Free Settler or Felon
Convict and Colonial History

Convict Ship Pestonjee Bomanjee - 1847

Embarked: 200 men
Voyage: 115 days
Deaths: 5
Surgeon's Journal: Yes
Captain John Austin
Surgeon Colin Arrott Browning

The Pestonjee Bomanjee was built at Dumbarton, Scotland in 1834.

Convicts Embarked

Colin Arrott Browning kept a medical journal from 29th September 1846 to 28 February 1847.

Two hundred prisoners were received from Millbank Prison on to the Pestonjee Bomanjee at Woolwich on 5th October 1846.

By the 14th October the vessel was moving down the river and anchored at 'The Nob' on 18th October. They reached the Downs on 20th October when Dr. Browning reported 'a painful case' brought before him; a lad convicted of using improper language.

Three or four youths seemed to be very hardened and reckless with no disposition to reform. He did not wish to commence with flogging or even ironing the prisoners as the glory of the voyage vanishes when punishment commences. Most of the prisoners behaved well and deplored the conduct of the 'youngsters'.


The Pestonjee Bomanjee departed London on 25 October 1846 and although they touched at Teneriffe they were not allowed to communicate because of sickness on the island. .......

A very infectious disease prevailed in the Island of Teneriffe, therefore we immediately weighed anchor and shaped our course for Simon's Bay, Cape of Good Hope, where we will touch, to fill up water and receive fresh provisions. [5]

The son of Dr. Browning, Arthur Harington Browning died of typhus fever at his school on 1st November 1846 aged 11 years while the Pestonjee Bomanjee was at sea. [6]It is unlikely that Dr. Browning heard of this news until at least they reach the Cape a month later but perhaps not even until they reach Hobart.

Cape of Good Hope

They arrived at the Cape of Good Hope on the 7th December 1846 and sailed from there on 3rd January 1847. [1]

Our voyage from the Cape to Hobart Town, where we arrived Feb. 16, partook of the character of the previous part of our voyage. The total number of men who appeared to have received Christ, and openly avowed before all their fellowship, amounted on Feb. 15, to 132. Not a lash was inflicted, - not an iron was seen on the prisoners' decks. The behaviour of my men, after they had been a few weeks under scriptural instruction, prayer, and discipline, exceeded in correctness and superiority of character that of any other body of men ever committed to my care. [5]

Military Guard

The guard consisted of Captain Hume of the 58th regiment, Ensign Williams, Private James Heaton, 65th regiment and 50 rank and file, 27 women and 27 children. The Guard were en route to New Zealand where they would engage in the 'Maori Wars'.

The surgeon remarked unfavorably of the Guard...The total number of patients in the sick book amounted to 47, of whom 14 were prisoners and the remaining 33 belonged to the Guard. Seven were soldier's wives. Respecting the soldiers themselves he observed in his Return that several of them were in a state of health that ought to have excluded them altogether from the Guard of a convict ship. He thought that the most trying portion of his duties was to the soldiers' wives, nearly the whole of whom were the most self willed, disobedient and unruly body of women that ever came under my immediate observation. Nine of them were brought to confinement on the voyage. [4]


The Pestonjee Bomanjee arrived in Hobart on 16 February 1847. According to Dr. Browning's journal, five men died on the voyage out. The Colonial Times reported that 174 prisoners arrived on the Pestonjee Bomanjee. This is inconsistent with Dr. Browning's letters which record that 200 prisoners were originally embarked.

The prisoners were originally intended for Norfolk Island however this was altered while the ship still lay at Plymouth.

They were examined at Hobart Town while we were lying in the harbour, and then the vessel was ordered round to Maria Island, on the east coast of Tasmania; where my men are placed in a new station, entirely by themselves, no old hands near them. Whether some who may arrive from England may be placed among them I know not. I got up at day-break on Feb. 28th, and collected my men in the prison. We sang together the hymn, In all the changing scenes of life. I read 1 Pet. ii., and prayed with them for the last time. I had been for several days addressing them, two or three, or sometimes four times a day, with reference to our final parting. After committing them all to the Lord, and to the word of his grace, I shook hands with every one of them, in the midst of many cries and tears, loud sobs, and covered faces. Nearly all the day was occupied in the debarkation of the prisoners and guard. [5]

In future all prisoners were to be sent direct to Van Diemen's Land instead of Norfolk Island except those who were doubly or trebly convicted. [2]

Norfolk Island

The Pestonjee Bomanjee was then chartered to convey to Van Diemen's Land all those men on Norfolk Island sent out from England under probation thereby removing them from influence of the hardened criminals on the Island [3]. The number of convicts at Norfolk Island was to be immediately reduced to about five hundred and the establishment was to be reduced to about one hundred and fifty soldiers and a few civilians.

Maria Island

The prisoners of the Pestonjee Bomanjee as well as those from the Tory were to be forwarded to Maria Island under improved regulations and superintendence of an increased staff of officers.

Health of the Prisoners

Dr. Browning remarked in his journal that several of the prisoners were of delicate disposition and a few had lost all their teeth and were therefore unable to masticate the hard biscuit and salt beef that was provided. Three prisoners died of pulmonary disease - John Thompson, George Lucas and Martin Sconce and another Henry Brown from the effects of venereal disease.

Colin Browning saw it as his duty to prevent disease on the voyage rather than curing long standing ailments and therefore concentrated on encouraging cleanliness and exercise. His concern that prisoners would suffer from scurvy induced him to press for a break in the voyage and he remarked that the fresh vegetables and meat that they procured at Simon's Bay greatly benefitted the men. [4]

Notes and Links

1). Colin Arrott Browning was also employed as surgeon on the convict ships Surry in 1831, Earl Grey in 1843 (VDL); Theresa in 1845 (VDL) and the Hashemy in 1849.

2). James Heaton of the 65th Foot Regiment (2nd Yorkshire and North Riding, also called the Royal Tigers for their service in India) was detailed as a guard and possibly his wife and child travelled on board too (Contact descendant P.J. Knipe for more information about James Heaton)

3). Extracts from Letters of Dr. Browning on board the Pestonjee Bomanjee while conveying to Tasmania 200 prisoners originally under sentence to Norfolk Island and 346 prisoners from Norfolk Island from The Convict Ship, and England's Exiles Third Edition By Colin Arrott Browning........

4). Diary of James Glass, carpenter on board the convict ship Pestonjee Bomanjee - Royal Museum Greenwich


[1] Colonial Times 19 February 1847

[2] Colonial Times 19 February 1847

[3] The Courier 3 March 1847

[4] Medical Journal of Colin Arrot Browning on the voyage of the Pestonjee Bomanjee from London to Van Diemen's Land UK Royal Navy Medical Journals, 1817-1857

[5] The Convict Ship, and England's Exiles ... Third Edition By Colin Arrott Browning

[6] Colonial Times 13 April 1847