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Convict Ship England 1826

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Embarked: 148 men
Voyage: 135 days
Deaths: 0
Surgeon's Journal: yes
Previous vessel: Marquis of Huntley arrived 13 September 1826
Next vessel: Boyne arrived 28 October 1826
Captain John Reay.
Surgeon Superintendent George Thompson

Phrenology was developed by German physician Franz Joseph Gall in 1796 and was very popular in the 19th century, especially from about 1810 until 1840. The principal British centre for phrenology was Edinburgh, where the Edinburgh Phrenological Society was established in 1820.

Phrenology focused on measurements of the human skull, based on the concept of the brain being the organ of the mind, and that certain brain areas have localized, specific functions or modules. The distinguishing feature of phrenology was the idea that the sizes of brain areas were meaningful and could be inferred by examining the skull of an individual.

In the spring of 1826 the England was visited by phrenologist Mr. Deville (de Ville) who examined each of the 148 convicts and gave a memorandum of the inferred character of each individual, and of the manner in which the propensities were likely to manifest themselves. The most desperate convicts were pointed out and in particular Robert Hughes was noted to be dangerous.

The England was the next convict ship to leave England after the departure of the Sesostris in November 1825, departing the Downs on 6th May 1826. (2)

George Thomson kept a Medical Journal from 18th March 1826 to 29th September 1826. This was his first voyage as surgeon superintendent of a convict ship and his attempt to gain order and authority by issuing a very detailed list of the Regulations for the Governance and Guidance of the Convicts during the Voyage and affixing to the prison wall in the very first days did not have the effect he desired. This voyage of the England turned out to be one of the more troubled voyages in 1826.

George Thomson joined the England at Deptford on 18th March and on arrival showed his appointment to Captain Young, Agent for Transports and to Captain John Reay. On 22nd March medicine and stores for the Guard and Convicts were received from the Agent and the dispenser of Deptford Dockyard.

On 8th April a detachment of 30 men of the 39th regiment commanded by Major George Pitt D'Arcy embarked (including 2 sergeants and 3 corporals); six women and seven children also. Cabin passengers included Mrs. D'arcy & family and Mrs. Reay.  Select here to find other ships bringing detachments of the 39th regiment.

At 4am on 14th April the England weighed anchor and proceeded to Woolwich. They moored nearby the Justitia hulk and the following day fifty prisoners were embarked, berthed and issued with a blanket and pillow. The surgeon received from Thomas Bayles the hulk surgeon, a list of the convicts together with a Certificate of health. The prisoners were all ironed however they were permitted to pass to and from the deck at their pleasure during the day and also to see their friends on the Quarter Deck.

On the 17th nine more men were received from the Justitia and twelve from the Ganymede hulk. On 20th April 73 more convicts were received and on the 21st four more prisoners from the Justitia bringing the total number to 148 prisoners.

On the 22nd April the prisoners were all mustered and inspected. The Surgeon appointed two Captains for the prison Decks and two for the Upper Decks. Likewise a Captain for every Division of twenty five convicts, Superintendent of the Hospital and Surgery man, Cook and Mate; a Nightman for each water closet and to keep the air conductor clear. A schoolmaster was appointed for the boys. Each mess of six men was to appoint of their number as caterer and each sleeping berth to appoint a man to keep the berths clean and orderly. The convicts requested that some of their money be released to them so that they could purchase small indulgences for the long voyage ahead and the surgeon applied to the authorities on their behalf but to no avail.

On the 30th April the surgeon received despatches to be delivered to the Governor in New South Wales together with instructions to depart for New South Wales. On 3rd May the Pilot came on board and at 11 am they weighed anchor and made sail down the river. At 5pm they anchored at Gravesend.

On 6th May the pilot was discharged at midday in the Downs and at 4pm they were abreast of Dungeness. The following day the ship was rolling heavily and several of the convicts and guard suffered seasickness.

By 11th May the surgeon had established schools for the fifty-four men on board who could neither read nor write. They were supplied with pens, ink, paper and school books. Around this time the surgeon discovered that 18 of the boys and 27 of the men could take their irons off and replace them at pleasure being originally too large! On 17th May the irons were removed from several prisoners on account of the duties they performed:

David Kennaway (labourer and soldier transported for homicide) and
Thomas Jones, Captains of Prison Decks;
John Hunter and Henry Wood (ornament painter), Captains of the Upper Decks;
Walter Ewing Taylor, Superintendent of the hospital and Captain of the first Division (wine merchant age 28);
Peter McMahon Captain of 2nd division (roadmaker and quarryman convicted of passing bad notes);
Thomas Dobbin Captain of 3rd division;
David Campbell, Captain of 4th division;
Robert Hughes Captain of 5th division.
William Norman, Master of Boys (warehouse clerk transported for embezzlement);
Stephen Clothier, Superintendent of schools (law clerk)
Joseph Smith, Ship's Cook and Mate.

On 18th May several prisoners were punished for theft and giving false evidence - John Wells was to receive 48 stokes over his bare breech with a leathern thong ; William Kerry Thirty strokes; Henry Stone 18 and John Quin 6 strokes. Theft was so common that the number of prisoners allowed on deck at one time was reduced. Two boys John Buckley and William Lillewall were punished in the same way for assaulting another prisoner.

On 23rd May it was found the the water closets were inadequate. They had been badly fitted in the first place. The seats were too small, the cisterns leaked and the pipes could not be kept clear and they became very offensive. None but the sick were permitted to use them during the day. The weather was oppressively hot and uncomfortable at this time and occasionally convicts were permitted to remain on deck assisting the crew in sailing the ship.

By 30th May the surgeon mentioned that the convicts had become very disorderly and disposed to be mutinous. They became very clamorous to have their irons taken off. The following day the surgeon received a letter from Walter E. Taylor requesting to be sent for as soon as possible. He informed the surgeon that John George Munns had that morning come to him at the hospital very early before the other convicts were out of bed and informed him that there was a conspiracy formed to murder Taylor to prevent his giving any alarm and then to murder the surgeon and all who would not assist to seize the ship and run her into South America. Robert Hughes and Thomas Jones were at the head of it and it was their intention to carry it into effect, the first time the ship was in a squall. The surgeon issued a memorandum for Taylor to give to those convicts he could trust, ensuring the surgeon's protection and best services with the Governor in New South Wales, asking them to be on their guard and to get information to act against the malcontents.

Major D'arcy although indisposed at this most crucial time with gout also promised his protection. Major D'arcy gave the necessary orders to the guard as to how to act in case of an alarm and Captain Raey to the crew also who he armed with cutlasses. Munns informed the surgeon of the men who conspired to take the ship - Robert Hughes, Thomas Jones, William Brown, James Hawkes and James Norman were all later kept in double irons and handcuffed. Later associates of the mutineers were discovered - Thomas Phillips the younger, Edward Hayes, John Wells, James Perris, William Brain, William Briggs, Patrick Connor, James Davis and John Turner. They were all to be kept apart from the other convicts.

On 15th June they crossed the line but the merriment that occurred on other voyages was denied on the England. The surgeon prohibited the prisoners from the usual customs of shaving or ducking one another on pain of a flogging. The surgeon noted that there were nine prisoners in double irons and handcuffs; 51 in double irons; 18 in single irons and seventy men without irons. By the 27th June the coast of Brazil was in view and by 14th July the Island of Tristam de Cunha was distant about 24 miles.

On 9th September they made Cape Ottway, and they anchored in Port Jackson at 11.30 on Monday 18th September 1826. (3)

The prisoners were inspected by the Colonial Secretary Alexander McLeay on 22nd September.

According to the surgeon, Captain Reay was severely reprimanded for not supporting the surgeon's authority by flogging the convicts when they were in a state of open mutiny against him.

On Thursday 28th September the men were issued with fresh rations and a new set of clothes consisting of 1 cap, 1 neck handkerchief, 1 jacket 1 waistcoat 1 shirt 1 pair trousers and 1 pair shoes. The following day at daylight they were disembarked and lodged in the prisoners barracks and at mid day His Excellency the Governor and the Colonial Secretary inspected them.

The Governor directed a Court of enquiry to be held on the 24 men accused of mutinous and insubordinate conduct.

The first month the prisoners of the England were in the colony was one of exceptionally bad weather.... The month of October has been marked by the extraordinary prevalence of high wind. The Town of Sydney has been subjected for days together to gales from the Southward almost approaching to hurricanes. About the middle of the month a sultry humid atmosphere strongly impregnated as it were with a destructive blight, prevailed, and was immediately succeeded by chilling gusts from the Southward. The evenings have indeed during the latter part of the month approximated to a frosty temperature. The glass is said to have been lower for the time of year than for some years past. (1)

Extract from the journal of Surgeon Superintendent Thomson -

......... The Phrenological Journal  

Notes & Links:

1). George Thompson was later employed as surgeon superintendent on the convict ship Borodino.

2). John Hunter age 26 was transported for stealing money. He ran from the Colony on the brig Cornwallis in 1836 and was returned to the colony in the Maitland in 1840 under sentence of transportation for life for another crime.

3). National Archives UK - Chartered ship, 420 tons. Principal Managing Owner: Thomas Ward. Voyages: (1) 1825/6 New South Wales and China. Capt John Reay. Downs 6 May 1826 - Sydney Cove 21 Oct - 31 Dec Whampoa 8 Feb 1827 - voyage ended 25 Jun.

4). Hunter Valley convicts / passengers arriving on the England in 1826

5). Eleven convict ships brought prisoners to New South Wales in 1826 - Marquis of Hastings, Sir Godfrey Webster, Mangles, Sesostris, Lady Rowena, Regalia, Marquis of Huntley, England, Boyne, Speke and Phoenix

6).  Return of Convicts of the England assigned between 1st January 1832 and 31st March 1832 (Sydney Gazette 14 June 1832; 21 June 1832; 28 June 1832; 5 July 1832).....
William Brown - Baker assigned to James Cox at Maitland
William Brain or Lawton - Stableman assigned to Joseph Bigge in Sydney
John Hunter - Weaver assigned to James Walker at Wallalang
William Holseworth - Plasterer's boy assigned to J.P. Webber at Paterson's Plains
Robert Jeffrey - Tailor's boy assigned to William Bradley at Argyle
John Maunns - Waterman assigned to John Howell at Wollombi
Peter McMahon - Road maker and quarryman. Assigned to James Raymond at Sydney
George Shepherd - Cabinet maker assigned to John Buckland at Illawarra

7). Assignment to far distant farms and lonely sheep stations was a terrifying ordeal for many convicts in the 1830's. Convict James Allen would rather have died than return to the Williams River district. James Allen was eighteen years old when he was sentenced to transportation for Life for picking the pocket of William Good in Bridge Street, London.   Click on the below to find out what happened when he refused to return to the Williams River in 1832.   James Allen's trial at Old Bailey Online  

Sydney Gazette 25 September 1832

7).  George Pitt D'arcy died at Parramatta in 1849

8). National Archives -  Reference: ADM 101/26/1 Description: Medical journal of the England, convict ship, for 18 March to 29 September 1826 by George Thomson, Surgeon and Superintendent, during which time the said ship was employed on a voyage to New South Wales.  Includes list of convicts, with a phrenological report on the formation of their skulls and their mental capacities.

9). Convict ships bringing detachments of the 39th regiment included the following............

Departed Vessel Command
Dublin 16 March 1826 Regalia Lieutenant William Sacheverell Coke
Downs 6 May 1826 England Major George Pitt D'Arcy
Sheerness 16 May 1826 Marquis of Huntley Major Donald MacPherson
Cork 29 June 1826 Boyne Captain Thomas Edward Wright
Sheerness 8 August 1826 Speke Lieutenant Henry Clarence Scarman
Dublin 27 August 1826 Phoenix Lieutenant Charles Cox
Plymouth 4 October 1826 Albion Captain Francis Crotty
Plymouth 16 October 1826 Midas Lieutenant George Meares Bowen
Cork 14 January 1827 Mariner Captain Charles Sturt
Dublin 14 February 1827 Countess of Harcourt Ensign Spencer
Plymouth 31 March 1827 Guildford Captain John Douglas Forbes
Downs 17 April 1827 Manlius Quarter-master Benjamin Lloyd
Dublin 2 June 1827 Cambridge Colonel Patrick Lindesay
London 3 June 1827 Champion Ensign Reid
London 27 March 1828 Bussorah Merchant Ensign W. Kennedy Child
Dublin 15 September 1828 Sophia Major Thomas Poole


1. The Monitor 10 November 1826

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

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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