Free Settler or Felon
Convict and Colonial History

Convict Ship Dromedary - 1820

Embarked 370 men
Voyage 139 days
Deaths - 11
Surgeon's Journal: no
Previous vessel: Castle Forbes arrived 27 January 1820
Next vessel: Coromandel arrived 4 April 1820
Captain Richard Skinner R.N.,
Surgeon George Fairfowl
Convicts and passengers of the Dromedary identified in the Hunter Valley

The Dromedary was built at Bombay in 1799 as the Bombay 'country ship' Sha(w) Kai Kusseroo. She was purchased by Royal Navy in India in 1805 for use as a frigate and re-named H.M.S. Howe. In 1808 she was re-named H.M.S. Dromedary and used as a naval storeship. Lachlan and Elizabeth Macquarie and the 73rd regiment arrived in New South Wales on the Dromedary in 1809. [1]

Governor Macquarie remarked in his journal in 1820 that Mr. Shepperd, Gunner and Mr. Drake, Boatswain, who had been on the Dromedary in 1809 were still on board.

Military Guard

The Guard consisted of 1 Ensign and 57 Soldiers of the 69th. and 84th. Regiments being Commanded by Capt. Richard Alexander Cruise of the 84th.

Richard Cruise later published a Journal entitled Journal of Ten Months Residence in New Zealand........

To diminish the expense attendant upon the transportation of convicts, as well as to afford to those exiles the comforts of a very large ship during their long voyage to the place of their banishment, it was determined to try the experiment of sending a considerable number of them to New South Wales in one of His Majesty's vessels; and the Dromedary store ship (formerly the Howe frigate) was selected and fitted up at Deptford for this service. After she should have landed the convicts at New South Wales, the Dromedary was directed to proceed to New Zealand, there to endeavour to get a cargo of those very large trees or spars, known to grow in that country, and in the event of not being successful, to go back to New Holland, and when laden with what useful timber she could procure in the colony, to return to England. The immense spars requisite for making the topmasts of the larger classes of ships in the navy, had become so extravagant in price, and so scarce, in Europe, that it was necessary to look for them elsewhere. - Captain Cook had mentioned in his voyages that he thought the timber he had seen in New Zealand, if light enough, would make the finest masts for ships in the world; persons who subsequently visited this island had confirmed his opinion, and a small spar which was brought from thence to England by the Catherine whale ship, was much approved of, and purchased for a foretop-gallant-mast for the Dromedary. It was well tried during its return to its native country, and proved itself to be, in seamen's phrase, a stick of first rate quality.

It may be proper here to observe, that two kinds of trees are known in New Zealand, which, from the circumstance of their growing to an immense height without a branch, are considered fit for masts of large ships: the one is called by the natives Kaikaterre, the other Cowry or Cowdy. The Kaikaterre is found in low swampy ground, frequently on the banks of rivers, and is on that account easy to procure; it produces a leaf like the yew and a red berry. The Cowry, to which the inhabitants of the island give a decided preference, grows on dry ground, and often on the tops of the highest hills; its leaf, though considerably larger, is not unlike that of our box tree; it produces a cone, and yields abundance of rosin. Some of the Cowry trees which we measured rose one hundred feet, from the ground without a single branch, and afterwards headed almost as umbrageously as the lime; the stems of others not so tall, gave circumference of forty feet.

The Cowry was the timber which the Dromedary was directed, if possible, to bring home, and as it is requisite that every spar fit to make a topmast for the larger ships of the navy, should be from seventy-four to eighty-four feet long, from twenty-one to twenty-three inches in diameter, and perfectly straight, the success of the attempt in a great measure depended upon the proximity of the trees to the water's edge, and also in no small degree upon the friendly disposition of the natives. The fitting up of the Dromedary being accomplished, and her number of hands completed, a guard of soldiers, consisting of detachments of the 69th and 84th regiments, amounting to about sixty men, embarked on board of her on the 9th Aug. 1819. On the 19th of the same month she dropped down to the Nore, where she took in 200 convicts from the Sheerness hulks; and on arriving at Spithead 169 more were sent on board from Portsmouth, making a total of 369 male convicts.


On the evening of the 11th Sept 1819, we commenced our voyage, and without any incident that could be considered at all uncommon in so long a navigation, made the South Cape of Van Diemen's Land on the 9th Jan. 1820. [2]

Convicts Landed

On Friday 21st January 347 male prisoners were landed. Seventy of the men were landed at Kangaroo Point, where they were inspected by His Honor the Lieutenant Governor at 6 o'clock, and immediately proceeded to Port Dalrymple. The remainder were afterwards landed and inspected in town; and nearly the whole were assigned to the service of settlers. The convicts were reported to be in a healthy, clean and orderly state.

On the following day we anchored in the river Derwent, and off the Settlement of Hobart's town. Here the convicts were disembarked, with the exception of a few individuals who were destined to go to Port Jackson. [2]

Port Jackson

The Dromedary sailed for Port Jackson on 22nd January taking with her the same passengers who came on her from England, and including the widow of the late Assistant Surgeon Hamilton of the 48th Regiment who had recently died after a fall from his horse in Hobart.

The Guard for the voyage from Van Diemen's Land to Port Jackson consisted of a detachment of the 84th regiment under the command of Captain Cruise and a detachment of the 69th commanded by Ensign Crae, which was to join the regiment in India. Passengers included Lieut. Charles McArthur and retired army officer Mr. William Gordon Ward and wife Susannah Matilda Ward. William Ward died soon after arrival in Port Jackson.

The Dromedary arrived in Port Jackson on 28 January 1820 during a period of extremely hot, dry weather. Twenty-two male prisoners were landed being the residue of the men who were landed at the Derwent.


The crew having been refreshed, while the ship was refitted, and having got on board twelve bullocks and two timber carriages, we sailed for New Zealand on the 15th Feb. attended by the Colonial schooner, Prince Regent (of about 30 or 40 tons), Mr. Kent, commander, who was directed by the Governor of New South Wales to give us any assistance we might require. The wind was at S.E. and light, and the thermometer stood at 71 degrees. To facilitate the object of the Dromedary's present service, we were accompanied by the Rev. S. Marsden, principal chaplain to the colony of New South Wales, who had established some missionaries in New Zealand, and who, from having frequently visited that Island, was considered popular among its inhabitants. He brought on board nine New Zealanders, who were all either chiefs, or the sons of people of that rank. They had been living with him at Parramatta. [2]

This was George Fairfowl's second voyage as surgeon superintendent on a convict ship, the first being on the Ocean in 1818. A surgeon's journal for this voyage has not survived however George Fairfowl's attitudes towards and care of prisoners can be assumed from later journals as he was also surgeon on the convict ships, Woodman in 1823, Royal Charlotte in 1825, Asia 1827 (VDL) Sovereign in 1829, Andromeda in 1830, Clyde in 1832 and the Hive in 1834..

George Fairfowl joined the voyage to New Zealand. They departed on 12th February accompanied by the Prince Regent. While in New Zealand George Fairfowl produced several sketches and Maps of the Bay of Islands.

Dr. Price of the Hadlow was also planning to depart on the Dromedary and also Assistant Surgeon Cowper, Robert Dunn of Parramatta and Patrick Hart.

Notes and Links

1). The Dromedary returned to Sydney on 20 December 1820 and departed for England on 14 February 1821 carrying Commissioner J. T. Bigge and Secretary Thomas Hobbs Scott. Unbeknownst to everyone on board, there were also two stowaways on this return voyage to England..........

..........The Sydney Gazette reported details of their escape....Portsmouth July 7 (1821).-The Dromedary, store-ship, Mr. R. Skinner, master, arrived here on Tuesday (2d instant), from New Zealand and Port Jackson, with masts, etc. in want of water, after a passage of 140 days. Whilst laying in the river off Port Jackson, on the 10th of February, William White and Peter Penny, two convicts who had been transported for felony, took possession of a boat, and rowed towards the ship, about twelve o'clock at. night ; and it being very dark, succeeded in getting on board into the hold undiscovered. They procured a little water the second day, but remained eight days without food, when they worked their way into the bread room, and took just enough to sustain life. In this situation they continued for seventeen weeks and three days, undergoing the greatest hardships, when one of them was observed by a soldier, and shortly after both were discovered, and reported to the Captain of the ship; when brought on deck, they were nearly blind from so long a confinement in the hold. Their intention was to have got on shore at Rio Janeiro, at which place they expected the ship would have touched. On their arrival in the Sound, they were placed under confinement; and having been examined before the Magistrates, were yesterday (Friday 6th instant) committed to Exeter, to take their trial for returning from transportation before the expiration of their sentence. (William White alias Thomas Long first arrived in the colony on the General Stewart in 1818 and Peter Penneys arrived on the Tottenham. They were both re-transported on the Asia in 1822 and sent immediately to Port Macquarie where Penneys was employed as a shipwright)

2). The Dromedary was stationed at Bermuda in the 1830's.

3). From Wikipedia......The Dromedary remained in the same place for several decades with the result that where she lay became a midden. In 1982 the Bermudian government gave permission for divers to conduct an underwater archaeological dig at the site. The dig recovered a large collection of 19th-century material directly associated with convict life on the hulks. The archaeologists recovered thousands of artefacts including whale oil lamps, pewter mugs, engraved spoons, clay pipes, bottles, buttons, seals, coins, trinkets, charms, rings, beads, gaming pieces, religious items, knife handles and gaming boards.

4). Convicts and passengers of the Dromedary identified in the Hunter Valley

5). Old Bailey - Charles Rennet was brought up among the other prisoners to receive the sentence of the law. He was the very picture of wretchedness; his hollow eyes, and emaciated countenance, evidently showed the dreadful sufferings he had undergone during his confinement in Newgate, even for the short space of time which had elapsed since his trial an conviction on Friday week. When brought into the dock, and while sentence of 7 years transportation was passed upon him, he held down his head and was silent; but as soon as the sentence was pronounced, he became dreadfully agitated and burst into a flood of tears. In this state he was led out of court (LAW . The Examiner (London, England), Sunday, June 6, 1819; Issue 597. British Library Newspapers, Part I: 1800-1900. )


[1] Lachlan and Elizabeth Macquarie Archive - January 1820

[2] Journal of a Ten Months' Residence in New Zealand By Richard Alexander Cruise

[3] Bateson, Charles Library of Australian History (1983). The convict ships, 1787-1868 (Australian ed). Library of Australian History, Sydney : pp.342-343, 356-357, 383