Free Settler or Felon
Convict and Colonial History

Convict Ship Sir Charles Forbes - 1837

Embarked: 150 females
Voyage: 136 days
Deaths: 3
Surgeon's Journal: yes
Tons: 363
Previous vessel: Henry Wellesley arrived 22 December 1837
Next vessel: Neptune arrived 2 January 1838
Master James Leslie
Surgeon William Clifford
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Prisoners and passengers of the Sir Charles Forbes identified in the Hunter Valley

The Sir Charles Forbes departed Liverpool on 27th July 1837 bound for Dublin where 150 female prisoners were to be embarked. The women came from counties throughout Ireland.....Antrim, Cork, Clare, Carlow, Donegal, Dublin, Co. Down, Fermanagh, Galway, Kilkenny, King's Co, Kildare, Kerry, Londonderry, Meath, Monaghan, Mayo, Queens, Roscommon, Tipperary, Armagh, Limerick, Louth, Leitrim, Waterford, Wicklow and Antrim.

Surgeon William Clifford

William Clifford was previously surgeon on the convict ships Harmony in 1829(VDL), Forth 1 in 1830 and the Norfolk in 1832. On this voyage he kept a Medical Journal from 10 August 1837 to 2 January 1838.

He began treating women while the vessel still lay in Kingston Harbour...

The first patient Eliza Burke sought the surgeon's assistance on 8th August 1837 and was found to be suffering from enteritis. On the same day there was a violent quarrel amongst the women in the Mess and Bridget Ryan age 23 received a serious injury when she was hit over the eye with the edge of a pot.

Although the bone was exposed and there was a large haemorrhage, syncope and vomiting the surgeon treated her successfully and she was discharged from the sick list on 18th August.

Rachael Shannon and Bridget Sweeney were embarked on the vessel and then re-landed prior to leaving Dublin. Rachael Shannon was later embarked on the Diamond which was the next convict ship to leave Ireland after the Sir Charles Forbes.


The Sir Charles Forbes departed Dublin on 11th August 1837.

The Voyage

William Clifford had much to contend with during this voyage because of the very crowded state of the ship which was nearly constantly wet owing to being low in the water...... The Irish convicts desponding, indolent and disposed to dirt, required every exertion to keep their minds in a fit state..

There was an outbreak of scurvy which was treated with vinegar and sugar and as the surgeon had found in previous voyages, early doses of nitrous were effective. After the Cape the weather turned cold and there were several cases of catarrh. An infant George Kelly, age 17 months was treated for dysentery on 11th October 1837 and died on 29th October. One of the women who died was of a broken constitution after a life of prostitution and dissipation. Margaret (Peggy) Fallon from Galway died at sea on 2nd December 1837.

Free Passengers

Five free women and six children also came as steerage passengers including Mary Lake or Lark. Sarah Kelly who the surgeon described as the hospital nurse was treated by him for febrile symptoms on 16th December.

Port Jackson

The Sir Charles Forbes arrived in Port Jackson on 25 December 1837 and anchored in Neutral Bay Christmas Day evening. The following day the women would have awoken to a clear, pleasant day with winds from the north-west and temperatures of around 26C. One hundred and forty seven prisoners arrived in Port Jackson according to Passenger Lists (1).

On the 27 December, notice was given that families who were in need of Female Servants could be supplied from the prisoners who arrived on the Sir Charles Forbes, provided they applied according to the established forms before the 30th December. The assignees were required to enter into the usual engagements, under a penalty of forty shillings to keep their servants for one month unless removed in due course of law.


The women were landed at the Dock yard on Thursday morning 4th January 1838. Bishop Polding and a Committee of Ladies were in attendance. After being exhorted to behave in their new places in a becoming manner, the women were assigned to the various applicants.
Female Convicts to NSW in 1837


The following fifteen women were sent from Sydney to Newcastle for assignment on 5th January 1838, probably by steamer.

Alicia Meally
Mary Connelly
Elizabeth McMullen
Ann Matthews
Sarah Gallagher
Catherine Cassidy
Jane Hanby
Catherine McCarthy
Catherine Dwyer
Matilda Finlay
Mary Kelly
Mary Keane
Mary Heffernan
Eliza Daly
Sarah McLoughlin

On arrival they were admitted to Newcastle gaol. Most were assigned to settlers and townsfolk at Newcastle, Maitland and Patrick Plains within the next couple of weeks. [2]

Newcastle gaol can be seen on the top right of the photograph below.

View of Newcastle East, NSW [1870]
Click to enlarge

Notes and Links

1). The Sir Charles Forbes was one of four convicts ships arriving in 1837, the others being the Sarah and Elizabeth, Henry Wellesley and Margaret. A total of 533 female convicts arrived in the colony in 1837.

2). William Clifford returned to England on the Portland in March 1838.


[1]. New South Wales, Australia, Unassisted Immigrant Passenger Lists, 1826-1922

[2]. State Archives NSW; Roll: 136 Source Information New South Wales, Australia, Gaol Description and Entrance Books, 1818-1930