Free Settler or Felon
Convict and Colonial History

Convict Ship Recovery - 1823

Embarked: 180 men
Voyage: 116 days
Deaths: 0
Surgeon's Journal: yes
Previous vessel: Woodman arrived 25 June 1823
Next vessel: Henry arrived 26 August 1823
Master William Fotherley
Surgeon Peter Cunningham
Follow the Irish Convict Ship Trail
Convicts and passengers of the Recovery identified in the Hunter Valley region

The Recovery was built at Batavia in 1811. Convicts were transported to Australia on the Recovery in 1819 (NSW), 1823 (NSW) and 1836 (NSW) [1]

Surgeon Peter Cunningham

This was Peter Cunningham's third voyage in charge of convicts. He kept a Medical Journal from 19 November 1822 to 4 August 1823.


Peter Cunningham joined the Recovery at Deptford on 19 November. A few days later dockyard labourers and their families for passage to Cork, and two young men bound for New South Wales joined the vessel.

The Recovery left Deptford on 7 December and anchored in the Downs on 13th December where they took on five boats to be taken to Cork.

Cove of Cork

They arrived in Cove of Cork on 20 December 1822.

Five days later a detachment of the 1st Royal Regiment consisting of 1 Sergeant and 30 Privates, under the command of Captain Gill with Mrs. Gill and 6 other women and children, joined the ship.

Some of the prisoners of the Recovery had been held in the county jails at Cork and Antrim which were visited by Thomas Reid in 1822.....

Cork - The county gaol is not quite so bad as the city Gaol; and as a considerable addition has been made, on an excellent plan, which will soon be ready for the reception of prisoners, it is hoped the evils of the former can now be avoided. I had an opportunity of conversing with Robert Costello and the celebrated Captain Rock, Walter Fitzmaurice; both under sentence for the abduction of a young lady, to which, it appears, they were instigated by a monster named Brown who has yet escaped the hands of justice. A school was established in the County gaol several months previously; many had learned to spell and read who previously understood nothing but Irish.

Antrim - Complete classification and inspection are indispensable in a good gaol; in this prison they are both wanting. Two new wings were added to it in 1820, the cell windows of which are by far too small to admit air and light in sufficient quantity, and the whole is still too small for the number it is necessary to crowd into it. In a day room, twenty feet by thirteen, there were thirty-six felons. In a corner of each day room, a boiler is set for cooking: each cell is provided with two beds, and two prisoners sleep in each. There are four cells to which the name solitary is given, but without any apparent good reason, for persons there confined can converse freely with those on the opposite side. Inconvenience must arise from the passages to the dormitories being injudiciously situated, directly facilitating communication among prisoners of different classes and sexes. In addition to the above defects, the keeper, Mr. Erskine, assured me that the prison is insecure; and, that, if the prisoners would but keep their own secretes, it would be impossible for him and his assistants to prevent their escape. A schoolmaster is provided who receives a salary of thirty pounds; and his services, I consider, are invaluable. Many of the prisoners have been taught to read and write, although when they came in they were ignorant of the alphabet. I saw the handwriting of several; one man, upwards of sixty years of age, learned to write beautifully in six months. There were convicts of both sexes under sentence of transportation, detained upwards of eighteen months after trial; these were constantly remarkable for refractory spirit, and disregard of all regulations. In the infirmary two old men were dangerously ill; one of them was detained for his prison fees. Each prisoner is allowed nine pounds of oatmeal a week; six pounds of potatoes, and one pint of new milk a day; one pint of salt a week and four ounces of soap a fortnight.

Convicts Embarked

On the 1 March 1823, the brig Integrity arrived from Dublin with 240 prisoners for the Recovery and St Vincent. On the 4 March 1823, the Recovery received 26 convicts from Cork jail and 78 from the Integrity. The prison door was opened during the day and the prisoners given permission to come on deck. All were mustered and locked up at sunset. On the 5th March, 76 more convicts were received on board from the Integrity making up the full complement of 180 men.

Peter Cunningham devised a strict routine for the convicts while still at anchor in Cork Harbour. The men were issued with shirts, duck trousers and a towel which were all numbered. They were expected to keep them clean and entire mornings were devoted to the convicts washing their clothes by hand on deck before hanging them to dry. Occasionally items were blown overboard and a number of times the prisoners threw their trousers overboard (mostly prisoners disliked the duck trousers that were provided, preferring warmer woollen ones).

Losing their trousers or caps either by design or accident resulted in punishment such as extra cleaning duties or 24 hours on bread and water. Other punishments imposed for various offences such as fighting and stealing included shaving half their head or being lashed up in the rigging for the afternoon. In April two convicts were handcuffed for throwing stones in the dark and another for talking after 8pm.


In Cork Harbour, the Recovery weighed anchor at 3pm on 5 April 1823 and stood out to sea. The following day it was reported that many of the guard and convicts were very sea sick. The ship was pitching a great deal and Cunningham began to release men from their irons. The bad weather continued and it was not possible to take the beds up on deck in any great number as the ship continued to roll heavily.


They passed by Madeira at 4pm on 13 April 1823.

Cape Verde

On Sunday, 20 April 1823, as they passed St. Anthony Cape Verde Islands the weather was fine and warm and all the convicts were ordered to lay aside their jackets, shoes and stockings and to eat their meals on deck.


On 16 May 1823, the island of Trinidad was sighted in the evening and the following day they were lying-to off Trinidad. Boats were sent out to catch fish but without much luck. Many prisoners were in poor health on embarking and the surgeon found there was much illness at the beginning of the voyage. (mostly catarrh, rheumatism, diarrhoea and pneumonia) He attributed this not only to their poor health but to their previous dissipated living and depression from confinement and also to the great change of diet as the Irish had not been accustomed to such nutritious living as that given on board.

The Voyage

Their improvement in health towards the end of the voyage was attributed to the approaching end of the voyage, speculation about their future prospects and their hopes of bettering themselves.

All the convicts survived the voyage and Peter Cunningham attributed this success to attention to cleanliness and ventilation, to removing their irons early and keeping the convicts on deck as much as possible, and to making rounds of the prison twice daily, consulting Captains of messes and questioning anyone seen lying down. Every fine morning the convicts were kept on deck at least two hours until the lower deck was cleaned and inspected and at least an hour in the evening, while the lower decks were cooled and ventilated. The lower deck was cleaned every day and none were permitted to go below until it was dry. The convicts were mustered frequently with feet bare and trousers rolled above the knees to see that they were clean, beds and blankets were aired. Schools were set up in April. They were given school books, writing paper, pens and ink, slates and pencils. The men were arranged into five classes according to their ability and they attended for 2 - 3 hours per day. Prisoners were also allowed to dance for two hours before mustering down. (Those found dancing or singing on a Sunday were punished)

Description of Irish Prisoners

Peter Cunningham wrote of Irish prisoners under his charge in his publication Two years in New South Wales: A series of Letters comprising Sketches of the Actual State of Society in that Colony (1827)........

The Irish convicts are more happy and contented with their situation on board than the English, although more loth to leave their country, even improved as the situation of the great body of them is by being thus removed, - numbers telling me they had never been half so well off in their lives before. It was most amusing to read the letters they sent to their friends on being fairly settled on board, (all such going through the surgeon's hands), none ever failing to give a most circumstantial account of what the breakfast, dinner, and supper, consisted of; a minute list of the clothes supplied, and generally laying particular emphasis on the important fact of having a blanket and bed to 'my own self entirely' which seemed to be somewhat of a novelty by their many circumlocutions about it. One observed, in speaking of the ship, that; Mr Reedy's parlour was never half so clane while the burden of another was Many a Mac in your town, if he only knew what the situation of a convict was would not be long in following my example! I never was better off in my life!

The Irish convicts possess an anxiety to oblige, and have a light-hearted civility about them, of which the English are totally destitute. If you desire an English convict to do any particular thing, unless you either order him by name, or touch him, so as to point out the identical person you mean, seldom a man will stir; while in an Irish convict ship, on the contrary, if you merely chance to look round as if you wanted something half a dozen will start up to anticipate your wishes.

The only real signs of religion I ever saw among convicts were amongst a portion of the Catholics on board; for as soon as they had mustered down, both hatchways were crowded round with them counting their beads and fervently crossing themselves and repeating their prayers from the book. There was no ostentation in this, because I often saw them do so when they could have no idea I was near; but indeed a great portion of them were poor simple peasantry, transported for very trumpery offences.

The Irish divide themselves into three classes, namely, the Cork boys, the Dublin boys, and the North boys; and these are so zealous in upholding their respective tribes, that when two individuals of different classes quarrel, there is no possibility of arriving at the truth, since a dozen of each class will rush forward, and bawl out at once, in favour of their respective comrades, evidence of the most conflicting, contradictory nature. The North boys are commonly called Scotchmen by the others, and indeed many spoke the Scotch dialect so broadly as almost to puzzle me to unravel it. Having observed in the greater portion of the letters received by the Irish convicts, Give my respects to Mr. Hughes, I hope Mr. Hughes is well, I hear you have Mr Hughes on board', and similar expressions, I naturally began to wonder who this said Mr. Hughes could be, whose name was so popular throughout Ireland; and found by reference to the convicts that he was the celebrated captain of all the Ribbon Lodges in that division of the empire, the greater part of which had been of his formation, he having travelled over nearly the whole of Ireland on that turbulent mission. This was the individual whose name was brought before parliament on account of his proposal to put all the lodges down again provided a pardon was granted him; and I should have had some difficulty in crediting that a man in his humble line of life, and withal so illiterate, could have possessed such influence with his country men, had not an intelligent individual among his associates stated to me that a person in his station possessed much more power over the Irish peasantry than one of more elevated rank; because, belonging to their own body, and consequently actuated by similar feelings to their, the greater confidence was placed in the propriety of whatever he proposed.

While passing round the decks one morning to regulate the messes, on inquiring at the second mess whom they preferred to act as captain during the voyage, one of them exclaimed in a laughing good humoured Irish way 'Och, your honour, we have got a captain already - that is Captain Rock, as he sits there, and a very good captain he is!' and in fact it was no other than the said celebrated captain whose name had made so much noise throughout Ireland, how deservedly I know not, as he declared himself entirely innocent of all the pranks laid to his charge except that of assisting in the abduction of Miss Goold - the name of Captain Rock having been conferred upon him, as he said in a joke by some of his associates in jail. I gave credit to his story; for a quieter better-behaved man could not exist than Walter Fitzmaurice, (for such was the captain's proper designation). (The appellation of Captain Rock has been given to various individuals in Ireland both high and low. It is in itself an idea - a principle.

Port Jackson

The first sight of Australia was on 29 July 1823, when they passed by Mount Dromedary, New South Wales, 50 miles to the West and on 31 July 1823 they anchored in Sydney Cove at 3pm.

Convict Muster

The following day, 1 August 1823, at 11am the Colonial Secretary came aboard and mustered all the convicts, who made no complaints regarding the voyage.

Convicts Disembarked

On the 4 August 1823, at 5am all the convicts were dressed in their new clothes and breakfasted. At daylight dockyard boats came alongside and 180 convicts were disembarked, being the original number put on board at Cork. At 11am all the convicts were examined at the gaol yard by His Excellency the Governor who expressed himself much pleased at their healthy appearance.

Convicts of the Recovery identified in the Hunter Valley region:

Armstrong, John

Belfour, George

Brien, John

Brown, Matthew

Cosgrove, Manus

Dunn, Patrick or John

Fanning, Patrick

Gartland, Philip

Hughes, Edward or Thomas

Johnston, Andrew

Keegan, Peter or Patrick

Kelly, James

Lanagan, John

Maguire, James

McDonnell, Garrett

McGonnagle, Patrick

McTeague, Hugh

Mulligan, Peter

O'Brien, John

O'Burn, John

Oglesby, Christopher

Porter, William

Quinn, Edward

Quinn, Patrick

Savage, John

Stewart, George

Watson, John

Notes and Links

1). Thomas Bryon arrived as a free passenger on the Recovery. (CSI)

2). Peter Cunningham received a Grant of land in the Hunter Valley in 1825.

3). Peter Cunningham was also employed as surgeon on the convict ships Recovery in 1819, Grenada in 1821, Grenada in 1825 and the Morley in 1828.

4). Captain Gill departed for Hindostan in September - On Monday last, the following troops embarked on board the John Shore, Captain Bowman, to join their respective corps in Hindostan: - 1 sergeant, 1 corporal and 29 privates of the 1st Royals; Lieut. Woodgate of the 54th with his lady, and 9 children; together with 11 women and 14 children belonging to the detachment; and 30 rank and file of the 89th. These several detachments are under the command of Captain Gill of the 1st Royals, who is also accompanied by his lady. (Sydney Gazette 11 September 1823

5). Return of Convicts of the Recovery assigned between 1st January 1832 and 31st March 1832 (Sydney Gazette 14 June 1832; 28 June 1832) -
Matthew Carroll -Waiter assigned to Joseph Williamson in Sydney
James Kelly -Painter and glazier assigned to F.C.L. Thompson at Camden
William O'Byrne -Plumber, painter and glazier. Assigned to C. Drummond Riddell at Sydney


[1] Bateson, Charles, Library of Australian History (1983). The convict ships, 1787-1868 (Australian ed). Library of Australian History, Sydney : pp.344-345, 384

[2] UK, Royal Navy Medical Journals, 1817-1857. Medical Journal of Peter Cunningham on the voyage of the Recovery in 1823. The National Archives. Kew, Richmond, Surrey.

[3] National Archives - Reference: ADM 101/63/6 Description: Journal of the convict ship Recovery for 19 November 1822 to 4 August 1823 by Peter Cunningham, Surgeon and Superintendent. The first part of the journal is in diary form with daily entries covering the daily routine of cleaning decks and allowing prisoners on deck, temperature measurements, provisions opened, names of those admitted or discharged from the sick list and the number on the list. The second part of the journal, from folio 28, covers the treatment of some of the sick in more detail.