Saturday 15 October 2011

Local, regional, national, international

Deptford's maritime history and influence extends much further afield than just the local or even national area - its international significance and heritage is extensive, a flavour of which is given in the brief notes below.

The Americas
As well as defending the nation through its naval and maritime technological prowess, Deptford was the point of departure for key voyages of discovery to the Americas and other parts of the world; voyages which are cornerstones of the nation’s maritime history. Passengers - both enforced and willing - embarked at Deptford to establish new nations, which were supplied with goods from the same place.

Newspaper archives tell how a Cherokee chief came to London and amongst the highlights of his visit, the itinerary included a visit to the dockyard at Deptford, as well as St Paul’s Cathedral.

Ships built at Deptford also fought in the American War of Independence, and in the Second World War, eleven US marines were killed by a V2 rocket when their amphibious vehicle moored alongside Deptford's dockyard jetty. 

Australia and New Zealand
As well as these ties with the founding of the US, Deptford’s history is closely linked to Australia and New Zealand. In 1768, Captain Cook hoisted the pennant in the Great Basin (the wet dock at Deptford), before setting out on his voyage to ‘discover’ Australia on board the Endeavour. Both enforced convict labour and willing prospectors boarded ships at Deptford, and many Australians have returned to Deptford to visit the point of origin of their families.

HMS Endeavour off the coast of New Holland by Samuel Atkins c.1794

This intimate connection of Deptford with Australia continued as Deptford sent its shipwrights to build the first dockyards and to source timber that was sent back to Deptford to build the British Navy’s ships here. In the 1846 Royal Engineer Captain William Denison, having completed the construction of the new slipways to the Great Basin in Deptford, ventured to Van Diemann’s land, eventually becoming the Governor of New South Wales where he built Fort Denison and was responsible for the introduction of railways into Australia.

In 1698 Peter the Great spent three months studying shipbuilding in Deptford whilst residing in John Evelyn’s house at Sayes Court adjacent to the dockyard. Peter the great returned to Russia to found St Petersburg, taking with him from Deptford labour and expertise to raise the first Russian Navy.

One hundred years later we find Samuel Bentham - brother of the more famous Jeremy - raising the Navy for Catherine the Great and Potemkin. In 1805, Bentham’s last task before returning to Russia was to rationalise the dockyard offices at Deptford, based on the principle of the Panopticon, and to provide offices for making ships models to test the introduction of iron into shipbuilding.


  1. and Canada of course.


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