Free Settler or Felon
Convict and Colonial History

Convict Ship Eliza IV - 1850

Embarked: 60 men
Voyage: 127 days
Deaths: 4
Tons: 700
Surgeon's Journal: yes
Master: Daniell
Surgeon : John Andrews

The Eliza was engaged to transport prisoners to Australia in December 1849. The prisoners were taken to Hobart first where some were admitted to hospital before being again embarked and transported to Norfolk Island.

Military Guard

Details of the military guard were printed in the Morning Chronicle...The Eliza with convicts, embarked the 1st company of Pensioners on the 14th and 15th December from Tilbury Fort, as a convict guard to proceed to Australia (VDL) with convicts.

'These pensioners have volunteered their service, in consequence of circulars having been forwarded to the several staff districts for returns of pensioners who are disposed to volunteer their services for such duty.

Surgeon John Andrews

John Andrews kept a medical journal from 8th December 1849 to 1st June 1850 on the voyage from London to Van Diemen's Land and then to Norfolk Island. Following are extracts from the journal.....

Convicts Embarked

'In December an Officer, 60 prisoners, and part of the Convict Guard were embarked off Woolwich. They were, although much worn in constitution apparently in fairly good health. On the 13th convicts from the Warrior Hulk were received on board. These were all young men and to all appearance in health. They looked however anxious and were evidently excited in their manner from circumstances of their unexpected and unprepared removal on board ship for the purpose of transportation.

They shewed that they had suffered much mental and corporal punishment.

Two men from the Justitia Hulk and one from Wakefield prison were also received on board. Two of these were strong and robust men the other was robust but of a pale countenance with a bucolic look and manner - evidently labouring under a great mental distress. Thirty-three from Pentonville and 18 from Millbank prison were also embarked. These for the most part were men worn by long confinement and severe punishments. All being men of desperate and very bad character were immediately on their arrival on board confined below in the prison cells - four cells being fitted up for the safe keeping of fifteen in each cell. These cells were very dark, close and hardly ventilated so that the men were in a short time within them when they felt the want of air, of faintness and giddiness. Fits of an hysterical, epileptic character quickly attacked most of them. I was subsequently obliged to get them on deck as soon as possible.

These fits continued until the means for ventilation was procured for which purpose the ship was detained. On 14th December 22 Pensioners the remainder of the Guard, 60 women and 19 children above 12 years of age and 76 under that age and 15 infants were embarked. The men with the exception of a few who were suffering from colds and the fatigue of a long journey were apparently healthy. The women excepting six who had diarrhoea were in good health but many were also exhausted from a long journey. There were a few cases of scald head among the children and the infants were sickening under the process of vaccine all having been vaccinated a few days before embarkation.'


They were reported to have arrived at Hobart on 6th April 1850.

Norfolk Island

On the 18th April the ship sailed from Hobart bound for Norfolk Island having received back from Hospital all the cases sent thither. On the voyage to Norfolk Island fine weather and climate were enjoyed and the sick list consisted of only two cases of diarrhea. On the 30th April they arrived at Norfolk Island. The whole of the convicts were landed on the same morning in good health.

On the 2nd May the Guard were disembarked in good health. On the same day 1 sergeant, 2 corporals and 23 rank and file, 3 women and 23 children. were embarked for the return passage to Hobart. They sailed from Norfolk Island on 2nd May persevering through a long and boisterous passage to Hobart arriving there on the 26th April.

Notes and Links

1). John Giles Price was Commandant at Norfolk Island when the convicts of the Eliza arrived.

2). Amongst the Pensioners who have lately arrived as a guard to the Eliza Convict Ship from London there are men who are available for hire of the under mentioned trades or occupations: Blacksmith; cooper, bricklayer, private servant, groom, coachman, shepherd, labourers. Full particulars respecting these men and their characters may be obtained on application to Capt. Russell, Staff Officer, of Pensions. Hire Barracks, Old Wharf. The Cornwall Chronicle 4 May 1850 .

3). Lieutenant George Jean de Winton was stationed at Norfolk Island for three and a half years in two separate postings between 1848 and 1853. His wife was Fanny, daughter of Thomas White Melville Winder, one of the 'Roses of the Hunter', and when they departed Norfolk Island forever in 1853 they left a child buried in the cemetery there. George de Winton arrived in Australia with the 99th regiment on the Constant in 1843 and served with detachments at Windsor, Newcastle, Port Macquarie, Port Curtis and Brisbane before being stationed at Norfolk Island. In 1898 he published Soldiering Fifty Years Ago - Australia in the Forties in which he gives a very different version of Norfolk Island than the long held belief that it was a hell hole for all who were sent there. An Extract of his Chapter about Norfolk Island is re-produced below:

Gazetteers, for the most part, dismiss in a few lines reference to this little island in the Pacific Ocean, a history of which would probably be one of the most thrilling and instructive ever given to the world. Deeply do I regret not having during my three and a half years of service there collected material which, derived from authentic sources, would have aided the historian and dispelled impressions and illusions conveyed by writings of the ill-informed, or of the sensational novelist.

On August 8, 1848 (through the courtesy of the secretary of Lloyds, I am able to fix the date), two companies of the 99th, under commands of Captain Day and Brevet-Major McPherson, I being one of the subalterns, embarked at Sydney on board the Eleanor Lancaster for Norfolk Island. The Eleanor Lancaster was a barque of 424 tons, and on previous voyages had been employed in conveying cattle. As we were assured by the amiable captain that the effluvium had health-giving properties, we made light of the inconvenience as we were wont in those days to make light of other inconveniences, to which soldiers taking passage in the steam transports of to-day are strangers.

Favoured with fair winds, a few days sail brought us to the island. Norfolk Island has no harbour and landing is, except in calm weather, effected with difficulty, and at times with danger. I recollect a case when a man-of-war's boat's crew, undeterred by warnings, tried the landing and was capsized, but as we had good swimmers with life lines at hand, a ducking was the only harm done to the boat's crew, while the prisoners  -  the rescuers - reaped reward in the shape of some remission of time of their sentences.

On landing we were all hospitably housed and entertained by the officers, civil and military, and the days intervening between our arrival and the embarkation of the detachment of the Regiment we relieved, were engaged in the transfer of quarters, gardens, and live stock. Duties on the island were light, thanks to the perfect system of administration of the civil governor, and despite our isolation from the busy world we did not feel time hang heavily on our hands, as we soon learned to take an interest in our gardens and stock, and vied with each other in friendly rivalry in the production of arrowroot and other products of the island.

Pleasant are my remembrances of our little social gatherings and of the theatricals got up in the barracks. Much misconception has obtained with respect to Norfolk Island, due not a little to the widely read work of fiction For the Term of his Natural Life many of the situations therein described being to my knowledge absolutely impossible. To the student of history the so-called historical novel often proves a snare, from the difficulty of discriminating between fiction and fact, a difficulty increased proportionately with the talent of the writer. When the historical novelist deals with the period in which he is writing, readers are prone to discern in the characters portrayed living persons, and lasting injury may be done to name and fame. The title of the work referred to is, in itself, mis-leading, as conveying the idea of life-long imprisonment. 'Transportation for life' means this: The judge awards the life sentence in vindication of the Convict law, and the prisoner passes out from freedom and Life society, thenceforth to commence a new life under restrictive control ; and, on the condition of good conduct, to be restored to freedom and social rights with the one exception of liberty to return to the country from which he was transported.

As evidence that hope may be entertained by all, a prisoner who had been twice sentenced to death (commuted), three times to transportation for life, and to cumulative periods of imprisonment totalling over 100 years, went up to Hobart Town on his ticket-of-leave when I was on the island. My own servant, who had been twice transported for life, obtained his ticket and did well thereafter. That a prisoner should die during the period of his term of life sentence is to say no more than that death comes to all ; but that sentenced in youth or middle age to transportation for life a prisoner should, till the age of seventy, be continually in gaol is, I venture to think, without record.

With regard to the condition of the prisoners at Norfolk Island, the ne plus ultra penal settlement, the prison of the most irreclaimable convicts, un-doubtedly the labour of the chain gangs, the very worst cases, was severe ; but the condition of the well- behaved, always excepting the absence of freedom, was not more painful, alas ! than that of many waifs and wanderers in this great city ; while as a set-off against freedom, the convict was without care or anxiety for food, clothing, and shelter, and the beautiful climate provided a certain sense of enjoyment to life. Oft reported in London papers are cases of offences committed in order to obtain the shelter of the prison, and of suicides of the destitute unable to obtain the food necessary to support life. Many of the convicts worked at their trades, and others were employed as domestic servants, gardeners, etc., and the condition of these always excepting the sense of restraint and constant supervision - was certainly not a hard one, as evidenced by their good state of health, and indeed by their general cheerful demeanour.

Attempts at escape from the island have been put forward as evidence of severity of treatment, but the same might be urged in the case of desertion from the army or navy, and, so far as the offence involved, it would be less in the case of the convict, for he assuredly had come under no voluntary obligation to serve under the prison flag. When questioned, the convicts would generally acquiesce in the justice of their sentence, though some would urge in extenuation the unequal operation of the law generally, or a special instance of that inequality in their own case. In other words, they gave expression to the saying of Dean Swift, that laws are like cobwebs, which may catch small flies, but let wasps and hornets pass through.

The Governor of Norfolk Island during the time (three and a half years) I was there stationed, and covered by the period referred to in the historical novel above named, was Mr. John Price. Having, Price as police magistrate of Hobart Town, when a no inconsiderable portion of its population consisted of time-expired convicts and ticket-of-leave men, so ordered it that life and property were as secure as in any English town, he was, by Sir John Franklin, then Governor of Van Diemen's Land, appointed to supersede the Governor of Norfolk Island, under whose administration, and under that of his predecessor, the island had obtained an unenviable notoriety. The enforcement of rigid discipline, and the enactment of rules designed to suppress scandalous crimes, were naturally regarded with disfavour by those who had abused liberties formerly conceded, and to this may be referred many stories of severity of rule and punishment.

The administration of justice on the island was Administration of on this was : Minor offences were dealt with by the justice Governor; graver by two magistrates, the officer commanding the troops being associated with the Governor in the commission of the peace to this end ; and very grave offences were relegated to a special Court consisting of a judge and the seven senior officers on the island, the Attorney-General of Van Diemen's Land acting as Grown Prosecutor. This Court had the power of life and death, and though several sessions were held during the time I was on the island, no death sentence was recorded. On an occasion where prisoners had overmastered the guard of a boat and attempted to escape, the Attorney- General pressed hard for a conviction on the capital count, but, as no life was taken, and the crime of murder could only be inferentially contemplated, the Court found only on the minor count. Following the practice of courts-martial, we gave the accused the benefit of such points as we judged would be put forward by the counsel for his defence, or in mitigation of punishment. The particular case in question I recollect, as the following words, with which the Attorney-General concluded his address, fixed themselves upon my memory : ' And I call upon you, gentlemen, to throw around the inhabitants of this island that degree of protection to which by law, justice, and humanity they are alike entitled.' As illustrating the purely professional character of counsel's pleadings, conversing with the Attorney-General on the day following, I found that he had quite forgotten the words which had so much impressed me.

Mr. Price was by many qualifications eminently suited for his post He was a man of commanding presence, of great physical strength, and absolutely without fear. On one occasion, when visiting the cells, he was warned by the constables not to enter one in which a prisoner was confined, who had sworn to take his life. Price entered, and immediately the prisoner rushed at him, seized the pistol from his belt, cocked and presented it Price drew another pistol from the back of his coat, and fixing the prisoner with his eye, calmly said : Drop it - this pistol is loaded, that is not. The prisoner dropped his pistol and slunk back in his cell. Questioning Price afterwards as to which pistol was loaded, he smiled, and I did not pursue the inquiry. I believe both were.

Price was a man of many and varied acquirements. He was a classical scholar, an athlete, and an oars- man, and he had a practical knowledge of many trades. He was a carpenter, turner, blacksmith, whitesmith, locksmith, baker, cook, and confectioner, and was even an expert in sewing. Children were devoted to him ; he would devise games for their amusement, and freely join in their diversions. In cases of sickness among them he would send them choice fruits from his garden, and sick comforts from his store, and with his own hands make broth and jellies for the sufferers. Price often said that many of the prisoners on the island should, in the early stages of their criminal career, have been treated as lunatics rather than as criminals ; he held, and few men had probably wider experience, that crime was to a great extent the result of hereditary taint or environment, thus anticipating the views of Dr. Lambroso and his school. I recollect a case where a prisoner had, without apparent reason or provocation, committed a violent assault upon a constable. Confined in the cells he refused food, saying that for doing so he had an order from On High. The doctor and the clergyman being unable to divert him from his evident intent to starve himself to death, Price took the case in hand. He prepared a juicy beef-steak, well garnished with onions, and himself took the savoury dish to the prisone's cell, and entering suddenly said, I have a message for you. The ban is off - you may eat - and see, here is something sent you to begin on. The cheery tone of the Governor's voice roused the prisoner, and the smell of the savoury dish probably recalling some old memories, nature reasserted herself; he fell to, and although too weak to do justice to the meal then provided, thereafter took his prison allowance, and in a short time re- covered. What a field for the novelist would have been Convict Norfolk Island in its prison days !

What secrets of Romance crimes undetected were locked up in the breasts of many of the prisoners. Be it remembered that here were the great offenders, the aristocrats of crime, for there is an aristocracy in this as in every other walk of life. The highwayman will not associate with the pickpocket, or the burglar with the area sneak. There was a sort of refinement in allusion to those who had been transported for very grave offences, who were always referred to as long-sentenced men. Many there were who had been principals or accessories in causes celebres and interesting subjects would present themselves in converse with prisoners.

I found that nothing rankled more in the mind of a prisoner than a suspicion that he had been made a cat's-paw in the commission of a crime, the benefit of which his instigator and accomplice reaped and stood innocent before the world. The sense of this, to them, deep injustice, operated with some in a determination to behave well in order sooner to obtain their freedom and avenge themselves upon their quondam accomplice, while with others it created a sense of morbid indifference, based upon a conviction that in their case, at least, right never would be done. In speaking of Norfolk Island it must be re- membered that those there transported were deemed to be confirmed criminals, with whom efforts for reformation had elsewhere hopelessly failed ; and some old prisoners have told me freely that reformation with them was impossible. One case I specially recall, that of a prisoner who had come to the island with a very bad record, but so good was his conduct with us that he was given an easy, and indeed a pleasant, billet as attendant at our little library. Expressing a hope that he would, when he went up to Hobart Town on his ticket, which he was to do shortly, begin a new life, he said, No, sir ; it is too late to start on a new line ; I must take to the road again ; and shortly after he obtained his ticket he committed a highway robbery, was tried, and executed.

In view of the fact that our prisoners were all old offenders, that any were reclaimed might be a subject for surprise ; that many were reclaimed speaks well for the system pursued ; and with regard to the general condition of the prisoners I venture to think that those who had ' done time ' on the island and at home would favourably contrast the time served on Norfolk Island with that served in an English prison. If, with injustice, Norfolk Island has been called a convict inferno, for the free residents it might with some sense of justice be called a terrestrial paradise, inasmuch as there the great disturbing influences of society had no place. Priests there were, chaplains (Catholic and Protestant), but between these no rivalries existed. Though realising, doubtless, how little could be effected by their ministrations, their duties, as enjoined by their respective churches, they punctiliously discharged. This much may be said of our prisoners, they were free from cant and hypocrisy. There were no lawyers to stir up strife and profit thereby ; there were no shops, and as all the ladies wore print dresses and sun-bonnets, there was among them no rivalry of personal adornment. Locks, bolts, and bars were unused ; where no receivers are there are no thieves. The position of everyone was so well defined that no pretension of superiority, social or financial, could exist. We had free quarters, free rations, and free gardens ; we had poultry in abundance, and fruit and vegetables in profusion. The lemon, guava, and Cape gooseberry grew wild all over the island. The services of tailors, shoemakers, and other artisans we had for sixpence a day, and their work was excellent. Such extras as we required we obtained from Hobart Town, a vessel plying between Hobart Town and the island every three months. When anyone ran short of an article the stores of others were resorted to. On one occasion, when we were six months without communication with the outer world, all stores ran low, but we shared each with the other impartially. We were a happy and united family, a sort of social commonwealth. As illustrating the feeling that existed among us, when a death occurred, a friend would defray the funeral expenses to spare the feelings of the bereaved ; nor would it be known who had intervened. At the funeral all followed. The grief of one was the grief of all, so closely were we knit in ties of friendship.

All honour to the good Pitcairners who keep the beautiful cemetery in order. A letter from the late George Nobbs, dated in 1859, is before me as I write, saying that the tomb of my child was in perfect preservation ; and lately I received from an old island friend a photograph of the tomb, showing it in as perfect a state as when erected forty-five years ago. Life-lasting have been friendships formed on the beautiful island of the Pacific.. - Soldiering Fifty Years Ago: Australia in the Forties - George Jean de Winton


[1] UK Royal Navy Medical Journals, 1817-1857. Medical Journal of John Andrews on the voyage of the Eliza. National Archives, Kew