Free Settler or Felon
Convict and Colonial History

Convict Ship Earl Grey (2) - 1838

Embarked 280 men
Voyage 105 days
Deaths 2
Surgeon's Journal: yes
Previous vessel: Clyde arrived 10 September 1838
Next vessel: Portsea arrived 18 December 1838
Master James Talbot
Surgeon Alexander Nisbet

The Earl Grey was built at Newcastle in 1835.[1] Convicts were transported to New South Wales in 1836 and 1838 and to Van Diemen's Land in 1842.

The Convicts

The prisoners were convicted in counties in England, Scotland and Wales - Derby, Stafford, London, Bucks, Warwick, Worcester, Somerset, Leicester, Chester, Lancaster, Bristol, Salop, York, Kent, Hertford, Lincoln, Gloucester, Essex, Nottingham, Devon, Huntingdon, Norfolk, Surrey, Northampton, Monmouth, Carmarthen, Montgomery, Denbigh, Inverness, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dumfries, Stirling, Aberdeen and Perth. One prisoner had been tried at Antigua. There were also several former soldiers who had been court-martialled at Chatham and Barbadoe. [3]

Prison Hulks

Many of the prisoners had been held in prison hulks prior to embarkation. Select here to read a Prison Hulk Report describing a typical week in the life of convicts incarcerated in the Hulks in 1838.

Convicts Embarked

The ship departed Deptford for Woolwich on 18th July 1838. At Woolwich 180 male convicts were embarked and at Sheerness another 110.

Free Passengers

Passengers included Mr. Laurie of the Ordnance Department.

Military Guard

The guard consisted of Captain Ainsworth, Ensigns Dowton and Skerry (or Skurrie), 2 sergeants, 1 corporal and 29 rank and file of the 51st regiment, 10 women and 6 children. Members of the band of the 51st also arrived on the Earl Grey.

Members of the 51st regiment who received medical treatment from Alexander Nisbett included
George Segar,
John Kelly
William Robertson,
William Yandall,
John Young,
William Rivett,
William Greenwood,
William Powell,
John Mullins,
John Pitt,
George Webb
Arthur Skinner.

Surgeon Alexander Nisbet

Alexander Nisbett kept a Medical Journal from 5 July 1838 to 28 November 1838. He was well experienced on convict ships having already served on the convict ships Minerva 1824, Grenada 1827, Hooghley 1828 and Asia 1830. He considered the Earl Grey to be a large roomy ship well suited to the service, but with 290 prisoners she was rather overcrowded.

He set about organising sleeping arrangements for the men. There were 'standing berths' for 234, leaving 56 to be accommodated in hammocks in the centre of the prison. In the hot weather those sleeping on hammocks slept on the prison deck to ensure that air could circulate in all directions. [2]


They were delayed a day in the Downs before proceeding down the channel and remained at Spithead for four days because of wet, windy weather. [2]

The Earl Grey departed Portsmouth on the 8 August 1838

The Voyage

There were regular inspections and only those who kept themselves clean were relieved of their irons. The prison deck was cleaned every day with sand or dry stones, never wet, and airing stoves were kept burning, even during the hot weather. Windsails were kept down each hatchway and the chloride of lime used every day. Nothing but the most indispensable utensils were kept in the prison.

Half the convicts were on deck at a time, performing light duties for the ship or taking air and exercise, whenever the weather permitted. Those below were formed into classes for reading, writing and arithmetic, supervised by an officer. At sunset all prisoners were allowed on deck, and the surgeon had provided musical instruments for singing and dancing and there were theatricals as well.

Alexander Nisbet never had occasion to limit or regret this indulgence and found it provided excitement that all the men looked forward to. No corporal punishment was inflicted during the voyage, milder punishments proving adequate.

The convicts were generally healthy. Catarrh, diarrhoea and a few ulcers were present in the early part of the voyage. After crossing the equator and getting into the South easterly trade winds there were a few cases of mild fever and while running down the Easting between the Cape of Good Hope and New Holland the fevers became more numerous but remained mild. The winds became unfavourable as they reached the longitude of New Holland and the sick list rose to over thirty and scurvy began to affect the men. Sickness abated after about a week when the weather improved. In all there were only four days on which the convicts were entirely confined below deck because of bad weather.[2]


Two convicts died on the passage out - John Brow aged 54 died on 2nd November. He was lame from a club foot. Had been on the sick list for several weeks to enable him the hospital diet. The surgeon considered his death unexpected as he had been improving in health; and George Morris died on 19th November aged 36. His death was to have been expected, he had a cutaneous eruption and repeated attacks of diarrhoea with a voracious appetite, eating anything edible he could get. The immediate cause of his death was thought to be a relapse brought on by eating a large quantity of imperfectly boiled peas. [2]

Port Jackson

The Earl Grey arrived in Port Jackson on 21st November 1838.

Convicts Disembarked

The convicts were landed on Tuesday 27th November 1838.

Departure from Port Jackson

In December it was reported that the Earl Grey was expected to leave for China as soon as she discharged the iron water pipes she had brought out and loaded some ballast. She would have been delayed in getting under way however after a collision with the whaling vessel Pocklington in the harbour.

Notes and Links

1). Select here to find out more about Bushranger John Reddish who arrived on the Earl Grey

2). Prisoners and passengers of the Earl Grey identified in the Hunter Valley

3).Convict ships bringing detachments of the 51st regiment included the Neptune, Waterloo, William Jardine, Bengal Merchant, Lord Lyndoch, Westmoreland, Clyde, Earl Grey, Portsea, Elphinstone, John Barry, Blenheim, Waverley and the Middlesex.


[1] Bateson, Charles Library of Australian History (1983). The convict ships, 1787-1868 (Australian ed). Library of Australian History, Sydney : pp.354-355, 391

[2] UK, Royal Navy Medical Journals, 1817-1857. Medical Journal of Alexander Nisbet on the voyage of the Earl Grey in 1838. The National Archives. Kew, Richmond, Surrey.

[3] Convict Indents. State Archives NSW; Series: NRS 12189; Item: [X641]; Microfiche: 734