Layton 1839 – an experienced convict transport

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Joseph Somes 1787-1845
Lloyds Register 1839

List of NCOs and Other Ranks embarking on Layton [WO12-6201-205]
51st Detachment’s Departure [Caledonian Mercury 13 Jul 1839]
General Remarks from Surgeon Isaac Noott’s Journal [ADM101-42-8]
Arrival at Tasmania [Colonial Times 10 Dec 1839]

The Ship’s Owner

Layton was originally owned by its builders, but by the time of this convict voyage it was owned by Joseph Somes. Somes (born 1787, Stepney, London) began his maritime career as an apprenticed lighter man to his father Samuel, a ship owner, and at age 21 Joseph was captain of one of his father’s ships. After his father’s death, he and his elder brother took over an already prosperous business which included sailmaking, a chandler business and chartering for the East India Company; later, after the EIC broke up its fleet, Joseph acquired a number of its ships. He became sole owner of the company and by 1830 was the largest ship owner in Britain. By the time of his death in 1845, he was the owner of up to forty ships making him one of the largest private ship owners in the world. In 1844 he became Member of Parliament for Dartmouth. He had been one of the founders of Lloyds Register of British and Foreign Shipping (1834), and chartered ships to the government for the transport of convicts, troops and cargo to India, Australasia, Africa and The Americas. He left a personal wealth of about £434,000.

The Ship’s Builders

Layton, built in 1813, was built and owned by shipbuilders John Brockbank, elder and younger. Her tonnage, measured in ‘tons burthen (or burden)’ was 498. She was three-masted, square sterned with two decks and no gallery, built in the Brockbank shipyards in Lancaster and registered in London. Her measurements are confirmed in the image (left). She sailed as a convict transport on a total of five voyages: to Van Diemen’s Land in 1827, 1835, 1839 and 1841, and to New South Wales in 1829.

The Ship’s Unwilling Passengers

On board were 260 male convicts, four of whom died on the voyage. Out of these ‘passengers’, the average sentence was 12 years, including 54 ‘Lifers’. There were 34 military convicts on board who had been courts martialled in locations such as Upper and Lower Canada, Demerara (later British Guiana), Malta, Corfu, Glasgow, Edinburgh and London. The four deaths were from Phthisis (Tuberculosis), Diarrhoea and two from Dysentery.

The Ship’s Guards and Carers

Guarding the convicts on board were two officers (Major Edward St. Maur and Ensign Edward Corbett), three sergeants and 20 other ranks of the 51st Regiment of Foot, some with wives and children. According to the Army Musters, the guards embarked on Layton on 22nd June 1839. Four of the soldiers on board, Privates James Ingersole, William Lewis, Peter McGlade and John Pullen (aka Wellstead), later became part of the Swan River Colony detachment, took their Army discharges in Perth and settled in the Colony. The Master of the vessel was Simon Cuddy, the Surgeon Superintendent Isaac Noott R.N.

The Ship’s Voyage

The Ship’s Surgeon gives a good accounting of the start of the voyage, detailing in his ‘General Remarks’ the problems that assailed the ship, as does the newspaper report. 120 convicts boarded on 26th June at Woolwich – taken off the hulks in the Thames. Then 143 convicts boarded on 13th July at Portsmouth – three of the total were hospitalised and did not sail. Layton left Portsmouth the same day but had to put in at Plymouth on 15th July for repairs. She eventually said goodbye to England on 26th July at Plymouth and called at Tenerife for supplies on 13th August. She arrived at the River Derwent, VDL on 7th December 1839 after 147 days at sea since leaving London.

The Ship’s Journal

Surgeon Isaac Noott took good care of his charges and left us detailed records of the medical journey from London to Hobart. His Nosological Synopsis shows the various diseases suffered by convicts, guards and crew on the ship. There were a total of  134 cases, 121 of which were ‘discharged to duty’, nine sent to hospital, and four died on board as mentioned above. Seven of the soldiers of the 51st Regiment were recorded in the Sick Book … surprisingly, less ailments than the sailors on board and all returned to duty within a few days. Oddly, the ship’s Master, Simon Cuddy succumbed to what at first appeared to be a serious illness. Cuddy collapsed on the quarter deck on 24th August 1839 in a ‘state of insensibility’.  Noott found him ‘in an epileptic state’, treated him and discharged him ‘to duty’ on 28th August.

The Ship’s Demise

Currently unknown.

A barque (bark) is a sailing ship with at least three masts, all of them fully square rigged except for the sternmost one, which is fore-and-aft rigged.


Lloyd’s Registers 1839.
Lancashire Archives, Lancashire County Council
Convict Records of Australia, State Library of Queensland.
Musters & Pay Lists WO12-6201-205, National Archives, Kew.
Journal of Her Majesty’s Ship Layton, ADM101-42-8, National Archives, Kew.
The Caledonian Mercury 13 Jul 1839.
The Colonial Times 10 Dec 1839.
Austral Asiatic Review 10 Dec 1839.



© Diane Oldman 2020