Free Settler or Felon
Convict and Colonial History

Convict Ship Isabella - 1823

Embarked : 200 men
Deaths: 7
Surgeon's Journal: yes
Previous vessel: Mary arrived 18 October 1823
Next vessel: Medina arrived 29 December 1823
Captain John Wallis
Surgeon Superintendent William Rae
Follow the Irish Convict Ship Trail
Prisoners and passengers of the Isabella identified in the Hunter Valley region

The Isabella was built in London in 1818. (4) The Isabella transported convicts to Australia in 1818 (NSW), 1822 (NSW), 1823 (NSW), 1832 (NSW), 1833 (VDL) and 1842 (VDL).

Captain John Wallis

Captain John Wallis was formerly Master of a slave ship taking negroes from Africa to the West Indies [2]. He was also Master of the Three Bees in 1814, Fanny in 1816 and Isabella in 1822.

Military Guard

The guard comprised a detachment of the 40th regiment under command of Lieut. Henry Miller who was accompanied by his wife and family. The 40th had been serving in Ireland.

Following is an excerpt from Historical Records of the 40th (2nd Somersetshire) Regiment By Raymond Henry Raymond Smythies listing the ships that brought detachments of the 40th regiment to New South Wales in 1823 and 1824..........

Following is an excerpt from Historical Records of the 40th (2nd Somersetshire) Regiment By Raymond Henry Raymond Smythies listing the ships that brought detachments of the 40th regiment to New South Wales in 1823 and 1824..........

Early in March 1823, the commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Thornton received an intimation that it was intended to send the regiment to New South Wales. In the meantime it was ordered to proceed to Dublin, thence by sea to Liverpool, and after that by road to Chatham, in order to form guards for convict ships when required.
The head quarters reached Dublin on 15th March and occupied the Royal Barracks. On the 30th the whole regiment embarked at Pigeon House, in eight small vessels, and reached Liverpool the following day.

A twenty eight days' march, including three Sundays, brought the regiment to Chatham. The Regiment marched in three divisions; the first arrived at Chatham on 21st April; the second, consisting of two companies, halted, and remained at Deptford; and the 3rd reached Chatham on 23rd April.

During the next year the 40th was sent out, in small detachments, as guards on board convict ships to Australia. This was after several years' rough service in Ireland, and but a short period of rest in England........

Embarked 25th April 1823 on ship Albion. Lieutenant Lowe
Embarked 5th July 1823 on ship Asia Captain Bishop
Embarked 10th July 1823 on ship Isabella. Lieutenant Millar
Embarked 18th July 1823 on ship Sir Godfrey Wilestoe. Captain Hibbert
Embarked 29 July 1823 on ship Guildford. Captain Thornhill
Embarked 31st July 1823 on ship Medina. Lieutenant Ganning
Embarked 5 August 1823 on ship Castle Forbes. Lt.- Col. Balfour;
Embarked 29 December 1823 on ship Prince Regent. Captain Stewart
Embarked 5th February 1824 on ship Chapman. Captain Jebb
Embarked 25 February 1824 on ship Countess of Harcourt. Captain Morow
Embarked 14 June 1824 on ship Mangles. Lt.- Col Thornton
Embarked 14 June 1824 on ship Princess Charlotte. Lieut Neilley

Other ships bringing detachments of the 40th regiment included the Minerva and Ann and Amelia.

Convicts Embarked

The convicts to be embarked on the Isabella were held in the Surprize Hulk at Cork to await transportation. The Belfast Newsletter reported in June......

The preparations on board the convict hulk at Cove being completed for the reception of those doomed to become its unfortunate inmates previous to transportation, a draft of 101 male convicts was taken from the depot on Wednesday, and removed to the hulk, and on Thursday a further addition of 31 male convicts was made of these victims of their own folly and violation of the laws of the land. [3]

Free Passengers

Frederick Augustus Hely who had been appointed Superintendent of Convicts on 1 January 1823, arrived on the Isabella with his wife and three children.

Surgeon William Rae

William Rae kept a Medical Journal from 4th July to 4th December 1823......

The convicts were suffering from Catarrh when they joined the ship which the surgeon attributed to the very cold season and want of adequate clothing. One man had been sent with only a blanket to cover his nakedness and another with a ragged shirt and trousers with only one leg in them. Few had shoes or stockings. In other respects they appeared to be healthy, although the surgeon was to find out later that several had been confined on the hulk with fever


The Isabella was the next convict ship to leave Ireland bound for New South Wales after the departure of the Earl St. Vincent in April 1823. The Isabella departed Cork in August 1823 with 200 male convicts.

The Voyage

It was a difficult voyage. There was an early outbreak of scurvy and a plot to cause a mutiny was discovered before they even reached the Cape.

Scurvy made a very early appearance after only about a month at sea. The surgeon could not account for these early cases of scurvy except perhaps the confinement in the crowded hulk without proper air and exercise may have predisposed them to it. He attributed some of their debility to former illness, sea sickness and also languor and depression of spirits induced by a system of terror, robbery and plunder that a gang of them carried on whilst on board the Surprize.

From a knowledge that the same gang were now hatching a plot for the murder and destruction of everyone on board who would not enter with them in taking the ship and threats of instant death to anyone who betrayed them, the other convicts were in a depressed and dejected state......... Nor could any kind treatment within from the Captain of the ship or the myself (both marked for destruction) infuse either joy or cheerfulness amongst them. Through the courage of one man, we fortunately discovered the horrid plot that was hatching against us, which obliged me to replace the most of them in irons and curtail their liberty upon deck as it was improper again to trust men who had been guilty of such base ingratitude for as much liberty granted to them and kind treatment during a period of distress. [5]

They contemplated touching at the Cape of Good Hope for refreshments; but from the number ill at the time the surgeon decided he had sufficient means remaining to enable them to make the rest of the voyage with little loss. There was also a reluctance to delay the voyage further as they were approaching the season when winds could be contrary and besides, as the surgeon recorded in his journal...... they had every inducement to get quit as soon as possible of such a rascally, ungrateful and mutinous crew. [5] They made the run from the Cape to Van Diemen's Land in a month.

Port Jackson

About one hundred and ninety-three prisoners arrived on 16 December 1823. According to the surgeon's journal seven men had died on the voyage out, four of them from scurvy. (The convict indents state five men died). Another twenty-nine men were sent to the hospital on arrival.

Convict Muster

The men were mustered on arrival. The indents give such information as name, age, trade, when and where tried, native place, physical description, to whom assigned on arrival and remarks regarding behaviour on board.

Curiously, considering the difficulties of the voyage, remarks at the end of the indents state - The prisoners appear in good health, declaring themselves well treated and have been well spoken of by the Surgeon Superintendent William Rae and Commander John Wallis.

Convicts Landed in Sydney

The prisoners were landed early on Tuesday morning 23rd December. They were inspected by the Governor Sir Thomas Brisbane who was satisfied with their general appearance. They were afterwards distributed throughout the Colony. On 23rd December the five men mentioned below were embarked on the colonial vessel Sally with eighteen other men convicted of colonial crimes. They were transported to Port Macquarie to serve the remainder of their original sentence.

Account of the Intended Mutiny

On the 17th December William Rae and John Wallis gave details of the intended mutiny to the Governor -

We have to inform your Excellency that in the course of our voyage hither we had the good fortune to discover a dangerous mutiny which was on the eve of breaking out amongst the prisoners, and but for timely prevention would certainly have ended in much bloodshed. For the information we are mainly indebted to a prisoner of the name of Francis Keefe who at the risk of his own life concealed himself whilst he wrote a short note containing the information. This plot from all the credible evidence we have been able to collect concerning it had been matured by a few of the worst of characters and they had even evinced some degree of cunning in poisoning the minds with the idea of money being on board which was to be distributed amongst those who should most distinguish themselves. Keefe is a man superior to most of the prisoners, has conducted himself with much propriety and some of the ringleaders have even attempted to invalidate his evidence. Situated as we have all been we should be guilty of an act of injustice if we did not recommend this man in the strongest manner to your Excellency 's notice.

The names of the ringleaders were :

Charles Devatt, gardener, tried 17th March 1823 at Longford and sentenced to transportation for life. Sent to Port Macquarie on arrival. Died 20 January 1824 at Port Macquarie.

James Kelly, ploughs and makes butter. Tried Co. Carlow 27 March 1823 and sentenced to transportation for ten years. Sent to Port Macquarie on arrival.

Patrick Brennan, ploughman from Co. Carlow. Tried 25 March 1823 and sentenced to ten years transportation. Sent to Port Macquarie on arrival.

Denis Brennan, coalminer and soldier from Kilkenny. Tried 6 April 1823 and sentenced to transportation for life. Left arm lost below the elbow. Sent to Port Macquarie on arrival. Died at Port Macquarie 8 December 1824.

James Lawler, ploughman tried in Co. Wicklow 24th March 1823 and sentenced to transportation for 10 years. Sent to Port Macquarie on arrival.

William Cowen, gardener from Longford. Forwarded to Parramatta on arrival.

Patrick Macnamara (no. 139). Coal miner and militia man from Kilkenny Tried 5th April 1823. Sent to Newcastle on arrival.[2]

Francis Keefe

In December 1823, the Sydney Gazette reported that the indulgence of a ticket of leave had been awarded to Francis Keefe at the special recommendation of Captain Wallis and Surgeon William Rae......... The prisoner had given information that a conspiracy was in the act of forming during the voyage and the horrible evils that might have ensued were thus providentially frustrated. In consequence of the service rendered the Public in this instance, His Excellency the Governor was pleased to consider the man worthy of the great indulgence bestowed.

Port Macquarie

Port Macquarie at this time was under the command of Captain Francis Allman and convicts of the worst description were sent there. More than a thousand men were held at Port Macquarie at this time, they were employed in public works and agricultural labour, and often in chain gangs.

Port Macquarie was visited by surveyor John Oxley on his expedition northward to Moreton Bay. John Uniacke who accompanied John Oxley wrote the account of Port Macquarie below:

On Tuesday October 21st, 1823, Mr. Oxley, Lieutenant Stirling of the Buffs, and I, embarked on board the colonial cutter Mermaid (Charles Penson, master), about noon, and proceeded down the harbour; but the wind proving unfavourable, we came to under Point Piper, where we remained till the next day at midnight, when a moderate breeze springing up we got under way and ran out of the harbour. Early on the morning of the 25th we came to an anchor off Port Macquarie, distant north from Sydney 175 miles.

This place had been settled about two years before, as a penal establishment; but the excellence of the soil, the fineness of the climate, and its convenient distance from Sydney, made Government anxious to throw it open to free settlers, in case we should be successful in the object of our expedition. Messrs. Oxley, Stirling, and myself, immediately went ashore, the sickness endured by the two former making them very anxious to leave the vessel.

The line of coast before us was very beautiful, consisting of a succession of small headlands richly clothed with wood; while the darkness of the foliage was pleasingly relieved by the verdure of the grass, which here and there appeared in small open patches. About a mile to the north lay the entrance of the river Hastings, beyond which was a long sandy beach extending six or seven miles, and terminated by a bold headland called Point Plomer. Across the entrance of the river is a sandy bar with about eleven feet at low water. With the wind at S.E. there are heavy rollers on it, making the approach to the town difficult and dangerous.

We landed on the rocks to the south of the entrance, and found Captain Allman, the commandant, awaiting our arrival, with Lieutenants Wilson and Roberts, and Assistant-surgeon Fenton, all of the 48th regiment. They conducted us to Government House, where we breakfasted, and then walked out to see the place, accompanied by Captain Allman. Considering that the site on which the town now stands was two years ago covered with immense forest trees, and thick brush-wood, it is quite incredible to what a state of perfection the place has been brought by the indefatigable activity of the commandant.

The Government House stands nearly in the centre of the town, on a handsome esplanade, open to the sea. To the northward, on a rising ground, which commands the whole town, are the military barracks, calculated to hold 150 men, each of the married men having a small cottage and garden. On the right of the hill are two handsome cottages, which are used as officers' quarters. The remainder of the town, which is extremely clean, is entirely occupied by the prisoners, who are kept as distinct as possible from the military, and who have each a small but neat hut, constructed of split-wood, lathed, plastered and white-washed, with a garden attached. The sites of the streets, intended to be built as the population of the town increases, are regularly laid out and fenced: the spaces between them are at present occupied as gardens and plantations of maize, sugar-cane, etc. the latter of which appears to thrive remarkably well, and will (I doubt not) at some future period form a lucrative article of export from this establishment.

We dined at the Government House, and a few of us walking down to the beach after dinner, were highly amused by a dance among the natives. These people are a much finer race than those in the neighbourhood of Sydney, many of them being upwards of six feet high. Their features are also more expressive of intellect, and their limbs better formed than any I had before seen. Some of the more civilized are victualled from the king's store of the settlement, and, in return, perform some of the duties of constable, in a more efficient manner than any European possibly could. Whenever (as frequently happens) any of the prisoners attempt to escape into the woods, they are instantly pursued by some of this black police, who possess a wonderful facility in tracing them; and being furnished with fire-arms, they seldom fail to bring them back alive or dead, for which they are rewarded with blankets, spirits, etc. -
Narrative of Mr. Oxley's Expedition to Survey Port Curtis and Moreton Bay etc., by John Uniacke in Geographical Memoirs on New South Wales By Barron Field

Convicts of the Isabella identified in the Hunter Valley region -

Barrett, Andrew

Barry, John

Brennan, Patrick

Brereton, John

Buckley, Timothy

Clarke, John

Cleary, Michael

Clinch, Patrick

Connor, Lawrence

Connor, Nicholas

Connor, Thomas

Corrigan, Hugh

Daly, Denis

Doyle, Michael

Egan, John

Finnegan, William

Finnigan, Timothy

Fox, Michael

Foy, John

Gallagher, James

Good, Michael

Grady, Patrick

Grier, John

Griffin, Thomas

Healy, Matthew

Hennesy, Thomas

Herring, Maurice

Kelly, James

Kennedy, James

Kenny, Bernard

Kirby, Matthew

Lawler, James

Lee, Patrick

Mahoney, John

Mallon, John

McLennon, Michael

McNally, Patrick

McNamara, Patrick

McNamara, Patrick

Molloy, Michael

Mullan, Arthur

Murray, John

Nailan, Patrick

Nunan, James

Power, John

Punch, John

Reilly, Peter

Reirdon, Timothy

Reynolds, James

Scahill, Thomas

Tighe, Patrick

Notes and Links

1). Convict Patrick Clinch was assigned to Vicars Jacob near Newcastle on arrival. After absconding from service in 1825, he joined with others to form the most formidable and organised gang of bushrangers the Hunter region had seen. They became known as Jacob's Irish Brigade. Others assigned to Vicars Jacob on arrival included William Finnegan, Patrick Gready, James Kennedy, Patrick McNamara, Arthur Mullin, James Reynolds. Select here to find out what Vicars Jacob thought of his convict servants.

2). William Rae was employed as Surgeon Superintendent on the following convict ships:

Eliza to NSW in 1822
Isabella to NSW in 1823
Marquis of Huntley to NSW in 1826
Prince Regent to NSW in 1827
Marquis of Hastings to NSW in 1828

3). National Archives. Reference: ADM 101/36/3 Description: Medical and surgical journal of the Isabella Convict Ship, for the 4 July to 24 December 1823 by Mr William Rae, Surgeon and Superintendent, during which time the said ship was employed in a voyage to Port Jackson, New South Wales.

4). Mr. Sergeant Torrens presided at a Sessions under the insurrection Act in Mallow when James Curtin and John Kent were convicted for having administered an unlawful oath to David Nagle, and received sentence of transportation for seven years. They were ordered to be transmitted to the receiving ship at Cove. Curtin had been previously acquitted on a similar charge. On Sergeant Torrens having pronounced the sentence of transportation on him, the wretch, in the most hardened and vindictive tone, was heard to exclaim" the D...I transport yourself my Lord:. A female also said, 'he should have money enough to make him comfortable on the voyage, as it was in a good cause he was going'. Belfast Newsletter 16 May 1823 (James Curtin died at Bathurst in 1829 and John Kent died on the voyage out)

5). Political Prisoners

6). Return of Convicts of the England assigned between 1st January 1832 and 31st March 1832 (Sydney Gazette 5 July 1832).....
John O'Hair or O'Dair, stonecutter assigned to John Coghill at Kirkham Michael Ryan. Ploughman assigned to Gabriel Thomson at Ultimo


[1] Colonial Secretary's Papers (NRS 897) Main series of letters received, 1788-1825 Item: 4/1765 Page: 227) (Ancestry)

[2] State Records Authority of New South Wales, Kingswood. Main series of letters received, 1788-1825. Series 897, Reel 6044; 4/1730 pp.101-43

[3] Belfast Newsletter 13 June 1823.

[4] Bateson, Charles Library of Australian History (1983). The convict ships, 1787-1868 (Australian ed). Library of Australian History, Sydney : pp.344-345,384

[5] UK, Royal Navy Medical Journals, 1817-1857. Medical Journal of William Rae on the voyage of the Isabella in 1823 . The National Archives. Kew, Richmond, Surrey.