Free Settler or Felon
Convict and Colonial History

Mutiny on the Britannia 1797

There was a mutiny on the voyage of the convict ship Britannia in 1797. The mutineers were overcome and later severely punished. John Kenny, one of the convicts on board declined to be involved in the uprising, however later provided an account in correspondence to Mr. Gregg in Dublin -

Extract from the Caledonian Mercury -

Monday July 28 1800
Botany Bay

Following is an extract of a letter received by Mr. Gregg, of the New Prison, Dublin, from a convict named John Kenny; he was convicted in the month of August 1796 of stealing 20 yards of muslin, the property of Alex. Spiries, of Dublin, with whom he acted as clerk, and sentenced to transportation for seven years.

The letter is dated Port Jackson, New South Wales, September 14, 1798.

We sailed (from Rio de Janeiro) the 19th March. On the 24th a conspiracy was discovered among some of the prisoners in our vessel, in which about forty were concerned - Fortunately for me I was not of the number. They had administered an oath to each other, to rise on the officers, murder them, and take the ship whenever they could, to effectuate their liberty. The ringleader proposed the oath to me, but I deem it the most fortunate occurrence in my life, I refused to be any way concerned.

The mutineers were punished in the most exemplary manner; some received three, and others seven hundred lashes; the punishment was inflicted with the utmost severity. I was never so shocked as at hearing the groans of the sufferers; eleven died in consequence of their deserved punishment. The Captain and the officers of the vessel being satisfactorily convinced (as I was accused with the others) that I was not concerned in the conspiracy against their lives, henceforward shewed me great kindness on the voyage, when I arrived here, gave me such a recommendation, as provided me a situation to be clerk to a commissary. This in a country where there is nothing known but hard labour, you will conceive was a lucky circumstance for me.

I have since, thank God, conducted myself so well, that I have been enabled to build myself a house in the city, as it is called, that cost 50l. to which there is a most excellent garden. This is a country for making money, had a man a few guineas to begin with. I here quote you the prices about four months back, of groceries and some other articles:

Rum per gallon, 4l; green tea per lb 4l; soft sugar per lb 5l; blue cloth per yard 3l; mutton per lb 2l; and every thing else in proportion - though the China and Bengal ships sell their cargoes cheap here. A man and a careful wife might acquire in a little time a handsome competency. There are no such women to be met with here, by persons in my sphere.

Printed callicoes, haberdashery, shoes, boots particularly tobacco, bring here very high prices. When a European first comes to this country he is apt to be disgusted at the appearance of the natives, who go naked, and have a rancid offensiveness. The whole face of the country appears unpleasant; the climate is healthful, and the weather delightful, there being no winter. There are great woods here, the timber amazingly gross, some trees being 10 feet in diameter.

This is the most barren place of vegetables, fit for human beings, yet discovered. I have seen plenty of animals here, about the size of small sheep, called Kangaroos; their hind legs are about three feet long, the fore ones not ten inches; the head is like that of a hare; their flesh is good eating. The most extraordinary creature I have seen here is a bird called an Emew; they stand six feet high, and are as strong as horses; they take no flight, but run upon the ground; no dog can run them down, and if they could, the bird is too strong to be overpowered; they are therefore killed by musket shot.

In concluding his letter he requests a friend of his will send him over by the first ship, about 100 yards of different coloured ribbon, the most part to be blue and red; and also some black sewing silk articles, which he says are very desirable; and particularly requests, that an authentic copy of the term for which he had been transported, may be obtained at the Town Clerk's office and forwarded to him.