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Convict Ship Minerva 1824


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Convict Ship Minerva 1824

Embarked: 173 men (one man re-landed)
Voyage: 128 days
Deaths: 2
Surgeon's Journal : yes
Previous vessel: Mangles arrived 27 October 1824
Next vessel: Ann and Amelia arrived 2 January 1825
Captain John Bell Surgeon Superintendent Alexander Nisbet

Prisoners and passengers of the Minerva identified in the Hunter Valley

The Minerva was built at Lancaster in 1804. [1] This was the last of four voyages bringing convicts to New South Wales, the others being in 1818, 1819 and 1821.

The prisoners of the Minerva had been convicted in England and Scotland. Many were held on Hulks for months while awaiting transportation. In January 1825 John Henry Capper, Superintendent of ships made the following report regarding the employment of convicts on the hulks in the previous months -

REPORT of John Henry Capper, Esq. Superintendent of Ships and Vessels employed for the Confinement of Offenders under Sentence of Transportation ;

25th January 1825.

I have the honour of making a further Report to you upon the state of the Convict Hulks stationed at Portsmouth, Sheerness, Chatham, Woolwich, Deptford, and Bermuda.

The Convicts confined on board the Leviathan, York and Hardy Hulks, in Portsmouth harbour, have been employed in carrying on the Public Works under the Naval and Ordnance Boards, and the principal officers of those departments have expressed their approbation of the Prisoners conduct when on shore executing their tasks of labour.

The Prisoners confined in the Retribution Hulk at Sheerness have been kept at labour in the Dock Yard at that place, and have given satisfaction to the officers under whom they are employed.

The Convict Boys confined in the Hulk stationed at that port, have been constantly employed in making clothing and other articles for the whole of the Hulk Establishment, allowing a suitable time in each day for relaxation and attending school.

The Convicts on board the Dolphin Hulk at Chatham have been employed in various works under the Naval and Ordnance Departments, and their conduct has been orderly and industrious when at labour.

At Woolwich and Deptford, the Convicts confined in the Ganymede and Discovery Hulks have been efficiently employed in the Dock Yards there, and the officers at both those depots have expressed to me their approbation of the Prisoners behaviour. The works upon which the Convicts are employed under the Ordnance Department at Woolwich have been very limited, but as the complement of Prisoners usually confined in the Justitia Hulk has of late been considerably reduced by the transfer of several to other depdts, and the transportation of many of them, no inconvenience has been felt for want of employment for those now on board that Hulk.

The Convicts throughout all the Ships have been healthy, and with some slight exceptions they have been orderly and obedient. The officers and guards have conformed to the regulations laid down for their guidance. The Chaplains Reports I have the honour to enclose. The Surgeons have fulfilled their, duties in a satisfactory manner, and have kept the Hospitals in good order. On the ist of January 1824, there were 2,953 Prisoners on board all the Convict Hulks in England, since which period there have been received (including 440 from the Penitentiary) 2,801; 1,885 have been transported; 542 discharged by pardon or otherwise; 15 have escaped; 82 have died; and 3,230 remained in the Hulks on the 1st of January instant. - Accounts and Papers


The Minerva sailed from London on 14 July 1824 with one hundred and seventy-two convicts, one having been re-landed before sailing.

Military Guard

The guard consisted of Major Tobias Kirkwood, Quarter Master Francis Hales and 43 men of the 40th regiment. In July 1825 Major Tobias Kirkwood commanded a detachment of the 40th ordered to relieve the 3rd (Buffs) in Hobart. He was promoted to Lieut-Colonel in 1828. On this voyage of the Minerva he kept a Private Journal from his Embarkation at Deptford, on the 22nd of June, 1824. The journal breaks off at Capetown on 23 September 1824. There are also 23 letters from Major Kirkwood to his wife written from Sydney dated 1-23 January 1825. [2].

Cabin Passengers

Passengers Mrs. Hales and three children and Mrs. Bell.

Surgeon Alexander Nisbet

This was Alexander Nisbet's first appointment to a convict ship. He kept a Medical Journal from 21 June to 20 November 1824 -

The earlier part of our passage in the channel was rough and stormy and there was plenty of sea sickness, the usual attendant on all commencing voyages, but without any immediate bad effect on the health of our freight. Psora, however appeared to a considerable extent and gave a good deal of trouble before it could be finally subdued. We at last succeeded by carefully separating the infected and preventing the use of their clothes and blankets until after washing and fumigating them. [5]

Cape of Good Hope

They experienced bad weather making it impossible to keep the prison adequately ventilated and scurvy began to affect the men. They were compelled to stop at the Cape of Good Hope to replenish supplies and remained there about three weeks while the doctor obtained everything he could to restore the prisoners' health.

Extract of a letter from the Cape of Good Hope, dated the 1st October: 'Poor Edwards, who has been condemned to seven years' transportation for a supposed libel, without proof by witnesses of any sort, was sent to Robin Island, a place where convicts are usually sent to. The Minerva convict ship touched lately at Simon's Bay, on her way to New South Wales, on which Edwards was brought to Simon's Bay to be put on board. Shortly after his arrival, he, in despair, cut his throat, but being interrupted in the act he did not accomplish his purpose. [3]

When they departed from the Cape on 1st October 1824 William Edwards sailed with them. Select here to find out more about William Edwards (alias Alexander Lookaye) who was first sent to Australia as a convict on the Atlas in 1819.

The Voyage

A great number of prisoners had been unwell on this voyage and at the end of the voyage the surgeon contemplated what may have caused this

- I suspect that it lay in the ship herself, she having taken out her convicts unhealthy for the two previous voyages, sending each time a great number of men to hospital, this suspicion is confirmed in some measure by the decision of a board of Survey held on her at Sydney who judged it to be improper from evidence laid before them to send troops in her to India. I tried to remove whatever might be the cause of diseases by the most unremitting attention and supporting their spirits by every indulgence in my power. By attention to cleanliness and encouraging amusements, having provided myself with musical instruments there were occasional dances of an evening in which all took great pleasure. [5]

Bass Strait

The ship had a narrow escape from disaster on 14th November -

The Hobart Town Gazette reported the incident - Important to Navigators.-Captain Bell, Commander of the Minerva, has favoured us with an account of an important discovery of a rock he fell in with on his passage hither we give the account in Captain Bell's own words : ' I send you the particulars of a dangerous rock, immediately in the fairway for passing through Bass's Straits, to the southward of King's Island, and which is not placed in Flinders' charts, or the French charts of Captain Freycinet.-The Minerva on her last passage narrowly escaped getting upon it, on the 14th November, at one p.m. running at the rate of nine miles per hour ; Reid's Rocks just seen from the deck ; bearing north six miles. The Black Pyramid E.S.E. A heavy breaker was seen to rise not more than one half mile distant from us, and which we passed between ; and Reid's Rocks at not more than three cable lengths; although there was a considerable swell at the time, it did not break oftener than three or four minutes space. Our latitude at the time,40°26' south, by an indifferent observation. Should you have room for insertion of the position of this danger, in your Paper, it will be useful for those passing that way.'[7]

Port Jackson

The Minerva arrived in Port Jackson on 19 November 1824.

Convict Muster

A Muster was held by the Colonial Secretary Frederick Goulburn on the 22nd November 1824. The prisoners appeared in good health and declared themselves well treated and spoke favourably of the Surgeon Superintendent and Commander.

The indents reveal the name, age, calling, when and where tried, sentence, native place, physical description, conduct on the voyage and where assigned on arrival. There is also some information about colonial crimes and deaths included. Two prisoners died on the voyage - *William Jessen and another and sixteen men sent to the hospital in Sydney on arrival.

Carter's Barracks

The younger prisoners were assigned to Carter's Barracks - James Buckley 17, George Campbell 15, John Carter 15, Charles Chamberlain 16, Henry Davis 15, Robert Davidson 18, Thomas Harry 17, Edward Johnson 17, William Moore 16, George Sharpley 16 and David Simpson 17.

David Simpson had received a good conduct report from his time on the ship however at the Carter's Barracks he misbehaved and as punishment was put to work on the treadmill. His gruesome demise was reported in The Australian on 13th January... aged 18, named Simpson, a prisoner in the Carters barracks, met his death in the following dreadful manner: -- While undergoing the punishment of the tread mill in the forenoon, he dropped some halfpence into the interior of the wheel - on returning from his dinner, to resume his work, he made an attempt to recover his money by thrusting his arm underneath ; at this moment the men on the opposite side commenced working the wheel, and his head was drawn in, and crushed to a mummy. Life was extinct before he could be extricated. The unfortunate boy had only just arrived in the Colony in the Minerva.


David Simpson wasn't the only Minerva convict to make news. Only a few months after arrival three of the men - John Lomas, Abraham Thompson and William Leddington took to the bush. They robbed a cart on the Richmond Road and were soon pursued by settlers. After a furious battle two were captured, John Lomas and Abraham Thompson. William Leddington escaped but was later captured. In 1827 Leddington was one of the pirates who Seized the brig Wellington on the voyage to Norfolk Island. He was executed with five others in March 1827.


The name of the Chief Mate and some of the seamen was revealed in the Sydney Gazette, after a court case took place in January 1825. Two of the sailors J. Wilson and G. Chapman were tried and found guilty of assaulting the Chief Mate, Mr. Long on the Minerva after a violent altercation about shore leave and grog. Their dispute had resulted in the whole of the crew seizing the jolly boat and accompanying their messmates Wilson and Chapman to gaol in Sydney.[4] Wilson and Chapman were later sentenced to 1 and 2 months imprisonment.

Captain John Bell

Early in February Captain John Bell, was indicted for a misdemeanor, in making use of highly improper and unbecoming language to John Nicholson, Esq. Harbour master of Port Jackson, while in the execution of his duty on the 28th of January, such language having a tendency to excite Mr. Nicholson to a breach the peace. A survey of the ship Minerva had been ordered by the Governor which survey not meeting the approbation of Capt. Bell, he went to Mr. Nicholson's office, and, in the presence of several witnesses, used the offensive epithets, stated in the information. Upon the second count, Capt. Bell was found Guilty. The learned Attorney General, then informed the Court, on the part of the prosecutor (Mr. Nicholson), that he should not press for judgment, and here the transaction ended.

Departure from the Colony

The Minerva sailed for Madras later in February 1824.

Notes and Links

1). Alexander Nisbet was employed as surgeon on the following convict ships to New South Wales:
Grenada 1827
Hooghley 1828
Asia 1830
Earl Grey 1838
Mangles 1840.

He was employed as Assistant Commissioner to the Australian Agricultural Company in 1830 and was a survivor on the Royal Charlotte when she was wrecked in 1825.

2). Convict bushranger Thomas Moss arrived on the Minerva

3). Prisoners and passengers of the Minerva identified in the Hunter Valley

4). Combination - Throwing Vitriol. A. Mackay, P. McConnochie, J. Robertson, W. Walker, and A. Nicholson, tenters, were tried at the Circuit Court of Justiciary, Glasgow, on 28th September for assaulting and beating William Kyle, and also for pouring vitriol on his person, the prisoners being engaged in an illegal combination for the purpose of preventing Kyle from entering the service of Mr. Tod at his steam loom factory. The prisoners were found guilty and sentenced to 14 years transportation. Belfast Newsletter 3 October 1823 (Alexander Mackay, Peter Mackonnichie, William Walker and Archibald Nicholson)

5). Return of Convicts of the Minerva assigned between 1st January 1832 and 31st March 1832 (Sydney Gazette 14 June 1832; 21 June 1832; 28 June 1832).....
Frederick Bolton - Stonecutter assigned to Robert Crawford at Prospect
William Coleman - Boot closer assigned to John Borrus at Lower Branch
Thomas Frost - Carter assigned to Henry Kiernan at Dart Brook
James Hampton - Gardener assigned to Charles Thompson at Clydesdale
William Macalister - Soldier. Assigned to George Barber at Argyle

6). National Archives - Reference: ADM 101/54/5 Description: Medical and surgical journal of the Minerva convict ship from 21 June to 20 November 1824 by Alexander Nisbet, surgeon and superintendent, during which time the said ship was employed in a voyage to New South Wales.

7) 40th Regiment embarked on the following ships:
Embarked 25th April 1823 on Albion. Lieutenant Lowe
Embarked 5th July 1823 on Asia Captain Bishop
Embarked 10th July 1823 on Isabella. Lieutenant Millar
Embarked 18th July 1823 on Sir Godfrey Wilestoe. Captain Hibbert
Embarked 29 July 1823 on Guildford. Captain Thornhill
Embarked 31st July 1823 on Medina. Lieutenant Ganning
Embarked 5 August 1823 on Castle Forbes. Lt.- Col. Balfour;
Embarked 29 December 1823 on Prince Regent. Captain Stewart
Embarked 5th February 1824 on Chapman. Captain Jebb 
Embarked 25 February 1824 on Countess of Harcourt. Captain Morow
Embarked 14 June 1824 on Mangles. Lt.- Col Thornton
Embarked 14 June 1824 on Princess Charlotte. Lieut Neilley
Embarked on Ann and; Amelia.

8) *William Jesson died intestate [6]


[1] Bateson, Charles, Library of Australian History (1983). The convict ships, 1787-1868 (Australian ed). Library of Australian History, Sydney : pp.346-347

[2] Lambeth Palace Library. Church of England Records Centre

[3] Freeman's Journal 7 December 1824

[4] Sydney Gazette 20th January 1825

[5] UK, Royal Navy Medical Journals, 1817-1857. Medical Journal of Alexander Nisbet on the voyage of the Minerva in 1824. The National Archives. Kew, Richmond, Surrey.

[6] The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1803 - 1842) Thu 6 Jan 1825 Page 4

[7] Hobart Town Gazette and Van Diemen's Land Advertiser (Tas. : 1821 - 1825) Fri 7 Jan 1825 Page 4



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