Convict Irons

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The Irons

Shackles or Leg Fetters

Top irons.jpg

The primary form of iron was the shackle, or leg fetter, which were fixed to the leg by a pin and rivet, and joined by a short chain. In addition to the irons, chains were supplied, presumably used to connect numbers of convicts together.

Sheehan described the irons used in Newgate, which would have been identical to those used on the transports:

"The most common leg irons weighed about fifteen pounds and consisted of two ankle bracelets attached to several iron links, each about eighteen inches long. The bracelets were locked around one or both ankles so that when a prisoner had to walk he picked up the links and then shuffled along." (Wayne Joseph Sheehan, ‘The London Prison System, 1666-1795’, Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Maryland, 1975, p.355)

Women were brought on board in irons, but these were removed upon arrival, and they were not ironed thereafter unless they misbehaved. It seems that on almost all convict ships in this early period, the male convicts were single ironed. On several ships (such as those of the Second Fleet), male convicts were ironed in pairs, or with both hand and leg irons joined together.



Convicts would slip a cloth tape through one of the links in the chain and tie this round their waist so that they could walk without dragging the chain. Captain Hill describes the irons usually used for the convicts on the Surprize: ‘chains that drop between the legs and fasten with a bandage about the waist’. (Hill to Wathen, quoting Hill to Wilberforce, 26 July 1790, TNA CO201/5/281-283)

John Ward wrote that their irons were removed on arrival on board the York hulk in 1838, they were washed and given new clothes, and then taken to a block where 14lb irons were fitted (that is, single irons). The new men spent the first day doing a variety of jobs under the direction of old hands, who were amused by them scampering about in the wet, with the irons knocking about their heels in an awkward manner, ‘not knowing how to tie them up properly’. (John Ward, ‘The Diary of John Ward, 1841-1844’, MS, 1841-44, NLA MS 3275, pp.78, 79, 81)

The manner of tying the irons up is shown in the photograph of a convict at right, from a later date.

Heavy Irons

These were, as the name suggests, thicker and heavier than the usual fetters. Sheehan described the heavy irons used in Newgate as follows: ‘Prisoners who were obvious security risks were loaded with irons weighing forty pounds. . .’ (Sheehan, p.355)

On the Surprize (1794), some of the mutineers were chained on the deck with 60lbs of irons, which Phillip regarded as excessive.

Double Irons

Double irons.jpg

Double irons were precisely that – two sets of irons shaped slightly differently so that the person fitting or removing them could get at the rivets on both. They were presumably fitted with both to make it harder for prisoners to cut their way free, as well as disabling them in the way that heavy irons did. In some cases, the terms ‘double irons’ and ‘heavy irons’ are used interchangeably on the convict ships, confirming that they served both purposes.

The following are a set of double irons offered for sale several years ago, showing both the Broad Arrow and the Board of Ordnance stamps. They have marks showing that they have been struck off.


These were supplied to the convict ships, but seemingly in smaller numbers, suggesting that they were used for disabling troublesome prisoners rather than a routine form of security. However, a number of convicts on the Alexander (1787) seem to have had irons on their wrists while the ships were in port prior to sailing.

Bar Irons

Bar irons were used on convict ships to disable refractory convicts. These seem to have been routinely used on some slave ships, but there is also evidence that on some ships, chains were used rather than bars.


Bar fetters were used on the wrists refractory female convicts on the Lady Penrhyn, as drawn by the surgeon, Arthur Bowes Smyth.

Captain Hill on the Surprize (1790) claimed that the irons used on that ship were slave shackles: "made with a short bolt, instead of chains. . . these bolts were not more than three-quarters of a foot in length, so that they could not extend either leg from the other more than an inch or two at most; thus fettered, it was impossible for them to move but at the risk of both their legs being broken." (Hill to Wathen, quoting Hill to Wilberforce, 26 July 1790, TNA CO201/5/281-283) Hill was almost certainly misrepresenting the situation – these irons would have been used only on troublemakers.

Slave ankle shackles.jpg

Bar irons were also brought on board the Queen, but apparently in small numbers and thus for the unruly. (Alexander Hood, ‘Papers relating to Captain Alexander Hood's command of the Hebe, Channel and Irish Sea: relating to the Convict Transport Queen’, 18 November 1790 to 21 April 1791, NMM MKH/9, MS68/099, regarding certificate signed by the mayor on 11 April 1791)



Surgeon Smyth reported that the women on the Lady Penrhyn were sometimes punished with the thumb-screw, which would surely have been used as a form of restraint and not as an instrument of torture as they were on slave ships. (Marcus Rediker, The Slave Ship: A Human History, New York: Viking Penguin, 2007, pp.72, 178, 202, 219) There is no other record of thumb-screws being used on convicts, although they were used on some of the soldiers on the Marquis Cornwallis (1795), but clearly for incapacitation and not for torture.

Iron collars

In some cases, convicts or crew members would have an iron collar fitted to their neck, and this was chained to the deck or to a stanchion.

A crew member on the Neptune, William Sabuston, claimed that while at Spithead, one of the convicts complained to the surgeon, William Gray of being sick. Instead of tending him, Gray cursed him. Trail ordered him to be placed in irons with an iron collar on his neck, tethered to a stanchion below. The next day, Trail ordered the man to be given three dozen lashes and that he be kept in irons for several days. (Sabuston Examination, TNA T11/381, 33)

The Ships

First Fleet

30 November 1786 – The Charlotte received 140 pairs of shackles and ten tons of iron bars. (Journal of the Charlotte, 8 November 1786 to 24 March 1788, TNA ADM51/4375)

13 December 1786 – George Teer to Navy Board. He had given Mr Downs instructions to send shackles on board the transports agreeable to the numbers first intended. He understood from the Mates that they had been received, along with spare pins and rivets, and tools for fitting and removing them. (TNA ADM106/243)

8 January 1787 - Navy Board to Shortland. They directed him to apply to Captain Phillip as to how to proceed. They had ordered 30 more handcuffs and a dozen heavy irons for such as were refractory. (ADM106/2347/90 or 178; ADM106/2623)

16 January 1787 – The Alexander received 12 heavy irons, 36 rivets, 17 pair of pliers, 2 cold chisels. (Journal of the Alexander, 3 November 1786 to 10 February 1789, NA ADM51/4375)

19 January 1787 – The Alexander logbook states that the convicts were troublesome and that it had been discovered they could get their hands out of their irons. (Journal of the Alexander)

30 January 1787 – Duncan Campbell to Captain Erskine. He noted that the convicts for the Alexander had gone and taken his irons. One could not blame the marine officer, given his circumstances. Erskine did right to take a receipt. (Duncan Campbell, ‘Duncan Campbell Papers, 1766-1802’, 8 Volumes, Mitchell Library, SLNSW, A 3225 (Safe1/413) to A3232 (Safe1/420), published as ‘The Letterbooks and Papers of Duncan Campbell, 1726-1803’, Marlborough: Adam Matthews Publications, n.d., (hereafter Duncan Campbell Letterbooks), Vol.5, p.262)

20 February 1787 – Duncan Campbell to Captain Erskine (n.d. but probably of this date). He had that day received the enclosed list of 120 convicts. By Lord Sydney’s directions he was to send 100, to be delivered to an officer to join the Scarborough at Portsmouth. Therefore, he was to make the necessary preparations for delivery on Friday morning [the 23rd] when, he was informed, wagons and guards would be ready to receive them. Mr Nepean had promised that the irons (for the journey) would be sent out tomorrow. ‘I need not recommend you delivering them decent and clean.’ (Duncan Campbell Letterbooks, Vol.5, pp.270-271)

11 March 1787 – White:

"The weather being moderate the following day, the convicts were put on board the transports, and placed in the different apartments allotted for them; all secured in irons, except the women. In the evening, as there was but little wind, we were towed by the boats belonging to the guardships out of the Hamaoze, where the Dunkirk lay, into Plymouth Sound. When this duty was completed, the boats returned; and the wind now freshening so as to enable us to clear the land, we proceeded to Spithead. . ." (John White, Journal of a Voyage to New South Wales [1790], Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1962, p.47)

20 March - Leg irons, handcuffs, rivets and forelocks brought on board the Scarborough. (Journal of the Scarborough, 15 December 1786 to 26 March 1788, NA ADM51/4376)

- Duncan Campbell to Evan Nepean. A sudden indisposition yesterday had prevented him from meeting Nepean to inquire whether the irons sent to Portsmouth with the convicts were to be returned, because they could not receive 60 more people on board the hulks till they are returned or more are made. (Duncan Campbell Letterbooks, Vol.5, pp.278-279)

21 March 1787 – The Scarborough received 50 chains and 3 leg irons. (Journal of the Scarborough)

18 May 1787 – Easty notes that the convicts attempted to rise to take the ship. They were punished with 2 dozen lashes and double irons. Names of convicts on the Scarborough and their names, ages, crimes and trades were taken down. (John Easty, Memorandum of the Transactions of a Voyage from England to Botany Bay, 1787-1793, Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1965, p.7) Hunter referred to these as heavy irons: ‘Two of the principals were brought on board the Sirius, severely punished, and sent on board another transport, properly secured in heavy irons.’ (John Hunter, An Historical Journal of the Transactions at Port Jackson. . . and the Voyages, London: John Stockdale, 1793, p.6)

Smyth and Bradley simply described them as being very heavily ironed. (Paul G. Fidlon et al (eds.), The Journal of Arthur Bowes Smyth, Sydney: Australian Documents Library, 1979, p.17; William Bradley, A Voyage to New South Wales, 1786-1792, Sydney: Public Library of New South Wales, 1969, p.17)

December 1787 – Smyth on punishment of the women:

Upon any very extraordinary occasion such as thieving, fighting with each other or making use of abusive language to the officers, they have thumb screw put on, or iron fetters on their wrists of this form [illustration in the margin – see copy above]. . . (Smyth, p.48)

Lady Juliana

The steward, John Nicol, wrote: “Those from the country came all on board in irons; and I was paid half-a-crown a head by the country hailers, in many cases, for striking them off upon my anvil, as they were not locked by riveted.’ (John Nicol, The Life and Adventures of John Nicol, London: Cassel & Company Limited, 1937, p.131)

Second Fleet

Under the contract, the contractor was obliged to supply ‘such irons and handcuffs as may be necessary’. (‘Copy of Contract for Conveying Convicts to New South Wales’, TNA CO201/6/273-276)


Trail claimed that:

"The convicts were ironed under the inspection of Lieutenant Shapcote, the Navy Agent, and those of good character, or those not in health, were exempted; and whenever a convict was reported not in health, the Agent saw him taken out of irons." (Statement of Donald Trail, ‘Accounts and Papers Relating to Convicts on Board the Hulks, and Those Transported to New South Wales’, ordered to be Printed 10th and 26th March 1792, House of Commons Sessional Papers of the Eighteenth Century, (83) 1791-92, pp.259-368, pp.331-332)

2 December 1789 – Surgeon Harris warned one of a pair of fighting women that she would be placed in irons, as others had before her, but she was very abusive and said that she did not care what he did. Harris asked the sergeant to provide hand irons, which he did, along with the armourer to put them on. (‘Surgeon Harris’s Account of the Quarrel between Captain Gilbert and Lieutenant Macarthur’, HRNSW, Vol. 2, p.430)

5 December 1789 – Evan Nepean to Shapcote, which passed on his brother’s complaint about the manner in which the convicts were ironed.

Sir Chas. Middleton is gone out of town today, but when he returns he wish[es] to say something to you upon these subjects. of my brother’s complaint and He will also instruct you to examine minutely into the manner of confining the convicts, as it has been represented that they are ironed in such a manner as must ultimately tend to their ultimate destruction. In the meantime it may not be amiss that you should consult with Mr King upon this subject, & give your advice to him upon the subject, & be ready to answer any enquiry that may be made. (TNA HO42/15/402-403)

[This would have been a reference to the use of heavy irons or bar irons.]

6 December 1789 – The naval agent, John Shapcote, responded to Nepean.

"I beg you will please accept my thanks for the hint you are pleased to give respecting the convicts being ironed. Some few of them who come with very bad characters are more severely ironed than others, for the present only." (TNA HO42/15/399)

Trail later said that the convicts had initiated this complaint. In his later statement he defended the manner in which they had been treated at Stokes Bay. Had they been treated as described, they would have complained to Treasury, just as they had complained about being heavily ironed, which complaint was investigated. (Statement of Donald Trail, Accounts and Papers, p.334)

A crew member, William Sabuston, claimed that while at Spithead, one of the convicts complained to the surgeon, William Gray, of being sick. Instead of tending him, Gray cursed him. Trail ordered him to be placed in irons with an iron collar on his neck, tethered to a stanchion below. The next day, Trail ordered the man to be given three dozen lashes and that he be kept in irons for several days. (Sabuston Examination, TNA T11/381, 33)

The male convicts were confined on the orlop deck from the mainmast forward, and were allowed on deck only to cook, wash and do other necessary duties. They were ironed, either two by two, or singly with their legs and hands ironed. Beale said that this prevented them taking off their trousers or drawers properly, ‘which contributed much to the lousy and nasty condition of the said convicts’. (Beale Examination, TNA TS11/381, 6)

On the passage to the Cape, the convicts were admitted on deck in fine weather, 45 at a time, for an hour, half of which time was consumed in ascending and descending. They were closely ironed, so much so that it was common to see blood flowing down their ankles. (Beale Examination, TNA TS11/381, 7)

At least some of the convicts on the Neptune wore manacles during the voyage as well: The prosecution brief (for Trail and Elrington) included the representative case of a convict who had been accused of slipping off his irons, who had the manacle torn off one hand by Elrington and was then flogged and died. (R v Donald Trail and William Elrington, Brief for Prosecution for the Murder of a Convict, Name Unknown, n.d., TNA T11/381)


10 January 1790 – The middle class convict, Samuel Burt reported that on this date, soon after he was brought on board the Scarborough, he was chained to one other convict and in ‘heavy fetters’. (Burt to ‘a gentleman of Lincoln’s Inn, 18 April 1790, in Public Advertiser, 18 October 1790)

[This was not unusual for the fetters used in transporting the convicts, where there was much greater opportunity to escape.]


Captain Hill’s description of the shackles used on the ship:

"The irons used upon these unhappy wretches were barbarous. The contractors had been in the Guinea trade, and had put on board the same shackles used by them in that trade, which are made with a short bolt, instead of chains that drop between the legs and fasten with a bandage about the waist, like those at the different gaols; these bolts were not more than three-quarters of a foot in length, so that they could not extend either leg from the other more than an inch or two at most; thus fettered, it was impossible for them to move but at the risk of both their legs being broken. Inactivity at sea is a sure bane, as it invites the scurvy equal to, if not more than, salt provisions; to this they were consigned, as well as a miserable pittance of provisions, altho’ the allowance by government is ample; even when attacked by disease their situations were not altered, neither had they any comforts administered." (Hill to Wathen, quoting Hill to Wilberforce, 26 July 1790, TNA CO201/5/281-283)

[As noted above, Hill is referring to bar irons used in restraining unruly convicts.]

David Collins wrote that the suffering of the Second Fleet convicts was due to the manner in which they were confined: ‘All this was to be attributed to confinement, and that of the worst species, confinement in a small space and in irons, not put on singly, but many of them chained together.’ (David Collins, An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales [1798], Sydney: A.H. & A.W. Reed, 1975, Vol. 1, pp.99-100)

Third Fleet (1791)

5 February 1791 – Camden, Calvert & King, from the Crescent, to Nepean.

". . . We must also beg it as a particular favor you will order the guard to the Britannia and William & Ann immediately, from six to ten in number to each ship would be sufficient as there is the utmost danger of the convicts mutinying on board those ships, several of them last night having got out of their fetters for that purpose, and the seamen while the ships are in the River cannot be depended upon to protect the ships." (TNA HO42/18/124)

11 April 1791 – Certificate of Mayor Richard Harris (of Cork) regarding the 130 male and 22 female convicts delivered on board was signed by Blow on this date. He also signed a receipt for 27 pair of bar irons, four pair of chain irons and two pair of handcuffs. (Alexander Hood, ‘Papers relating to Captain Alexander Hood's command of the Hebe, Channel and Irish Sea: relating to the Convict Transport Queen’, 18 November 1790 to 21 April 1791, NMM MKH/9, MS68/099)

The crew members who were believed to have participated in plotting the mutiny were put in irons, hand and feet together until they could be delivered at Madeira. (Remarks on board the Albemarle Transport, the 9th April 1791, TNA T1/694 & TNA HO28/8/101-102a)

Royal Admiral (1792)

13 June 1792 – Punished David Sutherland (2 dozen) and John Woodland (1 dozen), convicts, for a burglary. Sutherland was given more since he appeared to be the instigator. They were placed in heavy irons for a week. (Journal of the Royal Admiral, India Office Records, British Library, L/MAR/B338f,)

13 July 1792 – William Eddy and William Freeman, convicts, were given 1 dozen and 18 lashes respectively for theft. The sentry at the main hatchway had seen them stealing flour from a cask. They were loaded with heavy irons. (Royal Admiral Log, L/MAR/B338f, British Library)

Surprize (1794)

Phillip later wrote of the punishment after the alleged mutiny:

"The pretended associates were much worse treated; every cruelty and every artifice were employed to make them accuse us. They were flogged and illegally reduced to half-allowance; they were loaded with 60lb of weight of irons, and all chained to an iron bar and exposed on the poop – all weather – in that dreadful temperature." (F.M. Bladen (ed.), Historical Records of New South Wales, Sydney: Government Printer, 1893 (hereafter HRNSW), Vol. 2, p.880)

Marquis Cornwallis (1795)

In this case, rebellious soldiers were leg bolted to each other (note: the use of the word ‘bolt’ – not chain), handcuffed and thumbscrewed. Again, this was being done for dramatic effect. This is the last time we see a reference to bar irons on the early convict ships.

16 September 1795 – The punishment of two soldiers believed to be involved in the mutiny. After being punished, Ellis had his head shaved and was ironed. Gaffney was not flogged, but his head was shaved. This punishment was under the order of Ensign Brabyn. The two men were then handcuffed, thumb-screwed and leg-bolted to Ellis, and they were placed down among the convicts, where they remained until Ellis died nine days later. (HRNSW Vol. 3, pp.103-4 & 107)

15 February 1796 – Mounted the guns on deck. Sent on shore (at Port Jackson) the spare handcuffs, leg irons and thumbscrews. Delivered Corporal Gaffney to a guard sent from shore. (Journal of the Marquis Cornwallis, 1 February to 1 November 1796, Mitchell Library, SLNSW MLMSS 7491)

Ganges (1796)

The Ganges shows that convicts were brought on board chained in groups (in this case, of five) and that they were then shackled together in pairs.

11 August 1796 – Peter Morris, the Chief Mate, signed a receipt confirming the receipt of 73 pairs of irons from Duncan Campbell, along with 73 convicts received on board that day at Blackwall. (TNA T1/879)

16 August 1796 – Captain Rains to the Transport Board. The Newgate convicts are five to a chain, and the beds will only accommodate four. It is necessary for the government or the owners to supply chains so that they can be shackled together as couples. (TNA ADM108/38/185)

Britannia (1796)

11 March 1797 – Private James Frazier, recruit, jumped overboard and drowned, having two pairs of irons on. (This man had been double-ironed and placed among the convicts for insolence on shore.) (‘Journal of the Proceedings of the Ship Britannia from the Downs to Port Jackson and China, Commencing upon the 3rd of September 1796 & Ending upon the 30th of June 1798’, Dixson Library, SLNSW MSQ35)

12 March 1797 – Double-ironed Mary Ryan and punished her with two dozen lashes and having her hair cut for insolence. At 1pm, punished Biddy (possibly Catherine) Collins with three dozen for cutting John Lewis’s head with a tin pot. Cut off her hair and doubled-ironed her. Put Kitty (Catherine) Simms in irons for jumping out the front window of the house on the island and attempting her own life. (Journal of the Britannia)

25 June 1797 – Governor Hunter to the Duke of Portland:

"I am sorry I cannot say much for the health of those come out in the last ship. The people have been kept in irons the whole voyage in consequence of some conjecture that they meant to seize the ship and to murder the officers. They look most wretchedly from the long confinement, and will require some time to recruit before we can send them to work." (HRNSW Vol.3, p.235)

Barwell (1797)

On the Barwell, three blacksmiths were brought on board to do the ironing – though probably because of the large numbers. In this case, the convicts were apparently not double-ironed or chained in pairs until the mutiny.

20 September 1797 – Three blacksmiths employed in putting irons on the convicts. (Journal of the Barwell, IOR L/MAR/B/420G, p.5a)

16 October 1797 – Captain Patton to Transport Board. On Wednesday, the Admiral would provide two cutters to convey the convicts to the ship. The Master had no proper leg irons other than the ones on the convicts when they were shipped in the river, and it was customary to return the irons the convicts had worn with them from shore. (TNA ADM108/49/373)

17 October 1797 – Patton was directed to purchase iron fetters for the convicts from Langston Harbour, if possible. If not, they were to retain the shore irons and valued so that the Board could pay for them. (TNA ADM108/49/373)

- Captain Patton wrote that the Chief Mate of the Barwell told him that they could secure the convicts for a few days with leg shackles until the others are provided. (The Master was in London.) (TNA ADM108/49/376)

18 October 1797 – She received 186 convicts. Sent four convicts on shore by order of the Transport Board. She now had on board 297 convicts, 18 passengers and 32 soldiers. (Journal of the Barwell, IOR L/MAR/B/420G, p.8a)

- Patton wrote to the Transport Board. The convicts from the hulks had been sent to the Barwell, and their irons were to be retained and valued if they could not be replaced. (TNA ADM108/49/378)

22 October 1797 - Patton to Transport Board. He had sent 64 pairs of new irons on board. 30 were given to the convicts who were without any and the rest were to be exchanged for such as were to be returned. However, there will still remain many that will need to be valued and paid for. (ADM108/49/388)

5 February 1798 – Dore to Sir Michael le Fleming. He mentioned some plot among the convicts on the first leg (which is not mentioned in the ship’s log). Referring to the fate of the Lady Shore:

"We have not yet experienced anything very refractory – twenty-five in number had mediated a rise, when the sailors were aloft, to seize our cuddy arms and take the ship &c., by the murder of us all – but one impeached the preceding evening, and in the morn they were all called up and every soul double-ironed and coupled in pairs." (Dore to Le Fleming, 5 February 1798, HRNSW Vol. 3, p.356)

Hillsborough (1798)

While they were in port, the convicts were placed in double irons, weighing 16lbs (each, presumably). They seem to have been separately ironed until the stories of a mutiny surfaced, upon which they were ‘shackled two and two’. Those who behaved were single ironed. Those who were double ironed contrived to free themselves from the second iron, so that they would have the freedom of being single ironed. The description of how they did this is as follows – they ‘had used flux to cut the round link, so that they were single ironed’.

When on deck, the men were chained to a long chain that ran along the deck, and according to Kelly, they looked like a string of beads (or a charm bracelet). But this seems to refer to a time after the alleged mutiny.

There is a lovely description of the bezels of the irons being ‘ovaled’. ‘Ovaling’ involved rounding the edges of the shackles so that they could be slipped over the foot.

As exemplary punishment, some of the convicts were ‘shackled and handcuffed, and some had iron collars placed round their necks’. Thereafter, the convict diarist, William Noah wrote, the convicts in the prison were ‘ironed, handcuffed and shackled’. The majority of the convicts were double ironed, although some were single ironed so they could work on deck. Noah was chained to another convict when he was returned from the hospital.

19 October 1798 – Noah explored his new place of imprisonment. In the afternoon, the convicts were on deck. The irons they were brought down in were knocked off, and they were ironed together with double irons weighing 16 pounds. Then they were ordered below again. (William Noah, Voyage to Sydney in the Ship Hillsborough 1798-1799. . ., Sydney: Library of Australian History, 1978, pp.11-12)

20 October 1798 – Mr Dyne, the hulks contractor, to Transport Board, requesting that the iron fetters to be worn by the convicts on the ship be delivered to the hulks so that they may be put on before the convicts are moved. Captain Patton was informed of Mr Dyne’s request. (TNA ADM108/56/103)

21 October 1798 – Captain Patton to the Board. He will cause the irons to be sent to the hulks beforehand. (TNA ADM108/56/106)

2 December 1798 – Stories had circulated about escape or mutiny, and every man was examined. Several of the bezels of the irons were found to be ovaled. They were freshly ironed and shackled two and two. The convicts were shaved and their blankets aired. (Noah, p.18)

Ebenezer Kelly wrote:

"According to law, when the prisoners behaved themselves, they were single-ironed and allowed to go on deck in gangs. Part in the forenoon and part in the afternoon were brought up and chained to a large chain which ran from mast to mast; they looked very much like a string of beads." (Ebenezer Beriah Kelly, Autobiography, Norwich: John W. Stedman, 1856, p. 17)

29 December 1798 – A convict named Muckbolt found means to inform the Captain that the convicts were all out of their irons and meant to take the ship. He said that they had found it very disagreeable during the storm and had used flux to cut the round link, so that they were single ironed.

The convicts were ordered on deck two by two, which at first they refused to do. They were told that if they failed to comply, the consequences would be fatal. Those that had cut their irons were flogged. Most were given two dozen and some five dozen. They were then shackled and handcuffed, and some had iron collars placed round their necks.

A sailor named Johnson, who had assisted the convicts by giving them a chisel and other items was left to the mercy of his shipmates, and every seaman have him one lash. Muckbolt was sent to the hospital in a bad condition. (Noah, pp.22-23)

Noah insisted this was simply a move by the convicts to ‘single iron’ themselves:

2 January 1799 – They lost sight of the Amphion frigate. The Commodore lay to for the convoy.

“Tranquility was now restored, which had been in all confusion, though I am surprised. No evil intent of the convicts had been thought of, only represented in some many strange stories. It’s true, the only intention of them was to single iron themselves, but the Captain had got it to such a head. I thought he would have hanged some of them as the signals were ready for the Commodore to come alongside.” (Noah, p.24)

9 February 1799 – Noah on the aftermath:

"Could I here describe the miserable situation of upwards of two hundred of my fellow prisoners. Many of them was persons brought up well who, for trifling offences, had been banished from their families and homes, and now involved in a state of wretchedness and misery, staring on one another, not knowing one moment that we might be plunged into the arm of death, so lousy, so full of diseases, the poorness of living short of water in a hot country, with no nourishment made out situation truly deplorable. It was, one would often think, enough to soften the heart of [the] most inhuman being to see us ironed, handcuffed and shackled in a dark, nasty, dismal deck, without the least wholesome air. But all this did not penetrate into the breast of our inhuman Captain, and I can assure you that the Doctor was kept at a distance and so strict was he looked after that I have known him to sit up till opportunity would suit to steal a little water to quench the thirst of those that were bad, he being on a very small allowance for them." (Noah, pp.30-31)

13 February 1799 – After some pleasant days, it was hot and sultry again. The convicts were allowed on decks in two divisions for one and a half hours. They were not given the liberty of walking around, but were ironed to a chain fastened at each end of the deck. ‘The whole time was a misery as we only could stand or sit down’. (Noah, p.31)

18 February 1799 – William Noah was removed to the hospital and had his irons removed, due to illness. (Noah, p.32)

1 March 1799 – William Noah again ironed to another and placed on the gun deck. (Noah, p.33)

29 April 1799 – The ship was at the Cape, unloading coal. 12 more convicts single ironed to help the seamen at this task. (Noah, p.43)

28 May 1799 – The convicts that had been unironed for work were ironed once again. ‘This was the method our humane commander took to pay them for all their labour.’ (Noah, p.48)

15 July 1799 – The convicts on deck.

"I must remark to you that when on deck for an airing, so careful was our Captain or terrified at the convicts, not being acquainted with the mode of treating them, that double sentinels was placed on the main deck and poop, and as we came up, two and two, our irons was reeved on another iron, so that you must either stand up and lay on the deck, as you could not walk about at all. . ." (Noah, p.58)

Minerva (1799)

Contrary to the usual practice, Salkeld kept the convicts free of irons until they were ready to proceed to sea. This was undoubtedly because of the very long time they spent waiting to sail, but it indicates that he was a humane Captain. They were ironed again when approaching foreign ports. This was double ironing, since some were left un-ironed or single ironed to assist in cleaning the prison etc.

On one occasion, four men were ironed together as a form of punishment. After more talk of mutiny, two convicts were ‘put in double irons with a chain passing from each through the bars that are a midship in the prison’.

4 May 1799 – Very few of the prisoners were in irons, and Captain Salkeld did not propose to place them in irons until they were ready to go to sea, "that in the interim they may get so healthy and stout as to be better able to bear them on the voyage." (Pamela Jeanne Fulton (ed.), The Minerva Journal of John Washington Price, Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2000, p.16)

12 September 1799 – Shortened sail for the Friendship.

At noon we began putting in irons those whom illness and indulgence kept out of them these six months back. They were all now in good health and spirits. There were a few left without irons and a few in single irons to clean the prison and attend on those who should be ill. (Price, p.79)

- AM: ‘The carpenters employed in putting irons upon those prisoners that were out of them for sickness and other causes – whilst in harbour. Prisoners continue in good health and spirits.’ (Journal of the Minerva, 6 August 1798 to 26 May 1801, IOR L/MAR/B/14F)

8 October 1799 – Following claims of another plot:

"After fully investigating the business, they were ordered on deck, and we had four of the principals of them, viz, Burns, McIlroy, McDonnell and McKenna, tied up to the capstan and each received six lashes from the boatswain. It was but a slight punishment, but we hope it will have the effect. We have since ironed four of them together and put them down below." (Price, pp.88-89)

25 November 1799 – More talk of mutiny:

"The evil disposition of the convicts begins again to manifest itself. Though we took particular care to prevent any communication between the villain O’Connor and the rest of the convicts, by separating him and his principal confederates from the main body, as much through a wish of avoiding punishing them as to secure ourselves, yet we find that he is taking all pains to convey both verbal and epistolatory messages to them, with an intention of inducing them to make some diabolical attempt to secure us and seize the ship. Though we are sensible of his guilt, yet we could not procure sufficient evidence against him (those who could give it being afraid to come forward), we permit him to remain unpunished, but two of his confederates who have been in the habit of both receiving and forwarding messages from and to him have been put in double irons with a chain passing from each through the bars that are a midship in the prison. And there we leave them to commune together and to deliberate on the best method to effect their liberation." (Price, pp.120-121)

Friendship (1799)

The convicts on the Friendship appear to have been ironed throughout, until shortly before landfall.

1 January 1800 – Fine settled weather. The Captain ordered the fetters to be taken off the best behaved of the prisoners, "promising the rest that if their conduct merited well, as soon as land was seen on the coast of New Holland, every prisoner should then be released from his irons, but that all depended upon a proper subordinate behaviour". (Mary Anne Reid, ‘Cursory Remarks on Board the Friendship’, Asiatic Journal, December 1819, p.555)

"Several of them had been relieved from the weight of fetters shortly after we left Ireland, and continued so all the voyage, having conducted themselves with every propriety. It was fortunate for themselves and us, that there were amongst them men of education and sense, who doubtless contributed to restrain the others from evil and violence; one was said to be a Roman-Catholic clergyman, and we trusted that his influence was beneficial." (Mary Anne Reid, pp.555-556)

Royal Admiral (1800)

Again, there is reference to the single ironed men working among the convicts – they held a privileged position on board. The rest were doubled ironed. The men who were permitted to spend time with their wives were single ironed. There is no mention of anyone being ironed to another convict.

16 May 1800 – Employed the single ironed men among the convicts to attend to the rest. (Journal of the Royal Admiral, 8 April 1800 to 9 August 1801, IOR L/MAR/B/338-I)

18 May 1800 – ‘Single iron[ed] men’ appointed to keep watch on the orlop deck to stop the convicts stealing from each other. (James Wilshire, ‘Journal by Jas Wilshire Kept on Board the Royal Admiral, Captn Wm Wilson, Comm., from England to New South Wales’, 5 May to 16 July 1800, Mitchell Library, SLNSW MLMSS 1296)

19 May 1800 – 100 convicts admitted on deck. (Wilshire Journal) 100 convicts of double-ironed convicts on deck with their beds to air. Fumigated ‘as usual’. (Journal of the Royal Admiral)

6 June 1800 – Wilshire:

"Frequently when we have been at prayers upon decks, the convicts have been arranged quite close to the hatchway leading into the Cuddy, where the firearms are kept, and there being only two men with cutlasses all this time to prevent their progress. Should they be minded at such a time, I conceive they may very easily take the ship, and I have heard the officers say the same. We shall think it a miracle if we arrive safe at Port Jackson. Should the convicts rise, I am determine to lose my life as dear as possible. A number of convicts are in single irons, besides the following out of irons – Palmer, Wheeler, Mealmaker & Griffith – and I understand more are to be let out of irons. These are some of the most abandoned characters on board this ship that possibly can be living." (Wilshire Journal)

18 June 1800 – Wilshire:

"The following convicts requested of the Captain to let them have free communication to their wives – Holness, Moore and George Happy – which was immediately granted, and put into single irons." (Wilshire Journal)

Earl Cornwallis (1800)

7 July 1800 – King to Transport Board. Irons to be immediately provided for 200 male convicts. The Master of the ship must account for the delivery of them to the Governor upon his return. (TNA ADM108/67/184)

- Transport Board to Messrs Larkins, to supply 200 leg irons immediately, the same as last. (TNA ADM108/67/174)