The Surgeons and their Voyages - Tales from Transcribers

by Colleen Arulappu

Department of the

Physician General

Admiralty, 1st December, 1836

The Surgeons Superintendents of Convict Ships are particularly desired to notice, that they will be required to render a regular Sick Book, with the Journal, and the Nosological Synopsis now added thereto, in a complete and Scientific state, together with a certificate from the Medical Storekeeper at Deptford, as to the condition and number of their Surgical Instruments, in all respects the same as if employed in King’s Ships, agreeably to the new Instructions for the Service Afloat, and that in the event of any failure in these particulars, the Certificates necessary from this Department, to entitle them to receive their Pay and Allowances will be withheld.

W. Burnett

Transcribing the medical journals written by the surgeon superintendents aboard the convict transport ships was a journey itself, often taking often nearly as much time as a voyage and providing many glimpses of life aboard a convict transport ship. The routine, the accounts of illnesses and treatment and occasional brief tales of individual women vary but each surgeon gave something of himself in the journal jottings. Occasionally it was flash of humour, frustrations as their patients’ recovery from illness was slow and tedious, sometimes anger at disruption and revolt but always dedication to the regulations regarding cleanliness and avoiding dampness.  The surgeons deserve their own stories and recognition for their role in the history of transportation. They were men the Royal Navy could be proud of with their records of successfully delivering prisoners to the colonies.   

Colleen Arulappu

The Surgeons and their Voyages - Tales from Transcribers will be published below as a series of chapters.



  • Joseph Steret (Edward 1834) Open or Close

    Joseph Steret

    a.c 1801

    Edward 1834

     ‘by no means fond of taking medicine but very fond of complaining’.

    Joseph Steret was surgeon superintendent of the Edward which left Woolwich, England on 5 May 1834 and arrived in Hobart on the 4 September 1834. He was an experienced Royal Navy Medical Officer who was an assistant surgeon in 1817 and promoted to surgeon in 1824. The appointment to the Edward was his second voyage on a convict transport ship and the only one which carried females.  He served aboard male convict ships: the Camden 1833 to Port Jackson and later the Bardaster 1836 and the Neptune 1838 to Hobart. 

    Although Joseph Steret’s medical journal from the Edward is not a long document it is fascinating and at times humorous.  A quick passage and “tolerably” fine weather made the voyage comfortable enough to prevent serious health conditions developing and allowed him time to write of problem behaviour.  There were one hundred and fifty-one female convicts and twenty children aboard with no deaths of convict women or children during the voyage.  The women arrived at the ship in small numbers at different times and some had travelled considerable distances. Joseph Steret thought the transfer from jail caused fatigue and catarrh but none severe enough to be sent to hospital.

    The Edward was a class AE1 ship, a category of older vessel which had passed the prescribed age but not sufficiently repaired to restore a continuation of a class A1 certificate.  Steret considered the design of the ship with its “great height and comparative shortness” caused the ship in a head-on sea “to labour beyond anything I could have fancied”.  

    In the first weeks of the voyage all of the women and passengers suffered from sea-sickness.  The motion of the vessel led them to suffer headaches and sluggish bowels which Steret said sometimes would “permit constipation to a length quite astonishing”, without complaint or feeling great inconvenience for upwards of fourteen days. He treated these cases by prescribing Croton Oil and Epsom Salts dissolved in an Infusion of Gentian, two or three times a day, to ease the problem.

    Fainting and hysteria fracas were frequent ailments, particularly in the first months.  Cold ablutions brought the fainted back to consciousness and Steret regarded the hysteria as a common problem among young girls. His dealings with a couple of the younger women might have strengthened his opinion.

    However, the main topic of his journal was Mary Creed who 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. He 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.

    Nearly as troublesome for Steret was eighteen-year-old Martha Brookes who had been sentenced to fourteen years transportation for stealing a pair of stays. Martha had breast pain and vomited blood clots and was treated with digitalis.  However, when her health improved she had a night out in the main prison with her friends, became drunk and, commenced a fight with another woman.  Steret said that although Martha was a very slight creature and her opponent was at least half as big again she by, “all accounts acquitted herself gallantly – for which she is now doing penance in the “Solitary Cell” on low diet”.  He finished his account with the words, “Requiesat in pace”.

    Joseph Steret’s gentle quirky humour appears throughout his journal. He may well have wished Martha Brookes a quiet time in solitary with his remark but perhaps he wanted some peace and quiet. 

    Another patient, Mary Wake, suffered a bout of diarrhoea and was admitted into the hospital. She was cured after two weeks but obviously enjoyed the medical comforts and food provided and Steret remarked, I do not think my fat friend Mary – would have any objection to remain in the Hospital during the voyage”.  His gentle teasing told us much about Mary and her contentment by being given a better diet and conditions in hospital.

    The descriptions of the character of the patients were colourful insights into things which happened during the voyage and although Joseph Steret added his humorous asides he did not write in derogatory terms of the women. He told of actions which were disturbing to other prisoners and made managing them frustrating and difficult but he did not cast the women as wicked nor write of them with contempt. One young woman was scolded for being careless and thoughtless because her illness was a result of her own actions in exposing herself to the rain. He also wrote of an accident aboard the ship when an unsecured cannonball became loose.  Mary Gillard was sitting by the capstan when the cannonball rolled her way, caught her clothes and dragged her away with it.    A couple of people caught hold of the cannonball and extricated Mary Gillard who ended up with a slight hurt in her side and thigh.

    Joseph Steret complained of the damp and wet of the prison. He said the ship was so high out of the water that the strains on her upper deck and poop allowed rain or fine sprays of water an easy passage into the prison. He felt it contributed to the outbreak of scurvy which affected mostly the old and infirm women.  By the end of the voyage there were many such cases but only a few women were confined to bed.  They were given lemon juice and preserved meats and were able to reach their destination.  Steret felt strongly that if the voyage had continued any longer many could have lost their lives. Not one prisoner died on the journey.

    However, there was one death and it was the master, W.J. Martin, who had been ill at Deptford before the ship left.  He received medical treatment in London for inflammation of the lungs and recovered but in the latter part of the voyage succumbed to heart disease. Joseph Steret performed an autopsy which revealed evidence of damage to the heart and provided an exact cause of death.

    With few medical cases described there is little about the medicines and treatment Joseph Steret used but in the General Remarks he listed saline draughts, camphor and opium, purgatives, ammonia blister and bleeding. He concluded that the “very number of my remedies proved how little good resulted from any one”. He said that ammonia dissolved in camphor mixture and given as an effervescent with citric acid was the preferred medicine. In two cases of pneumonia he prescribed digitalis and said,” it exerts a powerful and beneficial influence over her vascular system”.

    Joseph Steret’s first voyage on a convict transport ship had been in charge of a group of male convicts and in his general remarks at the end of the journal from the Edward he made a comparison between male and female convicts. – “women having fewer restrictions, and much more room than men – they are besides much more cleanly in their prisons and mess places – and are therefore I consider less liable to disease”.

    The last comment in the journal was a tribute to the late master of the ship and the officers. “It is but justice to the late master and officers to say they cheerfully complied with all my demands” –  Joseph Steret was in his early thirties when he made the voyage aboard the Edward.  The fair weather and the fewer cases of serious illness among the women made his task as surgeon superintendent not as onerous as some voyages. He probably had time to converse with the master and officers and his humour would have made him a welcome sailing companion. Perhaps at times they enjoyed a fine wine after the late evening meal unaware of the drunken revelries below.

    After the voyage on the Edward in 1834, Joseph Steret made three further voyages to Port Jackson and Hobart.


    The medical journal from the Edward 1834.

    National Archives UK; ADM 101/22/8 No 37,


    Mary Creed; Conduct record, 40/1/1 page 137

    Martha Brookes; Conduct record 40 /1/1 page 150


  • Robert Espie (Lord Sidmouth 1823) Open or Close

    Robert Espie

    1. c1790 Derry, Northern Ireland, d 1870

    Robert Espie was Surgeon Superintendent on convict ships

    Morley 1817 (175 males to Sydney)

    Shipley 1818 (150 males to Sydney, 4 deaths)

    Dorothy 1820 (190 males to Sydney)

    Lord Sidmouth 1823 (97 females to Hobart and Sydney, 1 death)

    Lady Rowena 1826 (100 females to Sydney)

    Mary 1830 (168 males to Hobart, 1 death)

    Roslin Castle 1834 (230 males to Sydney, 3 deaths)

    Elizabeth 1836 (161 females to Sydney)


    723 males - 8 deaths  358 females - 1 death


    The Rules Hung Up in the Prison

    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.


    The Surgeon & Superintendent 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.-


    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.-


    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 Bedcabin or Birthplace 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.-


    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.-


    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.-


    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.-


    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.



    Lord Sidmouth,

    11 September 1822 – 27 February 1823


    I cannot but express my great joy at having got rid of so troublesome a charge.

    Robert Espie had the rules to be observed during the voyage hung up in the prison and his journal showed that he applied the rules to all on board the Lord Sidmouth.   He entered the Navy List of medical officers in 1814, obtained seniority in February 1815 and, by 1823 had experience as a surgeon on four convict transport ships taking male convicts to Sydney.  As surgeon superintendent on the Lord Sidmouth he was in charge of 97 female convicts and 23 of their children; 50 of the women were destined for Hobart and 47 to Sydney.  There were also 21 free women passengers and 49 of their children. On the day before sailing Rev. Mr Henry Williams of the Church Missionary Society boarded with his wife and three children.  Robert Espie served on four more ships to Sydney and Hobart so his career as Royal Naval surgeon aboard convict transport ships spanned nearly twenty years.

    The medical journal from the Lord Sidmouth is an account of the happenings aboard ship as well as noting the illnesses and treatment. Robert Espie recorded much about daily life, the problems and mishaps, the frustrations, the regulations that were broken and the offences and punishments. The entries began while the ship was at Woolwich and he wrote that the women appeared healthy and robust as they arrived from various jails. He said they were tractable and kindly to each as they embarked and settled aboard ship and were organized as best he could devise for their health and comfort. Once the mess groups were sorted they were issued their bedding and showed, “most strictly” how to scrub and clean every part of the prison.  Superfluous baggage belonging to the prisoners and the free passengers were stowed in the hold.  

    Mrs Pryor and Mrs Coventry, Christian ladies, visited on six occasions during the three weeks at Woolwich as the women embarked. Mrs Pryor spoke to the women and distributed useful articles of haberdashery. On some visits she gave aprons and items for patchwork to those who had just arrived and offered “a great deal of good advice”. Before the ship sailed, the ladies, accompanied by two gentlemen from the Missionary Society, boarded for a final visit and handed out bibles.  Mrs Pryor read an address, which Robert Espie said was extremely appropriate and affecting, and took leave of the women in a most kindly manner.

    Robert Espie clearly set out the order which he planned to follow during the journey. Cleanliness, scrubbing the decks and stowing bedding was a daily ritual and he remarked on it each day and, with the few exceptions of rough weather, he was pleased with the arrangements. When he instructed the women in their duties he found that they were expert at cleaning. He also said that it was unusual for the ship to have scupper holes on the lower deck but it enabled the deck to be washed as it was done on a man-of-war. The women were mustered on Sundays and Christmas Day for divine service and in several entries, Robert Espie said they were clean and comfortable. On one occasion he mustered them in their messes and found them “exceedingly clean and orderly”. Even towards the end of the voyage he mentioned that cleanliness and good order were carried on “as usual”.  Hot weather as the ship progressed towards the south made the prison uncomfortably hot and Robert Espie had awnings spread on the main deck and kept the women up all day.

    Sea sickness struck as soon as the ship moved along the Thames and even while at anchor at Margate all the women were ill.  Within days the weather became rough and most of the women were excessively seasick. It kept up and many became dispirited.  Throughout the voyage sea sickness and nausea affected some whenever the weather caused the ship’s motion to be excessive. Robert Espie thought the women should be kept occupied and distributed the patchwork left in his charge and in one entry mentioned that they worked at their quilts. The children had schooling supervised by the clergyman and two free women passengers.  According to the journal schooling went on regularly and was attended even by some of the women. An “intelligent prisoner woman” assisted the clergyman. In one entry Robert Espie wrote, “I find that there is no method so effective as keeping them on deck and employed as they seem to have a natural propensity for lolling about.”

    Robert Espie’s rules outlined the responsibilities and the consequences for infringements as well as the rights to which the women were entitled and the means for them to complain. He adhered to the regulations closely and throughout his journal described enforcement of the rules by all on board, not only by the women prisoners but, the master and the sailors also.   Rule number one was that there should be ‘no unlawful intercourse between the sailors and the women’ and it was broken even before the ship sailed. “The situation of a Surgeon Superintendent 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”. Robert Espie upheld the regulation and two or three sailors were dismissed. The master of the ship, James Ferrier, was not at all pleased. It was not to be his only conflict with Robert Espie.

    Although the women were said to be orderly as they boarded, not all kept up the good behaviour and some soon became obstreperous.  While the ship was still at Woolwich, Robert Espie had occasion to bring out the handcuffs. One woman was accused of violent and abusive conduct in the prison after dark and another of violent and abusive language.  Each was handcuffed for a day. One of them, Sarah Bolland, was released after promising to be better behaved but it was a promise she did not keep as she had two further periods of confinements. Robert Espie described her as an abandoned character.

    Twenty women’s names were mentioned in accounts of punishments and four women lost their wine allowance following an incident of poor behaviour.  Trouble after the prison doors were locked at dark merited punishment. Violent and abusive conduct, fighting, disturbing the peace or being disorderly towards messmates resulted in being handcuffed or put into solitary confinement in the coal hole. The penalties were sometimes applied for the eight hours of daylight but more often for a twenty-four-hour period.  At least ten women spent time in the coal hole. Two women, who spent twenty-four hours cuffed together in the coal hole because of riotous behaviour, were released but returned for another twenty-four hours after they said they did not value Robert Espie and used many “hard words of indecorous meaning”. A serious charge of abusive and mutinous conduct also earned two women twenty-four hours handcuffed together, side by side, in the coal hole. Perhaps there was only one set of handcuffs or Robert Espie let them have a free arm for balance.

    Six women had their heads shaved; a loathed punishment. Theft immediately resulted in that sentence and four women were so proved guilty; one of whom had acted a servant to the clergyman. Two women behaved boisterously and outrageously one afternoon while the ship as at anchor in Rio Harbor.  Robert Espie said they were incorrigible and ordered their heads to be shaved as it was the only punishment which they seemed to regard.

    The ship was in Rio for two weeks while water was loaded; a task Robert Espie stated was tedious, expensive and laborious. But that was not the only problem in Rio Janeiro. Robert Espie strictly enforced the rules of behaviour and punished the offenders regularly but he also protected the rights of the women. Several went to him and complained that they had not received their usual allowance of provisions. He investigated and found that it was “entirely owing to the villainy of the ship’s steward” and wanted him dismissed.  That was a position that the ship’s master did not agree with and refused. Robert Espie prevented the ship from sailing until he had redress for the “ill conduct of the steward”. The standoff continued for nearly three days before the master reluctantly dismissed the steward and the ship proceeded out to sea.

    The Rev. Henry Williams, who became a well-known figure as leader of the Church Missionary Society in New Zealand, organized the schooling aboard ship and conducted divine service on Sundays.  Robert Espie usually referred to him as “the missionary” or “the clergyman” but one remark summed up his feelings about the man.  After divine service one Sunday, Robert Espie wrote- “the Methodist tears up preaching by the roots”. Rev. Williams had a forceful, energetic personality and preached to his congregation of prisoners who reacted by singing bawdy songs. Rev. Williams wanted it stopped and the master of the ship was not in favour so the task fell to Robert Espie.  The penalty of losing half their wine allowance after bad behaviour one Sunday was surely linked to that singing.

    The voyage was a long one but there was only one death among the convict women. Fifty-year-old, Mary McGowan, died from dysentery. She started treatment but then refused to take the mercurial medicines Robert Espie prescribed for her.  Mercury was the treatment given to patients suffering from venereal disease and Mary McGowan thought that she was falsely regarded as having that complaint and had been trapped into taking the medicines. Her mouth became very sore from the mercury and she made her feelings known. “This woman who was a most abandoned character attacked me today in the most violent manner regarding the soreness of her mouth and accused me of having beguiled her into it, with many hard sayings and vile epithets not fit to repeat and in fine protested she would not under any terms take any thing again in the shape of physic”. Robert Espie said her obstinacy resulted in her death. “neither entreaty nor force could prevail on this wretch to take anything in the shape of physic”.

    There was another tragic death during the voyage.  One Sunday evening three days before Christmas, the children were playing on deck when ten-year-old Robert Borsch fell overboard.  Although others were about, the incident was not discovered for twenty minutes and the boy was never sighted again.

    Despite the voyage being so long, Robert Espie managed the health of the women well. Seasickness caused difficulties and bowel problems were treated with purgatives.  The lancet and blistering were used often and patients given sago and wine. Several entries mentioned that patients had Donkins Preserved Meat. Food preserved in cans was a recent innovation by Bryan Donkins who had set up a preserving company. Robert Espie made good use the product to provide more nutritious food to help his patients regain their strength.

    Throughout the journal the instances of offense and punishments were numerous but fell within the rights of a surgeon to discipline those he had in his charge. But Robert Espie was unhappy when the boatswain struck one woman because she was insolent.  He said the “unfortunate creature” did not possess her right faculties and took care to prevent the recurrence of any similar incidents.

    Those mentioned as free women passengers were the wives of convicts who were re-joining their husbands. One was the mother of twin girls, aged about eighteen months.  The children had been born in the workhouse and Robert Espie said they were starved and weighed only about 15 pounds.  Although they could speak and even displayed curiosity, they did not survive the voyage. Their mother tried to keep breast feeding despite entries to wean them. She was in poor health and barely survived herself.   On arrival in Hobart several of the free women were met by their husbands when the ship docked and within a week all of those destined for Hobart were re-united with their husbands.

    Robert Espie continued on the voyage to Sydney with 47 women convicts.  His final journal entry at Sydney Cove

    “I cannot but express my great joy at having got rid of so troublesome a charge”.

    No doubt the number of resistant and rowdy women who caused problems on the prison deck was high and made Robert Espie’s task of orderly routine difficult to enforce.  However, conflict with the ship’s master and engaging with a forceful religious personality on board could only have added to his angst at times. Rows over the dismissal of the ship’s steward and stopping the obscene ditties which offended Mr Williams and his family made for strained relations even among those on the upper decks.



    Rev. Henry Williams

    By Unknown - Alexander Turnbull Library; picture ref: 1/2-052461, Public Domain.


    Another account of the voyage was given in the writings of Marianne Williams, the wife of the clergyman.  She found the convicts quarters to be wretched and said conditions on board were made more uncomfortable by a plague of cockroaches and told of being becalmed for three weeks just north of the equator.  She also regarded the schooling as unsuccessful but wrote that it helped with maintaining order. Her husband, Henry Williams, intervened to settle a dispute between the ship’s master and Robert Espie. Perhaps it was at the time of the standoff in Rio Harbour.

    Robert Espie’s feelings about his experience as surgeon on female convict transports could be summed up in his words in the incomplete journal from his voyage on the Elizabeth to Sydney 1836.   He called himself a “fine dolthead” to get appointed to a women’s ship’.  He was nearly stabbed before the Elizabeth left Woolwich and felt he did not succeed in managing the women aboard to his satisfaction. He said he had strong prejudice against corporal punishment but used a good stout piece of rope to whip the women as other methods such as confinement and cutting their hair proved too lenient. He whipped them “soundly” over the arms, legs and back (whatever the saints may think), till he conquered every refractory spirit among them.

    Surgeons were paid passage money to return to England after their voyages to the colonies. After the voyage on the Shipley in 1818 Robert Espie returned to England aboard it accompanied by six other surgeons. No doubt many tales were told during their days at sea.

                When Robert Espie sailed to Van Diemen’s Land on the Dorothy in 1820 his brother, George, was also on board.  After reaching Hobart, Robert Espie was appointed acting surgeon at Port Dalrymple but within a few months resigned due to ill health and returned to England aboard the Guilford with his brother. He married Janet Jerman in 1828.  However, George Espie returned to Hobart and applied for land and was at times in business with Robert who also established a property in the New Town area after his last voyage in 1836 but again it was sold.  In 1854, Robert and Janet Espie applied for a further grant of land. But Janet Espie died in England that same year.

    Robert Espie was living in England at the time of the 1861 census.



    Medical Journal from the Lord Sidmouth, National Archives UK ADM 101/44/10

    Medical Journal from the Elizabeth, National Archives UK ADM 101


  • Charles Cameron (Midas 1825) Open or Close

    Charles Cameron

    a. 1790 d 1837

    Midas 1825

    London to Hobart Town & Port Jackson

    109 female convicts (1 died)

    Princess Charlotte 1827

    Woolwich to Port Jackson

    90 female convicts (1 died)

    Ferguson 1829

    Dublin to Port Jackson

    216 male convicts (2 died)

    David Lyon 1830

    Sheerness to Hobart Town

    220 male convicts (3 died)


    The Voyage of the Midas 1825


    It is not in our power to speak too highly for his praiseworthy kindness and fatherly goodness to us, and still, what makes it appear more pleasing, in extreme need, and at the time they were most wanting


    A letter from Charles Cameron to a friend published in the Morning Post.

    "After we left the River in the Midas, with the exception of having a good deal of sickness on board, everything, as far as the convicts were concerned, went on in such a pleasant manner that I am now almost astonished when I reflect upon it. Even the very worst of them, and those who behaved very ill, when they first came on board, afterwards conducted themselves in the very best manner. Whatever the opinion of the world may be, and however depraved those unfortunate women may be considered, the seed of virtue is not altogether dead in them, neither are they wholly insensible to kindness. They are more highly sensible of, and more grateful for, any act of kindness than mankind generally

    supposes, and particularly more so than many who are placed in more fortunate circumstances. I am also convinced, that if they were treated less harshly by those who have got authority over them, than they generally are, many more of them would return to the paths of virtue and become good members of society. They were treated by every person on board the Midas with the utmost kindness and attention to their comforts, and they repaid that attention by their grateful demeanour and general good conduct; not one disagreeable circumstance occurred during the whole passage, as far as the female convicts were concerned, and they were landed at New South Wales with the very best characters. I must acknowledge that I had every assistance from Captain Baigrie. With respect to the board's letter, granting gratuity to the mates in case of good conduct, I consider it to be a measure of great importance, and that it will frequently, if continued, be attended with the best effects, because it shews them the determination of the Navy Board to put a stop to all irregularity on board these ships. The conduct of the female convicts was high praiseworthy.

    The Morning Post 16 October 1826



    Charles Cameron was appointed surgeon superintendent on the Midas in 1825; he had been on the Navy list since 1816.  The Midas was his first appointment in charge of prisoners being transported to Australia and he made a further three voyages to Port Jackson and Hobart Town.  After the voyage on the Midas he wrote to a friend and included some words about his philosophy of the treatment of prisoners, saying (inter alia): ‘I am also convinced, that if they were treated less harshly by those who have got authority over them, than they generally are, many more of them would return to the paths of virtue and become good members of society.’  The journal has many insights into daily life aboard ship and reveals his dedication and compassion.

    The Midas, 420 tons, was built in Hull in 1809 and, the voyage between Woolwich, Hobart Town and Port Jackson took 146 days. There were 109 women prisoners on board with one death from among them and one of their children. There were also free passengers on board and some were women granted passage to join their convict husbands; one free woman’s child died. 

    At Woolwich there were bowel complaints noted in the surgeon’s journal. The change in diet and less opportunity to exercise caused stomach pains, headaches and purging or constipation. In some instances, being sent from jails in crowded conveyances, caused or worsened illnesses.  However, Charles Cameron considered most illnesses were slight and such patients did not need to be moved to hospital. The women were on board for nearly three weeks before the ship left port and once out of the Channel sea sickness severely affected two thirds of them. Throughout the voyage there was misery caused by sea sickness and the physical complications which resulted from constant vomiting.  A similar story could be told of any passengers who made long sea voyages.

    Charles Cameron called as many of the women together as he could, “to put them on their guard against allowing their bowels to become constipated.”  Strong winds blew unabated as the ship crossed the Bay of Biscay and the women became, “more sick if possible than before.” They were given purgatives to avoid their bowels becoming costive, although, much of it was immediately vomited. For some patients, enemas were administered, their stomachs rubbed with liniment and hot fomentations applied.  Several women were so severely affected that they had to be admitted into the hospital.  As the ship passed Teneriffe strong gales and a heavy sea confined many more to bed with sea sickness. Charles Cameron said it was “distressing to see them,” and if it was possible he would have requested the ship go into Teneriffe for a few days respite.

    Heading towards the Cape De Verde Islands the weather became warmer and the women were generally much better except for several who continued to be constipated.  By the time the ship reached St Jago (Santiago) their health had improved and they were able to go up on deck for most of the afternoon.   However, during the week the ship was anchored in port, the hot and sultry weather caused feverish illnesses. Back at sea, the humidity was less oppressive and the fever and bilious patients had laxatives, mercury and rhubarb to counteract their symptoms and they favoured gruel for nourishment. Over the next few weeks, the humid weather aggravated conditions and some women became extremely ill but whenever there was a change to light winds and squally rain there was great relief.  By the sixth week of the journey, sea sickness had nearly disappeared although strong gales made it very uncomfortable, especially when the portholes were shut.

    Charles Cameron was feeling under pressure and fatigued by the many demands placed upon him and he wrote: “The Females themselves render me every assistance; They go about everything which I wish them to do, in the most willing manner; even they are respectable forward in offering their services. and so general is the feeling among them that a loud word is not to be heard in the Prison; for fear of disturbing the Sick in Hospital. Captain Baigre gives me, also every assistance in his power, - Yet together with all this, and the utmost exertions on my part, Fatigued in Body and harassed in mind, I get on but very badly. During the last week, I have not been able to give an account of the progress of the difficult Cases; and yesterday I could not find time for a moment to state even one case. Very few Cases of Fever have come forward, however, lately; and I am in hopes, as the weather is now more cool. and the sky has latterly been cloudy, it has attained its height.”

    Fevers became troublesome and Charles Cameron observed that they were sometimes accompanied with hepatic disease and he treated these patients by copious bleedings; an entry in the journal mentioned that some women sought blood-letting treatment for severe headache, more often than was needed. Perhaps his kind attention and willing ear to hear of their problems opened opportunities for medical attention not usually available to them.

    It was from Charles Cameron’s case notes of the seriously ill patients that the characters of the women are brought to life.  They not only gave his medical assessment but also his opinion and the interaction between them, often revealing his inner musings or his doubts about the case.

    Thirty-five- year- old Mary Ann Wilson, who first entered the medical notes at St Jago, was tried at the Old Bailey for breaking and entering and stealing four handkerchiefs valued at ten shillings. She was sentenced to death but it was commuted to transportation. She was severely sea sick but would only take medicine that she chose and not what Charles Cameron prescribed.  He stated: “Is insane in many of her ideas, and foolish almost in all. has lived as far from the other women as she possibly could, since she has been on Board, apparently from a suspicious temper….. Indeed I cannot get to take but such medicine as she herself chooses, since she has been in the Hospital. Her choice being always regulated by Caprice; and I have had much difficulty in making her stay in the Hospital.”

    Mary Ann Wilson continued as “capricious as ever” and refused to be confined to bed and would only lie on the boards. She was fussy about how water was handed to her, taking it only from particular people and in a particular manner. She eventually only drank water from the captain’s supply.

    A situation where Charles Cameron found himself out of her favour had to do with raspberry jam.” I have got myself wholly out of her favour, for last evening she took a fancy to some Raspberry Jam which I had got for one of the Children, and asked for some of it, which I rashly promised to send her. On applying to the Steward I found it had been all used; she would however take no substitute; nor will she forgive me. All this day she will not speak one word to me. I am therefore under the necessity of guessing at her complaints.” Mary Ann Wilson recovered and was landed safely at Port Jackson.

    Twenty-one-year-old Mary Tapper was convicted of arson for setting fire to a stable and cow house and sentenced to death. That was also commuted to transportation for life.  Her illness began with similar symptoms as others on board with fever, abdominal pain and constipation. Charles Cameron said she appeared despondent but would not disclose her feelings. She remained in hospital throughout much of the voyage and her complaints were compounded by a pain in her left side which extended up through her shoulder and accompanied by severe headache. She was given purgatives and one day, apparently feeling much better, she went up on deck in good spirits.  However, shortly afterwards there was stomach pain developed and she was given wine but became giddy and was taken below.  Charles Cameron found her “comatose, with stertuous breathing and evident violent determination of blood to the head.” He opened an artery and obtained blood to the extent that she had an epileptic fit and was convulsed with intervals of insensibility.  When she became settled she told him that she had several such fits in prison, one of which lasted for fourteen hours.  A few hours later the violent fits returned and Charles Cameron cupped her temples but with little success. He administered an enema and applied poultice-like dressings for her feet and pit of stomach. Ether and spirit of wine were rubbed into her temples and applied to her nostrils as well as, “many other things which the most anxious solicitude could think of”.  

    Mary said that she was first afflicted with fits three years before after being frightened by a person acting as a ghost in the night. She also said that she suffered much during menstruation and her old master had given her a drug procured from a farrier to cause abortion. It had a recurring effect of pain in her loins and abdomen.

    There were days when her body was calm but the seizures returned at intervals and at times she became comatose.  Her headache and pain in the loins and abdomen continued.  After one fit a seton stich was put in the back of her neck and camphor rub applied to her loins and abdomen.  Antispasmodics of opium, asafoetida and henbane were tried but had no effect nor was any relief obtained in the usual time from repeated doses of digitalis and opium.  She was put on a very low diet of tea or coffee without any bread in the morning and evening and a pint of gruel at noon.

    Charles Cameron said that quarrels brought on hysterical fits among some of the women and he used bloodletting and opiates to alleviate their distress. One evening during a very heavy gale the women became “dreadfully alarmed” and although he tried to convince them that there was not the smallest danger, several went into fits. He was sorry to say Mary Tapper was among the number.

    In between these sad lines recounting her illness Charles Cameron said that Mary Tapper quickly regained her high spirits whenever she felt better; a point he mentioned several times and he seemed to enjoy her humour.  He wrote, “It is to me, matter of great surprise, that, notwithstanding her long, and severe sickness, the immense quantity of Blood she has lost, and the spare diet on which she has always existed, she is still one of the stoutest Females in the Ship and fully as much so as when she first came on Board. In general, too, she is cheerful and disposed to laugh with those who are merry.”

    Mary Tapper continued ill with headache and pain in the stomach and loins. She was given digitalis which eased her suffering but after another outing to the deck her symptoms returned. At the end of one journal entry, Charles Cameron said he did not know what to do and repeated the dose of digitalis without relief. The final report of Mary Tapper was about her improving health. She died in the Hobart Hospital three years after arriving and in all probability for much of that time she was ill.

    There was one death from among the women prisoners; Mary Neale, forty-three years old and mother of a large family.  She had been sentenced to death, along with her twenty-one-year-old daughter, Susan, and eighteen-year-old son, William, for putting poison into the food of the man who was William’s master. Their sentences were commuted but Mary Neale and her son, William, were transported.  On his convict record William said that he put the poison into the food because he was treated badly by his master and his mother knew nothing at all about it.

    Mary Neale’s constitution was debilitated and after a few weeks at sea she had a bout of purging and became very emaciated.  Charles Cameron said she was very depressed in spirits and he prescribed mercury with a slight purgative and ordered a nourishing diet and a little wine.  Her appetite was surprisingly good taking five pints of thick gruel and sago each day and she said her weakness was because of want of porter to which she had been accustomed all her life.  Charles Cameron arranged for a glass of porter to be sent every day from the Cabin’s Table and found Mary would fret if it arrived later than usual and returned to good humour as soon as she had it.   A woman was appointed to attend to putting a little wine into everything except her soup. “She has every attendance, and attention paid to her comfort, and has everything she wishes for from the Cabin Table. (I have always approved of what she has asked for) Today she had at dinner some Roasted Turkey, and a little Porter, which she relished very much, and she is of a very grateful disposition.”

    Despite a hearty appetite, within a few weeks her coughing indicated tuberculosis and her health was failing.  As her condition worsened the skin over the sacrum broke and dressings were applied to give comfort.  She was placed in a cot with a pillow to prevent pressure on the ulcerated part and one woman was appointed to expressly look after her. “The woman who attends upon her is very kind and very attentive to her, and gives her everything required or directed, at all times day or night.”

    Mary became very weak. She had very little cough or pain her, a pulse that was barely perceptible but she was aware that she could not live and asked Charles Cameron to read to her, which he did.  Near to death she asked if she could be taken to “Sidney where her son was going”.  She died on 5 October and her funeral was described in a letter written by the women from the Midas. “The woman that died was buried at sea; we were all present at the funeral, and the burial service was performed most solemnly by the Surgeon and the Captain took the part of chief mourner, and the whole ceremony was very solemn. We have had divine service regular; the Captain and Officers, us, and the free passengers, all attend.”  

    Although Charles Cameron praised the behaviour of the women, some of his patients were difficult or demanding. Mary Ann Smith, the first patient in the journal, presented at Woolwich complaining of stomach pain with frequent vomiting, purging, and a severe headache particularly around the left ear, which had suppurated previously.  The purging and vomiting continued for some time. Mr Beals, the surgeon from her prison, visited and advised Charles Cameron to give her a chalk mixture which he had used to treat her previously.   “Is rather better today but no particular change in her complaints otherwise. Yesterday evening Mr Beals Surgeon of the Institia, under whose care, I had understood from herself, she has formerly been for some time with the same complaint, did me the favour to visit her; and He suggested to me the propriety of using Mistura Cretæ which, He formerly found beneficial in her case. I instantly, willingly, complied with His suggestion and she has taken it today every four hours.”

    As the days passed Charles Cameron seemed dubious, stating that she, “does not appear to be much purged, although she states the contrary.”   One of the last entries about Mary Ann Smith noted that her purging and vomiting had gone but she had a severe headache and in brackets he added (for she must have some complaint).

    Another contrary patient, Mary Dowling, thirty-three, transported for seven years for obtaining money by false pretences, presented with headache, pain and constipation. Charles Cameron ordered an enema of warm salted water which afforded some relief but she then developed “a stitch” in the pit of her stomach.  He thought she had a sour ill-natured disposition and was “disposed to ascribe” her own treatment.   She said she had a “shocking severe pain” in the stomach so a blister was applied and calomel and rhubarb given as laxatives. The blister brought additional pain to every part of her body and she was exceedingly discontented and ill-natured and nothing would please her. “Complains very hard that I will ‘not allow her wine’, when I know that she is a poor dying woman.-. I have endeavoured to do everything I could to please this woman; in one respect I cannot satisfy her- there is no water in the Ship good enough for her.” Mary did recover but perhaps her discontent and ill-nature were worsened by leaving her only child in England.  

    Elizabeth Wimbridge, twenty-five, was sentenced to 14 years transportation for burglary and was another patient who made ample use of Charles Cameron’s medical services.  She was not in good health and had a large scrophulus tumor on the left side of her neck which he blistered.  She also suffered from fever and bowel problems so small blisters and liniments were applied and medication was given to reduce fever. Her case notes stated that she had twenty different complaints a day although seldom more than one at a time but was “never without one.” 

    Charles Cameron found infant, William Wood, in a feverish state having taken ill eight days previously and considered him to be in a very dangerous state:  “I was told that the mother did not pay her two children the attention which she ought, and an Instance came before myself this afternoon which seemed to corroborate this, in Her giving the children’s allowance of water for the purpose of washing her clothes; I therefore directed one of the women in the Hospital to look after the children (privately after lecturing the mother on the impropriety of her conduct).”  William was prescribed a little magnesia, given a small dose of Castor Oil and was put into a warm bath twice a day. The upper part of his head was shaved and a large blister applied.  Every attention was paid to ensure that he had a regular nourishing diet with a small portion of port wine and “some Raspberry Jam for his mouth”.  Although Charles Cameron did not have much hope for William Wood’s survival he recovered and was landed safely.

    It was a different story about the behaviour of other caring mothers on board.   One removed the blister from her child to ease its suffering and others refused medication prescribed for their children. In his general remarks Charles Cameron wrote, “I was thwarted completely in my wishes respecting their treatment by the over tenderness and foolishness of their mothers.”

    By mid-voyage, the number of women who endured sea sickness, fevers and bowel complaints was widespread and some of the problems were serious; epileptic and hysterical fits were common.  There were disagreements between some of the women, Mrs Atkins, a free woman, and ill with headache and abdominal pain, was aggrieved by one such incident, “She is very low spirited and thinks she cannot live.  Her complaint I have no doubt has arisen from violent mental agitation, occasioned by some reflections on her conduct by Mrs Davis, a passenger in the free women’s prison; and who also put herself into such passion as to require copious venaesection, and who is yet in a precarious state of health.”  Mrs Davis was one of the worst cases of hysteria along with Mrs Petit a free passenger and Letitia Picker a convict woman, all of whom were nearly approaching to epilepsy.  Charles Cameron used copious bloodletting together with purgatives and antispasmodics to help relieve their distress.

    He had many calls on his assistance and was in the prison from six in the morning until one or two o’clock in the morning.  “The lancet is almost in my hand one third of the day, and sometimes it is not easy for me to convince them that they do not require to be bled. The Females who are well however are exceedingly attentive to the sick, and render me every assistance, indeed it would be impossible for me to give a sufficiently Strong Idea of their very praiseworthy conduct in that Respect. They are also highly grateful for all the attention which is paid them on my part. and perhaps for that very reason I exert myself to the utmost, till I am nearly exhausted to be of service to them.”

    It was a long journey and four weeks before arrival in Hobart health problems increased with the onset of scurvy. Charles Cameron wrote,” the number that I have altogether to attend” to “is distressing”. “The scene of Sickness I have to pass through from morning till near or past midnight, is as much as I am able to bear up against.”  His patients had spongy and sometimes bleeding gums.  He issued lemon juice and nitrate which he said had excellent effects in removing the symptoms within a few days.  He later published a book on the success of his treatment of scurvy aboard the convict transport ship, the Ferguson 1829.

    A letter was received by the British Society of Ladies for the Reformation of Female Prisoners.  It was written by a convict woman from the Midas on behalf of the women prisoners who disembarked at their final destination in Sydney. They were very grateful for the kindness and care they received, before and during the voyage. They thanked the Christian ladies, who visited them prior to sailing, for their kind words and the black caps which they handed out.   They were effusive in their praise for the surgeon and said he had been a great friend to them and called on God to bless him.  They mentioned his efforts for them while at St Jago in the Cape de Verde islands.

    “Our Surgeon went on shore and bought fruit, such as the isles produced; oranges, lemons and plantains and had the goodness to give to each mess at different times, an equal complement, and to be distributed to each woman equally. It is not in our power to speak too highly for his praiseworthy kindness and fatherly goodness to us, and still, what makes it appear more most wanting.”

    The women recognized Charles Cameron’s dedication and hard work and the attention he gave to each and every one of them.  Such kindness perhaps was not often shown to them by those in authority. “We almost despaired our surgeon could ever have stood it, and had not the Almighty been on our side, he never could; there never could be a Gentleman so constantly attentive to unfortunate women; he was for ever below in the hospital with the poor sick - and never appeared satisfied but when discharging his duty. We can never be thankful enough.”

    Charles Cameron believed that by showing the women prisoners kindness and treating them respectfully would bring out the best in their characters. He saw his philosophy bear fruit. “Even the very worst of them, and those who behaved very ill, when they first came on board, afterwards conducted themselves in the very best manner.”  

    He published a book in 1832 on, his New Theory of the Influence of Variety in Diet and Health and Disease.    

    “The author is evidently a gentleman of observation and original mind. We like his motte, that of his native country, Nemo me impune lacessit. There is a bold independent tone evinced in this work, which proves the author to be on who thinks for himself.”

    The London Surgical and Medical Journal 1832


    The women on the Midas found their own touch of gold in their surgeon Charles Cameron.   He died at the Royal Naval Hospital, Haslar, Hampshire in 1837. He was 47 years old.


    Morning Post 26 October 1826

    The following letter has been lately received by one of the members of the British Society of Ladies for the reformation of female prisoners, from the female convicts who sailed on board the ship Midas, under the care of Mr Charles Cameron, Surgeon R.N. and in confirmation of the truth of their statements, it is accompanied by extracts from the letter in which it was enclosed from the surgeon to the Captain Y…. R.N,. also by another from the same gentleman to one of his friends in London.


    Sydney, on board the ship Midas,

    Dec 16 1825

     A letter of Sincere Thanks From The Unfortunate Female Convicts On Board The Midas, Captain James Baigrie, To The Ladies In London.

    Worthy Madam, - Permit us to indulge a hope you will pardon the liberty we have taken by this. I most willingly set down to comply with the request of all my fellow sufferers to acknowledge our most grateful thanks to you, likewise to those ladies who took part in the kind and Christian charities we received at your hands, before we sailed from Woolwich. Madam, we have never lost sight of the most kind and friendly advice you were pleased to give us on your different visits, and particularly on the last that we had the happiness of seeing you. We therefore beg leave that you will accept of our sincere thanks. It shall be our constant endeavour that our future conduct and behaviour shall prove our respect and gratitude; we shall continually pray for you, and may the Almighty pour his blessing on you, and that is the earnest prayers of us unfortunate women, who feel a heartfelt sorrow for those past misdeeds.

    We shall conclude, and with all due defence, shall beg lave to subscribe ourselves, Madam.

    Madam, we hope that we do not too much trespass on your time. There has been a great deal of sickness in the ship; thank God we have lost but one woman and one child. We expected at one time to have lost a great number. We almost despaired our surgeon could ever have stood it, and had not the Almighty been on our side, he never could; there never could be a Gentleman so constantly attentive to unfortunate women; he was for ever below in the hospital with the poor sick - and never appeared satisfied but when discharging his duty. We can never be thankful enough. We have had two women delivered of two fine boys, Lydia Moffat and a Mary Snooks; the children were baptised by the surgeon and the women churched by him also. The woman that died was buried at sea; we were all present at the funeral, and the burial service was performed most solemnly by the Surgeon and the Captain took the part of chief mourner, and the whole ceremony was very solemn. We have had divine service regular; the Captain and Officers, us, and the free passengers, all attend.

    We have had great indulgence and good examples set forth by the above Gentlemen. 

    We arrived at Van Diemen's land three weeks ago and there we left fifty of our women and eleven that were from Newgate; and happy to say Madam, that by the good character our Surgeon was enabled to give of them, that the greater part of them was provided for when we left. We expect to land in a day or two, and we hope that the Almighty will be our guide and keep us from every temptation. We are quite sure our Surgeon will do all that lays in his power for us. If there should be any of our fellow sufferers that should be about to leave England, we strongly recommend them to behave well while in prison, so that they may have a good character from the prison; but to be particularly careful after they come on board, for if their Surgeon cannot give them a good character, it will be greatly to be lamented. We all hope that they whom you may please, Madam, to read this letter to, will impress it on their minds, and it will be for their good; and I hope that they may meet with the same good treatment that we have. The Captain has been very kind, and the Officer likewise, also the seamen who sailed from Woolwich. On Saturday the 23rd July, Mr. Cane, the owner of this ship, honoured us with his company until Sunday, when he took his leave of us all at Margaret, and recommended us to the protection of the Almighty. The bearer of this letter will be, we expect Mr. Cameron, our worthy Surgeon, as we mean to ask him the favour, and God grant him a safe passage to England and a happy return to his family.

    Madam, we are about to beg a great favour of you and the ladies, and that is if the expense should not be too great, and should meet with your approbation, to allow this letter to go to the press, as we have disconsolate friends living in different parts of England and as it would be

    Your very much obliged, humble servants: Ann Unwin, Mary Jones, Sophia Davis, Mary Bullingham, Ann White, Mary Dale, Ann Cross, Mary Montague, Mary Snooks, Margaret Burt, Ann Colston, Mary Weaver. "Our duty to all the ladies; we hope they are all well. We are all well. We cannot, Madam, inform you in what manner we shall be disposed of. Our surgeon has been a great friend to us. May the Almighty bless him! We beg permission to give you a short account of our voyage - We arrived at Sydney this morning, after a troublesome voyage. It would be a gross mistake to omit mentioning the charitable gifts that you had the goodness to leave with Mr. Cameron, our Surgeon, who had the goodness to distribute to us in proper time. Our patchwork kept us employed some time.

    Our black caps and aprons, we found them very convenient, and every other gift very useful, and shall for ever be most thankfully remembered by us. We put into a small isle three weeks after we left England, and there we had a fresh supply of water and fresh beef. Our Surgeon went on shore and bought fruit, such as the isles produced; oranges, lemons and plantains and had the goodness to give to each mess at different times, an equal complement, and to be distributed to each woman equally. It is not in our power to speak too highly for his praiseworthy kindness and fatherly goodness to us, and still, what makes it appear more pleasing, in extreme need, and at the time they were most wanting. 

    likely this would meet the eye of some of them and give them great satisfaction. We beg pardon, Ladies, and hope we have not in any respect insulted your understanding. Could this request be complied with, your humble Petitioners would for ever be bound to pray. We all with one accord, Subscribe as on the other side, Your humble servants. The writer of this begs ten thousand pardons for every imperfection, as she is a bad writer and bad speller.




    National Archives UK, Royal Navy Medical Journals, 1817-1857, Medical Journal of Charles Cameron on the voyage of the Midas in 1825. The National Archives. Kew, Richmond, Surrey. ADM 101/56/6 (Ancestry)

    TAHO, Conduct Records, Midas 1825

    Newspapers -British Newspaper Archives

    The Morning Post, 16 October 1826; Letter to Charles Cameron.

    Morning Chronicle, 5 May 1825, Mary Neale

    Morning Chronicle, 19 August 1824, Mary Tapper

    Old Bailey on Line

    Mary Ann Wilson, Reference 718250217-117




  • John Wilson (Emma Eugenia 1844) Open or Close

    John Wilson (c)

    The Voyage of the Emma Eugenia 1844

    Woolwich, 30 November 1843   -   Hobart, 2 April 1844


    John Wilson had his only appointment as surgeon superintendent on a convict transport ship aboard the Emma Eugenia in 1844.  His name was common in the list of Navy surgeons around that era so he was identified as John Wilson c.

    At daylight on the 13 and 14 November 1843, one hundred and seventy female prisoners from Millbank Prison (sent there from various prisons), embarked at Woolwich. They were in good health except for seven or eight who had suffered bouts of diarrhoea not long before leaving prison. Nearly all the women remained in good health throughout the voyage with only nineteen cases entered into the sick list; three of whom were dangerously ill.  Diarrhoea was the prevailing complaint.

    John Wilson’s journal was brief, reflecting the low number of seriously ill patients.  His sick list and the medical reports noted the women’s names, single or married status and prior occupation, which included, three servants, two bonnet makers, a shoe binder, dressmaker, tailoress, furrier, hawker, labourer and eight prostitutes. There were no deaths during the one hundred and fifty-three days at sea, although one seriously ill woman died soon after reaching Hobart.

    The journal recorded little about daily life aboard ship or of the personalities of the women.  John Wilson’s focus was keeping proper medical records of the diagnosis, treatment and standard of care he expected to be carried out in the hospital.  He was thorough in his administrations and carefully attended to his patients with the valued help of the nurses. Each patient’s case notes detailed their symptoms and any observations by him.

    Hannah Hunt, twenty-four years old and a prostitute, had been very ill for some time and, presented with dyspepsia. John Wilson duly noted a long list of symptoms.   Headache, loss of appetite and strength, pain & sense of weight in the region of the stomach after eating, languor & despondency, paleness of countenance, acidity, occasional but not severe pain in the stomach.  Slight exertion produces fatigue & palpitation.  Bowels slow.  Tongue white. Pulse of usual frequency, but languid.  Restless nights, frightful dreams, startlings.  For a considerable time before “Conviction”, was want to live intemperately, “for days together on biscuit and gin”.   There was a glimpse of Hannah Hunt’s delicate emotional state, when John Wilson observed, “When questioned her answers are accompanied by tears.”  Hannah was treated with magnesium sub carbonate (an antacid), rhubarb (a purgative) and ginger (to soothe).

    Once a patient’s symptoms were noted, a script was written to counteract them and restore the patients’ health.  In every case John Wilson wrote an itemized scrip, allotting a new line for each ingredient and gave precise instructions for the administration of pills or draughts.  All was written, as the usual custom, in Latin. Sophia Jacobs had a feverish illness and was treated with -:

    Rx    Pulv. Rad. Ipecac.  gr xv

                 Antim. Potass.- tartratis   gr i

    M ft pulvis emeticus statim sumendus

        Rx    Jalapa Rad. Pulv.

                 Rhei R. Pulveris  aa i

                 Hydrarg. Chlorid.  gr vi

                 Olei Menth. Pip.  m ij

    Aquae q.s. ut ft massa in pilula ij dividenda    Sumat iij hora decubitus, Maneque,Sequenti.

    Solut. Magnesiae Sulphatis, cum Antim. Potassio tartratis zi 2da quaque hora, donec alvus plene respondent.

    Ipecac and antimony potassium tartrate were used to induce vomiting. Jalapa (a tuberous root), rhubarb and mercury were mixed with oil of menthol and made into two pills to be given at bed time and the following morning. The pills would have caused purging.  Two hours after the bowels moved a solution of sulphur magnesium (Epsom salts) and antimony potassium tartrate (a heavy metal) was administered.

    Illness in the nineteenth century was treated with purgatives and emetics to rid the body of evil humours and other toxins.  Mercury seemed to be used for much the same reason modern medicine uses antibiotics while opium was calming as a pain relief, cough suppressant or sleeping draught. Poultices and dressings, made with oatmeal or clay, were commonly used to ease local pain.  In fever cases, heads were sometimes shaved and bathed in vinegar and water; a method which was also a popular in treating epilepsy or fits brought on by hysteria.  John Wilson said he found opium most valuable for treating ill patients on a female convict ship.

    In his case notes John Wilson also gave instructions for the personal care of Sophia Jacobs whose fever had made her seriously ill.  He recommended daily sponging with vinegar and water, which he was pleased to see refreshed her.  He ordered the bedsheets to be frequently changed and bed pans to be removed immediately after use and ensured the hospital was thoroughly cleaned, kept dry and well ventilated.  Sophia needed assistance to be turned in bed, lifted out when necessary, given drinks and her personal needs attended to. The long weeks in hospital caused abscesses across her sacrum which were treated with an oatmeal dressing applied in a pressure pad.  She made a slow recovery over twelve weeks which John Wilson attributed to not only his medical treatment but the care and attention she received, day and night from the chief hospital nurse, Jane Tate. Once recovered, Sophia Jacobs was allowed to sleep in the hospital as long as there was room.

    However, such close and personal nursing resulted in the chief hospital nurse, Jane Tate, coming down with similar symptoms. One morning after a night of sweating profusely and her spirits greatly depressed Jane Tate felt that she would not live.  John Wilson wrote, “She has this morning given directions about the disposal of some trifling property.”  Fortunately, Jane Tate did recover and went on to become the mother of a large family in Tasmania.

    Mary Ann McDonald, a fifteen-year-old hawker, was suddenly attacked by dimness of sight amounting to almost total blindness. She was one of the best behaved and attentive pupils being taught reading and writing five hours every day at school on the Poop deck and was exposed to the glare of the sun.  (Perhaps her complaint was akin to pterygiums or surfers eye). John Wilson appointed a messmate to be her guide and admitted her into hospital where she was treated with the usual purgatives and prescribed an eye wash of zinc sulphur.  By the time the ship neared Hobart her eyesight had improved and she could read and sew almost as to her former ability.  She too was allowed to sleep in the hospital for the last two weeks of the voyage.

    Four women were sent to hospital after arrival in Hobart. Three recovered and completed their sentences but Elizabeth Hinton died three weeks after her admittance to the Colonial Hospital. She was twenty-three years old, single and the mother of two children; her one-year-old son, James, was on board ship with her. She was transported because she stole two loaves of bread and a shawl and she had a prior imprisonment for stealing shoes. Her case was not written up in the journal and the only indication of her illness was diarrhoea, noted in the sick list.  Her son, James, died in the Dynnyrne nursery five months after his mother’s death.

    In his General Remarks John Wilson spoke his mind and made forceful recommendations directed to the authorities in Admiralty House.  He outlined the daily routine of twice a day visits to the prison and the hospital and said that during a gale he inspected both, four or five times a day. The prisoners were allowed on deck from sunrise to sunset and their bedding was aired daily. His views and preferred methods of cleaning the prison were a change from those usually used on convict transports.  He insisted that the prison was kept clean by sweeping and using woollen cloths dipped in water to wipe them down and said that great care was taken not to waste a single drop of water. His was adamant that dry holystoning of decks was an abomination and its effects no different to a Sheffield dry grinder workshop and added that the use of vinegar, chloride of lime or hanging stoves was never employed on the voyage.

    An incident which proved his determination and character was described at the end of his journal. Widow, Jane Grady, had been twenty times in prison, although on many occasions just for a day. Far out to sea in the Southern Ocean approximately half way between the Cape of Good Hope and Hobart Town she jumped overboard.  She was handcuffed at the time as punishment for striking and wounding the chief officer and had leapt overboard in that state.  John Wilson gallantly went to her rescue.  Around fifteen minutes after the jump he caught her about “half an arm’s length under water” by grabbing her hair.  His actions saved her life. Jane Grady reached Hobart with a downcast expression and continued her troublesome ways while serving her sentence.




    National Archives UK, Journal of the Emma Eugenia 1844, ADM 101 25-5 piece 38

    TAHO, Elizabeth Hinton, death record RGD 34/1/2 1844/1273

    TAHO, James Hinton, death record, RGD 35/1/2 1844/340