Free Settler or Felon 

Convict Ship Isabella


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Embarked: 119 women
Voyage: 141 days
Deaths: 0
Surgeon's Journal: yes
Previous vessel: Maitland arrived 14 July 1840
Next vessel: King William arrived 17 August 1840
Captain Alexander McAusland
Surgeon Superintendent Henry Walsh Mahon R.N.
Follow the Female Convict Ship Trail
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Prisoners and passengers of the Isabella identified in the Hunter Valley

The Isabella was built at Whitby in 1827.

Embarkation at Dublin

Henry Mahon received his appointment as Surgeon Superintendent of the Isabella in January 1840.

The embarkation of 119 convicts, 25 children and 32 free emigrants took place at Kingstown harbour in February.

Most of the convict women were in their twenties, however there were nine who were in their forties. The youngest women were 17 years of age and oldest was Bridget Ryan who was 60 years old.

They were mostly housemaids, nursemaids and servants and came from various counties in Ireland - Wexford, Mayo, Longford, Galway, Monaghan, Kerry, Cork, Waterford, Wicklow, Tyrone, Leitrim, Carlow and Londonderry. Their crimes ranged from petty crimes such as stealing a handkerchief or pick pocketing to man robbery, arson and street robbery. Many had former convictions.


The Isabella departed Kingstown on 5th March under moderate winds and cloudy weather. For most of the women on board this would be their last sight of Ireland for ever. They passed by the Tuskar Light house on the 9th March 1840 and were off Madeira on the 19th March with light westerly winds and rain. By Sunday 22nd March they were near Palma Island and they passed Tenerife on 25th March. They crossed the line on 16th April.

Cape of Good Hope

Requiring fresh supplies, the surgeon decided to put into Simons Bay at the Cape of Good Hope and on 31st May he recorded that they were working into Simons Bay. They had very fine weather with light westerly winds while at the Cape and they remained there until the 10 June. They spoke the Andromache while there.

Surgeon Henry Walsh Mahon

Henry Mahon kept a detailed Medical Journal from 27 February to 3rd August 1840. In his journal he recorded a set of rules he expected the women to observe......;

1. The convicts must behave themselves in a respectful manner to all who are placed in authority over them in the prison or hospital and always in a decent and becoming manner whilst prayers are being read to them or divine service performed.

2. No convict is to alter, cut or destroy any of the clothing bedding or other articles given her during the voyage or appropriate them to any other use than what they were intended for when issued.

3. Any convict found stealing or secreting any articles belonging to her fellow prisoners will be severely punished and reported to the Governor on arrival at New South Wales. This same rule will also be enforced against the free women.

4. That no quarrelling fighting or abusive language be used by any prisoner or free settler in the mess or elsewhere, and one out of each mess is to assist the mess women daily. Any person objecting will be immediately punished.

5. The night tubs to be emptied and cleaned by two of each mess in rotation before breakfast, the water closets must be well washed out every morning by the same taking it on turns. Neither dirt or bones are to be thrown into the hatchways or water closets.

6. The decks in the prison, hospital and free settlers berths must be swept and scraped after every meal. No washing in or wetting of the prison or hospital will be allowed exception Wednesdays and Saturdays; and on these days, I will make a minute inspection as to the dryness and cleanliness of the decks under the sleeping berths for which purpose the bottom boards are to be brought upon the upper deck after the doors are opened. When however, any of the mess women apply for permission to wash the plank in fine or dry weather they may be allowed to doe so.

7. It is expected that the prisoners will be up and their beds properly arranged before eight o'clock in the morning, their persons clean, hair combed and always of a Sunday to be neat and tidy. The beds must be kept dry and in dry weather are to be carried on deck in two divisions and stowed in the nettings.

8. No prisoner will be permitted under any pretence to pass the railings of the foresail for the purpose of conversing with the sailors

9. No smoking or other lights will be permitted in the prison either by day or night and any convict observed or reported to have in her possession any combustible with the object of procuring lights after sunset will be summarily and severely punished on board and such misbehaviour will be reported to the Governor at Sydney.

10. All convicts must retire to their respective beds at or before 9 o'clock in the evening and no singing or other noise will be tolerated after I go the rounds of the prison at nine o'clock

11. All complaints of improper conduct either in or out of the prison or hospital to be reported to me in the forenoon of each day. Any fault of the unwholesomeness of the provisions or irregular distribution thereof to be made to me immediately for the purpose of investigating any abuse which might have happened. The mess women are particularly requested to make these known to each convict individually and to see that these rules be strictly complied with.

Port Jackson

The Isabella arrived at Port Jackson on 24th July 1840. The original number placed under the surgeon's care were landed on the 3rd August in excellent health and according to the surgeon, much improved in appearance.

Those who were not troubled with children were immediately assigned as servants; the remainder were forwarded to Parramatta prison

The voyage had been unusually long and tedious, 141 days and in a period of 160 days during which they were on board no sickness of an infectious or contagious nature appeared amongst them and although 149 cases are being noted in the sick list herewith transmitted yet they are such as originate from common causes. The prison was wetted twice a week and washed with soap and water afterwards dried by means of the swinging stoves supplied for the purpose. In the intermediate days dry scrubbing and scraping were used which the women performed with alacrity; but, in other respects proved exceedingly troublesome and frequently intractable without the intervention of coercive measures. Of a Saturday chloride of lime or vinegar was sprinkled all over the between decks and holds. In fine weather the prison doors were thrown open at eight o'clock and permitted to remain so generally until 5 o'clock whilst the prisoners continued up, I encouraged dancing, singing and other pastimes most agreeable to themselves and conducive to good health. The total distance from Ireland to New South Wales was 14,244 miles.

The Sydney Monitor reported on 5th August 1840 -

On Monday morning last, at ten o'clock, the female convicts and free settlers were landed from the Isabella. These women have arrived from Dublin under the superintendence of Mr. Mahon who speaks in high terms of their exemplary conduct during the voyage; and we are bound to add, from the clean, healthy, and respectable appearance they presented on landing, that they reflect not less credit on Dr. Mahon than on themselves, being the most orderly in their deportment, as well as the most becomingly attired body of female convicts we ever saw arrive from Ireland.

Some time after their landing, the Rev. Mr. Edmonstone arrived, and delivered a most moving and appropriate address to the Protestant portion of the females; and shortly afterwards, Dr. Polding addressed the Catholics, and admonished them as to their future conduct and prospects in life. The women seemed much affected and shed many tears. After the clergymen had concluded, Captain McLean addressed them. Such of them as had been applied for, were then forwarded to their respective assignees, the remainder will probably be forwarded to Parramatta, there to await assignment. Much credit is due to the commander and owners of this ship, as well as to the surgeon for the manner in which she was found and kept during the voyage, for, owing to the good quality of the provisions, the discipline maintained, and the cleanliness of the ship, few cases of illness occurred during the voyage, and not a single death. On being asked if they had any complaints to make of their treatment on board or against the officers or crew, they with one voice exclaimed they had cause for gratitude and with tears called down blessings on the doctor and officers of the ship. The free females who have arrived by this vessel, have also received most excellent character from the captain and surgeon for exemplary conduct during the voyage.

Printed convict indents of the Isabella include the name, age, education, marital status, family, native place, religion, where and when convicted, former convictions, sentence, physical description and occasional information about Certificates of Freedom. There is no information in the indents as to where and to whom the women were assigned.

Notes and Links

1). The Isabella was one of three convict ships bringing female prisoners to New South Wales in 1840, the others being the Surry and the Margaret. A total of 461 female prisoners arrived in the colony in 1840.

2). Fifteen prisoners of the Isabella have been identified in the Hunter Valley so far. Select here to find more about convicts and passengers who arrived on the Isabella

3). National Archives. Reference: ADM 101/36/6 Description: Medical journal of the Isabella, female convict ship, from 27 February to 3 August 1840 by Henry W Mahon, Surgeon Superintendent, during which time the said ship was employed in the convict service from Ireland to Sydney, New South Wales.


[1]. Bateson, Charles, The Convict Ships, p. 172

[2]. Medical Journal of Henry Walsh Mahon. UK, Royal Navy Medical Journals, 1817-1857 Medical Journals (ADM 101, 804 bundles and volumes). The National Archives. Kew, Richmond, Surrey.

[3]. Reference: ADM 101/70/7A Description: Medical and surgical journal of Her Majesty's convict ship Surry for 9 March to 27 July 1840 by Edward Leah, Surgeon, during which time the said ship was employed on a voyage to New South Wales

[4]. Convict Indents. State Archives NSW; Series: NRS 12189; Item: [X642A]; Microfiche: 744

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