The Ship’s Owner
Arthur Anderson (born 1792, Shetland Islands, Scotland) began his maritime career in the Royal Navy in service during the Napoleonic Wars. In 1830, he and his partner, Brodie Willcox, established a regular steamship service, the Peninsular Steam Navigation Company, which in 1837 became the Peninsular and Orient (P&O). Anderson’s talent for business, assisted by useful government contracts, ensured his operations expanded overseas. By the time of his death in 1868, he had the largest fleet of steamships in the world. [Owner not verified; research continues].
The Ship’s Builders
Minerva was a 327 ton Barque built in Greenock in 1824. Entry No. 808 in Lloyds ‘M’ section of the 1838 Register, indicates that she was one of over thirty ships with the name. The Minerva built at Greenock in 1824 was registered in Alloa, Clackmannonshire, Scotland. At the present time, nothing is known of Anderson’s ship that made the 1838 journey with some of the 51st Regiment troops on board – neither the builder nor her specifications. And she should not be confused with other ships of the same name which brought convicts to Australian shores on at least four previous occasions. There is some indication on the Lloyds Register entry that she had undergone modifications sometime prior to her 1838 voyage. However, earlier that year Minerva‘s arrival in January made headlines as a ‘fever ship’ in quartantine when she arrived at Port Jackson, NSW with typhoid fever on board. Reports of numbers vary, but one report indicated 86 immigrants had contracted typhus, of whom 14 died.
The Ship’s Unwilling Passengers
On 21st May 1838, nine men and 151 ‘boy’ convicts embarked on Minerva at Sheerness, The boys were previously on board the prison hulk Euryalus moored at Chatham. Out of these ‘passengers’, the average sentence was eight years, including ten ‘Lifers’. The youngest boy convict mentioned on the Surgeon’s sick list was 15 years old. One death occurred on the voyage, that of Henry Phillips, aged 18, transported for stealing two clocks. He died on 31st July of Phthisis (Tuberculosis).
The Ship’s Guards and Carers
Between April and November 1838, eight ships transporting over 1750 convicts left England for Van Diemen’s Land, along with their guards from the 51st Regiment. Unfortunately the War Office records do not always record the names of the relevant ships. Analysis of the Pay Lists can identify the relevant ship on which NCOs and other ranks embarked, but not necessarily the officers. The number of ships coming and going became so commonplace, that even the press barely mentioned any detail other than the departure and arrival dates. Nonetheless Sergeant Benjamin Brooks and 14 ORs embarked on Minerva on 17th May, their pay made up to the 23rd September 1838. Three of the soldiers on board, Privates George Barr, David Grainger and William Pusey, 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 George Brown, the Surgeon Superintendent James Wilson, R.N.
The Ship’s Voyage
Minerva sailed from Sheerness on 28th May and arrived in Van Diemen’s Land on 28th September 1838 (123 days passage).
The Ship’s Journal
James Wilson R.N. made four voyages on convict ships to Australia: Lady Ridley (1821), Blenhiem (1834), Lady Kennaway (1836), before embarking on Minerva. Wilson’s Nosological Synopsis shows the various ailments suffered by convicts, guards and crew on the ship. There were a total of 19 cases, 17 of which were ‘discharged to duty’, one sent to hospital, and one death as mentioned above. Four of the soldiers of the 51st Regiment were recorded in the Sick Book – Thomas Burraway, David Grainger, William Gutson and William Pusey. We can perhaps deduce that the average age of the boy convicts accounted for the low number of cases of sickness. Surgeon Wilson admitted himself to sick bay on two occasions for ‘neuralgia’. The most common ailment appeared to be Scorbutus (Scurvy) and in August when this problem was at its height, the Surgeon directed that the ship layup in Simon’s Bay (probably Simon’s Town at the Cape in South Africa). This it did for five days and the convicts, guards and crew were given a daily ration of meat, vegetables, oranges and soft bread; before leaving they stocked up with 25 sheep and vegetables.
There is next to nothing about the voyage itself in the surgeon’s journal, it being almost entirely a record of medical reports and general observations. However, at the end of the journal, Wilson indulges in a personal note about his charges on the voyage (hereunder).
On the 21st of May at Sheerness we received on board convicts nine men and one hundred and fifty one boys from the Euryalus convict hulk Chatham; on embarking the condition and health of the adults (with one exception) was good, that one had considerable infirmity from age. The physical strength of all the boys at this time was below the natural standard and with only a few exceptions they were low in flesh. The appetites of all was keen throughout the passage and their general health was remarkably good; there was not a case of sickness occurred in the ship between 29 July and 4 October – the day they were disembarked – at which time I think that on an average each individual had acquired five or six pounds of flesh more than he had on embarking in England, which most likely was more owing to the regular hours they were compelled to keep, than to any increase of diet. The intellectual powers of the boys as evinced in the school was much above the common standard.
The moral depravity in the conduct of these boys during the voyage as detailed in my journal to the Comptroller of Victualling and Transport Services, leads to the melancholy belief that – with only a few exceptions – they have been born and nursed in prison. It also shows that the youngest were the most hardened in villainy but we would trust that this insensibility is chargeable upon the parents and is the result of their having schooled them to theft for we would cherish a hope that human nature is not so far fallen in early infancy, as to take delight in the commission of such crimes as these children did. The same journal shows that one of them had not been three hours on board when he committed a theft and that hardly a day passed without our being obliged to inflict some species of punishment. Notwithstanding the strict rein I held upon them, and the numerous punishments I inflicted, I would do them injustice did I not state my belief that I was held in the utmost respect by every individual, and loved by many of them. And the time I spent with the school – a report of which is in the said journal – was a source of great gratification to me.
Yet there is not any consideration on earth which could induce me again to undertake a similar charge so harrowing to the best feelings of our nature.
The Ship’s Demise
Lloyds of London Registers 1838.
HMS Euryalus at Trafalgar, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.
Convict Records of Australia, State Library of Queensland.
Musters & Pay Lists WO12-620-222, National Archives, Kew.
Embarkation Returns 1813-1838, WO25-3503, National Archives, Kew.
Journal of Her Majesty’s Ship Minerva, ADM101-54-6A, National Archives, Kew.
Australian Medical Pioneers Index.
Sydney Gazette 30 Jan 1838.
Evening Mail 23 May 1838.
The Tasmanian 28 Sep 1838.
© Diane Oldman 2020