Free Settler or Felon
Convict and Colonial History

Convict Ship Neva - 1835

Embarked: 150 women
Voyage: 4 months (wrecked)
Surgeon's Journal: no
Crew 26 men ; Tons 837
Previous Ship: Royal Sovereign 1835
Next Ships: Hive 1835 (wrecked); and John Barry 1836
Captain Benjamin Hutchins Peck
Surgeon John Stephenson
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The Neva was built at Hull in Yorkshire in 1818 and before this voyage had undergone a thorough repair and was newly coppered; she was a good and substantial vessel and was well found in all kind of Stores, as well as furnished with two good Chronometers and other necessary instruments for the safe conduct of the vessel. [5]

The Neva departed Gravesend on 8th or 9th December 1834 and sailed from Deal on 16th December bound for Cork.

Prisoners Embarked

The Belfast Newsletter reported that the Neva embarked 148 female convicts, 33 children and twenty free settlers at Cork on Monday 5th January 1835(1).

Later newspaper reports have the number embarked as 150 female prisoners, 9 free women and 55 children.


Names of the crew: Master: B.H. Peck; First Mate Joseph Bennett; Second Mate William H. Laws; Third Mate Charles Hagman; Fourth Mae John May; Steward Henry Hollis; Carpenter Edwin Forbes; Cook Anthony Edwards; Miller, William Wright; Seamen - William Kidney, Peter Robinson, Charles Willson, Thomas Sharpe, Thomas Haires, Edard Calthorpe, George Brown, Henry Pearson, Robert Bullard, Frederick Pengally, William Bridger, John Falsey, Mr. Foley, Mr. Murray. Crew boys Joseph Firrell and Thomas Quinn.

Departure from Cork

The Neva departed Cork on 8th January 1835. Three people died in the earlier part of the voyage and one child was born (2)


In a catastrophe following hard on the disaster of the Convict Ship George III which was wrecked on 12th April 1835, the Neva was wrecked north of King Island on 13th May 1835. All perished except the following........

Account of the Ship Wreck

Below is an account of the wreck of the Neva in Tales of Shipwrecks and Adventures at Sea Being a Collection of Faithful Narratives of Shipwrecks, Mutinies, Fires, Famines and Disasters incidental to a Sea Life.......

.....For some weeks the voyage was pursued under the most favourable circumstances; the wind was tolerably fair, and, though there was some sickness among the passengers and convicts, everything seemed to prognosticate a speedy and propitious voyage. Alas! how soon was that assurance of safety changed to horrors of the most awful description. Danger lurked in their path, and Death, with all his terrors, stood, unseen before them. However, little deeming that their existence was so rapidly drawing to a close, they thought not of the future, till warned by the terrors to which they were subjected.

At about noon on the 13th of May, according to the ship's reckoning, she was ninety miles from King's-Island, at the entrance of Baas Straits, and everything wore a favourable aspect. A good look-out was now kept for land, which was accordingly made on the 14th of May at two o'clock in the morning. In about two hours after breakers were suddenly discovered right ahead, and immediate orders were given to tack by Captain Peck, who was then busily engaged in his various duties on the deck. Without the loss of a single moment, the vessel was then placed in stays; but, to the consternation of all on board, she immediately struck, unshipped her rudder, and became quite unmanageable.

At this moment of terror the wind was very strong, and the ship was under double-reefed topsails. Scarcely had the crew and passengers recovered from the alarm into which they had been thrown by this astounding fact, when the vessel again struck most violently on the larboard bow, swung broadside heavily on the reef and directly bilged.

Horror now succeeded to the consternation and alarm into which all the parties on board had been thrown by this unexpected and melancholy event. Self-preservation seemed to be the one prevailing feeling that actuated every breast, and the captain was loudly called upon to render what assistance he could to rescue those who were under his care from the perils and dangers in which they were involved. He endeavoured to soothe and console them under their misfortunes, and earnestly besought them to restrain their terror as much as possible under these trying circumstances; but the imminent danger of their situation rendered them desperate, and their cries of deliverance rose louder and louder, as the danger of the ship became every moment but more apparent.

By whose orders we know not, but the pinnace was now lowered, and the captain, the surgeon, the superintendent of the convicts, and two of the crew, got into her, and endeavoured to make off from the now evidently sinking vessel. At this period of dismay and confusion, the doors of the prison were burst open by the violence with which the ship had struck, many threw themselves over the side of the vessel, and clinging to the boat, quickly swamped her, when, horrible to relate, all, except the master and the two sailors, perished amidst one wild cry of horror and despair.

With the greatest difficulty the captain contrived to regain the ship, when, without losing a moment of time, he ordered the long-boat to be launched, and that care should be taken to prevent a similar accident to that which had just befallen them, by too many endeavouring to force their way into her. After having taken the utmost caution to secure, as they believed, their own deliverance from a dreadful death, the long-boat was at length pushed off; but scarcely had they got away from the ship, when the boat was upset by the violence of the surf, and the whole of the party precipitated into the sea.

The master and the chief-mate, being good swimmers, once more succeeded in saving themselves from the death which appeared, even to themselves, to be inevitable. With extreme difficulty they managed to reach the ship, but scarcely had they got on board, when a new horror awaited them - the vessel went to pieces, and every hope of preservation vanished like an unsubstantial dream.

The scene at this moment was most awful, and wholly indescribable. The vessel had been divided into four parts, each of which was covered with the terror-stricken females in the light dress in which they had just before simultaneously rushed from their beds, and with the remaining part of the crew, were clinging wildly to all parts of the wreck, and screaming for help in the most piteous manner. This was, indeed, a moment of terror, which would have appalled even the boldest. Situated as they were upon a frail and shaking wreck, not one gleam of hope broke in upon to cheer or inspire them. Beneath, and all around, were the lashing waves, roaring aloud as if eager to engulf them. Above, the winds howled in hideous triumph over the work of devastation and death which they had caused, and rocking the frail and disjointed wreck, so that each moment seemed to the terrified creatures as if it would be their last in this world. Every plank and joist creaked as the contending elements warred furiously with each other, and insecure as this place of refuge seemed, the hearts of the poor creatures quailed lest it should sink and bury them in the yawning abyss of water.

Nor was it long before their worst apprehensions were verified. The vessel, parted as it was, soon afterwards went to pieces, the final work of destruction was completed, and the whole of those on board, were precipitated, shrieking with horror, into the raging ocean!

In this perilous situation, nearly the whole of the unfortunate sufferers were consigned to an untimely death. About two and-twenty persons, however, consisting of some of the crew, and a few of the convicts, were carried, by clinging to various, disjointed portions of the wreck, to King's Island, which was situate at the distance of about nine miles from the spot where this distressing accident had taken place. But their struggles to gain the shore were desperate and severe, and it was not till after they had been in the water for a period exceeding eight hours, that they at last succeeded in attaining the much-desired land.

Of these twenty-two suffering creatures, seven shortly afterwards died, from absolute exhaustion and the excessive fatigue to which they had for so long a period been subjected.

After having buried the bodies of their unfortunate companions in misery, and having, in some degree, recovered from the cold and fatigue they had endured, the remaining fifteen succeeded, after considerable difficulty, in erecting a temporary tent of the few things that were occasionally washed ashore from the wreck of the Neva. In this dreadful situation they were not suffered to perish by the Providence who had hitherto Preserved them from the fate that had befallen their late companions in misery - a few provisions were washed ashore from the vessel; and upon the scanty supply thus afforded, they contrived, with economy, to subsist for about fifteen days.

At this period, most singularly, and as events now make it appear, most fortunately for the survivors of the Neva, a small vessel, the Tartar, belonging to Hobart Town, and the property of Mr. C. Friend, was wrecked on another part of the same island. The whole of the crew had been saved, and, like the others, had erected a tent as a place of shelter, till a vessel should arrive to take them from that cheerless spot. Whilst they were thus waiting for the anticipated succour, their attention was excited by the numerous portions of a wreck which they found on the sea-shore.

Actuated by curiosity, and a desire to ascertain whether any of the crew of the ill-fated vessel had escaped, the men, belonging to the Tartar, commenced a journey round the island, in order to satisfy themselves upon the subject. In this expedition they encountered perils and fatigue of no ordinary kind, and after a search of two or three days, arrived at the tent which had been erected by the survivors of the unfortunate Neva.

The meeting between these fellow-victims of adversity, was most affecting. Their hearts at once yearned towards each other as if they had been brothers, and uniting themselves in one association, they resolved to remain together until they should be relieved from the solitary island upon which they had been thrown.

The crew of the Tartar had been accompanied by a sealer, a passenger in that vessel, who had luckily saved several of his hunting dogs. With the assistance of these sagacious animals they soon afterwards succeeded in taking a walaby, upon which the persons on the island lived until the period of their release from this scene of desolation and despair. Each day men were placed upon the loftiest eminences near the sea-coast, in order to discover whether any vessels passed within view, and in the event of a ship, being seen, to hail her by whatever signals they could make. Whilst some of the party were thus employed others were engaged in fishing and hunting, whilst the remainder busied themselves in increasing the comforts of the tents which they had erected for their shelter, from the inclement season, which had just set in, in those latitudes.

The sufferings, both mental and bodily, to which these poor creatures were subjected, it would be impossible to describe. A thousand thoughts of home and distant friends, were ever flitting through their minds. They remembered with regret the happiness that had once been theirs, and contrasting it with the misery to which they were at present doomed, despair at last yielded to the hopes they had once formed of escaping from the wretched situation in which their lot was cast. Day after day passed wearily by, and still no succour came to these heavily afflicted creatures, till at last they almost began to regret that the raging elements which had destroyed so many of their companions, had not involved them in the same dreadful fate. At last, on the 15th of June, exactly one month from the time of the wreck taking place, Mr. Friend arrived at the island, in the Sarah Ann, another of his vessels. It happened, by chance, that Mr. Friend was passing King's Island for the whaling station at Portland Bay, and went on shore, the signals made giving him reason to suppose that there were some persons there in distress. Upon landing, he was immediately surrounded by nearly the whole number of the shipwrecked persons, who hailed him joyfully as their deliverer from misery and death. Mr. Friend assured them that he would do all in his power to alleviate their distress, and consoled them, with the promise of landing them, at Launceston as speedily as possible. They then collected together all the bodies that they could find of the unfortunate creatures who had been washed ashore from the wreck, and pronouncing over them the solemn rites of Christian burial, consigned to the grave no less than one hundred of their fellow human beings.

This melancholy duty performed, the whole of the shipwrecked persons, with the exception of two seamen, and one female convict, who, at the time, were at the other side of the island, the survivors of this awful calamity were got on board the Sarah Ann, preparatory to their departure from this sterile island. A fair wind befriended them, and on the 27th of June they arrived in safety at Launceston, in New Holland. As soon as the local government was made acquainted with the disastrous affair, the cutter Shamrock was despatched to King's Island, for the purpose of taking off whatever persons might have been left there, and to pick up any portion of the wreck, or government stores, which might have floated on shore. On arriving at the place of destination, the two sailors and the female convict were found, who, on discovering that their fellow-sufferers had left the island, were reduced to a state of absolute despair. Upon seeing the cutter their confidence once more returned, and they joyfully hastened on board the vessel that was to bear them from that land of inhospitality and horror.

The crew of the cutter then collected together what portions of the wreck of the Neva and her stores they could find, and having buried a few more bodies that had been drifted on shore, they quitted the island and landed them in safety at Launceston, where the whole of the survivors received that care and protection they so much needed in their deplorable condition.


Survivors: Mr. H.B. Peck, Joseph Bennett, Robert Bullard, Thomas Sharpe, William Hine, Charles Willson, Henry Calthorpe, Rose Ann Hyland, Ellen Galvin, Rose Ann Dunn, Ann Cullen, Mary Slatttery. Left on the Island and later rescued -  Margaret Drury, female convict and Sydney Robinson, seaman.

Captain Peck sailed from Launceston to Sydney on the Nimrod in August and probably returned to England on the Andromeda in September 1835. (3)

Notes and Links

1. Convicts were previously transported to New South Wales on the Neva in 1833.

2. Wreck of the Neva - Sydney Monitor 18 July 1835

3. John Stephenson was surgeon superintendent on the convict ships Guildford in 1829, Eleanor in 1831, Katherine Stewart Forbes in 1832 (VDL), Waterloo in 1833 and the Neva in 1835.

Dr. Stephenson, who was recently lost in the Neva convict ship, was carried from his cot (having been previously indisposed) to the boat, which was swamped by the rush of the female convicts. It was his last voyage, and would have completed his full period of 20 years' service. What adds to the melancholy disaster is, his having been engaged to a young lady, whose feelings on hearing the fatal intelligence may be easily conceived. It was his intention to have married previous lo his departure, and to have taken his wife with him; but the rules of his service not permitting this, he postponed the event, and thus she providentially escaped a watery grave. When the Neva was taken up, the lowest tender was from another vessel, which was rejected as unfit. The Neva was then examined by a shipwright, and pronounced fit. She had, in fact, undergone complete repair the year before, and in Lloyd's list she appears as in the second description of first class ships. - Albion: A Weekly Chronicle of Literature, Science and the Fine Arts

4. Three vessels transporting convicts to Australia were wrecked in the year 1835. .......the Neva, the Hive which ran aground on a beach south of Jervis Bay and the George III which was wrecked near Hobart.

5. Extract From the Old Sea Captain.......

'Well, Captain, you will tell us how to build a better ship, will you?'

'Will I? Ay, that I will, my boys, from the keel to the mast head. Don't be out of heart; you may be shipwrights yet in her majesty's dockyard. When we think of the dangers of shipwreck, we ought to take care that every vessel is sea-worthy. The best ship that was ever built would soon go to pieces, if her stem was fast on a reef, and her stern battered by the breakers against the rocks.

Only think of the Neva, boys; she struck on a reef, and soon after broke into four parts.'

'Terrible! terrible! No wonder that you don't like to see a ship badly built, Captain. But please to tell us about the Neva. In what part of the world was she? and how came she to get upon the rocks?'

'It was a sad affair, boys! Sudden death is terrible; but when it comes upon those who have lived all their lives breaking the commandments of God, and the laws of mankind, it must be more terrible still. It ill becomes us to judge hardly of the guiltiest being that lives under the skies; for we are all sinners, and all stand in need of God's mercy. Every one of you, and the old sea Captain too, stands as much in need of a Saviour as the most cruel pirate that was ever hung; but when we think, that the Neva had on board so many who had been condemned to transportation, on account of their crimes, we cannot help fearing, that many of them were hardened and unrepentant offenders. Oh, boys! boys! have a care that you do not run aground on the shoals of temptation; look to a heavenly Pilot; keep a sharp look out from the mast head; beware of pirates; do not carry too much sail, and too little ballast; never neglect to take soundings in unknown latitudes; and mind that your ship's compass always points where it ought to do.  

'Please now to tell us all about the Neva.'

'It was on the 8th of January, 1835, that the Neva left Cork, bound for Sydney. The old sea Captain was there with a cargo fifty years ago; then it was only known as a place where convicts were sent. Every body has heard of Botany Bay. But now the whole country is looking up, and it is a thriving place. Well; the Neva had a hundred and fifty women on board, all convicts, beside fifty-five children, and nine free emigrants. Emigrants, you know, are those who leave their own country of their own accord for another.'

'What a number of women to be transported! and all in one ship, too! Who was the captain?'

'The Neva was commanded by Captain Peck; and twenty-six men formed the crew. All went on well, and fair wind took them along without accident. On the 13th of May, they were within about thirty leagues of King's Island, at the entrance of Bass's Straits, and here they gave a sharp look out for land. It was, I think, early on the following morning that they made land.'

'What is making land, Captain?'

'When land, a long way off, is seen from a vessel sailing towards it, it is said that the ship has made land. Making land is a sea phrase for approaching land seen in the distance. You will remember new. All at once, breakers were discovered right a-head, the ship was put about; but for all that, she struck, unshipped her rudder, became unmanageable, and then struck again on the larboard-bow. Putting a ship about, is to set the sails, and move the rudder so as to bring the ship's head to the wind; and unshipping a rudder, is having the helm broken from the ship, or rendered unserviceable.'

'Thank you, Captain.'

'It was time for the hands to be stirring, for the ship swung broadside heavily on the reef, and bilged at once. To bilge, is to be broken in. In vain the captain tried to keep up the courage of those around him. A wild shriek of distress rose from the vessel; for the women were horror-struck so soon as they knew their situation, and cried out to be set at liberty. Think of a hundred and fifty poor guilty wretched beings, about to be launched into an eternal world, without warning or preparation.'  

'Ay, they repented of their bad ways, then, no doubt; but it was too late.'

'We never know when it is too late, boys. The thief on the cross was pardoned, when all would have thought it too late. The captain got into the pinnace, with the surgeon, the superintendent, and two sailors; but the striking of the ship on the reef had burst the prison-doors, and many of the shrieking women leaped from the side of the vessel, and got into the pinnace, or hung upon her in such numbers, that they swamped her. All in the boat were lost, but the captain and the two sailors: these, with hard struggling, got back to the ship.'

'That captain had no business to run away from the poor convicts, and leave them to be drowned.'

'The long-boat then put off, but with no better success than the pinnace, for the surf upset it. It was too rough for a boat to live in. Again the captain escaped, for he was a good swimmer; but hardly had he reached the ship before she went to pieces. Never was a more dreadful scene! The vessel had broken up into four parts, and every one of them was crowded with women, wringing their hands, screaming for help, and praying aloud.'

'Poor creatures! what a dreadful situation to be placed in. A ship, broken in four parts, could not long swim in the water.'

'True, boys: for a time, the wretched creatures kept shrieking for assistance, but the howling winds and roaring waves only seemed to mock them in their distress. At last, the different parts of the wreck went down, and almost all the women were whelmed in the -waters.'

'They were not all drowned, then? How many escaped?'

'Twenty-two persons, by clinging to parts of the wreck, and struggling hard for eight hours, got to King's Island; but seven of them died soon after. Those who reached the land, happily picked up a slender stock of provisions that floated ashore. After this, they were joined by the crew of a small vessel, which happened to be wrecked on the same island; and the whole party continued to keep themselves alive by fishing and hunting, till a ship hove off the coast, and took them away.'  

'Why, what a many must have been drowned!'

'Before they quitted the island, they buried a hundred fellow beings, who had perished in the deep, and whose bodies had floated ashore.'


1. Belfast Newsletter 13th January 1835

2. The Launceston Advertiser 2 July 1835

3. The Colonist 17 September 1835

4. Lindridge, James (ed.,), Tales of Shipwrecks and Adventures at Sea: Being a Collection of Faithful Narratives of Shipwrecks, Mutinies, Fires, Famines and Disasters incidental to a Sea LIfe. 1846

5. HRA Series 1, Vol. XVIII, p. 137- 150