Free Settler or Felon
Convict and Colonial History

Convict Ship Experiment - 1804

Embarked: 2 men; 136 women
Voyage: 174 days
Deaths 6
Previous vessel: Coromandel arrived 7 May 1804
Next vessel: Tellicherry arrived 15 February 1806
Captain Francis Withers
Follow the Female Convict Ship Trail
Convicts and passengers of the Experiment identified in the Hunter Valley

The Experiment was the next convict ship to leave England after the departure of the Coromandel in December 1803.

The Convicts

It was reported that on 3rd November 1803 a number of female convicts had arrived in Portsmouth and had been put on board the Experiment for transportation to Botany Bay. [6] Several more were put on board on the 13th November. About forty had probably been tried at the Old Bailey.

Maria Bradley age 18 was removed from the Experiment on 19th November 1803 and taken to the Captivity hulk at Portsmouth. She was returned to the Experiment on 17th December 1803.

Mary Butler age 22 was taken from the Experiment to the Captivity on 23rd November 1803 and granted a Free Pardon. Sarah Ann Bell age 32 was taken to the Captivity on 30th November and returned to the ship on 17th December 1803. A total of 136 women were eventually embarked on the Experiment.

On 28th December 1803, The Times reported:

'Early yesterday morning Anthony Rawson and William Tucker, (the two convicts who escaped from New South Wales, and concealed themselves on board the Atlas, Captain Musgrave, in which they were brought to England), were sent off to Portsmouth under an escort from Bow Street, in order to be put on board the Experiment, transport now under sailing orders for Botany Bay.' William Tucker had first been transported on the Hillsborough in 1799. [5]

The Editor of a publication dated 1803 was appalled by the conduct of the female prisoners on the Experiment.......

Near 200 female convicts have just been put on board the Experiment, bound for New. South Wales, who, from the account given of them by the humane and vigilant Mr. Kirby, we apprehend will not contribute much to the reformation of their colonial sisters. These abandoned unfortunate wretches, through a principle of humanity, are allowed to walk the decks, where they parade, dressed in all the finery of their former depredations; and their behaviour is so shamefully indecent, and their conversation so abominably gross, that the settlers' wives nor daughters, can have the benefit of the air without hearing their shocking language [3]

Cabin and Free Passengers

A total of nine settlers with their families came on the Experiment, including Caleb and Felix Wilson, Robert Martin, William Carlisle, Richard Dalton (later constable, gaoler, master of the Benevolent Asylum); Thomas Gordon, Thomas Arkell and Surgeon Edward Luttrell, wife and several daughters also. The wife and one child of Mr. Magrath and the wife of Mr. Wilson died on the passage as did also the child of another.

William Cox and James Cox, sons of Captain William Cox of NSW Corps and of Clarendon, appear on a List of Persons with permission to proceed to NSW as Settlers dated 30 March 1803, aged 14 & 13 sailed on the Experiment. William Cox jun., purchased a commission in the New South Wales Corps in 1808 and went to England with that regiment being promoted to Lieutenant in 1812. He returned to the Colony in 1814 on the 'Windham' as a member of 46th Regiment and purchased the estate of Hobartville near Richmond in 1816. James went on to become a prominent settler in VDL and also served as a JP and Magistrate for the county of Cornwall, Port Dalrymple

There was also a List of wives & children aboard Experiment for a passage to NSW - 19 Nov 1803, CO201/28, 212 -10 Women and 5 children [7]


The Experiment departed Portsmouth early in December however was compelled to put back into Portsmouth having lost her bowsprit 16 leagues from Scilly. Having made repairs, the Experiment departed Portsmouth on 2nd January 1804. She arrived at Rio de Janeiro on 8th March, departing from there on 8th April.


After a voyage of over 170 days, the Experiment had been in sight of Sydney for some days, however didn't make it into the harbour because of strong winds until the 24th June 1804.

Two male convicts and one hundred and thirty female convicts arrived on the Experiment. Five or six female prisoners had died on the passage out.

Of the female prisoners who arrived on the Experiment, twenty-one convalescents were sent to the General Hospital and the majority of the others were sent up the river to Parramatta. They may have been among the first women put to work in the Parramatta Female Factory which was re-built in 1804 after being damaged by fire. George Mealmaker who arrived on the Royal Admiral in 1800 was Superintendent at the Factory at this time. [1]

Parramatta Female Factory

At the Factory the women were employed spinning wool, sewing and washing. (This 1804 building was replaced in 1821 with a larger building). One of the convicts of the Experiment was Molly Morgan who later became a well known character in Maitland. Molly Morgan had previously been transported on the Neptune in 1790. Another lesser known arrival was Mary Daniels. They were two of very few convict women who managed to return to England.


One thousand gallons of French Brandy and Jamaica Rum were brought out on the Experiment, as well as a supply of earthen and glass ware, check, duck, ironmongery and other articles. Captain Withers imported privately many items which were later put up for auction including - Chaise and cart harness, wheels and axletrees, bridles, bacon, hams, salt beef, pickles, ketchup, anchovies, capers, salad oil, lavender water and Windsor soap, fire dogs and roasting jacks, glassware, decanters tumblers, wine glasses, paints, brushes etc.

Departure from Sydney

The Experiment, loaded with coals and cedar from the Hunter region and mail for England, sailed from Sydney on Sunday 7 October 1804 bound first for Norfolk Island and Canton. After clearing Sydney Heads she was joined by the Ocean to sail in company. At Otaheite the Experiment touched and procured sufficient stock for her voyage at a trifling expense. A prisoner found means to get on board her, and was carried off; but an accusation being brought against William Holland, for aiding and assisting therein, he was sentenced to two years hard labour. [4]


The Experiment was on the voyage from China to London and was captured on the 27th May in lat. 37.S long. 22. 30 E by the Napoleon privateer, from St. Maloes, mounting sixteen 32 pounders and four eighteens on the gun deck, 2 thirty six and 6 six pounders on the upper deck, and two hundred men, after a chase of thirty hours, and an engagement of twenty minutes, and was sent to the Isle of France not the Cape as was previously reported in The Times. [2]

Notes and Links

1). The trials of Sarah Harcourt, Mary Cayhill and Frances Jackson took place at the Old Bailey on 20 April 1803. They were all sentenced to transportation for 7 years for shoplifting.

2). In 1810 the following people who had arrived on the Experiment received their Certificates of Freedom being restored to all the Rights of Free Subjects in consequence of their terms of transportation being expired... Ann Blake, Mary Smith, Alice Williams, Deborah Treasurer, Margaret Lewis, Elizabeth Meredith alias Hare, Mary Ellis, Owen Connelly, Mary Matthews, Mary Abrahams, Rachel Griffiths, Catherine Williams, Margaret Rees, Anne Reffin, Mary Nuttall, Elizabeth Craig and Anne Jones, Charlotte King, Mary Mason, Hannah West.

3). In March 1817 Sarah Atherley of the Experiment was granted permission with other former convicts, to embark on 'Kangaroo' for England.

4). The Experiment brought news of the death of surgeon William Balmain.

5). Mary Brian who arrived as a convict on the Experiment died in 1811 aged 21. She was buried at the Old Sydney Burial Ground

6). Convicts and passengers of the Experiment identified in the Hunter Valley

7). Extract of a Letter from an Officer belonging to the Experiment, Botany Bay ship (last from China), dated Falmouth 6th October 1805 describing the gallantry of Captain Woodrif. - Naval Chronicle

8). Resources used to create Convict Ships pages


[1] New South Wales Government. Main series of letters received, 1788-1825. Series 897, Reels 6041-6064, 6071-6072. State Records Authority of New South Wales

[2] 'News in Brief.' Times [London, England] 10 Oct. 1805: 2. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 10 Mar. 2013.

[3] A Concise History of the English Colony of New South Wales - From the Landing of Governor Phillip in January 1788 to May 1803.

[4] Sydney Gazette 10 March 1805

[5] Wikipedia - William Tucker

[6] Hampshire Telegraph 3rd November 1803

[7] Lambert, Glen. Experiment free passengers, email 28 August 2020