There were 86 ships which transported female convicts directly to Van Diemen's Land. Another 43 ships transported female convicts via Sydney.

Ships which transported female convicts directly to Van Diemen's Land from the United Kingdom are listed below.

Surgeon Superintendent's reports give much of the known information about the voyages of convict ships. These reports can contain the following information:

  • sick list
  • immunisation list
  • case histories of patients in the ship's hospital
  • nosological synopsis
  • general remarks

The Surgeon Superintendent's reports were microfilmed as part of the Australian Joint Copying Project (AJCP) and can be found in many libraries around Australia.

(Further information can also be found on the Voyages page where volunteers transcribe newspaper articles and reports on the convict ships, and their voyages.)

Thank you to everyone who has contributed transcriptions of surgeons' journals. Colleen Arulappu is compiling a dictionary of terms used in Surgeon's Journals. (Please note that this is a work in progress.) 

 

Recent Update

 

Mary Ann 1822: Surgeon's Journal

James Hall, Surgeon Superintendent, observed women who presented with complicated ailments which he was unable to name and was often alarmed that their symptoms denoted imminent danger to life.  He was tested by the shameful antics of three women: Fletcher feigning symptoms in order to be persuaded to have the Catheter introduced and Hall hoped that his comments might forewarn his brother officers on female convict ships; Walton who admitted to self-harm by scalding her breast and belly after she had tried to poison herself; and Fenton, a malingerer, who caused continual uproar in the Hospital with her violent and abusive language.  The other patients must have breathed a sigh of relief when one day she took her bed and left the Hospital but no doubt crestfallen when she was carried back in it by force.  Another woman, Beldon, had an obscure internal disease which she attributed to having accidentally swallowed a pin, and Williams who was secretly impregnated by one of the sailors and had tried to manufacture a miscarriage.  They all make compelling reading of the Journal and General Comments.

Contributed by Rhonda Arthur.

 

The Medical Journals from the Convict Ships.

The medical journals describe the illness of convicts who were admitted into the ships hospitals during the voyages. They give admission date, the symptoms and treatment and the eventual outcome such as “discharged cured”, “discharged dead” or “sent to the Colonial Hospital” on arrival.

Much on the content is medical with detailed lists of symptoms and the treatment prescribed- usually in Latin. A great deal revolves around bowels habits and dispensing of purgatives. However there are snippets of information in many journals which give insight into the women, the routines, and glimpses of life aboard ship.

There is a General Remarks section on the last one or two pages of each journal. Always well worth reading as they give a summary of the journey and sometimes the views of the surgeon.

The journals vary in length and in content. There are some journals which are informative reading for everyone who has a convict ancestor because they describe how life was organized on a convict voyage.

 

Archival References to Female Convict Ships to Van Diemen's Land

 

List of Ships

 

Ship Date of Arrival

 

Online Material
Morley 29 August 1820

 

 
Providence II 18 December 1821

 

 
Mary Ann I 2 May 1822

James Hall, Surgeon Superintendent, observed women who presented with complicated ailments which he was unable to name and was often alarmed that their symptoms denoted imminent danger to life.  He was tested by the shameful antics of three women: Fletcher feigning symptoms in order to be persuaded to have the Catheter introduced and Hall hoped that his comments might forewarn his brother officers on female convict ships; Walton who admitted to self-harm by scalding her breast and belly after she had tried to poison herself; and Fenton, a malingerer, who caused continual uproar in the Hospital with her violent and abusive language.  The other patients must have breathed a sigh of relief when one day she took her bed and left the Hospital but no doubt crestfallen when she was carried back in it by force.  Another woman, Beldon, had an obscure internal disease which she attributed to having accidentally swallowed a pin, and Williams who was secretly impregnated by one of the sailors and had tried to manufacture a miscarriage.  They all make compelling reading of the Journal and General Comments.

 Transcript of Surgeon's Journal   (courtesy of Rhonda Arthur)

Lord Sidmouth 10 February 1823

The Lord Sidmouth 1825 Surgeon's Journal:  has a very detailed look at what happened before the ship left, the daily routine, the punishments and disembarkation.

Mary III 5 October 1823

The Surgeon's Journal is a long and detailed one describing, almost on a daily basis,  the illnesses and treatments used.  It gives  harrowing accounts of the deaths of several young children, in particular the death of William Wood.  The surgeon strived to save his life, little William clung to life for many days and his mother protected him at times from painful treatments. Sad reading.

Brothers 15 April 1824

Brothers (1824) Surgeon's Journal: has colourful account of a family of free settlers.

Henry 8 February 1825

 

Midas 23 November 1825

Midas 1825 Surgeon's Journal:  has a long journal written by a compassionate surgeon. It gives a more detailed description of what life was like for the women on the prison deck.

Providence II 16 May 1826

Providence 1826 Surgeon's Journal has no general remarks but is detailed journal about convicts and their illnesses.

Sir Charles Forbes 3 January 1827

Sir Charles Forbes 1827 Surgeon's Journal has some colourful remarks about the patients. Contributed by Colleen Arulappu

Persian 5 August 1827

Persian 1827 Surgeon's Journal has a detailed description of the mental illness of an important free passenger and the struggle by surgeon and master to save his life.

Sovereign 19 November 1827

 

Mermaid 27 June 1828

 

Borneo 8 October 1828

 

Harmony 14 January 1829

 Harmony 1829 Surgeon's Journal:   The journal for the Harmony 1829 is a very long document and focuses on the many medical cases (49 in all). The surgeon writes little of the personal or of the activities on board ship but his medical care was successful and he wrote of observing the women and children at muster in order to check their health and attack problems before they became too troublesome. There were no deaths among the convict women on board. He does write of his findings on treatments that worked well and those which he found made little impact. There were also a couple of cases from the free passengers on board.

Lady of the Lake 1 November 1829

 

Eliza 24 February 1830

 

  • National Archives Record Summary of Surgeon's Journal: item 1item 2
Mellish 22 September 1830

 Mellish 1830 Surgeon's Journal:   From the journal the journey was a healthy one with very few deaths or serious illnesses.   The General Remarks are well worth a read as the surgeon accounted for the deaths but he also described the daily routine of how the bottom berth boards were taken up and stowed on the top bunks. He told of how the wine and juice were served out under his supervision. He was a careful and caring doctor who could see the distress of his dying patients.  Contributed by Rhonda Arthur and Colleen Arulappu.

America 9 May 1831

America 1831 Surgeon's Journal is an easy to read medical journal which described the illnesses and treatments used in the early 1830s. Among the cases are many which give the course and treatment for diarrhoea and dysentery. It also includes several cases of  menstrual problems.  There were several cases illnesses and death of children

Mary III 19 October 1831

 

Hydery 10 August 1832

 

Frances Charlotte 10 January 1833

 

Jane II 30 June 1833

 

 
William Bryan 23 October 1833

 

Edward 4 September 1834

 

New Grove 27 March 1835

 

Neva 12 May 1835

 

  • Wrecked off King Island, originally bound for NSW, 6 survivors landed at VDL
Hector 20 October 1835

 

Arab II 25 April 1836

 

  • National Archives Record Summary of Surgeon's Journal: item 1item 2
Westmoreland 3 December 1836

 

  • National Archives Record Summary of Surgeon's Journal: item 1item 2
Platina 22 October 1837

 

Atwick 23 January 1838

 

Nautilus 29 August 1838

 

Majestic 22 January 1839

 

Hindostan 12 September 1839

 

 
Gilbert Henderson 24 April 1840

 

Navarino 17 January 1841

 

Mary Anne III 19 March 1841

 

  • National Archives Record Summary of Surgeon's Journal: item 1item 2
Rajah 19 July 1841

 

Garland Grove 10 October 1841

 

Mexborough 26 December 1841

The Mexborough 1841 Surgeon's Journal: A clever and tough surgeon whose journal is brief but the struggle with the illness or defiance of Mary Hoolihan is of interest.

Emma Eugenia 8 April 1842

 

Hope 17 August 1842

 

Royal Admiral 24 September 1842

 

Waverley 15 December 1842

 

Garland Grove 20 January 1843

 

Margaret 19 July 1843

 

East London 21 September 1843

The East London 1843 Surgeon's Journal: The disparaging descriptions of the convict women make colourful reading. There is a report from an inquiry into the many deaths on board.

Woodbridge 25 December 1843

 

Emma Eugenia 2 April 1844

 

Greenlaw 2 July 1844

 

Angelina 25 August 1844

 

Tasmania 20 December 1844

 

Phoebe 2 January 1845

 

Tory 4 July 1845

 

Lloyds 7 November 1845

 

  • National Archives Record Summary of Surgeon's Journal: item 1item 2
Tasmania 3 December 1845

 

Emma Eugenia 5 June 1846

 

  • National Archives Record Summary of Surgeon's Journal: item 1item 2
Sea Queen 29 August 1846

 

Elizabeth and Henry 4 January 1847

 

Arabian 25 February 1847

 

Asia V 21 July 1847

 

Waverley 25 October 1847

 

Cadet 2 January 1848

 

  • National Archives Record Summary of Surgeon's Journal: item 1item 2
John Calvin 18 May 1848

 

Elizabeth and Henry 30 June 1848

 

Tory 6 August 1848

 

Kinnear 7 October 1848

 

Lord Auckland 20 January 1849

Lord Auckland 1849 Surgeon's Journal: The Lord Auckland sailed from Ireland in 1849 and the medical cases described several women as having suffered from the famine. The General Remarks are well worth reading for the surgeon’s comments about how to treat Irish female convicts, his encouragement of cleanliness and comments on the types of illness encountered during the voyage. Contributed by Colleen Arulappu

Cadet 12 April 1849

 

Maria II 23 July 1849

 Maria 1849 Surgeon's Journal: Detailed medical notes. The General Remarks described the free-settlers placement.

Stately 2 September 1849

 

Australasia 29 September 1849

 

St Vincent 4 April 1850

 

Earl Grey 9 May 1850

 

Baretto Junior 25 July 1850

 

  • National Archives Record Summary of Surgeon's Journal: item 1item 2
Duke of Cornwall 27 October 1850 Duke of Cornwall 1850 Surgeon's Journal: Several accounts of the attacks of Hysteria on board the vessel and the extraordinary effects they brought on the women. Contributed by Colleen Arulappu.
  • Transcript of Surgeon's Journal (Several accounts of the attacks of Hysteria on board the vessel and the extraordinary effects they brought on the women.Courtesy of Colleen Arulappu)
  • National Archives Record Summary of Surgeon's Journal: item 1item 2 
Emma Eugenia 7 March 1851

 

  • National Archives Record Summary of Surgeon's Journal: item 1item 2
Blackfriar 29 May 1851

 

Aurora II 10 August 1851

 

Anna Maria 26 January 1852

 

John William Dare 22 May 1852

 

Sir Robert Seppings 8 July 1852

 

Martin Luther 1 September 1852

 

Midlothian 24 February 1853

 

Duchess of Northumberland 21 April 1853

 


See also Grahame Thom's website of convict ships medical journals 1816 to 1867

The following article printed in 1865 - signed by "the Village Doctor" - describes his appointment as a surgeon, his preparations and experiences on a voyage out to Australia on a (unnamed) female convict ship.

A CONVICT SHIP I received a note from Sir ASTLEY, informing me that he had procured for me the appointment of Surgeon onboard a ship, which had been taken by Government for the purpose of transporting a number of female convicts to Australia. I cannot say I felt particularly delighted by the information. In the first place, I had fixed my hopes on receiving a permanent appointment and this would of course terminate when the voyage was ended; and beyond that, it led to noting. However, there was some occupation for me, which, if not very remunerative, was better than idling my time away, and I immediately wrote Sir ASTLEY a letter, thanking him for his kindness and promising to call on the authorities to whom he had referred me without delay. I now began to make preparations for my voyage to Australia, I placed one hundred and seventy pounds of my little capital in the bank, and the rest I kept to purchase my case of instruments, outfit and to provide for my current expenditure. My spirits were elated at the prospect of my visit to the antipodes, and I promised myself much pleasure and satisfaction in my new employment. Never was man more thoroughly disappointed. My voyage was one of continued misery from the time the ship left England till she arrived in Sydney. At the present time it would hardly be thought credible were I to relate the method of life onboard a convict ship five and thirty years since, and then it was immensely improved, by comparison to what it had been five and thirty years before. At that time noting was more common, on the [caprise] of the Captain of a ship, or possibly on the complaint of the second or third mate, to lash an unfortunate creature up the gangway, and flog her most severely, in exactly the same manner that sailors are flogged in the Navy; and so common and so little thought of [....] these occurrences, that it was not even thought worth while to enter them in the ship’s log. Although in my own time, an improvement had taken place in the treatment of these wretched women, heaven knows it was even then bad enough. When they arrived at their destination, and were assigned to the different settlers , there was always one loud cry of horror at their degraded state. And yet there was little to be wondered at. If any good or modest feeling remained in them before the ship left England, it was almost certain to be destroyed before she reached her destinations. After the treatment they had been subjected to during the voyage, and the examples which they had constantly before their eyes, it would have been far more surprising when they landed. if they had preserved one commendable attribute of woman hood,. That they had lost every principle which make women honourable. It would be impossible for men to lay the details of the general demoralization of the ship before the reader; suffice it to say that my life, when onboard, was made wretched by it. I endeavoured, to the best of my ability, to make things better; but as in those days the relative positioned of the surgeon, my remonstrances had no weight, and my threats were laughed at. (The Village Doctor – in the St James Magazine) Information taken from Sheffield Daily Telegraph 4 July 1865