On 7 March 1829 George Fairfowl received an appointment as surgeon to the convict ship Sovereign which was fitted to carry 120 female convicts to New South Wales. The Sovereign was to be the next convict ship leaving England for New South Wales after the departure of the Waterloo in March and the next convict ship bringing female prisoners after the departure of the Princess Royal in January 1829.
On the 21st March the first draught of women came on board and on the 27th the remainder of the women were embarked.
Although there were many who were from London and had been tried at the Old Bailey, there were also women who had come from other counties in England and some had travelled a great distance under very difficult circumstances. Several women when being brought from Liverpool, were chained together on the top of a stage coach, which was overturned in the night causing them to be thrown onto the road. One women, Mary Williams received a deep gash in the calf of her leg when the irons ploughed into it.
The Sovereign departed the Downs 23 April 1829 with 119 women, 23 free children and ten passengers.
The Unassisted Immigrant Passenger Lists 1826 - 1922 available at Ancestry reveal that the passengers were Surveyor General Samuel Augustus Perry, Mrs. Perry and six children and Miss Julia Thomas who was a relative of the Perrys.
In the steerage was Ann Barnett, servant to Mrs. Perry. The new Archdeacon William Grant Broughton embarked on the Sovereign with his family, however one of his daughters became ill with measles while still in the channel and he disembarked with his family at Deal. His baggage continued on to New South Wales on the Sovereign without him and he later embarked on the John.
He kept a Medical Journal from 7 March to 14 August 1829 and recorded careful details of the measures he employed to keep the women occupied and under control on the voyage.
At first the convict women were disposed to be disorderly, however under George Fairfowl's rules, 'by admonition and steady punishment they learned that perseverance in improper conduct invariable tended to their own discomfort.'
They were made to rise at 7 in the morning, and when dressed, to roll up neatly their beds, pillows and blankets in a hard roll. After this the prison was swept out, and such parts as were wet dried up, and when this was properly done, and not before, breakfast was served out. After breakfast when the weather permitted, they were all sent up on deck, carrying with them the utensils they had used at their breakfast, and the prison received a thorough cleaning. It was then locked up until noon, to prevent any going below without express leave, and it was well ventilated by means of stoves burned in the water closets and by windsails. These were the regular times of cleaning the deck; but one mess daily received charge of it, and was responsible for it being, at all times dry and clean. The water closets were also washed out three times a day, and oftener when required, and each time sprinkled with the solution of chloride of lime.
The women and children were mustered on Sundays and Thursday, and inspected to see that their hair was combed and their persons linen and stockings were clean. Cheerful and innocent amusements among themselves were encouraged, and provided the songs were not licentious, singing was permitted until 8 o'clock except on Sundays and Thursdays.
On Sunday mornings church services were read to them; on the quarterdeck when the weather permitted, and in the evening in the prison. On Thursday evenings the service was read in the prison, and as they were permitted to sing the psalms and hymns which many, having been trained to it in Newgate, did with considerable taste and melody, it became a pleasant duty, instead of an irksome task, and was rarely omitted. It served a purpose of keeping them occupied at a time when they were usually all crowded together in the dark, and inclined to quarrel or to play mischievous tricks on each other, for want of useful employment.
Although George Fairfowl was under no illusions that the women were reformed on arrival in Sydney, he nevertheless thought they had improved their behaviour and demeanour under his guidance.
None of the prisoners died on the voyage out and the Sovereign arrived in Port Jackson on 3rd August 1829.
A muster was held on board by the Colonial Secretary Alexander McLeay on 5th August 1829. The convict indents reveal their names, age, religion, education, marital status, family, native place, trade, offence, date and place of trial, sentence, former convictions, physical description and to whom assigned on arrival. There is also occasional information such as colonial sentences, family members already in the colony and deaths.
Their ages ranged from 15 years to 57 years of age. At least fifteen of the women brought some of their children with them although there were many who left children behind in England.
Approximately twenty women have been identified residing in the Hunter Valley region in the following years. Find out more here.
The Australian reported on the landing of the women:
On Friday morning last, the Sovereign set her female cargo upon terra firma, being a commixture of all sorts, though for the most part strapping wenches, whose looks and persons did not appear to have suffered greatly from a long sea voyage. The greater portion have been assigned away.
1). The Sovereign was one of twenty-one convict ships arriving in New South Wales in 1829. Four of these carried female prisoners the Edward, Princess Royal, Lucy Davidson and the Sovereign. A total of 492 women arrived as convicts in 1829.
2). National Archives - Reference: ADM 101/69/1 Description: Medical and surgical journal of HM convict transport Sovereign for 7 March to 14 August 1829 by George Fairfowl, Surgeon, during which time the said transport was employed in carrying to New South Wales 119 convicts (females) and 22 children.
1. Ancestry.com. UK, Royal Navy Medical Journals, 1817-1857 Office of the Director General of the Medical Department of the Navy and predecessors: Medical Journals (ADM 101, 804 bundles and volumes). . 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.348-349, 386