Camden was a ‘West Indiaman’ – a general name for any merchant sailing ship making runs from the ‘Old World’ to the West Indies and the east coast of the Americas. These ships were generally strong ocean-going ships capable of handling storms in the Atlantic Ocean. Most of the British West Indiamen tended to be London-built and sailed directly from London to the West Indies. Indeed, Camden‘s career shows regular voyages from her launch date in August 1799 to 1826 to Grenada, Jamaica, Antigua and Trinidad. She was built in the period of pirates, slave ships and on the brink of the Napoleonic Wars. It was little wonder that in her early career she was heavily armed (see left).
Camden made two convict voyages, in 1831 and 1832/33. Prior to both these voyages she underwent considerable repairs and refits and changed ownership.
The convict ship Camden (429 tons) is not to be confused with the Whitby ship built in 1813 of the same name (399 tons). The Whitby-built ship was sailing to the East Indies (for E.I.C.) during 1820/21. During this timeframe the Thames-built ship was working the West Indies route to Antigua.
There is an error in the Wikipedia history of Camden‘s voyages which suggests that in 1831 she sailed from London to Calcutta with Master Noyes. This was the voyage of the J Marshall-owned ship Boddingtons, NOT Camden.
For further information about Camden‘s career, click here.
The Ship’s Builders
John Randall junior (1755-1802) and John Brent (1729-1812) were products of their shipbuilding and shipwright fathers. John Randall senior died around 1776 and John junior took over the business. The older man in the partnership (Brent) joined the partnership in 1770, before John Randall senior died, and thus worked with both Randalls before he retired in 1797. Brent’s two sons Samuel and Daniel succeeded him in the business.
In 1755 the Greenland Dock yards were being leased by the Duke of Bedford Estate to John Randall senior, whose main base was already established at Nelson Dock. The image (left) is from Robert Horwood’s famous map of London dated 1799, the year Camden was built. It shows the name ‘Randall and Brent Yards’ either side of the dock. A dry dock had been functioning since 1790.
Between 1770 and 1803 the Randall & Brent shipyards built a total of at least 64 ships. Eight of those ships were merchantmen (East India and Hudson Bay Companies) of 800-1200 tons, and the remainder were warships of 74 guns and smaller destined for the Royal Navy. After John Randall junior died in 1802, the business became S & D Brent and as Brent & Co. reflecting the ownership of John Brent’s sons.
Notwithstanding the above findings from a number of sources about the Randall/Brent partnership, another name surfaced as the builders of Camden. The record of a survey No. 115, undertaken on 16th December 1834, records that the builders were Messrs Dedmans [transcribed as Redmans] at the Port of Greenock. The barque at that time was owned by John Marshall (see below) and the destined voyage was Clyde to London. This avenue of research is being explored by Lloyd’s Register Foundation but at this stage – as often happens – the ‘audit trail’ is stymied by time, loss of records, and the loss of the ship two years later.
The Ship’s Owners
Camden‘s original owner was recorded in Lloyd’s as ‘Lushington’ and was more than likely Sir Stephen Lushington (1744-1807), 1st Baronet, Member of Parliament and Director and/or Chairman of the East India Company from 1782 to 1805. There were, of course, other influencial Stephen Lushingtons of the same family, but the 1st Baronet is the most likely.
Between 1812 and 1830 Billinghurst or Billinghurst & Co. acted as master and/or owner of Camden. Nothing is known of this man or his company except that he owned other ships listed in Lloyds Register including Jamaica, Glaphyra and Tyro.
Billinghurst owned Camden immediately before her convict voyages in 1831 and 1832/33 when in December 1830 she was acquired by John Marshall. Marshall was one of the most active entrepreneurs of the period [19th century]. He was a merchant-adventurer and superb logistician who read the marketplace and was prepared to move to a new start-up each time his finances dictated a fresh start: brokerage, trade, shipping, emigration, coal. Marshall had both the vision and analytical skills to achieve great things… [source: see Rushen]. Marshall owned Camden until 1836 when she was wrecked in the Dutch East Indies (see last paragraph).
The Ship’s Unwilling Passengers
Camden sailed from Sheerness on 22nd September 1832 with 200 male convicts on board. The ship called in at Woolwich and Sheerness, each location providing prisoners from three hulks (see details of the voyage below). These men had been convicted and sentenced in Assizes and Quarter Sessions courts in many counties throughout England and Wales as well as from gaol deliveries in Middlesex and London. Sixteen of them were sentenced in Justiciary Courts in Scotland and the balance from the Old Bailey (Central Criminal Courts) and the unusual court of Crownmote, Chester.
Two convicts died on the voyage: Thomas Walmsley, aged 19 was convicted of stealing money and sentenced to seven years. Walmsley was on the sick list for colic, enteritis and phthisis and died on 29th January 1833. The surgeon performed an autopsy on board. John Terry, aged 52 was convicted of receiving and also sentenced to seven years. Terry was on the sick list for dysentery and died of it on 20th January 1833.
The Ship’s Guards and Carers
Camden was one of 21 convict ships arriving in New South Wales from British ports in 1833. The 21st Regiment troops were convict guards on most of these ships. Those on the Camden voyage would serve in NSW for only two weeks and then shipped to Hobart, VDL on Lavinia, arriving a month later.
Private John Muirhead, aged 22, is the first man detailed in the surgeon’s case notes. Taken ill at Deptford, he was put on the sick list on 12th, presenting with febris (fever) and died on the 16th September 1832. The surgeon was not able to declare a definitive cause of death and writes of this fact at length in his journal.
Those who guarded the convicts on Camden are listed left: two officers, one sergeant and 29 rank and file troops, accompanied by women and children. A dozen of the troops would serve in the Swan River Colony, arriving within months from their first port of call in eastern Australia. Private George Wallace was the only one of those serving in the Swan River Colony who took his Army discharge and settled there. Sadly, Privates John Dalton, Hugh Nesbit and John Rielly died in the Colony by drowning, speared by natives and suicide respectively.
The Master for this voyage was Captain George T Clayton and the Surgeon Superintendent Joseph R Steret R.N.
The Ship’s Voyage
11 Sep 1832 Deptford Surgeon Superintendent Joseph Steret embarked.
12 Sep Deptford 21st soldiers embarked.
14 Sep Woolwich Hulks: 100 prisoners from Justitia (60), Discovery (20) and Ganymede (20) embarked.
15 Sep Sheerness Hulks: 100 prisoners from Retribution (30), Cumberland (40) and Euryalus (30 boys) embarked. More about Prison Hulks.
22 Sep Sailed from Sheerness.
30 Sep Gale force winds.
05 Oct Anchored in Plymouth.
13 Oct Sailed from Plymouth
Jan1833 Rounded the Cape of Good Hope.
18 Feb Arrived at Port Jackson, New South Wales and disembarked 198 prisoners.
Mar 1833 Port Jackson 21st soldiers embarked on the barque Lavinia.
06 Mar Lavinia sailed from Port Jackson.
20 Mar Lavinia arrived at Hobart, Van Diemen’s Land.
The Ship’s Journal
Steret maintained his surgeon superintendent’s journal on Camden from 11th September 1832 to 8th March 1833, returning to England in May. This journal is arguably the most comprehensive surgeon’s journal I have seen to date – 40 pages, cover to cover. His case notes (22 in all) were very detailed as were his general remarks.
This second voyage of Camden to NSW, was Joseph Steret’s first appointment as a surgeon superintendent. He subsequently served on four other convict ships to VDL: Edward arriving in 1834, Bardaster 1836, Neptune 1838 and Gilmore 1839.
In his Journal, Steret commented subtly on life on the hulks: It is perhaps worthy of note that only two men out of two hundred [prisoners] expressed any unwillingness to go, one on account of his wife and family, the other merely that he did not wish to leave England. All the rest were happy at the prospect of quitting the country – and four or five whom I was obliged to reject on account of disease, begged vehemently to be permitted to accompany us.
Steret also (not so subtly) mentioned that ‘his friends’ on the hulks had contrived to ‘palm off’ men with several old ulcers, not withstanding his utmost care. In another case a man was passed off as being 52 years old, and told he must ‘pass the doctor’. After shaving and being cleaned up he looked ‘mighty smart’ (Steret’s words) but was later to be found over sixty.
The Nosological Abstract indicated that conditions on board included synochus (continuous fever), ephemera (sickness lasting no longer than a day), ophthalmia (inflammation of the eye) and pneumonia. Prisoner John Dowling was admitted to the General Hospital in Sydney with a fractured femur.
After Steret’s Abstract was completed, where he writes, “afterwards Scurvy — —“, up to a dozen cases of scurvy manifested themselves late in the voyage and the worst of the patients were also sent to the hospital upon arrival.
The Ship’s Demise
Camden‘s last voyage from England was to Sydney, NSW with Captain Valentine C. Ryan for owner John Marshall. She left The Downs in the English channel on 22nd February and arrived in Sydney on 2nd June 1836. She then left Sydney on 8th July for Singapore carrying passengers and stores.
Newspaper reports gave the date of the loss of Camden anywhere between 10th and 18th of August 1836. The ship was totally wrecked in the Straits of Madura bound for the Dutch East Indies. She went down after striking a rock at night about 30 miles from Sourabaya and 15 miles N.E. of Passuruang. It appeared that the problem was due to the charts reading ten miles too far west. All hands, part of the stores and the ship’s rigging were saved thanks to assistance from a government ship. Salvage sold for 100 pounds.
While seeking information about the owners of Camden, I found Liz Rushen who has written an entire book about John Marshall! Since contacting Liz, she has contributed so much more information about the man and the ship. She and I share an interest in early Australia – and she has put that interest into a medium that I relish far more than websites. Click here for her publications.
I would also like to thank Eleanor Goodwin, Archives Assistant, Heritage & Education Centre, at the Lloyd’s Register Foundation who has assisted in the hunt for the ownership of Camden in the Foundation’s records.
Wikipedia, Wikipedia Commons.
Lloyd’s Registers 1799 to 1836 .
The Convict Ships, 1787-1868, Charles Bateson, 1974.
Claim a Convict website.
State Library of Queensland website.
Free Settler or Felon? website [Jen Willetts].
Australian Medical Pioneer Index.
Log of Logs Vols. 1, Ian Nicholson 1993.
Three Decks – Warships in the Age of Sail website [Cy Harrison].
Ships of the East India Company, Rowan Hackman, 2001.
Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Randall, John (1755-1802). Volume 47.
The Gentleman’s Magazine, for January, 1813 (extract).
John Marshall: Shipowner, Lloyd’s Reformer and Emigration Agent, Elizabeth Rushen 2020.
Personal email: Extracts regarding the Camden, Elizabeth Rushen 2023.
21st Regiment Embarkation Roll WO25-3503, National Archives, Kew.
21st Regiment Musters & Pay Lists WO12-3801 to 3809, National Archives, Kew.
Journal of Her Majesty’s Ship Camden, ADM101-15-7, National Archives, Kew.
Sydney Herald 18 Feb 1833.
Sydney Monitor 20 Feb 1833.
The Colonist 22 Mar 1833.
Sydney Commercial Journal & Advertiser 9 Jul 1836.
The Colonist 1 Dec 1836.
London Evening Standard 2 Dec 1836.
© Diane Oldman 2023