Level 3 Mortlock Wing State Library of South Australia North Terrace Adelaide SA 5000

Painting of Colonel Light’s ship H.M.S. Rapid in a gale at Rapid Bay

This oil painting of the survey brig Rapid, painted by Miss Doreen Bice, is a copy of an original watercolour by Colonel William Light that depicts the ship riding out a storm while held by two anchors off Rapid Bay. The scene is described in Colonel Light’s journal for 12-13 October 1836 following Light’s return from exploring the Port River.

The oil painting, signed with the initials D.B., was presented to the Society in 1922 and the receipt of the painting is recorded in the minutes of the Council Meeting of 27th October 1922. The painting is described in an article from the Daily Herald dated 25th September 1922:


An historic water-color sketch of the brig "Rapid" in a storm, anchored in Rapid Bay, executed with remarkable detail and fidelity to proportion and color by Col Wm. Light, founder of Adelaide, was recently unearthed. With the object of preserving the subject, the Chief Secretary (Hon. J. G. Bice), had a copy painted in oils by Miss Doreen Bice. The copy, which is an exact replica of the original, was presented by Mr. Bice to the Hon. J. Lewis and Mr. T. Gill, representing the Geographical Society, and it will be hung in the Society's room underneath the photograph of Col Light.

H.M.S. Rapid
H.M.S. Rapid

On display in the RGSSA Library.

The brig Rapid and her sister ship Cygnet were commissioned by the Colonization Commission to take the initial survey party to South Australia. They are two of the nine ships collectively referred to as the “First Fleet of South Australia”. The Rapid departed London on 1st May 1836 under the command of Colonel William Light and arrived at Kingscote on Kangaroo Island on 20th August 1836. The Rapid was used by Light for survey work and the exploration of Gulf St Vincent and Port Lincoln. In 1837 the Rapid was sent to Sydney to obtain horses, then in June sailed to England taking Deputy Surveyor-General Kingston to report to the Colonization Commissioners on the needs of the Survey Department, returning a year later.

The Rapid was a small two-masted ship with large square sails known as a brigantine. Built in 1826 at Yarmouth, Norfolk the ship featured a carved figurehead in the shape of a greyhound, weighed 162 tons and had dimensions of 23 metres long, 7 metres in breadth and drawing 3 metres of water. Initially used as a trading vessel, the ship was purchased in 1836 by the South Australian Company and refitted as a surveying vessel. The ship was used in the early survey of South Australia but was eventually sold in October 1839. Following this were two voyages to Launceston to obtain sheep for the colony and a period trading between Launceston and Sydney. On 24th December 1840 the Rapid sailed from Sydney on a voyage to China but was wrecked in the morning of 14th January 1841 on a coral reef near Rotuma north of Fiji.

Further information about the Rapid, including a photograph of William Light’s original watercolour and the list of passengers on the 1836 voyage to South Australia, is available from the website of the State Library of South Australia.

Refer https://bound-for-south-australia.collections.slsa.sa.gov.au/1836Rapid.htm