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Convicts and transportation



From a broadside. nd. 1790

Dear Father and Mother
Botany Bay, 26 August 1790.

I am arrived at this place, after a dreary passage on board the Neptune. Had I followed your good counsels I had never suffered so much distress and misery as I have done in my passage here, the bare reflection of which makes my blood run cold in my veins; and many times I had wished that I had died at home rather than to have lain at the mercy of such merciless tyrants. Oh! My dear father and mother, how it would have grieved your hearts to have seen the miserable condition that I and my fellow sufferers were in, chained two and two together and confined to the hold during the whole course of our long voyage; without so much as one refreshing breeze to fan our languid cheeks: in this melancholy situation we were scarcely allowed a sufficient quantity of victuals to keep us alive, and scarily any water. As an instance of our wretchedness it was customary among us when any of our comrades that were chained too us died, we kept it a secret as long as we could for the smell of the dead body, in order to get their allowance of provision… I was chained to Humphrey Davies who died when we were half way, and I lay beside his corpse about a week and got his allowance of provision and water during that time. There were about 140 died on the passage through extreme hunger and wretchedness.

Your loving son, Thom Milburn



George Barrington, Plymouth, 2 March 1791

Our departure from Newgate was so sudden it was utterly impossible to leave you even a single word.  We had not the least notice of it till four o’clock in the morning; and before we could well get the better of the shock three hundred and nineteen of us were conveyed to the river-side. Dreadful reflection! The unfortunate wretches were all of them loaded with irons and chained together except me, who was permitted to walk unfettered between the Sheriff and Mr. Akerman, whose humanity to me will long be remembered.

(Letter to Under-Secretary Nepean. H.R.N.S.W.

Slanilaus Hulk
17th January, 1794.
Honoured Sir,

I am a young man of twenty-two years of age, by trade a bricklayer, and was convicted by Judge Gould,,at Chelmsford, in the year one thousand seven hundred and ninety-two, to seven years Transportation beyond the seas, for stealing a game-cock. 1 am no lawyer, but suppose my crime to be of that heinous nature as to be incapable of pardon, I do not ask it: all I petition for is to he taken from this floating hell, and sent in the next ship to Botany Bay, I am lame from a fall, but stoat and robust, and every day go through laborious work. I have three times had the gaol fever, which is another reason for my importunity, In granting this my reasonable request I shall ever consider myself,

Yours, &c.,
Edward Moseley.


Rev. Richard Johnson’s ‘Letter to a friend’

Was first on board the Surprise. Went down amongst’ the convicts, where I beheld a sight truly shocking to the feelings of humanity, a great number of them laying, some half and others nearly quite naked, without either bed or bedding, unable to turn or help themselves. Spoke to them as I passed along, but the smell was so offensive that I could scarcely bear it. I then went on board the Scarborough: proposed to go down amongst them, but was dissuaded from it by the captain. The Neptune was still more wretched and intolerable, and therefore never attempted it. Some of these unhappy people died after the ships came into the harbour, before they could be taken on shore — part of these had been thrown into the harbour, and their dead bodies cast upon the shore, and were seen laying naked upon the rocks. Took an occasion to represent this to his Excellency, in consequence of which immediate orders were sent on board that those who died on board should be carried to the opposite north shore and be buried. The landing of these people was truly affecting and shocking; great numbers were not able to walk, nor to move hand or foot; such were slung over the ship side in the same manner as they would sling a cask, a box, or anything of that nature. Upon their being brought up to the open air some fainted, some died upon deck, and others in the boat before they reached the shore. When come on shore many were not able to walk, to stand, or to stir themselves in the least, hence some were led by others. Some crept upon their hands and knees, and some were carried upon the backs of others. . . . The misery I saw amongst them is unexpressible ; many were not able to turn, or even to stir themselves, and in this situation were covered over almost with their own nastiness, their heads, bodies, cloths, blanket, all full of filth and lice. Scurvy was not the only nor the worst disease that prevailed amongst them (one man I visited this morning, I think, I may say safely had 10,000 lice upon his body and bed); some were exercised with violent fevers, and others with a no less violent purging and flux. The complaints they had to make were no less affecting to the ear than their outward condition was to the eye. The usage they met with on board, according to their own story, was truly shocking; sometimes for days, nay for a considerable time together, they have been to the middle in water chained together, hand and leg, even the sick not exempted — nay, many died with the chains still upon them. Promises, entreaties, were all in vain, and it was not till a very few days before they made harbour that they were released out of irons.