Saumarez Reefs - History


On 27 February 1823, Lieutenant John Lihou, then Master of Zenobia, saw Sir JAMES SAUMAREZ' SHOAL (now Saumarez Reefs) and named the reef system after Saumarez. Lihou recorded the find as “it is in latitude 21 degrees 40 minutes, and longitude 153 degrees 46 minutes by chronometer, which was found correct on making Sandy Cape a day or two afterwards. There is reason to suppose that many other reefs exist to the North-West of this position.”

Lihou had just previously discovered Lihou Reef and Cays on 23 February 1823. Zenobia, (built and launched 1807 with an armament 18 guns and retired from service in 1835), was on passage from Manila to South America and Lihou had chosen a route through Torres Strait. This was the first occasion a ship was navigated through Torres Strait from west to east. It was also the first occasion a ship was navigated through the Coral Sea from Torres Strait, south-eastward to the southward of New Caledonia.

The Zenobia entered Endeavour Strait in January 1823 and discovered a shallow port on the south coast of Prince of Wales Island, subsequently named Port Lihou. After a hazardous passage through the reef the ship departed the Great Barrier Reef via an opening near Murray Islands. On 23 February, Lihou Reefs were sighted and on the 27th of that month, other reefs were discovered and these Lihou named Sir James Saumarez Shoals (now Reef).

There is some thought that Saumarez Reefs could in fact be Midway Reef which had been sighted prior to the sailing of the Zenobia and described in an extract of a letter from Captain Carns, or the ship Neptune, to the Secretary of the Marine Board, describing the reef discovered between New Holland and New Guinea.

Thinking it a duty I owe for the benefit of Navigators, I beg leave to acquaint you of the discovery I made between New Holland and New Guinea. On the 20th day of June last (1818), I took a good departure from Sandy Cape, New Holland, and steered a course to keep in mid-way, between the Great Barrier and Wreck Reefs On the following day at noon, saw sandbanks and small rocks- a-head, stretching as far to the Eastward as we could see from the masthead, and about five miles to the Westward, I immediately wore and run down to the Western extremity, and passed it within two miles longitude, by good timekeepers, 154° 20’ East, and latitude 21° 58’ South, and as the Western End of Wreck Reef is laid down in 155° 28’ East, I concluded it mull be a new discovery and called it Midway Reef; as it renders the navigation between the Great Barrier and Wreck Reefs very critical, I submit it to your consideration to give it such publicity as you may deem necessary I have, etc. R. CARNS

This is approximately the same latitude as Saumarez South East Elbow with a difference in the longitude of approximately 70 km (which for the time was still reasonably close to the mark) and seen almost five years prior to sighting by the Zenobia.

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