Seasickness was universal among convicts and emigrants in the first few days after sailing. This is apparent from the journals of emigrants to Australia in later years, which have survived in much greater numbers than those written by convicts. (See, for example, James Bell, Private Journal of a Voyage to Australia, 1838-39, Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 2011, p.9; Jonathan Binns Were, A Voyage from Plymouth to Melbourne in 1839, J.B. Were & Son, 1964, p.3; Andrew Hassam, No Privacy for Writing: Shipboard Diaries 1852-1879, Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1995, pp.5-6, 15-16, 35, 40, 42, 66, 67, 75, 95, 101, 133-134, 163-165, 188)
There are mentions of seasickness on most of the early ships for which we have detailed journals, but it is not until later years that we find accounts that describe how deeply unpleasant the prison was for several days. It is likely that preparations were made by providing the convicts with buckets and tins - this was certainly done on emigrant ships - but with the rolling of the ship, these were flung around and contributed little to keeping the prison clean. And since the crew were fully engaged in taking the ship to sea, there was no prospect of the prison being cleaned immediately, one of the unfortunate but unavoidable features of a convict voyage.
- Gary L. Sturgess 6 March 2016
28 April 1787 – Smyth reported a great swell. The female convicts in the Lady Penrhyn very seasick from the motion. Captain Campbell was to have come on board but the sea was running so high that the pinnace could not be got off to fetch him. (Paul G. Fidlon et al (eds.), The Journal of Arthur Bowes Smyth, Sydney: Australian Documents Library, 1979, p.14)
17 May 1787 – Smyth reported a great swell. (Smyth, p.17)
- Scott’s wife was seasick, as were a great number of women on the Prince of Wales. (James Scott, Remarks on a Passage to Botany Bay, 1787-1792, Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1963, p.1)
20 May 1787 – Clark also dated the instruction to remove the irons to this date. He was too seasick to stand up. (Paul G. Fidlon, et al (eds.), The Journals and Letters of Lt. Ralph Clark, 1787-1792, Sydney: Australian Documents Library, 1981, p.13)
In a later letter from Reverend Johnson wrote to Henry Fricker, he described the contents of a previous letter of this date (which has not survived):
"In my last letter, dated May 20th I informed you in very great haste how we had fared since we left the Mother Bank. Had both been sickly, but upon the recovery. We had before then one or two rough gales, after which it became calm. This occasioned the sea to run high, and on this account, when the wind ceased, the ship rolled very much, all of which together rendered it very unpleasant for some days." (Johnson to Fricker, 30 May 1787, George Mackaness (ed.), ‘Some Letters of Rev. Richard Johnson’, Australian Historical Monographs, Volume XX (New Series), Sydney, 1954, No.1)
25 May 1787 – Clark had finally got over his seasickness. (Clark, p.14)
26 May 1787 – The Sirius log reported 8 sick. (TNA ADM51/832A Pt.2)
The William was a storeship, and carried several passengers, Reverend Samuel Marsden and his wife, and one female convict who travelled as their servant. Marsden was one of those unfortunates whose suffered from seasickness repeatedly through the voyage.
29 July 1793 (immediately after sailing) – This day they made no sail, the wind being contrary all night and day. Marsden was so seasick he could not write. The wind being contrary they had been obliged to put into Weymouth for the night. Marsden and his wife and a military Captain, went on shore and slept at the Crown. (Reverend Samuel Marsden, ‘Diary, 27 July 1793 to 15 July 1794’, Mitchell Library, SLNSW C245)
20 September 1793 – The next entry in Marsden’s journal. The Commodore had given the signal that morning for all the ships in the convoy to weigh anchor. The whole fleet was under sail by 9am, the fleet consisting of about 40 ships. Rev and Mrs Marsden once again began to be affected by the motion of the ship and became sick again and he was unable to attend to his religious duties. (Marsden Journal)
21 September 1793 – Marsden was too sick to either read or write. (Marsden Journal)
Sunday 22 September 1793 – Marsden was unable to enjoy the Sabbath or preach a sermon due to his sea sickness. Once again he spoke of the oaths and blasphemies. (Marsden Journal)
26 September 1793 – Marsden was beginning to recover. He was only now able to eat a little and walk the deck. (Marsden Journal)
2 October 1793 – It was only on this date that he and Mrs Marsden could put their cabin into order, since one or both of them had been sick up to this point. That night they had a heavy sea. (Marsden Journal)
3 October 1793 – The heavy sea continued right through this day. Marsden was seasick again. (Marsden Journal)
16 October 1793 – Marsden was unwell again. (Marsden Journal)
17 October 1793 – He felt much better. (Marsden Journal)
19 November 1793 – The wind had been strong and right against them all day. And the sea had run very high. The Marsdens were very sick again and could scarcely get out of bed. (Marsden Journal)
3 December 1793 (on leaving Rio de Janeiro) – They sailed out of the harbour with a fair wind, though after a short while, it began to blow very fresh and continued all day. The Marsdens were sick again and unable to stir from their cabin. Their situation was made worse because they had no one to do anything for them and the Captain continued to be ill-natured towards them. The sea was rough again that night. (Marsden Journal)
4 December 1793 – The sea was rough all day with heavy rain. Marsden wrote that he had hardly ever been that sick. The sea poured into their little cabin during the night and everything was wet and uncomfortable. The Captain chose this moment to tell them that they would have two months of worse weather than this before they reached New South Wales. Marsden wrote that more than six feet of water sometimes washed over the deck and the men were sometimes unable to stand. (Marsden Journal)
6 December 1793 – The weather remained calm and Marsden recovered. (Marsden Journal)
24 December 1798 (several days after sailing) – Blew hard from SSE. Convicts very seasick. Provisions not served until 9 o’clock. (William Noah, Voyage to Sydney in the Ship Hillsborough 1798-1799. . ., Sydney: Library of Australian History, 1978, p.21)
John Washington Price was the surgeon on the Minerva - his journal is one of the earliest to survive from a convict transport.
24 August 1799 – On sailing from Cork, Price soon found himself seasick. (Pamela Jeanne Fulton (ed.), The Minerva Journal of John Washington Price, Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2000, 73)
25 August 1799 – Price visited the convicts, and was struck by the apparent serenity there. There was no pining, discontent or marks of distress. Rather they seemed satisfied and cheerful. (Price, 73-4)
26 August 1799 – Fresh gales and heavy showers of rain. The ship’s gunnel frequently touched the water and many sprays came on deck. Few with seasickness. (Price, 74)
27 August 1799 – Strong breezes. The ship pitched and rolled a great deal in a heavy rolling sea. Seasickness increasing among the convicts. The rolling of the ship was so great that plates could not be left on the table at dinner. (Price, 74)
29 August 1799 – Most of the people recovering from seasickness. (Price, 75)
Mary Ann Reid was the wife of the master of the Friendship (1799), and sailed with him on the voyage.
11 September 1799 – Mrs Reid writing at Madeira about the first part of the voyage.
The ship’s crew had hitherto been healthy, but some of the prisoners had been sickly. Every indulgence consistent with propriety had been shown them, all of whom by messes, were alternately admitted upon deck in the daytime. (Mary Anne Reid, ‘Cursory Remarks on Board the Friendship’, Asiatic Journal, September 1819, pp.237-239, at p.239)
Laurence Halloran, a gentleman convict on the Baring (1819) complained to the Home Secretary and a member of parliament about his treatment on board the ship prior to sailing. The allegations were investigated and disproven, but the hopelessly naive MP, Henry Grey Bennett, went on board the ship and later described his shock at discovering the consequences of seasickness among the convicts:
"Never would he forget the loathsome scene which the vessel exhibited! A scene most disgraceful to a country and government calling themselves civilized and christians! It appeared that the ship had a short time before, got on a bank in a gale of wind, and had been nearly lost. The agitation of the storm had occasioned violent seasickness among the unhappy men on board, and those who were at the bottom, were almost suffocated by the results of that sickness. Good God! was it possible to contemplate such physical torture without horror?. . . He had complained to the captain of the offensive and obnoxious state of the lower part of the vessel in which such a number of poor wretches were confined, and the captain informed him, that as soon as he got to sea, he would have the means of cleansing that part of the ship from the filth which covered it." (House of Commons Hansard, 1st Series, Vol.39, 25 January 1819, Cols.89, 118)
HMS Buffalo (1838)
The Buffalo carried French Canadian political prisoners from Quebec. A number of them kept journals, including Leandre Ducharme:
"We continually collided with one another. In our dark quarters below we were tossed about from starboard to port without power to prevent it. Sea-sickness began to make itself felt. Three-quarters of us fell sick, and the number increased every minute, so that there remained only five or six who were not ill. In these circumstances nothing more affecting than our condition could be seen; salt provisions and biscuit were our only delicacies. For as long as four or five hours at a stretch several of us were unable to keep down even the slightest quantity of this food, and all of us were so weak that we were scarcely able to stand on our legs. In spite of this we were forbidden to lie down under threat of severe punishment, for exercise is necessary in treating this disease; but how could be stand erect when the vessel was tossed about by the waves, lying now on one side, now on the other?' (Leon (Leandre) Ducharme, 'Journal of a Political Exile in Australia', (trans. by George Mackaness), Australian Historical Monographs, Vol.II (New Series), Sydney, 1944, pp.16-17)
Linus Miller, a gentleman convict on the Canton (1839) explained how unpleasant it was in the prison with so many throwing up:
"No sooner were the sails unfurled than sea-sickness commenced, and in a short time became general. There were only half a dozen persons in the prison who escaped the malady. ‘Accounts were cast up,’ without ceremony, not only on the floor but in the berths; and our apartment was rendered truly horrible. An entire week passed before it could be properly cleansed. . .
I did not recover from sea-sickness until the voyage was more than half completed, and, as I was unable during the time to take much sustenance, I was reduced exceedingly low. The surgeon afterwards informed me that he had at the time, but slight hopes of my living to complete the voyage." (Linus W. Miller, Notes of an Exile to Van Diemen’s Land, Fredonia, N.Y.: W. McKinstry & Co., 1846, pp.245, 246-7)
And John Ward, a convict on the Mangles (1839):
"By this time a great many of us began to be sea sick, which was truly a miserable condition, 296 was the number of prisoners on board, huddled and crammed together as thick as we could lay, not to mention the stench and all other difficulties which attend such numbers at sea. I, as I said before, got a comparatively pleasant berth which prevented, I believe, me being sick, tho’ I had much to contend with, for I was immediately between the Two house of ‘call’ – which great inconveynence [inconvenience], and very much dirt. However two or three days soon passed away, and the greater part of us was, I may say better of the sickness. . ." (John Ward, ‘The Diary of John Ward, 1841-1844’, MS 1841-44, NLA MS 3275, pp.117-118)