woodforde - his place in the Ansford descent

Heighes Woodforde, who married Mary Lamport, had six children, three boys and three girls. The eldest son, Samuel Woodforde, became rector of Ansford. The younger son, Revd John Woodforde (b.1755), served as Rector of the neighbouring parish of North Curry in Somerset. He married Rebecca Williams. 

Their son Dr Robert Woodforde was for some time Surgeon's Mate aboard the frigate Hussar and later worked amongst French prisoners at Normand's Cross. He married Sarah Wright in 1733.

Their son John Woodforde chose General Practice and worked for many years in Bridgwater in Somerset. He married Harriet, and it was their son, a further Dr John Woodforde (b 1810), who followed in the family footsteps by studying medicine, and who accompanied Colonel William Light to Australia in 1836 aboard the brig Rapid. He was married to Caroline Carter.

Colonel Light was sent to Australia to survey South Australia and to select a site for the capital. Dr John Woodforde remained in Australia for the rest of his life, and his descendants still live there.

The Arrival of the Rapid

Although boat parties managed to find the river, the southern channel which eventually became Port Adelaide was not investigated. The Rapid continued north in yet further search for the harbour seen by Captain Jones of the Henry in 1833, and during the return, the hatchboat entered the previously-seen inlet through an eastern channel. The Rapid anchored off the River Sturt for the first time on 1 October, and successfully weathered several gales there which led to the place being named Holdfast Bay. The vessel returned to Rapid Bay on 11 October and was again beset by gales, undoubtedly the occasion depicted by Light in his well-known painting of the Rapid, reproduced above.

The brig made several trips to Nepean Bay before once again returning to Holdfast Bay and being taken into the harbour on 20 November. She then proceeded to Port Lincoln in accordance with instructions to examine the country. Light returned convinced, however, that there was no better area for the location of the capital than the neighbourhood of Holdfast Bay. The Rapid again entered the harbour on 18 December accompanied by the Tam O'Shanter, which was stranded for a time at the entrance, and on 17 February assisted the John Renwick when she went aground while entering port.

On 19 February 1837, the Rapid was sent to Sydney to obtain horses, and on 5 June left for England taking Deputy Surveyor-General Kingston to argue the case for more survey staff, and the first export cargo from the new colony,150 tons of sperm oil for the South Australian Company.

The Rapid returned to Adelaide on 20 June 1838 with fourteen passengers; was present at the first Port Adelaide regatta, held on 14 September; was chartered by the Harbour Survey Company; was used to unload Governor Gawler's baggage from the Pestomjee Bomanjee; and was also sent to assist when the Parsee was wrecked on Troubridge Shoal.

In December 1838, it was decided that the Rapid should be replaced by a more economical vessel. Gawler appointed a board which valued the vessel at 1800, and they provided lists of items that should be retained or sold with the ship. These provide an unusually clear picture of ship, fittings, and stores. Even the cooking gear is detailed: frying pan, gridiron, saucepans, stewpans, steamer, iron and copper tea kettles, fish kettle, baking pans, and cullender. There was a bread tray, pepper box, salt cellars, basin, decanter, 6 wine glasses, 10 table cloths, 9 plates and 4 dishes, coffee pot and coffee mill, 2 teapots, and that indispensable item, a corkscrew.

The list does not record whether the 6 teaspoons were silver. However, the inventory of sails confirms that the Rapid was in fact rigged as a snow, not a brig, and also recorded were two 6-pounder guns, the longboat, 16-foot jolly boat, and 18-foot gig. The caboose, or galley, on deck seen in the picture also receives mention.

The Governor felt that he should be able to obtain £2000 for the vessel, but the auction held on 27 December was unsuccessful, and the Rapid was eventually chartered to J.B.Hack, the only person to respond to an advertisement in January 1839. The Rapid sailed for Launceston in March, and returned under John Hart with seventeen whalers and supplies for the whaling stations. She proceeded to the Sleaford Bay and Thistle Island fisheries in June, rode out a gale at Encounter Bay in July, and in August made a voyage to the West Coast in search of land under charter to the Secondary Towns Association.

The sale of the Rapid jointly to the South Australian Company and Messrs Hack, Watson, Hart and Devlin was completed in October 1839, the Governor getting his 2000, plus interest in lieu of charter. Then followed two voyages to Launceston to obtain sheep, and a period trading between Launceston and Sydney under the command of Arthur Devlin. The Rapid returned to Port Adelaide at the end of September 1840, and was present at the opening of the New Port on 14 October.

The partners sold out their interests to Devlin in October, and the end came quite soon. The Rapid sailed for China on 24 December 1840, but went aground on a reef in the middle of the night when obliged to make for Rotumah to obtain water. The ship might suddenly have become a pile of wreckage, but she has been long and justly remembered for the part she played in the establishment of South Australia.


'Dr John Woodforde came to South Adelaide as a ship’s surgeon and settled.  In 1838 one of five doctors who petitioned Governor Gawler to regulate the practice of medicine in South Adelaide – led to institution of a Medical Board, and was a member of the first Medical Board in 1844. In 1849 a medical officer at Adelaide Hospital, resigned in 1852 as he could not perform hospital duties as honorary and manage private practice.  In 1853 was appointed to Central Vaccine Board. In 1855 as a Justice of the Peace initiated proceedings against milkman Smith for selling adulterated milk. In 1855-6 an official visitor of ‘lunatics’ in Adelaide Gaol.  In 1864 a witness before the 1864 Enquiry  into management of  Adelaide Hospital and Lunatic Asylum.'

Dr Ian L D Forbes: From Colonial Surgeon to Health Commission, Adelaide: Openbook Publishers, 1996, ISBN 0959325727


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© Stephen Butt 2004-2010 - rev 03/06/10




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