At the end of the 1790s the NSW Colonial Government had no vessels capable of reaching the outside world.
In 1799 the Admiralty's Commissioners of Transport ordered a cutter of 60 tons to be built for their own use in the River Thames. They called it Lady Nelson.
Her design followed that of the armed cutter Trial, built in Plymouth in 1789 to a design developed by Captain (later Admiral) John Schanck. Trial was unusual in that she had three sliding keels, or centre-boards, that the crew could raise or lower individually.
Lady Nelson was built by John Dudman at Deadman's Dock, at Grove Street, Deptford.
She was commissioned "for the purpose of prosecuting the discovery and survey of the unknown parts of the coast of New Holland, and ascertaining, as far as is practicable, the hydrography of that part of the globe".
Lady Nelson, on the suggestion of her first commander (Lieutenant James Grant) and with Schanck's permission, was rigged as a brig. The ability to raise the keels was a useful feature for a survey vessel required to work in shallow waters.
On leaving England and fully provisioned, her draught was 12 feet. This draught would halve to six feet when the keels were raised. The keels were of timber construction with no added ballast.
Lady Nelson had the honour of being the first ship to sail to Sydney through Bass Strait rather than around Tasmania. She arrived at Sydney on 16 th December 1800, after 71 days from the Cape of Good Hope.
With the Lady Nelson under Grant's command, Colonel William Paterson was ordered north in June 1801 to survey Hunter's River following its earlier discovery by John Shortland in 1797. The group, among others, included the very competent surveyor Francis Barrallier.
This survey party gave the area surrounding Maitland its first European name when they called it Schanck's Forest Plains, in honour of the Lady Nelson's designer, John Schanck. It remained that way until renamed in 1818 by Governor Lachlan Macquarie who called it Wallis Plains, after the commander of the penal colony at Newcastle, Captain James Wallis.
In 1829 the high ground east of Wallis Plains was surveyed and named Maitland. Six years later Maitland was renamed East Maitland and Wallis Plains, West Maitland.
Schanck is remembered today by a drive in Metford, Barrallier by a small lane adjacent to Maitland Park and an avenue at Woodberry (although both are incorrectly spelt Barralier); Paterson by a town and a river; Wallis by a street at East Maitland and the dividing waterway between East and West Maitland.