Bloomfield Douglas


 This is almost certainly the same person as William Bloomfield Douglas (1822-1906), though there appear to be biographical differences.

It appears that he falsified his age, and possibly other facts, in order to apply for the post below. He seldom, if ever used his first name ‘William’ in later years, and used 'Bloomfield Douglas' as his name when signing paintings.

Capt. Bloomfield Douglas, R.N.R.

  born 25 Sept 1831 in England (1901 census)

• from Meteorological Service
• July 1892 - appointed head of tidal investigations.
• 1892 - visited sites for tidal gauges
• 1893-1904 - in charge of east coast tidal stations.
• 1894 - built tide gauges at Forteau Bay and Father Point.
• 1895 - built tide gauges at Bonne Bay and Halifax.
• June 1904 - left Tidal survey to accept Nautical Advisor to Board of Examiners for Masters & Mates.


The West Coast was the last major part of the Australian coast to be known to Europeans. Although it was one of the first parts of our coast to be visited, detailed exploration had to wait until the 19th century.

After colonisation, formal exploration continued, first under the guidance of Captain Thomas Lipson, Port Adelaide's first Harbour Master and later under Captain Bloomfield Douglas. Their names and those of their vessels are remembered on the charts at places including Port Douglas, Yatala Channel and Waterwitch Channel. Even the good ship Venus got a mention! In this era many features were named after colonial identities or their friends. Governor MacDonnell's wife, Blanche, is remembered at Cape Blanche and Blanche Port. In 1857 Captain Douglas published a major set of charts based on the colonial explorers' work. In 1858 he made a detailed survey of the West Coast in the schooner Yatala.


The Gunboat HMS 'Goldfinch'
The National Maritime Museum describes the ship with "pale cliffs to her left and fortifications ... above the waves to her right", but this is clearly wrong.

In 1903 HMS Goldfinch under Commander FC Learmonth, RN, was engaged in hydrographic surveying for the Admiralty (Staff Commander William Tooker) off the coasts of Labrador and Newfoundland.

This must be a scene set there, and what what we see are icebergs to the right, and perhaps a wintry headland (or a larger berg) to the left.

The signature on the picture is 'B D / 1903' lower right.
childersHM Brig Childers by Bloomfield Douglas

According to Navy Lists, Bloomfield was only an Honorary Lieutenant in the RNR (date of commission 12 Dec 66), though even that is more than the Australian Dictionary of Biography (AuDNB) accords him. However, he freely used the rank of Captain, which he may have been in the Merchant Marine but not in the RN/RNR as claimed, or at least implied.

The comment in Harry Piers's paper on 'Artists of Nova Scotia' (1914) p.155, that Douglas was on the 'Board of Examination for [merchant] Masters and Mates' at Halifax, NS, refers to the job that AuDNB mentions in the 'Department of Marine and Fisheries' for which he falsified his date of birth as 1832 in 1897: but he was clearly a competent and (mainly) merchant seaman, as that would require, albeit only an RNR lieutenant and - as one who had commanded merchant vessels - entitled to use 'Captain' as a customary 'honorific'. Merchant 'masters' invariably did, and as still do, 'captain' being a substantive commissioned 'rank' .

The AuDNB overview of Douglas (link below) suggests he was - and needed to be- a self-promoter and, despite his talents, not always attractive, but his use of 'Captain' was not at all fraudulent, just normal practice.




This page was last updated on 11 October 2021

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