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Convict Ship Active 1791


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Select from the Links below to find information about Convict Ships arriving in New South Wales, Norfolk Island and Van Diemen's Land between the years 1788 and 1850

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Embarked: 175 men
Voyage: 183 days
 Deaths 21
 Surgeon's Journal - no
 Previous vessel: William and Ann arrived 28 August 1791
 Next vessel: Queen arrived on 26 September 1791
 Master John Michinson/ Mitchinson

The Active was built at Shoreham in 1764. In 1791 she was taken up for the East India Company and while still in service was used as a convict ship by the Admiralty.

The Active was one of eleven vessels of the Third Fleet. Following is a list of transport vessels provided by Messrs. Camden, Calvert and King contractors for the Commissioners of the Navy for the conveyance of convicts to New South Wales(

Vessel's Name No. of Convicts to each    
  Males Females Total
Queen 175 25 200
Atlantic 220 - 220
William and Ann 188 - 188
Britannia 152 - 152
Matilda 230 - 230
Salamander 160 - 160
Albermarle 275 - 275
Mary Anne - 150 150
Admiral Barrington 300 - 300
Active 175 - 175
Gorgon 31 - 31

The fleet departed from England in March 1791 and later met with the Queen from Cork at Madeira.
The convicts for transportation on the Third Fleet were gathered from different districts throughout England. They were transferred in chains by carts and wagons through good weather and bad. Some were taken direct to the transport ships, others to Newgate gaol to await embarkation. Those from the south west were taken to Plymouth to await the Fleet's arrival there.

The London Times reported the journey of some of the prisoners.......

Exeter 25 December 1791 -
On Thursday evening last arrived here, under the care of the gaoler of Bristol, on their way to Plymouth, to be shipped for Botany Bay, 22 convicts in an open waggon, and two (who are styled gentlemen convicts) in a tilted cart. They had each of them an iron collar, and an iron chain run through a ring in each collar, which fastened them all together; the next morning, at eight o'clock they set off again in the same manner, and though there was a violent storm of wind, hail, and rain, they were singing and hallooing as they passed through the streets, with great glee and jollity."(1)

Celebrated pick pocket George Barrington was one of the convicts embarked on the Active from Newgate.
The Times

Yesterday Barrington, we hope, bid a final adieu to his lodgings in Newgate, and was accompanied by the gaoler, in procession with about 100 other transports, on board a lighter at Blackfriars - as no coach was to be had to give him any other mark of distinction, than indulging him with the liberty of not being linked with the other felons. In his way to the lighter, he amused himself in tearing letters to pieces he had in his pockets. It is said, that the night before the transports were shipped off, they tore up some boards, and attempted to set fire to the prison - Certain it is, they were very riotous.(2)

George Barrington later recorded some of the details of that last day and the voyage that followed.....

About a quarter before five a general muster took place ; and, having bid farewell to my fellow prisoners, we were escorted from the prison to Blackfriars-bridge by the city guard, where two lighters were waiting to receive us. This procession, though early, and but few spectators, made a deep impression on my mind ; and the ignominy of being thus mingled with felons of all descriptions, many scarce a degree above the brute creation, intoxicated with liquor, and shocking the ears of those they passed with blasphemy, oaths and songs, the most offensive to modesty, inflicted a punishment more severe than the sentence of my country, and fully avenged that society had so much wronged........

My fellow prisoners, to the amount of upwards of two hundred, were all ordered into the hold, which was rendered as convenient as circumstances would admit, battens being fixed fore and aft for hammocks, which were hung seventeen inches apart from each other; but being incumbered with irons, together with the want of fresh air, soon rendered their situation truly deplorable. To alleviate their condition as much as was consistent with the safety of the ship, they were permitted to walk the deck in turn, ten at a time: the women of whom we had six, had a snug birth made for them, and were kept by themselves......

We lay about a week at Long Reach, when we dropt down to Gravesend ; here the captain came on board, and some soldiers of the New South Wales corps ; we got under weigh the next morning, and proceeded to the Downs; it blowing strong to the westward, we came to an anchor. The wind veering about, at daybreak we were again under sail, and arrived at the Mother-Bank, where lay several other transports for the same destination.  

James Hingston Tuckey described Portsmouth in the Maritime Geography and Statistics etc published in 1815.......

Portsmouth, the second marine arsenal of England, is entered through the road named Spithead, between the Isle of Wight and the main, which is perfectly secure in all winds ; and here is the grand rendezvous of the fleet as well as of the trade, from all the ports to the east waiting for convoy down channel, so that it was not unfrequent in the late war, for 1,500 vessels to sail at one moment. The Mother Bank is a part of the road near the Isle of Wight, where East-Indiamen anchor as well as ships of war under quarantine.

Anna Maria Falconbridge was on a vessel bound for Africa awaiting a fair wind when the third fleet vessels were readying to depart. She wrote several letters that were later published. In one of the letters written at Spithead and dated 12 January 1791 she describes seeing the convicts.....I have not been on shore at Portsmouth, indeed it is not a desirable place to visit; I was once there, and few people have a wish to see it a second time. The only thing that has attracted my notice in the harbour, is the fleet with the convicts for Botany Bay, which are wind bound, as well as ourselves. The density of such numbers of my fellow creatures has made what I expect to encounter, set lighter upon my mind than it ever did before; nay, nothing could have operated a reconciliation so effectually; for as the human heart is more susceptible of distress conveyed by the eye, than when represented by language however ingenuously pictured with misery, so the sight of those unfortunate beings, and the thoughts of what they are to endure, have worked more forcibly on my feelings than all the accounts I ever read or heard of wretchedness before. (5)  

George Barrington continued.......

It was about ten days before we were ready to sail from hence, the interval being employed in getting fresh stock and replenishing our water; On the report of our being ready for sea being made to the admiral, a lieutenant of the navy came on boards as agent for transports, and immediately made the signal for the masters of the other ships to come on board, to whom he delivered their sailing instructions; and on the following morning made the signal to weigh: by a quarter past nine we were under an easy sail; and it blowing' a stiff easterly breeze, we ran through the Needles; it was delightful weather, and the prospect on each hand must have afforded the most agreeable sensations to every beholder, and is, perhaps, as rich and luxuriant as is any where to be met with ; but, alas! it only brought a fresh pang to the bosom of one, who in all probability was bidding it adieu for ever. The weather continuing moderate, and the wind fair, we imperceptibly glided down the channel, and had lost sight of Old England before we turned out the next morning........

My frequent trips from Ireland to England had in some measure, inured me to salt water, nor did I want my sea-legs-in-a most violent gale, which took place the third day after we lost sight of the land, and which for near ten hours baffled the skill of all hands; two men were blown from the main-topsail yard, and the sail split to ribbons ; all our endeavours to save the men. proved ineffectual. Soon after our four top mast went over the side, and carried four men and two boys with it; but they were providentially taken up, having kept fast to the wreck.. By the indefatigable exertions of the seamen, the remainder of the sails were handed, and the ship greatly eased, carrying only a storm stay-sail; the sea running very high and irregular, rendered it very uncomfortable; and not being capable of any service upon deck, I retired to my hammock, where I buried all thoughts of the contentious ocean in a found sleep, from which I was awaked by the shrill whistle of my messmate, piping all hands to breakfast; the cheering sound of steady from the helmsman saluting my ears, and the quietness' of the ship assured me the gale was past. Having huddled on my cloaths, I found, on my ascending; the deck, the storm had subsided, the wind perfectly fair, and the ship jogging on under an easy sail at the rate of about seven miles an hour......

This danger was succeeded by one that had nearly proved much more fatal; the captain, with great humanity, had released many of the convicts who had been in a weakly state from their irons; and as I have before observed, they were allowed alternately, ten at a time, to walk upon deck. Two of them, Americans, who had some knowledge of navigation, prevailed upon the majority of their comrades to attempt seizing the ship impressing them with the idea that it would be easily effected, and that they would carry her to America, where every man would not only attain his liberty, but receive a tract of land from Congress, besides a share of the money arising from the sale of the ship and cargo. These arguments had the desired effect, and it was determined the first opportunity that a part of, those on the deck should, while the officers were at dinner, force the arm chest, which was kept on the quarter-deck, at the same time make a signal to two of them, who should be keeping the centinels in discourse, to attack them, get possession of their arms, and pass the word for those below to rush upon deck. This conspiracy was conducted with the greatest secrecy, and put in execution with equal spirit and audacity.

A favourable opportunity presenting itself, the captain and most of the officers being below, examining the stowage, of some wine, a cask saving leaked out in the spirit room, I was the only person on the deck excepting the man at the helm; hearing a scuffle on the main deck, I was going forward, but was stopped by one of the Americans, followed by another convict, who made a stroke at me with a sword he had wrested from one of the centinels which was put aside by a pistol which the other had just snapped at me. I snatched up a hand spike luckily in my reach, and brought the foremost to the ground; the man at the helm had quitted the wheel, and called up the captain. I still kept my situation, guarding the passage of the quarter-deck, my antagonists having retreated a few paces, but being joined by many others, were rushing on me, when the discharge of a blunderbuss from behind me among them wounding several, they retreated, and I was immediately joined by the captain and the rest of the officers, who, in a few minutes, drove them all into the hold. An attempt, of this kind required the most exemplary punishment; accordingly two of the ringleaders were instantly hung at the yardarm, and several others severely flogged at the gangway. As soon as the conspirators were re-ironed, and' the tranquillity of the ship restored, the captain paid me many handsome compliments, in having, as he was pleased to say, saved the ship, and assured me that when we arrived at the Cape, he should, on the part of his owners think it his duty to reward the service I had, by my courage and presence of mind rendered them; at the same time he gave his steward orders to supply me with any thing I might have occasion for from his store-room during the voyage. I soon experienced the good effects of my late behaviour, as seldom a day passed but some fresh meat or poultry was sent me by the captain, which considerably raised me in the estimation of my messmates, who were no ways displeased at the substitution of a sea pie made of fowl or fresh meat, to a dish of lobscouse, or a piece of salt junk.

With a settled north-westerly breeze we gradually proceeded to the southward, at the rate of between eighty and one hundred miles in twenty our hours we soon reached the island of Teneriffe, and came to an anchor in the bay of Santa Cruz......

The ships having completed their watering, the signal was made for every person belonging to the fleet to repair on board their respective vessels, and the next morning the signal to get under weigh: with a pleasant breeze, we soon lost sight of the land. We steered to the south-west till we were in the meridian of St. Jago, when we shaped our course with an intention of coming to an anchor in Port-au-Praya Bay; but when we opened the bay were taken aback, and a stiff breeze blowing direct in our teeth, it was thought that an attempt to gain the bay would be attended with some risk and much loss of time ; it was therefore determined to give up the idea, and a signal was made for that purpose, We then shaped our course to the southward, and as we crossed the Equinoctial Line, the ceremony of shaving and ducking was punctually observed ....... A most favourable breeze wasted us pleasantly along till we made Cape Frio: at midnight we were abreast of the Cape, which is a small island, distant two or three miles from the main land. We had very little wind and variable weather between the Cape and Rio Janeiro, a distance of fifty or sixty miles. A spurt of wind from the sea, carried us within the islands, when we came to an anchor off the harbour's mouth. The next morning the agent went oil shore to wait on the Viceroy, and in the afternoon we weighed and sailed into the harbour, as we passed the fort we saluted them with thirteen guns, which was returned by eleven, (we not being a man of war) and came to an anchor abreast the town. The ships in general were remarkably healthy, and had hitherto buried but sew of the convicts; in our passage from Teneriffe to this place we lost only four men and one woman, which is a very inconsiderable number, considering their confined state, change of climate, and unwholesomeness of relying so long entirely on salt provisions. Fresh meat and vegetables were brought from the shore immediately on our coming to an anchor, and several country boats, with pines, bananas, oranges, and every species of tropical fruits, came alongside, of which the convicts had a certain proportion served them; the fruits being in such plenty, that the expense of distributing a few to each individual every morning was very inconsiderable. The harbour is very commodious, and will contain almost any number of ships, where they may ride in perfect security from bad weather.....

We lay here about three weeks when the sick being pretty well recovered, the ships replenished with water, and loaded with vegetables and fruits of all kinds, the signal was made for sailing, and for the first three or four days we proceeded with a brisk north-easterly wind, when suddenly it became dark and cloudy, with tremendous peals of thunder, and vivid flashes of lightning from every part of the horizon, attended with violent squalls of wind, but of no long continuance. The Times reported that the transports arrived at the Cape early in May after an easy passage of eight weeks from St. Jago. The crew and convicts were all perfectly quiet, after the (previous) example made at Madeira.

At daybreak the wind shifted to the southward, and we had a series of fine weather till we arrived at the Cape of Good Hope, on the twentieth of July, and about sunset came to an anchor in Table Bay. This being the last port we could touch at for refreshments during' the remainder of the voyage, all hands set to work to procure such articles as they might stand in need of, as well for their present consumption, as for their future comfort..... Here George Barrington was permitted to go on shore and procure whatever he needed. He took the opportunity to leave the ship each day to procure articles needed in New South Wales with money provided by the Captain.

The Times reported that he was seen walking on the deck of the vessel at the Cape and that he had become very pious, and read prayers etc to his brother and sister convicts.

A favourable slant of wind enabled us to make the land of New South Wales on the 12th of October, about 8 leagues distant. We stood on till we were within about six or seven miles from the shore, and then ranged pleasantly along the coast. At noon we were abreast of a point of land, called Red Point, only ten leagues distant from Botany Bay. The wind springing up to the eastward, we stood from the land, under an easy sail, till day-light, when we were quite abreast of the Bay ; and, at noon, on the 13th, came to an anchor in Port Jackson, about five or six leagues to the northward of it.

At ten o'clock the next morning the convicts were all ordered on shore; their appearance was truly deplorable, the generality of them being emaciated by disease, and those who laboured under no bodily disorder, from the scantiness of their allowance, were in no better plight. The boats from all the ships in the harbour attended, in order to land them; there were in all two hundred and fifty men, six women, and a convict's wife and child who had obtained permission to accompany her husband. We lost during the voyage thirty-two men. Upon their landing they were entirely new cloathed from the King's store, and their old things were all burnt, in order to prevent any infectious disorder that might have been been in the ship, from being introduced into the colony.

Notes and Links:

1). Some sources record the Active arriving in Port Jackson on 26 September 1791

2). Convict John Tucker arrived on the Active. He accompanied the 1804 expedition to Newcastle as storekeeper in 1804. Find out more about this expedition here
Select here to find the location of John Tucker's land in 1837. 

3). Some of the vessels of the Third Fleet were to proceed to the Southern Whale Fisheries after unloading the prisoners; the rest were bound for Bengal where they were to be freighted back to England with cotton. The sailors on board the Nootka ships were to have nine guineas for the run to Botany Bay after which they were to share as whale fishermen do. The other sailors were paid twenty five shillings per month.

4). The Active departed Port Jackson on 23 December 1791 bound for Bombay.

5). George Barrington's name was actually George Waldron. More about George Barrington at London Lives  

6). Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW : 1870 - 1907) Sat 3 Jan 1891 Page 16 Arrival of Vessels at Port Jackson, and their Departure

7). Click on the Text below to read the Memoirs of George Barrington...


1. Country News." Times [London, England] 6 Jan. 1791: 4. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 7 Mar. 2013.
2.  News in Brief." Times [London, England] 26 Feb. 1791:
3. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 7 Mar. 2013 3. The Times 11 October 1791
4. The Times 15 March 1791
5. Two voyages to Sierra Leone - Anna Maria Falconbridge
6. Historical Records of Australia, Vol.1, p225
7. Barrington, George, A Voyage to Botany Bay.  A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 0607421h.html


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