Prison to Ship

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The convicts were transported to the transports from the gaols and hulks in a variety of different ways. Those sent down river from Newgate Prison were almost always taken down to Blackfriars Bridge in the early morning and loaded onto lighters, but some prisoners from London and Middlesex were transported to Portsmouth by wagon. Those brought down from the country were sent by wagon, or if the numbers were small, then by coach. Those shipped from Scotland or the far north of England were sometimes sent by ship.

There are only a few accounts of this part of the voyage written by the convicts themselves, but common elements of their accounts are a sense of regret and the realisation that they are leaving the familiar landscapes of their homeland which they will probably never see again.

- Gary L. Sturgess, 5 March 20165

By Lighter from Newgate

Convicts held in Newgate Prison were usually taken down to Blackfriars Bridge, loaded onto barges or lighters, and transported down river to the hulks or to the waiting transports.

This had long been the practice, when convicts were being shipped from Newgate to North America. In 1685, the contractor, Jeaffreson, took control of the guard which escorted the manacled convicts from Newgate to London Bridge where they were loaded onto a barge. In 1736, it was reported that 100 felons were marched from Newgate to a lighter at Blackfriars. (Peter Wilson Coldham, Emigrants in Chains: A Social History of Forced Emigration to the Americas, 1607-1776, Stroud: Alan Sutton Publishing Ltd, 1992, pp.28, 53-54)

First Fleet (1787)

This practice was followed with the vast majority of convicts sent to New South Wales, commencing with the First Fleet:

"On Thursday morning early, seventy more felons were taken from Newgate and put on board a lighter at Blackfriars-bridge, in order to be conveyed to the hulks at Woolwich. The lighter ran on a sand bank in the river near Greenwich, and continued there five hours until the turn of the tide; during which time the prisoners behaved with remarkable decency and propriety. They were soon after delivered to the commanding officer of the hulks, from whence they are to be sent on board the fleet." (Reading Mercury, 19 February 1787, p.1)

Second Fleet (1789)

10 November 1789 – 140 convicts were removed from Newgate at an early hour and conveyed to Blackfriars and from thence on a lighter to the vessel prepared to transport them to Botany Bay, ‘FOREVER’. (The Argus, 11 November 1789, p.2)

This is probably a confused report of the 84 men and 50+ women shipped on this date and reported in the papers below.

– More than 50 women were removed from Newgate in wagons, in order to be put on board the fleet lying off Portsmouth bound for Botany Bay. And two men, in place of two who had escaped. (Whitehall Evening Post, 10-12 November 1789)

Two male convicts escaped from the group being sent to the Scarborough apparently whilst at the Old Bailey. One of these was John Happy, who was taken the following year and tried for returning from transportation on 9 December 1790, and sentenced to death. Happy claimed that he used no force – the chain just gave way. He was sentenced to death. (Old Bailey Trials, 9 December 1790)

Michael Hoy was one of two who escaped close to Blackfriar’s Bridge. He was captured the following year and tried on 9 December 1790. He also claimed that the chain was almost worn or cut through and he used no violence. Sentenced to death. (Old Bailey Trials, 7 December 1790) Hoy was transported again on the Albemarle.

- In the morning, 84 convicts were conducted from Newgate to Blackfriars Bridge and put on board a barge to be sent on board a ship for Botany Bay. ‘The behaviour of many of these unhappy wretches shewed them to be perfectly hardened to iniquity, and dead to all sense of shame – several of them caught hats from the heads of the by-standers, and one snatched a gentleman’s watch from his fob!’ (English Chronicle of Universal Evening Post, 10-12 November 1789; Whitehall Evening Post, 10-12 November 1789)

These convicts were loaded on the Scarborough.

12 November 1789 – In the early morning, another 30 convicts were removed from Newgate by wagon and sent to Portsmouth, to be embarked on the ships for Botany Bay. (London Chronicle, 12-14 November 1789)

Third Fleet (1791)

14 February 1791 – A report from London of the women delivered to the water side (presumably the river side at Blackfriars) from Newgate, ‘some swearing, others crying; some singing, and one poor woman, with a young child at her breast, that would have moved the heart of an adamant’. (Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, 17 February 1791)

- Another report said that about 70 women were delivered from Newgate to two lighters at Blackfriars Bridge. ‘A vast concourse assembled about the bridge to see them off.’ (Hereford Journal, 16 February 1791) These were for the Mary Ann.

24 February 1791 – Newspaper report – On the movement of convicts at 6am:

"This morning 110 male convicts, the greatest part of them most audacious fellows, were marched from Newgate, under the conduct of General Akerman, supported by the City Marshall, twenty of the Militia, a number of Runners, &c. to Blackfriars-Bridge, where they took water, in order to be conveyed to Gravesend, there to be embarked on board the vessels which are to carry them to Botany-Bay. Their conduct in passing the streets was very outrageous. Among many other instances, they broke Delight’s reflecting lamp." (St James’s Chronicle or British Evening Post, 22-24 February 1791; Lloyds Evening Post, 23-25 February 1791)

The Evening Mail reported that 108 convicts were sent on board the ships at Gravesend. " It is a pity that a stronger guard is not appointed to prevent the outrages frequently committed by these desperadoes, by breaking lamps, windows, and even robbery, in their conveyance to the water side." (Evening Mail, 23-25 February 1791)

It was reported that a number of their friends and acquaintances attended to see them off. (E. Johnson’s British Gazette and Sunday Monitor, 27 February 1791)

The General Evening Post reported that they were noisy and riotous ‘in their way’ and gave several cheers between the Old Bailey and Blackfriars Bridge. (General Evening Post, 24-26 February 1791)

25 February 1791 – In the morning, 112 more convicts were conveyed to the ships off Gravesend:

"Another party of upwards of one hundred of male convicts were marched to Blackfriars-bridge yesterday morning. Barrington and other genteel persons, walking at the head of them, disengaged from the chain, were easily distinguished. Their joy on the prospect of their voyage had been manifested all the preceding night, by their breaking and burning all the benches and moveables in their wards, shouting, singing, and continually opening and shutting all the doors at once, which is called firing the great guns, and is peculiar to Christmas Eve, and New-Year’s Day. Barrington is said to have been a principal in the parting ceremonial, from a desire to go off with éclat. – All the transport vessels that have lately passed by Woolwich, have saluted their companions in tribulation with three cheers!" (Lloyd’s Evening Post, 25-28 February 1791. Also - Star, 26 February 1791; E. Johnson’s British Gazette and Sunday Monitor, 27 February 1791)

Barrington was said to have torn up various letters as he walked along the streets on the way to Blackfriars. (World, 1 March 1791)

Pitt (1791)

28 May 1791 – 84 male convicts and 12 women were loaded on board a lighter, to be conveyed to the Pitt, lying at Gravesend. Daniel Hopkins, who was under orders to be embarked, stabbed himself with a pen knife in the right side of his belly, resulting in a considerable loss of blood. He was sewn up by the surgeon and was expected to live, although he was weak and in much pain. (General Evening Post, 26-28 May 1791; Lloyds Evening Post, 27-30 May 1791)

This is presumably the 102 convicts referred to in a report from London of 26 or 27 May. These convicts were reported to have ‘behaved with greater decency than has ever marked the progress of their route from Newgate to the water-side’. (Newcastle Courant, 4 June 1791)

Boddington & Sugar Cane (1792)

June 1792 – On the previous Wednesday morning, upwards of one hundred convicts were conveyed on foot from Newgate & put on board a vessel in the River, thence to Portsmouth, there to embark in the ships for Botany Bay. (Evening Mail, 13 June 1792)

Britannia (1798)

"Yesterday morning before six o’clock, 54 female transports were removed from Newgate to Blackfriars Bridge, there put on board a hoy, and conveyed to the Britannia, lying at the Galleons, bound to Botany Bay." (London Packet, or New Lloyd’s Evening Post, 22 January 1798)

Hillsborough (1798)

William Noah, a convict:

". . . on Wednesday Evening the 17th of October 1798 an Order Came to Newgate for me and 22 more Convicts to get ready to set off on the Next Morning when we where calld up at 5 & Irond two together & at 8 proceeded in 4 Coaches attend’d by the City Constables to Black fryers Bridge where we alightd & was put on board a Sand Lighter & Dropt down the Thames on my way down I begun to feel the reproaches of a Mispent Life & the remorse of not following & Strictly abidi’g to the Law of the Land which I was now going to take a final Leave from a good Home a Wife & Friends that was ever Dear, the Day was very Wet and very Disagreeable but as we pass’d Down the Hulks at Woolwich we was welcomed by the Convicts with 3 Hurra’s from each Ship which by us was Returnd on our passage we was serv’d with a Pint of Strong Beer & twopenny worth of Bread & Cheese. . ." (William Noah, Voyage to Sydney in the Ship Hillsborough 1798-1799. . ., Sydney: Library of Australian History, 1978, p.11)

Earl Cornwallis (1800)

March 1800 –

Yesterday morning, 90 convicts were put on a lighter at Blackfriars on their way to Botany Bay. (Lloyds Evening Post, 31 March 1800)

May 1800 –

Yesterday upwards of 30 convicts were sent from Newgate & put on board a lighter for Botany Bay. (Lloyd’s Evening Post, 16 May 1800)

Minorca (1801)

A well-known convict, James Hardy Vaux:

"The next morning (May 16th), at four o’clock, myself and thirteen others, who had all been kept back for this opportunity, were attached together by a strong chain, and escorted by the keeper and his subordinates to Blackfriars Bridge, where a lighter was in readiness to receive us, in which we proceeded down the river Thames to Gravesend, and about noon arrived alongside the Minorca transport. . ." (1819 edition, p.167)

In 1849, female convicts were brought from Millbank Prison to the ship at Woolwich by a steamer. (Journal of the Surgeon Superintendent of the St Vincent, 1849-50, TNA ADM101/66/2)

By Road from London to Portsmouth

In some cases, they were transported overland to Portsmouth, in which case they would travel in wagons.

First Fleet (1787)

16 October 1786 – Sydney to Treasury forwarding more accounts provided by Sir Sampson Wright for conveying and victualling 20 convicts under sentence of transportation, from Woolwich to Portsmouth, amounting to £17.8.6, and for the cost of the waggons, for £13.3.3. (TNA HO36/5)

Cart loads of convicts continued to be sent off at stated periods to the ships at Deptford, which are appointed to transport them to Botany Bay. (Edinburgh Advertiser, 5 December 1786, pp.1-2)

2 March 1787 – 210 convicts arrived at Portsmouth in waggons under a guard of light horse. It was blowing a gale so they couldn’t be taken onto the transports. Kept on the Gorgon lying in Blockhouse Hole under the charge of the Guard ships boats. (William Bradley, A Voyage to New South Wales, 1786-1792, Sydney: Public Library of New South Wales, 1969)

"Wednesday last passed through the town of Guildford, in their way to Portsmouth, six waggons loaded with convicts for Botany Bay, guarded by a strong part of light horse. The whole number of convicts amounted to 215. Among them was the noted Thomas Eaglis, well known in and about that town; they stopped at Godalming that night, where there was another party of light horse to escort them to Portsmouth." (Reading Mercury, 5 March 1787, p.3)

These were then taken out to the ships in lighters.

Sunday 4 March 1787 – Weather calmer. 185 convicts embarked on the Scarborough – taken out to the Mother Bank in lighters. (John Easty, Memorandum of the Transactions of a Voyage from England to Botany Bay, 1787-1793, Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1965, p.3; Bradley, 4 March 1787) The Scarborough log records that 185 convicts were embarked, and searched and secured. (Journal of the Scarborough, TNA ADM51/4376)

Pitt (1791)

23 June – The naval agent, Nairne wrote to the Navy Board from Portsmouth, reporting that a wagon load left town on Tuesday. He desired to know what number of convicts were to go on board, there being already 370 males and 50 females.

"I have come to this place to see what number of convicts are expected from London. I am informed by the Master of the Inn that a waggon full left town on Tuesday. I beg to know your Honors’ pleasure what number of convicts are to go in the ship Pitt. There are on board 370 males & 50 females. Your answer directed to Cowes would be esteemed a favour." (‘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, p.343)

Royal Admiral (1792)

In general, the convicts behaved themselves on these journeys, but not always:

"On Friday last as the lady and sister of Thomas Fassett, Esq. of Surbiton Place, near Kingston, were taking an airing on the Ditton road, the chariot happened to pass a number of convicts, escorted by a party of Light Dragoons, proceeding to Portsmouth for transportation to Botany Bay, when by these wretches one stone was thrown with such violence as to shatter the glass of the chariot about the ladies’ ears, and another at the footman behind the carriage, which almost beat him from his hold.

"Happily no very serious consequences ensured; but this fact is related in the first place to invite the attention of the officers entrusted with the conveyance of convicts along our public roads to a recollection of the danger which might arise to an unsuspecting passenger from these lawless miscreants, unless they are secured from every possibility of annoyance. Being vicious and depraved in the extreme, when secured from weapons, they will employ the very stones of the streets and public roads to some diabolical purpose, unless particular care be taken to prevent them.

"The public also should be cautioned by this and other similar circumstances, which have happened from convicts in their passage from London to Portsmouth, to keep as much as possible out of the way. Without the fear either of God or of man, they are resolved to take every opportunity of doing mischief. Actuated by the most infernal minds, their pleasure is in iniquity. Most of them ought to die by the hands of the executioner, and as their reformation is scarcely probable, it may admit of some doubt whether it be prudent in government to expend so much upon them." (St James’s Chronicle or British Evening Post, 25 February 1792)

Barwell (1797)

3 October 1797 – London Evening Post:

"This morning a waggon load of criminals, convicted of different offences at the Surrey Assizes, were removed from the County Gaol, Southwark, to Portsmouth, preparatory to their transportation to Botany Bay." (London Evening Post, 30 September 1797, under the ‘Postscript’ of 3 October)

Hillsborough (1798)

11 May 1798 –

"This morning upwards of forty convicts, in an open wagon, proceeded from Newgate to Portsmouth, in their way to Botany Bay, among whom was a boy convicted some time since of taking money out of letters, and who kept his mistress, nag, &c. . ." (London Packet or New Lloyd’s Evening Post, 11 May 1798)

John Ward (1830s)

The earliest known description of the journey of convicts by coach is that provided by John Ward, who was being shipped to the hulks and eventually sailed on the Mangles (1839) He describes first the voyage down to London and then on to Portmsouth:

"We arrived in London about 4 o’clock in the afternoon; partook an hasty dinner, of cold beef, bread and porter; then was taken to a luggage van, as our conveyance to Portsmouth; It was past five o’clock before we got clear of London, as we passed along the road, which I had travelled several times when in my prosperity; now gloomy with thoughts of remorse for those days that were gone and lost for ever to me; we soon arrived at Kingstone, and passing thro’ I saw the spot where I formerly stoped for Epsom Races, and where I, as it were had basked in the sunshine of my carreer. Night came on, we lighted our pipes, and endeavoured to be as merry and as cheerful as we could. Our guard allowed us to take more refreshment, for our good conduct; thus I handed Gin and Ale round every time we changed horses: which seemed to shorten the nights fatigue, and lesson our uneasiness. We arrived at Portsmouth about six o’clock in the morning, took a hasty breakfast, and then took boat for the York hulk. . ." (John Ward, ‘The Diary of John Ward, 1841-1844’, MS, 1841-44, NLA MS 3275, pp.74-75)

Linus Miller (1846)

An American political prisoner shipped from British North America, Miller described the journey from Newgate to Portsmouth by coach, starting in the early hours of the morning:

"We were speedily equipped with chains, and hand-cuffs, and marched first through the court-room, called the Old Bailey, into a dark passage underneath the prison, used as a burial place of the felons who were executed, more than two hundred of whom, the turnkey informed me, were there interred, and over several of whose graves I stumbled on the way; and at last emerged into the open Old Bailey street. Here we found a covered wagon, large enough to hold thirty persons, and drawn by three span of horses, into which we were crammed, and a ring in our chains slipped on a bar of iron which ran through the entire length of the wagon. There were twenty-six English felons in the van before us, all chained to this bolt, and they, it now appeared, were to be our companions, although hitherto we had been strictly forbidden to speak to persons of their character. ‘All men are born free and equal,’ said the turnkey to whom I remonstrated against this inconsistency and injustice; and being an American, I obliged to accede to this practical illustration of my national First Truth, with as becoming a grace as possible, although, I confess, I heartily wished her Majesty’s advisers reduced to the same glorious level.

"The fellows were supplied with beer, pipes and tobacco, and were exceedingly boisterous, laughing, singing and making as merry as any pleasure party going to a fair. Crack! went the driver’s whip, and away we flew through the streets of London, at the rate of ten miles an hour. At daylight we were beyond the suburbs, and travelling through as fine a section of country as I ever witnessed. The scenery in some places was to me surpassingly beautiful and lovely, but only served to make me feel most keenly the bitterness of bonds, and the cruel injustice or our enemies.

"Grant and myself being seated at one end of the van, the other also being open, were nearly suffocated with the fumes of tobacco, beer, &c., from our jolly fellow-travelers. A strong current of air, from our speed, passing through the van, we had the benefit of inhaling it the whole journey; and by the time we arrived at Portsmouth, (distance seventy miles from London) about 2 o’clock PM, my patience was quite exhausted, and I was illy fitted to bear with becoming fortitude the indignities still in reserve for me. The streets of this great sea-port town, through which we passed, were exceedingly filthy, and the buildings generally low, old and inferior.

"A scow rowed by convicts conveyed us to the York Hulk. . ." (Linus W. Miller, Notes of an Exile to Van Diemen’s Land, Fredonia, N.Y.: W. McKinstry & Co., 1846, pp.222-223)

By Coach, Carriage or Sedan Chair

Gaolers would sometimes transport small numbers of convicts by coach, either directly to the ship, or to a holding prison (or, in the case of the First Fleet, the Dunkirk hulk at Plymouth). And gentlemen convicts were sometimes also permitted to travel by a coach or private carriage. Again, this was an old practice. In 1736, five gentlemen of distinction from Newgate were allowed to ride in hackney coaches, accompanied by the contractor, Jonathan Forward. (Coldham, p.28)

Lady Juliana (1789)

Friday 10 April 1789 – A ‘great number’ of convicts arrived at Newgate in coaches from Oxford Castle, to be put on board the Lady Juliana, Captain Atkins, lying in the Galleons for Botany Bay. (General Evening Post, 11 April 1789)

Second Fleet (1790)

4 December 1789 – In the evening, one of the convicts being conveyed by the Gosport coach to Portsmouth, under care of the keeper of Nottingham Gaol, attempted to escape on Hounslow Heath. (World, 8 December 1789)

Boddington & Sugar Cane (1792)

In 1791, a special wagon was developed for those being transported from the north.

"Wednesday night the felons under sentence of transportation in Durham gaol, in Ousebridge gaol, and in York Castle, were sent off from the latter place for Portsmouth in a new machine, constructed in such a manner that it will contain in the inside, upwards of twenty persons; there is a division in it to separate the male from the female convicts. As the carriage is hung on steel springs, and covered at the top, the prisoners will be conveyed not only without much fatigue, but without any of them being exposed to the inclemency of the weather." (Bath Journal, 9 January 1792)

Barwell (1798)

3 October 1797:

"This morning a waggon load of criminals, convicted of different offences at the Surrey Assizes, were removed from the County Gaol, Southwark, to Portsmouth, preparatory to their transportation to Botany Bay." (London Evening Post, 30 September 1797, under the ‘Postscript’ of 3 October)

Minerva (1799)

17 April – English papers carried a report from Dublin (out of the Cork Advertiser) of this date:

"That worthy triumvirate, O’Connor (the Bantry Doctor) M’Carthy of the same place, and Ivers from Carlow were this day conducted under a guard from the New County Gaol to a boat on the Merchant’s Quay, where they were embarked for the Botany Bay ship now waiting for this completion of her cargo at Cove. The Doctor was indulged with a sedan chair, while the other two worthy gentlemen attended on foot." (News, 20 April 1799)

By Road from the Country Gaols

Those shipped down from town or county gaols sometimes travelled by road, but it was usually more convenient (and safer for the public) if they were transported by wagon.

The First Fleet (1787)

"Cart loads of convicts continue to be sent off at stated periods to the ships at Deptford, which are appointed to transport them to Botany Bay: about 300 of them are already delivered on board." (Reading Mercury, 4 December 1786, p.3)

"Saturday 21 convicts were brought from Derby to Wood Street Compter, and yesterday they were carried from thence in a waggon to Woolwich to be put on board the hulk there till they can be sent off for Botany Bay or Africa." (Hampshire Chronicle, 9 April 1787, p.1)

Third Fleet (1791)

24 December 1790 – At 8am, the convicts at Exeter set off again in a violent storm of wind, hail and rain, halloing as they passed through the streets ‘with great glee and jollity’. (Diary or Woodfall’s Register, 5 January 1791)

31 January 1791 – A group of 30 male and 2 female convicts from Chelmsford were delivered to Woolwich by wagon, but the Masters of the ships refused to take them on board. The Chelmsford gaoler and his staff were concerned about escapes, and sent a messenger to Thomas Shelton at the Old Bailey. He tried to contact Evan Nepean, who was away.

"Yesterday an express arrived at the Old Bailey from Woolwich, with an account that thirty-two convicts, consisting of thirty men and two women, had arrived there, from the gaol of Chelmsford, under an order of Government, to be taken on board the ships intended for Botany Bay, but that the Masters absolutely refused to receive them. Mr Shelton, Clerk of the Arraigns, immediately dispatched a messenger to Lord Grenville’s Office, Whitehall: but his Lordship being in the country and Mr Nepean being from the office upon other business, no order could be obtained, so that it is feared those unhappy persons must, of necessity, have been obliged to continue the whole night in the Marshes. The account to Mr Shelton stated, that the Gaoler of Chelmsford, and his men, were under great apprehension of an escape, as was the neighbourhood in general of serious consequences." (St James’s Chronicle, 29 January to 1 February 1791)

- There is a note in the Colonial Office files that Mr Calvert was to bring up 14 women from the counties for the Mary Ann on this date. 1 from Bodmin, 1 from Plymouth town, 6 from Exeter, 2 from Ilchester and 4 from Southampton. A note at the bottom says: ‘The counties to be at the charge which would be incurred were they to be carried to the nearest port. The contractor to pay the reminder.’ (The note seems to date from 15 January. TNA CO201/6/230)

3 February 1791 – Nepean to Camden, Calvert & King concerning convicts that had been brought up from the county gaols for embarkation on 31 January and which had been kept on shore in wagons all that night. The gaolers had been put to considerable inconvenience and some cost in providing temporary accommodation for the convicts, since they had refused to accept them in their charge. They were to acquaint His Lordship of the reasons for the delay in preparing the transports by the time they had fixed upon, so that he could decide whether representations should be made to the Navy Board on the subject (presumably in order to penalise them financially in some way). (TNA HO13/8/156)

4 February 1791 – Camden, Calvert & King, from the Crescent, to Nepean:

"In answer to your letter of yesterday, we have to acquaint you for the information of Lord Grenville, that we are strangers to any convicts being kept in wagons any night in consequence of ships not being ready to receive them. It’s true some of the gaolers from the different county gaols, we are very sorry to say, have been put to some inconvenience, the great cause of which is our not being furnished by government with a guard, the commanders of the hired transports being very averse to the receiving them without. We therefore pray a guard may be ordered immediately for the want of which we conceive ourselves in great danger of their escaping, as our sailors are not to be depended on to guard them in the River, where we have already got near 400 on board of different ships." (TNA HO42/18/120)

- Another wagonload of convicts, from Ilchester, passed through Exeter on their way to Plymouth to be shipped off for NSW. (Star, 12 February 1791)

9 February 1791 – It was reported that several wagonloads of convicts were detained in the Fens of Essex on account of the ships not being ready to receive them. (Evening Mail, 7-9 February 1791) These will have been for the Active, Albemarle and Admiral Barrington.

John Ward (1830s)

The earliest known description of the journey of convicts by coach is that provided by John Ward, who was being shipped to the hulks and eventually sailed on the Mangles (1839) He describes first the voyage down to London and then on to Portsmouth:

". . . on the first of May, I with six more was ironed by the legs to each other and marched to a coach office – were a coach was waiting for us; we filled the hinder part of it with the guard, & Governour to see all right; The bustle of getting ready was over, we were seated, drunk a pint of beer per man, and off we started for London; The weather was cold, but I did not feel it, for I was well cloathed at my Father’s expence, and had an equal sufficiency of money in my pocket; but my comrades or fellow sufferers were the reverse. They had scarcely cloathing sufficient to cover their nakedness, and could only rise 18 pence amongst them; I however did not see them want, but paid for the whole of our spendings on our journey. We arrived in London about 4 o’clock in the afternoon; partook an hasty dinner, of cold beef, bread and porter. . ." (John Ward, ‘The Diary of John Ward, 1841-1844’, MS, 1841-44, NLA MS 3275, pp.73-74)

By Ship

In a number of cases, those sent down from the far north were sent in ships.

Second Fleet (1790)

A brig named the Peggy brought convicts down from Scotland for the Second Fleet.

13 June 1789 – The Caledonian Mercury reported the Peggy, Smith, had sailed from Leith for Botany Bay with convicts. (Caledonian Mercury, 13 June 1789)

"This morning early, the convicts for Botany Bay were removed from the tollbooth in order to be put on board the ship lying in Leith Roads for their reception. When the cart on which Anderson and Macdonald, two notorious offenders, had been put, got opposite to the Calton, Macdonald, who was chained to his neighbour, found means to get his hand extracted from the hand-cuff, and made his escape by running down the precipice which leads to the Low Calton. Anderson likewise attempted to get off, but was soon apprehended, and carried, along with the other convicts, down to Leith, from whence they were carried out in boats, and safely lodged aboard the vessel in the Roads. She will sail for Portsmouth first fair wind." (Caledonian, 13 June 1789)

4 July 1789 – A letter from Portsmouth:

"Captain Smith of the Peggy, arrived here this morning from Leith, bound for Plymouth, with convicts destined for Botany Bay.

"The Captain describes his situation as very unhappy during the voyage, the convicts being always on the catch to gain their ends, which were to murder him and his crew, two men excepted, who they were to reserve for the purpose of navigating the ship to some unfrequented harbour, where they expected to make their escape. They had so far effected their purpose on the 2nd inst. that most part of them either cut their irons, or took their wrists out of them, with the loss of the skin on the back of their hands. The Captain, however, got five of the ringleaders made fast to an anchor, and thought himself under the necessity of putting in here on account of their conduct. On his applying to the Admiral for help round to Plymouth, the Southampton frigate was ordered to attend him, which, he says, gave him great peace of mind. Indeed, it is wonderful such a parcel of felons should have been sent a coasting voyage, without a sufficient guard to protect the sailors who navigated the ship. . ." (Caledonian Mercury, 11 July 1789)

The Southampton was due to carry soldiers to Plymouth in any case. (General Evening Post, 4-7 July 1789)

George Mackaness had access to a copy of a handwritten note by Captain Robert Smith, describing the attempted mutiny. He provided no source. He was ‘Obliged to have 5 of the ring-leaders Chained to the Large Cage in the hold, but it was No Use As they cut their Irons in the Night time, and they Tried to Weary us out for want of Sleep by Singing and Hurraing the whole Night’. Smith reported that the Admiral sent a naval guard on board with the Southampton as escort. (George Macakaness, Blue Bloods of Botany Bay, Sydney: Collins, 1953, p.74)

Third Fleet (1791)

Late January 1791 – Ten convicts were sent from Durham Gaol and embarked on board the Penelope at Sunderland to be sent to Woolwich, where they were to remain until the other convicts for transportation joined them. Before leaving, they were riotous and attempted a forced escape, but were secured by the dragoons quartered there. (Newcastle Courant, 5 February 1791)

Surprize (1794)

The Surprize carried several political prisoners, who came to be known as the ‘Scottish Martyrs’.

20 November 1792 – Reverend Thomas Fyshe Palmer was taken out of Perth Jail and conveyed by post chaise to Kinghorn and thence on board a yacht at Leith Roads. (F.M. Bladen (ed.), Historical Records of New South Wales, Sydney: Government Printer, 1893 (hereafter HRNSW), Vol. 2, p.828)

22 November 1792 – The Royal George, a revenue cutter, sailed from Leith Roads to the Thames carrying the Scottish Martyrs, Muir and Palmer. (HRNSW, Vol. 2, p.828)

There were rumours of a conspiracy on board the Royal George, Captain Ogilvie. Muir and Palmer were alleged to be involved in the plot, and according to Palmer, the crew were under orders to chop them down if they came on deck during the night to relieve themselves.

"Not only the captain, but Middleton the thieftaker, acknowledged that there never was the smallest foundation for the charge of any conspiracy, or mutiny on board the cutter. It is, however, remarkable, that a few days after we reached the Thames, Sheriff Pringle of Edinburgh received a letter, charging the convicts with a conspiracy." (Thomas Fyshe Palmer, A Narrative of the Sufferings of T.F. Palmer and W. Skirving during a Voyage to New South Wales, 1794, 2nd ed., Cambridge, 1797, pp.14-15)

John Grant, a Highland attorney convicted of forgery, also sailed on this ship, and shared a cabin with Muir and Palmer. Palmer believed him to be the source of the rumours and the letter. (Palmer, p.15)

1 December 1792 – The Annual Register noted that Muir and Palmer had arrived in the river and had been delivered to the Prudentia and the Stanislaus, respectively. They were in irons and on 30 November had been ordered to work on the banks of the river along with other convicts. Mr Muir was said to be depressed in spirits. (HRNSW Vol.2, p.828)


Convicts in Ireland might travel by all three forms – wagon, lighter and ship – before they were brought on board the transports.

Boddington & Sugar Cane (1792-93)

13 December 1792 – Many of the convicts had been assembled at Dublin and Dundalk prior to their journey to Cork. The Freeman’s Journal reported that the day before, 123 convicts (92 male and 31 female) had been conveyed in carts from the new prison (at Dublin), under an escort of two troops of horse and two companies of foot, and were loaded onto lighters which carried them to the Hibernia. Three men and four women under sentence of transportation remained in the prison hospital. (Freeman’s Journal, 13 December 1792)

Minerva (1795)

A political rebel and gentleman, Joseph Holt, on his journey from prison to ship:

"On the 1st of January, 1799, a coach came to the door of the Tower, and a man named Wilkinson, came to me, and said that I was to go to the Pigeon House in this coach, to embark; but first, he was directed to put a small iron, or fetter, upon me, and he asked: ‘Which leg it should be on?’ The suddenness of this mandate disconcerted me not a little, and I felt indignant at being treated like a felon. My wife and children were in no state to proceed on a voyage, and we were thunderstruck at this sudden order. My poor woman fainted; it was a cruel scene. I endeavoured to console her; she recovered, and I found it necessary to exert my energies. I took leave of her, and went to the door of the Tower.

". . . The rough and savage manner in which orders were carried into effect, and the unnecessary severity and disregard of the feelings of the unfortunate victims of power, made my heart swell with indignation. Influenced by these feelings, I entered the coach, in which were two troopers, who accompanied me as guards. . . When I discovered their disposition [sympathy with the rebels], I said that I should be much gratified if they would let the coachman stop at the next tavern, where we might have a parting glass for the sake of old Ireland. To this proposal they readily assented. . . they [later] left me at the Pigeon House, where I entered a boat which brought me to a vessel, commanded by one Christopher Dobson. . . There were eighty men below deck, who gave me a welcome by a loud cheer. . ."

Holt was berthed at the stern with a small group of gentleman prisoners. From the ship he could see the Wicklow Mountains:’ my heart leaped at the view, there was my once happy and prosperous home’.

"We continued our voyage in very cold and inclement weather, and suffered very much from thirst, our allowance being but one pint of water in twenty-four hours. I often saw struggles between the unfortunate wretches on board, for the possession of small pieces of ice, which adhered to the sails and other parts of the ship, to quench the burning of their parched mouths, so much were they distressed by thirst, and one man I actually saw expire, crying out, with his very last breath, ‘water, water!’ We arrived at Passage, near Waterford, where Dobson cast anchor. . .

"During our stay in the river, several boats came along-side with provisions for sale, but Dobson would not allow any one to buy, although he knew we were nearly in a state of starvation. As many of the poor wretches on board had been eight months on the water without a change of clothes, they were in a state of inexpressible torment, covered with vermin.

"On the 23rd of January, we arrived at the Cove of Cork, to our great delight, as we hoped to be relieved in some degree from our misery." (T. Crofton Croker (ed.), Memoirs of Joseph Holt, Vol. 2, London: Henry Colburn, 1838, pp.1-19)

On the 29th, the surgeon superintendent who was to sail with the convicts on the Minerva, came on board the Lively, and his account confirms Holt’s account of the ship:

"This day the long expected & long desired brig the Lively Captain Dobson, arrived from Dublin, having on board with him 137 convicts 19 of whom were females; a short time after they had arrived, I went on board to see them and found them indeed in the most wretched, cruel & pitiable condition I ever saw human beings in, in my life, in fact they were treated much more like those of the brute creation they were all lying indiscriminately in the ships hold, on the damp, wet & uneven planks without any sort of covering, without even a wisp of straw to strew under them; half naked, some even without the shirt, were to be seen lying under the hatch way, exposed to all the inclemencies of the season, snow, frost, rain etc. etc. ‘Tis true they were prisoners, but should be treated as such, and if they deserved death to hang or shoot them, but not to treat them with that unprecedented barbarity which they experienced on board the Lively." (Pamela Jeanne Fulton (ed.), The Minerva Journal of John Washington Price, Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2000, p.3)