Homeward to England on the “Forth”

17th February 1831

On this Day, 17th February 1831, Allan Cunningham sailed homeward to Portsmouth in England from Port Jackson on the barque “Forth” after collecting botanical specimens and exploring the Australian wilderness for 15 years. He took with him 70 crates 1 of living material. He was delighted to discover that most of the passengers had known each other for years and fitted in well making the long voyage a pleasant one. 2

He arrived in London sometime in Mid July 1831.

Captain: James Robertson

Passengers on on  board included:

  • Mr William Walker and his brother
  • Mrs Walker and family,
  • Mr Allan Cunningham, the scientific traveller, and
  • Mr James Busby, ex member of the Land Board and to be known later as the “father” of the Australian wine industry. 3

Goods loaded onboard for export included:

  • 309 bales wool,
  • 78 casks bides,
  • 120 planks cedar,
  • 27 casks cocoa nut oil,
  • 333 casks black oil,
  • 108 casks sperm oil,
  • 367 bundles whalebone,
  • 6 packages plants,
  • 2 cases curiosities,
  • 2 cases wine and stores. 4

Ida Lee, in her book Early Explorers in Australia, wrote about Mr Cunningham’s voyage home:

On November 16th the looked-for instructions arrived from the Treasury ordering him to return to England. His long residence in the colony, therefore, was soon to draw to a close and he went on no further expeditions beyond a journey to Illawarra in December, 1830, and to Cox’s River in January, 1831, on botanizing excursions.

His time now was occupied chiefly in preparing for his homeward voyage, and a berth was reserved for his passage home in the ship “Forth,” Captain Robertson, which was due to sail from New South Wales in February to England direct. Gradually the huge botanical collections, consisting of living and dried plants and seeds, with specimens of the native woods from various parts of the continent, in addition to many other interesting objects of natural history, were packed and conveyed on board the vessel then at anchor in Sydney Harbour.

Cunningham next disposed of his household effects and his two horses, and on February 12th vacated the small cottage which had been his home during most of his stay at Parramatta. He says that he then bade adieu to his friends, “whose kind offices I can no more forget than attempt to eradicate from my memory the recollection of the very many agreeable periods I have spent in that quiet town.” From Parramatta he journeyed to Sydney, to find that the departure of the “Forth” had been postponed, and in the end, owing to unfavourable winds, the ship was prevented leaving Port Jackson until February 25th. 5

  1. Source: Kew Gardens Archives[]
  2. Source: Robert Heward’s Biographical Sketch of Allan Cunningham[]
  3. Source: 1831 ‘AUSTRALIAN WOOL.’, The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1803 – 1842), 17 February, p. 3. , viewed 12 Mar 2020,[]
  4. 1831 ‘Sydney General Trade List.’, The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1803 – 1842), 22 February, p. 2. , viewed 12 Mar 2020,[]
  5. Source: Early Explorers in Australia by Ida Lee[]