Mystery: One Gallant Little Boat: 11,000 miles to Australia

Lets face it most of the decisions you make in the pub are at best misguided and at worst dangerous. We have all read or heard about some crazy misadventure and thought to ourselves that decision was definately made after several pints of Spingo!? I have to admit that was my first thought when I read about the voyage of Captain Richard Nicholls and his six crew.


One day in the middle of the winter of 1854 they set sail in their 37ft fishing boat called Mystery. As they left the safety of the small harbour of Newlyn their next stop was to be the coast of Australia. A treacherous journey of roughly 11,000 miles. . . Through some of the world’s roughest seas. . . In a small fishing boat. . . Somebody pass the rum!

Mystery was a Cornish lugger used for inshore fishing. She wasn’t designed for the rigours of an ocean voyage. But times in Cornwall were hard. And her crew were keen to try their luck prospecting for gold in Australia. The crew, Richard Badcock, William Badcock, Charles Boase, Job Kelynack, Lewis Lewis and Philip Curnow Matthews were all shareholders in the boat. The plan was to sell Mystery to pay for their passage.

However their captain, Richard Nicholls had other ideas (and I truly cannot say whether it was the beer talking or not). Nicholls decided not to sell and began preparing the Mystery for her first and last long voyage. Her hull was covered in zinc and some decking added. But how the captain persuaded the crew that this was a good idea is another thing entirely. It’s said that the decision was made over a pint in the Star Inn in Newlyn. Whatever the case they all set sail together on 18th November.

The Voyage

Mystery crossed the Equator on 15th December. And the plucky craft and her crew reached Cape Town in a very speedy 60 days. The Royal Mail were so impressed that they entrusted the little Cornish boat with taking all the post bound for Australia with them on the remainder of their journey.


Through all the high seas, gales and poor weather Mystery and her crew escaped unscathed. Perhaps it wasn’t such a mad cap idea after all. I like to think that maybe the wild Cornish coast provided them with the necessary training for the conditions! On 6th March Nicholls wrote in the log:

“A terrific gale of wind – heaviest so far experienced. Our gallant little boat rides the mountains of sea remarkably well. Not shipping any water, dry decks fore and aft. I am confident she is making better weather than a great many ships would, if here.”

Journey’s End

At last on 14 March 1855 after a journey of 116 days and 11,800 nautical miles (21,900 km) they reached Melbourne.

The port of Melborne in 19th century

Mystery remained in Australia where she was used as a Pilot Boat until she was wrecked in 1869. Two of the crew Lewis and Matthews settled permanently in Australia, while the others eventually returned home to Cornwall.

This is a photograph of a replica of the Mystery (The Spirit of Mystery) which gives you an idea of the size of this intrepid little boat. The Spirit of Mystery was built in Cornwall in 2008 and she too has made the journey to Melbourne.

Further reading

Mermaids sighted in Cornwall (honest!)

Newlyn: The Last Port for the Mayflower

Langarrow: Cornwall’s Sodom & Gomorrah

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8 thoughts on “Mystery: One Gallant Little Boat: 11,000 miles to Australia

  1. What an incredible feat. I have just done that journey by air. And now I am very ashamed that I grumbled about the time taken and the discomfort!

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