Newton Digby Fowell, Midshipman, HMS Sirius 1788

Born 30 July 1768, Blackhall, Devon, England, son of John FOWELL and his wife Mary nee DIGBY. He joined HMS Sirius as an able seaman on 25 February 1787 at Portsmouth, aged 19 years, Crew Number 168. He was previously a midshipman on HMS Ardent. Newton was promoted to midshipman on 8 May 1787, and again promoted to second lieutenant of HMS Sirius by Captain Phillip on 28 December 1789. He was mustered on 20 March 1790 on Norfolk Island after the shipwreck of HMS Sirius.

Fowell described the wreck of HMS Sirius as: Shifted to SSE, by which we could not Weather Point Ross, when we were close to the Point the Ship was tryed in Stays, which She Refused, She was immediately Wore Which she did in a very little Room, & then did but just go clear of the Rocks, All Sail was made on the Ship again, but their was a head Sea going, which greatly impeded the Ship & threw her much to Leeward, which prevented us Weathering the other Point of the Bay, when She was as near the Reef as she well could go She was thrown in Stays, She came round, but before She was paid off Sufficiently on the other Tack, She was thrown a Shore by the Swell on the Reef & payed round off with her Broad side on the Shore in a great Surf. An Anchor was let go on her first Striking , in less than 10 minutes, the Masts were all over the Side & the Ship an intire (sic) Wreck, Mr. Ball came in his Boats to see if he could be of any Assistance, but he was desired to return & take care of his own Vessel, as it was impossible to be of the least Service to the Sirius, As She lay with her Broadside on Shore She made a very good Break Water & Boats came very easy under our Lee & loaded with Bread & Flour, which was the Principal things to be saved as Salt Water would entirely ruin them. The Time Keeper was sent on Shore in the first Boat, but in the great hurry & Confusion it was forgot to be wound up, so was let down for the Second Time since our leaving England.[1]

He was sent back to Sydney Cove aboard HMAT Supply 23 March 1790, disembarking 6 April 1790 at Port Jackson. Fowell was officially transferred to HMAT Supply on 25 August 1790 as his instructions to stay on Norfolk Island via HMAT Supply in April 1791 did not occurred as the ship meet up with bad weather and could not land, he then travelled to Batavia for provisions.

Whilst in Batavia Newton wrote a letter back to England: LIEUTENANT FOWELL TO UNDER SECRETARY NEPEAN.[2]

Sir, Batavia, July 30th, 1790. Since I wrote to you last, which was from the Cape of Good Loss of the Hope, we have had the misfortune to lose the Sirius. It happened at Norfolk Island on the 19th of March, where she went on the rocks in Sydney Bay, in a great surf, and was an entire wreck in less than ten minutes; happily all the people got safely on shore.

… Everybody, I believe, met with some loss, tho’ some people were much luckier than others in saving most of their things The officers who landed in Cascade Bay lost most part of their clothes Effects and all their stock. My loss was not very great, as I saved above half of my clothes; but they are all very much stain’d by blue clay that is found on the reef, which the surf must have washed into my chest.

… Captain Hunter, with the greatest part of the ship’s company, are still at Norfolk. He sent me with the remainder part of the people in the Supply to Port Jackson with the sad news. As there was not any relief arrived the Governor dispatched sent to Batavia, there to take up a vessel and load her with provisions, and it being thought necessary an officer ought to be put on board her. The Governor sent me in the Supply for that purpose. …… I am to return to Port Jackson. The Supply will be ready much sooner than it is possible she can be got ready, and Mr. Ball means to proceed for Port Jackson Anxious to and leave me to follow… I have the satisfaction to say Governor Phillip still continues his kindness to me, and on Lieut. Maxwell being invalided appointed me second lieutenant, for all which I am to thank you as being the occasion of it; and I hope my conduct has been such as to merit your kind attention, and that my future may be such as to recommend myself to your friendly protection.


In Batavia, Fowell carry out his instructions to hire a vessel to take provisions to Sydney, he caught “the fever” and died on 25 August 1790. On 14 March 1791, Governor Phillip wrote to Secretary Stephens from Sydney: The Supply lost five men in the voyage and left six in the Hospital in Batavia… Mr. Newton Fowell who I had appointed second lieutenant on the Sirius (when Lieutenant King was sent to Norfolk Island} and the gunner of the Sirius likewise died on the voyage. Both these officers were to have been landed at Norfolk Island had the Supply made it in her passage to Batavia. The gunner had been left sick when the Sirius sailed. [3]

Newton wrote his will whilst he was a Midshipman on HMS Ardent of Portsmouth: TNA, Probate 25 June 1792, PROB 11/1220/159

References: Letter received by John Fowell from Newton Fowell, 31 July 1790,; HRA, series 1, volume 1: 254; 372; includes extracts from HMS Sirius: Her Final Voyage