Free Settler or Felon
Convict and Colonial History

Convict Ship Lady Shore - 1797

Embarked: 68 females; 2 males
Surgeons Journal: no
Tons: 482
Previous vessel: Indispensable arrived 30 April 1796
Next vessel: Britannia arrived 27 May 1797
Master James Willcocks.
Surgeon Mr. Fyfe
Follow the Female Convict Ship Trail

It was reported in the Norfolk Chronicle that on Saturday March 11th 1797 Major Semple and 35 female transports were removed from Newgate, and delivered on board the Lady Shore, lying off Woolwich, bound for New South Wales.

In mid-April 1797, Mr. Black, the purser of the vessel received government dispatches from the Duke of Portland's office and immediately set off to Portsmouth to join the ship. (Hampshire Chronicle 22 April 1797)

On the eve of the departure of the Lady Shore the Belfast Newsletter gave the following account of the convicts on board......

The ship Lady Shore, for Botany Bay has now on board 110 men women and children, belonging to the New South Wales corps and 70 convicts, only two of whom are males, Major Semple, and Knowles, the Duke of Portland's late porter. Their numbers are expected to be considerably increased by the time they reach the place of their destination as most of the female convicts are fine young girls, and many of them already promise to be prolific. [2]

Major Semple Lisle....Major J.G. Semple (Lisle)


Lady Shore arrived in Portsmouth on 15th April 1797 and departed on 22 April 1797 with 68 female prisoners and 2 male prisoners.

Military Guard

The Lady Shore had on board, besides convicts, eight solders of the New South Wales corps amongst whom were Germans, French, and condemned criminals; reprieved on condition of serving during life at Botany Bay.

They arrived at Portsmouth while the mutiny on board the fleet was at its height. They formed a plan to seize the ship when she should get out to sea. Of this Captain Wilcox was informed by Major Semple. He complained to the Transport Board of the danger of proceeding to sea with such men, while they had arms in their hands. The Colonel of the regiment was sent to investigate the business; but he, perhaps hesitating to give credit to Semple, and from the Benevolence of his own heart, entertaining a better opinion of his men than it would seem they deserved, over ruled Captain Wilcox' desire.

In this state they went to sea. When four days sail from Rio de Janeiro the mutineers rose in the night on the Second Mate, who was then on watch. He found resistance to so many armed men to be all in vain, and of course submitted to save his own life. They then entered the cabin of the Chief Mate (*Mr. Lambert), and murdered him in the most savage manner, cutting his head off. They then proceeded past Mr. Black's birth to the round house, where Captain Wilcox fired a pistol at them through his door. They instantly broke the door in pieces and murdered poor Wilcox in a manner too shocking to describe. They then returned to Mr. Black's hammock and without the least warning thrust their bayonets through it in several places, not in the least doubting but he was in it. But during the disturbance he had quitted it and concealed himself which gave him an opportunity of begging his life when their rage began to abate. This they agreed; put him and ten others into the long boat, gave them a compass and turned them adrift.

They got safe to Rio de Janeiro, from whence M.B took his passage in a foreign ship; but at sea fell in with a South Whaler, the Captain of which (Captain Wilkinson) received him on board. After this Captain Wilkinson took a Spanish vessel valued about ten thousand pounds. Mr. Black was appointed prize master and carried her to the Cape. He has since sailed with Captain Wilkinson to the coast of New Holland to fish for whales


There was a Mutiny on board in August 1797 [1]

Following is an account from The Naval History of Great Britain......

On the 1st of August, while the British transport, Lady Shore, with 119 convicts on board, was on her way to Botany Bay, a number of French emigrants and deserters, very unwisely sent on board to guard the prisoners, having gained over the majority of the crew, revolted and took possession of the ship. A spirited opposition by the passengers, and the loyal part of the soldiers and seamen, might yet have saved the ship, had not a traitorous scoundrel, one ' Adjutant Minchin,' delivered up the arms and ammunition to the mutineers. On the 15th, when about 100 leagues from the land, in the latitude of Cape Sta.-Maria on the coast of Brazil, the mutineers sent away in the long boat 29 persons, men, women, and children, the youngest child not five weeks old! After great suffering from bad weather, the boat reached the port of San-Pedros, and the people, among whom was the notorious Major Semple, were hospitably received. This occurrence we should scarcely have thought worth recording in these pages, but for a highly exaggerated account that has found its way into a respectable French historical work. The article, which is epitomized, 'Enlevement d'un vaisseau anglais de la compagnie des Indes, par huit prisonniers de guerre francais,' represents the two principal actors to be Selis, one of the chief quartermasters, and Thierry, the pilot, late belonging to the French corvette, Bonne-Citoyenne, captured in March of the preceding year. These men, it appears, after a confinement of seven months in the prison at Petersfield, contrived to effect their escape, but were arrested by the coast-fencibles, near Portsmouth, and reconfined in one of the prisons there. Thence they were removed, the account states, along with several other prisoners, to the hulks, preparatory to being transported to Botany Bay. From the hulks, Selis and Thierry, with six other Frenchmen, effected their escape; but they were all retaken, and were finally embarked on board the Lady-Shore. These eight Frenchmen, with no other assistance than that afforded by three Germans and a Spaniard, are represented to have surprised and captured the convict-ship; which they afterwards carried to Monte-Video and sold.* Accustomed as we are to the French manner of relating an occurrence of this kind, the chief surprise it excites in us is, that prisoners of war should have been sent to Botany Bay for having, as, by a law of nature almost as strong as that of self-preservation, they were justified in doing, attempted to escape from confinement. We think there must be a misstatement as to the cause that led to the banishment of MM. Selis and Thierry; in short, that these French prisoners had committed some act of turpitude, the divulgement of which would have shown, not only that their punishment had been justly inflicted, but that their veracity was not to be relied upon. [6]

An Account of the mutiny by John Black published in the Sporting Magazine....

By the last Lisbon Mail, the Rev. John Black, of Woodbridge, Suffolk, received a packet from his son, who was one of the surviving Officers of that unfortunate ship the Lady Shore, dated Rio Janeiro, Jan. 18, 1798, containing an authentic narrative of the mutiny, and of his subsequent perils and adventures.

Captain Wilcocks did not die till the third day after the mutiny, when he expired without a groan. Every honour was shewn to his remains. Major Semple had no concern in the mutiny; he was the first to acquaint Captain Wilcocks of the mutinous state of the soldiers before they left England. Mr. Black has sent a list of the persons who landed at Rio Grande, thirty-two in number. The officers were received by the General at the head of his garrison and entertained in the most hospitable and splendid manner

The surgeon of the ship (Mr. Fyfe), an amiable young man of abilities in his possession, with whom I had formed an intimacy, was forcibly detained by the mutineers, which made him very miserable. Mr. Black wrote to him from Rio Grande. There is no doubt, but the Governor of Montevideo will treat him in the most honourable manner. Before Mr. Black left Rio Grande, the Governor of that place had received a letter from the Governor of Montevideo, requesting a list of the mutineers, which was accordingly sent. Mr. Black and Major Semple set out to go by land from Rio Grande to Rio Janeiro; the General supplied them with horses, two servants, two dragoons for guides, and an Indian to take care of the luggage horse, and letters of recommendation to the different places through which they were to pass. When they had arrived at a Whale Fishery, about eleven leagues to the Southward of the Isle of St. Catherine, they embarked in a whale boat for that place. They were kindly received by the Governor, and had separate apartments allotted them in the Palace. Here they staid till the 9th of November, when they embarked on board a Portuguese Fleet for Rio Janeiro; - Major Semple on board the Admiral's ship, and Mr. Black on board a line of battle ship, commanded by Captain Thompson, an Englishman, at whose request he was placed there, and from whom received the greatest kindness - An Authentic Narrative of the Mutiny on Board the Ship Lady Shore; with Particulars of a Journey Through Part of Brazil: in a Letter, Dated 'Rio Janeiro, Jan. 18, 1798,' to the Rev. John Black, Woodbridge, from Mr. John Black, One of the Surviving Officers of the Ship, Volume 4

Front Page of An Authentic Narrative of the Mutiny on Board the Lady Shore......John Black


The London Times reported in November 1799 that a Bow street Officer had arrived in London from Portsmouth with Jean Sanlard alias Provost and Jean Baptiste Escala. They are charged with being concerned in the mutiny on board the Lady Shore Botany Bay ship, and to have been the men who murdered Capt. Wilcocks, the commander. They were taken prisoners on board a French frigate, captured in the West Indies, and were sent to England in the Racoon sloop of war. They were committed to the House of Correction. [4] JEAN PREVOT was a native of France, and a mariner, who, at the age of eighteen years, was indicted at the Old Bailey, Dec. 20, 1799, for that he, on the 1st day of August, 1797, on the high seas, within the jurisdiction of the Admiralty of England, feloniously, of his malice aforethought, did kill and murder James Willcox, Captain of the Lady Jane Shore, transport ship. Upon the prisoner being put to the bar, he desired, through the medium of a French interpreter, that his Jury might be composed of half foreigners and half Englishmen.

The request had been anticipated, and a sufficient number of foreigners summoned; but when their names were called over, few of them appeared; the Court was kept waiting near two hours, and messengers were sent to their respective habitations; but some of them were in the country, and others returned for answer, they were unwell. Lord Eldon was extremely angry, and intimated his determination to teach those foreigners who were summoned upon Juries, and refused or neglected to attend, that the laws of the country were sufficiently competent to them; he wished to have it understood, that persons so conducting themselves were liable to a further punishment than merely having a fine imposed upon them, and he observed, that if ever he witnessed in future a similar instance of contumacy to the Courts of Justice of the country, he would punish the persons so offending with imprisonment as well as fine.

After a considerable time had elapsed, six foreigners were obtained, and the Jury, constituted agreeable to the prisoner's wish, was impanelled. Dr. Nicholls, the King's Advocate, after some introductory observations on the licentiousness of the crime of murder, briefly stated the circumstances, which were afterwards detailed by the witnesses. Mr. Minchin said, he commanded the troops on board the Lady Shore, which was a transport, carrying troops and convicts to Botany Bay. On the 1st of August,1797, at about four in the morning, while the ship lay of Cape Friou, on the coast of Africa, he was disturbed from his sleep by a noise on the deck; when he got up to see what was the matter, he found the hatchway fastened down, and at the same moment saw Captain Willcox, who commanded the ship, lying wounded at the bottom of the ladder; he took him up, and put him into his birth, and on the following day he died.

Capt. Willcox, before his death, appeared perfectly sensible, and knew that he could not recover of his wounds. The witness had several conversations with him before his death and learnt from him the manner in which he got his wounds. He said, that upon first hearing the noise on deck, and running out of his cabin, he felt the stroke of some sharp instrument; as he went towards the ladder to call the witness, the prisoner, Prevot, he said, met him and stabbed him with a bayonet Captain Willcox's wounds, which were in his neck and breast, were dressed by the surgeon, and the witness had no doubt but these wounds were the cause of his death.

As soon as daylight appeared, the witness saw Prevot, who was a mariner on board the ship, standing as a centry over the hatchway, and with a cutlass and pistols; he had also on his head the hat of Captain Willcox. The hatches were kept down by the mutineers, and none of the officers were suffered to come on deck. The body of Captain Willcox was buried out of the cabin-window. The witness remained on board the ship for fifteen days after this affair, and during the time the mutiny continued, the prisoner was actively engaged in it. He heard the prisoner say, that it was not the first mutiny he had been concerned in; and in the English language he told an Irishman, one of the mutineers, that ' he was the man who had done for Captain Willcox.

The witness, with some others, was at length put into a boat, and they got into Port Saint Pedro, on the Brazil coast: the surgeon was kept on board the ship, and he has not since returned to England. Robert Welch, an officer, who was on board the Lady Shore at the same time, said, that when he endeavoured to go on deck at the time the mutiny broke out, to see what was the matter, he was prevented by three men, with bayonets fixed to their firelocks, and he saw the prisoner standing centry at a gun, which was loaded with broken bottles, and pointed down the hatchway, for the purpose of preventing the people from coming up. The remainder of the witness's testimony was the same with that of Captain Minchin.

Mr. Fraser was an ensign, and on board the Lady Shore at the time in question; when he was permitted to go on deck, he saw the prisoner aimed and standing sentry at the after hatchway. He heard him say, he was the person who killed Captain Willcox, and that he was not the first man he had assassinated. This witness, as well as the last, heard Captain Willcox say, that he was stabbed by French Jack, which was the name the prisoner was known by. The wife of a Serjeant, and a French sailor, who was not engaged in the mutiny, gave a similar testimony, and heard the prisoner boast of the murder he had committed.

The prisoner, in his defence, which was delivered through the medium of an interpreter, denied the murder, and said, he was forced to take a part in the mutiny. The first witness, Captain Minchin, being again called and examined by Lord Eldon, said, that the prisoner had voluntarily entered on board the ship at Falmouth, previous to her sailing; most of the French sailors on board the ship were emigrants, who had entered into the service of this country; there were fifteen of them, besides the prisoner, engaged in the mutiny, with very few English, and several Irish. After a very able charge from Lord Eldon, the Jury, without retiring, found the prisoner guilty. William Scott then passed sentence of death on the prisoner, who seemed wholly to disregard it, and laughed in the face of the Court as soon as it was pronounced. The ensuing Monday, December 23 between the hours of two and three, he was hanged at Execution Dock, pursuant to his sentence.

Survivors of the Mutiny

In December 1804 Spanish ships were captured off Cadiz and were found to have four Englishmen, who on being interrogated, gave the following account of themselves: That they sailed on board the Lady Shore transport from Falmouth, in August 1797, for Botany Bay; that a mutiny took place during the voyage and Officers were murdered and the ship carried by the mutineers into Monte Vido, and afterwards to Buenos Ayres where they had been confined in prison as prisoners of war until released by order of the Government of Spain and were to have been landed at Cadiz and conveyed to England by the first conveyance, at the expense of that Government had they not been taken by the English squadron.

This account being transmitted to the Secretary of State Office, with their names viz John Brown, Edward Eagle, Francis Ward, and Launcelot Knowles, and information being sent that they were arrived in the River, on board the Enterprise tender, two Bow Street Officers were sent to removed them to Tothill fields Bridewell for examination.

Edward Eagle said, he was a drummer in the New South Wales Corps; that he was on board the Lady Shore when the mutiny took place, but had no share in it; he was then only fourteen years of age; that since that time he had chiefly been in prison in Buenos Ayres, and other places in South America; John Brown said he was born at Cambridge and was about 30 years of age; that he was on board at the time of the mutiny as a soldier in the NSW Corps; he was not in the watch at the time of the mutiny. Francis Ward said, he was born in the North of Ireland at Ballay Bay; he was a soldier at the time of the mutiny. Launcelot Knowles said, he was born at Roseway in Ireland; is now upwards of seventy years of age He went in the Lady Shore as a convict, having been found guilty of a fraud in obtaining money by false pretences, and was ordered to be transported for seven years. Major Semple and he were the only two male convicts on board; they laid in the steerage and heard nor knew nothing of the mutiny until the pistols and guns were fired on deck. The mutineers were eleven Frenchmen and seven Irishmen who were soldiers in the South Wales corps. Captain Willcox's uniform was worn by the Frenchman who took the command and was generally called French Jack.

Fate of the Female Prisoners

There were sixty-four young female convicts on board, and when they arrived at Monte Vido, it not being customary for Europeans to do any work, they were taken under the care of the female inhabitants who provided them with Spanish dresses, and made them their companions. some of the women conducted themselves with a deal of propriety and are married and settled there - some to the inhabitants and some to American Captains. Several of them behaved in a very loose and disorderly manner, and were in consequence taken into custody, and carried before the Governor who committed them to prison at Buenos Ayres where they reformed and agreed to profess the Roman Catholic Religion [5]

Notes and Links

1). Ship's Carpenter Thomas Millard wrote a 320 page Journal describing the Mutiny. The Journal was sold at auction for 12,500 pounds in May 2012

2). National Archives UK - Extra ship, measured 1794, 3 decks, length 98ft 4in, keel 77ft 6 3/4in, breadth 27ft 8in, hold 16ft 9in, wing transom 16ft 9in, between decks 6ft 4in and 6ft 5in, 315 tons.

3). Captain William Minchin - Australian Dictionary of Biography

4). James Semple Lisle - National Portrait Gallery

5). James Semple Lisle was a notorious character. Many of his exploits were reported in the newspapers of the day. Below is a selection:

Northampton Mercury 10 January 1795..... The noted Major Semple was yesterday examined at the Public Office, Bow Street, and committed for re-examination, on a charge of divers frauds on various tradesmen. This extraordinary adventurer has experienced all the vicissitudes of fortune in most parts of the world. After being liberated from the Hulks, he went abroad and entered into the French service, in which he ranked high, and had a command at Paris when the late unfortunate King was sentenced to die, and was one of those who conducted him to the scaffold; from the French army he deferred to the Allies, and obtained, by his courage as a soldier, the rank of Major in the Dutch army, having signalized himself on several occasions. When his real character was discovered, he was suffered to depart, and retain his commission.

The Lincoln, Rutland and Stamford Mercury 16 January 1795.... The second examination of Major Semple took place at the Public office, Bow street before N. Bond, Esq., when new charges were added against him - Witnesses included Mr. Wattlesworth, linen draper in Wignmore St. Cavendish square; Mr. Bennett, hatter in Oxford Street; Mr. Clay of Birmingham; Mr. John Dutton, a shoemaker in the Strand; Mr. Thomas an attorney on the part of Mr. Arnold of the White Lion Inn at Bath; Mr. Francillion, a jeweller in Norfolk St. Strand.

On Friday 16th January 1795 he was committed to Newgate prison to await trial. His trial took place at the Old Bailey in February 1795 when he was charged with stealing articles from the shop of Mr. Wattleworth, Linen draper, the goods being one yard of muslin, three of callico and a shirt. The jury found him guilty of stealing the shirt only which would carry the penalty of transportation. He was later sentenced to transportation for 7 years.

The Northampton Mercury reported on 14 March 1795 .....Orders were sent from the Secretary of State's Office to the Compter and Newgate, ordering Mr. Gerald and Major Semple to make ready for their departure in a vessel about to sail for Botany Bay. In May 1795 it was reported that by the death of his father, he had become the claimant to the Peerage of Lyle, and was about to lay his claim before the House of Peers.

In August it was reported that Major Semple and Cunningham the attorney were sent from Newgate to be embarked for Botany Bay.

Northampton Mercury 24 December 1796......On Wednesday evening, when the Turnkeys of Newgate were preparing to remove the convicts sentenced to Botany Bay, among whom was the celebrated Major Semple, who, it seems had flattered himself with the hopes of a pardon, he requested permission to return to his cells which was granted. Under pretence of searching for some necessaries, in the presence of Mr. Kirby jun., he suddenly drew a knife, and stabbed himself in the body. He now lies extremely ill, refuses every kind of sustenance, and declares he is determined to put an end to his life.

Norfolk Chronicle 4 February 1797 - On Friday Major Semple, and another convict, under sentence of transportation, were lodged on board the hulks at Portsmouth, previous to their embarkation for Botany Bay. This prince of petty larceny pilferers has recovered the wound he inflicted on himself.

Hereford Journal 6 March 1799....Major Semple Lisle, who took his departure from Newgate to Botany Bay arrived a few days ago in his Majesty's ship Brilliant. It appears that after the mutiny on board the Lady Shore, he was landed with the Officers and others on the coast of Brazil; and has since surrendered himself to Lord St. Vincent who sent him home on board the Brilliant.

Northampton Mercury 13 April 1799......Two of the Bow Street Officers went down last night to Portsmouth to bring Major Semple up to town. It is to be recollected that the mutineers of the Lady Shore, after seizing the ship, killing the Captain put twenty nine persons, men, women and children, into the long boat to do the best they could for themselves, at the distance of one hundred leagues from land, at the entrance of the river La Plata. After meeting with very tempestuous weather, and heavy seas, they arrived in 48 hours at a Portuguese settlement, called Porto Saint Pedroes Rio Grande, where the above modest swindler, under sentence of transportation for a theft, presented himself to the Governor as an officer in the Dutch Cavalry; and what is still more singular, one of the officers gave countenance to Semple's imposition. Ensign Prater, of the NSW Corps, however, disclosed his real character - but Semple still faced it out; and when at Rio de Janeiro, contrived, through an Englishman in the Portuguese service to obtain money and get introduced to the best companies; while Mr. Prater, and others entitled to the respect due to gentlemen, were suffered to remain in a state bordering on starvation

Northampton Mercury 4 May 1799....He was brought into London from the Brilliant by the Bow street Officers. Because of his orderly behaviour on the Brilliant he was allowed every indulgence. He was in good health and spirits and dressed in the Austrian uniform. He was lodged in Tothillfields Bridewell until his case was investigated. He had written to the Duke of Portland with a recommendation to Royal favour in consequence of his good conduct at Gibraltar.

Hampshire Chronicle 17 March 1800....Major Semple Lisle it is said has addressed an illustrious personage on the subject of an accoutrement which he has just invented. It is particularly calculated for the use of cavalry, is extremely elegant, easy to the wearer, and proof against musket shot. The major proposes that straight stiff bladed swords should be given to every species of cavalry, and, to use his own words ' that the inoffensive, useless machine, now dangling to the sides of our dragoons should be banished the service forever.

Portsmouth Telegraph or Mottley's Naval and Military Journal 23 June 1800....Major Semple is liberated from his confinement, on condition of his going abroad.

Caledonia Mercury 28 July 1800.....The well-known Major Semple, describing a relative who had been transported to Botany Bay, delicately observed that he was a young man of promising talents; that he had been called to the bar, but as it did not suit his wishes, he had set out on his travels.

The Bury and Norwich Post 17 February 1802...A letter Paris says, 'A person who called himself Colonel Lisle, is arrived here from Germany, swindling everybody on the road; to a gentleman whom he had defrauded out of 50 pounds, he confessed himself to be the noted Major Semple'

The Morning Post 18 May 1802...Mrs. Siddons read the tragedy of Othello on Friday night before a numerous company at Mrs. Weddels. A few nights ago she read The Distressed Mother. The intention of these readings was for the relief of Mrs. Semple, wife of the celebrated Major Semple, a respectable woman, who unfortunately stands in need of friendly assistance. One hundred persons subscribed two guineas each and Mrs. Siddons kindly amused them two night with dramatic readings. The whole of the subscription money is given to Mrs. Semple.

Hampshire Chronicle 24 January 1803....A person has been some days last week at the Dolphias with a servant, styling himself Colonel Lisle, who after imposing on the credulity of several gentlemen in borrowing small sums, left the inn under pretence of going to the Isle of Wight, last Saturday. Report says he is the accomplished Major Semple of notorious memory.

Norfolk Chronicle 12 February 1803....Major Semple alias Lisle whose sentence of transportation was some years since remitted by his Majesty on account of his good behaviour at a mutiny on the Lady Shore sailed on 2nd instant from Falmouth for Guernsey on board the Three Sisters in hopes of obtaining a passage from thence to the Mediterranean. Major Semple has offered his services to the Emperor of Morocco, who has accepted them.

Morning Post 9 September 1803....By an article in our paper it appears Colonel Lisle otherwise Major Semple, has successfully negotiated the release of the women and children taken by the French in the Culland's Grove. We have long thought he would be a very fit ambassador to the French Republic.

Morning Post 20 August 1805 - James Lane alias Major Semple, alias Colonel Lisle was examined on swindling charges. The prisoner is well known to the public as a most extraordinary character particularly by his exploits while a convict going to Botany Bay in the Lady Shore. He was committed for trial

The Bath Chronicle 26 September 1805....At Clerekenwell sessions the celebrated Major Semple was put to the bar charged with fraud. Acquitted and discharged.

Jackson's Oxford Journal 20 June 1807....Major Semple Lisle charged with defrauding two females who reside near Fitzroy Square of broaches and earrings under pretence of taking them to his jeweller to be made in a more elegant style. Discharged.


[1]. HR NSW., p. 787

[2]. Belfast Newsletter 21 April 1797

[3]. Belfast Newsletter 4 August 1798

[4]. The Times 27 November 1799

[5]. Englishmen on Board the Spanish Ships, Caledonian Mercury (Edinburgh, Scotland), Thursday, January 3, 1805 *Finn's Leinster Journal 7 December 1799

[6]. The Naval History of Great Britain