Free Settler or Felon
Convict and Colonial History

Convict Ship Bengal Merchant (2) - 1835

Embarked 270 men
Voyage 121 days
Deaths 3
Surgeon's Journal - Yes
Tons: 503
Previous vessel: Royal Admiral arrived 22 January 1835
Next vessel: Forth arrived 3 February 1835
Captain William Campbell
Surgeon James Ellis
Convicts and passengers of the Bengal Merchant identified in the Hunter Valley

The ship Bengal Merchant was built in Calcutta in 1812. [1] She was taken up by the East India Company in 1813 and sold to Joseph Somes in 1834.

Bengal Merchant made four voyages bringing convicts to Australia - 1828 (VDL), 1835, (NSW) 1836 (NSW) and 1838 (NSW).

The Convicts

The prisoners came from counties in England and Scotland. Some had been tried and convicted at the Old Bailey and incarcerated in Newgate prison.

Prison Hulks

From Newgate and other county prisons the men were transferred to the Hulks to await transportation.

Thomas Bewick who had been convicted of larceny in Durham on 22 February 1834, was transferred to the Justitia Hulk on 14th March 1834 and transferred to the Bengal Merchant with many others on 19th September 1834.

Chaplain of the Justitia T. Price, reported to Superintendent of Convicts John Henry Capper in correspondence dated 5 July 1835.....

In reporting on the character of the Prisoners on board the Justitia Hulk for the last half year, I am much pleased to observe that their general deportment is quiet and orderly, although they know their stay in this country is but of short duration.

I make it a practice upon their arrival, seriously to address them publicly, in the Chapel, as to what is expected from them in their conduct; and also in their strict observance of the Rules and Regulations of the Ship. I adopt the same method before their departure for New South Wales, and in both instances it has been productive of the most beneficial effects. I am gratified in saying their attention and behaviour during the time of Divine Service is highly praiseworthy and becoming men in their unfortunate and degraded situation; and I can confidently affirm that many have been deeply affected under the preaching of the Word, and I trust brought truly to see 'the error of their way.' I am, Sir, your obedient servant, T. Price
. [2]

Those in the Fortitude hulk were taken to the Bengal Merchant on 23 September 1834.

Military Guard

The military guard consisted of 2 sergeants, 27 rank and file of the 50th regiment under command of Capt. McDonald and Ensign Cobbin.

Free Passengers

Passengers included Mrs. McDonald, Miss McDonald, Misses Eliza, Charlotte, Emily, Louisa, Sarah and Elizabeth McDonald, Masters Charles and Richard McDonald, 10 women (wives of soldiers) and 13 children.

Departure from England

Bengal Merchant departed Sheerness on 1st October 1834.

Surgeon James Ellis

James Ellis kept a Medical Journal from 6th September 1834 to 20 February 1835. He found that catarrh and bowel complaints appeared almost immediately on their coming on board, and the sick list increased while at sea with many and various complaints and among them several cases of inflammatory fever, of which one prisoner, John Stroud died. Two more prisoners also died on the passage out.

On the 17 December scurvy made it appearance and rapidly increased so much so that seventy-seven cases of the disease had been under treatment, the principal features of the disease were a debilitated state of body, sallow complexion, spongy and bleeding gums, stiffness and swellings of the joints particularly the knees, and sometimes yellow and greenish blotches on the trunk and extremities. The surgeon's recourse was the vegetable acids and also the solution of nitre in vinegar lately so strongly recommended, to one portion of cases. Lime juice alone was administered in doses of two ounces, three, four or five times in the day to others. [3]

Arrival at Port Jackson

They made a direct passage and arrived in Port Jackson on Friday 30 January 1835.

The prisoners were supposed to be landed in the week beginning the 8th February, however the Sydney Monitor reported on the 14th and the 21st that the Bengal Merchant was still lying in the stream with prisoners on board. The heat was so excessive in Sydney at this time that it was reported that over thirty bullocks had dropped dead from heat exhaustion and were still lying on various streets around Sydney.

Convict Assignment

Distribution of Convicts of the Bengal Merchant - of the 267 landed -

20 were retained for public service;

1 was unfit for assignment;

6 were specials;

15 were in hospital;

29 were sent to work in irons on Goat Island;

196 were assigned to Private Service.

In the Hunter Valley some of the convicts were assigned to the Australian Agricultural Company to work in the coal mines. Others were assigned privately to settlers and townsfolk including Alexander Walker Scott, Leslie Duguid and Archibald Little.

Departure from the Colony

The Bengal Merchant set sail from Port Jackson on 26th February bound for Java.

Notes and Links

1). James Ellis was also surgeon on the convict ships Diana in 1833 and the Waterloo in 1838.

2). Convicts and passengers of the Bengal Merchant identified in the Hunter Valley

3). Convict Ships to NSW in 1835

4). Detachments of the 50th Regiment arrived on the convict ships Susan, Surry, Forth, Bengal Merchant Hooghley, Hive, Blenheim, Royal Admiral, Lady Nugent, Parmelia, James Laing, Captain Cook, Hero, Roslin Castle, Henry Porcher, Henry Tanner and Lady Kennaway


[1] Bateson, Charles Library of Australian History (1983). The convict ships, 1787-1868 (Australian ed). Library of Australian History, Sydney : pp.352-353, 389

[2] Parliamentary Papers

[3] Medical Journal of James Ellis on the voyage of the Bengal Merchant. UK, Royal Navy Medical Journals, 1817-1857 The National Archives. Kew, Richmond, Surrey.