Free Settler or Felon
Convict and Colonial History

Female Convicts - 1788 - 1840

It was amusing to hear General Tench relate the conduct of some of the convicts, of whom they had seven hundred men and women under their care. The women behaved much more heroically than the men, being far less depressed in mind, a thing for which he could in no way account. Perhaps they were less thoughtful of their position, and regarded their native land with less affection. They could descend no lower in a social sense, and therefore found a species of consolation in the thought, that flinging off a care for reputation, they were comforted with the line of the poet...'Creation's tenant, all the world is mine'[1]

The above quote by Cyrus Redding described Watkin Tench's observations of the female convicts of the First Fleet in 1788.

Convicts in New Holland Juan Ravenet (b. c. 1766) - Felipe Bauza - drawings made on the Spanish Scientific Expedition to Australia and the Pacific in the ships Descubierta and Atrevida under the command of Alessandro Malaspina, 1789-94, held at the State Library NSW Over fifty-two years from 1788 to 1840 when transportation of convicts came to an end, more than 12,000 women were transported to New South Wales. A woman transported on the Charlotte in 1788 could potentially have been great grandmother to one of the last sent on the Surry in 1840.

With a devil-may-care attitude aided by subterfuge, coquettishness, prostitution or redemption, many in their own way embraced their new life.

Old ties may have been broken but in New South Wales, as the women passed in and out of gaols and female factories, penal settlements and private service, new connections were made. They lived together, worked together and probably supported each other through tough times. They cooked, cleaned and sewed together; they recalled the old days, superstitions and folklore; they sang, danced and gossiped together; they helped each other through calamities and catastrophes; through childbirths and deaths.

Many hundreds were sent to the Hunter Valley region to serve their time. Some married and remained in the region all the rest of their lives.

Extracts From Various Female Convict Ship Pages

Relating to female convicts before, during and after transportation:

LADY PENRYHN - Governor Phillip - The women in general I should suppose possess neither virtue nor honesty. But there may be some for thefts who still retain some degree of virtue, and these should be permitted to keep together, and strict orders to the master of the transport should be given that they are not abused and insulted by the ship's company, which is said to have been the case too often when they were sent to America.

FRIENDSHIP in 1788 - Later Lieut. Clark recorded an incident with convict Elizabeth Barbur. After the water ration was reduced she began to abuse Dr. Arndell and was ordered into irons by Captain Meredith. While having the irons placed on her she began to abuse Meredith and then Lieut. Faddy. Clarke wondered how she came to forget to abuse him as she had all the others and remarked that never in the course of his days had he ever heard such expressions come from the mouth of a human being. She was ordered to have her hands tied behind her back and to be prevented from making so much noise. She wished them all to be hove overboard. 'I wish to god', he wrote, 'she was out of the ship. I would rather have a hundred more men than to have a single woman'

CHARLOTTE in 1788 - Arthur Bowes Smyth - This day at 5 o'clock, all things were got in order for landing the whole of the women, and three of the ship's longboats came alongside of us to receive them; previous to their going out of the ship, a strict search was made to try if any of the many things which they had stolen on board could be found, but their artifice eluded the most strict search, and at six o'clock p.m. we had the long wished for pleasure of seeing the last of them leave the ship. They were dressed in general very clean, and some few amongst them might be said to be well dressed. The convicts got to them very soon after their landing and the scene of debauchery and riot that ensued during the night may be better conceived than expressed

LADY JULIANA 1790 - John Nicol...There were not a great many very bad characters; the greater number were for petty crimes, and a great proportion for only being disorderly, that is, street walkers; the colony at the time being in great want of women. 'One, a Scottish girl, broke her heart and died in the river; she was buried at Dartford. Four were pardoned on account of his Majesty's recovery. The poor young Scottish girl I have never yet got out of my mind; she was young and beautiful, even in the convict dress, but pale as death, and her eyes red with weeping. She never spoke to any of the other women or came on deck. She was constantly seen sitting in the same corner from morning to night; even the time of meals roused her not. My heart bled for her, - she was a countrywoman in misfortune.

WILLIAM 1794 - From Rev. Marsden's Manuscript - The misery of the voyage was increased for both Marsden and his wife when the convict girl who had been assigned to them as a maid proved refractory and rebellious, and ultimately, in entire defiance, betook herself to the captain's cabin. As was to be expected, Marsden's interview with the captain upon the subject provoked only an outburst of anger. 'He was exceeding angry and declared he would not bear to be spoken to,' wrote the disconsolate chaplain.

MARQUIS CORNWALLIS 1796 - Sydney Gazette - Susannah Danford and Mary Murphy, prisoners on the Marquis Cornwallis, were both tried in Dublin. They could never have imagined the dreadful ordeal they would endure in a few years time. An article in the Sydney Gazette on 3rd March 1805 reveals some of what happened to them....The women who accompanied the rash adventure from Newcastle a few days since got into Parramatta; their names, Susannah Danford, Mary Murphy and Ann Gooder. Their travel through the woods was attended as might be expected with every vicissitude of famine and fatigue. The body of natives by whom they were stripped consisted of several hundreds; who departing from their accustomed hospitality to travellers within their power, were content with plundering them .This mark of extreme forbearance was owing to the friendly interference of one of the Newcastle natives among the number, who had received civility from one of the deplorable travellers and in return afforded his protection. This fellow distinguished by the name of Mellon was still further induced by a sense of gratitude to to past obligation, to assist them with part of a kangaroo, when sinking under extreme hunger.

INDISPENSABLE 1796 - A Letter Home printed in the Sporting Life - Letter from a Woman, lately transported to, that Settlement, to her Father. - I take the first opportunity of informing you of my safe arrival in this remote quarter of the world, after a pretty good passage of six months. Since my arrival I have purchased a house, for which I gave twenty pounds, and the following articles, which are three turkie's, at 15s. each; three sucking pigs, at 10s.; a pair of pigeons, at 8s.; a yard dog, 2l, two Muscovy ducks, at 10s. each; three English ducks, at 5s. each; and a goat, five guineas; six geese, at 15s. each. I have got a large garden to the house and a licence. The sign is the 'Three Jolly Settlers.' I have met with tolerable good success since in the public line -

BRITANNIA 1797 - Jane Maher was tried in Dublin in 1796 and sentenced to 7 years transportation. In 1802 a letter was directed to the late under Gaoler of the New Prison in Dublin (Simpson) from Botany Bay.....a woman named Jane Maher, who was transported from hence, about six years ago. The subject of it is a request for an enquiry to be made after a male child she left in Dublin behind her, stating that having by her industry in the baking business acquired a property she is enable to provide for the child and wishes to have it educated, and brought up in a decent manner, and for which she will remit money. - Belfast Newsletter 2 April 1802.

SPEEDY 1800 - Anna King's Journal - crossed the equator on 31st December. Seventeen men went through the usual ceremony of being shaved etc. The ladies were excused excepting one who chose to be very curious and hid herself in the sheep pen in order to see the ceremony passed on the men - to be sure she chose a nice warm situation and a very snug one as she thought but unfortunately one of Mr. Neptune's observing her peeping through the boards, he ran to catch her but before he got to her she jumped through and got away from him however it was judged right that she should be paid for peeping therefore she was under the necessity of going through the operation poor creature. She stamped and screamed tore her hair, but all to no purpose. She is an Irish woman and the only one of that country on board.

GLATTON 1803 - Journal of George Bond - The female convicts, on their arrival, are treated in the same manner as the males before mentioned; being well washed, and furnished with a change of suitable apparel. The commissioned officers then come on board, and as they stand upon deck, select such females as are most agreeable in their person; who generally, upon such occasions, endeavour to set themselves off to the best advantage. In this state some have been known to live for years, and to have borne children. The non-commissioned officers then are permitted to select for themselves; the privates next; and lastly, those convicts, who, having been in the country a considerable time, and having realized some property, are enabled to procure the governor's permission to take to themselves a female convict. The remainder, who are not thus chosen, are brought on shore, and have small huts assigned them; but, through the want of some regular employment, are generally concerned in every artifice and villainy which is committed.

EXPERIMENT 1804 - The Editor of a publication dated 1803 was appalled by the conduct of the female prisoners on the Experiment - Near 200 female convicts have just been put on board the Experiment, bound for New. South Wales, who, from the account given of them by the humane and vigilant Mr. Kirby, we apprehend will not contribute much to the reformation of their colonial sisters. These abandoned unfortunate wretches, through a principle of humanity, are allowed to walk the decks, where they parade, dressed in all the finery of their former depredations; and their behaviour is so shamefully indecent, and their conversation so abominably gross, that the settlers ' wives nor daughters, can have the benefit of the air without hearing their shocking language

WILLIAM PITT 1806 - On Saturday afternoon 13th July, twenty five female convicts were removed in two wagons from Newgate prison also to be embarked on the William Pitt. Their behaviour was highly indecorous, and they tore the tilt off the wagon, kindly intended to conceal their shame, and rent the air with the most horrid expressions.

SPEKE 1808 - Two of the women who were transported on the Speke were Eleanor Hall and Elizabeth Wade. They were found guilty of grand larceny (the theft of goods of the value of 1 shilling or more, without any aggravating circumstances such as assault, breaking and entering etc.) at the Ely Quarter Sessions, Cambridge. They were sentenced to 7 years transportation. An original order dated 4th February 1807 to remove the women from the gaol at Ely and forward them to the Speke at Deptford is held in the Cambridge County Council records. Before being sent to the Speke the women were to be provided with one jacket or gown; one petticoat; two spare shifts; two spare handkerchiefs; two spare pair of stockings; one spare pair of shoes.

AEOLUS 1809 - correspondence written in England 4th May 1809 - I beg to submit to your consideration the following remarks:... There is another cause to which the laxity and depravity of public morals is peculiarly imputable. It will perhaps scarcely be believed that, on the arrival of a female convict ship, the custom has been to suffer the inhabitants of the colony each to select one at his pleasure, not only as servants but as avowed objects of intercourse, which is without even the plea of the slightest previous attachment as an excuse, rendering the whole colony little better than an extensive brothel, and exposing the offspring of these disgraceful connexions to the risk of an example at once infamous and contagious. So prevalent has this practice been that it is estimated there are actually at this time about one thousand illegitimate children in the colony of this description

EXPERIMENT 1809 - The Freeman's Journal reported on 10th November 1808 - Two vessels laden with convicts under sentence of transportation, and destined for Botany Bay, now remain in the great dock of the Grand Canal Company near Ringsend; one is a sloop cutter-rigged in which the females are deposited, the other a brig-rigged vessel, in which the male convicts are to be embarked (the Boyd); several persons have been, and are further expected to be transmitted from different parts of the country to add to this precious exportation - On Tuesday between 40 and 50 male convicts, and upwards of 20 female convicts were conveyed from Newgate in a number of jingles, jaunting cars and carts which were prepared for the occasion, to the great dock of the Grand Canal, where they were embarked in the vessels now moored there, in which they are to be transportation to Botany Bay.

CANADA 1810 - Extract of a Dispatch from Governor Macquarie, to Viscount Castlereagh; dated Sydney, New South Wales, 27th October 1810. 2. The Canada transport brought hither one hundred and twenty-one female convicts, all of whom arrived in good health, and had been well treated by the Commander and Surgeon of that ship during the voyage, one only having died on the passage, who, according to the Surgeon's Report, was in ill health when she was embarked. The greater part of these convicts, soon after their arrival, were assigned over as indented servants, for the space of three years, to the different settlers, who were on the occasion required to execute bonds for the retaining them for that period in their respective services, and for their humane and proper treatment of them. Out of the entire number of one hundred and twenty-one, there are now only thirty-two remaining undisposed of; and they are usefully employed in the Government Cloth Manufactory, some time since established at Parramatta.

PROVIDENCE 1811 - Governor Macquarie wrote in a dispatch to Earl Liverpool in October 1811 - 'I have to inform your Lordship that I have, on all arrivals of convicts ships, ordered a muster to be immediately taken of the convicts on ship board by my Secretary and the Acting Commissary, and I afterwards take a muster of them myself so soon as landed, in order to ascertain the manner they have been treated during the voyage, and whether they have any complaints to prefer against the commander or surgeon of the ship in which they came. By the previous muster I also acquire a knowledge of the trades or professions of the convicts, which enables me to appropriate them afterwards in the most advantageous way for Government, and at the same time most easy for themselves.

FRIENDS 1811 - French Traveller Louis Simond visited Newgate prison on his tour of Great Britain in 1810 / 1811. He described the ladies of Newgate in Journal of a Tour and Residence of Great Britain.......The transportation ladies, crowded in a small court, were much more disorderly than the men. They threatened and wrangled among themselves, singing, vociferating, and, as much as the narrow space allowed, moving about in all sorts of dresses, - one of them in men's clothes. They are not in irons like the men. In a more spacious court, separated from these women by a high wall, were state prisoners, as my guide called them, playing fives, the favourite pastime of Newgate it seems.)

MINSTREL 1812 - On the 28th October 1812 an order was given that the few women who were permitted to be assigned to people in Sydney were to be landed that afternoon with a complete set of slops and bedding. The remainder of the women were to be taken to Parramatta Female Factory by water at sunrise the following morning. Boats were to be ready alongside the Minstrel to receive them and convey them twenty miles up the river to Parramatta.

ARCHDUKE CHARLES 1813 - During the investigation by Messrs Broughton and Campbell it was revealed that without a single exception the women amounting to fifty four in number spoke in high terms of gratitude for the kindness and humanity with which they had been treated. They all spoke of the surgeon Mr. Pawson as a man of good and kind feelings though at the same time several of them complained that their slops which they had entrusted to his care were plundered however none of them attached any blame to him for that circumstance.

WANSTEAD 1814 - With the proceeds of their clamorous begging, when any stranger appeared amongst them, the prisoners purchased liquors from a regular tap in the prison. Spirits were openly drunk and the ear was assailed by the most terrible language. Although military sentinels were posted on the leads of the prison, such was the lawlessness prevailing, that Mr. Newman the governor, entered this portion of it with reluctance, fearful that his watch would be snatched from his side. Into this scene, Mrs. Fry entered, accompanied only by one lady, Anna Buxton. The sorrowful and neglected condition of these depraved women and their miserable children, dwelling in such a vortex of corruption, deeply sank into her heart, although at this time, nothing more was done than to supply the most destitute with clothes

NORTHAMPTON 1815 - Memoir of Joseph Arnold - Catherine Inglis, a convict, in a fit of passion this morning took a large quantity of Laudanum, but I made her throw it up again by a strong emetic. She is a handsome Scotch girl, and has long been a dashing lady of the Town, having travelled over the greatest part of England. She reads well and writes tolerably. The Capt. as soon as he saw her took her into his Cabin and cloathed her, very unwisely in a ladylike fashion, and she has had always a servant to attend her. Being of a very romantic turn she seems to have taken much hold of the affections of Mr. Tween, and there being a slight quarrel between them last night, she made use of the expedient of the Laudanum to destroy herself, but was discovered soon enough to prevent its deadly effects.

MARY ANNE 1816...The transfer of female prisoners from Newgate to the convict ships was described by Elizabeth Fry - Frequently batches of female convicts were despatched to New South Wales, and, according to the custom at Newgate, departure was preceded by total disregard of order. Windows, furniture, clothing all were wantonly destroyed; while the procession from the prison to the convict ship was one of brutal, debasing riot. The convicts were conveyed to Deptford, in open wagons, accompanied by the rabble and scum of the populace. These crowds follow the wagons, shouting to the prisoners, defying all regulations, and inciting them to more defiance of rules. Some of the convicts were laden with irons; others were chained together by twos.
CANADA 1817 - I shall content myself with one extract taken from a report made by the Captain and Surgeon of His Majesty's Ship Tonnant, who were instructed by Admiral Holloway to examine the state of the Sloop Dumfries, laden with convict women - We found on board 63 females. The accommodation for them is a space within the hold, 22 feet long and 16 broad, levelled with ballast and covered with straw; the straw has not been changed since the vessel left Dublin, and of course much broken and filthy. Amongst these convicts is one case of continual fever of a contagious character, and requiring to be immediately removed to obviate a general febrile affection. There are six other cases which require immediate medical attendance, and whose situation is such , as to render their removal from the Sloop absolutely necessary. The Dumfries with these convicts sailed from Dublin on the 30th January. This vessel arrived (in Cork) on the 2nd February and though the convict ship was ready to receive them they were kept in this state eight days. (Feb., 9 1817 (Signed Captain John Tailour, surgeon John Gibbs.

FRIENDSHIP 1818 - Elizabeth Dudley's Memoirs - Our visit to Newgate this morning was truly interesting. The alteration which has taken place there within a short time is wonderful. E. Fry and a few other friends have established a school for the children of the convicts, and, also for the women who are under sentence of transportation; and the good effects of order, discipline, and constant occupation are already apparent. Between fifty and sixty of these females, many of them like the offscouring of the earth, were collected in the matron's room, where they sat, not only with becoming quietness, but under feelings of seriousness, while Mary Sanderson read a chapter in the Testament, and William Forster preached the gospel. It was a memorable time to us all, and our hearts, were bowed in thankfulness for the manifestation of divine love and power thus vouchsafed within these prison walls, which M. Sanderson acknowledged on her knees, and the sense of solemnity was such as is not always known in the assemblies of more privileged and higher professors - The women all withdrew under the care of their monitors, and settled to their regular work, which is supplied by slop shops.

MARIA 1818 - Mrs. Fry addressed herself first to the manner of departure, and, rightly judging that the open wagons conduced to much disorder, prevailed in the Governor of Newgate to engage hackney coaches for the occasion. Further, she promised the women that, provided they would behave in an orderly manner, she, together with a few other ladies, would accompany them to the ship. Faithful to her promise her carriage closed the line of hackney coaches; three or four ladies were with her, and thus in a fashion at once strangely quiet and novel, the transports reached the place of embarkation. There were one hundred and twenty eight convicts that day; no small number upon which to experimentalize. As soon as they reached the ship they were herded together below decks like so many cattle, with nothing to do but to curse, swear, fight, recount past crimes, relate foul stories, or plot future evil.

LORD WELLINGTON 1820 - Mr. Bennet moved an Address to the Prince Regent, to stay the departure of the Lord Wellington, destined to convey female convicts to New South Wales. Notwithstanding all the precautions which had been devised, it had hitherto been found impossible to prevent prostitution with the seamen. A second objection against this mode of punishment was its inequality as applied to different persons. By some it was considered not as a punishment to be feared, but as an advantage to be courted. A great defect also was, that the punishment was not seen. From the year 1781 to the year 1818, 2987 women being in the proportion of 1 - 7th of the men had been sent out of the country. These women were sent for very different periods and yet few of them had ever returned. Their only means of returning were prostitution. He must also complain of the manner in which women were brought from country gaols to one spot, for the purpose of being put on board the vessels. One unfortunate girl had been brought from Cambridge, so bound in chains that it was necessary to saw them asunder. Another had been brought in a state of torture all the way from Carlisle. Unhappy females doomed to a voyage to New South Wales, who happily might till then have escaped the degradation of prostitution, were sure to be corrupted on their way, and those who were already fallen, were sure to be made worse.

MORLEY 1820 - Thomas Reid's correspondence - On first coming on board three or four of them showed some disposition to be unruly; but a timely rebuke, with a positive assurance that all irregularity of conduct would be opposed and punished, put an immediate stop to it. Those who pretend to say that the humane exertions of Mrs. Fry and the committee of ladies have produced no beneficial change on the minds and morals of these misguided creatures, need only visit them here to be convinced of the fallacy of their assertions, by proofs more irrefragable than the most specious arguments of speculative logicians. They will find many of them reading the Scriptures with apparently devout attention, and I firmly believe real advantage. I am not ashamed to acknowledge, that I have given every exertion in my power towards establishing a system of religious behaviour amongst them; and therefore feel no hesitation in putting my name to this statement' (The Times, Wednesday, May 03, 1820; pg. 3; Issue 10923; col D)

MARY ANNE 1822 - The Mary Anne was visited by Mrs. Pryor a companion of Mrs. Fry in 1821.... Soon after the ladies first visited these ships, the women ceased to be received on board at Deptford ; but the ships were moored for this purpose in a less frequented part of the river, below Woolwich. The mode in which they were brought on board, long continued to be highly objectionable ; they arrived from the country in small parties, at irregular intervals, having been conveyed on the outside of stage coaches, by smacks, or hoys, or any conveyance that offered, under the care of a turnkey ; often have the ladies, when engaged in their interesting occupation, seen a person of this description come alongside in a wherry with a group of unfortunate creatures under his charge wayworn, and ill, or perhaps a solitary outcast brought upon deck, lamenting her misfortunes in the broad dialect of some far distant county - a small bundle of insufficient clothing being frequently the only preparation for the long voyage before her.

LORD SIDMOUTH 1823 - At the end of September a school for the children was established under the superintendence of the clergyman assisted by two of the free women. By the time they reached Rio de Janeiro on 17 November several of the women had been punished by being sent to the coal hole or having their head shaved. Their stay at Rio was not a happy one. Owing to the confusion on deck, the women were kept below. They were not given their usual provisions which had apparently been purloined by the steward, and two were punished by having their heads shaved for boisterous and outrageous conduct.

WOODMAN 1823 - George Fairfowl wrote in his journal - 'On Monday 29 July 1822 I received a warrant from the Navy Board appointing me on board of the female convict ship the Woodman; and forthwith proceeded to Deptford where I placed myself under the orders of Captain Young the Board's Agent. On 24 August 1822 the ship sailed from the River and on the 13 September 1822 we anchored in the Cove of Cork. We remained here until 22 December 1822, when a small miserable schooner, the Mary of London brought us from Dublin 22 free passengers and 47 female convicts. They had suffered severely during the passage of five or six days. The weather was cold and stormy they had no beds the straw they slept on was scanty and wet and they were badly clothed.

ALMORAH 1824 - Morgan Price was well experienced as a Surgeon Superintendent on a convict ship having previously served on the Martha in 1818 and the Brampton in 1823, both of which carried male prisoners. While his voyage on the Brampton was made tiresome by an abusive and argumentative Captain, on this voyage of the Almorah his difficulties arose from the refractory females on board. He remarked that from time to time many of the prisoners had to be handcuffed for fighting and abusive language and some of the free women were nearly as bad and he adopted the same plan to them.

GRENADA 1825 - As for the ninety six women and children below decks, conditions were unendurable. In heavy seas hatches were always battened down, and every scuttle closed. No fresh air reached them at all. No ventilation of any kind. The stench was appalling. Nor was it possible for them to leave their close set tiers of bunks. Each time a big sea crashed on the deck above several tons of water flooded down, drenching bed sheets, mattresses, clothes, sometimes even washing sleepers from their bunks, if any were able to sleep. The elders among our passengers became grave and anxious.

MIDAS 1825 - 'Sydney, on board the Ship Midas, Dec 16, 1825 A Letter Of Sincere Thanks From The Unfortunate Female Convicts On Board The Midas, Captain James Baigrie, To The Ladies In London. 'Worthy Madam - Permit us to indulge a hope you will pardon the liberty we have taken by this. I most willingly set down to comply with the request of all my fellow sufferers to acknowledge our most grateful thanks to you, likewise to those Ladies who took any part in the kind and Christian charities we received at your hands, before we sailed from Woolwich. Madam, we have never lost sight of the most kind and friendly advice you were pleased to give us on your different visits, and particularly on the last that we had the happiness of seeing you. We therefore beg leave that you will accept of our sincere thanks. It shall be our constant endeavours that our future conduct and behaviour shall prove our respect and gratitude

GRENADA 1827 - From the pen of a relative of Captain Young, Principal Resident Agent of Transports on the river Thames, we have a vivid picture of one of these leave takings. It occurred on board a vessel lying off Woolwich in 1826. William Wilberforce, of anti slavery fame, and several other friends accompanied the party. This chronicler writes: On board one of them (there were two convict ships lying in the river) between two and three hundred women were assembled, in order to listen to the exhortations and prayers of perhaps the two brightest personifications of Christian philanthropy that the age could boast. Scarcely could two voices even so distinguished for beauty and power be imagined untied in a more touching engagement; as, indeed, was testified by the breathless attention, the tears and suppressed sobs of the gathered listeners. No lapse of time can ever efface the impression of the 107th Psalm, as read by Mrs. Fry with such extraordinary emphasis and intonation, that it seemed to make the simple reading a commentary

ELIZABETH 1828 - Journal of Joseph Hughes - Owing to the extreme filthy disposition of the women and their reckless character, choosing rather to live in their dirt than be clean, very often in the week the decks of the prisons have required washing with plenty of ablution instead of the more salutary custom of scraping and dry holystoning; even this washing was and is effected with considerable trouble and coercion, leaving out abuse and the foulest language. Their squabbles have often been productive of wounds (not serious), bruises and contusions by falls, requiring the formality of dressings and bandages and to preserve peace and order where I could. Their waste and destruction of clothes, bedding and blankets deplorable, throwing them overboard in our very faces and shortly after becoming ill for want of the same through cold - I have been obliged to give them others. I have much prejudice to contend with, but from acting with caution towards them when applying to me, I have secured their esteem and goodwill in my medical capacity, but in other respects considerable trouble. They being slothful, dirty disposed with a most lamentable recklessness of character unconquerable.

CITY OF EDINBURGH 1828 - The women had perfect liberty at all times to come on deck from eight o'clock in the morning to sunset and this no doubt had its effect in keeping them in good health their spirits becoming now buoyant and the depressing passions which strict confinement might have engendered avoided. When they were landed a fortnight after our arrival there was not a patient on the sick list.

PRINCESS ROYAL 1829 - Journal of Andrew Douglas Wilson - There were appearances of inebriation but no reasonable grounds for such a conclusion, as the attainment of spirits was considered impossible. Ultimately however a sharp look out and a little jealousy among the convicts themselves brought this fact to light. The patient was a heartless woman, gave much trouble and in that was most ungrateful but such are female convicts generally. They expect as a matter of right to be waited upon as ladies and nursed like children, otherwise the surgeon may anticipate being threatened with a complaint against him to Mr. Capper or Governor Darling.

ASIA 1830 - Journal of Alexander Nisbett - After dinner they again came on deck and remained until being mustered down below for the night usually half an hour before sunset. Windsails were kept constantly in used down each hatchway. Within the tropics the women were almost constantly on deck, awnings being spread. By means of the work put on board by the recommendation of the ladies committee the minds of the convicts were kept pretty well employed and towards the close of the voyage when this source was expended, the ship was very well found in jute the converting of which into oakum was found to be an excellent employment.

ROSLIN CASTLE 1830 - Journal of William Conborough Watt - calculated from their depressing effects to produce disease amongst subjects whose constitutions had been debilitated by a long continuance of every species of debauchery, and whose mental powers were reduced to the lowest ebb from the contemplation of their degraded situations. Commiseration for their sufferings, remaining with them in the prison on all occasions of danger and keeping them actively employed in administering to their own comforts by cleansing and drying the prison deck and bed places and the adoption of the same system of police regulations which I found so conducive to health and good order in the last ship I had the Superintendence of (the Edward), I had the happy effect of soothing their fears and I had the satisfaction of landing all the prisoners at Sydney on the 10th July with one exception in the most vigorous state of health and spirits.

KAINS 1831 - Dr. Clarke described the women in his journal - the general character and conduct of the prisoners were such as might be expected from the lowest class of society - from persons whom all the wise and salutary laws of England had failed to reclaim, most immoral and abandoned, if there ever was a Hell afloat it must have been in the shape of a female convict ship, quarrelling, fighting, thieving, destroying in private each others property for a mean spirit of devilishness - conversation with each other most abandoned without feeling or shame. As regarded the personal cleanliness of the prisoners that in some measure depended on their natural disposition, education and attitude, some of them by nature and habit were cleanly while others were filthy to the 90th degree

EARL OF LIVERPOOL 1831 - On the 19th April the Sydney Gazette reported that: - Elizabeth Smith, an importation by the Earl of Liverpool, who made her first appearance ashore on Friday last was charged with insolence to her mistress. It appeared that the prisoner was assigned direct from the ship, to the service of a gentleman in Sydney, to whose house she was sent on the day she landed. In the afternoon obtained permission of her mistress to go out, on some business of her own, for a limited time, which she exceeded, and on being reprimanded on her return home, told her mistress she was ' a-good-for nothing hussy,' and that she (Elizabeth) ' knew by the cut of her jib' that the service would not answer her. The bench sentenced her to the third class in the Factory for three months

PALAMBAM 1831 - The convicts were landed at the Dock yard on Saturday morning 13th August and handed over to various assignees. The Sydney Gazette reported that - the damsels look well; and many were the anxious enquiries after brothers, sisters, and friends, that the luckless maidens were seen to make on their journey through the streets.

FANNY 1833 - In July 1832 the Essex Standard reported of the cholera outbreak in London - During the last four days the cholera morbus has been rapidly on the increase. The Times mentions, that five cases have taken place on one day in one of the City prisons. There have been 49 deaths in St. Katherine's Docks within the last few days, and 10 in the London Docks within a day or two. The ship Fanny, bound for Sydney with female convicts, is detained at the Little Nore with it, having had 14 or 15 cases, and, up to Sunday afternoon, four deaths, and several hopeless cases.

SURRY 1833 - Since the introduction of cholera into the county gaol of Cork, a novel method has been adopted to prevent its spreading. A musician is engaged to play for the female prisoners (to whom the epidemic is entirely confined) for a few hours every evening; they are all brought together into one of the largest apartments in the prison, and such an interest is excited amongst them by the music and the dance, that they appear to forget altogether the cholera and its terrors. This mode of prevention was suggested by the idea, that as fear is a predisposing cause, nothing could tend more to diminish its influence. The same method has been tried at the convict depot, and with success. (Preston Chronicle 7 July 1832)

ANDROMEDA 1834 - Catholic Priest William Bernard Ullathorne published The Catholic Mission in Australasia in which he wrote in part, of the fate awaiting females condemned to transportation - These few lines, dear reader, give a little information respecting the lot of the transported convict, and the labours and wants of the Australasian Mission - What shall I say of the female convict, acknowledged to be worse, and far more difficult of reformation, than the man? Her general character is immodesty, drunkenness, and the most horrible language. On board the ship in which she sails, there is generally to be found some two or three grey-headed hags, the very incarnation of crime, who become the priestesses of initiation to the younger and more simple-minded during the voyage. Assigned to service, she becomes the object of persecution, either to her master - or they are assigned to all classes - or to some favourite servant. Does she defend herself - her life is made a torment. She is harassed, threats are held out - the police court is at hand, a tale is readily made out - truth is never looked for from a prisoner in self-defence - the police court is amused, the town echoes the laugh- of the police reporter, and the woman is doubly punished. Does she fall - she is returned to the factory, care is taken of her at the public expense - she remains nursing her child for two years, it is then separated from the mother, (who returns to service,) and is placed in an orphan school - no enquiry is made, and she returns again and again. 1 have baptized fourteen of these children at one time, whose mothers seldom gave any sign that they felt ashamed, or were conscious of any reason for such a feeling.

ELIZABETH 1836 - Extract from the Journal of surgeon Robert Espie. Here now let any man show me what is to be done from the master of the ship down to the lowest boy are all opposed to the Doctor if he has done his duty by preventing prostitution. I saw clearly I had committed an error by being too lenient, I therefore prepared myself with a good stout piece of rope and when I thought they deserved it, I whipped them most soundly over the arms, legs and back and this was continued (whatever the saints may think) till I had conquered every refractory spirit among them and my certificates will testify that the government of New South Wales was perfectly satisfied with my conduct in every particular - so much for the discipline of a female convict ship, but some people might reverse it and say so little - no matter I hate a tedious fool.

HENRY WELLESLEY 1837 - Journal of surgeon William Leyson - As I consider that tranquillity of mind is most essential to bodily health, I set out in my superintendence of the convicts by having no more restrictions on them than their unhappy situation necessarily demanded, and I therefore caused them all to be let on deck from an early time of the morning until the close of the day, whenever the weather would permit and in showery days they were only sent below during the occurrence of the rain. They were allowed to amuse themselves by running about, dancing or in any innocent way whenever the duty of the ship would admit of it.

WHITBY 1839 - The Sydney Monitor reported that - the female convicts per the ship Whitby, were landed yesterday (2nd July) at H.M. Dockyard. Bishop Broughton and Bishop Poulding were present, and addressed an admonitory exhortation to the women of their respective persuasions. There were several ladies of rank in the colony present, besides others who were waiting to take delivery of the women assigned to them. The Colonel was there, of course. After the assigned were delivered over to their respective assignees, agreeably to the Government regulations, the remainder amounting in number to forty, were ordered to be forwarded that evening to Parramatta Female Factory.

MINERVA 1839 - By the end of the voyage the surgeon had had enough. He wrote in the summary at the end of the journal - In attending to the endless complaints and wants both real and assumed of 119 female convicts, the greater number of whom were victims of dishonesty, it may easily be imagined what trouble the medical officer in charge is put through. Then there is the fighting and scolding day and night above and below. The real sickness and sham illness to obtain hospital comforts are scarcely credible. Then there are the children of convicts, the greater number at the breast from whom the poor wretches had little nourishment to obtain.

ISABELLA 1840 - The Monitor reported on 5th August - 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.

List of 98 Convict Ships Carrying Female Prisoners to New South Wales

Below is a list of 98 convict ships carrying female prisoners to New South Wales - Click on the links to find those women who have been identified residing in the Hunter Valley in the years up to 1860........

Aeolus 1809
Alexander 1816
Alexander 1816
Almorah 1824
Andromeda 1834
Anne 1801
Archduke Charles 1813
Asia 1830
Broxbornebury 1814
Buffalo 1833
Canada 1810
Canada 1817
Caroline 1833
Catherine 1814
City of Edinburgh 1828
Competitor 1828
Diamond 1838
Diana 1833
Earl Cornwallis 1801
Earl of Liverpool 1831
Elizabeth 1818
Elizabeth 1828
Forth (11) 1830
Francis and Eliza 1815
Friends 1811
Friendship 1818
George Hibbert 1834
Glatton 1803
Grenada 1825
Grenada 1827;
Harmony 1827
Henry 1825
Henry Wellesley 1837
Hooghley 1831
Indispensable 1809
Isabella 1840
Janus 1820
John Bull 1821
John Renwick 1838
Kains 1831
Lady Juliana 1790
Lady Penrhyn 1788
Lady Rowena 1826
Lord Melville 1817 Lord Sidmouth 1823;
Lord Wellington 1820
Louisa 1827
Lucy Davidson 1829
Margaret 1837
Margaret 1839
Margaret 1840
Maria 1818
Mariner 1825
Mary 1823
Mary 1835
Mary Anne 1822
Mary Ann 1839
Midas 1825
Minerva 1839
Minstrel 1812
Morley 1820
Neptune 1790
Northampton 1815
Numa 1834
Palambam 1831
Planter 1839
Princess Charlotte 1827
Princess Royal 1829
Providence 1811
Providence 1822
Pyramus 1832
Pyramus 1836
Rolla 1803
Roslin Castle 1830
Sarah and Elizabeth 1837
Sir Charles Forbes 1837
Southworth 1832
Sovereign 1829
Speke 1808
Surprise 1790
Surprise 1794
Surry 1833
Surry 1840
Sydney Cove 1807;
Tellicherry 1806
Thomas Harrison 1836
Wanstead 1814
Whitby 1839
William Pitt 1806
Woodman 1823

Notes and Links

1). A Description of Female Convicts and their ability to lead useful lives when a suitable marriages is made - from Rev. J.D. Lang's Historical and Statistical Account of New South Wales as published in Leigh Hunt's London Journal

2). Assignment of Female Convicts - The Felonry of New South Wales by James Mudie in the Quarterly Review

3). Female Convicts on their voyage out - Their general behaviour and the system of control exercised over them - Peter Cunningham's Two Years in New South Wales.

4). Articles of Haberdashery for Female Convicts for work on the voyage out - Select Committee on Transportation.

5). A Deep Sense of Wrong: The Treason, Trials and Transportation to New South Wales of Lower Canadian Rebels - By Beverley Boissery.

6). Observations on the Visiting Superintendence and Government of Female Convicts by Elizabeth Gurney Fry.

7). Female Convict Ship Trail

8). Conditions on Convict Ships

9). Commissioners of Inquiry

10). Convict Ship Surgeons Index

11). Extracts From Female Convict Ship Pages

12). Management at Parramatta Female Factory 1828

13). Female Factory at Newcastle

14). Female Factory at Parramatta


[1] Personal Reminiscences of Eminent Men - Cyrus Redding quoting Watkin Tench's assessment of female convicts in 1788 (see the Charlotte)