Free Settler or Felon
Convict and Colonial History

Convict Ship Charles Kerr - 1837

Embarked 250 men
Voyage 123 days
Deaths 4
Surgeon's Journal - Yes
Previous vessel: Calcutta arrived 5 August 1837
Next vessel: James Pattison arrived 25 October 1837
Captain Harford Arnold
Surgeon John Edwards
Convicts and passengers of the Charles Kerr identified in the Hunter Valley

The Charles Kerr was built in Sunderland in 1826.[2]

The prisoners were convicted in counties in England - Suffolk, Wiltshire, London, Somerset, Hertford, Berwick, Norfolk, Oxford, Dorset, Essex, Sussex, Northampton and Cambridge, mostly for various forms of stealing. There were also three soldiers who were court-martialled for desertion and insubordination at Corfu, Cefalonia and Portsmouth, - William Spencer, Thomas Brett, and John Brown. [3]

Surgeon-Superintendent John Edwards

John Edwards was a well experienced surgeon having previously been employed as surgeon-superintendent on the convict ships Hercules in 1832, Henry Tanner in 1834 and Roslin Castle in 1836. He kept a Medical Journal from 13th May to 18 October 1837. [1]


Most of the prisoners were embarked on the Charles Kerr at Portsmouth from the convict hulks; some from the York and others from the Leviathan on 1st June 1837. They were examined by the surgeon and all were considered to be in good health. According to the surgeon at the time of embarkation there prevailed on board the convict hulks a strong scorbutic diathesis and on inspection prior to embarkation he rejected a number of prisoners who were suffering some of the symptoms. [1]

The 'Charles Kerr'. 450 tons, 10 guns Alfred Waylen sailed in her to the Swan, Western Australia. National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
The 'Charles Kerr' 450 tons, 10 guns Alfred Waylen sailed in her to the Swan, Western Australia. National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London


The Charles Kerr sailed from Spithead on 8th June however owing to boisterous weather and rain they anchored at Falmouth on the 10th where they remained wind bound until 14th June. Here Thomas Boyles a feeble old man aged 68 transported for seven years for a trifling offence, died after suffering diarrhoea. On the 17th June another death occurred, a soldier of the guard, Adam Bailey died from the result of internal injuries received by a fall into the hold.

On the 28th June yet another death - Richard Edwards aged 21, had been tried at the Old Bailey on 7th April and sent to the Leviathan hulk from Newgate prison on the 21st April. When he was embarked on the Charles Kerr on 1st June he had less than a month to live. Described by the surgeon as an educated, mild and harmless individual who was the master of a Falmouth schooner, Richard Edwards came from a respectable background and had been sentenced to transportation for life with Mate of the vessel John Woodcock after they were found guilty of manslaughter by cruelly torturing a sailor boy to death. [1]

The horrific details of the case were reported in the Morning Post the day following the trial. According to the surgeon Edwards had, from the time of his imprisonment four months before, been labouring under much suffering which had debilitated him and rendered him incapable of struggling through his disease.

His last thoughts were of his mother and little brother left behind.

The Voyage

For the next few weeks there were no more fatalities although the surgeon was kept busy in the Hospital. His journal reveals some of the diseases experienced by the convicts - During the voyage prisoners presented with illnesses such as Synochus, Phlogosis, Rheumatism, Pleurodynia, Tonsillitis, Syphilis, Icterus, Scorbutus, Catarrhs, Dyspepsia, Headaches, Diarrhoea, Colica, Vulnus and Obstipatio.

John Edwards' medical journal is interesting in that it reveals some of the convicts' thoughts and fears - Richard Edwards mentioned above, weighed down with guilt; and those of James Dent who died on the 18th August. The indents don't reveal whether James Dent could read or write, many on the ship could not, but when he became delusional with fever, he revealed to the surgeon his greatest fears.....he dreamed he had been removed from the ship by magic and taken by the bushrangers of New South Wales where he witnessed horrific transactions. The surgeon could do little to convince him otherwise. Perhaps James Dent had read of the exploits of the bushrangers of New South Wales himself or maybe he listened to dark tales of murder and plunder in a candlelit corner somewhere. One hundred and seventy-five years later it is a reminder that these sometimes unworldly men were heading into (for them) unknown territory that would be every bit as arduous and terrifying as the most feted explorations and sea voyages. James Dent died at the most unfavourable portion of the passage when a succession of heavy gales hit the ship. [1]


The storms lasted for 12 days and there was almost constant rain and the frequent shipment of heavy seas kept the vessel above and below continuously under water preventing anything approaching dryness or ventilation in the prison and hospital. Besides this the upper seams near the side let in the water so abundantly that at one time there was not a dry bed in the hospital - many of the berths in prison equally sharing in the discomfort. Another man Leonard Turner became ill and died on the 25th August. After this the weather improved and they completed the remainder of the voyage without any more serious sickness. [1]

Port Jackson

They arrived in Port Jackson on Monday 9th October 1837 with the remaining two hundred and forty-six prisoners. The printed indents reveal such information as name, age, education, religion, marital status, family, native place, trade, offence, date and place of trial, sentence, prior convictions and physical descriptions. There is no information as to where and to whom the prisoners were assigned on arrival.

The men were probably at first taken to the Hyde Park Barracks when they disembarked from the ship.

Military Guard

The Guard consisted of Lieutenant Hilton and Ensign Boyle, 4th regts., and 28 rank and file of the 28th regt., Passengers Dr. Robert Turnbull of the 80th reg., Mrs. Turnbull and four children. Two of the soldiers mentioned in the surgeon's sick list were Private William Felder and Private William Edwards both of the 80th regiment. The Guard were landed on 10th October and part of them were drafted to Parramatta and the remainder to the Barracks at Head Quarters.

Convict ships bringing detachments of the 28th regiment included the Recovery, Lady McNaughten, Charles Kerr, Westmoreland, Marquis of Huntley, Norfolk, Backwell, England, John Barry, Susan, Waterloo, Moffatt, Strathfieldsaye. Portsea, Emma Eugenia and Woodbridge.

Marquis of Huntley 1835 Recovery 1836 Charles Kerr 1837 Westmoreland Norfolk Backwell England John Barry Susan Waterloo Moffatt Strathfieldsaye Portsea Lady McNaughten Convict Ships 1835 - 28th regiment guard

Notes and Links

1). One of the crew of the vessel was William Pendigrass who was later imprisoned for absconding from the vessel.

2). Select here to read about the controversy surrounding three of the prisoners Joseph Botts, Daniel Taylor and Charles Clover who were sentenced to 25 lashes by Police Magistrate Frederick Campbell Montgomery in April 1839.

3). John Woodcock mentioned above was assigned, with two other men from the Charles Kerr, to John Busby. Woodcock later received a conditional pardon and in 1850 headed off to the California gold rush.

4). Convicts and passengers of the Charles Kerr identified in the Hunter Valley

5). Captain Harford Arnold was born c. 1807 the son of Thomas Arnold a mast maker. After his voyage bringing convicts on the Charles Kerr in 1837 he returned to England. His next voyage to the colonies on the Charles Kerr departed Ireland and arrived in Australia in January 1839 with 229 immigrants. When he married Sarah Howes Satcher on 7th July 1841 he gave his employment as Master Mariner. He was later employed as Harbour Master of the Port of London. In the 1861 Census he was recorded as a widower and resided with his son and daughter, servants and two boarders. On 27 April 1861 he married widow Elizabeth Harford Barnes at Stepney. He died in 1863.


[1] UK, Royal Navy Medical Journals, 1817-1857 Medical Journal of John Edwards on the voyage of the Charles Kerr in 1837. The National Archives. Kew, Richmond, Surrey.

[2] Bateson, Charles, Library of Australian History (1983). The convict ships, 1787-1868 (Australian ed). Library of Australian History, Sydney : pp.354-355, 390

[3] Convict Indents. State Archives NSW; Series: NRS 12189; Item: [X640]; Microfiche: 728