Buffalo 1839/40 – a chequered career

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Showing What She’s Made Of

Buffalo, originally named Hindostan, was built by Firth of Forth shipbuilders, James Bonner and James Horsburgh, at Sulkea on the West Bank of the Hooghly River, only five miles from Calcutta in West Bengal.

HMS Buffalo [SA State Library]
She was a fully rigged sailing ship known as an East Indiaman or Merchantman. Launched in January 1813, she was 589 tons of teak hull; length 120 ft.; breadth 33 ft. 6 ins.; depth 15 ft. 8 ins. Her maiden voyage began on 8 Feb 1813 and finished when she arrived at The Downs, Kent on 10 Aug 1813.

Hindostan was purchased and renamed Buffalo by the Royal Navy in October 1813 as a sixth-rate storeship and refitted for that purpose in January 1814.

Original Complement: Three officers and 55 crew.
Later: Nine officers and 88 crew.
Original Armament: Sixteen 24-pounder cannonades and two nine-pounder guns.
Armament after 1833 Refit: Six 18-pounder cannonades and two six-pounder long guns. [Wikipedia].

Bad Girls on Board

Buffalo made a limited number of voyages for the Navy, including a stint at the Army Depot in Bermuda, and was then laid up at the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815. In 1831 she was fitted out to carry timber spars from New Zealand, but those voyages were delayed when Buffalo was put into service as a quarantine ship in 1832 after a wave of cholera hit Britain, ultimately claiming around 5,000 lives in London alone.

After another refit, Buffalo began a new career as a convict ship. Between 17 Apr and 3 May 1833, 180 women and 25 children embarked on her from gaols all over England, Wales and Scotland. Buffalo left Portsmouth on 12 May 1833 bound for New South Wales. She was captained by Commander F W N Sadler and the Assistant Surgeon on board was John Macauley Hamilton, RN who maintained the medical journal for the voyage.

Buffalo arrived in Port Jackson on 5 Oct 1833 after a voyage of 146 days. On the return voyage to England she stopped at the North Island of New Zealand to pick up Kauri Pine, used for masts and spars on other Navy vessels. Raft ports had been cut in the stern at the waterline to allow the long lengths of timber to be loaded directly into the hull [Bramley].

Colonial Celebrities

During the convict voyage in September 1833, Buffalo had called at King George’s Sound, Western Australia, where Sir Richard Spencer KCH, RN, his family and servants, disembarked. Spencer took up his duties as the first Government Resident of Albany until his death in 1839.

On 27 Jul 1836 Buffalo left Portsmouth bound for South Australia with 176 migrants aboard. Captain Sir John Hindmarsh KH, RN was a man with an outstanding naval record during the Napoleonic Wars – one of only two men to have been awarded the Naval General Service Medal with seven clasps. Hindmarsh had been appointed the Governor of South Australia before leaving England and was the Master of the ship for the journey that ended in Holdfast Bay on 28 Dec 1836. Buffalo remained in Holdfast Bay until early 1837 when Captain James Wood RN had charge of her for a voyage to New Zealand where more Kauri spars were picked up. This was followed by a return to Australia where she left Sydney for Plymouth with her cargo of timber [Jaunay].

Captain John Hindmarsh; the Memorial at Holdfast Bay; Replica of Buffalo at Glenelg; Captain James Wood.

Redcoat Convict Guards

A number of 51st Regiment soldiers started to appear in Van Diemen’s Land at the end of 1837 into January 1838. The 51st Regiment Redcoats were garrisoned in Hobart nominally from 1838 to 1847. Of these a detachment arrived in Western Australia on Runnymede in June 1840 and departed for Calcutta in March 1847 on Java; thirty-three men of the WA detachment settled in the Colony, including four who had sailed on Buffalo to Quebec.
Many of the men who were destined for Australia eventually, did not leave England with their comrades in arms in 1837/38; they were left behind in the Depot at Chatham to undertake quite different duties, that of convict guards on the following ships:
Buffalo – 30 officers and men embarked 23 May and sailed 27 May 1839 bound for Quebec, Van Diemen’s Land and NSW. Click here for List of Names. Five of the men settled in Western Australia: Privates James Cunningham, Joseph Harris, Samuel Piggott, Richard Seaton and Charles Taylor. For further information on this voyage, see Di Bramley’s article below.
Middlesex – 29 officers and men embarked 4 Jun and sailed 6 Jul 1839 (from Dublin), bound for NSW.
Layton – 25 officers and men embarked 22 Jun and sailed 9 Jul 1839 bound for Van Diemen’s Land.


On 25 Jul 1840, Buffalo, under the command of James Wood, sailed from Mercury Bay, North Island, New Zealand, with a detachment of the 80th Foot Regiment, and a cargo of Kauri wood. The weather was bad and by the 28th, Buffalo was experiencing the full force of the gale and was blown ashore near Whitianga, North Island. Of her 93 crew, two seamen were drowned, but all the soldiers and other passengers were saved. The wreck subsided off-shore until it was eventually buried, but in May 1960, following upon tidal waves set up by earthquakes in Chile, the hull of the ship was washed to the surface and some of her fittings were salvaged after being submerged for 120 years [Docking].

Only three deaths were ever recorded on Buffalo, a remarkable record considering the medical practices of that period and the volume of passengers she transported [Wikipedia]. These were presumably one female convict from the voyage of 1833 and the two seamen who drowned when she was wrecked.

Rebellion and Redemption

HMS ‘Buffalo’ and the French Canadian ‘Les Patriotes’ by Diane Bramley.
The Buffalo played an important part in Australia’s history and my family history. The vessel also has the notoriety in Canada as the largest and last ship to transport convicts from Canada to be exiled. One of these political prisoners was my maternal 3 x Great Grandfather, Joseph Marceau, (1806-1883). The circumstances leading to Joseph Marceau becoming an intrinsic part of Canadian and Australian history are unique. A valuable resource was Kevin C. Marceau’s book, ‘All But One Went Home: the Marceau Story’ (1987).

In 1836 Joseph Marceau lived a peaceful life in Saint-Cyprien, Napierville, Quebec with his wife Emilie and two young children, Emilie born 1834 and Zephirin born 1836. Joseph was literate, a weaver and a farmer, cultivating his 19 acres. By 1837 his life was about to drastically change.

The Battle of Saint-Estache, Lower Canada,
14 Dec 1837

Political unrest was increasing. Previously for 150 years under French rule, Canadians were quite content. Under British rule, the Constitutional Act of 1791 gave the French element in Upper and Lower Canada the right to franchise and an elective Parliament.

In the early 1800’s, French and American political leaders began agitating for freedom from British domination. The situation became critical and as a result of a report from the British representatives, the Imperial Parliament abolished the elective House and gave the Government at Quebec authority to secure order in the colony. This fuelled the rebellion. The French element turned its organisations called ‘Les Patriotes’ into military formations, with inevitable clashes in Montreal.

In 1838, rebellion flared up again. The ‘Patriotes’ soon had 2500 under arms, mostly farmers with pitchforks and pikes, Joseph among them. The rebel army was defeated and its homes burnt. A copy of a Despatch from Sir John Colborne to Lord Glenelg in 1839 records the details of the Courts Martial. Over 802 were committed to the Montreal Gaol charged with insurrection. The majority were freed without trial but over 108 men were found guilty in Courts Martial for treason. Joseph was arrested and taken to Montreal Gaol on 22 Nov 1838.

Joseph Marceau was identified as a leader. In the ‘Freres chasseurs’ he had been Captain of fifty men at Napierville, Montreal, and rations were delivered on his orders. The accusations were of “High Treason, as having been organized, arrayed, and actively engaged in the design of subverting Her Majesty’s government, at the village of Napierville.”

Thirteen men were condemned to death by hanging on 6 Feb 1839, Joseph among them. Joseph’s wife Emilie became ill and passed away in May 1839. Three weeks later, on 14 Jun 1839, Joseph Marceau, also known as Petite Jacques, was granted a Royal pardon with express terms and conditions. Joseph’s sentence was commuted to “transportation to NSW for the term of his Natural life, exiled from Lower Canada and all goods, chattels, lands and tenements forfeited.” His three young children, baby Odilon being born in 1838, were left in the care of Emilie’s parents Paul and Louise Piedalue.

Imprisonment was harsh in Montreal Gaol. Even harsher were conditions on the Buffalo which in September 1839 transported the 92 English-speaking political prisoners from Upper Canada and 58 French Canadians from Lower Canada to Van Diemen’s Land and Botany Bay respectively. The prisoners sailed in irons, with great deprivation of food and living conditions. The journey took five months arriving in Sydney on 25 Feb 1840.

Botany Bay had a horrific reputation. The ‘Patriotes’ lived in isolation from other convicts at the Longbottom Stockade, breaking stones and making bricks for the construction of Parramatta Road. The behaviour of the Canadians at Longbottom was exemplary and they were granted their Tickets of Leave by 1841 and began working freely in the community. Between November 1843 and February 1844 after serving their sentences, Queen Victoria pardoned them and permitted them to return home. By late 1845 all French Canadians except Joseph returned to Canada.

Also transported on the Buffalo with Joseph were two American political prisoners, Ira Polly and Benjamin Mott. After their pardon, they made their way from Tasmania to Sydney and worked with Joseph clearing brush along America Creek, Figtree.

Joseph had planned to return to Canada but in January 1848 asked the Association for Freedom to delay his departure for twelve months. He had married Mary Barrett in October 1844 and settled into farming life at West Dapto, Illawarra, NSW and was known as “honest Joe”. They had 11 children who were never told of the circumstances of his incarceration in NSW.

Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery, Montreal and
Joseph’s Headstone in West Dapto Cemetery


As a direct result of the rebellion the 1841 Act of Union was proclaimed enabling Canada to evolve to nationhood and full Independence, also advancing the cause of responsible government in Australia.

The Exiles’ presence is recalled along the Parramatta River with Exile Bay, France Bay and Canada Bay, bordered by Marceau Drive. The Canadian Exile Obelisk at Bayview Park, Concord, NSW is on the site of the original wharf where the Canadian Exiles disembarked. The Longbottom Stockade was situated within Concord Park.

Regarded as ‘Les Patriotes’ in Canada, Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery, Montreal, has a 15 metre high obelisk on a hill, ‘Le Monument aux Patriotes’. In Montreal in July 2019 Joseph’s sixth generation Australian descendants stood beside his name ‘Marceau Jos’ on the monument. Their heritage had become real.


Wikipedia Website.
Diane Bramley’s contribution of background on Buffalo.
John M Hamilton’s Journal, ADM 101/12/9, National Archives, Kew.
Graham Jaunay’s Website, Ancestral and Local History Research.
Musters & Pay Lists, WO12-6201-192 to 205, National Archives, Kew.
Charles Hocking (1969), Dictionary of Disasters at Sea during the Age of Steam.
Diane Bramley’s contribution of her story of ‘Les Patriotes’.

© Diane Oldman 2020