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Convict Ship Neptune 1820

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Embarked: 156 male prisoners
Voyage: 114 days
Deaths: 0
Surgeon's Journal: yes
Previous vessel: Janus arrived 3 May 1820
Next vessel Hadlow arrived 5 August 1820
Captain William McKissock
Surgeon Superintendent James Mitchell

The Neptune was built in Whitby in 1810. This was her second voyage bringing convicts to Australia, the first being in 1818.  She was the next convict ship to leave England for New South Wales after the Coromandel departed in November 1819.

The Neptune departed from the Downs on 21 - 23 March 1820. She brought with her prisoners from different counties throughout England, Scotland and Wales.  - Aberdeen, Bedford, Bristol, Chester, Cumberland, Derby, Durham, Edinburgh, Kent, Glamorgan, Glasgow, Gloucester, Inverness, London, Lancaster, Norfolk, Perth Somerset, Surrey, Sussex and York. Two were court-martialled - John Hadfield and James Lee.

The guard consisted of a detachment of the 48th regiment under orders of Lieut. Rice. Other ships bringing soldiers of the 48th regt., included the Pilot, Caledonia, Dorothy, Larkins, Lady Castlereagh, Agamemnon, Guildford, Isabella, Prince Regent,  Baring, Hebe and Dorothy

James Mitchell kept a Medical Journal from 8 March to 29 July 1820......

On the 9th March he was employed in examining and receiving 86 male convicts from the Justitia Hulk at Woolwich. They were placed in their respective berths, four to one berth. Each were given a bed, blanket and pillow. On the following day another 76 men were received from the Justitia bringing the total to 156 men.

The weather in England had been severe prior to embarkation and it was found that several of the men contracted severe catarrhs and suffered with ulcers caused by infected chilblains. By the 11th, James Mitchell had the men organised. Messes of six prisoners each were established. They were supplied with bowls, spoons, water mugs, knives, forks, razor and strap for shaving. The men were to be shaved twice a week. The decks of the prison and hospital were scrubbed and scraped each day and trustworthy men were appointed to distribute food and keep the prisoners quiet.

The boys were formed into classes and a teacher placed over them. Later the adult prisoners also attended a school and the surgeon was gratified at the improvements he witnessed on the voyage.

Samuel Dell embarked as a convict on the Neptune. He later became a parish clerk and schoolteacher at Newcastle and it was probably Dell who taught at the school on the voyage out. Among his first pupils on the Neptune were probably John Higham, James Lee, William Mayler, William Richardson, Joseph Stevens and William Jones who were all sixteen years of age and John Newton and John Fordyce who were both fifteen years old.

James Mitchell devised a set of rules he expected the men to follow. There was to be no smoking or gambling in the prison Any cases of abuse towards the prisoners by the guard or crew were to be reported to him immediately. Quarrelling and fighting was to be severely punished. Under no circumstances was there to be any swearing or Flash Language.

The prisoners mostly all attended to the rules so that there was no necessity of resorting to the painful alternative of flogging. The only punishments were handcuffs, being double ironed for a time or giving their allowance of wine to shipmates.

The men were exercised by cleaning the prison, swabbing the decks or pumping water for the cisterns. The surgeon did his best to keep them busy, knowing that idleness is the Mother of mischief and disease. Divine Service was performed by the surgeon who read sermons he had purchased in England for that express purpose.

James Mitchell was kept busy attending to those on board. Apart from the two obstetric cases, there were cases of Fever, Flux, Scurvy, Rheumatism, Pulmonic Inflammation, Ophthalmia, Psora, Tinea Capitis, Diseased Ears, Tonsillitis, Dyspepsia, Dysuria, Gonorrhoea, Vertigo, Impetigo and Hepatitis. (See 20th Century Medical Terms)

James Mitchell commented towards the end of his journal that by attention to Divine Service and School and also by their good behaviour on board that not a few of them had become determined to reform their lives. He also remarked on the good will that existed between himself, Captain McKissock and commander of the Guard Lieutenant Rice.

The Neptune arrived in Port Jackson 16 July 1820, a voyage of 114 days. One hundred and fifty six male prisoners arrived in general good health, although three men were sent to the hospital in Sydney on arrival. 

With the Neptune came the news of the death of King George III and on Monday the 17th, eighty-two minute guns were fired from Dawes Battery, Flags were raised at half mast and the Bells of St. Phillips Church tolled morning and night.

Governor Macquarie recorded the arrival of the Neptune in his Journal.....
Saturday 15. July !!! ! Late this Night anchored in Port Jackson, the Male Convict Ship Neptune Commanded by Capt. Mc.Kissock, bringing the afflicting and much lamented intelligence of the Demise of our beloved and most revered Sovereign King George the 3d. – whose Death took place on Saturday the 29th. of January last at Windsor–Castle. — This Ship also brings the mournful and distressing intelligence of the Death of H. R. Highness Field Marshall The Duke of Kent, the King's fourth son – which is to be considered a great National loss – he being in the prime of Life – and a most excellent Prince. — He died on the 23d. of last January – six days before his Royal Father of blessed memory. — The Neptune sailed from England on the 23d. of March, being only 3 months & 22 days on the Passage. — She has brought 156 Male Convicts all in good Health, none having died on the Passage; Doctr. — Mitchell R. Navy being Surgeon Supdt., and the Guard consisting of a Detachment of the 46th. Regt. Commanded by Lt. Rice. — There is only one Passenger a Mr. Warner. — I have received no Public Dispatches by the Neptune. —

A Muster would have been held on board and details such as name, when and where convicted, sentence, native place, calling, age and physical description were recorded. There is no information in the indents as to the nature of their crimes or where and to whom the prisoners were assigned. On disembarking, the men would have been addressed by Governor Macquarie, a duty he rarely missed. They were disembarked on 28th July 1820. Three were assigned to H. Macarthur. Sixteen were sent to join the Western and Windsor Road Parties under the superintendence of Johnson and Ford and another six were privately assigned and these men were all sent by water to Parramatta. The remainder were distributed at Parramatta, Liverpool, Windsor, Upper Minto and Emu Plains. Those sent to Emu Plains included Thomas Ignoll, John Needham, Thomas Wharton, Thomas Hammond and Robert Catlin. They were to work under the superintendence of Mr. Richard Fitzgerald.  

Notes & Links:

1). Lewis Collins who arrived on the Neptune was sent to Newcastle penal settlement in 1821. He was one of eleven pirates who seized the cutter Eclipse from the harbour in 1825. Find out more about their daring escape at here

2). James Warman, formerly of the Royal Navy arrived as a free settler on the Neptune.

3). Find Hunter Valley convicts/ passengers of the Neptune here

4). James Mitchell was also employed as surgeon on the Guildford  in 1822, and the Guildford in 1824

5). The Neptune was to depart Sydney in August 1820. Surgeon James Mitchell, First Officer Samuel Groube, Second Office H.M. Taylor, and Third Office J. Buckpit were all intending to depart on her.

6). Mentioned in the Surgeon's Journal at National Archives......

John Rowlands
William Griffen, aged 19, convict
James Burton. 12
Private Eastman's wife was seized with the pangs of labour and was safely delivered of a healthy girl.
James Martin
James Gaffney, aged 40, convict
William Griffen. 13
James Gaffney
James Tollman, aged 20, convict 
Private Grey's wife discharged.
Private Grey, aged 29,  sick list.
James Martin, aged 28, convict
Private Tidd of the Guard, aged 19,
Joseph Barker, aged 28, convict
Private Eastman's wife discharged.
Joseph Frazer, aged 31, convict
Thomas Jones, aged 29, convict
James Hutton, aged 25, convict
William Challons, aged 33, convict
James Burton, aged 21, convict
Samuel Williams, aged 21, convict
Sergeant Orrall of the Guard, aged 29,
James Jillet,
William Price
James Allan.
Joseph Frazer,
Henry Craggs,
James Williams,
William Challen.
David Crabb, private in the Guard, aged 25

6). Read James Mitchell's account of this voyage from Sydney to Batavia.......  


7).  Return of Convicts of the Neptune assigned between 1st January 1832 and 31st March 1832 (Sydney Gazette 14 June 1832; 21 March 1832).....

Alexander Fraser....Merchant's clerk assigned to Thomas Smart in Sydney


1). Bateson, Charles & Library of Australian History (1983). The convict ships, 1787-1868 (Australian ed). Library of Australian History, Sydney : pp.342-343, 383

2). National Archives. Medical Journal Reference: ADM 101/56/4/3

3). UK, Royal Navy Medical Journals, 1817-1857 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: 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.




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