Free Settler or Felon
Convict and Colonial History

Convict Ship Gorgon - 1791

Embarked: 31 men
Voyage: 190 days
Surgeon's Journal: no
44 guns
Previous vessel: Mary Ann arrived 9 July 1791
Next vessel: Matilda arrived 1 August 1791
Captain John Parker
Prisoners and passengers of the Gorgon identified in the Hunter Valley

H.M.S. Gorgon was one of eleven vessels of the Third Fleet. In September 1790 it was reported that H.M.S. Gorgon which had been lying at Portsmouth for quite some time was preparing to sail for Botany Bay without delay[2]. However it wasn't until January 1791 that Lieutenant John Parker, late Commander of his Majesty's ship Ulysses, was appointed to the Gorgon.[1]

The London Times reported on 22nd March 1791.....positive orders have been dispatched from the Secretary of State's Office, to Lieutenant King, at Plymouth, for the fleet bound to Botany Bay, to sail the first fair wind; they are to stop at Madeira six days, but no person is to be suffered to go on shore.


H.M.S. Gorgon sailed from Spithead on 15th March and Portsmouth on 18th March 1791 with stores and personnel for the starving colony of NSW. As well as 280 passengers and crew the ship carried livestock. The vessel was to collect the salvaged stores from the wreck of the Guardian at Cape Town and bring the first contingent of the NSW Corps to Port Jackson as well as to deliver Lieut. Gov. Philip Gidley King to the new penal settlement on Norfolk Island.

Phillip Gidley King.....Phillip Gidley King

Cabin Passengers

Passengers included:

1. Philip Gidley and Anna Joseph King

2. Surveyor Charles Grimes - Charles Grimes and the Natives of Port Stephens

3. Thomas Laycock first arrived in the colony as a nine-year-old with his parents on HMS Gorgon.

Thomas Laycock b. 1786. Arrived in NSW with his parents on the Gorgon in 1791

His father, Thomas, was a quartermaster in the New South Wales Corps. Thomas Laycock (jun.,) also entered service with the New South Wales Corps, and was commissioned as ensign on 30 December 1795 and rose to lieutenant by 1802. After service in both Sydney and Norfolk Island, Laycock was sent to Port Dalrymple, Van Diemen's Land to serve under Captain Anthony Fenn Kemp in 1806. He served in North America during the War of 1812. He returned to Australia with his wife Isabella on the Fame in 1817. He is most famous for being the first European to travel overland through the interior of Tasmania

4. Mary Ann Parker accompanied her husband John Parker around the world in the Gorgon and wrote a narrative of the voyage.

Mary Ann Parker

The Governor's Lady, Mrs. King by Marnie Bassett gives an account of the voyage from Mary Ann Parker's journal {Extracts}...... Mary Ann Parker - 'After a fortnight's seasoning and buffeting in the Channel, I began to enjoy the voyage I had undertaken; and with the polite attention of the officers on board, and my amiable companion Mrs. King, we glided over many a watery grave with peace of mind, and uninterrupted happiness'...

Anna Joseph King, wife of Governor Phillip Gidley King....Anna Josepha King


'They followed the usual route by way of Teneriffe and St. Jago in the Cape Verde Islands to the Cape of Good Hope. At Teneriffe there was no salute to H.M. King George's ship, as orders from Spain forbade such compliments to foreign ships of war, but what was lacking in formal ceremonial was made up in friendly and colourful hospitality, and the ladies evidently had the time of their lives. There had been tedious calms on the way to Teneriffe; now came an exciting interlude of dinners and picnics, donkey rides, gifts of fruits and salads, visits to the admiring members of the English business community. Every one was very gracious and Mrs. Parker was able to act as interpreter, having lived three years in Spain.' 'For ten days they frolicked at the feet of the almighty Peak, and then sailed for St. Jago. Sharks were caught at sea, and the men but not the ladies, ate the tails of the youngest. The ship ran into squally weather and Mrs. Parker says that the noise made by the working of the vessel, and the swinging of the glass shades that held our lights, rendered the cabin very dismal. Once it was so rough that they had to dine on the deck of the cabin'

Mary Ann Parker - ' but these little difficulties were scarcely felt, the party being in good humour, and our spirits being well supposed by good broth, roast pig, and plumb puddings - thanks to my caterer, who had so well provided for so long a voyage. 'At St. Jago, they fell in with four of the transports to whom they were acting as convoy, and made the acquaintance of two people whose lives were for many years to be woven closely with the Kings' - Captain Paterson of the New South Wales corps and his lady, on their way to Port Jackson. Here they treated themselves with coconuts and pineapples and stocked the ship with fruit, poultry and goats.

Cape Town

Towards the end of June they could count their long voyage half over. At this time of year, Mrs. Parker says sudden hurricanes sweep round the mountains of Southern Africa and make the Bay at Cape town too dangerous to risk a vessel at, so the Gorgon anchored in the safety of Simon's Bay.

Lieutenant-governor King, Mrs. King, Captain Parker and Mrs. Parker went on shore and set off for Cape Town in carriages where they lodged with the mother of merchant Peter de Witt.

In the next few days the hospitality of Teneriffe was repeated and they obtained fruit trees and livestock and other supplies. The Gorgon was brought round to Table Bay. During the Gorgon's visit to Table Bay, there arrived two ships homeward bound with tea from China after delivering their loads of convicts at Sydney. These were the Neptune of black reputation and the Lady Juliana both of the Second Fleet of convict transports. They were full of disquieting reports on the food problem in the settlement and of how anxiously the Governor had been awaiting the arrival of the Gorgon months before. Captain Parker longed to be off and when the loading was finished they set sail on the last day of July.

Port Jackson

At last on the 11th September, they sighted the coast of New Holland. On the 17th expecting to arrive at Port Jackson the next day, they gathered festively with the officers of the wardroom at what was intended to be a farewell dinner, but perverse winds blew them away from the coast once more. On the 19th they again sighted land; by sunset they were thwarted again by torrents of rain, thunder and lightning, and a fireball that seemed to rend the ship. At midnight the weather cleared.

(The Times reported on this storm: About a week before the Gorgon reached Jackson's Bay, in a violent thunder storm, a ball of lightening struck and wounded the fore and main masts and knocked down several of the people. About the middle of August the Gorgon running through the water at the rate of eleven knots an hour, with the wind right aft, at day break was found to be surrounded with islands of ice of a prodigious size, some of them in appearance as large as the Isle of Wight. [4]

While the Gorgon was battling to arrive, Sydney was longing for the Gorgon. When more than a year ago King had sailed for Batavia in the Colony's only ship to send back food and make his way thence to England as best he might, he had left behind him in the empty harbour a feeling almost of despair. Since then ships had indeed come, but had brought more new inhabitants than provisions and the settlement had suffered from hunger and drought, from dysentery and scurvy, from quarrelling and thieving - from hunger above all.

'Captain King was only a passenger, so that as the ship beat up the harbour next morning he was free to stand with his wife on the deck and point out to her all the places that he knew - the wooded slopes, the little islands, the beach where fish were netted, the bay where rushes were cut for thatching roofs; in the cove itself the lines of convict huts and the soldier's quarters near the Tank Stream that was the settlement's only fresh water; the stores where flour and rice and pork were guarded, the Commandant's brick house, the observatory on the hill, and on the slope above the cove the unpretentious Government House. [6] H.M.S. Gorgon arrived in Port Jackson on 21st - 22nd September 1791 bringing His Majesty's Authority for granting Pardons Absolutely or Conditionally. As soon as she anchored, Governor King went on shore to deliver government dispatches to Governor Phillip.

Departure of the Gorgon from the Colony

The Times reported: The Gorgon left the settlers 73 puncheons of spirits, with whatever provisions she could spare; having a long passage back, the ship's company were reduced to short allowance, particularly in the article of spirits. When they reached the Cape, they were obliged to send 140 people to the hospital all of whom except one returned on board in perfect health, having been allowed, with the whole of the crew, fresh provisions and vegetables as much as they could eat. She sailed from the Cape of Good Hope the 9th of April, and touched at the Island of Ascension, where she took on board a quantity of turtle.

The following passengers returned to England in H.M.S. Gorgon:

From New South Wales:
Major Ross,
Captain Campbell,
Captain Meredith,
Captain Watkin Tench,
Lieutenant Johnstone,
Lieutenant Keilo,
Lieutenant Dawes,
Captain Ralph Clarke
Adjutant Long, Quarter Master of Marines.
Upwards of 100 men, women and children belonging to the marine corps;

At the Cape the Gorgon took on board:

Seven convicts who had made their escape from Port Jackson to Batavia - William Allen, Samuel Broom, Mary Bryant, her daughter Charlotte, Nathaniel Lillie, and James Martin. [4]

Captain Edwards of the Pandora, which was lost;

Ten of the mutineers of the Bounty including Peter Heywood who in letters to his family described his voyage home on the Gorgon....He was removed into the Gorgon of forty four guns, lying in Table Bay, March 19th 1792, and from that period till his arrival in England he appears to have been allowed the inestimable indulgence of walking upon deck for six or eight hours eery day, whilst at others times he was confined with only one leg in irons. On the 21st June, two days after his return to Spithead, he was transferred to the Hector. From the Gorgon at Spithead he directed a letter to Richard Metham containing a detailed statement respecting the mutiny of the Bounty. In his letters to his mother and sister he had, during his confinement learned to make straw hats and that with both his hands in fetters. He finished several which he sold for half a crown a piece and with the product of these he procured a suit of coarse clothes, in which, with a cheerful and light heart, notwithstanding all his sufferings he arrived at Portsmouth where he remained until his trial. -
A Memoir of the late Captain Peter Heywood

H.M.S. Gorgon arrived back at Portsmouth on 18 June 1792.

Notes and Links

1). Lieutenant and Mrs King returned to the colony in the Speedy in 1800

2). Hunter Valley convicts/passengers arriving on the Gorgon in 1791

3). Governor Arthur Phillip

4). The Journal of Philip Gidley King Lieutenant, R.N. 1787-1790 King, Philip Gidley (1758-1808) A digital text sponsored by University of Sydney Library

5). Journal of round voyage by Lieutenant John Gardiner Location Dixson Library, New South Wales MSQ168

6). Part account of the trip home 6 January to 17 June 1792 in Ralph Clark - The Journal and Letters of Lieutenant Ralph Clark, 1787 - 1792 (first published 1981). Captain Watkin Tench also took passage home Location Original manuscript in Mitchell Library, Sydney

7). Journal by Sergeant William Dew of the Marines, published as - A First Fleet Family (London 1896). By Louis Becke and Walter Jeffery. An account of the voyage to Australia on the First Fleet in 1788 on HMS Sirius and the voyage home on HMS Gorgon. (ex Sirius). This journal gives an account of Mary Bryant and her escape and subsequent life. Some names and places have been changed.

8) Thomas Massey was committed for desertion as a soldier in the 47th Regiment and then charged in company of two others with breaking and entering the house of Thomas Hammon near Knutsford in 1789. Massey was sentenced to death at Chester, England on 3rd Sept 1789. He arrived as a convict on the Gorgon. In 1804 he was appointed Chief Constable of the new settlement established at Port Dalrymple, on the Tamar Estuary, Van Diemen's Land - From Convict to Chief Constable The Story of Thomas Massey and the First 50 Years of Launceston Tasmania


[1] 'Portsmouth.' Times [London, England] 11 Jan. 1791:

[2] Times [London, England] 11 Sept. 1790: 2. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 9 Mar. 2013.

[4] 'Botany Bay.' Times [London, England] 21 June 1792: 3. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 9 Mar. 2013.

[5] Historical Records of Australia, Vol.1, p225

[6] The Governor's Lady, Mrs. King by Marnie Bassett