The Hercules and Henry Wellesley, convict ships

Joseph Lycett's 19th century painting Aborigines cooking and eating beached whales, Newcastle, New South Wales.
National Library of Australia
Woolwich Reach 19th century
The King's Evil, more commonly known as scrofula
Label from a packet of 'Chloride of Lime'; 1876-1900
Gentle Emetic. Awaitng Results
This medical kit belonged to Dr George Lillie Smith, who came from Edinburgh to Waipu in the mid-19th century.

David Rowland


Master: – Captain William Vaughan

Surgeon: -John Edwards.

The Convict Ship, Hercules was built at Whitby in 1822. The ship weighed 482 tons, quite a large sip for those times. She transported convicts to Australia in 1825, 1830 and 1832.

She left Deptford on the 19th June, 1832; just three days after ‘The Planter’ had left on the 16th June, 1832.

It carried 200 male convicts and 5 women and 7 children. The ship also carried a military guard of 29 rank and file soldiers of the 4th Regiment under the command of Lieutenant Gibson. The 5 women included Mrs. Gibson and master Gibson, Miss Robb and miss Dobson.

The Surgeon, John Edwards kept a medical Journal, which started on 21st May, while the ship was still being fitted out.The weather prior to leaving was atrocious, being wet and very damp and some members of the guard became ill.

Henry Wellesley

Master: – Captain Benjamin Freeman.

Surgeon: – Superintendent Robert Wylie.

The ship was built in India in 1804 and weighed 304 tons.

The passengers included 118 female Convicts, it was only carrying females, A Mrs. Elizabeth Skinner and a child also arrived to board the ship.

‘The Bristol Mercury newspaper dated 26th September 1835 stated that 6 female convicts had been removed from the Bristol prison and put on board the ship, Henry Wellesley, then berthed at Woolwich and bound for New South Wales. The women were Ellen Doyle, Caroline Dart, Harriet Bidgood, Sarah Price, Martha King and Mary Ann Smith.’

These were just six of the 118 prisoners who were embarked on the Henry Wellesley that September. They came from districts throughout England and there were also three dark skinned women from Barbados, Bermuda and Dominica. Twenty seven of the women were married and seventeen were widowed. Although eleven were over the age of 40, most women were young single women who married soon after arrival. Thirteen children were noted by the Surgeon. These children belonged to the convicts.

Robert Wylie, the Surgeon kept a Medical Journal and these are just a few of the more interesting notes from it. The Journal is dated from 27th August 1835 until the 20th February 1836.

He writes, ‘the prisoners in the Henry Wellesley were generally healthy and the passage of four months an average one. The weather was favourable with just two exceptions – an adverse gal in the Channel and when in the limits of the north east trade, we had variable light winds, calms and heavy rains: at this juncture a great many of the prisoners complained of severe head aches which were relieved by bleeding and purgatives. Two of the cases, suffering with of fever died. I think may be attributed to mental despondency and the seeds were probably latent in the system before they came on board, the third was a woman whose constitution was broken down by drinking ardent spirits. The two cases of ‘cholera’ had nothing of the asphyxia, collapse or ‘blue cholera’ in them, but the spasms was severe. I think there were some symptoms of scurvy in a few instances but they soon disappeared again and with the exception of the case of ‘diarrhoea’ that was sent to the hospital, they were landed in good health.’

Some of the patients treated by the surgeon in the ship’s hospital included: –

Thomasine Chandler. Pneumonia while still at Woolwich.

Elizabeth Plant scalded on the neck by soup, Woolwich on 17th September.

Mary Keeling aged 42 years who was described as a ‘very miserable old woman’ who had worked most of her life in a cotton factory and had ‘Scrofula’ since her youth.

She died on the 27th December 1835.

Mary Baker 15 years, who was described as a very dedicate little girl, she was put on the sick list with buboes in the groin and her head was swarming with lice.

Mary Ann Cook 18 years, suckling a five month old daughter but her milk had almost dried up. Had severe sea-sickness for two weeks as well as a fever. She was put on the sick list on the 4th October. She died on the 22nd October 1835.

Mary Cole aged 24 years, suffering with cholera who recovered.

Elizabeth Cook aged 6 months, an infant child of Mary Ann Cook (Deceased) who died on 21st November 1835. Just a month after her mother died.

Elizabeth Strange 20 years who was suffering with Hepatitis.

Harriet Fox was put on the sick list suffering with paralysis, enuresis.

Martha King aged 28 years, who was rather silly. She was a very cheerful and nice woman for the first two months of the voyage but for the past 3 or 4 weeks has taken to her bed and then refused to get up again… She refused to go out on deck for fresh air and exercises. Against her will, she was placed in the hospital. She was then treated for ‘Pedicut’ by cutting her hair off. She was washed all over with ‘Chloride of lime.’ On the 9th February, she was sent to the hospital in Sydney.

Elizabeth Skinner a free woman aged 35 years was placed on the sick list with ‘Tonsillitis.’

Hannah Swayne aged 47 years, put into ship’s hospital suffering with a fever. From her appearance accustomed to drinking spirits. She died on the 2nd December 1835.

Ann Gordon aged 24 years, a tall and very thin woman, not quite sane. She was treated in the ship’s hospital for a fever. She had been pining for a fortnight although she did not complain, keeping it to herself. She died on the 20th December 1835.

Elizabeth  Lane aged 30 years; she was admitted to the ship’s hospital suffering with severe Diarrhoea. She was of a very quiet taciturn disposition and she had her seven month old child with her. She died on 14th January 1836.

This information has been taken from Robert Wylie’s Medical Journal.

The Henry Wellesley sailed into port Jackson on the 7th February 1836; this was the same day as the arrival of the convict ship, Susan. The voyage had taken 123 days. According to the Surgeon’s Medical Journal six people died on the voyage from Britain.

On the 10th February 1836 a notice was placed in the Government Gazette that those families who were in want of female servants could be supplied from the prisoners who arrived on the Henry Wellesley. The assignees would be required to enter into the usual agreement under the penalty of forty shillings to keep their servants for one month unless removed by the due course of law.

Further information.

Robert Wylie was also the Superintendent Surgeon on the Convict Ships ‘Emma Eugenie’ in 1838 and the ‘Barossa’ in 1839. 

The Henry Wellesley was one of five convict ships transporting female convicts to New South Wales in the year 1836, the other ships being  ‘The Roving Castle, The Thomas Harrison, The Elizabeth and finally The Pyramus.’

A total of 668 female prisoners arrived in the colony in 1836. Two ships brought female convicts from England, ‘The Elizabeth ad The Henry Wellesley.

None of the convicts on the Henry Wellesley had been tried in Scotland.’


Note: – ‘Scrofula’ was TB of the lymphatic glands. It was also called ‘Struma’ in some places of England.

‘Buboes’ is the swelling of lymph nodes as the neck, armpit and groin are

junctions of the major ‘lymphatic vessels.’

Pedicut is the act of removing your hair.

Purgatives are a medicine whereby it ‘evacuates your bowels.’

Chloride of Lime is a white powder comprised of calcium Hydroxide and     

Chloride and hypo-chloride and used to bleach and/or disinfect.

Welcome to the Finsbury Publishing

David Rowland has just launched his 15th and final book, “The Spirit of Winsome Winn II”, all about the B-17 Flying Fortress which crashed at Patcham after being hit by anti-aircraft fire over Germany.

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