The Mermaid Tree by Robert Tiley

Author: by Robert Tiley

How a tiny unknown ship opened Australia’s north and west to development, dreams and disappointment


Almost two hundred years ago a young British sailor carved his ship’s name, Mermaid, on a Kimberley coast boab tree – it is still there today, probably Australia’s oldest living graffiti. It also marked the beginning of an extraordinary period of optimism and adventure in Australia’s history.

The race to survey and settle Australia’s west and northern coastlines was the equivalent of last century’s ‘space race’, as France, Britain and Holland competed commercially for antipodean bases after the end of the Napoleonic Wars.

As Port Jackson slowly evolved from a mere prison to a commercially respectable settlement, more expeditions visited Australia’s northern shores than during the golden era of exploration. There were the dreams of a second Singapore on the north coast and a new Gibraltar at Torres Strait; the failures at Melville Island, Raffles Bay and Port Essington; and the dangers of charting the Barrier Reef, Torres Strait and the unknown realms of New Guinea. Individuals seized these chances for fame and fortune despite the massive danger.

Robert Tiley’s The Mermaid is the extraordinary story of the little known successors to Cook, Bligh, La Perouse, and Flinders, why they did it, what they got out of it and the haphazard global politics they had to endure. King, Freycinet, d’Urville, Wickham, Stokes, Grey, Blackwood, Yule, Kennedy and Stanley are not well known, but all were key to unlocking so much of Australia’s development. And it started with Mermaid.

The above text is quoted from the back cover of the book.


This is Robert Tiley’s second book, following on from where his first book, Australian Navigators, left off. Both books have been inspired by an interest in old books and maps, Australia’s history and its unique and beautiful outdoors.

Robert has worked in the legal and financial world for much of the last twenty- five years, and lives in Sydney with his wife Jean and young adults Sam and Lucy. They continue to tolerate his other passions of rowing, tinkering with old wooden boats, and even older motor cars.

Find the book at the
State Library of NSW shop

© Robert Tiley 2006

Published by ABC Books
GPO ox 9994 Sydney NSW 2001

ISBN 0733317014