Free Settler or Felon
Convict and Colonial History

Convict Ship Aboukir - 1852

Embarked: 280 men
Voyage: 83 days
Deaths 1 convict
Tons 817
Surgeon's Journal - Yes
Master John Cowell
Surgeon Benjamin Bynoe

The barque Aboukir was built at Sunderland. She departed Plymouth on 28th December 1851 with 280 male Exiles. Crossing the Equator on 21st January 1852 they arrived in Hobart on 18 March 1852. One prisoner died on the voyage out.


Late in December 1851 the Aboukir came to her moorings off Woolwich Dockyard where she was to receive on board over 400 people including 280 exiles with their families. There were also free passengers with two sons and five daughters, relatives of some of the prisoners.

Mr. Christopher Paul was the religious instructor on board. [1]

Military Guard

The Guard consisted of thirty Pensioners. Of these twenty-three were married and were accompanied by their wives and thirty-five children. A child belonging to the Guard died on the voyage and another shortly after arriving in Hobart. The wife of one of the Guard gave birth on 19th February 1852.

Departure from Plymouth

The Aboukir departed Plymouth on 27th December 1851 and had a fine passage of eighty-three days.

Surgeon Benjamin Bynoe

Surgeon Superintendent on the Aboukir Benjamin Bynoe
kept a medical journal during the voyage. The journal includes individual notes on those he treated and a summary at the end in which he comments on the weather conditions and methods of cleaning the quarters as well as a description of the illness of the one fatality James Brown -

Twenty-four days after leaving Plymouth, the highest range of the thermometer was 84 and the farthest South that we reached after rounding the Cape of Good Hope was nearly 49 the thermometer standing at 50 with strong westerly winds and hail squalls with a heavy following sea, it was necessary at that part of the voyage to have the prison deck kept perfectly dry by hot air stoves passed down below twice a day, the Chloride of Lime being constantly used throughout the voyage, the bottom sleeping boards were also washed with the solution as well as the decks and board work of the water closets.
Medical Journal of Benjamn Bynoe on the Aboukir

The Guard's quarters required great attention from the number of its inmates, the Pensioner guard consisting of thirty men and their families no less than sixty five in number, many of tender age as well as infants in arms. In fine weather all the wood-work in their department went through a thorough scrubbing with the solution and to that I mainly attribute the good state of health among them. The prisoner who died from Haemoptysis had been a sufferer of pneumonia on board on of the hulks at Woolwich a month previous to his being drafted for the Aboukir and on the voyage round to Portsmouth suffered from sea sickness and then brought up about half a pint of dark blood. He never made it known fearing that it would be the means of having him sent back to prison. He assigned as his object, his desire to get rid of old associates, to recover himself as well as to improve his condition in Australia. On leaving Plymouth a sudden fit of sea sickness brought on a recurrence of his past symptoms - A fit of coughing and vomiting brought on sudden and large quantity of haemorrhage with terminated his existence in a matter of minutes. The post mortem showed extensive disease of long standing.

Australasian League

Australian Flag When the Aboukir set sail, transportation of felons to Van Diemen's Land was fast coming to a close. Already public outcry had seen the end of transportation to New South Wales. The last vessel bringing Exiles to New South Wales being the Adelaide in 1849. The Australasian League formed in 1851 and bound itself to resisting the setting up of European prisoners on Australian soil. As a symbol of their resolve, the founders set the Southern Cross on the same flag with the Union Jack. [3]

The last prisoner vessel to Van Diemen's Land, the St. Vincent, arrived there in May 1853.


The Aboukir arrived in Hobart in dramatic style on Saturday evening 18th March 1852. As the vessel approached the land she fired a gun as a signal for a pilot to come on board. The gun burst, and tore away a considerable portion of her port, fortunately without any injury to the many who must have been on deck at the time [6]

The state of health of those on board on arrival was considered good, only one prisoner and one child having died on the passage. A child was also born on during the voyage. [2]


In the years 1812 to 1853, seventy-five thousand prisoners are said to have been sent to Van Diemen's Land. Most never returned to their homeland, however with the discovery of gold there were new opportunities becoming available to those in a position to take advantage. No doubt at least some of the prisoners of the Aboukir eventually benefited from the changes brought about by the gold rush. In the mean-time however, and although they had been told otherwise before setting sail, they were not free to go where they wished. They were regarded as exiles and had been issued with tickets of leave or passes. In the correspondence below to Lord Grey, Sir William Denison explained the situation.......

Copy of a Despatch from Lieut-Governor Sir W. Denison to Earl Grey. Van Diemen's Land, Government House, March 30, 1852. My Lord, (Received October 1, 1852.)

I Have the honour to acknowledge the receipt of your Lordship's Despatch, No. 202, dated the 27th December 1851, transmitting the Assignment List of 280 male convicts who had been embarked on board the ship 'Aboukir' for transportation to this colony.

2. In reply, I have the honour to inform your Lordship that the ' Aboukir'' arrived here on the 20th instant, and, with the exception of one convict who died on the voyage, the whole of the men originally embarked were landed on the morning of yesterday, the 29th instant.

3. I have, in accordance with your Lordship's instructions, ordered the removal of twenty-two of these men to Norfolk Island, and have placed fifty upon the public works, agreeably to the same instructions. The remainder, 207, were classified as available for hire by settlers and other employers of labour yesterday, and the whole of them have been engaged and drafted off to private service.

4. I wish, however, to call your Lordship's attention to the enclosed report from the Comptroller General, of misapprehensions existing in the minds of these men as to the condition in which they were to be placed on their arrival here.

5. Among the men available for hire for private service were some who appear to have been told that they would be free on landing in the colony, the remainder, that they would have tickets of leave; and a printed parchment certificate for each man, stating that he embarked with a ticket of leave, was handed over by the Surgeon to the Comptroller General, which certainly would appear to countenance the idea that some promise of the kind had been held out to them. One of these certificates is enclosed.

6. In accordance, however, with your Lordship's instructions, conveyed to me in a Despatch, No. 156, dated 4th August 1851, I have classed these men as passholders for different periods, in proportion to the time which must elapse before they can become entitled to receive tickets of leave; and I would beg to suggest that instructions should be issued to the officers at the different establishments from whence these convicts are sent to this colony, not to hold out to them hopes which the instructions under which the Governor of this colony is acting will not allow him to fulfil; and I would at the same time earnestly press upon your Lordship the impolicy of any further relaxation of the amount of punishment to be inflicted upon the convicts after their arrival in this colony, as tending not only to the injury of the convicts themselves, but also to that of the community, which must suffer should the control exercised by the Government over these men be prematurely relaxed. I have etc
(Signed) W. DENISON.[10]

The correspondence above from Lieut-Governor Sir W. Denison to Earl Grey reveals how the Exiles were dispatched when they reached Van Diemen's Land.

Some of the men were sent to Norfolk Island (22 men) or assigned to public works (50 men); and the remainder were made available for hire by settlers (207 men)

It seems that there were not enough convict/exile workers to go around and in a Public Notice from the Comptroller-General's Office dated 22 March 1852 it was stated that applicants for servants from the Aboukir would commence on Monday 29th March 1852 and there would be no hiring after this date. In addition authority for only one man could be given to each application in consequence of the excess of applications over the number of men that could be supplied. [8]

Anti-Transportation Movement

Adding fuel to the flames of the anti-transportation movement, the Colonial Times, Hobart reported that some of the most atrocious murderers had arrived on the Aboukir. (Such is the boon which Australia receives at the instigation of Sir W.T. Denison!) [4]

Amongst the prisoners it was reported was the notorious burglar, John Isaacs, and part of the gang that were concerned in the Frimley murders (probably Samuel Harwood whose brother was previously hanged). [5]

In Van Diemen's Land a branch of the Australasian League had formed. Earl Grey received correspondence from them stating their concerns-

The Right Hon. Earl Grey My LORD, (Answered No. 103, October 23, 1852, page 102.) I Have the honour to forward to your Lordship a document emanating from a few persons styling themselves the Council of the Southern Tasmanian Branch of the League, professing to be a protest against the introduction of the convicts recently landed from the ' Aboukir.' Your Lordship may judge how far the expressions used and the threats held out by these persons harmonize with the practice of the colonists, from the fact that out of the number of convicts available for service (207) landed from the vessel on Monday the 29th March not one remained in the depot at the end of the day; in fact, there were applications from settlers in every part of the colony to hire men to the extent of three times the number landed from the ' Aboukir.' It is unnecessary for me to comment upon the language in which the protest is couched, further than to express my opinion that the condition of the colony is a practical refutation of its truth or propriety, and my conviction that all the respectable colonists, indeed ninety-nine out of a hundred of the population, would repudiate with scorn and contempt the threats of separation implied in the last paragraph. I have, (Signed) W. DENISON. Encl. in No. 10. Enclosure in No. 10. Southern Tasmanian Council of the League, My Lord, March 27, 1852. We the undersigned, as the Council of the Southern Tasmanian Branch of the League, had the honour to transmit to your Lordship on the 27th January last a protest against the introduction of prisoners into this colony, and we now make the like protest against the renewed breach of faith committed by Her Majesty's Government in pouring into this colony 279 convicts from the ' Aboukir,' recently arrived from London. In making this protest we beg to assure your Lordship that we are not weak enough to suppose that any regard for good faith or sense of justice, still less any care for the welfare of the Australian colonies, will influence your Lordship's conduct, but your Lordship may form some idea of the feelings of the colonists in reference to transportation from the proceedings of their representatives, who, in giving expression to those feelings, have merely discharged the trust reposed in them; and we beg to suggest to your Lordship that if the continuance of the unprincipled and wicked policy hitherto pursued should sever these colonies, with their newly discovered and incalculable wealth, from the parent state, your Lordship may possibly be held amenable for their loss. We have, c. (Signed) E. Officer, F. Hallek. Henry Hopkins. J. Dunn, jun. T. D. Chapman. W. Mcnaughten. The Eight Hon. Earl Grey, Jos. Allport. W. Crooke.

Debate as to the pros and cons of transportation continued and the Launceston Examiner included an extract from the Illustrated London News......

The anomalies and injustice of the transportation system pursued by this country have been often pointed out; but they have seldom received so striking an illustration as that afforded by some recent letters from Australia. Whether we have a moral right to flood a distant portion of the earth with the vilest and most incorrigible portion of our population is a question that has long been decided in the negative by those who have studied it. Whether it is expedient or politic to do so, is another question on which public opinion has pronounced itself in a manner almost equally as strong. The care and the reformation of our criminals are duties that ought strictly to devolve upon ourselves; and we have no justification whatever for burdening or attempting to burden our colonies with them. The justification that Robin Hood might have pleaded when he robbed the Bishop of Hereford, namely, that he was strong enough for the purpose, is not sufficient; because, although we may have strength enough to expel our criminals upon, and to retain them in, a colony, we have not strength enough to compel the colony to fulfill the delegated duty. The criminals, therefore, remain unreformed. The colony becomes degraded in the first place and discontented in the second; while a third and greater evil is in some instances produced. Positive encouragement is afforded to crime. The expatriated thief and scoundrel has a better chance of making his fortune than the poor man who has not 'qualified' by offences against the law for his free transmission over the Atlantic or Pacific. But these are different, though equally important questions. On the first-mentioned we learn, by a very sharp remonstrance addressed to the Colonial Secretary, that the Australians are not disposed to submit to any further contamination from this country
. [7]

Notes and Links

1). It appears by the Government Gazette that thirty-four men, prisoners of the Crown, have been sworn in as police constables over free men. Strange to say, the name of the ship by which these prisoners were landed amongst our population is not mentioned, but it is well known they all came per Aboukir. We saw a procession of them the other day marched from the Penitentiary to the Police office and the scene irresistibly reminded us of Falstaff's ragged regiment of nondescripts, with this exception, that all those men have been transported from England for crimes of a keep dye, and now they are placed in control over the free part of the population. Is this fair dealing my Lord Grey? [9]

2) The Frimley Murders

3). Some of the Aboukir prisoners were mentioned in the following Overseer's Labour Book

4). Correspondence of John Bissett regarding his status on arrival

5). Benjamin Bynoe was also surgeon superintendent on the Blundell in 1844.

6). James Cronin was one of the prisoners sent to Norfolk Island - See Tasmanian Photographer James Nevin to find out more about James Cronin.


[1]. English Extract from Sydney Bells Life 3 April 1852

[2]. The Empire 7 April 1852

[3]. Molony, John, The History of Australia, The Story of 200 Years, p. 95.

[4]. Colonial Times 23 March 1852

[5]. English Extract Sydney Bells Life 3 April 1852

[6]. Moreton Bay Courier 1 May 1852

[7]. Launceston Examiner 4 December 1852

[8]. Cornwall Chronicle 27 March 1852

[9]. The Argus Melbourne 22 April 1852

[10] Parliamentary Papers