Free Settler or Felon
Convict and Colonial History

James Forrester R. N.,

Convict Ship Surgeon-Superintendent

James Forrester was appointed assistant-surgeon 18 October 1813. He was appointed to the Morgiana in this capacity in 1819 and was appointed to the Alacrity as Surgeon in August 1823 [1]


It was reported in the Hampshire Telegraph on 10th November 1823, that a Court-martial was held on board the Queen Charlotte, (of which Capt. Edward Brace, C.B. was President), for the trial of Mr. James Forrester, Surgeon of his Majesty's sloop Alacrity, for improper conduct during his attendance on the punishment of a Marine, who was lately flogged round the Fleet, by having given him a whole bottle of wine to drink, and shaking hands with him. The charge not being proved, Mr. Forrester was acquitted.

Surgeon Superintendent

James Forrester was employed as surgeon-superintendent on three convict ships -

Brothers departed on 3rd October 1826 and arrived in Australia on 2 February 1827.

Southworth departed Cork on 6th February 1832 and arrived on 14th June 1832. He kept a medical journal on this voyage, however he was reprimanded by the Admiralty for the lack of content......Inform Mr. Forrester that I am by no means satisfied with the reasons he has given for inserting so few cases in the journal, and that if anything of a similar nature should again occur, the certificate to enable him to obtain his pay will not be granted.

There was little chance for him to write a more detailed journal on the next voyage as he was appointed surgeon to the ill-fated Amphitrite.

Amphitrite was a convict transport engaged to take 1833 female prisoners to Van Diemen's Land. The Captain, all the female convicts and all but three of the crew as well as James Forrester and his wife, lost their lives when the vessel was wrecked off Boulogne on the afternoon of 31st August 1833. Some reports gave the information that Forrester had wished to lower a boat to begin taking the convict women on shore but his wife refused accompany convict women and so the boat was not lowered......

Loss of the Amphitrite

The Amphitrite convict ship, commanded by Captain Hunter, sailed from Woolwich on Sunday, August 25, 1833, on her voyage to New South Wales, having on board one hundred and eight female convicts, and twelve children, under the care of Mr. Forrester, the surgeon, and a crew of sixteen persons. The captain was part owner of the vessel.

When the ship arrived off Dungeness, the gale of the 29th began ; and on the morning of Friday, the 30th, the captain hove the ship to, the gale being too heavy to sail. On Saturday, at noon, the vessel was about three miles to the eastward of Boulogne harbour, when they made land; and the captain set the topsail and main-foresail, in the hopes of keeping her off shore.

From three o'clock she was in sight of Boulogne, and certainly the sea was most heavy, and the wind extremely strong ; but no pilot-boat went out to her, and no life-boats or other assistance were despatched. She was observed from three o'clock, till about half-past four in the afternoon, when she came round into Boulogne harbour, and struck on the sands. By four o'clock it was known that it was a British ship ; but some said it was a brig, others said it was a merchant-vessel, though all said it was English.

It appeared from the statements of three men, who were saved out of the crew-all the rest having perished - that the captain ordered the anchor to be let go, in hopes of swinging round with the tide.

ln a few minutes after the vessel had gone aground, multitudes rushed to the beach, and a brave French sailor, named Pierre Henin, who had previously received the thanks of the Humane Society of London, addressed himself to the captain of the port, and said that he was resolved to go alone, and to reach the vessel, in order to tell the captain that he had not a moment to lose, but must, as it was low water, send all his crew and passengers on shore.

As soon as she had struck, a pilot-boat, commanded by François Heuret, who had, on many occasions, shown much courage and talent, was despatched, and by a little after five came under her bows. The captain refused to avail himself of the assistance of Heuret and his brave companions, and when a portion of the crew proposed going on shore, the captain prevented them. Two of the men saved, stated that they knew the boat was under the bows, but that the rest were below making up their bundles. The crew could then have got on shore, and all the unfortunate women and children.

When the French boat had gone, the surgeon sent for Owen, one of the crew, and ordered him to get out the long-boat. This was about half-past five. The surgeon discussed the matter with his wife and with the captain. They were afraid of allowing the prisoners to go on shore. The wife of the surgeon is said to have proposed to leave the convicts there, and to go on shore without them. In consequence of this discussion, no long-boat was sent out.

Three of the convict women told Owen that they heard the surgeon persuade the captain not to accept the assistance of the French boat, on account of the prisoners who were on board. Let us now return to Pierre Henin. The French pilot boat had been refused by the surgeon and captain - the long- boat had not been put out, through a discussion as to saving the convicts - and it was now nearly six o'clock. At that time Henin went to the beach, stripped himself, took a line, swam naked for about three quarters of an hour or an hour, and arrived at the vessel at about a little after seven. On touching the right side of the vessel, he hailed the crew, and said, “Give me a line to conduct you on shore, or you are lost, as the sea is coming in.” He spoke English plain enough to be understood. He touched the vessel, and told them to speak to the captain. They threw (that is, some of the crew, but not the captain or surgeon) two lines, one from the stern, and the other from the bow. The one from the stern he could not seize - the one from the bow he did. He then went towards the shore, but the rope was stopped. This was, it is believed, the act of the surgeon and captain. He (Henin) then swam back, and told them to give him more rope to get on shore. The captain and surgeon would not. They then tried to haul him in, but his strength failed, and he got on shore.

It will be perceived, then, that up to this moment, the same obstacle existed in the minds of the captain and of the surgeon. They did not dare, without authority, to land the convicts, and rather than leave them on board, or land them without such authority, they perished with them.

To return to the narrative of events. The female convicts who were battened down under the hatches, on the vessel running aground, broke away the half-deck hatch, and, frantic, rushed on deck. Of course they entreated the captain and surgeon to let them go on shore in the long-boat, but they were not listened to, as the captain and surgeon did not feel authorised to liberate prisoners committed to their care.

About seven o'clock the flood-tide began. The crew, seeing that there were no hopes, clung to the rigging. The poor one hundred and eight women and twelve children remained on deck, uttering the most piteous cries. The vessel was about three quarters of a mile English from shore, and no more. Owen, one of the three men saved, thinks that the women remained on deck in this state about an hour and a half. Owen and four others were on the spars, and he thinks they remained there three-quarters of an hour; but, seeing no hope of being saved, he took to swimming, and was brought in a state of insensibility to the hotel. Towsey, another of the men saved, was on a plank with the captain. Towsey asked who he was. He said, “ I am the captain,” but the next moment he was gone. Rice, the third man, floated ashore on a ladder. He was aft when the other men took to the raft. When the French pilot- boat rowed away, after being rejected by the captain, he (Rice) saw a man waving his hat on the beach, and remarked to the captain that a gentleman was waving to them to come on shore. The captain turned away, and made no answer. At the moment the women all disappeared, the ship broke in two. These are the facts of this awful case.

The French Marine Humane Society immediately placed hundreds of men on the beach; and the office, or lodge, being close to the shore, as soon as the corpses were picked up they were brought to the rooms, where many assisted to restore them to life. Their efforts, however, were fruitless, except in the cases of the three men, Owen, Rice, and Towsey. Never were seen so many fine and beautiful bodies. Some of the women were the most perfectly made; and French and English wept together at such a horrible loss of life in sight of ay, and even close to the port and town. Body after body was brought into the town, more than sixty having been found, and were buried on the Monday following. But, alas! after all their efforts, only three lives were saved out of one hundred and thirty-six.

In August 1834 the Sydney Gazette published an article from the Times on the treatment of female convicts on the voyage of the Amphitrite from information received from one of the surviving seamen - Read the article here [2]

Notes and Links

1). J. Forrester was appointed as surgeon to the Ramillies guardship stationed off Deal in 1829. (possibly James)


[1] The Morning Post 25 August 1823

[2] The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1803 - 1842) Tue 12 Aug 1834 Page 4

[3] Tales of Shipwrecks and Adventures at Sea: Being a Collection of Faithful edited by James Lindridge