On 13 May 1787, a convoy of ships set sail from Portsmouth, carrying over 700 convicts to the British government’s new penal colony in Australia. Among the transportees were a number of convicts from Gloucester prison.
Britain had previously transported convicts to the American colonies, but this could no longer be done from the mid-1770s, when the American War of Independence began. Prisoners were still sentenced to transportation after that, but they were either kept in their local prison or sent to work on hulks on the Thames, while a new place could be found which was suitable for a penal colony. In January 1787, it was announced in Parliament that Botany Bay in Australia was to be the destination for Britain’s transportees.
For several months, convicts were removed from their prisons and sent to hulks at Portsmouth and Plymouth, before being put on board one of the convict ships. They then had to wait for the weather to be good enough to set sail. On 13 May 1787, the fleet finally left Portsmouth, led by the flag ship Sirius, carrying the new colony’s governor, Captain Arthur Phillip, and followed by six convict ships and several other vessels carrying supplies. The journey, via Tenerife, Rio de Janeiro and Cape Town, took eight months, with the first ship reaching Botany Bay on 18 January 1788. Unfortunately, for various reasons, Botany Bay was found to be unsuitable for setting up a colony, and a better area was found at Port Jackson, 12 kilometres north. The First Fleet re-embarked and arrived at Port Jackson, quickly renamed Sydney Cove, on 26 January 1788.
The Gloucester prisoners
No definitive number of convicts who sailed on the First Fleet has ever been decided upon, and likewise there seems to be no agreement as to the exact number of transportees from Gloucester. According to the Gloucester Journal of 16 April 1787, 30 to 40 convicts were sent from Gloucester’s County Prison to Portsmouth or Plymouth to await transportation, but fewer than this appear to have sailed for Australia. In the various available indexes and databases, the number of prisoners who were said to have been tried at Gloucester is between 21 and 25, while another 21 to 23 are thought to have come from Bristol. From my own research, I believe there were 21 Gloucester prisoners.
The names of the transportees from Gloucester Prison (in alphabetical order) are:
Samuel DAVIS; Samuel DAY; Samuel GRIFFITHS (alias BRISCOW and BUTCHER); George GUEST (or GESS); Joseph HAINES; Henry HATHAWAY; Elizabeth LOCK; Joseph LONG; John MARROTT (or MERRITT or MARRIOTT); Betty MASON; Richard MORGAN; William OKEY; Elizabeth PARKER; James PRICE; Edward PUGH; Edward RISBY; Isaac ROGERS; Daniel SMART; Richard SMART; John SUMMERS; William WHITING.
The University of Wollongong First Fleet database gives some interesting information on some of these Gloucester convicts.
All but one of the male prisoners from Gloucester sailed on board the Alexander. This ship was the largest, but not the most hygienic, of the transports, and it had already lost sixteen people to an outbreak of typhus before the fleet left Portsmouth. Ten more convicts died on the journey. Two Gloucester transportees who died before or during the voyage on the Alexander were Isaac Rogers (condemned and reprieved March 1785 for highway robbery, commuted to 14 years transportation), and Richard Smart (sentenced to 7 years transportation at Quarter Sessions, January 1786, for stealing wool). Richard Smart’s brother, Daniel Smart, who was convicted for the same offence, survived the journey, but did not last long in Australia, dying some time in 1788.
Samuel Davis, aged about 17, (sentenced to transportation for 7 years in July 1785, for stealing a silver watch), was killed by Aborigines some time in 1788. William Okey (condemned and reprieved for burglary, March 1784) also was killed by Aborigines, in 1792.
The three female transportees from Gloucester all had interesting stories.
Elizabeth Lock, who had travelled to Australia on the Lady Penrhyn, had been sentenced to 7 years transportation at the Assizes in March 1783, for burglary. She married a fellow Gloucester convict, Richard Morgan, on 30 March 1788. However, Morgan was sent to Norfolk Island in 1790 and he lived there with another woman, before eventually settling in Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania). Elizabeth Lock left New South Wales in 1795.
Betty Mason had been tried in March 1785 and found guilty of stealing money and a purse. She was condemned to death but reprieved, and sentenced to 14 years transportation instead. With her on the Friendship was her one-year-old son (presumably conceived and born in Gloucester gaol), who sadly died during the journey. She married convict Richard Hawkes on 14 Feb 1790.
Elizabeth Parker, who was tried in March 1785 for burglary, travelled on the convict ship Friendship with her daughter, who had been conceived in Gloucester gaol, and the child’s father, Edward Pugh. Elizabeth became ill during the voyage and was transferred onto the Charlotte at Cape Town. Unfortunately, she died soon after landing, being buried on 19 February 1788 (as Elizabeth Pugh). Edward Pugh married another convict in June the same year.
To finish on a happier note, some of the Gloucester convicts made a success of their new lives in Australia. A good example is John Marrott (also written as Merritt or Marriott) who was convicted at Gloucestershire’s Lent Assizes in March 1784 of breaking and entering, and stealing a large quantity of cloth. He was condemned and reprieved, then sentenced to 7 years transportation. According to the website Fellowship of First Fleeters, in January 1794 he was granted 50 acres of land in the Prospect district, and went on to become one of the Colony’s most successful emancipist farmers. He died in May 1812, aged 69.
Irene Wyatt, Transportees from Gloucestershire to Australia, 1783-1842 (Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaelogical Society, 1988)
Robert Hughes, The Fatal Shore (1987)
A.G.L. Shaw, Convicts & The Colonies (1966)
Fellowship of First Fleeters (Information on some of the Gloucester transportees)
Australia’s First Fleet (this gives a slightly different list of convicts from Gloucester than the Univesrity of Wollongong database)
The First Fleet – Project Gutenberg Australia (useful information on the voyage)
© Jill Evans 2014