Free Settler or Felon
Convict and Colonial History

Convict Ship Exmouth - 1831

Embarked 290 men
Voyage 148 days
Deaths 1
Surgeon's Journal: yes
Tons: 723 Crew 59 men
Previous vessel: Georgiana arrived 27 July 1831
Next vessel: Palambam arrived 31 July 1831
Captain Daniel Warren
Surgeon William Conborough Watt
Prisoners and passengers of the Exmouth identified in the Hunter Valley

The Convicts

The convicts transported on the Exmouth came from counties throughout England, Wales and Scotland - Glamorgan, Montgomery, Caernarnvon, Carmarthan, Jedburgh, Dumfries, Aberdeen, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Perth, Inverary, Stirling, Denbigh, Chester, Hertford, Essex, York, Lancaster, Warwick, Stafford, Worcester, Kent, Middlesex, Derby, Bristol, London, Surrey, Gloucester, Westminster, Salop, Lincoln, Nottingham, Bucks, Leicester, Northampton, Cambridge, Cumberland, Bedfordand and Shrewsbury. There were also those who had been court-martialled at Gibraltar, Chatham and Woolwich.

Prison Hulks

Justitia Hulk at Woolwich
The first of the prisoners, one hundred in number were embarked on the Exmouth from the hulks Ganymede, Justitia and Discovery at Woolwich. The remainder of the prisoners embarked at Sheerness where the vessel lay from 19th February until 2nd March.

Convicts perform hard labour at the Woolwich Warren. The hulk on the river is the 'Justitia'.

Prisoners were kept on board such ships for months awaiting deportation to Australia.

The 'Justitia' was a 260 ton prison hulk that had been originally moored in the Thames when the American War of Independence put a stop to the transportation of criminals to the former colonies.

Prisoners Embarked

This was William Conborough Watt's third voyage as surgeon-superintendent on a convict ship. He had previously served on the convict ships Edward in 1829 and the Roslin Castle in 1830.

He kept a Journal from 11 January to 18 August 1831. According to his Journal a total of 405 people were embarked on the Exmouth including 55 children and 59 ship's company.

The weather was exceedingly wet and boisterous making it necessary to keep the prisoners crowded below deck. The surgeon began treating prisoners while the ship lay at Sheerness in February.

At this time ophthalmia presented in the boys' prison where, according to the surgeon, fifty six of the offspring of the most dissolute and abandoned London vagrants were confined. Their filthy and slovenly propensities and habits aided by close confinement to prison and the damp atmosphere, which they inhaled, added to the difficulties of treating the disorder.

Many had been afflicted with bad eyes on board the Euralysis hulk. Two young men James Burnes and Thomas Knowles, both aged 15 suffered from catarrh and ophthalmia, occasioned they thought by being put to watch the swinging stoves while on the Euralysis hulk. There was also an outbreak of ophthalmia among the ships company and guard. [1]

Military Guard

The Guard consisted of 3 sergeants, 46 rank and file with their wives and families of the 87th Royal Irish Fusiliers under command of Captain Moore and Lieutenants Irwin and Middlemore


The Exmouth was the next convict ship to leave England for New South Wales after the departure of the Eleanor in February 1831. Adverse winds and tempestuous weather delayed the ship's final departure from England until the morning of the 24th March 1831.

The Voyage

On his previous voyages of the Edward in 1829 and the Roslin Castle in 1830, William C. Watt had treated the convicts with compassion and all his skill and this continued on the voyage of the Exmouth. His observations in the journal include references to the prisoners' mental health and the impact on their physical ailments.

On leaving England, he observed...

.......the prisoners enjoyed tolerable health but amongst them even a casual observer could not fail to discover many who, (amid the thoughtless devilry and careless indifference of their fellow prisoners) in a retired corner of the prison, were the victims of most agonising reflections. With feelings of deep contrition, they brooded over their dereliction from the paths of rectitude. Separated from relations friends and country, the companions of the vilest description of their species and objects of suspicion to the rest of mankind, labouring thus under this depressed state of mind which I have attempted to describe. Confined in the between decks of a prison ship crowded to excess by two hundred and ninety delinquents breathing air vitiated from the boisterous state of the weather rendering it impossible to open the air scuttles to admit of ventilation. Neglectful of personal cleanliness, upon a poor diet of salt animal food for the period of time and through such a variety of climate as a voyage to New South Wales requires, and without a ray of hope to cheer them on their arrival at their remote destination, many of the unfortunate beings from the commencement of the voyage gave themselves entirely up to despair and it was not without foreboding that I contemplated the serious nature of the charge entrusted to me.

Nor were my fears unfounded early in March scurvy made its appearance and progressively increased numbering amongst its most early victims those objects who, trained to habits of profligacy and debauchery with constitutions debilitated by every species of vice, I had observed most secluded and sensible of the miseries to which their follies had exposed them - with them the disease assumed its most inveterate form and required a variety of treatments the usual means prescribed in such cases having failed in procuring for them that relief which it afforded to others labouring under a milder form of the disorder. [1]

In all eighteen men suffered from scurvy and according to the surgeon all but three were cured with a solution of nitre and vinegar. The convicts suffered from many other complaints as well as scurvy, ranging from rashes and eruptions to tonsillitis, headache and melancholia.


On 25th April sixteen year old Peter Pollen suffered serious burns to his back and shoulder when a bucket of hot liquid was spilt over him as he lay in his bunk. He was kept in the hospital for a month. [1]

Port Jackson

The Exmouth arrived in Port Jackson on 28th July 1831. One prisoner, Richard Beard had died at sea on the 28th May from Pythisis and three were sent to hospital on arrival.

The prisoners exhibited anything but a healthy appearance on their arrival and they had but barely recovered their strength of body and energy of mind at the period of their disembarkation after fifteen days liberal supply of fresh beef and vegetables. [1]

Convict Muster

A muster was held on board by the Colonial Secretary on the 1st August 1831. The indents include name, age, education, religion, marital status, family, native place, trade, offence, when and where tried, sentence, previous convictions, physical description and who the prisoners were assigned to on arrival. There is also occasional information in the indents regarding relatives already in the country, dates of death, pardons and prior convictions. [3]

And so it is revealed that Thomas Whitehead died at Patrick Plains in 1833 and John Walker was executed at Norfolk Island in September 1834 and also that William Swallow was being returned once more to his place of punishment.

William Swallow first arrived as a convict in Van Diemen's Land on the Georgiana in 1829. He became infamous as one of the pirates who escaped in the brig Cyprus in 1829. Read about his adventures here. Although Francis McNamara did not arrived in the colony until 1832, he wrote a ballad about the Cyprus which became one of Australia's well known Folk Songs

Departure of the Exmouth

The Exmouth departed Sydney for Calcutta in September, however returned to port in consequence of adverse winds experienced while attempting to pass through Torres Strait. They left Sydney again in October.

Life in the Colony

Sixteen convict ships arrived in New South Wales in 1831. Many of the prisoners arriving on these vessels would have witnessed the bonfires in Sydney on 2nd December 1831, set alight to celebrate the arrival of the new Governor Sir Richard Bourke.

Of the 289 men who arrived on the Exmouth, 112 have been identified as residing in the Hunter region in the following decades. Quite a few were sent to work for the Australian Agricultural Company in their Coal Mines at Newcastle. Others such as John Cook who was assigned to William Dumaresq were sent far up the valley, perhaps to tend flocks or be employed in other agricultural work. James Souter was attached to Sir Thomas Livingstone Mitchell's expedition in the capacity of assistant surgeon.

The punishment meted out to William Smith for drunkenness and resisting arrest was probably fairly typical of that other convicts experienced for committing minor transgressions of the law. Bushranger Henry Hughes who touched hand with some of the most notorious convicts in the colony, received a much harsher penalty and was transported to a penal colony for life.

George Palliser achieved infamy and narrowly escaped being hanged when he became part of what is known as the Myall Creek Massacre.

Bushranger Herbert Owen may have been another who escaped the penalty of the law. Although his named was printed in the wanted lists for years, there is no record of his fate.

Notes and Links

1). As well as the Exmouth, Edward in 1829, Roslin Castle in 1830, William Conborough Watt was also employed as surgeon on the Mary in 1833.

2). Following is a list of boys who were placed in a separate prison on the ship. Most were sent to the Carter's Barracks on arrival.....

Ardley, William age 14 - Farmer's boy from Essex
Burns, James age 14 - Block maker from Liverpool
Bromley, James age 15 - Paper stainer from London
Brown, Thomas age 16 - Builder's boy from London
Cross, Robert age 15 - Gardener's boy from Malta
Cartwright, James age 14 - Silver Smith from London
Cayton, William age 14 - Brass founder from Birmingham
Dean, John age 14 - Weaver from Lancashire
Donald, Alexander age 15 - Stonemason from Greenock
Fowler, William age 15 - Brass founder from Birmingham
Fowler, Henry age 15 - Pearl button maker from Bristol
Farrish, David age 14 - Farm boy from Annan
Griffith, William age 15 - Show boy from Halifax
Gordon, James age 15 - Farm boy from Aberdeen
Hughes, Henry age 14 - Errand boy from London
Hodgson, Henry age 14 - Knife boy and sailor from London
Hill, James age 14 - Factory boy from Cumberland
Jones, Thomas age 15 - Brass founder from Birmingham
Knowles, Thomas age 13 - Weaver from Newcastle
Mather, James age 14 - Cotton weaver from Bristol
Munns, Henry age 16 - Shoemaker from London
Marshea, Benjamin age 15 - Jeweller and tailor's boy from Birmingham
Patchett, James age 14 - Errand boy from London
Rainford, John age 15 - Moulder from Reston
Rudd, John age 15 - Cow boy from Varmouth
Shannon, William age 15 - Shoemaker from Manchester
Steel, William age 15 - Stable boy from Staffordshire
Toms, Edmond age 14 - Errand boy from London
Underhill, Thomas age 15 - Brass cock dresser from Birmingham
Wilmott, Henry age 14 - Errand boy from London

3). The Adventures of William Swallow and the seizure of the Cyprus at Recherche Bay.... Bill Wannan's Colonial Cavalcade


[1] Journal of William Conborough Watt on the voyage of the Exmouth in 1831. UK, Royal Navy Medical Journals, 1817-1857 . The National Archives. Kew, Richmond, Surrey.

[2] Bateson, Charles Library of Australian History (1983). The convict ships, 1787-1868 (Australian ed). Library of Australian History, Sydney : pp.350-351, 387

[3] Bound manuscript indents, 1788 - 1842. NRS 12188, microfiche 614 - 619,626 - 657, 660 - 695. State Records Authority of New South Wales, Kingswood, New South Wales, Australia.