Free Settler or Felon
Convict and Colonial History

Convict Ship Maitland - 1844

Embarked: 195 men
Voyage: 159 days
Surgeon's Journal: yes
Deaths 4
Master G. Thompson
Surgeon Allan McLaren

The Maitland was taken up at Deptford in July 1843 to carry 200 male convicts to Norfolk Island.

Free Passengers

Passengers included Major Joseph Childs who had been appointed Governor of Norfolk Island, Captain William Edward Grant and Ensign Charles Chester Masters of the 58th regiment, Captain Lavers and wife, and Lieutenant Bott R.N. (Superintendents of convicts at Norfolk Island); and six overseers of convicts four women, and three children, eighty two rank and file of the 51st regiment, seven women, and six children. Major Childs servants with wives and families came in the steerage.[3]

Military Guard

The Guard with their wives and children embarked on 31st July 1843. The surgeon Allan McLaren was not complimentary of the men of the Guard.... The Guard consisted of 76 privates of the 52nd regiment without a single officer - the Officers being from the 58th regiment.[1] They were all young and undisciplined recruits who though put in three watches took a particular pleasure in lying on the deck - night or day - wet or dry - duty or off duty and although hammocks were provided for each yet they rarely all turned in to them preferring to let them lie in a heap and to throw themselves down in their greatcoats upon them. The barrack was but partially cleaned and to a clean shirt regularly most of them were strangers. [1]

Prison Hulks

The prisoners were held in Hulks at Deptford, Woolwich, Chatham, Portsmouth and Plymouth.

One of the prisoners was John Frederick Mortlock, a former soldier who had been sentenced to twenty-one years transportation for wounding with intent (one of his relatives) at Cambridge on 18th March 1843. He was sent to the Leviathan Hulk on 10th April 1843 where it was noted that in every other respect he was a gentleman.

John Mortlock later wrote 'Experiences of a Convict transported for twenty one years' in which he describes his time on the Leviathan Hulk. Having spent a fortnight in prison he was chained hand and foot and taken by rail car to the Leviathan Hulk.........The hulk, an old (Trafalgar) ninety gun ship, being very full, contained more than six hundred convicts (from starvation and discipline, tame as rabbits), housed on the three decks, which were divided into compartments, separated from each other by bulkheads, and from the gangway down the centre, by iron bars, giving the appearance of a menagerie. Owing to the height of the wharf, alongside of which she lay, the larboard row of cells, on the lower deck, was nearly in darkness, and insufficiently ventilated. 'New chums,' therefore, in their location down below, breathed very foul air; surely this might have been easily remedied, by removing her a few feet further off. A pernicious habit also existed of sluicing out all the decks every morning, with salt water, instead of dry rubbing with holystone. The chilly dampness arising from this, proved a fertile source of sickness. Good blood is only produced by wholesome food, pure air and exercise; while the two first essentials were wanting, we took too much of the latter. I swung my hammock on the starboard side, in number nineteen cell, crammed with thirty degraded objects, many of them persons of some education.[4]

Convicts Embarked

John Mortlock's time on the Leviathan Hulk came to an end and on the evening of 11th August he was transferred to the Maitland which was anchored at Spithead..... After eighteen long weeks of the dockyard drudgery, I felt most glad of the change, being very unwilling to remain at Portsmouth six or seven years on starvation allowance, even for liberty (if I survived), at the expiration of that period; for it was the custom to release men transported for life (when not sent abroad) at the end of eight years of good behaviour, and others in proportion to the terms of their respective sentences. Before a fair wind, we ran down Channel and entered Plymouth Sound, where the ships' complement of two hundred prisoners was filled up from another hulk. [4]

John Mortlock's descriptions of his fellow prison mates on board make interesting reading.....

I soon made friends with one of the new comers, true blue H - (probably James Heartzsoake*) a lively, good-tempered fellow, transported for life at Exeter for an assault similar to mine, attended with no injury to anyone, and found his company an agreeable relief, he being almost the only one really worth knowing. To his sister, on her farewell visit, he presented, for keepsake, the wooden spoon served out to us for use, when eating soup or gruel. I likewise associated, though not so intimately, with the uneducated cousin of a rich baronet (the gin distiller), who had also, as I believe, wrongfully transported him, with the nephew of another banker, and with an interesting lad of respectable connexions in the north, lately a clerk in the General Post-office, from which he had been tempted to purloin money letters. His intellect sustained a shock. Twelve years afterwards, in Van Diemen's Land, I grieved to see him hanged for a minor offence along with three others, it being there considered necessary, for the preservation of order among so many thousands of dangerous characters, to enforce a code of extreme severity. Besides these, a rare linguist, of Indian mixed blood, favoured us with his presence; he wrote and spoke English, French, and Spanish fluently and with accuracy; having received his instruction in Bishop's College, Calcutta, he had acquired a proficiency in Greek and Latin, in addition to which he was thoroughly master of Hindostanee, Bengalee, and Persian.[4]


The Maitland sailed from Plymouth on the 1st September 1843.

Exemption from distressing toil, fresh sea-breezes, and the expectation of strange adventures, caused the Maitland to be far more agreeable than the Hulk, although the terrible reputation of Norfolk Island, to which it was understood we were going, bred much secret anxiety and discomposure. If my imagination pictured it as one of those lovely isles in the Pacific, so glowingly described by voyagers, still the reality proved that I had rendered it less than justice. Two halfpay officers accompanied us as superintendents for the convict department, besides six assistant ditto, allowed three-and sixpence per diem, quarters, garden, firing, oil, and prisoner servant. To keep us in check, a strong military guard about eighty strong, discharged a volley of ball cartridges every morning on the poop, and ostentatiously reloaded their muskets.

That unusually numerous detachment guarded us, perhaps on account of our being all sentenced for long terms, or for life, only one having less than twenty years, and his was sixteen. Our attention having been directed to one of the passengers, the new Civil Commandant or Governor of Norfolk Island, (Major Childs) we became anxious by good conduct to gain his favourable opinion; and my friend H , and I determined never to countenance or be concerned in any plans of escape involving bloodshed or violence. He ' bolted,' as it is termed, from Van Diemen's Land, in 1849, and wrote to say that he was rapidly amassing a fortune at the American gold fields, should probably return in disguise to England, and had thoughts of entering Parliament by the purchase of an Irish borough. Should he ever become Home Secretary, it is to be hoped he will not forget his shipmate, who, being then labouring under his old complaint, 'an attack of the heart,'could not make up his mind to accompany him

Surgeon Allan McLaren

Allen McLaren kept a Medical Journal from 21st July 1843 to 23 March 1844.

At the commencement of the voyage, I anticipated many deaths, but the sanitary arrangements of our worthy doctor were excellent; the dry holystone between decks, chloride of lime, ventilation, and spare diet, prevented the loss of more than eight (or four per cent.), all of whom possessed weak or impaired constitutions. I longed exceedingly for vegetables, of which, unfortunately, no supply was provided. A small quantity of wine, mixed with lime juice, served out daily, we found both wholesome and palatable when warmed and sweetened. No baker or pastrycook can now excel me in the art of making a sweet cake; in those days, as a helpless 'gentleman,' I required to be taught how to scrub my own shirt. For each man delivered alive, the surgeon received from government a bonus of ten shillings, giving him a direct interest in doing all he could to keep sickness away. He appointed that solicitor, (of an old Scotch name), to be doctor's mate, and gave him charge of the ' hospital,' a small cabin boarded off on the prison deck. Some extra medical comforts were allowed to the sick, but as I could not have appropriated dying men's nourishment, his billet excited not my envy; candour, however, impels the confession, that I proved myself a true member of my family, by accepting the schoolmastership, a sinecure exempting me from some disagreeable drudgery, and conferring a little consequence.[4]

Convict Descriptions

A remarkably fine-looking prisoner, who, as Serjeant of marines, had fought at Navarino, acted as boatswain; responsible for the preservation of order, cleanliness, and general obedience to every regulation. A non-commissioned officer, acting as assistant to the surgeon-superintendent, mustered us at sundown into the prison, which was unlocked at daybreak, in order that three men who cooked might go to their duties. At bedtime the majority were stowed in a disgracefully indecent manner, hammocks being only given to a few, of whom I happily was one.

One dark, rough, but not unpleasant-looking man, John Hill by name, a Cornish sailor, worked all and every day with his needle, and earned from the crew plenty of tobacco and other necessaries; he became a sort of convict pilot and boatman, at Norfolk Island, where he spent his time pleasantly enough. The character procured by a long course of steady behaviour, induced Dr. Nixon, bishop of Tasmania (an Oxonian), a few years subsequently to place him in charge of a small yacht; all went on smoothly for a time, till one fine morning in 1849, when the sun rose, but no longer shone upon his lordship's craft snug at her moorings. Some half dozen men, all decent fellows of their sort, were also missing. It was easy to conjecture, both whither and how they had gone. California was their destination, in a vessel which the good prelate may be said most kindly to have provided. In less than a twelvemonth, his lordship (as reported) received a letter, conveying best thanks and sincere respects; it stated the voyage across the Pacific to have been most auspicious; the view of Tahiti and the Sandwich Islands charming; that after making two or three lucrative trips up the Sacramento, the yacht had been sold for nearly her weight in gold, which they begged to be excused for appropriating, and so with prayers for his long life and happiness, good bye! That Mr. John Hill is at this moment worth 10,000 pounds I feel as certain as that I hold a pen in my hand; whether he is a Member of Congress or not I cannot say

The Tropics

Soon after we entered the tropics - hospital being full - shaved heads became very plentiful. An old man-of-war's-man, called ' Tinker,' having taught me to imitate with a piece of tin and two feathers, purloined by 'Jemmy Ducks' from one of the captain's fowls, a flying-fish, I caught a bonita, four or five pounds in weight; out of which H , pretending to be a capital cook, boiled all the goodness before he served it up - that we might not be poisoned; because fish caught on the submarine copper banks in the West Indies, where he had long resided, do occasionally cause the death of those who eat them. Everything went on very quietly, except that a few for trifling offences were brought to the gangway and slightly flogged, by order of Dr. M'Laren, a humane man, quite equal to his work. [4]

Simon's Bay

The Maitland anchored in Simon's Bay on 17th November where they took on water and supplies.

Two prisoners who were very ill were left at the hospital at Simon's Bay 'to give them a chance at their life'. Many on board were suffering from Synochus, Opthalmia and Scorbutus.

They departed the Cape on 25th November 1843 [1].

Bass Strait

They were near the entrance of Bass's Strait, when one of the military guard fell overboard from the forecastle. ......A taut rope against which he was incautiously leaning having suddenly slackened. Happening to be alone on the booms, before breakfast, I gave the alarm, but only saw him once again, buoyed up by his great coat, on the top of a mountainous billow. The ship must have gone a mile before she rounded to, and the chief mate was able to make a perilous but vain attempt in a boat to save him. One can picture the sensations of a good swimmer, on finding himself adrift in the raging ocean, and beholding his ship every moment sail further from him; in mental agony he supports himself for a time until his strength fails and he sinks.

Near Kent's Group, in the Strait, an easterly breeze forced us to beat for five days, without our ever seeing Van Diemen's Land or Victoria; however, within forty-eight hours after the wind chopped round (having caught a glimpse of the Australian Alps) we doubled Cape Howe, and passed through the dangerous opening made in the rocky coast wall by Port Jackson Heads, and, early in January, 1844, brought up in that most beautiful haven; the nearest object to us being a low, white, bare sandstone rock, elegantly termed 'Pinchgut' Island. Not very far from us stood Government House, a handsome nude edifice, pleasantly situated on a point between two pretty bays
. [4]

Sydney Cove

The Maitland arrived in Sydney Cove on 12th January 1844 [1]

All but about twenty were reported by the surgeon to be very well behaved and orderly.

Norfolk Island, as a dependency, not having been transferred to Van Diemen's Land, it behoved the new commandant to present his credentials in person, and be sworn in at Sydney.

The Governor, Sir George Gipps, looking benevolent and sickly, paid the customary visit of inspection; he merely walked up and down our ranks, but said nothing. During our stay there, a prisoner of the Crown, formerly a captain in the navy, and belonging to an influential English family, most barbarously murdered an elderly woman about to be married to him. Such a deed perpetrated by such a person, created an extraordinary sensation. I had intimately known his brother, an artillery officer in Bengal. On the trial his counsel fruitlessly attempted to prove insanity; but the accused, having been found guilty, was most justly executed; much to the public satisfaction
. [4]

In Sydney the Guard were changed for an equal number and the ship remained in Sydney making arrangements until 26th January when they sailed for Norfolk Island........

Norfolk Island

After an agreeable detention of fourteen days, having bidden adieu, as I thought, for ever, to Port Jackson, we were driven by a head wind near to the North Cape of New Zealand, considerably out of our course, the sea being by no means 'pacific.' At length, on the 7th of February, 1844, we sighted the group of which Norfolk Island is the principal, and, having hove to on account of the foul anchorage, waited in anxiety for our removal to the shore.

Maitland to Hobart

Without anchoring the prisoners were all landed and again the Guard was changed.

By order of Governor Gipps, 338 prisoners who had served the time of their probation for Van Diemen's Land were embarked on the Maitland together with the Superintendent of the Island Captain Maconnochie and family, Captain Hill 96th regiment, Mrs. Hill, Lieut. Lambert, 86 rank and file, 13 women and 25 children.

They sailed to Hobart Town where they arrived on 3rd March. The prisoners were not landed until 14th March and the Guard till the 22nd March.[2]

Mortlock's Description of Norfolk Island

John Mortlock gave a detailed description of conditions at Norfolk Island. The food available to him, clothing and employment. His thoughts on Major Childs are interesting and at odds with some other accounts of that man. He rejoiced that the gentleman who so discourteously sent Major Child to the right-about, was, within a twelvemonth unceremoniously cashiered.

Our fare was excessively meagre; at breakfast and supper we ate insipid hominy (made of unsifted Indian corn flour, boiled into the consistency of baked rice-pudding, which it resembled only in appearance), nominally sweetened with an ounce of sugar per diem - really, with about half that quantity. A morsel of salt junk, very like old saddle, was served out for dinner, and nauseous, coarse, maize bread, tasting as if it were composed of sawdust. Fresh meat and wheaten flour could be seen only at the Hospital and Commissariat stores, being reserved for sick men, the officials and soldiers, of whom there were three companies. The debility brought on by this diet caused many deaths.

Within the first fortnight we carried to their graves eight famished wretches of our ship's company, among whom was a poor man, mate of an Irish trading craft, a rough, heavy-featured, Cumberland sailor, transported for casting his vessel away near Portsmouth, the guilt of which action should, I believe, have been laid entirely at another door. Silent and uncomplaining, he hardly ever spoke a word, and pined for his wife and little ones left to the mercy of the world, but whom he, alas! was never more to see. That uncouth husk contained a tender heart which broke at last. Had it not been for the delicious sweet potatoes, then in season, and the wild fruit, still greater numbers would have been literally starved; no wonder some were malingerers. The guavas, sugar-cane, and Cape gooseberries, everywhere in abundance, were a real godsend.

For many months I never had anything like a full meal, and gradually began to live without eating; just as I acquired that art, and was about to expire, Major Child (the commandant), perceiving my condition, kindly sent me to a station called Longridge, one mile away up in the interior, to be, amongst other things, overseer of a cookhouse. I also acted as dispenser, or doctor's mate, and in his absence prescribed for fifty or sixty patients; but even common medicine being too good for convicts, seawater did duty for Epsom salts, and the horrid dysentery was treated, in despair, with a decoction made from the bark of a tree; I picked up a little, and should have got fatter, had there been more to cook. Flint stones boiled ever so long do not make good soup.

My previous employment was that of a wardsman, with the duty of sluicing out the dormitory daily, of keeping it neat and clean, and of controlling as much as possible the men when locked up for the night - a difficult task in a dark room in which lights were forbidden - what could one person do with a hundred? Better regulations subsequently came in force; extinguishing one of the lights was treated as a crime; certain men in slippers patrolled the gangway, to detect and report the slightest irregularities.

At the very commencement of my 'taking office,' a downlooking fellow pointed out a hammock as the sleeping place of a predecessor, and enquired '; where I thought his head was found one fine morning?' On my suggesting 'perhaps upon his shoulders,' he very quietly remarked 'that it lay on the floor beneath his hammock, which, however, contained his body.' I accepted this as a hint to mind my P's and Q's. It was also necessary for me sometimes to dig a grave and assist in carrying the dead. Unless my memory fails, there were at the 'Settlement,' 'Cascades,' and 'Longridge,' about fourteen hundred prisoners (from all of whose bodies it would have been difficult to collect one half-pound of fat), nominally classed into Old and New hands; many years of extreme misery had so hardened the former, as to render them utterly reckless of their own or others' lives ; they came from New South Wales, having been transported twice, thrice, and even four times.

We arrived at a comparatively improved period; the gentleman (Captain Macconochie, R.N.), relieved by Major Child, had, during his four years' administration, bestowed every encouragement upon the well-behaved - too much so, indeed, for under him the condition of a quiet, industrious man resembled that of a colonist, except in having no wife, a comfort not always to be procured by settlers themselves (women are at an enormous premium just now in California). Thus the reports of those returned to Sydney caused a trip to Norfolk to be no longer regarded with terror. He also ran into an extreme; the commandants preceding him having ruled with such injudicious severity, as to make the place well deserving its Australian name, 'the Ocean Hell.'I use the term 'injudicious,''undue'severity, because, instead of awakening moral responsibility, it strengthens the Devil, and makes men more difficult to manage - more likely to be dangerous when restored to society. I never heard anyone complain of just, merited punishment; and, if the instruments employed by a community to correct its offenders should exceed the bounds of moderation, evil consequences are to be expected.

The commandant, (*Major Childs) a gallant marine officer, though deputed to enforce a stricter system of discipline, performed the invidious task in a manner not calculated unnecessarily to irritate the miserable people under his control, and gained their sincere respect. Labouring as he did under entire inexperience in the matter, too much praise cannot be bestowed upon his discreet management, afterwards ill-repaid. Our terms of detention there, liable to be lengthened by bad conduct, though nor shortened by good, were made known to us, mine being two years. The character attached at the Home Office to my name was a very extraordinary one for a person undergoing a sentence of twenty-one years' transportation. Let me here express my gratitude to the unknown friend, for whose kindness I felt much indebted.

The three Protestant clergymen seemed to find their duties not very onerous. The two Roman Catholic priests exercised merited influence over their flock. Our medical officer (on Norfolk Island), Dr. Graham, much overworked, was a kind-hearted man, whom I have to thank for thrice making me whole, when brought low by sickness deriving such strength from depression and famine. [4]

John Mortlock disliked the new Commandant John Price who replaced Joseph Childs - Under Price the island again acquired more than its ancient awful reputation

In February, 1846, after a residence of two years and a week, having shaken hands with my friend H (doomed as a lifer to remain six months longer), the barque Lady Franklin, conveyed me and sixty or seventy others, stowed away more like pigs than human beings, in the prison of the ship to Van Diemen's Land, which we reached about 20th March, after a tolerably fair passage of nineteen days
. [4]

Location of the Maitland Throughout the Voyage from Chatham to Norfolk Island

Using the surgeon's journal which gives the location of the ship when some of the patients were treated, a rough guide can be created as to the location of the Maitland throughout the voyage beginning at Chatham on 6th August 1843 and finishing off Norfolk Island 7th February 1844

Location Treatment/ Event Date Name
Chatham 6th August
Prisoners from the Fortitude Hulk came on board.

Beachy Head 9th August
William Isaac Love treated

Beachy Head 9th August
Edward McDoirmot and William Hamond treated

Portsmouth 11th August
Prisoners came on board from the Leviathan Hulk

Plymouth 17th August
John Turner treated

Plymouth19th August
George Burton, soldier treated

England1st September
Departed England

Lat 42 N. Long 15W.7th September
Charles Haddow, soldier received treatment

Lat 36 N Long 14 W11th September

Charles Pope treated

Entered the Northern Tropic18th to 25th September

Off Cape de Verde 23 September
John Vernon, convict. treated

Lat 14 17 N Long 22 25th September
Albert Fowler, soldier treated

Lat 40 N Long 22. 27th September
Ebenez Brindle treated

Lat 8.10N Long 20.22. 1st October
Thomas Bramac

Lat 8.10N Long 20. 33S 1st October
Cork Lindo, negro came from Barbados, spoke little English, prisoner. Died

Lat 7.24 Long 19.30 6th October
Samuel Seagers convict

Lat 6.18N Long 19.47. 7th October
John Thompson convict

On the Line 13 October to 19 October

Lat 8.10N Long 20.22 25th October
George Hughes convict treated Henry Smith convict.

Off the Cape 12th to 15th November

In Simon's Bay 17th November to 25th November Charles Pope sent to the Hosp. Simon's Bay 20th November.

Off St. Paul's 4 December
John Horne, convict treated. Died January 6th

In Bass Straits Lat 39.23S Long 142.21E 2nd January
Charles Cowley convict treated.

In Sydney Harbour 12th to 25th January

Off New South Wales 27 to 30th January

Off Norfolk Island 7th to 14th February

Notes and Links

1) Maconochie's Gentlemen: The Story of Norfolk Island ..By Norval Morris

2) Major Joseph Childs - Australian Dictionary of Biography

3) Norfolk Island Commission Sydney Morning Herald 17 October 1844

4) Lieutenant Charles Chester Masters - Lieutenant Masters was killed in the same accident as Lady Mary Fitzroy, wife of Governor Fitzroy.... Monuments Australia

5). Captain William Edward Grant was killed in the Maori Wars in July 1845

6). Dr. Henry Graham was employed as surgeon at Norfolk Island 1841 - 1844. See Australian Medical Pioneers online for information.

7). Prisoners on the Maitland who were court-martialled soldiers included:
William Blair court-martialled at St. Anns Barbados;
John Dinon Malta Court Martial;
Thomas Fitzgerald Montreal Canada, Court-martial;
John Harding, Kingston Canada, Court-martial,
John Hewitt, St. Anns Barbados Court-martial;
John King, Barbados Court-marital;
Michael Kirby, Corfu Court-martial;
John Patrick, Montreal, Canada Court-martial;
Henry Taylor, Hamilton in Bermuda Court-martial;
Robert White, Montreal Canada Court-martial;

8). *John Frederick Mortlock's shipboard friend may have been James Heartszoake, son of an army officer, probably Henry Heartszoake of 2nd Royal Veteran Batt who died in 1830. James Heartszoake came from Demerara and worked as an excise man in St. Sidwell, Devon. Heartszoake resided in a boarding house with his sister and when the boarding house owners locked him out of his lodgings he obtained a pistol and shot at them. He was thrown into Exeter gaol. His cases elicited great public interest and a lengthy account of his trial appeared in the newspapers. He was tried at the Exeter Assizes and sentenced to transportation for life. [5]

9) Handsome Devils and their Digs - John Mortlock and Sons - Susan Ardelie


[1] UK Royal Navy Medical Journals, 1817-1857 , National Archives, Kew.

[2] Colonial Times, Hobart 5 March 1844.

[3] The Australian 13 January 1844.

[4] Experiences of a Convict Transported for Twenty One Years - John Mortlock

[5] Trewman's Exeter Flying Post or Plymouth and Cornish Advertiser (Exeter, England), Thursday, April 13, 1843; Issue 4035