Maritime Heritage of the Batavia Coast with Howard Gray: How some of our landmarks got their names

Howard GrayMidwest Times
Admiral Fairfax Moresby
Camera IconAdmiral Fairfax Moresby Credit: Royal Museums London

STANDFIRST: In part two of our new series Maritime Heritage of the Batavia Coast maritime historian Howard Gray looks into why explorer Capt. Phillip Parker King named our local landmarks the way he did.

In January 1822 Capt. Phillip Parker King sailed along the Batavia coast in HMS Bathurst, charting the waters and the coastline.

He did not come close to shore, probably no nearer than the ships we see lying at anchor on the horizon today, but from that location the flat-topped ranges and distinctive peaks stood out dramatically and he gave European names to the most prominent: Moresby’s flat-topped ranges, Mt Fairfax, Wizard Hills and the Menai Hills. Wizard Peak may look a bit like a wizard’s hat and the ranges certainly are flat-topped but there was more to the choice of these names than that.

King had left Sydney Cove aboard HMS Bathurst in late May 1821, made his way north and through Torres Strait to the north-west coast, charting and naming features there.

By late August the winds were constantly from the south, the tides were huge and King and his crew were running out of water and provisions. So after exploring Roebuck Bay (which King named after William Dampier’s ship), they sailed westward to Mauritius.

A month’s sailing brought them to Port Louis where they received an enormous amount of assistance from Capt. Fairfax Moresby, based there in command of HMS Menai. Moresby provided King with materials, carpenters, caulkers, sailmakers and riggers and also helped him replenish food and water provisions.

Thus when King later sailed along our Batavia coast he took the opportunity to acknowledge Moresby’s assistance when naming the prominent landmarks. So who was this Fairfax Moresby?

Fairfax Moresby, born in India in 1786, lived in very interesting times and had a long and distinguished career, joining the Royal Navy at age 13. He served under Nelson fighting the French in the West Indies, was promoted to lieutenant and was in command of his own ship by the age of 24.

He became famous in the Napoleonic War commanding the brig HMS Wizard in the Mediterranean, capturing two French privateers and 60 merchant ships in just one year. In 1819 he was given command of HMS Menai, a 26-gun frigate which formed part of the naval force guarding Napoleon on St Helena. Then as the senior naval officer in Mauritius oversaw the establishment of a British colony at Port Elizabeth in South Africa and the enforcement of Britain’s Anti-Slavery Act on the east coast of Africa.

Through other roles Moresby rose, by 1870, to the highest naval ranking, Admiral of the Fleet. His son John rose to vice-admiral in the Royal Navy and while undertaking survey work in New Guinea named Port Moresby and Fairfax Harbour after his father.

To King, Moresby was a hero figure apart from his assistance with refitting the Bathurst. So it is not unusual for him to have honoured him by bestowing geographical names on landmarks. These European names with a locally forgotten and irrelevant history have remained until today.

Another name King bestowed in 1822, Geelvink’s Channel, has an even older origin, as we shall explore next week.


King’s account of his voyage can be found at

Howard Gray is the author of a several award-winning books, including Jambinbirri-Champion Bay — a pictorial and narrative history.

Get the latest news from in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails