Free Settler or Felon
Convict and Colonial History

Robert Dunn R. N.,

Convict Ship Surgeon-Superintendent

Date of Seniority Royal Navy 9 March 1815

Robert Dunn was included in the Navy List of Medical Officers in 1814.

He was employed as Surgeon-Superintendent on three convict ship voyages to Australia:

Bussorah Merchant to NSW in 1828 (reported to have returned to England via Isle of France on the Caroline in November 1828)

Dunvegan Castle to NSW in 1830

Jane to Van Diemen's Land in 1832

Bussorah Merchant 1828

Robert Dunn kept a Medical Journal between 14th February and 13th September 1828.

The last prisoners from the hulk at Sheerness embarked on the Bussorah Merchant on 17th March and the remainder of the transportees were sent from Chatham in open boats on the 19th March 1828. This must have been a cold and uncomfortable journey as several men were afterwards affected with catarrh and pneumonia as a result of the cold and damp, the average temperature being 54F.

One of the crew 'a man of colour' was found to have smallpox and was sent to Chatham. Although the berths were scrubbed, fumigated and whitewashed, another crew member, two prisoners and a baby belonging to one of the guard also contracted the disease. Robert Dunn attempted to vaccinate everyone on the ship but was not successful.

By May the weather had turned hot and rainy. Fever which was thought to have been introduced by one of the Guard, swept through the prisoners. All recovered except one, William Payne. The surgeon wanted to try bleeding the men but had been warned of the dangers of attempting it on a convict ship due to overcrowded conditions.

As the ship ventured further South the weather turned cold and damp. The prison was almost constantly wet from leaky ports and there were many cases of fever, pneumonia, cynanche and catarrhal in consequence. Another young convict died from emaciation after suffering dysentery for some time. Francis Wright died on the 12 July after suffering pneumonia.

The vessel was placed in quarantine on arrival in Sydney and the prisoners and guard were landed at Spring Cove as soon as possible. The Alligator was sent down to be converted into a quarantine hulk. Another report said the prisoners spent seven weeks in a camp about eight miles out of Sydney. There were no further outbreaks of smallpox.

Captain Davenay and Ensign Child of the Military Guard publicly expressed their gratitude for the attentions of the Captain and Surgeon during the voyage in an advertisement in the Sydney Gazette......

We have much pleasure in giving publicity to the annexed documents, which speak in such unquantified terms or the excellent conduct of the above Commander to those Gentlemen, and others, who were privileged with the opportunity to visiting this Colony on the Bussorah Merchant : - Sydney, July 27th, 1828. SIR, - It is with much pleasure that I hand this my certificate, expressive the satisfaction I feet at the kind and liberal manner to which I have been treated since my embarkation on board the Bussorah Merchant, and at the same time I cannot omit to thank you for the very generous and human attention you have been pleased to pay the wants of the sick soldiers, women, and children, of the guard, under my command, during their long and tedious passage from England to Sydney I am, Sir, your obedient humble Servant, BURTON DAVENEY, Capt. 57th Regt. commanding on board.

Dunvegan Castle 1830

Robert Dunn was appointed to the Dunvegan Castle on the 8th of September 1829. He kept a medical journal from 8 September 1829 to 10 April 1830. He rejected one of the soldiers and inspected the ships crew in order to prevent any possibility of contagions or infectious diseases being introduced into the ship as had been the case on the voyage of the Bussorah Merchant .

This was a particularly long voyage because of contrary winds which resulted in an increase in number of men requiring medical treatment.

The weather during September was cold for the season and accompanied with a damp atmosphere and frequent showers and they did not clear the Channel until the 20th October 1829. During October the weather remained cold with constant westerly gales however the prisoners remained healthy at this time except for a few slight cases of Catarrhal. During this time convict William Harris almost had his ear torn off when a cask landed on his head on the 5th October. In the months of November and December they experienced nothing but light winds and hot sultry weather and were nearly all that time inside the tropics. From light baffling winds they did not pass the Cape of Good Hope till the 4th of January. When they got into high southern latitudes where heavy gales and damp weather could be expected they experienced only light and contrary winds so that instead of making the passage from the Cape to Sydney in six weeks they took eleven weeks to reach Van Diemen's Land. The medical comforts were expended by this time and water was running out, so they called at Hobart Town on 13th March and remained there eleven days. Four convicts had died on the passage or in the hospital at Hobart from scurvy - Isaac Wilson 1 March, William Caley 7 March, Thomas Sanson 9 March, George Dunn on 10 March. The remaining convicts recovered with fresh beef and vegetables in that time and the ship resumed her voyage to Sydney.

Robert Dunn wrote in his general remarks at the end of the voyage - I cannot conclude these remarks without stating for the information of your Honourable Board that the lemon juice was sent on board in casks instead of bottles. This consequence was that it was so thick that it had the appearance of fine soup than anything else I could compare it to and from this circumstance the convicts instead of drinking it with that avidity formerly, loathed it. It was only by standing by that I got them to drink it. I don't consider that it had that anti-scorbutic effect I have often witnessed it to have. Two cases sent on board in bottles which I kept for the use of the hospital and worst cases of scurvy I found it not only checked the disease but many got well under its influence. I mixed it with nectar and I cannot say enough in praise of this last valuable medicine in that loathsome disease.

Notes and Links

1). National Archives. Reference: ADM 101/14/4 Description: Medical and surgical journal of the Bussorah Merchant, convict ship, for 14 February to 13 September 1828 by Robert Dunn, MD, Surgeon, during which time the said ship was employed in making a passage from England to New South Wales.