Free Settler or Felon
Convict and Colonial History

Convict Ship Neptune - 1820

Embarked: 156 male prisoners
Voyage: 114 days
Deaths: 0
Surgeon's Journal: yes
Previous vessel: Janus arrived 3 May 1820
Next vessel Hadlow arrived 5 August 1820
Captain William McKissock
Surgeon James Mitchell
Prisoners and passengers of the Neptune identified in the Hunter Valley

The Neptune was built in Whitby in 1810. This was the second voyage of the Neptune bringing convicts to Australia, the first being in 1818. She was the next convict ship to leave England for New South Wales after the Coromandel departed in November 1819.

The Convicts

The convicts came from counties throughout England, Scotland and Wales. - Aberdeen, Bedford, Bristol, Chester, Cumberland, Derby, Durham, Edinburgh, Kent, Glamorgan, Glasgow, Gloucester, Inverness, London, Lancaster, Norfolk, Perth Somerset, Surrey, Sussex and York. Two were court-martialled - John Hadfield and James Lee.

Military Guard

The guard consisted of a detachment of the 48th regiment under orders of Lieut. Rice.

Convict ship bringing detachments of the 48th regiment included Pilot, Caledonia, Dorothy, Larkins, Lady Castlereagh, Agamemnon, Minerva, Guildford, Isabella, Prince Regent and Baring

Surgeon James Mitchell

James Mitchell kept a Medical Journal from 8 March to 29 July 1820......

On the 9th March he was employed in examining and receiving 86 male convicts from the Justitia Hulk at Woolwich. They were placed in their respective berths, four to one berth. Each were given a bed, blanket and pillow. On the following day another 76 men were received from the Justitia bringing the total to 156 men.

The weather in England had been severe prior to embarkation and it was found that several of the men contracted severe catarrhs and suffered with ulcers caused by infected chilblains. By the 11th, James Mitchell had the men organised. Messes of six prisoners each were established. They were supplied with bowls, spoons, water mugs, knives, forks, razor and strap for shaving. The men were to be shaved twice a week. The decks of the prison and hospital were scrubbed and scraped each day and trustworthy men were appointed to distribute food and keep the prisoners quiet.

The boys were formed into classes and a teacher placed over them. Later the adult prisoners also attended a school and the surgeon was gratified at the improvements he witnessed on the voyage.

Samuel Dell embarked as a convict on the Neptune. He later became a parish clerk and schoolteacher at Newcastle and it was probably Dell who taught at the school on the voyage out. Among his first pupils on the Neptune were probably John Higham, James Lee, William Mayler, William Richardson, Joseph Stevens and William Jones who were all sixteen years of age and John Newton and John Fordyce who were both fifteen years old.

James Mitchell devised a set of rules he expected the men to follow. There was to be no smoking or gambling in the prison Any cases of abuse towards the prisoners by the guard or crew were to be reported to him immediately. Quarrelling and fighting was to be severely punished. Under no circumstances was there to be any swearing or Flash Language.


The Neptune departed from the Downs on 21 - 23 March 1820.

The Voyage

The prisoners mostly all attended to the rules so that there was no necessity of resorting to the painful alternative of flogging. The only punishments were handcuffs, being double ironed for a time or giving their allowance of wine to shipmates.

The men were exercised by cleaning the prison, swabbing the decks or pumping water for the cisterns. The surgeon did his best to keep them busy, knowing that idleness is the Mother of mischief and disease. Divine Service was performed by the surgeon who read sermons he had purchased in England for that express purpose.

James Mitchell was kept busy attending to those on board. Apart from the two obstetric cases, there were cases of Fever, Flux, Scurvy, Rheumatism, Pulmonic Inflammation, Ophthalmia, Psora, Tinea Capitis, Diseased Ears, Tonsillitis, Dyspepsia, Dysuria, Gonorrhoea, Vertigo, Impetigo and Hepatitis.

James Mitchell commented towards the end of his journal that by attention to Divine Service and School and also by their good behaviour on board that not a few of them had become determined to reform their lives. He also remarked on the good will that existed between himself, Captain McKissock and commander of the Guard Lieutenant Rice.

Port Jackson

The Neptune arrived in Port Jackson 16 July 1820, a voyage of 114 days. One hundred and fifty-six male prisoners arrived in general good health, although three men were sent to the hospital in Sydney on arrival. 

With the Neptune came the news of the death of King George III and on Monday the 17th, eighty-two minute guns were fired from Dawes Battery, Flags were raised at half mast and the Bells of St. Phillips Church tolled morning and night.

Governor Macquarie recorded the arrival of the Neptune in his Journal..... Saturday 15. July !!! ! Late this Night anchored in Port Jackson, the Male Convict Ship Neptune Commanded by Capt. Mc.Kissock, bringing the afflicting and much lamented intelligence of the Demise of our beloved and most revered Sovereign King George the 3d. - whose Death took place on Saturday the 29th. of January last at Windsor Castle. - This Ship also brings the mournful and distressing intelligence of the Death of H. R. Highness Field Marshall The Duke of Kent, the King's fourth son' which is to be considered a great National loss' - he being in the prime of Life' and a most excellent Prince. He died on the 23d. of last January six days before his Royal Father of blessed memory. The Neptune sailed from England on the 23d. of March, being only 3 months and 22 days on the Passage. She has brought 156 Male Convicts all in good Health, none having died on the Passage; Doctr. Mitchell R. Navy being Surgeon Supdt., and the Guard consisting of a Detachment of the 46th. Regt. Commanded by Lt. Rice. There is only one Passenger a *Mr. Warner. I have received no Public Dispatches by the Neptune.

*James Warman

Convict Muster

A Muster would have been held on board and details such as name, when and where convicted, sentence, native place, calling, age and physical description were recorded. There is no information in the indents as to the nature of their crimes or where and to whom the prisoners were assigned.

Convicts Disembarked

On disembarking, the men would have been addressed by Governor Macquarie, a duty he rarely missed. They were disembarked on 28th July 1820.

Convict Assignment

Three were assigned to H. Macarthur. Sixteen were sent to join the Western and Windsor Road Parties under the superintendence of Johnson and Ford and another six were privately assigned and these men were all sent by water to Parramatta. The remainder were distributed at Parramatta, Liverpool, Windsor, Upper Minto and Emu Plains. Those sent to Emu Plains included Thomas Ignoll, John Needham, Thomas Wharton, Thomas Hammond and Robert Catlin. They were to work under the superintendence of Mr. Richard Fitzgerald.

Departure from the Colony

The Neptune was to depart Sydney in August 1820. Surgeon James Mitchell, First Officer Samuel Groube, Second Office H.M. Taylor, and Third Office J. Buckpit were all intending to depart on her.

Notes and Links

1). Lewis Collins who arrived on the Neptune was sent to Newcastle penal settlement in 1821. He was one of eleven pirates who seized the cutter Eclipse from the harbour in 1825. Find out more about their daring escape at here

2). James Warman, formerly of the Royal Navy arrived as a free settler on the Neptune.

3). Prisoners and passengers of the Neptune identified in the Hunter Valley

4). James Mitchell was also employed as surgeon on the Guildford in 1822, and the Guildford in 1824

5). Mentioned in the Surgeon's Journal ......
John Rowlands
William Griffen, aged 19, convict
James Burton. 12
Private Eastman's wife was seized with the pangs of labour and was safely delivered of a healthy girl.
James Martin
James Gaffney, aged 40, convict
William Griffen. 13
James Gaffney
James Tollman, aged 20, convict
Private Grey's wife discharged.
Private Grey, aged 29, sick list.
James Martin, aged 28, convict
Private Tidd of the Guard, aged 19,
Joseph Barker, aged 28, convict
Joseph Frazer, aged 31, convict
Thomas Jones, aged 29, convict
James Hutton, aged 25, convict
William Challons, aged 33, convict
James Burton, aged 21, convict
Samuel Williams, aged 21, convict
Sergeant Orrall of the Guard, aged 29,
James Jillet,
William Price
James Allan.
Joseph Frazer,
Henry Craggs,
James Williams,
William Challen.
David Crabb, private in the Guard, aged 25

7). Return of Convicts of the Neptune assigned between 1st January 1832 and 31st March 1832 (Sydney Gazette 14 June 1832; 21 March 1832).....
Alexander Fraser....Merchant's clerk assigned to Thomas Smart in Sydney

8). James Mitchell's account of an injury to a sailor on the voyage of the Neptune from Sydney to Batavia in 1820.......
Compound Fracture, with Dislocation of the Ankle-joint, successfully treated. By James Mitchel, Surgeon, R. N., Willer.

On my passage from New South Wales to Batavia, in the latter part of 1820, during a dreadful gale of wind, we were obliged to strike top-gallant mast, in doing so a seaman of the name of Robert Smith, aged 23, and of a phthisical habit, was precipitated from the main top to the quarter deck, and fell on his feet. The result of this fall, as may be expected, was dreadful. On examination I found a compound dislocation of both ankle-joints. The left ankle-joint was in a peculiar helpless state. There was an extensive lacerated wound of four inches in length, at the outer ankle, through which protruded the lower part of the fibula, with the major part of the astragalus attached to it, and showing the joint with lacerated tendons and muscles. The fibula of the left leg was fractured in its centre. The right ankle was dislocated inwards.

'Several of the tarsal bones were displaced. At the inner part of the right foot, under the ankle-joint, there was a small wound through which a tendon protruded, and from which there issued a considerable quantity of arterial blood. Both limbs were pale and lifeless.

'I reduced the right ankle joint as completely as circumstances would admit of, and applied spirit fomentations, etc .

'As for the left ankle-joint, it was in such a dreadfully shattered state that by the rules of surgery I was not warranted in attempting to save the limb, even on shore with every advantage of rest, accommodation and regimen, far less on board a merchant ship, where those comforts were wanting, and where the ship was rolling and agitated by a succession of dreadful storms that seemed to have no end, and that did not terminate for three weeks after the accident. Under these circumstances I proposed amputation, but he entreated me in so piteous a manner to make an experiment (to use his own words) to save it. After explaining to him the dangerous state of his limb, and the possible consequences resulting from such an accident to the constitution, I determined to accede to his request, and I was the more inclined to do so as I thought he would not survive the shock given to his frame. I then dissected away the broken astragalus attached to the fibula, and returned the latter bone into its place, judging it quite useless to return the broken astragalus into its situation, as I supposed it would act as a foreign body in the joint. After this, I dressed the wound, placed the whole in a proper posture, applied the many-tailed bandage, and placed long splints, hollowed out from the thigh downwards to the outer and inner part of the foot; secured his foot by tape to the bed, so as to obviate, as much as possible, the rolling of the ship. I then kept both feet wet with spirituous embrocations. After the system had rallied, and the blood began to circulate freely in the vessels, very alarming inflammation came on in the extremities with strong febrile symptoms, I combatted these with very large bleeding*, saline laxatives, antimonials, and large opiates to relieve pain. When this inflammatory state had subsided, symptoms of gangrene came on, which I was enabled to remove by topical applications of cold water dressings, spirituous fomentations; and, internally, by bark, opium, wine, and a generous diet. With the latter he was most amply supplied throughout his cure by captain McKissock, who commanded the ship, and was exceedingly kind to him, administering to his wants from his own table, both in the way of viands and wine; and, indeed, it gives me great pleasure in paying a just tribute to the liberality and humanity of this gentleman.' Edinburgh Medical Journal, vol. xxvii, p. 305. - Buffalo Medical Journal and Monthly Review


[1] Bateson, Charles, Library of Australian History (1983). The convict ships, 1787-1868 (Australian ed). Library of Australian History, Sydney : pp.342-343, 383

[2] National Archives. Medical Journal Reference: ADM 101/56/4/3

[3] UK, Royal Navy Medical Journals, 1817-1857. Medical Journal of James Mitchell on the voyage of the Neptune in 1820. The National Archives. Kew, Richmond, Surrey.