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Links to Convict Ships arriving in New South Wales, Norfolk Island and Van Diemen's Land 1788 - 1850

Convict Ship James Pattison 1837

Embarked: 270 men
Voyage: 101 days
Deaths: 0
Surgeon's Journal: Yes
Previous vessel: Charles Kerr arrived 9 October 1837
Next vessel: Asia arrived 2 December 1837
Captain James Cromarty
Surgeon Superintendent Thomas Robertson

The James Pattison was built in London in 1828. Prisoners were transported to New South Wales on the James Pattison in 1830 and on this voyage in 1837.


The convicts came from counties throughout England and Scotland and had been convicted of crimes such as stealing, robbery, assault, highway robbery, cutting and maiming, machine breaking, setting fire to straw, kidnapping and forgery.


Two hundred and seventy male convicts were embarked at Woolwich and Sheerness, all in good health.


The Guard embarked on the 27th June and included Lieut. Bridge of 3rd regt., Ensign Best, 80th regiment, and 28 rank and file of the 28th, 4th , 50th and 80th regiments, 4 women and 6 children.


The James Pattison departed from Portsmouth on 16th July 1837


Thomas Robertson kept a Medical Journal from 17 June to 2 November 1837........ the prisoners continued to be healthy during the passage, the total on the sick list was only 42. Catarrhs were the most numerous illness, occurring between the Cape of Good Hope and Bass's Straits where the weather was cold and wet.[1]


Prisoners were kept on deck from 8am until sunset, weather permitting. They were mustered and examined daily and bathed every day in the tropics. Schools were formed and dancing held in the evening. Irons were removed at the start of the voyage with the dread of putting them on again ensuring good behaviour. Meals were served regularly at set times and the health of the prisoners can be attributed to the improved mode of victualling. Between decks was kept clean, dry and ventilated by windsails. [1]


The James Pattison arrived in Port Jackson on 25 October 1837 after a voyage of 101 days. It was reported that she had made the extraordinary run of ninety-seven degrees in twenty one days, the quickest sailing ever heard of. The convicts all arrived in a very healthy state, not one having died on the voyage out.


Hyde Park Barracks

Prisoners were usually housed in Hyde Park Barracks until they were assigned as servants. In 1837 Governor Sir Richard Bourke gave evidence before the Select Committee on transportation and was questioned on the conditions at the Barracks.....

Copy of a Despatch from Governor Sir R. Bourke, K.C.B., to Lord Glenelg, dated Government House, Sydney, 4th December, 1837.
My Lord,
In reply to your Lordship's despatch of the 30th April, 1837, I have the honour to transmit answers to the queries touching the treatment of convicts in New South Wales, presented by the Prison Discipline Society. In these answers I have confined myself almost entirely to statements of facts, referring occasionally to published regulations, and to those despatches addressed by this government to the Colonial Office, which have been laid before the House of Commons, and printed by its order.I have, etc. Richard Bourke.

Q1. On landing in the colony, under whose care and superintendence are the convicts placed?
A. Under that of the principal superintendent of convicts.

Q2. In what description of building are they lodged on their arrival?
A. In Hyde Park Barracks, Sydney. The construction and arrangements of this building do not materally differ from those of a military barrack.

Q3. Do they associate by day?
A. There is no other restriction in this respect than what arises from their several occupations. They arc mostly kept to work in gangs in the streets of Sydney, from their landing until assigned. Some hours of the day during this period are, when required, allotted to their receiving religious instructions from the clergy of their several communions, who attend at Hyde Park to impart it. To give longer time for this course of instruction, Dr. Polding, the Roman-catholic bishop, shortly after his arrival in New South Wales, requested that the period between the arrival and assignment of the convict should be lengthened, which was done accordingly. He has, as regards those of his communion, attended to it with great earnestness and regularity; and there is reason to believe that the result has been beneficial to those who receive his admonitions, and to the public in general.

Q. 4 Are they separate at night? If not, in what numbers are they confined?
A. They sleep in hammocks in large rooms, the numbers in each varying with the size of the room.

Q.5. What distinction is made in the treatment, discipline, or assignment of convicts sentenced to 7, 14, 21 years, or for life.
A. None in their assignment. There is a distinction between convicts sentenced to different terms of transportation, in the length of probationary servitude required, before they can obtain tickets of leave. The statute enacts, that no convict shall obtain any remission of servitude from the governor of the colony until he shall first have completed, of a sentence of life, eight years; of a sentence for 14 years, six years; of a sentence for seven years, four years. The nature of the servitude, while it lasts, is not in any way affected by the length of time for which it is imposed. In all cases the remission is delayed by misconduct; and if this be gross, or repeated, it will preclude the convict from receiving any indulgence whilst the term of his sentence endures.

Q. 6. Is regard paid in those respects to their former station in society, or good conduct on their voyage, or previous guilty habits in England? A. With regard to former station in society, those convicts who are well educated, or have been engaged in mercantile pursuits, or in the profession of the law, are separated from the rest, by removal from Sydney immediately on arrival, to the distant settlement of Port Macquarie, to which place they are restricted until the expiration of their sentence, or until they receive a pardon. A few convicts have likewise been for some years past sent out, with express directions from the secretary of state for the Colonies, founded upon recommendations of the judges before whom they were severally tried, either for their removal to Norfolk Island, or their employment in hard labour on the roads or public works within the colony, instead of assignment to private service. Except in the cases above enumerated, no distinction in treatment, discipline, or assignment is made on account of either station, good conduct on the voyage, or previous guilty habits; of which last, indeed, little or nothing is known here by any communication through an official channel. With respect to assignment to private service, it may be proper to observe, that it is now governed by a code of regulations calculated to ensure a due distribution of convict labour, according to the power of the colonists to employ it, and the means of supply possessed by government, with the strictest impartiality in the assignment. The exercise of a discretionary power in distributing convicts by a board, as formerly practised, was found to be extremely invidious, from its very extensive influence over private interests. The whole mechanism of assignment is now in the hands of a single ministerial officer sworn to administer the regulations without favour.

Q. 7. What means are taken, and how soon after the arrival of convicts, to procure situations for those who are allowed to work as mechanics, etc, or to enter domestic service?
A. They are assigned without delay, mechanics as well as domestic servants and labourers, pursuant to the regulation above referred to.

Q. 8. On what terms arc mechanics or domestic servants usually employed; and are they allowed any proportion of their earnings.
A. The government does not recognise the practice of paying any wages whatever to convicts, although there is little doubt that many, and especially mechanics and domestic servants, do receive wages from their masters, whose interest it is to encourage and conciliate them. Distinctions are also made by masters, from similar motives, in the articles of food and clothing. The treatment whirh is prescribed to the master in these respects, by the order of government, may be considered as a minimun which the servant is entitled to demand as a right. Most masters supply tea, sugar, or milk, and sometimes tobacco, in small quantities, in addition to the ration required by regulation.

Q. 9. Do employers enter into any security to the government for the proper maintenance and treatment of the convicts?
A. The power of the government to remove, not only the servant improperly dealt with, but all the other convict servants of the offending master, is the only security; but this is as ample as any other supposed security could be.

Q. 10. Has the government any continued surveillance over convicts who are assigned to settlers, either as field-labourers or as domestic servants?
A. The surveillance over convicts, exercised as through the summary jurisdiction of magistrates, may be understood by perusal of the Act of Council, 3 Will. 4, No. 3. Any complaint of the convict himself may be heard before the same tribunal; and if the magistrates represent misconduct on the part of the master, the governor exercises the power of removal referred to in the answer to query 9.

Q. 11. Is a settler required to make a report to the Governor from time to time relative to the conduct and treatment of a convict in his service? if so, what is the nature of such report ?
A. When the time required by law to render the convict eligible for indulgence has expired, the form of his application for a ticket of leave contains a certificate to be signed by his master. If the master decline signing it, the regulations acquaint him that the servant will be considered blameless. The master may also be called on by the magistrates to give his reasons for omitting to insert the servant's character. This is the only report required from the master of the nature alluded to. If the servant behave ill, and the master desires to punish him, he applies to the magistrates. Reports of the hearing of such complaints are transmitted monthly to the Government by the magistrates.

Q. 12. Are any and what precautions taken to prevent convicts from absconding from their employers ?
A. No coercion is used for this purpose by the government, the servant being placed in the custody of the master, who is at liberty to watch him as he thinks fit, or lock him up at night in his room, hut or barrack. The means adopted for the apprehension of runaways, and the punishment which on conviction they incur, as stated in the next reply, may however be considered as the precautions referred to in the query.

Q. 13. In the case of absconding, what measures are adopted for the recapture of prisoners? If taken, what punishments are usually inflicted; and what is the greatest punishment to which they are liable.
A. A corps of mounted police and a numerous constabulary are kept up, whose attention is directed to the apprehension of runaway convicts, and their exertions stimulated by rewards for all such captures to a greater or less amount, according to circumstances. 2. The apprehension of these delinquents is much facilitated by an Act of Council, which gives a power of apprehension on bare suspicion. Nothing but the peculiar case of the colony could render such a law tolerable to Englishmen. 3. The punishment for absconding is 50 lashes, or 14 days' solitary confinement with bread and water, or one month's treadmill for the first offence. If the convict is found illegally at large with fire-arms, he is liable on this alone, without any proof of having actually committed an outrage, to be convicted of felony  ; and a second absconding is of itself punishable with a year's labour in irons, 4. A penalty of not less than 5/., or more than 10f., is imposed on any free person harbouring a runaway convict, recoverable in a summary way before any two justices. This is in a case where the runaway has committed no other offence. If he be a robber or housebreaker, the harbourer, knowing him to be such, is liable to capital punishment as an accessory. If the harbourer be a convict, he is liable, in the first case, to whipping or one year to an ironed gang and in the latter to the same punishment as a free person.

Q. 14. Are any particular description of convicts distinguished by a dress, mark, or badge ?
A. The convicts in ironed gangs, and those employed on public works, by order of the Secretary of State, as before referred to, are distinguished by particoloured winter and branded summer clothing. Treatment of Convicts in New South Wales


1). Thomas Robertson was employd as Surgeon Superintendent on the following convict ships to Australia:
William Bryan to VDL in 1833
Forth to NSW in 1835
Surry to NSW in 1836
James Pattison to NSW in 1837
Planter to NSW in 1839
Equestrian to VDL in 1845

2). The James Pattison was engaged to bring immigrants to Australia in 1839. After she departed Sydney she was used to carry a cargo of cotton from Bombay and was lost to fire in September 1840....... The James Pattison had sailed from Bombay on 27th June 1840 and on the 29th September at 1pm off the Western Island, smoke was seen issuing up the fore hatchway, and it was found that the cargo was on fire. Every exertion and every well devised means were in immediate operation, when by the mercy of Providence, and just at that critical moment when her worthy commander and his crew were about to commit themselves to further peril in leaky boats, a sail was discovered, and at that very time the flames had reached her rigging and masts. In that awful condition the James Pattison in a blaze, bore up towards the welcome stranger, and about 24 hours after the fire was discovered all her crew were taken on board the Norval from St. John and safely landed at Lisbon.[3]
3). Prisoners and passengers of the James Pattison identified in the Hunter Valley

4). National Archives - Reference: ADM 101/37/3 Description: Journal of His Majesty's convict ship, James Pattison, for 17 June to 1837 and 2 November 1837 by Thomas Robertson, Surgeon


[1] Medical Journal of Thomas Robertson on the voyage of the James Pattison in 1837. UK, Royal Navy Medical Journals, 1817-1857The National Archives. Kew, Richmond, Surrey.

[2] Statistics of the Colonies of the British Empire,... By Robert Montgomery Martin

[3] Nautical Magazine.