Middlesex 1839/40 – Maiden Voyage for the 51st

  1. Home
  2. /
  3. Ships
  4. /
  5. Middlesex 1839/40 – Maiden Voyage for...
Duncan Dunbar 1803-1862
The Morning Post 3 June 1839.
The Sydney Monitor and Commercial Exchange 27 January 1840.
General Remarks in Surgeon Baird’s Journal
The Hull Advertiser and Exchange Gazette 18 November 1842.

The Ship’s Owner

In 1825 Duncan Dunbar (the Second) inherited a Thameside wine and spirit business from his father; but shipping was to become his primary occupation, at first as owner and then builder. He was arguably the 19th century’s biggest ship owner in the world, managing at one time or another 73 clipper ships. His vessels were employed as troopships in the Crimean War; convict transports to Australia; taking emigrants to Australia and New Zealand; taking tea to England from China; and spices and many other exotic commodities from India.

The Ship’s Builders

In 1839 the partnership of Philip Laing and Thomas Boyes Simey of Deptford, Sunderland, completed the build of a 418 ton, three-masted barque for Dunbar & Co. registered in London as Middlesex. Her maiden voyage would be from London to Port Jackson, New South Wales.

The Ship’s Unwilling Passengers

On board were 200 convicts from around 25 counties in Ireland. Their crimes included manslaughter, rape, malicious and aggravated assault and murder, along with robbery, stealing, fraud, arson and perjury. At least four of the convicts were soldiers transported for desertion.

The Ship’s Guards and Carers

Guarding the convicts on board were 29 officers and men of the 51st Regiment of Foot some with wives and children. According to the Surgeon’s Journal and a newspaper report, the guards embarked on Middlesex on 4 June 1839. Overall command of the 51st fell to Lieutenant Murray of the 50th Regiment of Foot. Two of the soldiers on board, Corporal John Deardon and Private Thomas Jones, later became part of the Swan River Colony detachment and took their Army discharges and settled in the Colony. The Master of the vessel was Captain Charles Munro, the Surgeon Superintendent John Baird R.N.

The Ship’s Voyage

The voyage was a long one for that era (203 days) – Middlesex sailed from Dublin on 6 July 1839 and arrived in Port Jackson, NSW on 25 January 1840. During the journey the ship encountered heavy gales during which she lost her fore and main topmasts, and one man (an apprentice) was lost overboard. They were obliged to put into Port Louis, Mauritius for provisions and water on 25 November and left on 14 December 1839. The ship was so long delayed that there were rumours that she had been lost at sea. There were many reports of the ship’s arrival, but the Sydney Monitor‘s report was perhaps the most comprehensive – despite the spelling errors!

The Ship’s Journal

Surgeon Baird’s journal shows several pages of names and medical problems of convicts, as well as 14 soldiers, reporting to sick bay throughout the voyage. The soldiers’ complaints included syphilis, constipation, rheumatism, febris and ulcers, but most of them had dysentry. The only instance of scurvy was in that of a man who was suffering from mental illness and refused to eat fresh provisions when they were available, imagining that any change from the general diet of the convicts was ‘from some design against his life’. Corporal Deardon was not on the sick list. Eight convicts died on the voyage.

The Ship’s Demise

At the tender age of three years, Middlesex was gone forever. On 30 August 1842 after leaving Sydney for London in May, she was wrecked on the coast of Brazil near Maceio. There was no loss of life and the rescued passengers and crew continued their journey on Columbus, and some on the barque Eliza Johnston.

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.

Text of talk by Rear-Admiral Duncan Dunbar-Nasmith c. 2006.
Free Settler or Felon website (Jen Willets).
The Sunderland website (Peter Searle).
Wrecksite website (Jan Lettens, Levano Hervé).
Lloyd’s Registers 1840.
The National Archives, Kew (WO12-6201-205 and ADM101-54-1].
The Morning Post 3 June 1839.
The Sydney Monitor and Commercial Exchange 27 January 1840.
The Hull Advertiser and Exchange Gazette 18 November 1842.


© Diane Oldman 2020