Punishment and discipline on Female Convict Ships to Van Diemen’s Land.

Convicts were under the charge of a surgeon superintendent on all of the 86 ships that brought female convicts direct to Van Diemen’s Land. It is unclear exactly when the surgeon superintendents were given the primary responsibility to punish convicts on the transport ships.[1]  The confines of a prison ship would, by its very nature, restrict the categories of crime to insolence, personal attacks, property damage and theft. However, the most concerning aspect of spending many months at sea was controlling the interactions between the female convicts and crew -  a task that, on several occasions, lead to mutinous behaviour and left several surgeons fearing for their lives. 

On voyages before 1815, the ship’s Master controlled punishment and methods were often brutal and harsh.[2]  The surgeon, at that time, was employed by the ship’s contractor to look after the medical needs of the convicts but was mostly treated with disregard by the Master (this was at a time when Britain was at war and experienced Naval Surgeons were otherwise engaged on naval vessels).[3] A prime example of an early transport where the behaviour of the crew and convicts was notoriously undisciplined and the punishment harsh was the female convict transport Lady Juliana, 1789-1790, on her voyage to N.S.W. with 245 women on board. John Nicol, a Steward on board, wrote up a journal of the voyage in which he described the punishment of convict Nance Ferrel:

There was no taming her by gentle means. We were forced to tie her up like a man, and give her one dozen with the cat-o'-nine-tails, and assure her of a clawing every offence. This alone reduced her to any kind of order.[4]

Government administration became concerned with the alarming number of deaths on the voyages.  The ships were being paid to take convicts on board, rather than being paid to deliver healthy convicts to the colony.[5] In 1814, William Redfern, a past convict and Naval Surgeon who was employed in the Colonial Medical Establishment, wrote a report condemning the transport surgeons and the state of convicts arriving in Australia.[6] Sometime around 1815, the Transport Commissioners recommended putting an official of the Crown on board the convict ships, and they were to be given the power and authority to manage the convicts. Navy Surgeons, experienced at life on vessels (and probably on half pay after the end of the war with France[7]) were ideally suited to fulfil both roles – surgeon and superintendent reporting to the government.  Under their supervision the management of the convicts was more effective, resulting in the women arriving in better condition, and their punishment on board was much  ‘milder and less injurious to health than earlier had been the case’.[8]

The general character and conduct of the prisoners were such as might be expected from the lowest class of society, —from the sweepings of most of the Prisons in England, and from persons whom all the wise and salutary laws of England had failed to reclaim, most immoral and abandoned, if there ever was a Hell afloat it must have been in the shape of a Female Convict Ship, quarrelling, fighting, thieving, destroying in private each others property for a meer[sic] spirit of devilishness, conversation with each other most abandoned, without feeling or shame, —which absence of depressing feelings has probably been in some measures a source of health together with the impossibility of procuring spirits or other stimuli which produce innumerable diseases dangerous in character and difficult to treat in so dense a population.

 

Extract from the General Remarks by surgeon Thrasycles Clarke on the Female Convict Ship Kains 1831 to Port Jackson, New South Wales. ADM 101/40/1

 

The medical journals maintained by the surgeon superintendents were a requirement for reporting medical problems and treatments on board.[9] It is from these journals that we gain insight into how convict punishments were managed using the means available to a surgeon superintendent at sea for the months of the voyage.

Punishment by example was generally used to control unruly behaviour and ill-discipline. Those punishments which were recorded in surgeon superintendents’ journals included: head shaving; solitary confinement; bread and water; handcuffing; use of the “straight waistcoat”; and putting women on the ‘black list’ for dirty work. The threat of stopping their wine and sherbet (1 oz. lime juice and 1oz sugar mixed with water)[10] allocation was also used to promote discipline.  Withholding their sherbet would actually have been counterproductive as the lime juice or lemon juice, a source of ascorbic acid (vitamin C), was necessary for preventing the dreaded scurvy on long sea voyages after ships ran out of fresh fruit and vegetables.

 One glass of Wine was issued to each and the allowance of Lime juice and sugar for each was mixed with water so as to form half a Pint of Sherbet. To prevent a possibility of Drunkenness by disposing of, or giving away the Wine, each individual was compelled to drink it in passing muster; and in the like manner, they were compelled to drink the Sherbet that it might not be wasted, or misapplied, but that each might experience its full benefit in the prevention of Scurvy.

Peter Leonard  R.N., Atwick 1838 Adm. 101-006-004

 

In his journal, Thomas Reid MD RN, Surgeon Superintendent of the Morley 1820, highlighted the extreme problems caused by ‘familiarity’ or the prospect of prostitution between the crew and the convict women. The captain of the Morley assured him that he would do everything in his power but the law ‘provided no remedy against the most unbridled licentiousness and sailors may, in fact, commit any crime short of mutiny’.[11]  It was therefore up to the Surgeon Superintendent on this, and future voyages, to restrain and discipline the women for familiarity with the crew.

In instructions issued by the Navy Board, Thomas Reid was required to prevent ‘the prostitution of the female convicts in the vessel under [his] command’.[12]  Although prostitution was not a transportable offence, Reid believed that prostitution was ‘in direct violation of the laws of God’.[13] From the outset he made the women on the Morley very aware of his (and God’s) views on prostitution and that it would not be tolerated. He continued to emphasise the point throughout the voyage in his ‘Addresses’ to the convicts; he warned that any who did not comply with this injunction would remain in the prison until landing, and that no effort would be made to lighten their sentences as their reputations would be tarnished ‘more black and odious than what their former crimes had brought upon them’.[14]

The sleeping place assigned the convicts is within that part of the ship called the prison, taking the whole space of the ship between decks, except the necessary accommodation for Master, officers and seamen, expressly fitted up for their reception : it is divided into what in sea-phrase are termed births [berths], each to contain four persons, for which purpose, whatever has been represented, it is sufficiently roomy. Thomas Reid, The Morely 1820.

Robert Espie of the Lord Sidmouth explains that he ‘Secured the prison doors at dark and the free women at 8 o’clock, which I have advised as a general rule.’

 

James Hall of the Mary Ann 1822 also took seriously the task of keeping the men and women apart, but it proved to be beyond him. The report he wrote as the ship approached Hobart listed a number of women who were punished for having sexual relations with members of the crew. Some were locked up for days in a small, dark hold in the bowels of the ship [coal hole], sometimes in chains, and fed on a diet of bread and water.[15]

A few of the early surgeon superintendent journals reveal that ad hoc rules and regulations were determined by the individual surgeon superintendents. This can be seen in Thomas Reid’s journal of his voyage on the male convict ship Neptune in 1818 where he drew up a set of regulations. He used a variation of those regulations on the female convict ship Morley in 1820, which he ‘fixed up conspicuously in the prison’ so no one could plead ignorance to the regulations.[16]

  • The Regulations of Thomas Reid 1818 Open or Close

     

    Regulations.

    With a view to ensure the health and comfort of the prisoners, as also to establish a system of good order, decency, and religious conduct during the voyage, the Surgeon Superintendent has drawn up the following regulations, which must be most strictly observed.

    I.—The care and management of each mess shall be intrusted to a Monitor, who will be held responsible for any irregularities committed by those under her direction : it is expected that every one will behave respectfully, and be obedient to the monitor of her particular mess.

    II.-Cursing and swearing, obscene and indecent language, fighting and quarrelling, as such practices tend to dishonour God's holy name, and corrupt good manners, will incur the displeasure of the Surgeon Superintendent, and be visited with punishment and disgrace.

    III.-Cleanliness being essentially necessary to the health, comfort, and well-being of every person on board, it is desired that the most scrupulous attention in this respect shall be observed on every occasion.

    IV.-The monitors are particularly enjoined the utmost vigilance in taking care that nothing disorderly shall appear among the members of their respective messes.

    V.—Any one convicted of disturbing others whilst engaged in reading the holy Scriptures, or other religious exercise, will incur special animadversion, and such misconduct will be entered in the journal.

    VI.-A proper reserve towards the sailors will be held indispensable, and all intercourse with them must be avoided as much as possible.

    VII.-A daily account will be kept, and a faithful report made to His Excellency the Governor of New South Wales of the conduct of each individual during the voyage, and those who behave well, though they may have come here with bad characters, will be represented favourably: the Surgeon Superintendent pledges to use his utmost effort to get every one settled in a comfortable manner whose behaviour shall merit such friendly interference.

    N. B. Any breach of the above regulations, or any attempt to deface or destroy this paper, will be punished severely; and the person so offending must not expect to be recommended to the kind notice of the Governor of New South Wales.

     

    Thomas Reid’s regulations as written in his journal of his voyage on the male convict ship Neptune in 1818

     

 

It was not until the early 1820s that a comprehensive set of instructions was issued by authorities to the surgeon superintendents establishing their status, duties and responsibilities.[17]  They were written out and displayed for the convicts to read.[18]  This was most likely the set of Rules and Regulations seen in the journal of Robert Espie, Surgeon & Superintendent, Lord Sidmouth 1822:

 

  • Regulations on Lord Sidmouth 1822 Open or Close

     

    A copy of the Rules and Regulations to be observed on Board the Lord Sidmouth Convict Ship during her voyage (to) New South Wales – which was hung up in the prison.

    1st The Surgeon & Superintendant being strictly enjoined to prevent all unlawful intercourse between the sailors and the women, he will punish most severely every appearance of intimacy or advances towards it.–

    2nd Any woman who shall be guilty of swearing or any expression of an indecent or immoral tendency (shall) be punished by solitary confinement and put on a bread and water ’till she shall appear to have mended her conduct.-

    3rd Cleanliness being essentially necessary for the health and comfort both of the Convicts–and passengers it is particularly order’d that the persons occupying each Bed cabin or Berth place shall make or fold up their Bed Blanket and pillow in a tight Roll with three cords ready for being stow’d upon Deck and that they will then make their positions of sleeping places and the Deck as clean as shall be judged necessary by the Surgeon & Supt. who will inspect them every morning before Breakfast. Any deviation from this will meet the severest punishment.–

    4th Any person disturbing the peace and comfort of the rest either by sitting up late or being up unnecessarily at night shall be curtail’d of all indulgence during the passage and on arriving at N. So Wales shall be reported as troublesome characters to the Governor.–

    5th Any person found thieving from others shall be made a severe example of by putting them in solitary confinement on Bread and water and stopping all indulgence until evident signs of Reform take place.-

    6th That the prisons shall be convinced they have the due proportion of the Victuals allow’d them by Government - it is the Surgeon and Supts. directions that two women shall attend alternately to the issuing of the provisions and that this may not be dispensed with.-

    7th The Surgeon being anxious to establish a system of good order and industry at the period of the home embarkation thinks it is necessary to say that all complaints and grievances are to be represented to him only, and that in order they may appear clean and decent they shall be allowed two washing days every week Vigt: Tuesday and Friday, but it is of the same strictly forbid they should make any waste of the fresh water.-

 

Espie’s journal stands out for the high number of punishments recorded.  The final statement in his journals’ remarks section was that ‘the duties of Superintendant are far greater than those of Surgeon’.

The situation of a Surgeon Superintendant of a woman Convict Ship if he does his duty can be no sinecure as they constantly require to be looked after and particularly to restrain them from contact with the sailors – this can only be done by beginning well at first, and checking all appearance of intimacy before the Ship leaves England Directing the Master to discharge any sailor who may shew a disposition this way which I did in two or 3 instances, to his no small annoyance - I feel satisfied that making the women do almost everything for themselves and keeping them employ’d and on their legs is absolutely necessary to preserve them in health and that the duties of Superintendant are far greater than those of Surgeon.

Espie’s favourite punishment appears to have been placing offenders in the coal hole, while several female convicts had their heads shaved as punishment or were placed in handcuffs. The following selection of extracts from his journal illustrate the types of punishments he ordered:

 

  • Punishments on Lord Sidmouth 1822 Open or Close

     

    The following selection of extracts from the journal of Robert Espie per Lord Sidmouth (1822) illustrate the types of punishments he ordered:

    - Rachel Davis and Elizabeth Hartnell by shaving their heads for boisterous and outrageous conduct yesterday afternoon, both of these women I think are incorrigible this mode of punishment seems to be the only thing they regard.

    - punished Elizabeth Capps a prisoner from Newgate with confine in the coal Hole all day for violence and abusive language this morning

    - punished Sarah Phillips and Ann Gill with confinement in the Coal Hole for riotous behaviour last night after dark in the prison

    - confined Sarah Phillips and Ann Gill in the Coal Hole again for having said last night after I released them they did not value me, with many their hard words of indecorous meaning – at 2 o’clock served a gill of wine to each of the prs except two above mentioned and two others

    - Handcuffed Ann Jackson and Ann Bell for violent and abusive conduct and put them into the Coal Hole several hours during the day

    - had occasion to punish Mary Heather and Deborah Saunders by putting them 24 hours in solitary confinement in the Coal Hole, the former for indolence accompanied with insolence and the latter for insolence to the chief officer

    - punished Jane Gordon by putting her in Solitary confinement in the Coal Hole for making a disturbance yesterday evening while the clergyman was at prayers - This woman is an abandoned character and I think the worst on Board

    - released Gordon yesterday evening from confinement with a proper admon

    - confined Charlotte King a convict from York Castle for violent and abusive conduct last night after dark in the prison, by putting all day in the Coal Hole on bread and water

    - handcuffed Elizabeth Kinsey and Mary Brown together and put them into the Coal Hole for abusive and mutinous conduct, and disturbing the peace of the ship –

    - at dark released the two women -out of the Coal Hole, but kept them still Handcuffed together thro’out the night

    - punished Ann Crompton by putting her in solitary confinement in the Coal Hole for violence and disorderly behaviour towards her messmates –

    - punished Ann Gill by putting her into the Coal Hole for 8 hours for insolence and refusing to make clean the part of the prison where she sleeps.

    - Handcuffed a convict named Simpson for Thieving – Served no wine today in consequence of the noisy and disorderly conduct of the women last Sunday after its issue. I shall therefore only serve a gill instead of half a pint as heretofore

    - Shaved Elizabeth Simpson’s head for the theft which has been so clearly proved upon her, and removed the Handcuffs at dark –

    - Served half a pint of wine to each of the prisoners except three who had forfeited theirs by misconduct

    - Handcuffed together Sarah Bolland and Ann Gill for violence and bad conduct last night after the doors of the prison were locked those two women are both abandoned characters

    - Discovered Mary Scott who has been employ’d as servant to the Missionary has been guilty of a theft – Shaved her head and placed her apart from any of the other women for some time –

    - punish’d Martha Ashley by Handcuffing her for violent abusive conduct & also threatening me –

    - detected Ann Simmons a convict from Newgate in thieving from one of her Messmates, punished as customary in such cases by shaving her head

    - I released the two prisoners whom I had confined in the Coal Hole yesterday even before closing the prison – I am happy to be able to remark that the women generally are most orderly disposed, indeed I shd not have thought from all I have heard of the ungovernable character of female Convicts that those shd have been so easily managed – it is quite true to add that I cannot spare one hour from looking after them otherwise a breach of the last article of my Instructions would infallibly take place, but hitherto I have nothing to complain of on the part of the sailors taking liberty with the women – Regulations the same in the evng as (usual?).

     

 

Espie was also protective of his charges:  when the Boatswain of the Ship ‘struck one of the women yesterday evening for some insolence upon her part but this unfortunate creature I think does not possess her right faculties. I have taken care to prevent recurrence of the like again if possible. I attend to my regulations personally, otherwise we would have a little Bedlam’.[19] 

James Patton, Surgeon Superintendent of the Persian 1827 seemed very serious about his commitment to discipline and punishment. In his journal’s final comments he justified his actions throughout the voyage ‘had not prompt measures been used on this occasion, the vessel must have been in the most disorderly state for the remainder of the voyage!’.

From his notes, it can be determined that Patton had received and applied his instructions concerned with preventing prostitution on board.

My unwearied application and care as constantly directed to the 24 Article of my instructions respecting the prevention of Prostitution between the Prisoners and Ship’s crew, and I feel proud to say, that every officer in the Ship shewed the most moral and praise worthy example in this respect, and further, such was the strict watch kept over all the actions of Prisoners, that I am firmly of opinion that an opportunity was not given for even an occasional Disgrace of the kind with any of the seamen, a fact that perhaps will hardly be credited. Should these circumstances prove correct when the proper Officers make their investigation, the praise of it entirely due to the Master Mr Plunkett and the Chief Officer, Mr Wellbank, for the active support and assistance which I have uniformly had from them in order to obtain these desirable ends.

When Patton wanted to handcuff a female convict, he had to borrow a set of handcuffs from a police officer travelling as a passenger. He found handcuffing very effective as a deterrent and suggested that half a dozen sets be placed on each ship.

It was the custom to send all the Prisoners off deck a little before dusk in order more effectually to prevent all criminal intercourse between the Prisoners & seamen, and when the chief officer and myself were proceeding on this Duty on the 2nd of May; one woman (Mary Page) most positively refused to go below, and while the chief officer was enforcing his orders, she struck him a violent blow on the face with her fist – He immediately collared her, brought her aft, and explained the facts to me. I directed her to be Handcuffed, and to be conveyed below, and placed in solitary confinement.[20]

Patton mentioned that, while he had found solitary confinement or imprisonment an effective means of punishment, there was no suitable place on board for solitary confinement to be carried out.  His concern was that the ship’s hold, which was used for this type of punishment, was damp and likely to cause pulmonary and rheumatic complaints.  He outlined his solution to the problem:

I should beg leave to suggest that a small dark cell, having sufficient number of air holes; and being furnished with a bed place, should be fitted up under the Hospital, or in any other part of the Ship where it could be found most convenient and suitable, in which refractory female prisoners may be confined for one, two, or more days, upon bread and water, and prolonging the time according to the nature and degree of the offence, and from what I have observed, I am convinced that it will be an instrument of terror in the Surgeon’s hands, and by it he will secure more orderly conduct from the Prisoners, than any other mode of punishment hitherto adopted.

 From what has been stated before, I think that if a small dark cell were fitted up (which could be done at little expense) in any part of the ship found to be most eligible, where fresh air could be freely admitted, appears to me essentially necessary for the better management of Convict ships during long voyages.

In his closing remarks regarding Mary Page, he stated that if a ‘place of confinement been fitted up, such as has been hinted above, I should have had it in my power to have made an example of her, and by it to have intimidated others from similar measures in future’. [21]

The suggestion by Patton of a ‘small dark cell’ was possibly adopted by authorities; the solitary confinement box mentioned on later voyages fits the description. The Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (TMAG), located in Hobart, has a ship’s solitary confinement box on display.  It is an upright wooden box, painted black, approximately 2 metres high, 0.5 metres wide and 0.75 metres deep.  Across the top of the door and around each side are three round air holes.

SCB closed

SCB open

 

Source: Collection: Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery

S1994.367.1 Solitary confinement box , c1830  Wood and iron; wood and metal

 

 

 In 1836 Robert Espie, on the Elizabeth to NSW, noted that solitary confinement along with cutting hair only incited the convicts to be more defiant,[22] although James L Clarke, surgeon on the Navarino, 1841, expressed a desire for more of the boxes as he had found solitary confinement improved convict behaviour.[23]

Mr. Thomas Seaton, Surgeon on the Tasmania 1844, suggested some modifications to the design of the box after he ordered a suicidal patient to be placed in the confinement box, resulting in another attempt at suicide. His suggestion was to substitute ‘the round wholes which are cut along the top of the sides of the punishment box [an] iron grating in the door thro’. This would allow the doctor, master and officer on duty to see in more easily and ‘it would also prevent the possibility of anything being passed within’.

Rebecca Crookes, who ‘brought a very bad character with her from Millbank’ was placed in the solitary confinement box on the 16th October 1844. 

‘Octr 20th on taking her allowance in the evening as the door was opened she fell out on deck : blood running from the nose, tongue protruding , livid swollen face and the cause was promptly found, but so tightly had she tied the tape round her neck a knife was with difficulty introduced to cut it: she was bled in the arm and Temporal Artery and after some time got quite round again: since then she has been kept very low and a little teased with Blisters, Mustard Poultices ’[24]

 

David Thomson, Surgeon R.N. on the Eliza 1830, found the straight waistcoat very handy for several cases of hysteria and mania:  Priscilla Heath (22), Rebecca Monksfield (17) and Margaret Bailey (21) ‘were affected with Hysterical paroxysms of great severity, in two of the cases followed by complete Mania, requiring the restraint of the Strait Waistcoat’.  Margaret Thompson, (36), was diagnosed with mania by Thompson who directed the ‘Strait Waistcoat to be put on during the night & when violent. Head to be shaved & frequently washed with cold vinegar & water’.[25] During the voyage of the Eliza Thompson noted ‘the moral conduct of the prisoners was, with a few exceptions, good, & only on six or seven occasions, was it deemed necessary to resort to punishment'. 

In 1834 Mr Joseph Steret, Surgeon Superintendent on the Female Convict Ship Edward,  mentioned a convict doing penance in the solitary cell on a low diet. However his greatest challenge appeared to be Mary Creed. He used threats of withholding wine, along with ‘the strait waistcoat and shaving and blistering her head as if she were mad’ to control her unwieldly temper. He ended up putting Creed in ‘Coventry’ for a week or more. Steret eventually ordered her to be sluiced with three buckets of cold salt water for being drunk; he found ‘Cold Ablutions’ were also of greatest benefit for treating synacope.

Steret recorded in detail the activities of Mary Creed, over concerns of repercussions:

I have thought to give a very full account (although the case can hardly be considered a medical one of any importance) because had anything happened to her on the voyage – blame might have attached to me for carrying her.[26]

  • The Voyage of Mary Creed Open or Close

    Mary Creed was a 28 year old transferred from the Prison in Horsemonger Lane, (also known as Surrey County Gaol and Bridewell, Horsemonger Lane Gaol, Newington County Gaol).[i]  She had been sentenced to fourteen years transportation "for stealing a watch from the person".

    It was her behaviour rather than a medical problem of any importance that put her in the hospital and Joseph Steret was concerned that he might bear the blame if anything happened to her on the voyage.  A letter was sent to him from the medical officer at Horsemonger Lane Gaol stating that Mary Creed had been bedridden for three years although there were doubts about her inability to walk. The medical officer had also received an official intimation that it was “considered advisable’ to allow her to undertake the voyage as “Her temper and habits in the prison were so vile - her removal was thought to be necessary”. The jail officials clearly wanted to be rid of her. “She is reported by the person who brought her here, to be of the most stormy temper, frequently throwing articles at the matrons and nurses and keeping the whole prison in subjection to her untameable passions; doing so with perfect impunity either from want of power, or will in the persons, having charge, until I understand it is quite a jubilee to have closed her out.” Steret examined Mary and regarded her in sufficiently good general health to justify taking her, even though she would be bedridden for a greater part, if not all, of the voyage.

    Mary told Steret that she had lost movement in her lower limbs around the time of her last conviction when she was given mercurial treatment for a gonorrhoeal discharge. However, he found the limbs were not wasted or paralysed and that she could move them freely. He saw that she used her hands and knees to move about the bed “with facility in that manner” and thought if there was any disability it must have been in her feet and ankles. Other prisoners told him that they had seen her walking and the only medical problem he found was constipation and prescribed a dose of Castor Oil.

    Being constantly bedridden caused difficulties and she soon became a nuisance to those around her. The matron asked Steret to admit her to hospital because her presence had “destroyed the comfort of others in the mess”.  Mary could not believe her bad luck and was “exceedingly astonished” that she remained on board and said that they would have had trouble getting her out of the Gaol had she known.

    Her messmates were anxious to be rid of her because she was one of the most expert thieves and “conveyancers” on board and a “good planner of robbery”. Steret investigated a theft and proved that Mary, with the help of two girls, was the main instigator of the robbery and the receiver of the booty. “She is so cunning that she was prepared for this accusation and had told me this morning that it would be made in order to prejudice me against her, the other women being envious because I was kind to her. She received the information that the evidence against her was conclusive with great coolness merely looking sulky”.

    A battle of wits between Mary and Steret continued with Mary claiming her teeth were loose but he examined them and did not find any problem.  Sea-sickness was common among the women and Mary suffered greatly from it. Steret wrote- “The poor unfortunate has been most dreadfully seasick; with intense headache”He accused her of “shaming” fits and fainting in order to be given wine which she said she was allowed and had a half pint daily while in prison. He remarked, “I do not wonder that she remained in her bed more than two years, when by doing so she got everything she asked for”. Instead of giving her wine to ease the fits and fainting he ordered blisters to be applied to her stomach and neck.  She ripped off the dressings and quickly recovered from in a “special short time’’

    One day after divine service Mary asked to be carried up on deck where she remained for a couple of hours and then “shamed syncope beautifully” hoping for a little additional wine.  Instead she was given water which she spat out.  She got sulky with Steret because he would not give her wine every day and she only received wine occasionally and preserved meats two or three times a week. He remarked that she was, “by no means fond of taking medicine but very fond of complaining”.

    For the first month aboard ship Mary and Steret had come to an understanding that it would be best for her to be quiet, and her bad behaviour was held in check, but it broke out after an argument with another woman.  Steret wrote, “A storm in the Hospital between Creed and one of the women. She uses the most foul, and abusive language with a fluency to me quite astonishing – but the threat of the strait waistcoat and shaving and blistering her head as if she were mad quieted her”. After that incident Steret put her in Coventry for a week or more and peace reigned. Two weeks later she was in a particularly good humour and made a display of trying to walk across the hospital with the aid of two girls and then busied herself making a pudding. Steret said all the “fine weather behaviour was to obtain a little more wine and she constantly asked for medicine which she seldom if ever took.

    Mary had excoriations about the labia caused by her dirty habits and she was annoyed with Steret for not examining them but instead had directed the nurse to examine her. The abrasions were of no consequence and she continued to be very sulky with him because he would not give her wine every day and only a gill when allowed.

    One night a light was not sent down early enough for Mary’s liking so she took a broomstick and began beating it against the deck. Steret’s response was not to send down a light at all and the next morning he ordered her removal, “bag and baggage”, into the centre of the after prison. He organized some of the ship’s crew to assist in her removal which was not a simple task.   She tried to scratch and kick and bite the men and I understand frightened some of them, however there she is”. There seemed to be some satisfaction in “however, there she is”.

    On the prison deck Mary managed to get drunk and made a glorious row and had to be restrained by a strait waistcoat. Steret avoided going near her and she screamed and shouted until she had lost her voice. “I would not be much astonished at this, from the mode in which she exercised her lungs” he wrote.

    After a few days Mary wrote a long letter to Steret expressing her sorrow and contrition and as usual asked for wine and blankets.  Steret kept well away from her which did nothing to improve her behaviour and she threw a spitting-pot at one girl’s head.  When Steret still had not appeared two days later she sent him an abusive letter, “one of the most extraordinary letters of abuse possible… This I suppose is because I have not been near her since she was turned out of the Hospital”.  Again, “During the night she exercises her lungs in a manner to show there was nothing wrong either with the lungs or trachea, and that the whole affair of her aphonia (loss of voice) was simulation”.

    Another letter of apology and contrition was sent but this time Mary threw the blame on some of the other women and asked for more blankets. Steret had screens put up around her and provided her with an extra blanket as the weather had turned cold. The journey continued and her behaviour remained contained, in fact, Steret said she had “gone on pretty well”, until the last few weeks of the voyage when she managed to get drunk.  It was not revealed how she obtained the alcohol but perhaps some of the sailors had a hand in it. “she contrived to get drunk and threw the whole after prison into a complete uproar. I ordered her to be sluiced with three buckets of cold salt water – which made her tolerably quiet”.  Steret considered her conduct inexcusable as William Martin, the master of the ship, had died from heart disease the evening before and his body had still not been sent to the deep.   

    The drenching with sea water did the trick and Mary was ‘pretty well’ behaved for the remainder of the voyage. But she apparently did not recover her ability to walk because she was set to hospital in Hobart. Steret’s final entry for Mary was: “I had the satisfaction of sending her to the care of my friend Dr Scott at Hobart Town. In nearly quite as good health as I had received her”. Mary Creed, originally from County Cork, Ireland, was 27 years old when she arrived in Hobart. She found her feet and was assigned work but drunkenness and trouble were never far away. In April 1836 she was sent to the Factory in Hobart where she refused to work and was ordered to the wash tubs. A further offence, of mending her stays with parts of a sheet from the hospital, saw her sentence extended and to be served in a solitary working cell. She died at the Female House of Correction on 17 October 1836.

    Extract from Joseph Steret written by Colleen Arulappu https://femaleconvicts.org.au/convict-ships/the-ships-surgeons

     

     

 

John Grant Stewart, Surgeon Superintendent of the Nautilus in 1838, describes one unusual punishment where Ann Wilson was placed in a ‘Scotch mess’ [sleeping quarters comprising women from Scotland] for punishment and considered the probability of her illness was the result of chagrin.

Ann Wilson, twenty-eight, caught Stewart’s eye because of her loss of weight. On embarkation she was a robust, fat woman with a high complexion, but became emaciated and her features sunken. Stewart diagnosed her complaint as dyspepsia but it was her behaviour which gave him greater concern. She sat apart from the other women, generally with her back to them, looking listless, unoccupied and apparently unhappy. He wondered if she was becoming insane. Taciturn and peevish, she cried violently and refused her soup. Admitted into hospital with a little fever and general indisposition, she had no obvious illness, except a most infirm temper. She rallied as the nurses accommodated themselves to her whims. Stewart thought that because she had been put into a mess with Scottish women as a punishment, her illness was in all probability, the result of her chagrin at the situation.

Extract from John Grant Stewart (Nautilus 1838) written by Colleen Arulappu https://femaleconvicts.org.au/convict-ships/the-ships-surgeons

 

Stewart also mentions using a bread and water diet as punishment:

In starting I imagined that her diet might possibly predispose to it, if used to any extent as a means of punishment. During the voyage however instances occurred in which it became necessary to enforce this & often would occur in the same person, but the bread & water diet was never pushed further than [word cut off page] days.  The subjects of this discipline were always blanched by it & I should think that a fortnight usually elapsed before they recovered their [word cut off page].[28]

J.R. Roberts, Surgeon and Superintendent of the Royal Admiral in 1842, explained his methods of both discipline and punishment:

The rules formed by the “Ladies Society* for the improvement of female convicts”, were with some slight alterations adhered to, and answered well. A daily inspection took place at eleven a.m. of all berths, utensils, water closets etc., together with strict attention to the care and regulation of bedding, and the removal through the day of the boards of the lower berths, and when order and cleanliness did not correspond with those berths that set a good example, their wine for the day was stopped and given to those who had done so, the effect was good, and required but few examples.

Punishment consisted in being confined to the ‘Box’ on bread and water, wearing handcuffs (with a distance chain), to being placed in the after hatchway with the ladder up on bread and water, and for fighting the two were handcuffed (with a distance chain) together for a day or two; when noisy or troublesome in their berth, immediately removing them, stopping their wine, and doubling that period if repetition occurred; minor offences by sweeping the decks every two hours above and below throughout the day.[29]

Mr. Harvey Morris Surgeon Superintendent on the Elizabeth & Henry, 1847, appeared frustrated that he could not punish those convicts that were pregnant or were mothers of young children when they misbehaved.  Morris felt that his only punishment option was ‘threatening’ them.[30]  In particular, he mentioned Mary Lane and [Jane] Burt:

In conclusion I have only to express my conviction; that had the woman with young children and those in the family way been punished when they misbehaved and had their treatment been in all respects similar to their fellow Prisoners both Lanes child and Burt’s would be alive this day it is therefore unnecessary for me to say, that they should all be punished when they deserve it. [31]

Morris was convinced that a change in conduct by Jane Burt, after the death of her daughter, Isabella aged 6 weeks, was ‘produced by the conviction she correctly entertained namely that she would most certainly be punished for slatternly conduct or for any other misdemeanour when the protection which young children were invariably afforded their mothers had been removed from her.’[32]

 

Reporting ship-board misconduct on arrival

Misconduct on the voyage was reported on arrival and once on shore convicts (and crew) could undergo further punishment through the courts. A note of their onboard behaviour was placed on their Conduct Record, giving the Superintendent of Convicts an indication of character.

Thomas Reid of the Morley 1822, reports that several sailors were removed from the ship in Hobart Town for disorderly behaviour towards the prisoners.  ‘These men were afterwards sent up to Sydney, as prisoners, in another ship’. Reid expressed his frustration in his journal that the men were set free on arrival in Sydney ‘without any investigation instigated’.[33]

Sarah Fenton was a convict who arrived on the Mary Ann on 2 May 1822. Surgeon Hall wrote of her: “This woman is supposed to be as desperate & depraved a character as ever has been transported; capable of doing murder; turbulent; reprobate; never easy but in mischief; fond of exciting uproar and mutiny; a feigner of illness; an hypocrite; a Devil incarnate.  Has been repeatedly punished with temporary benefit - kind treatment has no effect.”[34]  Two days after the arrival of the Mary Ann a ship left Hobart Town for the recently established penal station at Macquarie Harbour with two female prisoners on board, thought to Sarah and troublesome fellow passenger Rachel Chamberlane.[35]

Elizabeth Jones on the Hindostan 1839 was colonially convicted of gross misconduct on board the ship Hindostan (No medical journals have been found for the Hindostan 1839). The verdict of the conviction recommended she be detained 6 months on probation in a crime class at the House of Correction before assignment.[36]

Edward Nolloth, Surgeon Superintendent of the “Maria” in 1849, also confirmed that misconduct was reported on arrival:

On the 25th [July], 3 prisoners, by order of the Comptroller General, were sent on shore to undergo punishment for misconduct during the voyage. The conduct of the Prisoners in general was good. [37]

One of the crew on the Maria was also brought up on charges of assaulting Captain Plunk on the voyage.[38]

- * -

Robert Espie had an especially difficult time on the Elizabeth in 1836 (into N.S.W.).  He had completed the journey seven times, however the last journey, the third on a female convict ship, tested his patience.

I had vainly imagined I knew how to manage convict women having had two ships of that sort before, but from some cause or other I most decidedly did not succeed to my own satisfaction in this last ship, named the Elizabeth. I commenced to giving up my whole time and attention to the service I was employed on, but I had imbibed (and have still a strong prejudice) against corporal punishment and I tried all I could by other means such as solitary confinement and cutting their hair. These trifles only incited them to go to greater lengths to bid me utter defiance with a thousand threats of what they would do when they got to Sydney.

Here now let any man show me what is to be done from the master of the ship down to the lowest boy are all opposed to the Doctor if he has done his duty by preventing prostitution. I saw clearly I had committed an error by being too lenient, I therefore prepared myself with a good stout piece of rope and when I thought they deserved it, I whipped them most soundly over the arms, legs and back and this was continued (whatever the saints may think) till I had conquered every refractory spirit among them and my certificates will testify that the government of New South Wales was perfectly satisfied with my conduct in every particular - so much for the discipline of a female convict ship, but some people might reverse it and say so little - no matter I hate a tedious fool.[39]

 

 

 

[1] Bateson, Charles. The Convict Ships 1787 – 1868 Library of Australian History Sydney 2004. p.50

[2] Bateson, Charles. The Convict Ships 1787 – 1868, Library of Australian History Sydney 2004. p.75

[3] Reid, Thomas, (1822), Two voyages to New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land, https://archive.org/details/twovoyagestonews00reid/page/280/mode/2up p.280

[4] Nicol, J.(1822) The Life and Adventures of John Nicol, Mariner

 http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks16/1600031h.html, accessed 21/04/2020

[5] Reid, Thomas, Two voyages to New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land, https://archive.org/details/twovoyagestonews00reid/page/280/mode/2up p.280

[6] Bateson, Charles.The Convict Ships 1787 – 1868, Library of Australian History Sydney 2004. p.42

[7] Brand, Ian & Staniforth, Mark, Care And Control: Female Convict Transportation To Van Diemen’s Land, 1818-1853 Australian National Maritime Museum.P. 27 https://www.jstor.org/stable/41562880?read-now=1&seq=5#page_scan_tab_contents,  accessed 19/01/2020

[8] Bateson, Charles.The Convict Ships 1787 – 1868, Library of Australian History Sydney 2004. p.75

[9] https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk

[10] Brand, Ian & Staniforth, Mark, Care And Control: Female Convict Transportation To Van Diemen’s Land, 1818-1853 Australian National Maritime Museum.

[11] Reid, Thomas (1822),Two voyages to New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land, 1791-1825. https://archive.org/details/twovoyagestonews00reid p.21

[12] Reid, Thomas, Two voyages to New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land https://archive.org/details/twovoyagestonews00reid/page/278/mode/2up, pp. 279-280

[13] Reid, Thomas, Two voyages to New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land https://archive.org/details/twovoyagestonews00reid/page/278/mode/2up, p.112

[14] Reid, Thomas, Two voyages to New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land https://archive.org/details/twovoyagestonews00reid/page/278/mode/2up, pp.193-195

[15] James Hall: Medical and surgical journal of the female convict ship Mary Ann for 27 October 1821 to 25 May 1822.  The National Archives (U.K.) Reference: ADM 101/52/1

[16] Reid, Thomas, Two voyages to New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land https://archive.org/details/twovoyagestonews00reid/page/278/mode/2up, pp. 98-100.

[17] Bateson, Charles.The Convict Ships 1787 – 1868, Library of Australian History Sydney 2004. P.51

[18] Bateson, Charles.The Convict Ships 1787 – 1868, Library of Australian History Sydney 2004. P.51

[19] https://femaleconvicts.org.au/docs/ships/LordSidmouth1823_SJ.pdf

[20] https://femaleconvicts.org.au/docs/ships/Persian1827_SJ.pdf

[21] https://femaleconvicts.org.au/docs/ships/Persian1827_SJ.pdf

[22] https://www.jenwilletts.com/convict_ship_elizabeth_1836.htm

[23] https://femaleconvicts.org.au/docs2/ships/SurgeonsJournal_Navarino1841.pdf

[24] https://femaleconvicts.org.au/docs/ships/Tasmania1844_SJ1.pdf

[25] https://www.femaleconvicts.org.au/docs2/ships/SurgeonsJournal_Eliza1830.pdf

[26] https://femaleconvicts.org.au/docs2/ships/SurgeonsJournal_Edward1834.pdf

[27] Prison History, https://www.prisonhistory.org/prison/surrey-county-gaol-horsemonger-lane-gaol/ accessed 29/01/2020

[28] https://femaleconvicts.org.au/docs2/ships/SurgeonsJournal_Nautilus1838.pdf

[29] https://femaleconvicts.org.au/docs2/ships/SurgeonsJournal_RoyalAdmiral1842.pdf

[30] https://femaleconvicts.org.au/docs2/ships/SJ_Elizabeth&Henry_1847.pdf

[31] https://femaleconvicts.org.au/docs2/ships/SJ_Elizabeth&Henry_1847.pdf

[32] https://femaleconvicts.org.au/docs2/ships/SJ_Elizabeth&Henry_1847.pdf

[33] Reid, Thomas, Two voyages to New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land https://archive.org/details/twovoyagestonews00reid/page/278/mode/2up, p.299

[34] James Hall: Medical and surgical journal of the female convict ship Mary Ann for 27 October 1821 to 25 May 1822.  The National Archives (U.K.) Reference: ADM 101/52/1

[35] Tardiff, Philip. (1990). Notorious Strumpets and Dangerous Girls: Convict Women in Van Diemen’s Land. North Ryde: Angus and Robertson; Hobart Town Gazette and Van Diemen’s Land Advertiser (HTG), 11 May 1822p.2

[36] Tasmanian Archives CON40/1/6

[37] https://femaleconvicts.org.au/docs/ships/SurgeonsJournal_Maria_1849.pdf

[38] Hobarton Guardian, or, True Friend of Tasmania (Hobart, Tas. : 1847 - 1854) Wednesday 1 August 1849 p 3

[39] https://www.jenwilletts.com/convict_ship_elizabeth_1836.htm

 

 

Further Resources:

Katherine Foxhall, From Convicts to Colonists: the Health of Prisoners and the Voyage to Australia, 1823 – 1853,

Charles Bateson.  The Convict Ships 1787 – 1868, Sydney: Library of Australian History, 2004.

 

  * For more information on Elizabeth Fry and the Ladies Society, refer to Lucy Frost’s paper: BRITISH HUMANITARIANS AND FEMALE CONVICT TRANSPORTATION: THE VOYAGE OUT

 

 

 

 

 

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For academic referencing (suggestion only) Database: [http address], FCRC Female Convicts in Van Diemen’s Land database, entry for xxxx ID no xxx, accessed [date].

For academic referencing (suggestion only) Website:  Female Convicts Research Centre Inc., accessed [date] from [http address].