Free Settler or Felon
Convict and Colonial History

Matthew Burnside R. N.,

Convict Ship Surgeon-Superintendent

Date of Seniority Royal Navy *1 July 1813

Matthew Burnside was born in Londonderry, Ireland c. 1802.

Royal Navy Service

Matthew Burnside was included in the Navy List of Medical Officers in 1814.

He was wounded while employed as Assistant-Surgeon in the gun boat San Josef, in the Walcheren expedition and was included in the 1841 List of Medical Officers who had served at War.

He was appointed assistant surgeon on the Slaney in 1819 and the Clio in 1823.

Surgeon on Emigrant Ship 1825

He was employed as Surgeon on the Regulus emigrant ship to Canada in 1825. He kept a Medical and surgical journal from 7 April to 13 July 1825. On the 17th of May 1825, the Regulus sailed from the Cove of Cork, carrying 24 men, 25 women and 108 children from some of the most distressed districts in the south of Ireland. These people were being transported, at Government expense, as part of an experimental emigration that settled over 2000 Irish paupers in the backwoods of Upper Canada. Responsibility for the success of this enterprise fell to Peter Robinson (1785 – 1838), who had conducted a similar experiment on a smaller scale in 1823. Robinson was aided by a team of medical officers – one of whom was assigned to each of the nine ships hired for the trans-Atlantic passage.

Surgeon on Providence 1826

Matthew Burnside was employed as Surgeon Superintendent on the Providence which departed the Downs 24th December 1825 and arrived in Van Diemen's Land on 16 May 1826 with 99 female prisoners, one having died on the voyage. He kept a medical journal from 1st November to 18th May 1826.[19]

According to the Log of Logs by Ian Nicholson Matthew Burnside was banned from further transport service after the voyage of the Providence. Joy Damousi in Depraved and Disorderly etc., explains why -

In 1826 Governor Arthur expressed his alarm at the conduct of Surgeon Superintendent Matthew Burnside employed on the Providence, who had cohabited with one of the women Julia Mills, and 'Frequently allured others into his Cabin to drink. He has also in other respects conducted himself most unworthy of the trust reposed in him.' It was found that the master, John Wauchope, had 'in no way exerted himself in an earnest manner to prevent the improprieties'.[1]

Governor Darling thoughts on the subject are included in the Historical Records of Australia.

Governor Darling to the Commissioners of the Navy.
Gentlemen, 26th July, 1826.
I have the honor to transmit, for Your information, the Report, which the Quarter Master of the 57th Regiment has made of the highly improper and indecorous conduct of Mr. Burnside, Surgeon Superintendent of the Female Convict Ship the Providence, on his arrival here from Van Diemen's Land. I have been informed by the Lieutenant Governor of that Colony that the Behaviour of Mr. Burnside on the Passage out was so extremely unbecoming his character, as a Married Man and inconsistent with his duty, that he had felt himself called on to represent it to You.
I have, etc, Ra. Darling. [2]

Matthew Burnside was on the List of Surgeons of the Royal Navy who were fit for service in 1841

Financial Difficulties

Matthew Burnside (Hyndman Grove, Old Kent Road) was insolvent in 1846 and was declared bankrupt in 1862 [18]

1851 Census

The 1851 Census recorded him residing at 12 Graham St., St. Mary Newington, Lambeth with his wife Sarah and their children Selina age 9, Robert age 7, Paul age 6, Henry age 4, Jane age 2 and Norah age 8 months.

1861 Census

By the time of the 1861 Census they had added five children to their family - William, Kate, Patrick, Frederick and Andrew. Matthew's occupation was given as Half Pay Officer of the Royal Navy.


He died on 7th July 1869 at Delaune road, Kennington Park, age 74 [17]

Notes and Links

1). The Walcheren Expedition - Wikipedia


[1] Damousi, Joy, Depraved and Disorderly: Female Convicts, Sexuality and Gender in Colonial Australia, p.10

[2] HRA., Series 1, vol., XII, p.451