Free Settler or Felon
Convict and Colonial History

James McTernan R. N.,

Convict Ship Surgeon-Superintendent

Date of Seniority Royal Navy 18 August 1813

James McTernan was born in Co. Sligo, Ireland c. 1790.

He was included in the List of Medical Officers who had served at war. He was Assistant Surgeon of the Northumberland at the destruction of two French frigates and a brig off L'Orent in 1812; and Surgeon of the Dragon in all the important operations in the Chesapeake and coast of America, including the capture of Bangor, Hampden. 

He afterwards published the first medical account of a fatal primary blast injury in the unexplained sudden death of a marine who was serving in HMS Northumberland in May 1812. [1]

Surgeon Superintendent

James McTernan was employed as Surgeon Superintendent on seven convict ship voyages to Australia:

Ocean to NSW in 1823
Sir Charles Forbes to VDL in 1827. Returned to England on Elizabeth in November 1827.

Asia to NSW in 1828,

Eliza to NSW in 1829

Lady Harewood to NSW in 1831

John Barry to NSW in 1836

Sara to VDL in 1837

James McTernan was appointed surgeon to H.M.S. Astraea, Captain James Plumridge, (Guard ship for the service of the packets, Falmouth) on 4 September 1838. His salary 255/10s per annum. [4]

He was on the List of Surgeons of the Royal Navy fit for service in 1841. He was appointed to the Packet service at Falmouth.

He was appointed surgeon of Deptford Dockyard in 1845 having previously been employed at Greenwich Hospital.[2]

He was on the 1855 List of Deputy Inspectors General of Hospitals and Fleets Retired (25 July 1855).


James McTernan died at Kent in 1873.


At his residence, Blackheath, Kent, on the 26th November last, died James McTernan, in the eighty-third year of his age. A native of the county Sligo, Ireland, and a student of Trinity College, Dublin, he acquired a more than ordinary acquaintance with classical literature, which he cultivated with great ardour and enjoyment throughout his lengthened life, acquiring from it, and which he never failed to utilise, great facilities of illustration in his conversation which—a not uncommon characteristic of natives of the Emerald lsle-never failed in attractiveness, point, and wit.

Previous to entering the medical service of the Royal Navy, which he did at the early age of seventeen, he spent about twelve months in Paris; after which he obtained the post of surgeon’s mate, an appointment long since superseded. In speaking of this event he used to say that his Latinity had enabled him to thin out the plain facts of his age, and thus, without actual untruth, enabled him to obtain a commission long before the usual time. He thus saw actual warfare, and had to sustain responsibility, when his years were slender. He had, however, the mental and character-age, and was much esteemed by his superiors.

In 1812, when he was but twenty-one years old, he served in the Northumberland, a 74- gun ship, commanded by the Hon. Henry Hotham, on the coast of France, which, after much gallantry and repeated chasing, captured and destroyed two French frigates ; the young surgeon, for his share of the work done, being awarded a medal. In 1813, he was appointed to the Dragon, commanded by Sir Robert Barry, which took part in the many distinguished engagements in Chesapeake Bay during the great American War. After peace was proclaimed he joined the squadron which guarded St. Helena during the residence of the first Napoleon, and was present at the death of that distinguished but unfortunate monarch in 1821.

Subsequently to this period he was engaged at the various home stations, and finally passed eleven years at the Greenwich Hospital. His seniority is dated July 25th, 1865, when he became Deputy Inspector General. On retiring on half-pay he took up his residence at Blackheath, enjoying the society of a large circle of friends, and, with one painful exception, the death of his only child, a son, in the Royal Artillery, who was married and leaves a daughter, passed a green old age, cheered by the tenderness and never-failing affection of a loving wife, who still survives him, and in the midst of friends who valued him for his genuineness and unsophisticated simplicity.

Sir Alexander Nisbet, who served with him throughout his long life, and to whom he was deeply attached, Fred. Cleeve, G.C.B., and Sir George Biddlecombe, were unfailing in their attentions to him in his declining days; and his medical attendant Dr. Carr, rendered all the help in his power as he passed away, leaving a blank and the sweet memory of a friend gone to rest. His remains were interred in the Roman Catholic cemetery, Brockley lane, Lewisham, on Monday December 1st

Notes and Links

1). McTernan Family History

2). Medical Journal of the Emigrant Ship Amity - On the 17th of May 1825, the Amity sailed from the Cove of Cork, carrying 27 men, 24 women and 96 children from some of the most distressed districts in the south of Ireland. These people were being transported, at Government expense, as part of an experimental emigration that settled over 2000 Irish paupers in the backwoods of Upper Canada.


[1] Mass Casualties, a Lessons Learned Approach: Accidents, Civil Disorders ... By R Adams Cowley, Sol Edelstein, Martin Elliot Silverstein

[2] The Lancet

[3] The Lancet London: A Journal of British and Foreign Medicine, Volume 2, 27 December 1873

[4] Haultain, C. (compiled), The New Navy List, 1840, p. 193