Free Settler or Felon
Convict and Colonial History

Convict Ship James Laing - 1834

Embarked: 201 men
Voyage: 133 days
Deaths: 4
Surgeon's Journal: no
Previous vessel: Numa arrived 13 June 1834
Next vessel: Susan arrived 8 July 1834
Captain George Tomlins
Surgeon Superintendent Richard Allen
Follow the Irish Convict Ship Trail
Convicts and passengers of the James Laing identified in the Hunter Valley

The Motherbank

On 23 December 1833 the Morning Post reported .........

There are upwards of one hundred and fifty sail of outward bound valuable merchant ships lying within the anchorage of St. Helen's and the Motherbank, waiting for moderate weather and a fair wind; it has blown during the week with great violence, occasionally in most tempestuous gusts; but, we are most happy to state, without occasioning any loss to the ships whilst at anchor, in either property or life. The Numa, with female convicts, under the medical charge of Dr. Bromley for Sydney; the James Laing, with males under Mr. R. Allen, Surgeon; and the Moffat with 400 males under Dr. F.B. Wilson for Van Diemen's land, are among the ships wind bound. The convicts on board these ships complete the number expatriated this year to 6000.


The James Laing had reached Dublin by 10 February 1834 when in entering the harbour the ship sustained damage by coming in contact with the Aimwell, Merriam and Coburg, and carrying away the bowsprit of the former, and the main booms of the two latter vessels. (Liverpool Mercury)

Convicts Embarked

Two hundred and one prisoners were embarked in Dublin; one prisoner William Armstrong was re-landed before the James Laing finally departed Dublin on Sunday 16 February 1834.

Military Guard

The Guard consisted of 29 rank and file of 50th regiment., under command of Major Edward Johnstone. Passengers included Mrs. Ellson, Mrs. Johnstone, 7 soldiers wives and 6 children; and also assistant surgeon Mr. Robert Ellson.

Detachments of the 50th Regiment arrived on the convict ships Susan, Surry, Forth, Bengal Merchant Hooghley, Hive, Blenheim, Royal Admiral, Lady Nugent, Parmelia, James Laing, Captain Cook, Hero, Roslin Castle, Henry Porcher, Henry Tanner and Lady Kennaway

Surgeon Richard Allen

Towards the end of the voyage, the surgeon, Richard Allen died by his own hand. His death was reported in the Nautical Magazine - ' there had been much sickness among the convicts on the voyage. Excessive fatigue, and great anxiety for the sick, had occasioned an affection of the brain in Mr. Allen, which terminated fatally. He was beloved by all who knew him and was deeply deplored by his sorrowing widow and family.'

Richard Allen was previously employed as surgeon on the Parmelia in 1832 .

Port Jackson

The James Laing arrived in Port Jackson on 29 June 1834 with 197 male prisoners. Eleven men were sent to the General Hospital in Macquarie Street the following day suffering symptoms of scurvy.

Three prisoners had died on the voyage out and nineteen were sick in hospital at the time of muster.

Convict Muster

The remaining prisoners were mustered on board on 4th July 1834.

The indents include name, age, education, religion, marital status, children, native place, trade, offence, when and where tried and physical description; there are also occasional notes regarding colonial sentences and dates and place of death. Their crimes were mostly different forms of stealing - picking pockets, stealing livestock, burglary etc., however there were also crimes of rape, violent assault, perjury and embezzlement.

There were also men who had been convicted of whiteboy crimes - Joseph Byrne unlawful oaths; James Cantwell unlawful oaths; Thomas Delaney - assaulting a habitation; Lag Delaney - forcible entry; Patrick Martin - firearms offences.

There were several soldiers who had been court-martialled for desertion, leaving their post and assault etc - Leonard Brayshaw, William Bowden, John Breen; James Daley, Thomas Ennis, Thomas Gurney, Joseph Jackson and Patrick Killalea.

Distribution of 197 male convicts who arrived by ship James Laing -

172 assigned to private service;

2 to Mineral surveyors Dept;

1 to Commissariat dept.,

19 in hospital;

1 unfit for assignment

2 sent to Port Macquarie (specials)

Notes and Links

1). Convict John Harte was on a Colonial Office list of thirteen people who applied for their families sent to New South Wales.

2). James Laing convicts Patrick Kilmartin was executed at Sydney for murder on 11 May 1835 and Benjamin Harris was executed for bushranging in 1843.

3). Convicts and passengers of the James Laing identified in the Hunter Valley

4). Political Prisoners

5). Belfast Quarter Sessions - Christopher Walsh for stealing a quantity of lard, the property of Robert Ball, at Belfast on 21st October - Guilty; seven years transportation. Joseph Kelly (about 15 years of age), for stealing a silver watch at Belfast on 16th September - George Chapman said that the watch had been left with him to repair that on 16th September when in his shop, he heard the window break and a young man, who was in the shop at the time on business ran out and caught the prisoner, and brought him in; witness found the watch in his breast. The prisoner said he was a native of Dublin; and seemed quite indifferent to the charge brought against him, laughing frequently during the trial - Guilty; transported seven years. - Belfast Newsletter 1 November 1833

6). In 1841 the Sydney Herald published a biography of Major Edward Johnstone....He was appointed, at the recommendation of His Grace the Duke of Wellington, to an Ensigncy in the 48th Regiment, in 1810. Before completing his eighteenth year he joined his regiment in the lines of Torres Vedras. In 1812 he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant in the same corps. During the whole of the Peninsular war he remained attached to the gallant 48th ; sharing in all its exploits, suffering in all its dangers. He was one of the fortunate few of those who survived the bloody field of Albuera, where the second battalion of the 48th was almost annihilated by the Polish lancers, being attacked, after having deployed into line, so suddenly as not to be able to form into square. The number of officers killed and wounded was forty eight : the number of rank and file mustered after the battle, fit for duty, was only from seventeen to twenty. Major Johnstone fought at the following general engagements :-Albuera, Salamanca, Vittoria, Pyrenees, Nivelle, Orthes, and Toulouse ; he was also present at the sieges of Cuidad Rodrigo and Badajos, and at every other affair in which the 48th was engaged against the enemy. He was severely wounded at the battles of Salamanca and the Pyrenees.

In 1818 Major Johnstone joined the 58th Regiment, but again, at the recommendation of the Duke of Wellington, he was removed into the 50th, then stationed in Jamaica, where he proceeded, and served for seven years. In 1825, by the kindness of the same noble Duke, ever the friend of those who were his companions in arms, he was promoted to a company in that corps. About the same time he received the rank of Major, and came to this Colony with the 50th.

In 1834, Major Johnstone commanded the troops sent to New Zealand to rescue the wife and children of the master of the Harriet whaler, wrecked on the Terranackie coast, in May of that year : this expedition was successful, and Major Johnstone received the thanks of His Excellency Sir Richard Bourke, then Governor of New South Wales. Major Johnstone has now been for a period of nearly six years acting as Police Magistrate for the district of Paterson

Edward Johnstone and Lieutenant Gunter of the 50th regiment volunteered in the rescue of Betty Guard in New Zealand in spring 1834 (1). This rescue and the ensuing massacre was the first action by British troops on New Zealand soil. (2) Major Johnstone's residence Annandale built at Paterson in 1839.

7). Robert Ellson was later stationed at Norfolk Island and was visited there by James Backhouse in 1835.

8). Return of Convicts who died in 1870

9). County of Antrim Assizes, Carrickfergus, Tuesday 23 July.... Henry McLoughlin, for stealing at Cairncastle on 20th August last, a gelding the property of David Service, Guilty; transported for life. Samuel Falloon, Samuel Johnston, and Bernard Hamill, for stealing at Templepatrick, on 9th July last, a cow, the property of Ezekiel Wiley - It appeared that on information received by Mr. Clark a Magistrate, he sent a policeman to the house of one of the prisoners, where they were found in the act of skinning the cow. - Guilty; transported for life. Samuel Lorimer, Andrew Blair, and James Hemphill, for stealing a bullock, the property of Mr. Sayers, at Crebilly, on 2nd March last - guilty; transported for life. James Graham, for stealing, at Ballymena, on 10th August last, a cart, the property of James Cust; also, for receiving same, knowing it to be stolen - guilty; 7 years' transportation - Belfast Newsletter 26 July 1833

10). Recorder's Court - John Prender, William Prender, Michael Hand and Anne Henrietta, were indicted for feloniously taking a coat, the property of...Byrne. Byrne stated that at about half past one o'clock on Sunday night he went into a house of bad character, where he slept, and upon waking in the morning his clothes were not to be found. The male prisoners were drinking in the house, and refused to let him got out; at length they gave him an old pair of shoes, upon which he went out and acquainted a person named Hill of the robbery. Joseph Hill saw Byrne on the morning after the robbery, he (Byrne) had then no hat or coat; he described the persons who refused to let him out he (Hill) then went and had them arrested, when they were searched, and duplicates for Byrne's clothes found upon one of them; the female prisoner had been with him in the house at a very late hour. Guilty. All old offenders. Transportation for seven years. - Freeman's Journal 11 July 1833 1833

11). Belfast Quarter Sessions - Tuesday, July 9 - James Mackay, for stealing silk handkerchiefs, the property of Messrs. John and David Lindsay at Belfast on 8th June; guilty, seven years transportation - Belfast Newsletter 12 July 1833

12). County of Antrim Assizes - Carrickfergus - Thursday July 25. Bernard Stewart, for stealing from the dwelling house of Andrew McCollough at Ballyclare, on 11th July and taking therefrom 11s and some wearing apparel - guilty; 7 years transportation. - Belfast Newsletter 26 July 1833

13). County Armagh Assizes - Fourth day - Tuesday - Sentences - Hamilton Gillespie, passing base coin, seven years transportation. Belfast Newsletter 30 July 1833 12). James Graham for stealing at Ballymena on 10th August last a cart, the property of James Cust; also for receiving same, knowing it to be stolen - Guilty; 7 years transportation Belfast Newsletter 26 July 1844


[1] Physiological observations on mental susceptibility. ... By Thomas Burgeland Johnson

[2] New Zealand History Online - The Harriet Affair