Free Settler or Felon
Convict and Colonial History

Convicts Pirates Seize the Wellington - 1827

The Wellington was owned by Joseph Underwood. John Harwood was Master and a crew of ten men were employed including First Officer David Morgan, Richard Buckle, Second Mate and Mr. Faulkner, the carpenter.

Seized By Convicts

The Wellington was seized by convicts en route to Norfolk Island about 40 leagues (193 kilometres) from their destination on 21st December 1826.

The Guard consisted of Serjeant William Brown and 14 rank and file. John Knight was one of the soldiers of the guard who later gave evidence. There were two passengers - William Buchanan and Mr. Grasse.


The Australian gave an account of the transactions in their report of the trial of the pirates in February 1827....

Mr. John Harwood examined; is Master of the brig Wellington, sailed from Port Jackson on the 11th of December last, bound to Norfolk Island, and thence to return to Sydney, was chartered by government to convey 66 mail prisoners, a party, of soldiers, and stores, to that settlement. Whilst in lat. 31, and long. 164, on the 21st of December last; as the ships officers were - employed about noon, some of the prisoners rushed forward, secured the officers and crew, while others rose upon the guard and forced them below. The prisoner Douglass approached witness, and presented a loaded musket, which he had previously got forcibly possession of from one of the soldiers. Another prisoner named Lynch, at the same time laid hold of witness, commanding him to surrender. Lynch shouted liberty or life; several other prisoners surrounded witness and confined him a prisoner on deck. Douglass stood over him with a musket.

Walton shortly came up and demanded his charges, which were given him. Walton then asked witness which was the nearest port to put into for water, as he declared he was not going to Norfolk Island. Witness advised him to make for the Bay of Islands or New Caledonia, but recommended the former place. Walton adopted the suggestion and altered the course of the vessel accordingly. The prisoners then confined below, two passengers and the first and second mate. The ten sailors were put into an after cabin; the troops were put down the fore hatchway with some of the prisoners who had not joined in the piracy.

After arriving at New Zealand, the Wellington was fired upon by the whalers Sisters and Harriett and having been informed that their ship was about to be boarded by armed natives, the pirates agreed to release the crew and passengers if they were allowed to land safely with provisions. On landing they were seized and stripped by the natives, and for a bounty, returned to the custody of the Captain of the Sisters John Duke.

David Morgan, First Officer was cross examined during the trial.....had it not been for Walton, Douglas and Clay, there would have been considerable bloodshed, on account of the threats that were muttered by some of the more desperate characters amongst the prisoners; at one time they threatened to come aft and kill all hands, if land was not made within an hour; the object of Walton, Clay and Douglas appeared to be to preserve peace, and they altogether conducted themselves in manner far superior to what witness would have expected from such persons. [1]

Sixty-six prisoners were being transported on the Wellington, however not all of them took part in the mutiny. Of the 66 prisoners the following eleven men were capitally indicted for piratically seizing the Wellington and stealing a quantity of clothing and muskets, the property of the Crown....John Walton , William Douglas, John Edwards, Charles Clay, alias Todhunter, John Smith, Richard Hicks, William Browne, James ONeil, Edward Colthurst, Charles Daley, and William Ryan.

Absconders like these men were usually considered daring, desperate and dangerous, however on this occasion the editor of the Monitor, Edward Smith Hall had a different point of view....

We think there was no occasion for the language used by the writer of the log (Captain of the Sisters John Duke); where he calls Walton and Clay desperate ruffians. Arrant cowards, we grant, they and their compeers were - more knavish poltroons we never read of - but desperate they were not - ruffians they were not. A more imbecile, harmless, lamb like set of convict knaves we never read or heard of in the annals of Newgate or piracy! For their chicken-hearted behaviour perhaps Walton and Clay deserved the torture of being bolted on the deck - but not for the reason given by the brave writer of the log; namely 'finding it necessary to use all means to secure these desperate ruffians!'. We hope the Government will treat the ex captain and his crew with the mercy their humanity and magnanimity when in command loudly call for at the hands of their sovereign. And we do hope, that he who has the honour of being the sovereign's representative here, will set as we are sure George the Fourth would set. His Majesty Heaven knows, would treat them with all the contempt they deserve - he would consider Norfolk Island, without female society, quite bad enough, and would not take the trouble to head or hang e'er a mother's son of them! Nothing would disgust us so much as to see Walton after his excellent behaviour to Captain Harwood, step out on the scaffold in the gaol yard in George Street. It would be worse than the late drumming out or the present chaining of back to back under a vertical sun or cancelling a man's pardon signed by a previous Governor, and that too without a hearing...The Monitor 17 February 1827


Six of the men were sentenced to death and five were eventually executed, William Douglas being reprieved at the gallows -

Yesterday morning John Edwards, alias Flash Jack, Edward Colthurst, William Leddington, James Smith, and Richard Johnson, who were convicted of piracy, suffered the dreadful sentence of the law. A reprieve arrived for Douglas, as he was proceeding, with the other unhappy culprits, to the place of execution. The manner in which the prisoners conducted themselves was highly becoming. Smith was assisted in his devotions by the Reverend Mr. Cowper, and the others by the Reverend Fathers Power and Therry. Edwards, previous to ascending the scaffold, requested of Mr. James, the Under Sheriff, that he might be allowed a few minutes for prayer, when the Reverend Gentlemen should take their final leave of them. This request was acceded to, and after the ropes were adjusted, and every thing in readiness, the prisoners knelt and Edwards, with the crucifix in one hand and the prayer book in the other, proceeded to read in a firm voice, while his companions seemed to join fervently in this act of devotion. When prayers were finished, Edwards addressed a few words to those who were assembled to witness his unhappy end, and persisted in affirming that he was innocent of the offence for which he was to have been transported. He then pointed to Colthurst and said he was innocent of the crime for which he was now about to suffer,' on which Colethurst exclaimed, ' I die innocent !' The unhappy men then commended their souls to God, when the drop fell, and ushered them into eternity.[3]

The Convicts

Some of the prisoners on the Wellington mentioned in the Historical Records of Australia and Newspapers of the day included:

William Bateman arrived per Guildford in 1822
Thomas Bayley
James Bennett
John Boyd arrived per Lord Sidmouth
William Brown
Richard Carter
Charles Clay alias Todhunter arrived per Baring in 1815.
Thomas Cole
Edward Coulthurst arrived per Minstrel in 1825
Charles Daly
Andrew Davies
William Douglas arrived per Coromandel in 1820.
Henry Drummond arrived on the Ocean in 1823
John Edwards arrived on the Earl St. Vincent in 1818.
Matthew Flanie
Patrick Gorrell
William Holt
Richard Johnson
Cornelius Killick
William Liddington
John Lynch
Edward McGuinness
James O'Neal
William Ryan
John Smith
John Stewart
John Swan
William Walker
John Walton (formerly a subaltern of the 48th regiment convicted of receiving stolen goods [2]
William Webb
Thomas Yarn

Notes and Links

1). A description of Norfolk Island in 1827 and 1828 by Commandant Thomas Wright in the Report from the Select Committee into transportation in 1838


[1] Sydney Gazette 21 February 1827

[2] HRA Series 1, vol. 8, p. 104

[3] Sydney Gazette 13 March 1827