Free Settler or Felon
Convict and Colonial History

Robert Beith R. N.,

Convict Ship Surgeon-Superintendent

Robert Beith, R.D. Pritchard, J. Patrick and E. D'Euvergne were appointed assistant surgeons to the Cornwallis in January 1842 [1]


Robert Beith was employed as Surgeon on the Eden to VDL and Port Phillip in 1849. He took over at the Cape when Robert McCrea became ill.

The Eden departed Plymouth with 237 male convicts on 5 October 1848. She sailed via the Cape and Hobart where 35 prisoners were landed and arrived in Port Phillip on 4 February 1849 with 198 men.


He resided at the Greenwich Hospital when the 1851 Census was taken and was employed as an assistant surgeon, unmarried and age 30. The other assistant surgeons were Nicholas Littleton and Christian Clarke.

In the 1861 Census Robert Beith is listed at the Naval Hospital at Plymouth and employed as a surgeon (M.D. Glasgow). He is unmarried and aged 40. He employs a housekeeper, Caroline Bond age 39.

Medical Registry

Medical Registry 1865 - Registered 31 December 1860, Deputy Inspector General of Hospitals and Fleets, Royal Naval Hospital, Plymouth. Lic Royal College Surgeons, Edinburgh 1841, M.D. University Glasgow 1845.


Dr. Beith entered her Majesty's naval medical service in October, 1841, and served for some years in U.M.S. Dido, under that distinguished officer, Admiral Sir Henry Keppel, K.C.B., during the first war in China, and in the operations against the Malay pirates in the eastern seas. During a part of this period fever and dysentery prevailed at Amoy amongst the naval and military forces employed on that station. The whole of the medical officers attached to the troops were swept away by the fatal epidemic, and Dr. Beith was lauded and placed in sole medical charge of the 18th Royal Irish, and detachments of other regiments. With that prompt energy for which he was always remarkable, he at once urged the immediate embarkation of the whole of the detachments, and to this wise and prudent measure it was owing, under Providence, that the remnant of the troops were saved.

Subsequently, while serving on board the Athol troop-ship, he had to contend with an outbreak of small-pox amongst the troops embarked, and rendered valuable services on that occasion likewise, as medical officer in sole charge.

His next appointment was to Greenwich Hospital, where he served until his promotion in 1852. Here he laid the foundation of his future fame and eminence by his assiduous culture of every branch of his profession, constantly attending not only at the large hospital to which he was attached, but also at the London hospitals, various medical societies, and other sources of professional knowledge. After a brief period of service in the Channel Fleet, as surgeon of the Vulture, he was selected, on the breaking out of the Russian war, by the late Sir William Burnett, DirectorGeneral, as the first surgeon of H.M.S. Belleisle, then fitted out as the hospital ship of the Baltic fleet. He held this appointment during the whole of the war, and performed many of the most important capital operations of surgery with great skill and success. The highly efficient state of the Belleisle, as the hospital-ship of the largest fleet which ever left the shores of Britain, is the best evidence of his rare ability and administrative talent.

At the close of the war, while temporarily employed at Haslar, he was engaged in the treatment of an alarming outbreak of typhoid fever amongst the marines at Forton Barracks, and was one of a committee who traced the cause of that epidemic to its true source—namely, sewage pollution of certain wells, which the men had been in the habit of using for drinking and cooking purposes.

After having had charge of Deal and Bermuda hospitals for about two years, he was finally appointed to Plymouth Hospital, first as surgeon and medical store-keeper, on the 29th of December, 1860, and then as Deputy Inspector-General, on the 30th of August, 1861.

During this, the last seven years of his active, useful, and varied career, he was the consulting and operative surgeon of this great national establishment, and in that capacity his high professional abilities were fully recognised, not only by his brother officers in the naval and military services, but by the profession at large; and he gained the unbounded confidence of the officers, seamen, and marines of the Fleet.

Here he fully established his reputation as a most accomplished and successful operative surgeon; while his evidence Wore the Committee on the Contagious Diseases Act, and other committees, has marked him as a man of highly cultivated mind and extensive information. By the premature death of this gifted officer it may be truly said that the naval medical service has lost a real ornament
. [2]


[1] United Service Magazine

[2] The Lancet