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James Gilchrist R. N.,

Convict Ship Surgeon-Superintendent

Date of Seniority Royal Navy 2 April 1818

James Gilchrist was appointed Assistant Surgeon on 7 July 1813. He was appointed Assistant-Surgeon to the Northumberland in 1815 [1].

James Gilchrist was employed as Surgeon-Superintendent on three convict ship voyages to Australia -

Mermaid 1828

Female convict ship Mermaid departed Woolwich 17 February 1828 and arrived VDL 27 June 1828. He kept a medical journal between 7 January and 4 July 1828

James Pattison 1830

James Gilchrist kept a Medical Journal from 11 August 1829 to 30 January 1830 during the voyage of the James Pattison

After leaving Ireland the James Pattison experienced north-east winds and fine weather until in the vicinity of the equator. They were becalmed for eight days until, on the 6th November they picked up a south-east Trade wind. According to the surgeon, they had not experienced even one day of bad weather. There was a single case of disease similar to typhoid shortly after leaving Ireland however the surgeon took great care and there were no further outbreaks. One of the prisoners, Pat Cooney died from Phthisis. He was only 23 but already ill and the surgeon at first refused to take him but was induced to do so by the medical men and the scarcity of convicts in the hulk. James Gilchrist gave a very favourable report of the prisoners' conduct on the passage out. They were willing to obey every direction and kept themselves and the prison clean.

Bussorah Merchant 1831

James Gilchrist kept a Medical Journal from 8 July to 24 December 1831 - On the 6 August the Bussorah Merchant anchored in Kingstown harbour and on the 8th the convicts were mustered and examined on board the Hulk. The surgeon remarked that many of them appeared pale, sallow and in some degree emaciated, probably in consequence of long confinement (the majority having been from 6 to 12, and few under five months), moreover influenza then epidemic, had prevailed to a great degree amongst them and several were still ill. On the 11 and 12 August 1831, 200 men were transferred from the Hulk to the Bussorah Merchant. All of the men were apparently in good spirits and pleased to be out of the Hulk. Living conditions on the Hulks in Ireland were dire and the surgeon had found in examining the men that they anxiously longed to be removed from them and for a change of scene. They endeavoured by every means in their power to conceal any complaint or disease which they may have in an attempt to be accepted onto the convict ship. This was not James Gilchrist's first voyage as Surgeon Superintendent however, and he was wise to their ploys. Two prisoners, Michael Hughes and Hugh Simpson were returned to the Hulk Essex on 15th August after an examination on board proved they were not fit enough to make the journey[3]

Notes and Links

National Archives. Reference: ADM 101/37/2 Description: Medical journal of the James Pattison, convict ship from 11 August 1829 to 30 January 1830 by James Gilchrist, Surgeon and Superintendent, during which time the ship has been employed in transporting convicts to New South Wales.

National Archives. Reference: ADM 101/14/6 Description: Medical journal of the Bussorah Merchant, convict ship for 8 July to 24 December 1831 by James Gilchrist, surgeon and superintendent, during which time the said ship was employed in conveying convicts to Sydney, New South Wales.


[1] The Naval Chronicle

[2] Medical Journal of James Gilchrist on the voyage of the James Pattison in 1830. UK, Royal Navy Medical Journals, 1817-1857 The National Archives. Kew, Richmond, Surrey.

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

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