The East London

by Colleen Arulappu


The stories of the East London will be published below as a series of chapters.


The East London

  • Introduction Open or Close


    The East London stories came about through personal family connections. But they grew with my curiosity about what brought these women to the decks of a convict ship and how they endured the voyage. The mess lists provided a glimpse of the hierarchy on board ship.

    I looked at the family situation of each woman, the social and economic times, sectarianism and searched for newspaper reports of the trials. There are chapters on the children and their suffering and the children left in Ireland. I looked at resistance, mental health, violence and family transported. The individual stories are small snapshots of life after transportation for each woman.

    A few women from the East London welcomed transportation but most wailed their grief. Newspaper reports of their trials were not usually detailed but some described their cries and tears and also their feisty responses to the judges. The Constant and the East London sailed in the early mornings out of the harbour with not a word written in the press of the farewell. The grief was covered by silence.

    The journey was hellish and their numbers depleted. The women who survived the voyage arrived angry and resistant. They served their sentences, married or partnered, children were born. Some suffered mentally and others from childbirth or illness. Some mothers became grandmothers of new generations; quietly living out their lives while others faded away idle and drunk. There were women whose whole story remains untold. Perhaps they are ancestors of many more of us than we know and perhaps one day their story will be told. 

                      Colleen Arulappu                                               

  • Chapter 1: The Prison Ship Lies Waiting in the Harbour Open or Close

    The East London

    A barque, 409 ton, built at Sunderland 1839.

    four guns

    EL SJ

    Master, James Parley

    Surgeon Superintendent, Edward Caldwell

    Left Dublin 10 May 1843

    Sailed via Madeira

    Arrived Hobart 21 September 1843

    133 days on the voyage


    The Prison Ship Lies Waiting in the Harbour

    The East London left Deptford on 13 April 1843 having received all the necessary stores on board. It anchored that evening at Gravesend and, over the next week, sailed past the Isle of Sheppey, Dungeness and Beachy Heads, past the Owers Lights, the Isle of Wight, Portland, past The Lizard off the starboard bow, and Mounts Bay, on its short journey between England and Ireland. By 20 April the ship was in the Irish Channel within sight of the Saltees off the Coast of Wexford. The next day it anchored in Kingstown Harbour alongside the Constant which was hired to transport male convicts. The preparations for the accommodation of the female convicts had been completed in Deptford and the East London was ready for its first venture as a convict transport. It was almost new, a barque built at Sunderland ship building yards in 1839 and in good condition for the voyage.


    SAUNDERS NEWS-LETTER 22 April 1843

    Arrival of two convict ships to embark convicts. The Constant, Emery Master, Surgeon Superintendent, Mr Hampton, and the East London, Parley Master, Mr Edward Caldwell, Surgeon Superintendent. The first has a guard of the 99th Regiment; the latter has not any, as she is to embark females.


    Edward Caldwell, a Royal Naval surgeon, about fifty-four years of age, was on board in charge of the prisoners. It was his first voyage as Surgeon Superintendent on a convict ship but he had long experience in the Royal Navy where he was promoted to the position of surgeon in 1811. In his journal he gave the details of the preparation: the formalities of inspecting and receiving the female prisoners as well as a detailed description of the serious illnesses and deaths of those who died during the voyage.

    On Saturday 22 April, two days after the ship’s arrival in Ireland, Major Collingham, the Inspector of Prisons, visited and expressed himself pleased with every arrangement made for the reception of prisoners. On Monday, Edward Caldwell went to see Major Collingham at his office in Dublin Castle to organize the reception of the prisoners from Grange Gorman Depot.

    The following day, with its dark cloudy skies and heavy rain, Edward Caldwell visited the Depot at Grange Gorman and inspected sixty female convicts with nine children ready for embarkation. He had the assistance of Dr Harty and Surgeon Read, the Inspecting Physician and Surgeon of the Depot.

    The boisterous weather with heavy rains continued the next day but the ship was able to receive the stoves to be used daily between decks to avoid damp and secure the health of those about to embark.

    A week later fifty-nine of the women to be transported arrived on board with nine children. The remainder to be embarked had not yet all arrived from the prisons of their respective counties. Edward Caldwell arranged those already on board into ‘proper messes’, and appointed ‘proper mess women’, with a sufficient number of cooks, nurses and servants for the hospital.

    By 5 May the final seventy-four females assembled at Grange Gorman Depot. Edward Caldwell inspected them with Dr Harty and Surgeon Read and found all fit to embark with forty-one children. One woman, Mary Healy, was described to Edward Caldwell, as a very bad character and a confirmed malingerer. He examined her and felt satisfied with the sounds of the chest and concurred with the other doctors that she might derive great advantage from the sea voyage and advancing into a more temperate climate.

    On Monday 8 May everything necessary for the voyage was ready and Major Collingham went on board with the Lord Lieutenant’s warrant to discharge the ship in order to proceed upon her voyage. The Agent for Transports came subsequently. The crew of the ship was mustered and Edward Caldwell wrote to the Comptroller for Victualling HM Navy and to the Inspector General informing them of the immediate sailing date.


    Medical Journal of the East London AJCP ADM 101/22 Reel 3139

    Bateson Charles; The Convict Ships 1787-1868, Chapter 6, The Transports.



    Kingstown Harbour 
    Let the reader who has never seen Kingstown harbour only imagine that he witnesses boat races and yachting matches in the inside of that harbour and he will be able to form some idea of its magnitude. The piers enclose an area of more than two hundred and fifty acres. The width of the entrance of the harbour is one thousand feet. A score of vessels of the largest size might safely enter it at once. The depth of the water at full tide is forty feet, and at low tide is thirty-three feet. Hence vessels can enter it with ease and facility every hour of the day, as well as every day of the year. The foundation-stone of Kingstown harbour was laid in the year 1817 by the Earl of Whitford, then Lord Lieutenant of Ireland.

    Smiths Weekly Volume: Select Circulating Library for Town and Country Vol: 1 January to July 1845

  • Chapter 2: The Voyage of the East London Open or Close

    The Voyage of the East London

    Wednesday May 10th 1843. The ship sailed from
    Kingstown Harbour at 6 a.m. The weather was cloudy and hazy

                Pride in their ship, duty to their service, spirit of adventure, expectations of a new life, despair and heartbreak, all must have been there as that handsome little barque weighed anchor and left Kingstown Harbour to sail out into the Irish Sea and through the St George’s Channel. Sight of the Irish and English Coasts during the first few days provided a lingering farewell for those on board. What was in the hearts and minds of the women and children, especially those from the inland counties of Ireland and what fear faced the ones who had never seen the sea before? The noise and shaking of a ship pitching and rolling with huge waves breaking and wind buffeting, combined with the isolation far out at sea, must have made the first few days terrifying.

               On board the East London were 133 women prisoners from the Penitentiary at Grange Gorman in Dublin, many of whom were transferred there weeks or months earlier from county jails while some arrived just a few days before embarkation. Also on board were 50 children, 21 of whom were less than of two years of age. All were under the control of the Surgeon Superintendent, Edward Caldwell, and the ship was mastered by James Parley.

                At the beginning of the voyage, the weather was stormy and winds buffeted the ship and caused much sea sickness. On the first day Edward Caldwell treated fifteen patients and again, three days later, when the ship was off St David’s Head, he said the women and children were suffering from sea sickness. The distress of this nauseating illness, where food could not be kept down, was debilitating and would have kept the sick women prostrate and insensible to much of what was happening. But if such illness anaesthetized hysteria, it added to the loss of hope, the loss of health, and to despair. The weather with the heavy sea remained unsettled, with high winds and heavy rain, until the ship reached Madeira. Because of sea sickness and loss of appetite Edward Caldwell gave the women a supply of boiled oatmeal instead of tea or cocoa. It was only four days after sailing and as a response to the illness and the refusal of food offered to them. He said that all the women manifested a dislike to the tea and cocoa but perhaps severe sea sickness rather than deliberate revolt was the cause of their distaste.

                Many ships transported convicts from Ireland to Van Diemen’s Land and some carried female convicts. They too had prisoners from rural areas and small children, although, perhaps not so many very young children. Yet the voyage of the East London was different and the most significant difference was the number of women and children who died during the journey from Dublin to Hobart Town. Nineteen women died at sea and one woman about ten days after arrival in Hobart. Another woman, sent to the hospital, was listed as dead on the 1846 muster without any record of when she died. Twelve children died on the voyage and ten, probably eleven, young children, died in the weeks after reaching Hobart. Fourteen women were sent to hospital on arrival as well as seventeen of the children, some with their mothers. These are startling figures compared to other ships which carried women from Dublin about the same time. The Waverley, which arrived in December 1842, had no recorded deaths and the Garland Grove, January 1843, recorded eight deaths. In fact, in the decade between 1841 and 1850, the total number of female convicts dying on the way to Australia was 102 so nineteen deaths on the East London set that journey apart as a tragic voyage.

    THE COURIER HOBART 22 September 1843

       The East London, convict ship, sailed from Dublin on the 10th May, having 116 [actual 133] female prisoners on board, with l8 male and 23 female children, under the care of Edward Caldwell, Esq., Surgeon Superintendent. Although from the report there does not appear to have been any infectious disease on board, there has, nevertheless, been an unusual number of deaths, nineteen adult women and twelve children having died on the passage. There are six cases of scurvy and diarrhoea in the hospital, and eight cases of diarrhoea and debility in their own berths.

              It was such a shocking occurrence that the Principal Medical Officer, John M. Clark M.D., who received the sick from the East London after its arrival in September, wrote to the Colonial Secretary to ask His Excellency, the Governor, for authority to set up a Medical Board to inquire into and report on the causes of the unprecedented mortality. John Clark saw the state of health of those on board and arranged for the sick women and the sick and weak children to be taken to the hospital.   He was moved to write his letter to the Colonial Secretary the next day.

    The board was set up within two weeks and consisted of Andrew Sinclair, Esq, Surgeon R.N., President of the Board, William Sercombe Esq, the Colonial Assistant Surgeon and Brook T. Townsend Esq, Staff Assistant Surgeon. The Board assembled for three days in the first week of October to examine the necessary documents and hear such testimony as was deemed relevant. The Colonial Assistant Surgeon, W. Dermer Esq. M.D. who was in charge of the Nursery Hobart Town, was one of the people whose opinion was sought. He mentioned his six years of experience in that position and what he saw of the sickly state of children under the age of five who accompanied their mothers to the colony. His account was of the children admitted to his care in the nursery and he said that, generally, half of them died. He attributed it to the mothers having salt provisions during the long voyage and the resultant lack of nutrition in their milk as well as the women becoming ‘reckless in their minds’ which caused them to be careless in everything connected with their children.

    The Board returned their report to the Deputy Inspector General of Hospitals, John Clark M.D. Its findings put the mortality on board the East London to being 133 days at sea on salt provisions and that, as the first deaths occurred after 66 days, it was scurvy which was the common cause. The want of nourishment was worsened by the women obstinately refusing pea soup, cocoa, tea, pudding and lime juice, particularly during the early part of the voyage. The women were blamed for contributing to the cause of the deaths by depositing faeces and urine on their decks at night in spite of every attempt made to prevent it, and to stop them from spilling water over the decks when they were locked up. The berths and decks were always wet. The report stated that deaths during the last part of the voyage had become less as the prisoners reconciled to the diet. The high number of deaths was also given as a reason for not putting in at the Cape of Good Hope.

           ‘It has been seen that 19 female adults perished among 133. I find that no less than 12 of them were mothers and four lost their children. Eight left 16 orphans, of them 5 were infants under 2 years, admitted into the nursery at Hobart Town. One has since died and there is every appearance that other deaths will follow’.

    When Dr Clark forwarded the report of The Proceedings of the Medical Board to the Colonial Secretary, he remarked that scurvy was an unusual disease on female convict ships which he attributed to greater cleanliness, more liberty of exercise and less anxiety about their future than those on male ships. He stated that a diet of salt pork and ship biscuit were the chief cause of scurvy. He pointed out that other ships sailed from Ireland after equally tedious voyages without suffering from scurvy and without the prisoners refusing tea, cocoa, pea soup and lime. He also believed that, because many of the women came from rural areas, they had no knowledge of the foods and rejected them when offered. He suggested oatmeal with a little salt butter, potatoes and perhaps a bit of boiled rice would better suit prisoners. He thought an English diet did not suit females who had not been exposed to it.

                He commented on the filthy habits of the prisoners and, although he said it was difficult to preserve cleanliness on board an Irish convict ship, felt that a strict and stern discipline should have been established on the first instance of such a violation of decency. If it had, such practises as dirtying the decks would not have prevailed throughout the voyage. However, the bad weather and sea sickness which caused so many women to be ill would have made it difficult to keep the prison decks clean. The water closets were very few in number, as low as two on some ships. With many infants to care for, the women had little choice but to use the decks and, if discipline lapsed and no extra means were provided for the care of the sick and the babies, then hygiene would have failed.

                Contrary to the report of the Board of Enquiry, Dr Clark found that there were three deaths in July, eight in August and eight in September; the last four in the final week of the voyage. In his comments he wrote, ‘If the women really took more nourishment in the last part of the voyage it was then that the mortality occurred’. He said the ship ought to have put in at the Cape of Good Hope. It was an error which had fatal consequences. The reasons given for not putting into port varied, from the prisoners’ state of health as they came within sight of the Cape and the deaths of three women and three children, to the time taken in turning back into the port. It was felt advisable not to put in for refreshments and what Edward Calwell himself wrote in his General Remarks:- ‘I thought it advisable to proceed on our destination without delay as several days would be lost in bearing into the Cape as the Wind is N.W. Made all sail for Hobart Town’.

    It seemed as if expediency was the reason for not putting into the Cape rather than the wellbeing of the people on board the ship. Edward Caldwell and James Parley must have agreed upon that decision.

                John Clark’s final recommendation was to do with the terrible mortality amongst the children. He said that scanty and unhealthy food, foul air, cold, wet and maternal neglect was the source of diseases against which infant life could not struggle.

    ‘Of the 12 deaths among the children all were under 2 years. These are melancholy but most important medical statistics. They all died of Atrophy with its attendant bowel complaints. Scanty and unhealthy food, foul air, cold, wet and maternal neglect are sources of disease which infant life cannot long struggle against. That a mother, could have maintained an infant on the breast and brought it alive to this Colony, whose own nourishment, derived solely from a small portion of salt pork and ship biscuit daily appears indeed extraordinary. I am sure His Excellency will agree with me that infants of this tender age ought not be victims of transportation to this Colony and that it is imperative the Government at Home should learn the fact, I presume not yet known, that if this system be preserved, it will be one of infanticide at the ratio of at least 75 per cent’.

                A letter, dated three weeks later, from Dr Dermer, Colonial Assistant Surgeon at the Nursery, Dynnyrne House, said seventeen children were landed from the East London and received into the nursery in a very sickly state and that five had since died. He expected other deaths would follow.

                The surgeon, Edward Caldwell, wrote extensive notes about the illness and deaths of the women. The notes gave the symptoms and the treatment each received and showed that some of the prisoners were not in a fit state of health to undertake the voyage. When Edward Caldwell inspected the women at Grange Gorman in Dublin he was told that some were feigning illness and he passed them as able to be embarked. He also conferred with the doctors on the benefits of a sea voyage for the health of some of the women.

    Mary Healy was diagnosed as feigning disease of the chest by the physician and surgeon in the Penitentiary at Grange Gorman. ‘She has given a great deal of trouble to the Matron and to the Medical Superintendant at the Penitentiary at Grange Gorman, having so far succeeded in feigning disease of the chest’. She was quickly removed from prison to the ship where she became the first hospital patient on board ship and the first prisoner to die. Mary Healy's character brought forth a long list of descriptive words. She was called dishonest, dissolute, riotous and bad. She rebelled against the authorities in the Penitentiary at Grange Gorman where she refused to eat any food but that which was, ‘pleasing to the palate’. To add to the woes of the prison authorities Mary Healy was in ‘collusion’ with other prisoners.

                In the General Remarks at the end of the journal, Mr Caldwell wrote that Mary Healy was a ‘confirmed malingerer’, and, having examined her chest with doctors from the prison, they all ‘concurred in opinion that this female might derive great advantage from the sea voyage and advancing into a more temperate climate’. He noted that she had attempted suicide before boarding ship and that once on board her conduct was ‘silent and dogged’. She did not co-operate with taking any medicine until well into her illness. The prison authorities at Grange Gorman in Dublin must have been relieved to see her accepted for transportation.

    ‘April 27th. finding that all her efforts were fruitless to be left behind she made an attempt to commit self destruction, but was prevented by the vigilance of the nurses, and other attendants at the Penitentiary.’

                On June 30th Edward Caldwell wrote of Mary Healy's failing health, ‘she continues to live in hope of reaching her destination’. Mary died of phthisis on 16 July, the first of the adults to die on the voyage. Mary Healy had protested vigorously while others more timid bowed to the inevitable fate of transportation, but, perhaps with hearts just as badly broken.

                One prisoner, Mary Spillane, was seventy years old. She too was inspected and passed as healthy enough for the voyage. In the early weeks she suffered from severe sea sickness and her health declined. Edward Caldwell managed to restore her to a reasonable state of health after the first bout of illness but she eventually died of debility before the end of the voyage.
             Three of the women were in such advanced stages of pregnancy that their babies were delivered during the voyage. Less than a week after sailing, Mary Harrowhill, was, ‘safely delivered of a fine full grown female child after 4 hours of labour’. Mother and child both survived the journey. Another mother, Eliza Higgins, delivered a female child in July, but the child died the next day. In the later stages of the voyage, Mary Deane gave birth to a female child and both mother and daughter reached Hobart.

                Although there were a few cases of women chosen to be transported who were unsuitable for such a long voyage, the majority of the women were no more or less suitable than those transported from Ireland on other ships. Illness and scurvy were present throughout the convict voyages. Many surgeons kept a vigilant watch for outbreaks of scurvy and were usually able to treat it quite successfully. Charles Cameron, Surgeon Superintendant of the Midas, 1825, wrote in his General Remarks ‘I had so many cases of scurvy...... I am happy to say that all of them rapidly recovered under the use of Lemonjuice and Nitrate of Potass...... and all were sent on shore in good health at the end of the voyage’.

                One of the chief causes of the scurvy on the East London was said to be the refusal to eat the food provided for the voyage. The women from the rural areas were blamed for their lack of awareness and co-operation with such a diet, but other factors affected that situation, not least the severe seasickness in the first weeks and early symptoms of scurvy. The initial stages of scurvy cause great lethargy, loss of appetite, diarrhoea and irritability. All those symptoms were frequently described in the cases in the medical journal.

    Ellinor Curreen, aged 37 years, on board with her three children, suffered much during the early part of the voyage from sea sickness and not taking the food from the ship. 4 June allowed her children and herself an allowance of oatmeal by checquing their salt provisions’. It is hard to imagine that after days of severe seasickness that eating any food would be palatable but an unfamiliar diet would be even more unappealing. Although the surgeon offered Ellinor oatmeal she did not survive the journey. She suffered extreme poverty in her native county before her imprisonment and was in a weakened physical condition when she boarded the ship. Seasickness, diarrhoea and scurvy sealed her fate. Women who had been in prison for many months or who were from impoverished backgrounds were perhaps already in the early stages of scurvy when they boarded the ship.

    While at the Grange Gorham Penitentiary, Mary Healy, the confirmed malingerer, led a revolt against the prison diet. Edward Caldwell wrote in her medical notes about her behaviour in prison before embarkation. ‘She entertained hopes of eluding the sentence of the law, what with voluntary abstaining from all food but what was agreeable and pleasing to the palate and by the collusion of those in confinement’. Was there any sign of similar protest once she was on board ship and did she still influence others? In the Nosological Returns, Edward Caldwell wrote only four days after sailing: ‘I have gratified the convicts this morning with a supply of boiled oatmeal instead of tea or cocoa which they have manifested a dislike to’. From the beginning of the voyage there was dislike of the food, but it was also the time many suffered from seasickness in the stormy weather. Mary was in hospital before the ship sailed and so was separated from her shipmates. However because Mary and others in Grange Gorman Penitentiary refused food Edward Caldwell was led to believe that the women were deliberately being fussy and uncooperative.

                Edward Caldwell wrote of buying water and fresh vegetables for the hospital with his own money while the ship was berthed in Madeira.

    ‘received 15 tons of Water purchased for the use of those confined in the Hospital my own expense, Vegetable sufficient to last for a fortnight’.

                Other cases where food was mentioned as an issue included Bridget Carey, 40 years old, who came on board, ‘with a bad character as a malingerer with a view to evading her sentence.’ He later wrote of her as, weakened from the effects of sea sickness and the loathing of food’. Joanna Wilmott, 25years old, also suffered much from sea sickness and refused to eat at all, ‘Never tasting any of the provisions allowed by the government’. Severe sea sickness seemed to be linked in these cases of refusing food. In the case of Joanna Wilmott, the surgeon wrote that she suffered from the severe weather and was unable to take any food and became ‘indolent, lazy and regardless of her life’.

                The refusal to eat the food in the early part of the voyage hastened the onset of scurvy which caused problems even before the disease was evident. Among the early signs of the scurvy is loss of appetite, diarrhoea, irritability and as the disease progresses there is fever, exhaustion, ulcerated gums, oedema and swelling in legs and haemorrhages under the skin. Most of the women admitted into the hospital had similar symptoms and many, who were accused of neglecting their children, must have been utterly exhausted from seasickness and the lethargy associated with the early stages of scurvy. Edward Caldwell remarked on several occasions about querulous nervous or disagreeable and slothful patients; symptoms caused by the onset of scurvy.

    The women were blamed for the refusal to eat and were labelled ignorant rural women who had no knowledge of the English diet and needed oats and potatoes instead. Perhaps they were not used to shipboard diet, but the same revulsion to the food did not occur on other ships, at least to such an extent. Lack of discipline and poor judgement was part of the criticism of the Board of Inquiry towards Mr Caldwell. Edward Caldwell wrote in his journal about his decision regarding lemon juice despite Government instructions. June 12th. I have given them lemon juice and sugar Ship arrived Madeira to be discontinued except to the most deserving the others having declined their allowances prescribed by the printed instructions.

                There is a suspicion of stubbornness on both sides in the row about rations. Mr Caldwell served out lemon juice to those who were, ‘deserving’, but not to those who were unco-operative, despite regulations which were meant to prevent scurvy. The women who manifested a dislike for lemon juice and refused to drink it were simply ignored. The issuing of lemon juice to prevent scurvy was well known and necessary to survive a long voyage at sea. Other surgeons’ journals describe the handing out of lemon juice, where the women were supervised and watched while it was consumed. What happened on the East London was a breakdown in discipline in the issuing of the lemon juice and it caused a terrible loss of life.

    The lack of discipline probably extended to the cleanliness on board. The large number of children, many of whom were very sick, and the number of women so ill, must have been a burden on the hygiene. The surgeon and the Medical Board accused the women of filthy habits but the inadequate water closet facilities would have been overwhelmed by the urgent need of so many severely ill women and children. When Edward Caldwell came down in the morning he found a filthy mess on the prison floor and he held the women responsible. He also accused them of washing below decks, a forbidden activity aboard the convict ships, but the needs of infants probably meant that washing could not be limited to the two days a week, weather permitting. Perhaps too they were trying to wash away the faeces and urine which had been deposited on the prison deck.

                Edward Caldwell was on his first voyage as Surgeon Superintendent in charge of convicts. It was to be his one and only journey in such a capacity. In his journal he wrote: ‘I can imagine it to be possible to keep the deck of the male convict ship as the lower deck of a ship of the line but the females will wet the deck at night requiring my attention at the earliest hour possible in the morning to dry scrape the deck and to get all bedding on deck as soon as possible. My presence among them was understandably required for that purpose’. Washing below decks was a point of contention. On June 1st the journal entry reads: ‘Weather moist wind west. I have great difficulty in inducing the women to keep the deck dry having detected those persons washing below today’. Edward Caldwell was a naval surgeon and didn't appear to relish dealing with a shipload of females. He was far above the convict women in the social order and of the class that viewed their falling from grace as being brought about by weakness of character and morals.

    Mothers and infants’ needs and routines perhaps defy naval discipline. The infants, being without their fathers, became dependent upon the good will of others if their mothers were ill or died. Mr Caldwell accused the mothers of indolence and neglect and not knowing how to nurture their young. The women were from the jails of Ireland and before that, the slums of Dublin and Belfast, or the poverty of the rural counties. Some were ill in their prisons before embarkation and several had not long given birth. Perhaps the sentencing magistrates were attempting to re-settle these young families and give them a chance of a better life, but the weakened constitutions, the tempestuous weather and ill-judged decisions required more strength than many possessed.

    The very young age of the children was a contributing factor in the mortality rate. Edward Caldwell at times made attempts to save the infants’ lives by taking them from their ill mothers. He took Margaret Cowan's baby from her. He wrote of Margaret, a convict from County Down:

    ‘of repulsive appearance, obstinate and indolent had she been permitted would have polluted all those contiguous to her......... ....she has been the cause of her own illness refusing proper regimen..... ...... she still persists that she is getting better daily and that if I have patience with her she will be able to get upon deck in a few days but I see that she is worse every day’

    Margaret Cowan's child, who was only one month old when the ship left Ireland, did not survive. ‘This child was received on board May 5th with its mother (now dead), just one month old was very much reduced by the scarcity supply and support from its mother. I was obliged to take it away and place it under my own care in the Hospital’. The date the baby was received into the hospital was the day after the mother had died. The care and solicitude of the surgeon was rather tardy.

    There were other cases of mothers and children dying while the ship was at sea and further deaths, particularly among the children, after the ship arrived in Hobart. There were children left orphans following the deaths of their mothers. The care of children of sick or dead mothers was apparently left to those nearby until a baby’s health became critical. When Alice Brady was taken into the hospital she left her four young children, aged six, four, two and under one year, to care for themselves or to the kindness of the messmates. The record of the death of her youngest child, Catharine, showed a little of the care given. The surgeon referred to Alice’s ‘sons’ as neglecting the baby very much, yet the eldest was a six year old girl. Were the children so dishevelled as to be unrecognizable as girls or boys?

    Catharine Brady
    Aged one year July 4th
    This infant....... was under necessity of being separated from her mother during her long illness in the Hospital was placed under the care of her sons who neglected the child very much. I was obliged to take the child under my own care and place it in the hands of a careful proper nurse supplying it with such food as I thought suitable to it from the Hospital.
    On the mothers discharge from the Hospital July 2nd the child was very much reduced from diarrhoea with apthous ulceration of the mouth, without my knowledge she attempted to put the child to breast again. On receiving this information I removed it away entirely. Died July 14th 1843

                The extremely cramped conditions, the illnesses, and the severe weather would have made conditions for the women and children almost unbearable. At times the weather was hot and at other times, miserable, wet and cold as they sailed through southern waters; there was even a snow storm noted in the journal. Only once, however, did the surgeon note any cases of hysteria and then gave it little importance, ‘suffering occasionally from hysteria and constipated bowels’. The same woman was reported as having daily fainting fits and having had to be brought upon deck. Many from an improvised or vagrant life might not have had much strength or domestic skills but evidence shows they did care for their children. The case of Ann Read and her younger daughter Eliza, aged one year, show that despite accusations of complete neglect and indifference there was a bond between mother and child and that the mother showed some concern and attachment for her child.

    Ann Read
    Aged 33 years
    A native of the city of Dublin who has to all appearances led a very irregular life, was received on board with her two children, from the time of her embarkation she never ceased daily either to consult me for herself or her children....This woman suffered much in the early part of the voyage from seasickness. She became very indolent and filthy in her habits having lost all interest in her children.........The death of her child I had occasion to find fault with her, her conduct so annoying to others.
    Earlier, Ann Read had refused to allow her child to be taken away from her until she and the child had become so sick that she, with some reluctance gave up the child to the care of the hospital nurses’.
    August 23rd. She shows the greatest reluctance to leave her berth without force as soon as a vacancy may occur in hospital. She expresses herself to me how happy she feels in the loss of her child.

    August 30th. I received her into the Hospital ordered a warm bath, removed all the hair from her head, cleaned out and fumigated her berth, clothing and bedding, committed her surviving child now 3 years to the care of a proper person.

    Edward Caldwell wrote detailed accounts of his treatment and medication given to the seriously ill or injured and seemed pleased with his successes. One was Eliza Cinnamond who: whilst sitting on the booms the weather and the sea heavy the ship pitched and threw her with great force against the bulwarks of the ship that form the hammock nettings. She was taken up in a state of insensibility vomiting large quantities of clotted and frothy blood. I saw her immediately, the skin cold, the pulse almost imperceptible. She pointed to the seat of pain along the margin of the 6th 7th ribs on the left side of the chest...

                After hospitalization for twenty-four days, Eliza was discharged fit enough to return to her berth. She completed the voyage to Hobart. Three year old William Lyons, who fell down the main ladder and broke his arm, was treated successfully. Mr Caldwell directed the blame for the accident to the, ‘carelessness of his mother Mary Lyons’.

               Cases of syphilis were also confidently treated using the treatment of the times. A couple of these patients were probably foistered upon the surgeon. Mary Donnelly, who was the second hospital case, was admitted within the first week and Mr Caldwell wrote, ‘She never acquainted the medical attendants of that Penitentiary with her disease’. Another in a more advanced state did not fare so well but had been surely slipped past his guard.

    Mary Holland Age 29
    ........ at the time she was surveyed at Grange Gorman Depot she was considered equal to undergo the voyage..........

    May   She informed me that she had been a patient in the Belfast Infirmary with secondary symptoms of Syphilis for six months and that she had been under treatment while in the Depot.
                Prison Authorities, who passed a troublesome or sick convict as fit to be transported, probably had the compliance of the convicts who hoped for better health or life in Van Diemen's Land. Several who reported their illnesses to Edward Caldwell after sailing may have held such hopes.

    Edward Caldwell noted little about punishment and yet in those few instances mentioned in his journal implied that it took place. On some female convict ships punishment included being put into the coal hole or confinement for several hours in a box with only the head protruding.
    Catharine Murray. She was repeatedly put into confinement for quarrelling and swearing contrary to all rules.

    Many complaints against Bridget Carey for using improper language having suffered from Scrofula and Diarrhoea since her embarkation I have not put her in confinement.

    Ellinor Cooney. She was so disorderly in complying with the rules laid down to ensure the health of those between decks that I was obliged to have her removed into three different messes.

    Rose Carroll. Punished for having been detected smoking tobacco in bed.

    Mary Gilbride. I had occasion to punish her for purloining the fat from the coppers contrary to all orders in destroying health.

    The crowded conditions and the ‘broken down’ state of health made it uncomfortable and unpleasant for all on board. The surgeon wrote of the querulous temperaments of some of the women. He moved Ellinor Casey and Ellinor Cooney several times to different messes because they caused annoyance to the women nearby. There were complaints of bad language against Bridget Carey, and Joanna Wilmott had such disgusting and filthy habits that she was a nuisance to those around her. Every one of those women mentioned as being punished for bad behaviour, died. Dying women, despairing women who attempted suicide, and querulous women, added more suffering to the frustrations and petty squabbles of cramped life on the prison deck.

    Only on one occasion were the men on board mentioned and that was in the General Remarks on May 18th when Catharine Carroll, ‘having been accused of levity of conduct towards one of the men made an attempt to destroy life by hanging. She was immediately released before she was exhausted. She is doing well’.

    Another unsuccessful suicide attempt was made on 19 July by Catharine Murray who tried to hang herself but was rescued. These cases along with the attempt by Mary Healy before embarkation indicated enormous mental anguish by some of the women.

                The bad weather and contrary winds had a bearing on the length of the voyage and the fact that the ship did not call in at the Cape of Good Hope for fresh water and supplies. The length of the voyage to Van Diemen's Land could be as short as 94 days, but the journey of the East London was 133 days, a month longer than many of the ships making the trip at that time. This very long time on salt provisions would have been a major factor leading up to the advent of scurvy in the latter part of the voyage.

    July 31st.... the health of the convicts has been tolerably good having a good supply of water Wind S.E. being 10 degrees Longitude of the Cape of Good Hope I thought it advisable to proceed on our destination without delay as several days would be lost in bearing into the Cape as the wind is N.W.

                The decision to save time by not calling in at the Cape of Good Hope was strongly criticised by the Board of Inquiry. Edward Caldwell must have agreed to that decision as he was in charge of the convicts and had the authority to insist on stopping the voyage for their health. The decision would have been difficult bearing in mind the bad weather and the desire to finish the contract in as short a time as possible.

                Edward Caldwell wrote in detail of diagnoses and medication as well as other methods of treatment. He used a lancet, which the women could not bear, a catheter, warm baths, blister treatment and shaving the hair of fever patients. He lamented the lack of leeches. He had a full chest of the medicines of the day which included Ipecac, Opium, Sulphate Quinine, Chalk Mixture, Peppermint Water, Magnesium Sulphate, Antimony Powder which could be applied as an antiseptic, castor oil, Collyrium, Bitter Almond and Mercuric Chloride, a type of antiseptic which contained mercury. According to his journals, he liberally supplied his patients in hospital with lemonade and wine with gruel and, usually, a better diet. In Madeira, he wrote of buying, with his own funds, a sufficient quantity of water and fresh vegetables for the hospital patients. He appeared to have been conscientious in his efforts to treat the women and his notes were detailed. His interest in medicine and the recovery of his patients seemed to be of importance, but, as a man of his time, he felt far superior to his charges on board the East London.

    In a response to the Enquiry Sir William Burnett wrote a reply dated 10th August 1844.

           I have carefully, perused Mr. Caldwell's Medical Journal for this Ship and have also had several conversations with him on different points which appeared to me to require explanation and though the mortality has undoubtedly been very great the more so as no contagious diseases existed in the Ship. The mortality amongst the women appeared greater in proportion amongst those who were received direct from the different gaols than amongst those received from the penitentiary and the deaths amongst the children were chiefly occasioned by their mothers from their own state of health being unable to nourish or attend to them.        I do not find that neglect or improper treatment can be fairly charged against the Surgeon.


              Yet, on the voyage there was a love story between a young woman convict and a mariner that resulted in marriage. Rules and regulations must have been swept aside and, perhaps, not just in one instance. Edward Caldwell had shrugged his shoulders and allowed the women to refuse lemon juice and probably other foods and there was loss of control of the cleanliness on the prison deck and at least one liaison between a woman and a mariner. The women were perhaps choosing their own rules and, without a strong hand to enforce discipline, the outcome was a disaster for so many. The prison deck was filthy, often wet, with soiled bedding, and very sick women who were lethargic and irritable. Those who had the opportunity to spend time elsewhere would certainly have taken the chance to have some comforts.

                The women on the East London had many stories to tell about their lives and the events which brought them together on board a convict ship bound for Van Diemen’s Land.


    Medical Journal of the East London AJCP ADM 101/22 Reel 3139

    Medical Journal of the Midas AJCP ADM 101 56/6

    Medical Journal of the John William Dare (General Remarks) AJCP ADM 101 Piece 254

    Bateson, Charles. (11988) The Convict Ships 1787-1868. Library of Australian History, Sydney. Appendix ll

    Newspapers: The Trial of William Jarvey



    SJ PG1

    The first page of Edward Caldwell’s Medical Journal from the voyage of the East London 1843