The Ship, Builder and Owner
In 1824, Gilmore & Company owned over a dozen ships that had been built all over the world. The company was also building a ship in Sulkea on the west bank of the Hooghly River, opposite Calcutta – an area where many East India Company ships had been built. There is no indication that Gilmore – a trader, immigrant and convict ship of 405 gross tons built of teak – had ever been an EIC vessel. She was launched on 31st March 1824 and then sold by Gilmore & Co. to Hunter & Co. in 1825 (right). Gilmore, registered in London, regularly sailed between London and Calcutta for Hunter and Co. with master R W Laws, until she was sold in 1829 to a gentleman named Thomas Peel, Esquire – second cousin to Robert Peel MP who was then Home Secretary of the United Kingdom and later Prime Minister.
Thomas Peel left England in August 1829 on Gilmore (ship’s master Captain W Geary) which arrived in the Swan River Colony on 15th December 1829. On board were around 180 immigrants and Peel’s illegitimate son Fred – ready to take up 250,000 acres of land in the new colony. Gilmore arrived too late to comply with the terms of Peel’s settlement conditions, as did Hooghly and Rockingham, Peel’s other two immigrant ships.
Gilmore had undergone some design changes by 1829 to accommodate Peel’s immigrants so that by the time she was sold to Young & Co. in 1831, she was 500 tons and ready to be utilised as a convict ship from London to Van Diemen’s Land. She left on 21st November 1831 with 224 male convicts on board and arrived in Hobart on 22nd March 1832. This was Gilmore’s first of three convict voyages to VDL.
Upon return to England, Gilmore was sold in 1834 to Duncan Gibb & Co. Her tonnage was increased to 550 ton and her port of registration changed from London to Liverpool. This is reflected in the first extant Survey Report 1835. She then sailed from London to Bombay on a trading mission with master William H Lindsay. Her second convict voyage was in 1838/39 with new owner R Barry and master J Theaker, transporting 280 male convicts. Barry remained owner for the next 15 years which included Gilmore‘s third and final convict voyage in 1843.
The Ship’s Unwilling Passengers
On 14th April 1843 Gilmore sailed from Sheerness with 254 male convicts on board. They had embarked over several days from the hulks at Deptford, Woolwich and Chatham. The prisoners had been sentenced for their various crimes in the Central Criminal Court (the Old Bailey) and in England’s County General Session courts, Quarter Session courts and Assizes; over 20 came from the courts of Scotland and Wales. Fifteen of the prisoners had been court martialed.
During the voyage three convicts died: John Kellett on 25th April suffering from chronic bronchitis and typhus; William Heynes died of pulmonary phthisis on 9th July; Richard Saunders died 19th August of diarrhoea. Twenty three cases were sent to Hobart Hospital upon landing, half of them with scorbutus (scurvy).
The surgeon wrote in his general remarks that the master of the ship (Wiliam M Maw) and the officer of the 99th Regiment (Lieutenant Colonel Henry Despard), were absurdly afraid of the convicts and as the sentiment of fear is nearly allied to that of hatred, they sincerely hated them.
The Ship’s Guards and Carers
In 1843, Gilmore was one of 18 convict ships arriving in Van Diemen’s Land from British ports. The troops were ultimately bound for New South Wales where the majority of 99th Regiment troops in Australia were then garrisoned. Guarding the convicts to Hobart were officers Lieutenant Colonel Henry Despard and Ensign F W Wright, four sergeants, one drummer, two corporals and 35 privates. Within a month of landfall on Australian soil, they would sail on Gilmore to Port Jackson to join their regiment in NSW.
Six of the soldiers were on the Gilmore‘s Sick List and Case Notes written about them by the Surgeon. They were admitted to the Military Hospital in Hobart on 21st August 1843: Private Thomas Best (Case 17 – hepatitis) later died in hospital; Drummer James Dogherty (Case 20 – dyspepsia); Private Hector McCormick (Case 21 – impetigo); Private Christopher McGrath (Case 6 – incipient phthisis); Private William Minnion (Case 18 -bubo); Private William Spiller (Case 19 – gunshot wound).
The master of Gilmore was William M Maw; the surgeon superintendent, James Syme.
The Ship’s Voyage
12 Mar 1843 The crew, troops, surgeon and other passengers embarked at Deptford.
Throughout the next month convicts from the hulks Thames, Warrior, Justicia and Fortitude were embarked at Deptford, Woolwich and Chatham.
14 Apr Departed Sheerness, Kent.
19 Aug Arrived Hobart, VDL. Passage: 127 days via Cape Verde Island. Disembarked convicts.
20 Sep Departed Hobart, VDL.
29 Sep Arrived Port Jackson, NSW.
30 Sep 99th troops joined their regiment in Parramatta, NSW.
The Ship’s Journal
James Syme RN was appointed Assistant Surgeon in 1827 and Surgeon in 1834. His journey on Gilmore was his only convict voyage. He maintained a very detailed journal from 12th March to 30th September 1843.
From the outset it appears he had problems with both the ship’s captain and the 99th Regiment officer of the guard. Despite a recent survey of the ship on 31st January 1843, there were many leaks and the prison area and hospital were far from dry. According to Syme, Captain Maw and Lt. Col. Despard made no effort to alleviate these problems. In fact Syme accused them of maltreating the convicts, with the disregard of their health and comfort.
Syme suggested that the high number of cases of rheumatism and scurvy were due to the wet conditions. Upon arrival at Van Diemen’s Land, Syme requested the Governor hold an enquiry into the problems on board. It came to nothing when Maw and Despard claimed ignorance of any sickness.
Syme seems to have done his best with the large number of convicts and soldiers on the Sick List, the 26 individual Case Notes written to record treatment, the more than usual number of convicts admitted to Hobart Hospital and the number of soldiers admitted to the Military Hospital. It is surprising that there were not more deaths, considering the conditions on board.
This voyage took a heavy toll on James Syme’s own health. He accompanied the soldiers from Hobart to the end of their journey to Sydney. He left for England in February 1844 and died in Scotland three years later.
At the end of his General Remarks in the Journal, Syme wrote several paragraphs about the shipboard classes: The education of the convicts was not neglected by me. Reading, writing, grammar and arithmetic, were taught by myself and two assistants selected from amongst the convicts. To me the duty of teaching was a pleasure instead of a toil. Syme went on to say, Before the end of the voyage the progress made by the class was remarkable. The scholars were all eager to learn, and most of them were intelligent. … many convicts who when they embarked did not know the letters of the alphabet, before disembarkation could read with accuracy.
The Ship’s Demise
Gilmore is last listed in Lloyd’s Register in 1861 with W. Wright, master, and destination Southampton to Cape of Good Hope. The listing for owner (Alexander) and home port (Southampton) are crossed through.
Gilmore was wrecked on Hard Lewis Rocks, off the east side of St Martin’s, Isles of Scilly on 12th April 1866. Hard Lewis Rocks is about 25 miles from Lands End, Cornwall. The ship was on a voyage from Southampton to Quebec; the crew managed to get away in the ship’s boats.
Wikipedia, Wikipedia Commons.
Lloyd’s Registers 1834-1861.
Lloyd’s Survey Reports 1835-1860.
The Convict Ships, 1787-1868, Charles Bateson, 1974.
Australian Medical Pioneer Index.
Log of Logs Vols. 1, Ian Nicholson 1993.
Passengers in History website, Maritime Museum of South Australia.
A Collection of Papers Relative to Ship Building in India, John Phipps, Calcutta, 1840.
The Shipwrecks of the Isles of Scilly, Richard Larn, 1992.
Musters & Pay Lists WO12-9804 to 9821, National Archives, Kew.
Journal of Her Majesty’s Ship Gilmore, ADM101-40-5, National Archives, Kew.
Sydney Gazette 5 Dec 1829.
Colonial Times 22 Aug 1843.
Sydney Morning Herald 30 Sep 1843.
© Diane Oldman 2023