Free Settler or Felon
Convict and Colonial History

Convict Ship Hercules - 1802

Embarked:140 men; 25 women
Voyage: 209 days
Surgeon's Journal: no
Previous vessel: Coromandel arrived 13 June 1802
Next vessel: Atlas arrived 7 July 1802
Captain Luckyn Betts.
Surgeon John Justice William Kunst
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Follow the Irish Convict Ship Trail

The ships Hercules and Atlas were the next convict ships to leave Ireland bound for New South Wales after the departure of the Anne in June 1800.


Convicts transported on the Hercules came from counties in Ireland - Antrim, Limerick, Wicklow, Donegal, Waterford, Tipperary, Meath, Kildare, Westmeath, Monaghan and Down.

It was reported in news from Dublin dated September 10th that a cargo of convicts passed from Newgate (Ireland) to the transport ships in Dublin from which they were to proceed to Cork and finally to Botany Bay. The convicts sent on board on the previous Tuesday consisted of seventy-six male and female prisoners all brought from the gaols of the counties of Kildare, Meath and Westmeath; the whole of those sent away over the previous fortnight was 172. [1]

Military Guard

The New South Wales Corps formed the Guard on the Hercules


The Hercules departed Ireland on 29 November 1801 and sailed via Rio de Janeiro and the Cape.


There was a mutiny prior to their arrival at Rio de Janeiro. It began at 2.30pm on the 29th of December while the Officers were at dinner and lasted for over and hour.

Charles Bateson in The Convict Ships included an account..... Suddenly the attention of the cabin occupants was attracted by shrill cries from the female prisoners in the roundhouse and the noise of shuffling feet moving quickly across the deck. Betts and Wilson, followed closely by Aiken, Carr, and Kunst, ran from the cabin to find the sentries overpowered and the prisoners in possession of the quarter-deck.

A convict snapped a blunderbuss at Betts and Wilson but it failed to go off, and the man was shot down instantly by Wilson. Aroused by the sound of the shot, the soldiers and seamen swarmed on deck and opened general fire at the convicts. For ten to fifteen minutes, the mutineers retained possession of the quarter-deck, but gradually the guard and the ship's company, using their cutlasses and the butts of their muskets, and occasionally firing a shot, drove the convicts down the ladders into the prison.

After 45 minutes they had secured the deck, and all the prisoners were below. Thirteen convicts had been killed, some on the quarter-deck, others on the main deck and yet others in the prison, whose inmates, when the firing had commenced, had unsuccessfully attempted to break out of the 'tween decks. On Aiken's orders, two convicts who had freed themselves of their irons were held on the quarter-deck. One of these men, Jeremiah Prendergass, had been named by the informer as the ringleader who, if the first attempt to capture the ship failed, was to head a second rising.

Although the ship was now secure, Prendergass was shot dead by Betts as he knelt on the deck, protesting his innocence. It was the bloodiest mutiny which had occurred in a convict ship, and during the remainder of the voyage Betts kept the prisoners closely confined. The ship called at Rio and the Cape, but when she arrived at Port Jackson, after a passage of 209 days, the convicts showed only too obviously the effects of their rigorous confinement. They were filthy and dreadfully emaciated. Including the fourteen men killed in consequence of the mutiny, among whom, ironically, was the convict who had first warned Betts of the plot, there had been 44 deaths

The Times reported the mutiny on 8th August 1802:-

The Hercules and Atlas transports in November last, sailed from Cork, with convicts for New South Wales, having amongst the number several persons concerned in the late rebellion. On their passage out, the prisoners on board the Hercules formed the project of seizing the ship, and of carrying her to the nearest French settlement; they had won over to their purpose five of the sailors of the ship. On the 20th December, off the Island of St. Antonio, the prisoners rose upon the crew, and gained possession of the quarter deck; the Officers, and each of the people as remained attached to them, made a gallant resistance; and after a desperate conflict, in which twelve of the mutineers were killed and ten wounded (of whom two died soon after), the Officers regained the ship. Of the five sailors, one was dangerously wounded. On the other side, none were seriously hurt. They arrived at the Cape of Good Hope, on the 12th April.

Port Jackson

The Hercules arrived in Port Jackson on 26 June 1802, a voyage of 209 days.

Governor King's Correspondence

Governor King's correspondence to Lord Hobart relating the news is included in the Historical Records of New South Wales Volume IV....

Governor King to Lord Hobart,
Sydney, 23 July 1802
My Lord,
Enclosed I have the honor to forward a duplicate of my last letter to His Grace the Duke of Portland, and as I shall shortly have the honor of addressing you by a returning South Sea whaler, I shall forbear troubling your Lordship at this time with any details of the colony, except informing you that the
Coromandel arrived here on the 13th ult., with the convicts in so good a state of health that they were all fit for immediate labour which reflects the highest credit on the master and surgeon of that ship.

I am sorry I cannot say as much of the Hercules and Atlas. The former arrived on the 25th June, and the latter on the 7th inst. Both these ships have lost 127 convicts out of 320 put on board, and the survivors are in a dreadfully emaciated and dying state. Your Lordship has already been informed of the attempt made by the convicts on board the Hercules to get possession of that ship previous to her arrival at Rio de Janeiro, and that a number were killed. As the master of that ship has been tried by a Vice Admiralty Court, the examinations now pending on the masters of those ships to determine how far they have infringed the tenor of their charter parties, will prevent my communicating those particulars until the return of the south Sea man, which is more than probable your Lordship will receive before this may come to hand. The arrival of the above ships has released my mind from the apprehension of the wreck seen on King's Island, in Basses Straits being one of the ships coming here with supplies, I Have etc Philip Gidley King
. (HR NSW, Vol. IV)

Trial of Luckyn Betts

Luckyn Betts was later tried for murder.

The Historical Records of Australia has an account of the trial of Captain Betts:

Luckyn Betts, Master of the Transport Ship Hercules, Stands Charged for that he, on the twenty ninth day of December in the year of our Lord 1801, on the high Seas in Lat 16 46'N., with Force and Arms the persons hereunder named being convicts on board the said ship Hercules and of which he, the said Luckyn Betts, was Master, was conveying to this port of Sydney from the Port of Cork in the kingdom of Ireland, to wit, John Blair, William McKnight, William Long, Hugh Murray, Richard Nixon, Peter Mulvahill, Patrick Whelan, Michael Lee, John McCottell, William Knox, John Fitzpatrick, Barney Kaanaan, and Thomas Walker, wilfully did shoot or cause to be shot and thereby them severally did kill and murder; and the afore said Luckyn Betts stands further charged for that he the said Luckyn Betts on the day and year and on the high seas aforesaid on Jeremiah Prendergrass then in the peace of God and our Sovereign Lord the King being with a certain Pistol which he , Luckyn Betts, in his right hand then and there held and did forcefully and feloniously shoot so that he the said Jeremiah Predergrass instantly died. (2)

His trial was held before Lieut-Col William Paterson of the NSW Corps; John Palmer, Commissary; Captain Matthew Flinders, Commander of the ship Investigator; Lieut. Robert Fowler of the same; John Murray Acting Lieutenant of Lady Nelson; Robert Campbell, merchant; Alexander Stirling, Master of the Coromandel; John Robinson, Mate of the same; Thomas Moore, Master boat builder; Richard Atkins, Registrar.

Those mentioned at the trial of Luckyn Betts included
Captain Ralph Wilson of the N.S.W. Corps, Commander of the troops
Serjeant Thomas Trotter of the NSW Corps
Mr. Aiken, Chief Mate
James Tracey - convict, informed Thomas Trotter that the mutiny was led by Prendergrass
William Knight - convict. Informed Thomas Trotter of a conspiracy back in November. Shot during the mutiny
Charles Carty - Sentry when the mutiny began
James Brumton - Sentry when the mutiny began
Private John Cullingham - Sentry
Corporal Charles Lawrence - NSW Corps. On guard the day of the mutiny
Patrick Whelan - convict
Corporal Keogh of the NSW Corps
John Carr, purser
Richard Brooks, Master of the Atlas Transport
Ebenezer Jenkins, cooper of the Hercules

On 9th July 1802 the Court reached a verdict - The Court after mature deliberation are satisfied that a mutiny actually existed on board the ship Hercules of which the prisoner, Luckyn Betts, was master; do, therefore, acquit him of the first count in the indictment, but find him guilty of manslaughter on the second, and do sentence him to pay a fine of 500 pounds, to be appropriated to the Orphan fund of this colony, and that the said Luckyn Betts be imprisoned until the said fine of 500 pounds be paid. (W. Paterson, Judge) HR NSW, Vol IV)

The trial of several of the convicts also took place in July -

William Stow otherwise known as Francis French, John Attender, Joseph Hislett, Robert Nicholls and John Mason were severally charged with force and arms upon the High Seas of piratically feloniously and wickedly combining to stir up bring about and make revolt and mutiny and did contribute to seize the ship and murder the officers and passengers.

All pleaded not guilty Witness for the Crown included Corporal Dennis Keogh and convicts James Tracey, John Brakin, Patrick Stones, Ainsley McGrath and James Hughes. All the defendants were found not guilty.

The Hercules departed Port Jackson bound for China in August 1802. The Atlas and the Hercules were both intending to take back to England cargoes of tea on account of the East India Company.

Governor King wrote to Lord Hobart in September informing him that the unfortunate survivors of the convicts sent in the Hercules and Atlas were in a state of convalescence, but too weak and debilitated to be ever of much use

Notes and Links

1) Five convict ships arrived in New South Wales in 1802 - Coromandel, Hercules, Atlas, Perseus and Atlas II

2). Thomas Walsh who arrived on the Hercules was employed by William Cox at the Hunter River in 1828

3). Denis McDaniel, Elizabeth Fielding, Charles Cavanagh, Catherine Murphy, Thomas Cuthbert, Elizabeth Nugent, Ann Sullivan, Robert alias Richard Rowe and Margaret Morgan all received Certificates of Freedom in 1810.

4). Fifteen Prisoners who arrived on the Atlas and Hercules were ransacking houses and committing acts of violence and atrocity at Castle Hill in March 1803. (Sydney Gazette 5 March 1803)

5). Execution at Castle Hill, October 1803 -

On Monday last John Lynch (per Atlas) and James Tracey who were condemned to suffer death were removed from the gaol at Sydney and sent to Parramatta where they remained until Tuesday morning. At 7 o'clock the malefactors were taken out of the Parramatta gaol and under an escort proceeded to Castle Hill, the place appointed for their Execution; where the Rev. Marsden attended. On of the unhappy men, Lynch, seemed sensibly affected at his situation. Tracey on the contrary assumed an air of sullen hardihood, denied his being accessary to the fact of which he had been convicted. Shortly before the cart was driven off Lynch addressed the spectators in a becoming manner and hoped that his melancholy fate would operate on the minds of others as a caution against falling into similar vices; but in this last voluntary effort of contrition he was interrupted by his unrelenting companion, who harshly desired him not to gratify the spectators and shortly after they were both launched in to Eternity!

Traceys offences before he reached this country were numerous. He was foremost in the insurrection on board the Hercules on her passage hither, and was the first who dared attempt to surprise the Officers; but receiving a wound through the arm instantly turned upon the wretched companions of his guilt and rashness; and in consequence of his informations many afterwards suffered exemplary punishments, and too late repented of a precipitancy whose object merited no better fate. His companions had formerly nick named him The key of the works by which appellation he was generally distinguished.

It is a melancholy reflection that this unfortunate character had only lived as a scourge to society, and that in the very last moments of his existence he should still strive to support the character of an abounded unrepentant sinner. The crime for which these misguided men died was of too heinous a nature to admit an extension of clemency
. (Sydney Gazette 2 October 1803)

6). In 1806 - Last week a native informed Tarlington, a settler that the skeleton of a white man, with a musket and tin kettle laying beside him, had been seen under the first ridge of the mountains. The settler accompanied the native, and found the skeleton as described; the bones of which being very long, leads to a more than probable conjecture, that the remains are those of James Hughes, who absconded from Castle Hill the 15th February 1803 in company with 15 others most of whom had recently arrived in the Hercules, on the ridiculous pretext of finding a road to China, but in reality to commit the most unheard of depredations; the consequences of which were, that the whole except Hughes were shortly apprehended and 13 capitally convicted before a Criminal Court, of whom two were executed, and 11 pardoned. Hughes was an able active man; well known in Ireland during the rebellion that existed in that country for his abominable depravities (Sydney Gazette 19 January 1806)

7). Monaghan Assizes - Richard Nixon, found guilty of wilful and corrupt perjury on the trial of John Mackarell, William Surt and John Grundell, at this assizes, being a witness for the Crown, ordered to be transported for seven years. - Freemans Journal 31 July 1800

8). Female prisoners arriving on the Hercules:
Mary Bass
Bridget Brannigan
Margaret Campwell
Mary Conorty
Eleanor Davis
Alice Delaney
Mary Dunn
Mary English
Ann Farrell
Elizabeth Fielding
Margaret Hamilton
Mary Harrington
Margaret Harvey
Margaret Kavanagh
Ann Kelly
Hester Lunn
Mary McCannif
Mary McClean
Ann Moran
Margaret Morgan
Catherine Murphy
Elizabeth Nugent
Ann Reilley
Mary Stratford
Ann Sullivan
Mary Turley

7) National Archives Voyages of the Hercules: (1) 1800/1 New South Wales and China. Capt Luckyn Betts. Portsmouth 11 Sep 1801 - 12 Apr Cape - 26 Jun New South Wales - 26 Oct Whampoa - 3 Jan 1803 Second Bar - 14 Apr St Helena - 19 Jun Downs.


[1] Dublin, Sept. 10. Times [London, England] 17 Sept. 1801: 3. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 10 Mar.

[2] HRA, Series 1, Vol., 111, p.536