HMS Buffalo was a store ship of the Royal Navy, originally built and launched at Calcutta in 1813 as the merchant vessel Hindostan. The Admiralty purchased the Hindostan that same year and after arrival in Britain and she was re-named the Buffalo.
The Buffalo transported female convicts to New South Wales in 1833 and immigrants to South Australia in 1836. In 1837 she transported one prisoner from South Australia to New South Wales.
In 1839 HMS Buffalo transported American and French Canadian patriots to Van Diemen's Land and New South Wales.
The Buffalo departed Plymouth bound for Quebec on 14th June 1839 with detachments of the Coldstream and Grenadier Guards. In Quebec American and Canadian Patriots, who had been convicted of treason were embarked for transportation. The Buffalo departed Quebec on 28th September 1839 sailed via Rio de Janeiro, and arrived off Hobart, Tasmania, on 11th February 1840. The Americans were disembarked in Hobart, but the French convicts from Lower Canada were to be sent to Sydney. The Buffalo departed Hobart on 19th February and arrived in Sydney on 26th February 1840 with the 58 French-Canadian Prisoners.
Francois Xavier Prieur kept a journal and later wrote an account of his days in Canada, the voyage on the Buffalo and his life as a convict. In his journal published as Notes d'un condamne Politique de 1838 (Montreal, 1869)he described his misfortune and misery on the voyage of the Buffalo between Quebec and Port Jackson.
Following is an adaptation of sections of the journal dealing with the voyage from Montreal to Port Jackson.
After a fatiguing and freezing voyage on the steamer it was about 11 o'clock on September 27 when we came alongside the Buffalo in Quebec harbour. It was three stories high, armed with fifteen to twenty guns and with about a hundred and fifty crew. They put us in handcuffs and took us to our cabins which were on the third deck and well below the waterline. There were two corridors on each side of the ship with a width of eleven and a half feet which was divided into a space of three feet with a bench of about eighteen inches wide; so a double row of compartments six feet deep that were the beds. The descent was by a hatch about two feet square and two sentries took positions above.
I found my bed which was nearby Captain Hector Pierre Morin and Morin's son Achille Morin; Hypolite Lanctot and Dr. Samuel Newcome and Leandre (Leon) Ducharme. Once our small suitcases were stowed in the dark narrow, fetid prison, dinner was served and consisted of cold corned beef and biscuit. And then we were left to our sad reflections and terrible foreboding. At night dinner was a thin gruel of oatmeal and there was a bucket for water which was rationed to a pint cup of water. Immediately after dinner the sound of a bell signified that it was time for bed. This bell sounded every night at eight hours. The sunrise time was fixed at six. Absolute silence was ordered during the night and it was forbidden to communicate at any time with each other. The first night, despite the uncomfortable hard disgusting bed, I slept well all night after the fatiguing and emotional day.
Departure from Quebec
At six o'clock the next day I left my bed 'a little bruised, suffocated and greatly indignant at being inspected in the corridor by an officer doing his rounds. Hardly out of my bed, the sound of the chains as the anchors were raised signifying that the ship was soon to be in motion. And so we left our homeland. We kneeled together in prayer a practise faithfully observed morning and evening throughout the voyage. The first prayers that morning were interrupted by gun shots fired by the Buffalo which was answered by the guns of the citadel of Cap Diamant. At 7am we were divided into twelve sections to receive victuals. A bucket was used for all the food however there were no knives or spoons; all the table service consisted of was a small cup or measuring pint. The diet consisted of a pint of oatmeal sweetened; dinner 4 oz of beef salted; 4 ounces of suet pudding and some ounces of biscuit or alternatively every other day, a pint of soup with peas, 8 ounces and 11 ounces bacon biscuit; Supper was a pint of cocoa with a little biscuit. The dining group to which I belonged enjoyed the luxury of a small pocket knife that had belonged to Captain Morin which was used to cut meat.
In the mornings half the prisoners (72 men) were brought up on deck and stayed there until 11am weather permitting. In the afternoon the other half took the same on the forecastle and stayed until half past five. During the first days of the journey there was at least the pleasure of seeing the shores of the St. Lawrence. For five days the sea was beautiful but on the fifth day it became rough under the effects of strong winds and soon seasickness began to make it appearance.
Those who have tasted of seasickness or who were able to see the effects those alone could imagine what state we were in; deprived of light but mostly air, crammed into a narrow space and forbidden to occupy the beds, so poor they were, during the day. The poor patients were continually forced to cling to anything to get back on the narrow bench from where the ship jolts and weakness rushed them constantly on a deck made wet slippery and foul by vomit. Only thirteen (I was one) escaped the disease for eight days we had the pain of seeing our companions prey to these tortures. Rain wind and the roll prevented us all this time enjoy the ride, the first few days. The smell would become suffocating. For eight days our poor companions had to undergo these terrible tests of seasickness and for eight days those who did not suffer the malady cared for them, cleaning them, helping them to raise when they fell, introducing them to the beds in the evening and getting them up in the morning for inspection
Finally on the fourteenth day after departure, calm and sunshine reappeared and we could go on top deck to breathe the pure fresh air of the sea. Soon after this rumours of a mutiny caused belongings to be searched and conditions to deteriorate as well.
Once a week we washed in salted water with a brush and a white kind of earth that served as soap. On 15th October we were ordered to do spring cleaning using lime, an operation that was renewed once weekly for the remainder of the voyage because of the dangers of diseases as the warmer climates came on.
Twice a week shaving took place, each in turn subjected to frightful razors, half rusted and poorly maintained. Shaving was with cold water without mirror often at roll in the ship by a stormy sea. I suffered less than some as my young beard was easy to shave but others returned to their cabin after being shaved, in blood and with eyes drowned with tears. There was great suffering from the heat in the tropics and with having only a pint of water per day to quench insatiable thirsts.
One man from Haut Canada named Priest, succumbed to his sufferings and was buried in the waves. The American prisoners were referred to as of Haut Canada.
Among my companions I will mention especially my friend the notary Hypolite Lanctot of Laprairie because of the friendship that has always bound us for our exile and he who has never wavered. I was able to witness his suffering during the whole trip; they were extreme.
It is good hearts everywhere we met in the Buffalo crew! Two soldiers touched by so much misery, had humanity to bring a little sick water in which they had mixed their ration rum; found out, they were both whipped.
Rio De Janeiro
On 30th November, after two months of sailing, we made Rio de Janeiro. This release was necessitated by the need to procure food and water. They enjoyed during the few days stay the view of the beautiful landscape there. In our walks on deck we watched the tranquil waters of the bay surrounded by picturesque mountains and elegant boats of all kinds that plied the waters. These delicious scenes reminded us of the happy shores of the St. Lawrence and reminded us of loved ones that we had left perhaps alas! To no longer see again in this world. Our call into the Port of Rio Janeiro was five days and during this time we were given a little more freedom.
Departure from Rio
Sailing again on December 5, the voyage began again the suffering. However the wind was favourable and it was not without a certain pleasure that we saw our ship cleave the waves; for though the fate that awaited us on the land of exile was a terrible fate, however, our great concern of the moment was to be able to leave this terrible ship in the flanks which all the tortures were inflicted upon us. If on one hand our fate was somewhat softened by additional gill of lemonade and increased supply of water, and reduction of heat; of another side, vermin, multiplying in our beds we also had to endure the pain indescribable of scurvy.
Cape of Good Hope
On 28 December we crossed the ocean and we were at the height of the Cape of Good Hope. Two days later we had crossed into the Pacific Ocean. The year 1840 arrived It was a sad day, what sighs we sent to the motherland. The memories of childhood, affections of the family, everything that passes through the memory and the human heart was arguing with sadness and our fate.
9th February 1840, we began to distinguish the horizon coasts of Van Diemen's Land but then a contrary wind arose and it was four more days before the ship dropped anchor in Hobart on 13th February in the afternoon. At Hobart the prisoners were disembarked into boats. We could say goodbye to those unfortunate companions in misfortune. We were foreign to each other, foreign by beliefs, by blood, by language, by manners; we did not know, for the most their names, they knew ours, many of us could not understand English but we shook hands with them in farewell.
We had, during our stay in Hobart town a visit from a man who I cannot give the name but whose noble figure will never fade from my memory. He was an officer of the British troops stationed in the area. This worthy military, whose language denoted a perfect education, gave, on seeing us, the warmest sympathy. Browsing our ranks, saluting us with kindness, he told us to hope for better days: - 'All are not criminals,'he said, and your exile not last forever. He told us that he, too had been a prisoner of war, while serving in Spain: he had suffered boredom and miseries of captivity. Before leaving, he crowned his good offices with the words, that I quote from memory, but I'm sure not too far off from the literal: 'Gentlemen, you do not need to be ashamed, I see nothing of branding for your honor in the cause your exile. '
At three o'clock in the afternoon on 19th February we left the port of Hobart driven by a favourable wind, bound for Port Jackson.
6). Jean-Baptiste-Henri Brien, physician and Patriote; b. 1816 in Saint-Martin (Laval), Lower Canada; d. 1841 in New York, supposedly unmarried.- Dictionary of Canadian Biography
7). Other Ships bringing American and French-Canadian Patriots included the Marquis of Hastings in 1839 and Canton in 1840
8). The Buffalo was wrecked in Mercury Bay off Whitianga in 1840. She was driven ashore on the beach at what is now Whitianga in a howling gale and mountainous seas. Although two sailors drowned getting ashore from the striken sail vessel, Captain James Wood's actions and help from local Maori are credited with preventing the deaths of more crew. Stranded only 100m off the low water mark, the Buffalo later gave its name to Buffalo Beach, even though the ship's hulk disappeared beneath the waves a century ago. Traces can still be seen from the air in clear conditions. Find out more at Whitianga Times
9). Other Ships bringing American and French-Canadian Patriots included the Marquis of Hastings in 1839 and Canton in 1840