Free Settler or Felon
Convict and Colonial History

Peter Fisher R. N.,

Convict Ship Surgeon-Superintendent

Date of Seniority Royal Navy 11 September 1823

Peter Fisher was appointed Assistant Surgeon 11 August 1813. He was appointed Assistant Surgeon to the Salisbury in 1818.

Surgeon Superintendent

He was appointed Surgeon-Superintendent on two convict ship voyages to Australia - Majestic arriving 1838 and Runnymede arriving 1840


The Majestic departed London 3 October 1838 and arrived in Van Diemen's Land 22 January 1838


The Runnymede departed London with 200 male prisoners and arrived in Van Diemen's Land on 28 March 1840. One of the passengers on board was Rev. J.P. Gell who kept a diary during the voyage to Van Diemen's Land.....

The following information is from the State Library of Victoria Catalogue - Sir John Franklin served under Flinders on the Investigator, was a polar explorer and Lieutenant-Governor of Tasmania, 1836-1843. Lady Jane Franklin (1792-1875) was his second wife. Rev. John Philip Gell (1816-98) was headmaster of Queen's School, Hobart from 1839 and Warden of Christ's College from 1846. In 1849 he married Eleanor Isabella Franklin (1825-60), daughter of Sir John Franklin. Contents/Summary: The papers include : papers of Rev. J.P. Gell and his wife including letters to Eleanor Isabella from Sir John and Lady Franklin and papers about the Queen's School and Christ's College. Correspondents include Ronald C. Gunn of Hobart. Notebooks and diaries, including a diary describing Gell's voyage to Van Diemen's Land on the convict ship Runnymede in 1839-40.

The National Library of Australia has digitised the Ship Board Diary of Rev. Gell.....

9 November 1839 - 27 March 1840 (File 2) This extremely detailed diary records Gell's voyage in the Runnymede (Capt. W.B. Forward) from Sheerness to Hobart. The ship carried 200 convict boys and much of the diary is devoted to Gell's efforts in teaching the boys, medical inspections, thefts and other offences committed by the boys, floggings and other punishments, decisions of the surgeon-superintendent, and conversations (sometimes verbatim) between Gell and some of the boys. In addition, there are references to the weather, the seas, seasickness, living conditions on the ship, meals, accidents and illnesses, Gell's reading and reflections arising from his reading, sighting of Madeira and Trinidad Island, Crossing the Line ceremonies, Christmas Day, the observance of Sundays, sightings of albatrosses and porpoises, the visit to Cape Town, the South African College, sightings of other ships, reflections on religion, education and the regulation of the convict service, sighting of Van Diemen's Land, and Gell's plans on arriving at Hobart. (c. 160 pp).(National Library of Australia)

In his diary Rev. Gell often remarks on the behaviour of the Captain who he thought was a violent and ill-mannered man, disliked by his crew and constantly annoying Rev. Gell by the way in which he addressed his men. He thought better of surgeon Peter Fisher however - The surgeon (Fisher) is a very superior man. He talks broad Scotch but understands the Queens service well and behaves with much decision and discretion in suppressing the manifold enormities which these merchantmen are for ever committing against the rules of the service.

- This morning I stood by while the complaints of the preceding day were brought up to the Surgeon by the adult convicts. These are ten in number chosen for their good conduct to rule over 190 boys, all under 16 who are transported in this vessel. There were about a dozen cases of thieving, bad language, fighting, throwing bowls at each other etc

Rev. Gell often described the convict boys and their shocking behaviour and subsequent punishment - The fore part of the Runneymede is separated both on the upper and lower decks from the after part, and is appropriated to the convicts. In the upper deck the long boat is stowed and in it an a quantity of live sheep for our consumption. All day long the boys are clustered about this long boat, looking over the partition which separates them from the after part of the ship. They have a uniform of thick grey cloth, boatsman's caps, jackets garnished with an iron spoon stuck in the button holes, short breeches, grey stockings and for the men, an iron ring round the right ankle. There is a constant round of insults on the part of the boys and cuffs from the men in return. These men seem to have no authority beyond that of fear, and they constantly impress on the surgeon that if he does not punish the boys enough they cannot keep order. This is true enough for about half the boys. There are some with villainous faces who are brought up every morning for stealing or swearing or something of the kind; but there is a better sort who give the men more trouble as they are fond of rebelling when they think they have a lawful opportunity given them by an undue exercise of power. There are several who seem to lie without the slightest idea it is wrong. They are submissive and touch their caps on every occasion and give one the idea of having been hardly dealt with by their superiors from their youth up.

The boys were sometimes punished on orders of the Surgeon and Rev. Gell often expressed sympathy for them although all the while acknowledging their utter lack of morals and artful disposition. He described one boy by the name of Young....He is an innocent Oliver Twist sort of boy about 11 years old, from the Central Criminal Court, tried once before and found not guilty. His reference to Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist is interesting as the novel had been finished being published in monthly instalments in Bentley's Miscellany a few months before this in April 1839.

Flinders Island

Peter Fisher was appointed Superintendent, Aboriginal Establishment, at Flinders Island 1841-1842. He returned to England on the Auriga in 1843. [3]

Steam Frigate Firebrand

He was appointed to the Steam Frigate Firebrand in 1844 [1]


Peter Fisher was on the list of surgeons retired in 1864


[1] The Navy List

[2] The Austral-Asiatic Review, Tasmanian and Australian Advertiser (Hobart Town, Tas. : 1837 - 1844) Tue 31 Mar 1840

[3] Australian Medical Pioneers Index online