Convict Ship Portsea 1838
Embarked: 240 men
Voyage: 140 days
Surgeon's Journal: yes
vessel: Earl Grey arrived 21
Elphinstone arrived 21 December 1838
Captain Samuel John Lowe
Thomas Bell R.N.
was built at Calcutta in 1808.
Thomas Bell was employed as
surgeon superintendent on the Portsea. He kept a Medical
Journal from 7 July to 22 December 1838.
consisting of Lieut. Donald McPhee of 28th Regiment, Ensign Gravatt,
28th regiment and 25 rank and file of the 28th, 50th, 51st and 80th
regiments and passengers Mrs. McPhee and the Misses Isabella and
Euphemia McPhee, boarded the Portsea at Deptford on 7th
July 1838. The Portsea sailed immediately for
Portsmouth, arriving there on 17 July.
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.
The surgeon examined
the prisoners on the York and Leviathan hulks at
Portsmouth. He rejected several who had recently had small pox. On
19th July, 240 male convicts were embarked and the surgeon spoke to
them about good conduct and punishment. Rules were posted in the
prison, beds and utensils were distributed and the surgeon took
charge of all valuables.
They received orders to sail on 26
July however unfavourable winds delayed their departure. They were
afterwards driven into Plymouth and did not leave there until 8th
A school was established on board and convict
Henry N. Disney (alias Arthur Battersby) took over as schoolmaster.
Many of the convicts 'did not know the Lord's Prayer, the Ten
Commandments, or how many Commandments there were'. By the end of
the voyage there were no more than 3 who did not know the church
catechism. The prisoners were formed into divisions and exercised
each day, walking four miles round the long boat while the band
played. In the early part of the voyage, headaches, constipation and
slight fevers, due to a change in diet, weather and sea life
occurred. Later, as they approached the tropics, boils, prickly heat
and ringworm prevailed.
The surgeon remarked that there
were several cases of scurvy, mainly among the army deserters who
had undergone punishment. Prisoners who had deserted in Gibraltar,
Jamaica or Canada included:
||Morrison David Todd
They were treated with lime juice and nitre, 1 ounce of nitre to
a pint and a few drops of oil of peppermint in wine with sugar to
make it palatable. The mixture was diluted with water and given in
doses of 3 or 4 ounces. As soon as symptoms of scurvy were detected,
the sufferer was put on the special diet. - a pint of chocolate at
6am, with an ounce of lime juice and an ounce of sugar, and
porridge, a pint of thick gruel with a gill of wine at midday,
porridge again at 4pm, chocolate at 6pm and gruel with wine in it at
Strict attention was paid to cleanliness and when the
weather permitted the prisoners bathed every day and were afterwards
rubbed dry with a towel, which each man who had money was made to
buy before leaving port. The prisons were also cleaned and kept dry
and ventilated. The constabulary force under H N Disney was active
The ship was obliged to call at Hobart by a
shortage of water and strong winds from the west making it likely
that arrival at Sydney would be delayed. They left Hobart Town on
11 December and arrived at Sydney 18 December
December 1838 two hundred and thirty-nine prisoners were landed. One
man had died on the passage out (George Carter) and another George
Targett from Wiltshire died in Sydney Hospital on 30th December 1838. It had been 164
days since the embarkation of the guard.
Secretary (Edward Deas Thomson) and the Principal Superintendent of
Convicts (Captain John McLean), were pleased at the health of the
convicts and the orderly way in which they landed.
Fifty-two of the convicts of the Portsea have so far been
identified in the Hunter Valley. Some were assigned to settlers such
George Hobler and Edward Sparke; others
became familiar with the walls of
Newcastle gaol after being punished for absconding or
associating with bushrangers.
Notes & Links:
Hunter Valley convicts and passengers arriving on the Portsea in
2). There were possibly
two different surgeon superintendents by the name of Thomas Bell.
The signature on the medical journal of the
in 1837 and Portsea in 1838 are all similar. The signature
on the medical journal of the Thames in 1829 (VDL) and the
Edward in 1831
seem to have been signed by a different Thomas Bell.
Convict ships bringing detachments of the 28th regiment included the
Marquis of Huntley,
4). Convict ships bringing detachments of the 51st
regiment include the Neptune,
John Barry and the
5). Battersby's Divorce Bill -
Arthur Battersby alias Henry Napier