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Early engraving of an Australian Wombat dated May 1, 1802 The first reported sighting was February 1797, after the ship Sydney Cove ran aground on Clarke Island in February 1797. The crew of the salvage ship, Francis, discovered wombats on … Read Full Description
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Early engraving of an Australian Wombat dated May 1, 1802
The first reported sighting was February 1797, after the ship Sydney Cove ran aground on Clarke Island in February 1797. The crew of the salvage ship, Francis, discovered wombats on the island. A live animal was taken back to Port Jackson. Governor John Hunter later sent the animal’s corpse to Joseph Banks at the Literary and Philosophical Society to verify that it was a new species.
Naming 26 January 1798: ‘We saw several sorts of dung of different animals, one of which Wilson called a Whom-batt, which is an animal about 20 inches high, with short legs and a thick body…’ Bargo, N.S.W. John Price.
First detailed description: 25 August 1798 Letter from Hunter to Joseph Banks.
Common names Common Wombat, Naked-nosed Wombat, Coarse-haired Wombat, Island Wombat, Tasmanian Wombat & Forest Wombat.
Binomial name: Vombatus ursinus
First described: Shaw 1800
Distribution: SA, VIC, TAS, NSW & QLD.
Reference: The Mammals of Australia, Strahan, 2nd edition. Page: 204-205, ill.204
Extract from Jane SimpsonThe ‘wombat’ trail –
The intriguing story of the European discovery of the common wombat Vombatus ursinus was assembled recently by museum specialists Pigott and Jessop, focussing on how “the Governor’s wombat” comes to be in Newcastle upon Tyne. There was a string of coincidences, with one sequence leading to the general adoption of the word wombat for this marsupial.
The first record we can be fairly sure that the word ‘wombat’ was first written down in 1798 by 19 year old John Price, an “intelligent lad” who had come to Australia with Governor Hunter as a servant. Price’s manuscript journal extract is not only extant, but is marvellously on open view in the online papers of Sir Joseph Banks at the State Library of New South Wales (SLNSW) — see page CY3005/242 in Series 38.21.
Here is how Price wrote the word: whom-batt. We have only one other word of an Australian language written down by Price: ‘cullawine ‘koala‘, which suggests he was using English conventions. From Price’s spelling alone, we would be uncertain whether the first syllable of whom-Batt was meant to be read as English whom, i.e. [hum] not [wom]. As for Price’s final double-t, this could have been his way of signalling an un-English kind of voiceless coronal stop (otherwise he would have simply written the second syllable as English bat) — or perhaps his way of avoiding the suggestion that the animal was a kind of bat (though the OED tells us that the animal bat (and the implement bat) could be spelled batt in the 18th century).
From: Collins, D., An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales With Remarks on the Dispositions, Customs, Manners, & c.
Ferguson, J. A. Bibliography of Australia Volumes 1-8, Canberra 1976 263 -350.
Crittenden, V. A Bibliography Of The First Fleet. ACT 1982 69 & 70.
Hill, J. The Hill Collection of Pacific Voyages. San Diego 1974 335.
National Library Australia: Bib ID 2284639
State Library New South Wales: Q79/60 v. 1
State Library Victoria: RARELTF 919.44 C69A
John Hunter (1737 - 1821)
Hunter was an admiral and the second governor of New South Wales. In May 1754 he became captain's servant to Thomas Knackston in H.M.S. Grampus. In 1755 he was enrolled as an able seaman in the Centaur, after fifteen months became a midshipman, transferred to the Union and then to the Neptune, successive flagships of Vice-Admiral Charles Knowles, and in 1757 took part in the unsuccessful assault on Rochefort. In 1759, still in the Neptune, in which John Jervis, later Earl St Vincent, was serving as a lieutenant, he was present at the reduction of Quebec. In February 1760 Hunter passed examinations in navigation and astronomy and qualified for promotion as a lieutenant, but he remained without a commission until 1780. Hunter obtained his first commission in 1780 as lieutenant in the Berwick through Admiral Rodney. When the arrangements which resulted in the sending of the First Fleet to Australia were being made in 1786, H.M.S. Sirius was detailed to convoy it. Hunter was appointed second captain of the vessel under Governor Arthur Phillip with the naval rank of captain. He was also granted a dormant commission as successor to Phillip in the case of his death or absence. In Phillip's instructions, 25 April 1787, it was hoped that when the settlement was in order it might be possible to send the Sirius back to England under Hunter's command. On the outward journey, soon after leaving the Cape of Good Hope, Phillip transferred to the tender Supply, hoping to make an advance survey of their destination at Botany Bay; he placed Hunter in the Sirius in command of the main convoy, though in the result the entire fleet of eleven ships made Botany Bay within the three days 18 to 20 January 1788. When Phillip felt doubtful about Botany Bay as the site of the first settlement, he took Hunter with him on the survey which decided that the landing should be on the shores of Port Jackson. Hunter was chiefly employed on surveying and other seaman's business, as well as sitting both in the Court of Criminal Judicature, which met for the first time on 11 February, and as a justice of the peace, the oaths of which office he took on 12 February.
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