Free Settler or Felon
Convict and Colonial History

Convict Ship Indispensable - 1796

Voyage: 5 1/2 months
Deaths 2
Surgeon's Journal: no
Previous vessel: Marquis Cornwallis arrived 11 February 1796
Next vessel: Lady Shore
Master William Wilkinson
Follow the Female Convict Ship Trail
Prisoners of the Indispensable identified in the Hunter Valley

The Indispensable departed England on 17 December 1793 and arrived in Port Jackson on 14 May 1794.

When she departed Port Jackson in company with the American vessel Halcyon two months later two convicts were found to be on board. Captain Wilkinson later reported the circumstances by which he found the stowaways.. On July 5th, 6th, and 7th made the signal for sailing. July 7th, weighed and sailed down the river. Major Grose being apprehensive that some of the convicts were stowed away in the ship, informed me it was necessary to smoke the ship. My answer was, That you are at liberty to do what you please. About 10 o'clock a.m. the guard overhauled and smoked the ship for six or seven hours and found one man.

At daylight on the 9th, Mr. Pitt, now Lord Camelford (see Guardian 1790), and Mrs. A. B. Grant came on board passengers; then weighed and sailed. About 7 o'clock, being about the Heads. One mile clear of the Heads, the pilot, sergeant, and four private soldiers left the ship. The Indispensable then made sail, with a strong wind from the W.S.W. After being from the land a considerable distance, Mr. Pitt brought a strange man out of his cabin. Good God, said I we must return back; but the wind being strong off the land was impossible. The man's name was Richard Haynes (arrived on the Second Fleet). A short time after, Capt'n Page, in the Halcyon, in company, hailed me and said, I have got one of the convicts on board; what shall we do? I answered, I have found one, likewise. Well, sir, we will, if you please, steer for Lord Howe's Island. With all my heart, says I ; but in a few days after found it was not convenient. I then informed Mr. Pitt that I must deliver the man up the first opportunity. Mr. Pitt's answer was, What need you care about it, and that if there should be any to do about it, he was the man to answer for it. On the 13th one man more made his appearance, named Thomas Scott. I asked him how he came on board. His answer was, in the Governor's boat the same morning we sailed, and that he was one of the boat's crew. When we arrived in China, Thomas Scott ran from the ship, and Mr. Pitt took Richard. Haynes up to Canton as a servant. The indispensable left Whampoa on 24 January 1795, reached St. Helena on 14 April and arrived at the Downs on 23 July 1795
. [5]

The Indispensable arrived at Portsmouth on 5 October 1795 and soon afterwards began embarking female convicts who had been gathered from counties throughout England - Southampton, Middlesex, Cumberland, Stafford, Lincoln, Lancaster, York, Nottingham, Wiltshire, Surrey, Northampton, Gloucester, Wiltshire, Denbigh, Bristol and Sussex. The women were probably brought in chains on carts or carriages from the various counties. Those tried in London were probably held in Newgate prison.


The Historical Records of NSW record the Indispensable departing Deptford on 22 October 1795. [2] Other sources have a final departure date from England on 11 November 1795[1]

Fresh supplies were obtained at Rio de Janeiro.

Port Jackson

One hundred and thirty-one prisoners arrived in Port Jackson on 30 April 1796, two women having died on the voyage out. The Indispensable brought enough provisions for the women for nine months after arrival. The Indispensable also brought out an assortment of articles suitable of weaving into course cloth. [3]

Convict Muster

A muster took place on 9th July in Sydney. By the time of the arrival of the Indispensable about 1200 female prisoners had been embarked in England and Ireland but there were not nearly so many in the colony as some had lost their lives on the voyage out and others after arrival.  A (very) few had managed to escape.

Less than 950 women were accounted for by 1796 - The State of the Nation, with Respect to Its Public Funded Debt

Parramatta Female Factory

Some of the women were sent to Parramatta on arrival. A new gaol was built there in this year and weaving looms were to be established. Other women remained in assigned service in Sydney, living in huts with the families or forming relationships with men then in the colony.

Notes about Prisoners of the Indispensable

LOUISA LE SAGE born 1772 in Brittany, France. Tried at the Old Bailey 17th September 1794 and sentenced to 7 years for stealing a watch, watch key, clock, petticoat, shawls, from her employer. Louisa married in 1801 French nobleman Gabriel Louis Marie Huon de Kerilleau who fled to England and later arrived in NSW in 1794 on the Surprize with the New South Wales Corp. Louisa and Gabriel had 4 children and became wealthy land owners. Gabriel was tutor to John Macarthur's sons and a regular visitor to Government House. Their children assumed the surname Huon. Louisa died in 1842. (Descendant contribution)

SARAH BIRD age 24 was tried at the Old Bailey 16 July 1794 and sentenced to 7 years transportation for Grand Larceny. She later became the first female innkeeper in Australia. (Jennna's Gene Blog)

SARAH FISHER of the Indispensable died in Sydney in February 1797 just ten months after stepping off the ship. Sarah was 30 years old when she was tried at the Southwell and Scrooby Liberty at Nottingham on 16th July 1795 and sentenced to 7 years transportation to Botany Bay. She had survived the great flood of Nottingham the previous March and a voyage half way round the world but the perils of Botany Bay proved too much. She was buried in the Old Sydney Burial Ground as were many others in these first few years.

Two other women from Nottingham also arrived on the Indispensable - sisters-in-law MARIA AND ELIZABETH HAINSLEY. The three women had probably all made the journey by carriage and in chains from Nottingham to London. There were only three other women in the colony who had been tried in Nottingham at this time - Jane Woodward and Mary Stubbins arrived in 1791 and Mary Green in 1792.

Convict MARY COX was a single woman of 22 years when she was tried at Middlesex Gaol Delivery on 20th May 1795 and sentenced to 7 years beyond the seas for stealing clothing belonging to her employer. She had been employed as a servant in an Inn. Her trial can be found at The Proceedings of the Old Bailey Online.......My master used me very ill at the time that he sent for the constable to take me up, and so did my mistress; and when I came here to the prison, I had the black and blue in my arms where he pinched me, and threw me down, and he served another poor girl the same before, that old cotton gown my mistress said that she would give it me, and how it came in my box I don't know. I told her the work was too hard for me without she could get a woman to help me to clean the house, as the house had been white washed, and painted all over. Mary Cox was granted a Certificate of Freedom in 1810 and later married Edward Swadling.

Seven other prisoners of the Indispensable were tried on the same day among them 16 year old Margaret Stocker who was sentenced to 7 years transportation. Margaret married Isaac Cornwall in 1797.

Only two of the women were tried in Northumberland JANE TROTTER and MARY WEIR. Jane Trotter was granted 30 acres of land by Col. Paterson and in 1810 petitioned Gov. Macquarie to retain the grant. Mary Weir later married John Larkham at Parramatta.

The Indispensable transported one of the few females who managed to make their escape from the colony. MARY ANN FIELDING was 19 when she was tried at the Old Bailey on 1st July 1795 and sentenced to 7 years transportation. She had been accused of stealing a pair of shoes. She claimed innocence..... I was coming through Widegate-alley, and I had got a joint of meat in my apron, and a man came and laid hold of me, and then some gentleman that is here, came and brought something out. I know nothing about it, I am as innocent as a child that is just born; I never was guilty of any such thing in my life - but her pleas fell on deaf ears even though her mother was in court and she was given a good character by another. According to Clare Anderson in The Limits of British Colonial Control in South Asia .. Mary Ann Fielding escaped to Calcutta on the Marquis Cornwallis in 1796. In 1800 a Proclamation in Bengal stating that convicts escaped from New South Wales would be apprehended and detained in custody was published. [1]

Mary Ann Fielding returned to England where she returned to her mother only to find her lying dead. She was given into custody and again appeared before the Judges at the Old Bailey on a charge of returning from custody. (Old Bailey Online) She was sentenced to death for her crime but was reprieved and later transported on the Nile in 1801.

Most of the women had committed petty crimes such as the ones listed above and arrived under a seven year sentence, however there were several who had been sent for life -

FRANCES MOULTON CRANMER - On 1st July 1795 received a sentence of transportation for life at Middlesex. Later married Francis Cox.

MARY THORPE - Convicted Middlesex Gaol Delivery. Married Jeremiah Buffy in 1817

MARY MULLETT - Summer Assizes - At Winchester Assizes the following prisoners received sentence of death.....Mary Mullett convicted of a burglary at the Lent Assizes, but respited on the score of pregnancy. She received a reprieve and was sentenced to transportation. (The Times 6 August 1794)

SARAH ELDRIDGE - Old Bailey - The trials being ended the Recorder proceeded to pass sentence on the convicts and in a pathetic speech pronounced judgment of death on John Rabbitts, Charles Beazley, William Brown alias Bartlett, Sarah Eldridge, John Alexander, Henry Goodrif, Jeremiah Love and William Thomas (The Times 11 December 1793)...... Sarah Eldridge, capital convict whose judgments had been respited during his Majesty's pleasure, was pardoned on condition of transportation to New South Wales for the term of her natural life. Four other convicts also respited rejected clemency and were remanded to the cells in execution of their former judgement. (The Times 8 May 1794)

ANN LAMB - On Saturday 19 prisoners were tried at the Old Bailey, eight of whom were convicted of felony, three of misdemeanours, and eight were acquitted. The same day sentence was passed, when Russell Farmer, William Ball, Mary Finlayson, Maria Perres alias Ferres, Ann Lamb, and Ann Clark received judgement of death. (The Times 16th December 1794)

MARY BOUCHER - Mary Boucher, George Higeson, Robert Armstrong, Abraham Abrahams, Mary Thorpe, Alexander Loraine and Samuel Evans, capital convicts who had been respited during his Majesty's pleasure received sentence to be transported for the term of their natural lives to NSW (Times 22 July 1794)

ESTHER SPENCER - On Saturday 17 prisoners were tried at the Old Bailey, two of whom were capitally convicted viz ..Esther Spencer for feloniously stealing in the dwelling house of Jacob Ruffey two silver salt cellars, two silver salt spoons and other articles; Elizabeth Thomas for privately stealing from the person of Edward Lee, a canvas bag containing 13s. The same day sentence was passed when Elizabeth Thomas, William Leeson, John Downs, James Ample William Wood, Thomas Doyle and Esther Spencer received judgement of death (The Times 22 July 1794).

ANN CLARK - On Saturday 19 prisoners were tried at the Old Bailey, eight of whom were convicted of felony, three of misdemeanours, and eight were acquitted. The same day sentence was passed, when Russel Farmer, William Ball, Mary Finlayson, Maria Perres alias Ferres, Ann Lamb, and Ann Clark received judgement of death. (The Times 16th December 1794)

Botany Bay

The following letter was published in the Sporting Magazine in December 1798.....

Letter from a Woman, lately transported to that Settlement, to her Father.

I take the first opportunity of informing you of my safe arrival in this remote quarter of the world, after a pretty good passage of six months. Since my arrival I have purchased a house, for which I gave twenty pounds, and the following articles, which are three turkie's, at 15s. each; three sucking pigs, at 10s.; a pair of pigeons, at 8s.; a yard dog, 2l, two Muscovy ducks, at 10s. each; three English ducks, at 5s. each; and a goat, five guineas; six geese, at 15s. each. I have got a large garden to the house and a licence. The sign is the 'Three Jolly Settlers.' I have met with tolerable good success since in the public line. I did a little trade on the passage here in a number of small articles, such as sugar, tea, tobacco, thread, snuff, needles, and every thing that I could get any thing by. The needles are a shilling a paper here, and fine thread is sixpence a skain. I have sold my petticoats at two guineas each, and my long black cloak at ten guineas, which shews that black silk sells well here: the edging that I gave is. 8d. per yard for in England, I got 5s. for here. I have sold all the worst of my cloaths, as wearing apparel brings a good price. I bought a roll of tobacco at Rio Janeiro of 541b. weight, which cost me 20s. which I was cheated out of: I could have got 12s. a pound for it here. I likewise bought a cwt. of sugar there, and also many other articles. Rum sells for is. 6d. per gallon there, and here, at times, 2I. Any person coming from England with a few hundred pounds laid out at any of the ports that shipping touch at coming here, are likely to make a fortune. Shoes that cost 4s. or 5s. a pair in England, will bring from 10s. to 15s. here. On our passage here we buried only two women and two children. The climate is very healthful, and likewise very fertile, as there are two crops a year of almost every thing; and I really believe, with the assistance of God,' by the time that I have paid the forfeit, according to the laws of my country, I shall acquire a little money to re turn home with, which I have not the smallest doubt of, and to be a comfort to you at the latter end of your days. Any person that should have a mind to come out here as a Settler, by applying at the Secretary of State's Office, may have a free passage, and likewise two men and a farm here, which is great encouragement. I should be very glad to hear from you the first opportunity : I live by myself, and did not do as the rest of the women did on the passage, which was, every one of them that could, had a husband. I shall conclude with giving my kind love to my brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, so am, dear Father, your ever Dutiful, loving, and affectionate Daughter till death. S. B.[4]

Prisoners of the Indispensable identified in the Hunter region :

Anderson, Margaret
Margaret Anderson was tried Southampton Quarter Sessions 8 October 1793. She was 28 years of age when she was sentenced to 7 years beyond the seas. In May 1811 she was sentenced to Newcastle penal settlement for 3yrs hard labour having been found guilty of stealing wearing apparel belonging to James McKay at Sydney. Transferred to Newcastle on the Governor Hunter on 29th October 1811. On 26 August 1815 Commandant Lieut. Thompson was informed that the remainder of Margaret's sentence at Coal River was to be remitted and she was to be returned to Sydney on the Lady Nelson. Wife of William Skinner per Guardian

Smith, Susannah
At Easter 1794, Susannah Smith was employed to nurse the wife of William Purser while she was laying in. Susannah arrived at the house on the Friday evening and left at four o'clock on Monday morning being absent for some time before returning. When William Purser returned to the house he found several items missing and Susannah Smith was accused of the theft. She was tried at the Old Bailey on 30 April 1794 where she was accused of feloniously stealing on the 22d of April, a black silk cloak, value 1l. two pair of shoe buckles, value 8s. six silver tea spoons, value 10s. a pair of cotton stockings, value 6d. a muslin handkerchief, value 1s. a linen apron, value 1s., belonging to William Purser. She was found guilty and sentenced to 7 years transportation. It may have been her in 1811 that declare that a house and premises situated at No. 51 Clarence Street, Sydney was her lawful property and cautioned all against purchasing it. In 1828, age 50, she was free by servitude and employed by Archibald Bell at St. Heliers

Thorpe, Mary
Aged 19 when she received a sentence of Death for stealing, on 26th March 1794 a gold watch and other items belonging to John Cook in his dwelling house. Sentence reprieved to Transportation to New South Wales in July. Married Jeremiah Buffy (ship Earl Spencer) at Parramatta in April 1817. In February 1818 Jeremiah Buffy received a sentence of death for robbery in the house of John Harris. He was reprieved and sent to Newcastle to be wrought in irons for some time. Mary applied to join him there in 1818. In July 1820 - Jeremiah Buffy and Thomas Till were acquitted of a charge of highway robbery. Jeremiah Buffy, Thomas Till and Mary Buffy were indicted for having property in their possession knowing the same to have been stolen, and being found guilty were sentenced to 7 years at Newcastle. They were transported there on the Elizabeth Henrietta in September 1820. Mary was in government employed at Newcastle in 1822. In March 1824 while in the service of T. M. W. Winder Jeremiah was sentenced by the Commandant to 100 lashes for robbery, drunkenness and gross misconduct at his master's farm. The Australian gave an account of a desperate assault on Jeremiah near Newcastle by a native known as Bumblefoot in November 1824. In 1825 Mary and Jeremiah were assigned to John Allen at Newcastle where Mary was employed as a housekeeper. In 1828 Mary and Jeremiah were residing at Argyle where Jeremiah was employed as a stock keeper.

Notes and Links

1). Only two Convict Ships arrived in New South Wales in 1796 - Marquis Cornwallis and Indispensable.

2). Prisoners and passengers of the Indispensable identified in the Hunter Valley

3), Lloyds Shipping 1800


[1] Anderson, Clare., The Limits of British Colonial Control in South Asia

[2] Historical Records of NSW, Vol. III (Hunter) p. 96.

[3] ibid., p. 191

[4] ibid., p. 729

[5] HR NSW Vol. II p. 295