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The majority of female convicts would not previously have been on a long sea voyage, and certainly not one as long as from the United Kingdom to Australia in the first half of the 19th century.
Surgeon Superintendent's report: These reports, listed on the Convict Ships List page, give much of the known information about the voyages of convict ships.
Newspaper articles and reports on ships and their voyages:
We have volunteers transcribing newspaper articles and reports on the convict ships, and their voyages, as follows:.
The HOPE female convict ship from Ireland arrived at Van Diemen’s Land on the 18th August
Information taken from Warder and Dublin Weekly Mail 24 December 1842
The ANNA MARIA a female convict ship, Mr McCREA (1843) Surgeon Superintendent and Mr E M SMITH ,Master, has arrived at mooring opposite the Royal Arsenal to embark female convicts for Hobart Town
Information taken from Sligo Champion 6 October 1851
On Wednesday last, 100 female convicts were shipped at Kingstown onboard the transport for Botany bay, now lying in that harbour. The service was conducted under the inspection of Sir Edward Stanley and Mr Marquis, the Governor of the female Penitentiary under a guard of the Horse Police, and was regulated in the most orderly and quiet manner, amidst crowds of spectators.
Information taken from Northern Standard 17 August 1839
The PRINCESS CHARLOTTE convict ship is fitting in the River to take female convicts to Botany Bay from Newgate, in charge of Mr CHARLES CAMEON Surgeon RN
Information taken from Morning Post 12 February 1827
The convict ship ANGELINA has proceeded to Woolwich to embark female convicts for New South Wales.
Information taken from West Kent Guardian 20 April 1844
MARIA SOAMES a female convict ship will sail in a few days for Woolwich to embark female convicts.
Information taken from West Kent Guardian 20 April 1844
The AURORA convict ship at Spithead was put under quarantine this morning because a man was ill onboard of her. On a thorough examination this afternoon she was released, no cause for alarm existing.
Information taken from bells Weekly Messenger 24 June 1833
The WILLIAM BRYAN a female convict ship at Deal, has been stopped having advanced symptoms of Cholera.
Information taken from Bells Weekly Messenger 24 June 1833
The female convict ship MELLISH sailed yesterday for Van Diemen’s Land with 132 women and 61 children under the superintendence of Mr JOHN LOVE Surgeon RN she sailed during the evening.
Information taken from Morning Chronicle 7 June 1830
The WILLIAM BRYAN female convict ship sailed on Thursday for Van Diemen’s Land with 123 female convict, 19 children and 19 free settlers with 8 children.
Information taken from Caledonian Mercury 11 July 1833
No ship mentioned but tells us a little about the job
A CONVICT SHIP
I received a note from Sir ASTLEY, informing me that he had procured for me the appointment of Surgeon onboard a ship, which had been taken by Government for the purpose of transporting a number of female convicts to Australia. I cannot say I felt particularly delighted by the information. In the first place, I had fixed my hopes on receiving a permanent appointment and this would of course terminate when the voyage was ended; and beyond that, it led to noting. However, there was some occupation for me, which, if not very remunerative, was better than idling my time away, and I immediately wrote Sir ASTLEY a letter, thanking him for his kindness and promising to call on the authorities to whom he had referred me without delay. I now began to make preparations for my voyage to Australia, I placed one hundred and seventy pounds of my little capital in the bank, and the rest I kept to purchase my case of instruments, outfit and to provide for my current expenditure. My spirits were elated at the prospect of my visit to the antipodes, and I promised myself much pleasure and satisfaction in my new employment. Never was man more thoroughly disappointed. My voyage was one of continued misery from the time the ship left England till she arrived in Sydney. At the present time it would hardly be thought credible were I to relate the method of life onboard a convict ship five and thirty years since, and then it was immensely improved, by comparison to what it had been five and thirty years before. At that time noting was more common, on the [caprise] of the Captain of a ship, or possibly on the complaint of the second or third mate, to lash an unfortunate creature up the gangway, and flog her most severely, in exactly the same manner that sailors are flogged in the Navy; and so common and so little thought of [....] these occurrences, that it was not even thought worth while to enter them in the ship’s log. Although in my own time, an improvement had taken place in the treatment of these wretched women, heaven knows it was even then bad enough. When they arrived at their destination, and were assigned to the different settlers , there was always one loud cry of horror at their degraded state. And yet there was little to be wondered at. If any good or modest feeling remained in them before the ship left England, it was almost certain to be destroyed before she reached her destinations. After the treatment they had been subjected to during the voyage, and the examples which they had constantly before their eyes, it would have been far more surprising when they landed. if they had preserved one commendable attribute of woman hood,. That they had lost every principle which make women honourable. It would be impossible for men to lay the details of the general demoralization of the ship before the reader; suffice it to say that my life, when onboard, was made wretched by it. I endeavoured, to the best of my ability, to make things better; but as in those days the relative positioned of the surgeon, my remonstrances had no weight, and my threats were laughed at. (The Village Doctor – in the St James Magazine)
Information taken from Sheffield Daily Telegraph 4 July 1865
DEPTFORD DOCKYARD MARCH 31ST
The ships EAST LONDON and CONSTANT are fitting out for female convicts
Information taken from the West Kent Guardian 1st, 8th and 15th April
CONVICTS SHIPS WANTED
Liverpool 14th January 1837
CAPTAIN H R BRANDRETH Royal Engineers on behalf of His Excellency the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, doth hereby give notice that on Wednesday 23th instant, at 1 o’clock he will be ready to treat at the office of Lieutenant LOW RN 33 Union Street for the HIRE of TWO SHIPS the first from 480 to 550 tons, the second from 580 to 650 tons for the convey of CONVICTS, PASSENGERS and STORES from KINSTOWN in Ireland to PORT JACKSON in NEW SOUTH WALES or HOBART TOWN in VAN DIEMEN’S LAND both or either. The ships to be hired for the voyage by the Register Ton. The ship must have a Poop Cabin with at least six sleeping berths. Demurrage (if any should be incurred) to be paid for after the rate of TEN SHILLINGS per register ton per calendar month. The form of Tender and the Charter Party may be seen upon application at the said Office, between the hours of eleven and two. No Tender will be received after one o’clock on the day of treaty, nor will any be noticed unless the party, or an agent for him attend.
Every tender must be addressed to; CAPTAIN H R BRANRETH
ROYAL ENGINEERS, 33 UNION STREET.
with “Tender for Irish Convicts Ships” in the left hand corner and be accompanied by the owners authority for letting the Ships, and it must express when the vessels will be ready to be fitted, and also state the address of the party tendering. Previous to final acceptance of a Tender for any Vessel a Certificate of her fitness will be required for such officers or persons as Government may think proper to appoint as Surveyors.
HENRY ROWLAND BRANDRETH Captain Royal Engineers.
Information taken from Gore’s Liverpool General Advertiser 19 January 1837
THE CONVICT SHIP
One a Scottish girl broke her heart and died in the river, she was buried at Dartford. The poor young Scottish girl I have never yet got out of my mind ; she was young and beautiful, even in the convict dress, but pale as death, and her eyes ref with weeping., She never spoke to any of the other women, or came on deck. She was constantly seen sitting in the same corner from morning to night; even the time of meals roused her not. My hearth bled for her --- she was a countrywoman in misfortune. I offered her consolation but her hopes and heart had sunk. When I spoke to her she heeded me not, or only answered with sighs and tears; if I spoke of Scotland she would wring her hands and sob, until I though her heart would burst. I endeavoured to get her sad story from her lips, but she was silent as the grave to which she hastened. I lent her my Bible to comfort her, but she read it not; she laid it on her lap after kissing it, and only bedewed it with her tears. At length she sunk into the grave of no disease but a broken heart. After her death we had only two Scottish women onboard, one of them a Shetlander.
As their friends were allowed to come onboard to see them, they brought money, and numbers had it of their own, particularly a Mrs BARNSLEY, a noted sharper and shoplifter. She herself told me her family, for one hundred years back, had been swindlers and highwaymen. She had a brother a highwayman, who often came to see her, as well dressed and genteel in his appearance as any gentleman.
Information taken from Inverness Courier 5 December 1822.
(updated 25th May, 2016)
In Plymouth Sound are the AMAZON, DAPHEE, EXPRESS and CADET female convict ships. The latter had been detained in consequence of cases of sickness and death onboard, effects of ordinary disease, but she will sail as soon as the weather will permit.
Information taken from London Evening Standard 5 December 1848
(updated 16th May, 2016)
Surgeon Thomas R.H Thomson M.D (1841) to be Surgeon Superintendent of the MARION convict ship. The ANNA MARIA female convict ship, in charge of Surgeon Superintendent McCREA at present lying off the Royal Arsenal, has taken onboard about 200 female convicts, several of whom have their children with them, for conveyance to Hobart Town
Information taken from West Kent Guardian 4 October 1851
(Updated 23rd April, 2016)
Female convicts are not to be allowed to remain an incumbrance to the gaols but for the shortest possible period, having speedily removed to Grangegoman Depot for transportation, the colonies not having been closed against this class, as had been partially the case in reference to male convicts.
Female Convicts transported in 1848
Ship JOHN CALVIN – Females 171 – Convict s children 33
Ship KINNEER – Females 144 – Convict’s children 34
Ship Lord Auckland – Females 200 – Convict’s Children 44
The number of females sentenced to transportation during 1848 is in proportion of one fourth to that of males 25-80%
Information taken from Irish Industrial Journal 30 May 1849
KINGSTOWN 16th JUNE 1849
The barque AUSTRALASIA, Captain J Connel has arrived from London to embark 200 female convicts and 40 children for New South Wales. Surgeon Alexander Kilroy RN, the Superintendent
Information taken from Dublin Evening Post 16 June 1849
The total number of prisoners at present in confinement is 143 of whom 40 are under sentence of transportation. On Monday last, upwards of 20 female convicts left the jail, escorted by a party of constabulary, under the command of Mr Giveen District Inspector for Belfast, on their way to Kingstown where they will be transferred to a hulk, prior to final embarkation for a penal settlement.
ANN REA, SARAH McMULLAN, JANE McDONALD, SARAH CASSIDY, SARAH GREEN, MARY MURPHY, ELIZA SCOTT, SARAH McGEOUGH, ELIZA CINNAMOND, ROSE QUINN, MARY QUINN, SUSAN CASSIDY and CATHERINE PATTERSON
Information taken from Banner of Ulster 28 April 1843
Mr MORE O’FERRALL Surgeon in Charge of the MEXBOROUGH female convict ship orders:
The Surgeon Superintendent is to read the Church of England service every Sunday to the convicts (in two divisions if advisable for the sake of security) and also a sermon, or some well selected parts from the religious tracts supplied to him
Information taken from Morning Post 18 August 1841
To the Right Hon. Lord Standley, Secretary of State for the Colonies etc.
Two years having elapsed since your Lordship was pleased to appoint Mrs Bowden and myself to superintend an establishment in this colony for the reformation of female convicts, I propose to inform your Lordship in what manner, and with what success we have attempted to carry out your Lordship’s benevolent intentions. The principle upon which our establishment was formed was that of [efheient] female superintendence. This principle your Lordship was pleased to acknowledge and approve by the appointment of a numerous staff of female assistants, acting under the authority and inspection of Mrs Bowden, as officers or wardens in constant charge of the prisoner and prison wards. The prisons and penitentiaries of Great Britain are already much indebted to this source for improvement in some of the worse features of female imprisonment, and the justness of the principle will, if I mistake not, be further confirmed in the experience of this establishment. It will be satisfactory to your Lordship to learn, that the officers engaged by us in England have been found equal top all the duties of this establishment, without imposing on the Government or upon us the necessity of making any addition to their number. It will be in the recollection of your Lordship that we sailed from England in the WOODBRIDGE with 200 female prisoners on board, on the 1st September 1843 for Van Diemen’s Land where we arrive after a favourable voyage on the 25th December of the same year. In consequence of an application made by us to the Inspectors of Prisons we were supplied with materials for Government work to be made up during the voyage, which kept the women generally employed at their needle and had also ,the good effect of maintaining order and discipline, and so depriving the voyage of much of it tediousness and length. Daily attention n to moral and religious duties and to the general instruction of the prisoners, tended to the same result, and in consequence of these and other salutary regulations, the weather also being favourable, the passage was satisfactory and propitious. The needlework done on the voyage was considerable upwards of 1000 garments having been completed and returned, in whole or part, into the Ordnance Stores upon our arrival.
On the 1st January 1844 the Lieutenant Governor Sir Eardley Wilmot accompanied by the Comptroller General of Convicts, inspected the prisoners on board the WOODBRIDGE and expressed satisfaction at their clean, healthy and orderly appearance. On the 6th of the same month the women were landed and accompanied by the several officers of the establishment, male and female, were marched to the Brickfields Factory a depot assigned to them a short distance from Hobart Town. There being no adequate accommodation in this building for the [superior][others] Dr and Mrs Bowden and the Chaplain and their families were provided with private lodgings in the immediate neighbourhood.
On the 9th January the female prisoners who had previously arrived in the colony by the ships EAST LONDON and MARGARET were placed under our charge and removed to a station at New Town in the vicinity of Hobart Town, to a building in a state of the utmost discomfort and dilapidation, some of our officers were immediately placed in charge, but no effective [cover] would be obtained over these women, and their conduct, whilst under inspection was altogether the reverse of satisfactory. No other result could have been anticipated from the circumstances attending their passage out, the neglected moral training prior to our arrival, and the wretched accommodation assigned to them.
On Sunday morning Mr SHERIFF KELLY accompanied by Mr BAKER and other, paid a visit to the convict ship lying off Woolwich, for the purpose of distributing some religious books, etc, among the unfortunate females. A little before 11 o’clock the worthy Sheriff went on board the SIR CHARLES FORBES at the time of Divine Service, which was performed by Surgeon McTERNAN assisted by Mr GIBLIN a respectable Gentleman, who us going out as one of the free passengers to Van Dienmen’s Land. After the formula of the Church had been read Mr BAKER delivered a farewell address to the unhappy objects of his solicitude. The mate then called the convicts to the Sheriff, one by one, when that Gentleman presented them each with some tracts. With two exceptions all can read; and Mr GIBLIN had volunteered to instruct them during their passage. The officers spoke in high terms of their moral conduct and decency of behaviour; but there was a manifest difference between the London and the country prisoners. The worthy Sheriff was then conveyed to the GRENADA where he was received by Mr Surgeon NESBIT. The vessel contains its full complement, 88 making in the whole 154 convicts – 57 of whom were removed from Newgate.
Information taken from Morning Post 30 August 1826
There is at present fitting at Chatham a government vessel and, when finished she will be sent to Van Diemen’s Land as a station, where the irreclaimable female convicts will be kept on board in classes according to their conduct, that they may not have an opportunity of contaminating, by their vile example in Sydney, those who, but for them, might become useful members of society. Several children under eight years of age are on board the female convict ship, a certain number being allowed to accompany their mothers on such occasions.
Information taken from Kentish Gazette 3 January 1843
Transportation of convicts – yesterday the hired convict ship ANNA MARIA came to moorings off Woolwich dockyard. She will receive onboard four hundred female convicts for conveyance to Hobart Town and Sydney and sail the 1st October. The hired convict ship RODNEY is appointed to sail from Queenstown on the 20th inst; with six hundred convicts taken from the depots in Ireland. On Tuesday the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty engaged two other ships to sail in the course of the ensuing month, one with five hundred male convicts of the class termed Pentonville exiles, to Perth, Western Australia and the other with four hundred females to Hobart Town and Port Jackson, making a total of 1900 convicted felons thus sent out of the country.
Information taken from Morning Advertiser 13 September 1851.
The ANNA MARIA female convict ship, in charge of Surgeon Superintendent McCrea at present lying off the Royal Arsenal, has taken onboard about 200 female convicts, several of whom have their children with them, for conveyance to Hobart Town. The majority of the convicts are of Irish extraction and mostly from Liverpool. There are two, however onboard, each under sentence of 14 years transportation in consequence of articles being found in their possession which they had received from the male associates of the Uckfield Gang. A boy, the offspring of one of these women was put onboard yesterday to accompany his mother to Hobart Town. The child was born in gaol, and is not upwards of two years of age, and had been well taken care of in one of the Workhouses in East Kent since April last.
Information taken from Evening Mail 3 October 1851
Surgeon Thomas R.H Thomson M.D (1841) to be Surgeon Superintendent of the MARION convict ship. The ANNA MARIA female convict ship, in charge of Surgeon Superintendent McCREA at present lying off the Royal Arsenal, has taken onboard about 200 female convicts, several of whom have their children with them, for conveyance to Hobart Town
Information taken from West Kent Guardian 4 October 1851
DREADFUL SHIPWRECK AND LOSS OF TWO HUNDRED AND TWENTY SIX LIVES
THE FEMALE CONVICT SHIP NEVA
We have this week the melancholy task to record another most distressing shipwreck, almost contiguous to our island, attended with the loss of life more excessive and awful, than that of the late ship GEORGE THE THIRD. The female convict ship NEVA commanded by Captain Peck left Cork on the 3rd January last, bound for Sydney, having onboard 150 female prisoners, with 33 of their children, 9 free women with 22 children, and a crew of 26 persons, under the charge of the surgeon superintendent Dr Stephenson R.N. They had proceeded prosperously on their voyage, until on Wednesday the 13th of May last, anticipating in a few days to arrive at their destination and being by the reckoning kept, about 90 miles from King’s Island so early as two in the morning, the men on the lookout observed land in sight and about 4 a reef of rocks suddenly appeared right ahead. Orders were given top tack about, but while yet in stays the vessel struck, and unshipped her rudder. The ship then became altogether unmanageable , and obeying the impulse of the wind only, was driven upon her larboard bow with violence on the rocks, and swinging round, immediately bilged. The boats were speedily lowered, but they had no sooner reached the water than they were upset, and in a few moments more the vessel parted and fell asunder in four pieces, when, dreadful to relate, with the exception of 22 persons, who clung to the fragments, the whole onboard perished. After enduring unspeakable hardships, the survivors reached King’s Island, but seven of the number were so exhausted, that they died soon after, leaving only 125 saved out of the entire complement of 241,namely 6 of the prisoner, and 9 of the crew - the Captain B H Peck, the First Officer, Joseph Bennett, Thomas Sharp, John Wilson, Edward Calthorp, Thomas Hines, Robert Ballard, John Robinson William Kidney – and six women - ELLEN GALVIN, MARY SLATING, ANN CULLEN, ROSE HELAND, ROSA DUNN, and MARGARET DRURY. Mr Charles Friend in his small vessel, providentially discovered them on King’s Island and had brought the whole with the exception of one of the women and two of the crew to Launceston. (Hobart Town Courier 3rd July)
Information taken from Clonmel Herald 12 December 1835
FACTS RELATING TO THE CONDITION AND TREATMENT OF FEMALE CONVICTS ON THEIR PASSAGE TO BOTANY BAY.
Collected from the mouth of JOHN OWEN Boatswain of the AMPHITRATE female convict vessel wrecked off Boulogne August 31st 1833 and confirmed by JOHN RICHARD RICE seaman of the same vessel.
There were 108 female prisoners on board the vessel; twelve of these women had children with them. The ages of the prisoners were from about twelve to fifty; those of the children from about five weeks to nine years, excepting one girl of fourteen. The children were always with the women. There was no attempt at separation. They were all together. The women slept three in a bed. The beds ran the whole length of the ship, fore and aft. Between every three beds was a board. The women who had a child had two other women also in their beds. The women all seemed very tender mothers, with the exception of one old Scotchwoman, who treated her child very cruelly. He was boy about three years old. OWEN remembers only one woman who instructed her child, a boy of seven or eight. She used to teach him to read regularly every day. He was a natural child. The women had been a prostitute, and came from Ratcliff Highway. Her name was ------------------------------ . The language and behaviour of some of the women was outrageous and disgusting beyond anything the men had ever heard. OWEN has frequently been obliged to throw pales of water over them as the only means of keeping them at a distance from the crew. All the language and behaviour the children were exposed to hear and see night and day. He believes it to be a general rule on board female convict vessels that there should be no communication between the prisoners and the crew, and that the former do not go to the fore part of the ship. The women on board the AMPHITRITE had the range of the deck. The doctor let them go where they liked; he never took any notice if they did not make a riot. The doctor had the sole management of them, never heard him expostulate, advise or in any way converse with them. There was not attempt at restraint instruction or government of any kind; only if one was riotous he had her brought upon deck and put into a thing like a watchbox,(1) in which they could not sit and could only just stand upright. It was very strongly built; no opening except some small holes at the top to let air in .The women were sometimes shut up in this for hours at a time. This was the only punishment. There was no reward or encouragement for good conduct. No attempt to keep them employed. The Captain never interfered with them in any way; it was not his business. The only order he ever gave them was to bring up their beds on deck every fine morning. That was the only thing they were ever set to do. All their other employment was at their own pleasure. The doctor’s wife never spoke to any of them, not took any notice of them, except to call POOLE, the women who attended upon her. There was no divine service on board. Each woman had a Bible given her at Woolwich by Mrs Fry and two other Quaker Ladies. Most of them could read and write. Those from Newgate had been taught in the school there. Mrs Fry and the other ladies came on board at Woolwich four of five times and read prayers. Most of the women sewed a good deal. Almost all had a trunk or box of clothes. (2) Part of this was furnished by Government or by the counties from which they came. In reply to my inquiries as to the previous life and habits of the women the sum of OWEN’s answers was as follow: - Forty of the women were from Newgate. Most of these were very young. The oldest did not seem above thirty. Many of them were from Radcliffe Highway and from Westminster; some from Chelsea. Most of them had been prostitutes, some were very harden and outrageous. Those who had been Newgate the longest were the worse. It was OWEN’s place, as boatswain, to sling the chair for Mrs Fry and the other Ladies when they came on board. He hears the Newgate girls wish she might fall overboard and be drowned. Some of them appeared very well disposed. He thinks if they had been kept away from the bad ones, and taken pains with, they would have behaved very well. All the girls on board under the age of fifteen or sixteen were from Newgate. There were eighteen women from Scotland, These were the worst and most ferocious and hardened on board. They were almost all above forty; only one young woman among them. There was not one tolerably decent. Their language was the most disgusting that can be conceived, and they were always quarrelling and fighting and stealing from the other women. OWEN does not remember what were their offences. Several of them had children. One had a daughter onboard, fourteen years of age; she had been in hospital nearly from the time they sailed and was not expected to live. OWEN does not recollect how many Irish women there were. The number was not great. There were none remarkably bad among them. None of them had children. The best behaved of the women were from the counties of England, particularly three from Worcestershire. They were all young. They had been prostitutes at Worcester and were transported for some acts of violence towards the police. The eldest was twenty three. Her name was ------------------. She was extremely beautiful. These three girls always kept together, and did not associated with the others. They were always quiet and well behaved. They use to sit together constantly reading the Bible and other books, sewing and singing hymns. When they sailed two of them were put into the same bed with one of the Newgate women. The next morning they complained to the doctor that they could not bear to sleep with her, her language and behaviour were so indecent and offensive to them. They were then allowed to sleep with the other Worcester women. Two were enceinte and would have been brought to bed on board. When the ship struck ------------- was the only one who did not go down to fetch a bundle of clothes. They expected to go ashore in the boats. OWEN asked her why she did not; she said if she could save her life she did not mind the rest. He fetched her bonnet for her. After this he saw no more of her. There was one woman of about twenty eight, from Nottingham. She was very quiet and steady. She used to wait on the doctor’s wife. Her name was POOLE. She had a great quantity of clothes. There was one from Hull of about twenty two very quiet. Several from Manchester and from Norwich. Remembers nothing remarkable about them. Two from Liverpool, extremely bad; never saw two more abandoned girls. The eldest one was not more than seventeen. Does not remember any from the West of England. There was one Welsh girl, not above nineteen; she could not speak a word of English. The others robbed her the first day she came onboard, she was the most dejected of the whole. She used to stand at the gangway from morning till night, looking on the water and crying. For a fortnight they could not get her to eat. She would take nothing but a drink of cold water, or now and then an apple or pear. OWEN thinks she was from Seaumaris. Forgets what her name was. She was perfectly quiet. OWEN observed very little kindness among the prisoners. They did not generally seem to be dejected, not to regard transportation as a punishment. A great many said they never meant to go back to England. Only three were transported for life. One of them was from Newgate, and one from Scotland. Forgets where the other came from. Some had been in Newgate four or five months. These were the worst. The women, generally speaking were extremely fearful. If it blew at all, or was at all rough, they were all crying and screaming. OWEN and the mate hardly ever went down that they did not come round them to ask if there was any danger. At the time of the gale the men concealed the danger from them to the very last. OWEN thinks they had no idea their fate was so near till the tide rose and the sea washed over them and knocking them from side to side. At the time all the men were in the rigging and could not hear what they said.
This cage (watchbox) was washed ashore and broken up on the quay at Boulogne with the rest of the wreck.
I saw and opened one of these at the Bureau de la Marine. The clothes were good and abundant. The small arrangements for future employment and housewifery, the little flat iron, the neat store of needles, pins, cotton, etc seemed adapted to something better than a life of disorder and rapine.
Information taken from Morning Post 17 October 1833
Palm Sunday, the Rev. Bernard Kirby, after officiating at the Richmond Female Penitentiary, Grangegorman Lane and afterwards at the Olivemount Institution proceeded to Kingstown, conveying with him a parcel containing small braches of palm, which he distributed to the female convicts on board the MARIA now lying in the harbour, awaiting orders to sail for a penal settlement. We were favoured by the Rev Gentleman with an invitation to see the prison ship, and to witness a scene, for which he in some degree prepared us, at once edifying and affecting . The MARIA is moored about the centre of the harbour, and as soon as Father Kirby was descried by one of the penitent convicts, she gave notice of his approach to her companions all of whom, cheerfully came on deck, and hailed him in the distance with prayers and blessings. When he got onboard they collected around him, kneeling for his blessing, and affectionately seizing him by the hand, which he did not withhold. He then directed them to descend to their prison, and having procured a candle, he there addressed them in his own peculiar style of energy and paternal tenderness, directing their attention to the scenes of degradation in which they were accustomed, inspiring them with hope, and pointing to the causes which led to their present condition; he retraced the crimes to which they had been addicted, without the introduction of a single phase calculated to wound, but rather to excite contrition for the past, and confidence in God for the future. The Rev. Gentleman’s discourse had the desired effect; one hundred and forty Magdalens poured forth tears feelingly and fast, during the delivery of his rapid review of the Passion of the Redeemer, the Conversion of Magdalen, and the Absolution pronounced upon the woman whom the Scribes and Pharisees – the very men who, perhaps, had been the partners of her guilt – would have stoned to death; he concluded by referring to the name of the vessel which was to bear them to the penal settlement to which the offended laws of their country had consigned them; the Rev, Gentleman said that this things which were decreed by Divine appointment were measured by the obscure limits of human reason, and declared to be the result of accident; but, the Christian having faith would ascribe them to their proper origin, and pronounce it as his conviction that nothing happened except through and by the knowledge and sanction of an Omniscient Providence. The ship in which they were to be conveyed on the high seas to a foreign country, was called MARY, and who could say that she was not, by Divine appointment placed under the especial protection of the Virgin whom the Redeemer had chosen to be His Mother. The effect of this appeal to their religious feelings was thrilling in the extreme – the poor convicts sobbed aloud and poured forth, in one simultaneous concert, the ardent devotions of a contrite heart. Having distributed the palm amongst them – to each one of whom he gave a little sprig, which she received with joy and reverence – they all knelt and implored his blessing, which the Rev. Gentleman, in a deep and impressive tone and manner, pronounced in Latin, according to the Roman Ritual, and then having enjoined them to be peaceable and orderly on their voyage – mild and submissive to the authorities onboard, he bade them farewell. Those poor convicts are native of every county in Ireland, some of them genteel-looking creatures and evidently of a class above the common ranks of life. They were all clean and orderly in person – each and every one of them bearing the impress of the discipline which that most excellent woman Mrs Rawlins, the Head matron of Grangegorman Lane Penitentiary so successfully enforces.
Information taken from Dublin Evening Post 3 April 1849
The following letter had 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 Surgeon to Captain Y............, R.N. also by anther from the same Gentleman to one of his friends in London.
SYDNEY, ON BOARD THE SHIP MIDAS DECEMBER 16 1825.
“A letter of sincere thanks from the unfortunate female convicts on board the MIDAS, Captain James Haigrie, 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-suffers to acknowledge our most grateful thanks to you, likewise to those Ladies who took any 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 endeavours 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 it is the earnest prayers of us unfortunate women, who feel a heartfelt sorrow for those past misdeeds. We shall conclude, and with all due deference, shall beg leave to subscribe ourselves, Madam,
“Your very much obliged, humble servants”
ANN UNWIN ANN CROSS
MARY JONES MARY MONTAGUE
SOPHIA DAVIS MARY SNOOKS
MARY BULLINGHAM MARGARET BURT
ANN WHITE ANN COLSTON
MARY DALE MARY WEAVER
“Our duty to all the ladies, we hope that are all well. We are all well. We cannot, Madam inform you in what manner we shall be disposed of. Our Surgeon had been a great fiend to us. May the ALMIGHTY bless him!
“We beg permission to give you a short account of our passage Madam. We arrive 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 time they were most wanting. Madam, we hope that we do not too much trespass on your time. There had 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 would; there never could be a Gentleman so constantly attentive to unfortunate women; he was forever 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 women 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 they 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 onboard, 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 the 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 had been very kind, and the Officers 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 all of us at Margate, 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 Gog 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 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 insulated you understanding. Could this request be complied with, your humble Petitioners would forever be bound to pray.
Madame, 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.
Madam, this prosecution will prove profitable to our poor souls we hope.
EXTRACT FROM THE SURGEON’s LETTER TO CAPTAIN Y-------
After we left the River in the MIDAS, with the exception of having a good deal of sickness onboard, 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 onboard, 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 suppose, 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, then they generally are, many more of them would return to the paths of virtue, and become good members of society. They are treated by every person onboard the MIDAS with the utmost kindness and attention to their comforts, and they repaid that attention by their grateful demeanour and general good conduct; no 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 character, 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 onboard these ships. The conduct of the female convicts was highly praiseworthy. It was my intention to write to Mrs Pryor, but I find my time will not permit me. I shall therefore take the liberty of enclosing a letter from the prisoners, which they begged of me to take home to her, which I trust you will be good enough to forward. I know they were highly grateful to her and all the Ladies for their kindness, and I think it is expressive of their sentiments.
To the good and orderly conduct, as well as cleanly and decent appearance of the prisoners on this voyage out, many things perhaps contributed, but probably none individually more than the exertions of the “Ladies Committee”, of this I had daily proof on the voyage.
Information taken from Morning Post 26 October 1826
EMBARKATION OF FREE SETTLERS AND CONVICTS FOR VAN DIEMEN’S LAND
On Monday about seventy female convicts, collected from several parts of the county were conveyed from Grangegorman Lane Prison to the convict ship MARIA now lying in Kingstown Harbour. The convicts were conveyed in covered cars from the Prison to Halpin’s Pool, where the Isle of Bute Steamer was in readiness to receive them. The prisoners were escorted by a troop of the 6th Dragoon Guards, Commanded by Mr Martyn, and accompanied by Thomas L Sinnott Esq. Governor of the prison. Mrs Miles, the assistant matron and some other officers of the prison also attended. The prisoners were put on board the Isle of Bute, under the superintendence of Captain Smith RN and when the arrangements were complete, the steamer started for Kingstown, and on arriving alongside the MARIA, the convicts already on board over 100 came on deck and loudly cheered the new comers. The MARIA is a very beautiful ship, over 500 tons register, and fitted up in the best style. She is Commanded by Captain Plank – and Mr Knolleth, an able and experienced surgeon, has charge of the convicts. Every attention had been paid to the berths, which are roomy and well furnished. The majority if the convicts are strong, well looking young women. Their food consists of plenty of biscuits, tea and coffee (without milk) on alternative mornings for breakfast, beef and bread for dinner and gruel for supper. They are allowed to exercise on deck, and the ship (when the hatches are closed) is ventilated by a patent contrivance which admits plenty of fresh air. On Monday a number of respectable ladies and gentlemen inspected the vessel .The Captain and Surgeon Knolleth were most urbane, and took every pains to point out the different arrangements. Although there are no armed guards on board, the utmost order and discipline prevails amongst the unfortunate convicts, who are under the superintendence of a ship matron who goes out with them. Besides the convicts the MARIA carries out two very respectable looking families consisting of twelve persons, who go out as free settlers. They are provided with cabins fitted up with the most comfort and neatness. About fifty children belonging to the convicts have been allowed to go out with their parents. Mr Sinnott, after seeing his charge safely on board, proceeded to the Castle to procure the warrant for sailing, and the MARIA, has started for her destination of Hobart Town.
Information taken from Tuam Herald 14 April 1849
Maria left Ireland on 5 April 1849 and arrived Hobart 23 July 1849.
THE DUKE OF CORNWALL TRANSPORT SHIP – EMBARKATION OF TWO HUNDRED FEMALE CONVICTS
Some six months since, early in December last, we laid before our readers an account of the embarkation and departure of the last draft of female convicts for Van Diemen’s Land, in the EARL GREY transport ship. We had the gratification of detailing on that occasion the happy results recognizable in the conditions and conduct of those poor exiled creatures, consequent on the humane and judicious treatment extended to them by the executive, and not less arising from the incessant and devoted attention bestowed on their moral reformation and religious instructions, by the zealous and truly Christian chaplain of the Female Penitentiary prison – the Rev Dr Kirby. Judging from the interest excited at that time amongst all classes of the Catholic community by our detail of the touching and truly edifying scene presented in the celebration of the Divine mysteries offered up for those hapless beings, on the deck of their floating prison, and in sight of the land they were about to leave for ever. And, recognising as we do, the importance of the privilege obtained by the efforts of one Christian priest, of having Catholic worship, and the ministry of the Catholic clergyman recognised as a right on board convict ships – a right previously denied – we are induced to think that a brief account of the farewell visit, ministration, and sermon of the Rev Dr Kirby, on Sunday, to the female convicts onboard the DUKE OF CORNWALL, will be perused with interest by many. The following from the note of our reporter:-
The rev. Dr Kirby reached Kingstown by half past 11 o’clock morning train, and immediately embarked in a barge which was in waiting at the wharf, and proceeded on board the DUKE OF CORNWALL transport ship, which lay at anchor a considerable way out in the harbour. This ship is one of the finest of her class, and her appointments are of first rate character. On reaching the deck, the Rev Gentleman was surrounded by a crowd of the convicts – all of whom have benefited by his ministry, during an attendance of five hours a day at Grangegorman Prison for months past. The tearful welcome given by these poor convicts of their pastor and friend, envinced the depth of their feelings the sincerity of their repentance, and the success of his instructions. It should be observed that the vast majority of those poor females have been sentenced to transportation for offences of a comparatively minor character, chiefly petty aggressions on property, arising from absolute want and distress. Two cases may be instanced: of sisters, young exceedingly interesting and intelligent peasant girls, who having lost their parents by the last pestilence, were reduced to utter destitution .They found that the Workhouse, although it might give them a wretched dole of food and shelter, yet afforded no refuge for the female virtue they were taught to prize. In a moment of desperation they purposely placed themselves within the power of the criminal law by stealing some poultry. They pleaded GUILTY, and accepted with resignation the sentence of transportation. There were no less than fifty or sixty children of tender age on board, who were permitted to accompany their exiled mothers. The appearances of the entire lot of convicts was cleanly and orderly in the extreme; they were p[resided over and their wants attended to by two highly intelligent ,kind and attentive female guardians, Miss Hooper and Miss Downing; the former lady was distinguished by the Rev Pastor and by the Officers of the ship, as deserving of the highest praise for her unremitting care and attention to her afflicted charge. The day although fine was somewhat tempestuous, and the Mass on that occasion was not celebrated on deck. However the roomy and excellent accommodation in the prison room between decks, enable the Rev Pastor to offer the Holy Sacrifice in full view to the convicts, who were arranged in their respective mess berths, and all were enabled to hear with perfect ease the affecting address which the Rev gentleman delivered after the Mass. Nothing could be more edifying than the pious and attentive demeanour of these poor convicts during the celebration of the Mass, which as they were apprised, was offered up for their safe voyage to their destination, for the perfect reformation of their lives, and for their welfare in this world, and hereafter. The Captain, Surgeon, and other officers of the ship were present whilst these poor creatures worshipped their God through the ministry of his priest, and the scene altogether presented an aspect as solemn and impressive as if that worship were offered beneath the stately roof of the grandest cathedral. After the mass the Rev. Dr Kirby proceeded to address the penitent congregation, every one of whom had profited by his ministry, and received at his hands the great sacramental bond of their faith, previous to leaving their prison in Dublin. The Rev Pastor selected his test from the epistle and gospel of the day, having previously read for his congregation both epistle and gospel in English as they had been before recited during the Mass in Latin. The epistle was the memorable one of St Paul, addressed to the Romans, and most apposite to the occasion, containing the dread sentence “THE WAGES OFSIN IS DEATH”. The gospel was of St Matthew and referred to the warning of the Saviour against false prophets, and them “WHO DO NOT THE WILL OF THE FATHER”. In a strain of simple and plain , but urgent and earnest eloquence, the Rev gentleman proclaimed to his poor and erring, but repentant charge, the terrible truth conveyed in the sentence of the inspired apostle. He shewed them that since the primary fall of man since man was tempted to DISOBEDIENCE and sinned against his Creator – the primeval curse – the wages of sin – death and exile from all that was dear to man followed. He shewed that, whilst the Almighty punished sin with the severe sentence of a life of toil, and ultimate mortality, yet he did not cut out all hope. He gave his mighty promise of redeeming mercy – a promise which was to be wrought by a woman “WHOSE SEEDS SHOULD CRUSH THE SERPENT’SHEAD” . Thus he explained to them the glorious mystery of man’s redemption and forgiveness, and pointed out how, by prayer and penitence, they were to apply the benefits of the atonement to their own souls. He then alluded to the truth spoken in the day’s gospel. He pointed out the allusion made by the Saviour to the Pharisees, who have many prototypes in our own day. He alluded to his own earnest labours in the conversation and consolation of these poor convicts, and remarked that sense of duty alone, and surely not a paltry pittance, such as be received, induced him to devote his life to the uprise and the consolation of the fallen and the afflicted. He would be unable to do this were is not for the assistance of the charitable and the good, and particularly of one noble and doubly deserving the name of noble lady, whose munificent benevolence enabled him to prosecute his mission of charity even in the hold of the convict ship, and to uphold an institution which preserved many from peopling the penitentiary – fill the dens of infancy, or crowding the convict hulk or the prison ships in this country. In conclusion the Rev Pastor called on those poor females whom he was now enable to fortify and console to offer their prayers for the temporal and eternal welfare of this kind lady. He was forbid to mention her name in full, for hers was the true charity that seek no witness, but the father who is in heaven. He could only give her Christian name – “Mary” and bid them pray for her happiness . The rev gentleman then administered the Sacerdotal Blessing to his poor charge, and bid them an affectionate farewell. As the |Rev Gentleman departed for the shore again , the sides of the ship were thronged with these poor creatures giving him thanks and blessing. The ship sailed on Tuesday.
Information taken from Freeman’s Journal 11 July 1850
The FRANCES CHARLOTTE female convict ship arrived at Sheerness on the 31st August from Woolwich, with convicts for New South Wales. She also has on board 50 spinsters, free settler, or (which means the same thing) free to settle, for they are going on a matrimonial speculation. She remains at the Little Nore under quarantine.
Information taken from Exeter Flying Post 20 September 1832
TRANSPORTATION OF FEMALE CONVICTS
It is intended to send a great number of female convicts to Van Dieman’s Land, where there is a great dearth of the fair sex. Several large ships have been taken up for this purpose, and tomorrow or Sunday next the FRANCES CHARLOTTE, East Indiaman, Captain Aaron Smith, Commander, now lying off the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich, will leave the river Thames for Hobart Town with 100 female convicts on board and 80 convict children, principally girls who have been found guilty of various offences against the laws. Exclusive there are 50 free young English women, who are going out in the same ship to seek husbands in Van Diemen’s Land, but who will have no communication with the convicts and be kept separate from them, as far as is possible. Several have the expense of their passage paid by various parishes to which they are chargeable, and who are adopting this plan to relieve themselves of the burden of supporting them. A surgeon and two experienced Matrons will accompany the passengers. Three others vessels will shortly follow the FRANCES CHARLOTTE with similar freights.
Information taken from Enniskillen Chronicle and Eme Packet 6 September 1832
Some days since the EARL GREY transport ship, arrived from the Thames in Kingstown Harbour, having been chartered by Government for the conveyance of female convicts under sentence of transportation to Hobart Town, Van Dieman’s Land. In the course of last week the convicts, all – or nearly all- young creatures, some of them mere girls – were brought down from Grangegorman Depot and embarked onboard the transport. They numbered 380; and, owning to the humane regulation of not severing infants and growing children from their mothers – the human freight included 60 more, comprising the infants and children of tender age belonging to the convicts. The triumph of the Catholic faith in the dungeon and the convict ship had been vindicated ably by its clergy, whose ministry had gloriously proved the exalting and humanising tendency of its spirit in the labours of the Rev. Bernard Kirby and their results in the chastened feeling and resigned and virtuous disposition of the poor creatures who derived hope and consolation from his instructions. On Sunday morning last the convicts took the last interview with their Pastor, the Rev. Gentleman. As the boat approached containing the Rev. Mr Kirby, the side of the noble ship was seen crowded with anxious groups of the convicts, who were nearly all on deck, and as the boat came alongside, and the reverend gentleman ascended, cries of joy and exclamations of delight burst from the crowd of poor creatures. On the Rev. Mr Kirby reaching the deck they crowded round him, manifesting the liveliest emotions of gratitude and respect. The reverend gentleman then ascended the quarter deck, and, having addressed a few words to the convicts to prepare themselves for divine worship, he proceeded to arrange a temporary altar. The courtesy of Captain Lansdown and Dr Ferrier RN (the ship’s surgeon), assisted by the Chief mate and other Officers, soon supplied the necessary accommodation. The altar was erected, the candles lighted, the priest assumed his robes, and there beneath the wide heaven – on the quarter deck of that lordly vessel – and amidst deep and devout silence the sacrifice of the mass – the bond of faith of the Christian Catholic world, was offered up for these poor female convicts. Pariahs of their sex, condemned of the law, and outcasts of the world, there was yet consolation and hope for those who wept to that kneeling crowd, and deeply and trustfully did they seem to feel it.- The scene during the mass was solemn and imposing in the extreme. The priest bowed in prayer before the alter above – the prostrate crowd beneath – the swarth and sunburnt mariners, with uncovered heads, subdued and awe-struck witnesses of the scene – beyond the ship the harbour covered with small boats, each with it kneeling crew of fishermen, each boat floating motionless on the clam water within the view of the ceremony – the sailboats, as they glided past top their fishing grounds, dropped the peak in honour of the sacrament – the voice of the priest, and the low response – all formed as it were a spell to enwrap the heart in devout and calm response.. At the conclusion of the mass, the Rev. Mr Kirby proceeded to address his repentant charge. He drew h9is text from the Epistle and Gospel of the day – St Paul, Romans 15th Chap. and Mathew 11th. The reverend pastor having read both Epistle and Gospel, proceeded to deduce from the divine words therein contained maxims of virtue and practical Christianity, conveyed in language simple yet eloquent, impressive yet affectionate. He explained to them in what the true Christian spirit consisted – not in words or forms, but in acts – in self denial, in cheerfulness and submission to the divine will under affliction – in obedience to lawful authority, in forbearance with each other, in mutual good will, in practical faith, in humble hope, and sincere charity. He told them how they were to bring these maxims to bear in their own lives, and proceeded to lay down for them the line of Christian and virtuous conduct which they should pursue during their long voyage, which would be their time of probation, and held out to them the certainty of being rewarded in this world by the esteem and respect of their employers in the foreign land, and in the next by attaining the bliss of a happy eternity. After a long and careful exhortation as to their duties, the Rev, Gentleman concluded by bestowing on his charges the sacerdotal benediction. Nothing could equal the edifying demeanour of those poor convicts, all of whom wept heartily. The remainder of the day was spent by the Rev. Gentleman in administrating sacramental rites, and giving his parting consolation to his poor charges, as also in inspecting the accommodation provided for them. The result of this inspection was most pleasing. All were found comfortably lodged – the ‘tween decks is well ventilated, and is seven feet high. The poor convicts are blessed in having a truly Christian gentleman over them in Surgeon Ferrier and Captain Lansdown is already named by them with gratitude. The Rev. Mr Kirby at length took leave of his charges, and departed amidst the tearful prayers and blessing of those poor beings, from whose dreary lot he has taken so much of its bitterness. The EARL GREY sailed on Monday with her freight of convicts for Hobart Town.
Information taken from Dublin Evening Post 13 December 1849
The following story was reported in the Cornwall Chronicle on 7 October 1865 (p.3 c.4–5). Alas, the Surgeon Superintendent is not identifiable and we do not know how accurate this recount is, so long after the event. Also, conditions were different at different times and on different ships. However, this article demonstrates that life for female convicts during the voyage out was definitely NOT a holiday.
A CONVICT SHIP.
I received a short note from Sir Astley, informing me that he had procured for me the appointment of surgeon on board a ship, which had been taken by Government for the purpose of transporting a number of female convicts to Australia. I cannot say I felt particularly delighted by the information. In the first place, I had fixed my hoped on receiving a permanent appointment, and this would of course terminate when the voyage was ended; and beyond that it led to nothing. However, there was some occupation for me, which, if not remunerative, was better than idling my time away, and I immediately wrote Sir Astley a letter, thanking him for his kindness, and promising to call on the authorities to whom he had referred me without delay. I now began to make preparations for my voyage to Australia. I placed one hundred and seventy pounds of my little capital in the bank, and the rest I kept to purchase my case of instruments, outfit, and to provide for my current expenditure. My spirits were elated at the prospect of my visit to the antipodes, and I promised myself much pleasure and satisfaction in my new employment. Never was man more thoroughly disappointed. My voyage was one of continued misery from the time the ship left England till she arrived in Sydney. At the present time it would hardly be thought credible were I to relate the method of life on board a convict ship five-and-thirty years since, and then it was immensely improved, by comparison, to what it had been five-and-twenty years before. At that time nothing was more common on the caprice of a captain of a ship, or possibly on the complaint of a second or third mate, to lash an unfortunate creature up to the gangway, and flog her most severely, in exactly the same manner that sailors are flogged in the navy; and so common and so little thought of were these occurrences, that it was not even thought worth while to enter them in the ship’s log. Although, in my own time, an improvement had taken place in the treatment of these wretched women, heaven knows it was even then bad enough. When hey arrived at their destination, and were assigned to the different settlers, there was always one loud cry of horror at their degraded state. And yet there was little to be wondered at. If any good or modest feeling remained in them before the ship left England, it was almost certain to be destroyed before she reached her destination. After the treatment they had been subjected to during the voyage, and the examples they had constantly before their eyes, it would have been far more surprising, when they landed, if they had persevered one commendable attribute of womanhood, than that they had lost every principle which makes woman honourable. It would be impossible for me to lay the details of the general demoralisation of the ship before the reader; suffice it to say that my life, when on board, was made wretched by it. I endeavoured, to the best of my ability, to make things better; but as in those days the relative positions of the surgeon and the captain of the ship were but ill defined, my remonstrances had no weight, and my threats were laughed at.”—The Village Doctor, in the St. James’s Magazine.
A description of a scene on board the Tasmania 1845 at the time of its embarkation at Dublin appeared in the Courier on 13 September 1845 (copied from a Dublin newspaper). It describes the accommodations for the female convicts on board.
As it was expected that the above vessel would sail on Saturday from Kingstown Harbour, a number of persons proceeded to the pier to witness the impressive and melancholy sight. The day was beautiful, the sky was serene, the sea unruffled and smooth as a mirror—all nature was hushed in a hallowed repose, and everything indicated peacefulness and happiness; but when the eye turned to the gloomy form of the convict ship as it lay upon those calm blue waters, a floating dungeon, the prison-home of the felon exile, a sadness came o'er the mind from the reflection that however bright and lovely, and joyous all things around it seemed to be, within its dark and tomblike bosom were enclosed many suffering spirits, whose crimes had expatriated them from their native land, and to whom the beauties of "the firmament above and the earth beneath" were but as "a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours. " At three o'clock, through the kindness of the commander, William Black, Esq., and Surgeon Jason Lardner, a few visitors were allowed onboard. The convicts, altogether consisting of females, amounting in number to 137 women and 37 children, were at this time arranged at the mess table, and had just eaten plain substantial dinner. The visitors descended one of the two ladders which lead to “the prison," as the place in which the convicts eat their meals, and sleep is called and entered by stooping, through a grated door-way, very much resembling that of an ordinary cell. This prison is situated under decks, and the mess-tables, which are constructed at each side, extend about two thirds of the ship's length. Each table is sufficiently large to accommodate eight persons with ease; and at night can be converted into a bedstead, or receptacle for a mattress; it is railed or boarded-in like a sheep-pen, and separated from similar tables which at either side adjoin it. To reach these tables or leave them it is therefore necessary to climb over the wooden railings. At the time to which we allude all the convicts were penned-in; some were occupied sewing, some winding thread or cotton into balls; some reading prayers from small time and thumb-worn books; some endeavouring "to make out" the last letter from home, while others were lulling their sickly-looking infants to slumber, or sitting silently and motionless in a state of morbid, moping melancholy. The hour for recreation upon deck having arrived, the convicts prepared to proceed there, and a few had done so when the shrieks of women were heard "above," together with the rapid steps of a female, who was apparently running about the deck, chasing and beating every person whom she met. Then resounded from all quarters exclamations such as "The madwoman has broken loose"—"She is coming down stairs"—"Shut the door." Some of the women ran and hid under the tables or in the little hospital, which adjoins the prison; and others, more courageous, hastened upon deck to see who it was that was disturbing the vessel. It was soon ascertained that a woman named Mary Kelly, who was mad or feigned madness, was pursuing all who were within her reach. She had, it appeared, exhibited symptoms of violent insanity, or assumed them, from the time that she was brought on board, in consequence of which it was considered necessary by those who had the care of her to take means to prevent the possibility of her injuring anyone. Her hands were accordingly fastened behind her back, her feet were tied together by leathern rings, and she was kept down in a recumbent position by a fellow prisoner who was selected to guard her. The surgeon was unwilling to take her on board as he was afraid she would disturb the peace and order of the vessel, and he objected to leaving the harbour and sailing until he heard further upon the subject from the executive. A communication was therefore made to the Castle, and intimation received there from, that on Monday (this day,) medical investigation to test the state of the convict’s mind, would take place. On the receipt of this reply, the surgeon gave directions to liberate the prisoner. Her fetters were then removed, and when she found herself free, she, as has been already stated, rushed furiously upon all whom she met, tearing the clothes, caps and hair of the women, striking the commander, surgeon, and sailors, and creating the consternation and dismay which has been but faintly described. The Rev. Bernard Kirby, chaplain of the Grangegorman depot for female convicts, who paid a visit to the vessel to give his parting and prayerful admonitions to the unfortunate prisoners to conduct themselves peaceably during the voyage, and respectfully for the remainder of their lives, was in the cabin of the commander at this period, and went forward to restrain the infuriated woman. He spoke to her, reasoned with her, and succeeded in bringing her mind to a condition of temporary composure. He then collected the Roman Catholics (upwards of 100 in numbers) into group at each side of the vessel, and prevailed upon Mary Kelly to kneel near him. The scene at this period was very imposing. Here were a number of human beings, varying from ten years old to seventy—the black glossy curls of girlhood, contrasting with the hoary locks of wintry age; the bright beaming eye and rosy cheek of dawning womanhood, with the sunken tearful eye and withered cheek of "three score years and ten"—all kneeling to supplicate mercy from an offended God for crimes different in complexion and kind, ascending in the scale of criminality from the felony of a riband to the murder of a husband or a child; and in duration of punishment from seven and ten years, to perpetual transportation. Side by side knelt the miserable creature who poisoned her husband in Kilkenny and she who drowned her infant in Wicklow when driven from the door of her seducer; and near them sported, in happy innocence, unconscious of their degradation unobservant of the misery around them, happy and playful as if they were gathering flowers in the fields, two little girls, the children of the convict mothers. The Rev. Mr. Kirby having gone through a portion of the evening service, usual upon such an occasion, Mary Kelly, being under the impression that an old woman behind her, who was saying her prayers in a very loud tone, had approached too near her, turned round, and with a heavy blow laid the poor penitent prostrate upon the deck. A panic spread through the crowd, several rose from their kneeling positions, and ran towards the forepart of the vessel; in their flight two women fell over wet coil of ropes, which in no small degree disturbed the solemnity of the scene; but the service, notwithstanding this ludicrous episode, was continued to the close. The influence which religion had over the mind of Mary Kelly was but transient, for she broke out again in a manner equally violent as before, and it became a second time necessary to handcuff her. The authorities of the vessel stated that they never had a better-conducted class of convicts entrusted to their care, or persons more disposed to submit to discipline and observe the regulations, which they had made. The vessel will, it is thought, sail on Monday evening for Van Diemen's Land, where it will in all probability arrive about the month of January next. A plentiful supply of provisions has been laid in, comprising pigs, sheep, and all descriptions of fowl; and this fine vessel, one of the largest, most cleanly, and most expeditious in the service of the government, intended for the transmission of convicts, has been fitted up in every way that could ensure the comfort of those whom it is destined to convey to exile. The convicts will be usefully employed during the voyage in making shirts, stockings, and other articles of clothing. They retire to rest and rise, eat their meals and amuse themselves upon deck at certain hours, the rules in these respects being very rigid. The children who accompany their mothers are left with them till they are two years old; they are then taken from them and educated at the expense of government. The Rev. B. Kirby returned to “Olivemount" at six o'clock. The Rev. Gentleman ran some risk in visiting the vessel, for he had only a day or two recovered from a dangerous fever, in which his life was despaired of by his physicians, and which originated in exposure to cold and over exertion in his untiring labour to support the interests of the benevolent institution which he has founded. The assiduity and the anxiety evinced by Mrs. Rawlins, the matron of the Grangegorman prison, in preparing each convict for the voyage, and seeing that everything was provided for her which necessity required, are beyond all praise. A number of attendants have been appointed from amongst the convicts themselves, the most active and intelligent being selected to wait upon the rest during their meals; and to prevent confusion, all the articles belonging to each convict have been numbered, the number which they bear corresponding with that affixed to a plate worn by her. In conclusion, it may be said that a scene such as is here feebly depicted reads a wholesome and solemn moral lesson: it was one which deeply interested all the visitors, who were indebted to the courtesy of the commander and surgeon for an opportunity of witnessing it.