The Gilbert Henderson was built at Sunderland in 1837 (1).
She sailed from
Woolwich with female prisoners on 14th December 1839 and arrived in
Hobart on 24 April 1840.
As well as the prisoners there were 24
Twenty years later an account of the voyage was published
by a young midshipman who had been a passenger on the vessel...........
|In the year 1840, I sailed
from Woolwich on board the barque Gilbert Henderson, of
Liverpool, chartered as a convict ship by Government, and
bound to Hobart Town, Van Diemen's land, with a living
freight of three hundred and fifty female
convicts.....Besides the naval surgeon (in our case one Sir
John Hammet), the passengers on board the Gilbert Henderson
comprised a retired 'naval physician of the fleet', who was
going out to settle in Van Diemen's Land, on a grant of land
he had received from Government; his nephew, a young
Irishman about twenty years of age, of no profession, who
was going out to seek his fortune, under his uncle's
patronage; his son, a lad of fifteen years; a retired army
captain, greatly addicted to microscopic studies, who was
also going out to take possession of a Government grant; and
a midshipman of the Royal Navy (myself) going out to rejoin
my ship, after having been on sick furlough.
John Hamett was a surgeon of higher naval rank than
it was or is usual to appoint to do duty on board a convict
ship. He had been knighted for his services (in Prussia) on
behalf of the English Government, during the period of the
cholera epidemic of 1831-32. But he had accepted the
appointment because it afforded him an opportunity to reach
Van Diemen's land free of expense, in order to settle upon a
grant of land in the interior of the island, which had been
accorded to him for his medical services, in addition to the honour of knighthood. I may, however, here state
that the worthy knight who was somewhat of an eccentric, and
was the most enthusiastic of the party respecting the
anticipated delights of a colonial life, very soon found his
way back to England.
The passengers mentioned above were Dr. John Frederick Clarke,
Deputy Inspector of Hospitals, and his son Master F.N. Clarke and
servant; Mr. Bishop, Purveyor, Captain Phelps, late
of the 48th regiment and Mr. Nuttall.
John Hammett kept a Medical Journal
on the voyage of the Gilbert Henderson from 25
November 1839 to 30 April 1840 (2)....
Of 185 female convicts
embarked in November 1839, at Woolwich, 93 were received from the
penitentiary in London, 41 from Liverpool, 1 from Oxford, 1 from
Durham, 10 from Exeter, 6 from Ilchester, 5 from Knutsford, 4 from
Aberdeen, 4 from Dundee and 30 from Leith. Of these, 1 was sent to
the House of Correction before sailing, 1 died on the passage and
three were sent to the Colonial Hospital at Hobart on 25th April.
account the midshipman gave details of punishments, illness and conditions the
"The punishments were few and far from severe, and,
as a general rule, after the first month at sea were seldom
called for. Stopping the allowance of tea at supper time or
the allowance of plum pudding on Sundays and Thursdays, were
the mildest and the most frequent punishments. Next to these
was the sending of the culprit below in fine weather and
compelling her to work while her companions were enjoying
themselves on deck.
For the more refractory, a
wooden box, something like a sentry box was provided. The
culprit was placed in this box, where she was compelled
either to stand upright, or to stoop in an uneasy posture
for an hour, or two, or three, according to the nature of
the offence; and when the door of this prison was closed the
only light and air came from a hole in the top."
Above is an old postcard of
the ship 'Success'. The Success was built in
1849 and used to bring immigrants to Australia, however did
not ever bring convicts.
The Success was used
in the 1850s in Victoria as a convict hulk. The upright
prison (Iron Maiden) pictured may have been similar to that
described above which was used as punishment for refractory
women on the Gilbert Henderson
The young midshipman described the burial of a young women,
Mary Connor, who had been afflicted with consumption....
|"Everything that the doctor's
skill could devise was done for this poor girl, but she was
beyond human aid even when she was sent on board the ship.
The disease for which science has no remedy had fixed itself
upon her lungs, and she slowly pined away and died, far from
the relatives and friends she had known and loved in happier
days, ere she had yielded to the temptation which brought
her, and perhaps those near and dear to her, to grief and
shame. (She had been a respectable servant girl in
Edinburgh, and, out of a situation, and suffering from
illness, she had stolen and sold to purchase food and
medicine a muslin dress that was exposed at the door of a
draper's shop. All on board felt for her, all on board
pitied her fate. She was buried at midnight, on a calm
moonlit night, when the surface of the ocean was smooth and
glittering as that of a mirror. Sewn up in a white sheet,
and strapped to a board loaded with shot at one end, the
lifeless form was laid across the bulwarks near the gangway.
The sailors of the watch below and all the convicts were
summoned to the deck by the slow tolling of the ship's bell.
The passengers came forth from the cabin. Sir John Hammett
read aloud the prayers appointed by the Church to be read at
the funeral of those buried at sea, and when he spoke the
solemn words - "We therefore commit the body of our beloved
sister to the deep etc etc the board was loosened, it slid
swiftly over the side, a splash was heard, and the corpse
sank deep beneath the parting waters, there to abide until
the Great Day when the sea shall give up her dead. The
splash was heard amidst solemn silence, but immediately
there arose from the assembled females a wild 'keene' of
lament, which rang in the ears of the listeners for long
afterwards and, many among them sobbing hysterically, the
females retired to the deck below"
The Gilbert Henderson
arrived in Hobart on 24 April 1840.
Sir John Hammett was
well provisioned for his sojourn in the bush however his adventures
were short lived.....
|He had provided himself with
all the requisites of a settler in the 'bush', such as
tents, axes, spades, garden seeds, cooking utensils, etc.,
and to these had added all the comforts and elegancies of
civilisation that he could stow on board, such as articles
of furniture, cases of books, pipes and barrels of wine and
beer, etc, and, according to his own account, was going to
found a Utopia in the wilderness; yet on landing at
Portsmouth two years afterwards, the first person I met on
the quay was Sir John Hammett!
"I heard that the B
had just arrived", he said, as he shook hands with me, "and
I came down expecting to find that you had returned to
England with the vessel. I thought I'd like to shake hands
with my old shipmate again. We had some pleasant days on
board the Gilbert Henderson."
"Yes Sir John", I
replied, "But you of all persons are the last I should have
expected to meet. I thought you were long ago comfortably
settled in the bush."
"Wouldn't do my dear sir",
replied the knight. "Not at all the thing for a man of my
years. I was sadly disappointed. Not a living soul within
twenty miles of my grant. Went to look for it couldn't find
it for a long time. Found it. A wretched place. Nobody to
speak to but the convict servants I took with me. Should
have been dead and buried in less than six months if I'd
stayed. Remained a week. Came back to Hobart Town, and
sailed for England on board the first vessel that was ready
for sea. Sad take in. Grants of land indeed! Cost me
hundreds of pounds all thrown away. Ruinous! Come and dine
with me today but don't speak of Van Diemen's Land. It makes
me miserable to think of it."
I accepted the
invitation to dinner and found Sir John very comfortably
situated in a modest establishment near Portsmouth, with his
wife and daughter, enjoying a much nearer approach to the
Utopia of his sanguine imagination than ever he would have
succeeded in founding in Tasmania.'
....... Read more from Life on board a Female Convict
Bessie Baldwin was one of the women who arrived on
the Gilbert Henderson... Encyclopaedia of Kitchen History by Mary
Bateson, Charles &
Library of Australian History (1983). The
convict ships, 1787-1868 (Australian ed). Library of Australian
History, Sydney : pp.364-365
(2). Ancestry.com. UK,
Royal Navy Medical Journals, 1817-1857
[database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA:
Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011.
Original data: Admiralty and predecessors:
Office of the Director General of the
Medical Department of the Navy and
predecessors: Medical Journals (ADM 101, 804
bundles and volumes). Records of Medical and
Prisoner of War Departments. Records of the
Admiralty, Naval Forces, Royal Marines,
Coastguard, and related bodies. The National
Archives. Kew, Richmond, Surrey.
National Archives - Reference: ADM 101/29/7 Description: Medical
journal of the Gilbert Henderson female convict ship from 25
November 1839 to 30 April 1840 by James Hamett, surgeon and
superintendent, during which time the said ship was employed in
transporting female convicts from Woolwich to Hobart Town in Van
Dieman's Land. (Described at item level).