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Convict Ship Aboukir 1852

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Embarked: 280 men
Voyage: 83 days
Deaths 1 convict
Tons 817
Surgeon's Journal - Yes
Master John Cowell  
Surgeon Benjamin Bynoe


The barque Aboukir was built at Sunderland. Late in December 1851, the Aboukir came to her moorings off Woolwich Dockyard where she was to receive on board over 400 people including 280 exiles, and their families and free passengers, two sons and five daughters, relatives of some of the prisoners; and Mr. Christopher Paul who was the religious instructor. (1)  The Guard consisted of thirty Pensioners. Of these twenty three were married and were accompanied by their wives and thirty-five children.

They departed Plymouth on 27th December 1851 and had a fine passage of eighty three days.

When the Aboukir set sail from Plymouth, transportation of felons to Van Diemen's Land was fast coming to a close. Already public outcry had seen the end of transportation to New South Wales. The last vessel bringing Exiles to New South Wales being the Adelaide in 1849. The Australasian League formed in 1851 and bound itself to resisting the setting up of European prisoners on Australian soil. As a symbol of their resolve, the founders set the Southern Cross on the same flag with the Union Jack. (3)

The last prisoner vessel to Van Diemen's Land, the St. Vincent, arrived there in May 1853.

Surgeon Superintendent on the Aboukir Benjamin Bynoe kept a medical journal during the voyage. The journal includes individual notes on those he treated and a summary at the end in which he comments on the weather conditions and methods of cleaning the quarters as well as a description of the illness of the one fatality James Brown.......

Twenty-four days after leaving Plymouth, the highest range of the thermometer was 84 and the farthest South that we reached after rounding the Cape of Good Hope was nearly 49 the thermometer standing at 50 with strong westerly winds and hail squalls with a heavy following sea, it was necessary at that part of the voyage to have the prison deck kept perfectly dry by hot air stoves passed down below twice a day, the Chloride of Lime being constantly used throughout the voyage, the bottom sleeping boards were also washed with the solution as well as the decks and board work of the water closets.

The Guard's quarters required great attention from the number of its inmates, the Pensioner guard consisting of thirty men and their families no less than sixty five in number, many of tender age as well as infants in arms. In fine weather all the wood work in their department went through a thorough scrubbing with the solution and to that I mainly attribute the good state of health among them. The prisoner who died from Hemoptysis had been a sufferer of pneumonia on board on of the hulks at Woolwich a month previous to his being drafted for the Aboukir and on the voyage round to Portsmouth suffered from sea sickness and then brought up about half a pint of dark blood. He never made it known fearing that it would be the means of having him sent back to prison. He assigned as his object, his desire to get rid of old associates, to recover himself as well as to improve his condition in Australia. On leaving Plymouth a sudden fit of sea sickness brought on a recurrence of his past symptoms....A fit of coughing and vomiting brought on sudden and large quantity of hemorrhage with terminated his existence in a matter of minutes. The post mortem showed extensive disease of long standing

The Aboukir arrived on Saturday evening 18th March 1852 in dramatic style. As the vessel approached the land she fired a gun as a signal for a pilot to come on board. The gun burst, and tore away a considerable portion of her port, fortunately without any injury to the many who must have been on deck at the time (6)

The state of health of those on board on arrival was considered good, only one prisoner and one child having died on the passage. A child was also born on during the voyage. (2)

In the years 1812 to 1853, seventy five thousand prisoners are said to have been sent to Van Diemen's Land. Most never returned to their homeland, however with the discovery of gold there were new opportunities becoming available to those in a position to take advantage. No doubt at least some of the prisoners of the Aboukir eventually benefited from the changes brought about by the gold rush. In the mean time however, and although they had been told otherwise before setting sail, they were not free to go where they wished. They were regarded as exiles and had been issued with tickets of leave or passes. In the correspondence below to Lord Grey, Sir William Denison explained the situation.......

Adding fuel to the flames of the anti-transportation movement, the Colonial Times, Hobart reported that some of the most atrocious murderers had arrived on the Aboukir. (Such is the boon which Australia receives at the instigation of Sir W.T. Denison!) (4)   Amongst the prisoners it was reported was the notorious burglar, John Isaacs, and part of the gang that were concerned in the Frimley murders (probably Samuel Harwood whose brother was previously hanged).(5)

In Van Diemen's Land a branch of the Australasian League had formed. Earl Grey received correspondence from them stating their concerns.

Debate as to the pros and cons of transportation continued and the Launceston Examiner included an extract from the Illustrated London News...... The anomalies and injustice of the transportation system pursued by this country have been often pointed out; but they have seldom received so striking an illustration as that afforded by some recent letters from Australia. Whether we have a moral right to flood a distant portion of the earth with the vilest and most incorrigible portion of our population is a question that has long been decided in the negative by those who have studied it. Whether it is expedient or politic to do so, is another question on which public opinion has pronounced itself in a manner almost equally as strong.

The care and the reformation of our criminals are duties that ought strictly to devolve upon ourselves; and we have no justification whatever for burdening or attempting to burden our colonies with them. The justification that Robin Hood might have pleaded when he robbed the Bishop of Hereford, namely, that he was strong enough for the purpose, is not sufficient; because, although we may have strength enough to expel our criminals upon, and to retain them in, a colony, we have not strength enough to compel the colony to fulfill the delegated duty. The criminals, therefore, remain unreformed. The colony becomes degraded in the first place, and discontented in the second; while a third and greater evil is in some instances produced. Positive encouragement is afforded to crime. The expatriated thief and scoundrel has a better chance of making his fortune than the poor man who has not "qualified" by offences against the law for his free transmission over the Atlantic or Pacific. But these are different, though equally important questions. On the first-mentioned we learn, by a very sharp remonstrance addressed to the Colonial Secretary, that the Australians are not disposed to submit to any further contamination from this country. (7)

The correspondence above from Lieut-Governor Sir W. Denison to Earl Grey reveals how the Exiles were dispatched when they reached Van Diemen's Land.

Some of the men were sent to Norfolk Island (22 men) or assigned to public works (50 men); and the remainder were made available for hire by settlers (207 men)

It seems that there were not enough convict/exile workers to go around and in a Public Notice from the Comptroller-General's Office dated 22 March 1852 it was stated that applicants for servants from the Aboukir would commence on Monday 29th March 1852 and there would be no hiring after this date. In addition authority for only one man could be given to each application in consequence of the excess of applications over the number of men that could be supplied. (8)

Notes & Links:

1). It appears by the Government Gazette that thirty four men, prisoners of the Crown, have been sworn in as police constables over free men. Strange to say, the name of the ship by which these prisoners were landed amongst our population is not mentioned, but it is well known they all came per Aboukir. We saw a procession of them the other day marched from the Penitentiary to the Police office and the scene irresistibly reminded us of Falstaff's ragged regiment of nondescripts, with this exception, that all those men have been transported from England for crimes of a keep dye, and now they are placed in control over the free part of the population. Is this fair dealing my Lord Grey?  (9)

2) The Frimley Murders ......

3). Some of the Aboukir prisoners were mentioned in the following Overseer's Labour Book.....

4). Correspondence of John Bissett regarding his status on arrival....      

5). Benjamin Bynoe was also surgeon superintendent on the Blundell in 1844.

6). James Cronin was one of the prisoners sent to Norfolk Island - See Tasmanian Photographer James Nevin to find out more about James Cronin.


(1). English Extract from Sydney Bells Life 3 April 1852

(2). The Empire 7 April 1852

(3). Molony, John, The History of Australia, The Story of 200 Years, p. 95.

(4). Colonial Times 23 March 1852

(5). English Extract Sydney Bells Life 3 April 1852

(6). Moreton Bay Courier 1 May 1852

(7). Launceston Examiner 4 December 1852  

(8). 27 March 1852 Cornwall Chronicle

(9). The Argus Melbourne 22 April 1852     



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