Free Settler or Felon
Convict and Colonial History

Convict Ship Bengal Merchant (3) - 1836

Embarked 270 men
Voyage 123 days
Deaths 1
Surgeon's Journal - Yes
Tons: 503
Previous vessel: Captain Cook arrived 13 November 1836
Next vessel: Pyramus arrived 14 December1836
Captain William Campbell
Surgeon John Tarn
Prisoners and passengers of the Bengal Merchant identified in the Hunter Valley

The ship Bengal Merchant was built at Calcutta in 1812.[1] Convicts were transported to Australia on the Bengal Merchant in 1828 (VDL), 1835, 1836 and 1838.

The Convicts

On this voyage prisoners came from England, Scotland and Wales - Warwick, London, Lancaster, Hertford, Kent, Worcester, Salop, Leicester, Gloucester, Bristol, Lincoln, Surrey, York, Bedford, Surrey, Chester, Derby, Cambridge, Devon, Cumberland, Norfolk, Nottingham, Essex, Durham, Bucks, Oxford, Huntingdon, Brecon, Edinburgh, Perth, Aberdeen, Glasgow, Ayre, Monmouth, Glamorgan. There was also one prisoner court-martialled in British Giuana.[3]


In the last week of July 1836, 270 male convicts were embarked at Woolwich and Sheerness after inspection on the hulks. They were mainly middle aged men with a large proportion of lads, mostly in good health. Some of the older men were emaciated and pallid in appearance.[2]

Military Guard

The guard consisted of 29 rank and file of the 80th regt., under command of Lieutenant Samuel Tolfrey Christie (brother of William H. Christie who came on the Captain Cook) and Ensign Horton with four women and four children as passengers.

Departure from England

Bengal Merchant departed the Downs on the 8th August 1836 and sailed via Tenerife.

Surgeon John Tarn

John Tarn kept a Medical Journal from 13 July 1836 to 17 December 1836.

Ninety-three men including the guard were on John Tarn's sick list at various times throughout the voyage. There was only one death, a man already ill and who according to Tarn should never have been embarked. Most of the cases were of slight catarrh, diarrhoea, dyspepsia.

In the early part of the voyage there were fevers, mostly from prisoners who embarked on the Justitia hulk at Woolwich where the disease was prevalent. On reaching hotter climates, cholera appeared.

Because some of the elderly men seemed less healthy, they called at Tenerife to pick up refreshments, obviating the need to call at the Cape. Fresh fruit and vegetables were taken on board and the men had the benefit of 7 or 8 days fresh diet, which much improved the general health. The surgeon suggested that tea should be substituted for chocolate and an increase in the allowance of bread and sugar. Many of the convicts refused to eat the cocoa at all and the guard never took it.

The decks were dry holystoned daily (the deck was scoured with small, smooth pieces of freestone after a layer of dry sand had been sprinkled over it) and the convicts kept on deck during the forenoon. The prisons were well ventilated and kept dry by the airing stove. Towards the end of the voyage scurvy was apparent in about a dozen men.[2]

Arrival in Port Jackson

The ship arrived in Port Jackson on 9th December 1836 by which time the convicts had been on board for a total of 140 days.

Notes and Links

1). John Tarn joined the surveying vessel Adventure under Captain Philip Parker King in 1825. The Adventure accompanied the famous expeditions of the Beagle. The Hylactes Tarnii was named for Tarn by Captain King....."The name being in compliment to Mr. John Tarn, surgeon of the Adventure, to whose attention, in procuring and preserving numerous specimens in ornithology, I am greatly indebted." On Board the Adventure.

John Tarn was employed as surgeon on the convict ships Georgiana in 1831, George Hibbert in 1834, Bengal Merchant 1836 and the Surry 1840 (VDL).

2). At least seventeen of the convicts who arrived on the Bengal Merchant in 1836 were assigned to the Australian Agricultural Company

3). Detachments of the 80th regiment arrived the Lady Kennaway, Lloyds, Norfolk, Bengal Merchant, Asia, Captain Cook, Earl Grey, St. Vincent, John, Prince George, Mangles, Heber, Theresa, Calcutta, Eden, Emma Eugenia and Blundell.


[1] Bateson, Charles Library of Australian History (1983). The convict ships, 1787-1868 (Australian ed). Library of Australian History, Sydney : pp.354-355, 390

[2] Medical Journal of John Tarn on the voyage of the Bengal Merchant in 1836, UK, Royal Navy Medical Journals, 1817-1857 The National Archives. Kew, Richmond, Surrey.

[3] Convict Indents. State Archives NSW; Series: NRS 12189; Item: [X638]; Microfiche: 719