Free Settler or Felon
Convict and Colonial History

Samuel Turner

Convict Ship Surgeon

Samuel Turner - Surgeon - Evangelical Magazine

Samuel Turner was appointed Surgeon to the convict ship Royal Admiral transporting 300 prisoners to New South Wales in 1800. Gaol fever raged on the voyage and 43 prisoners died as well as four seamen, a convict's wife and a convict's child.

Samuel Turner also succumbed to the disease. He was only twenty-six years of age.

Early Life

Memoir of Mr. Samuel Turner
Communicated by his Friend and Pastor the Rev. William Maurice


Samuel Turner was born in London, October 21, 1774. It was his happiness to descend from pious, though not opulent parents. About the period of his birth his father, though in business, was an occasional preacher of the Gospel of Christ at various places in and around the metropolis. Soon after the birth of this son he removed to Morpeth, in Northumberland, where he continued some time labouring as a stated Minister; afterwards he became assistant to the late venerable and Rev. Mr. Edwards of Leeds; and lastly, he had his lot cast by Providence at Gatley, near Stockport, in Cheshire, where he continued pastor of an Independent Congregation to his death, about 1792.

He was a worthy, humble, godly, and honest man, as was well known to many beside the writer of this Memoir. Previous to his death he had been very anxious about his son, not knowing how to procure him a situation in any respectable line of business, a premium generally being required, which, because of the narrowness of his circumstances, he was totally unable to give. God, however graciously removed this difficulty, and through the kindness of friends he was placed apprentice to a Chymist and Druggist in the populous town of Bolton-le-Moors, in Lancashire.

Being of an observant and curious turn of mind, he improved, not only in the knowledge of his own business, but also in the principles of medicine in general; by which he was the better prepared for his future situation as Missionary Surgeon.

Though from the age of fifteen to twenty he made no open profession of religion, yet his deportment was steady and becoming. He used to spend much of his time in reading; and this circumstance raised a little suspicion in the minds of some that the books he read were of an improper tendency; but this was found, on enquiry, to Be groundless. During a considerable part of the above period, the writer of this was pastor of the Independent Church in Bolton. Upon his ministry, Mr. Turner constantly attended, and always looked up to him as to a friend and a father; especially after the loss of his natural parents. One or two evenings in a week he generally devoted to conversations with him, which exhibited considerable evidence of the grace of God in his heart; yet he always spake of himself, and of what he thought or felt as to his experience, with the utmost modesty.

As the expiration of his apprenticeship drew near, he was much harassed with fears respecting his future lot in life. The cloud, however, moved - and Providence suddenly and unexpectedly fixed him at Haslar Hospital, near Gosport, as an assistant surgeon; and also under the ministry. of the Rev. Mr. Bogue. His continuance at this place was three years. Here his, knowledge in medicine and surgery were very considerably, advanced.

He had an opportunity of extensive practice at a time when many useful improvements, founded on experience, were introduced into surgery, by which he benefited much, and deservedly raised himself eminent in his profession. Would to God he had been growing in the best things also! In knowledge, faith, love, holiness, and communion with God! It is painful here to mention a report that, during some part of this time, his behaviour and conduct was not so orderly as it had formerly been. Did the change of scene, and of society, subject him to too strong temptation? Was this a season of backsliding? If it were so; yet, a gracious God, we trust, reclaimed and healed him, by sovereign and efficacious grace.

Previous to the second voyage of the Duff, a serious person was wanted as surgeon. Mr. Turner was persuaded to apply to the Society. He at first modestly refused, not from a backwardness to devote himself to the work of a Missionary, but from a deep sense of his own insufficiency and unworthiness to sustain that sacred character. Being further urged, he complied, saying 'The will of the Lord be Done'

Voyage of the Duff 1798

Samuel Turner was one of the Missionaries on board the second voyage of the missionary ship Duff in 1798 -

On Wednesday, the 5th December the married Missionaries left town to proceed to Portsmouth, and next morning, the wind becoming fair, the Duff, in company with about 70 other ships, proceeded from the Downs to Spithead, where she arrived on Saturday. On their passage they were interrupted by a thick fog, wherein several ships ran aground, among which was the Henry Addington East Indiaman, since gone to pieces.

From Sunday to Thursday the communication with land was interrupted by the weather. On Friday morning, signal being made for sailing, the married Missionaries went on board with their families but on Saturday, the wind proving again unfavourable, they were detained over another Sabbath. During the time the vessel anchored off Portsmouth, some alterations were made in the ship for the accommodation of the married Missionaries, much to their satisfaction.

On Wednesday a favourable breeze springing up, signal was made for sailing, and early next morning the fleet weighed again under convoy of the Amphion frigate, and was out of sight before noon. With the same convoy sailed the Hillsborough, a Government Transport ship, for Botany Bay, on board of which are four other Missionaries, who purpose to disembark at the Cape of Good Hope. Evangelical Magazine

Before the end of December, the Duff sailed from England on her second voyage to the South Sea Islands, under the command of captain Thomas Robson, with twenty-nine missionaries on board, and the Rev. Mr. Howel of Knaresburgh as superintendent of the mission. A number of the missionaries were married; five of them were ordained to the ministry; several of them possessed some degree of medical knowledge; and most of the others were artizans of various descriptions.

The Duff Captured by a French Privateer

The Duff had not left England two months, when she and all the missionaries on board were captured off Cape Frio, on the nineteenth of February 1799, by the Bonoparte, a French privateer of twenty-two guns, and upwards of two hundred men. The morning of that day was clear and fine, and it was just possible to perceive a vessel at a prodigious distance, but as its appearance was very insignificant (for it was only like a fishing smack) the missionaries and the crew of the Duff, with one or two exceptions, were disposed to pay little or no attention to it. It seemed extremely improbable that an enemy's ship should be cruizing in that quarter, and the conclusion that it would inevitably fall into the hands of the Portuguese, tended still further to dispel every fear.

During the preceding part of the voyage, they had uniformly been alarmed on the sight of any strange sail, and committed themselves to the protection of the Most High; but, on this occasion, as they were apprehensive of no danger, so they offered up no prayers for deliverance. The event, indeed, shewed that their security was founded in presumption; but yet it is proper to remark, that had they known the utmost of their danger, it was not in their power to have shunned it, for there was a still calm during the early part of the day, so that they could make no way at all, and they apprehended that the same was the case with the other vessel. Indeed, from the best observations they were able to make with their glasses, she seemed to be riding at anchor, about twelve o'clock; whereas, it afterwards appeared, that she was advancing towards them by the help of her sweeps, at the rate of several miles an hour; but with all her port holes shut, the better to conceal her hostile design.

About four in the afternoon there sprung up a light breeze, and they made the best use of it they were able, being now within a few leagues of Rio Janeiro, and impatient to reach that port, in order to obtain refreshments. With this view alone, and not from any apprehension of danger, they made all the sail they could; and though they perceived the other vessel doing the same, it gave them little or no concern. What then was their surprise and astonishment, when about ten o'clock at night, after they had spent the day in the most perfect security, she fired a gun to bring them to. The moon had hitherto shone bright; but a light squall now sprung up; the sky was obscured by a thick cloud, and a heavy shower of rain began to fall. At that moment, the first shot was followed by a second, the direction of which was so near the Duff, as to be heard in the air, and seen in the water. Most of the company, however, were still disposed to hope the best; and that, when it was understood who they were, and what was their design, they would be allowed to proceed on their voyage without further molestation. But this hope quickly vanished when she came up to them: then the haughty tone of her English interpreter not only rendered them suspicious of danger, but made some of them literally tremble.

The enemy, with little ceremony, ordered them to send off their boat; and as this was not done instantly, they again bellowed forth the authoritative command, threatening, in case of refusal, to sink them to the bottom. The first mate accordingly hastened on board the Bonaparte; and, in a short time, he returned with the awful intelligence, that the Duff was a prize, and that all the men, were ordered to leave her immediately, and go on board the enemy.

The feelings of the captain, the missionaries, and the crew, on receiving this order, it is more easy to conceive than describe. The married brethren, in particular, were filled with the utmost consternation and distress; the thought of leaving their wives and their children in the hands of a lawless banditti, swallowed up every other consideration. Besides, the officers who had come on board, armed with cutlasses, executed the order with so much despatch, that no opportunity was afforded those who had no wearing apparel but what they had on, to procure a further supply, a circumstance which afterwards tended not a little to aggravate their distress. Some of the sailors, indeed, had already taken possession of the cabins, and were enriching themselves with the spoils; while others drove the missionaries and the crew into the boat, as if they had been so many sheep for the slaughter, without inquiring whether the number herded together could be accommodated or not. Even after it was full as it could well hold, they threw down upon them from the ship whatever baggage was to be conveyed to the privateer, without the smallest regard to their safety. 'Our property,' says Mr. Howel, ' they knew how to value; our persons were deemed of little worth.'

The prisoners, on entering the Bonaparte, were struck with the scene: it seemed a kind of hell in uproar. Noise and confusion reigned in full perfection, which, together with the forlorn appearance, the squalid looks, and the barbarous manners of the crew, overwhelmed the poor missionaries with grief and horror. They stood all together near the stern of the vessel, to which they were directed as they entered, till about two o'clock in the morning, gazing on one another as helpless objects of commiseration, lost in astonishment, incapable of making one consolatory reflection for their mutual comfort, and sunk almost into a state of mental torpor; unable to reconcile their present disastrous situation with the gracious superintending providence of God, and ignorant of what severe trials they might yet be called to suffer......

The Bonaparte was out on a three months cruise, so that the prospect before them was not the most pleasing; but having in less than a fortnight taken three other prizes, captain Carbonelle altered his original design, and sailed for Monte Video in the Rio de la Plata, where he arrived within three weeks after the capture of the Duff; and thus the captivity of the missionaries was providentially shortened. On their arrival, they had the happiness to learn that the Duff had reached Monte Video ten days before them. Immediately on being taken possession of by the French, she had been despatched to that port under the command of M. Riviere, as prize-master, with the women and children on board; a circumstance which had occasioned, both them and their partners in life, the greatest anxiety and distress, as it was uncertain when, or even if ever, they should see each other again. Captain Carbonelle, however, had kindly suffered Mr. Turner, the surgeon, to accompany them, in order to afford them medical aid, in case of any indisposition occurring among them. Indeed, though the sailors were disposed to pilfer and otherwise maltreat them, yet the officers uniformly shewed them the utmost attention, treating them with the greatest politeness, and the most scrupulous delicacy. Every regard was paid to their convenience and comfort, as well as to their personal safety. Whatever provisions were on board, were at their command; and they were told, they had only to mention what they wanted, and if it was in the ship it was at their service. The history of missions: or, Of the propagation of Christianity

Appointed to the Convict Ship Royal Admiral

On his return from the disastrous voyage of the Duff his connection with the Missionary Society was dissolved. He took up an appointment as Surgeon on H.M.S. Mentor stationed off the coast of Devonshire near Exmouth. However when an opportunity was offered to sail on the Royal Admiral, to Botany Bay as Surgeon he accepted:

The Missionary Society having agreed to send out Missionaries by the Royal Admiral, then bound to Botany Bay with convicts, the situation of Surgeon to this ship was procured for him, which, as his missionary spirit was not abated, drew him from his retreat and again brought him to London. His intercourse with his brethren at Fetter-lane appeared peculiarly sweet to him, and pleasant to those who bad become intimate with him, during the whole time he was detained in town waiting for the ship's preparation and sailing.

Religious exercises seemed to be what he loved, and the house of God his home. It will not soon be forgotten how ardently and affectionately he was commended to God at this place. His last letters bore evident marks of his love to the brethren, and his sense of the pleasure he had experienced in Christian communion with them. He entertained hopes of returning, and of settling peacefully in the bosom of their friendship. Hopes - never to be realized.

He went on board the Royal Admiral some time in or about the second week in April 1800, and sailed round to Portsmouth to wait for a convoy. They left the shores of England about the 15th of May.

It seems his spirits had been lower than usual, while waiting for she convoy, without any reason assigned or conjectured. Some little of this had been also observed in London. Was this from dejection arising from parting with friends, or from a weighty presentiment of death? Certainly, under some impression of the probability of his being cut off, he sent his last Will and wishes to his beloved pastor, which closed for ever all epistolatory correspondence between them.


Extracts from the Journal of the Royal Admiral. May 24, 1800.

The Surgeon, Mr. Turner, very ill

26th. Dr. Turner is in a very dangerous fever; we are much alarmed at the increase of this epidemical disease. To-day there are fifteen convicts in the hospital taken ill of that fever, which is exactly described by Buchan in his Domestic Medicine

One of the births in our study being given to Dr. Turner at the beginning of his illness, consequently he was continually attended by the brethren; and for some nights we have sat up with him. Now he grows delirious! but at times he enjoys his senses; and last night at intervals expressed an earnest desire to be clothed with the righteousness of Christ.

June 1st. In the afternoon held a Prayer Meeting in behalf of our brother Turner, he seems to be considerably worse since yesterday forenoon.

Monday 2d. Since last Saturday morning Dr. Turner spoke but little. To-day he was quite speechless. Almost through his illness he had some expectation of getting better, though for some time past we had not the least hopes of his recovery. This day perceiving his dissolution drawing near, some of the brethren engaged in prayer (as we have done several times before) on his behalf.

Just as they concluded, about forty minutes past three in the afternoon, his soul being freed from his earthly tabernacle, departed to be with Christ. His body was put in a coffin, and at half past six deposited in the great deep; till the time when the sea shall give up its dead.

J. Youl read the burial service. All that were present behaved decently; some were much affected, especially the brethren that had been with him in the Duff. Thus ended the life of our brother Turner, after an illness of fourteen days, which he bore with patience. His death was regretted by all on board, as he was much esteemed both as a Surgeon and as a Christian. Memoir of Samuel Turner - Evangelical Magazine