Lieutenant Riou Saves the HMS Guardian: Navigating the High Seas in 1789

November 3, 2019

2 pm

Join us for a special guest lecture on Sunday, November 3rd as author Doctor Margaret Schotte explores navigational techniques and instruments as they pertain to a remarkable tale of nautical adventure and seamanship. After the talk, Doctor Schotte will give a short demonstration of some of the navigational instruments in the Museum’s collection.

At the close of the eighteenth century, a young British naval officer was put in charge of the HMS Guardian, a vessel bound for Australia laden with provisions, livestock, and convicts. On the voyage south, the ship struck an iceberg. York University historian Margaret E. Schotte will relate the dramatic tale of how Captain Edward Riou managed to keep his damaged vessel afloat for two long months, thanks largely to lessons he learned as a keen student.

The Guardian Frigate surrounded by Islands of Ice in the South Seas (1790).

Image courtesy of State Library of New South Wales


As a teenager Riou sailed with Captain Cook and spent time patrolling the Grand Banks. Thanks to his manuscripts and journals, which have been preserved in England and Australia, Dr. Schotte has been able to recover details about how Riou accomplished this remarkable feat. His story in turn helps us understand the technical and mathematical skills that underpinned each transoceanic voyage centuries ago.  

Edward Riou documented many moments of his voyages;                                      

here, surveyors in the shipyards at Portsmouth (1787)                                                                         

Image: National Maritime Museum                                                                                        

One of the many songs retelling the misadventures of the Guardian.

Image: State Library of New South Wales


This episode is the capstone of Dr. Schotte’s new book, Sailing School: Navigating Science and Skill, 1550-1800 (Johns Hopkins, 2019). In this richly illustrated comparative study of more than two hundred years of navigational history, Dr. Schotte deftly investigates how mariners solved the challenges of navigating beyond sight of land. The tale of Capt. Riou and the Guardian will captivate audiences interested in the history of exploration, technical training, and narrow escapes from open-water wrecks.

Margaret Schotte owes her fascination with the sea to summer visits with family on Nova Scotia’s South Shore. She has at least one sea captain and one lighthouse keeper in her family tree.


For additional information:

Richard MacMichael