Free Settler or Felon
Convict and Colonial History

Convict Ship Midas - 1827

Embarked: 148 men
Voyage: 122 days
Deaths: 3
Surgeon's Journal: yes
Previous vessel: Albion arrived 14 February 1827
Next vessel: Mariner arrived 23 May 1827
Captain James Baigrie
Surgeon  James Morice
Prisoners and passengers of the Midas identified in the Hunter Valley

This is the same vessel that transported female convicts to Australia in 1825. [4]

The Lachlan and Elizabeth Macquarie Archives site has an earlier history of the Midas -

The Midas was built in Hull in 1809. She first arrived in Sydney (from London via Cape of Good Hope) on 14 February 1820 under master and owner James Underwood. Capt. John Beveridge was appointed Master of the Midas for voyages to Van Diemen's Land in 1820, 1821 (with Governor Macquarie and his party as passengers) and Macquarie Island in 1822. There were various other voyages to Macquarie Island and Van Diemen's Land before the Midas was sold by Underwood to Icely and Hindson. The Midas then sailed for London and returned again to Hobart on 23 November 1825 and Port Jackson on 17th December 1825 as a convict transport. The Midas departed Port Jackson for Calcutta and London on 29 January 1826. [5]

One of the prisoners to be embarked on this voyage of the Midas was James Tucker alias Rosenberg who had been tried at Chelmsford on 6th March 1826 and sentenced to transportation for life for sending a threatening letter. He was admitted to the Leviathan hulk on 6th May 1826. The novel Adventures of Ralph Rashleigh, A Penal Exile in Australia has been attributed to James Tucker. The following excerpts are from the 1929 version -

Embarking on a Hulk in England

Lags away!' This was the cry which, a few nights later, warned the transportees who had been respited that the time had come for them to be taken down to the hulk on the coast, in which they would be confined until the next convict ship was due to sail. Rashleigh and more than fifty other men were crowded into the large vans, handcuffed, heavily ironed, and chained together and to the van sides. As soon as all the prisoners were thus properly secured, the vans were driven off at a brisk pace towards an unknown destination. There were several of these convict hulks on the coast, and no hint was given to the prisoners as to which of them they were bound for. Rashleigh, however, recognized through the window familiar places and buildings, and knew that they were driving down the main Portsmouth Road. With the needful changing of horses, and by driving continuously, the vans reached the dockyard late on the following afternoon, and the prisoners were at once paraded on a wooden wharf, alongside which lay the gloomy hulk of the old Leviathan.

This vessel was an ancient '74 which, after a gallant career in carrying the flag of England over the wide oceans of the navigable world, had come at last to be used for the humiliating service of housing convicts awaiting transportation over those seas. She was stripped and denuded of all that makes for a ship's vanity. Two masts remained to serve as clothes props, and on her deck stood a landward-conceived shed which seemed to deride the shreds of dignity which even a hulk retains. The criminals were marched aboard, and paraded on the quarter-deck of the desecrated old hooker, mustered and received by the captain. Their prison irons were then removed and handed over to the jail authorities, who departed as the convicts were taken to the forecastle. There every man was forced to strip and take a thorough bath, after which each was handed out an outfit consisting of coarse grey jacket, waistcoat and trousers, a round-crowned, broad- brimmed felt hat, and a pair of heavily nailed shoes. The hulk's barber then got to work shaving and cropping the polls of every mother's son, effecting in many cases such metamorphoses that Rashleigh was unable to recognize numbers of those who had come aboard with him. Before leaving the forecastle, each man was double ironed, and then taken on deck to receive a hammock, two blankets and a straw palliasse. [2]

Life on a Hulk

A guard marched the laden and fettered prisoners below decks, where they were greeted with roars of ironic welcome from the convicts already incarcerated there. The lower deck was divided up into divisions by means of iron palisading, with lamps hanging at regular intervals, and these divisions were subdivided by wooden partitions into a score or so of apartments, each of which housed from fifteen to twenty convicts. As Rashleigh and his companions were marched past the occupied pens, they were greeted by a chorus of the cry, 'New chums! new chums!' and howls of jeering laughter. In a few minutes all the new-comers were accommodated in their new quarters. Rashleigh got little sleep that first night, being pestered by the silly tricks of the older hands, who delighted in tormenting the raw recruits. He managed to doze towards morning, and awoke to a consciousness of a most pungent and offensive smell. He glanced over the side of his hammock and saw that most of his pen-mates were up and gathered round a wooden tub - known as a 'kid' - into which they were dipping spoons. As he realized that it was from the contents of this tub that the disgusting smell came, his messmates told him that this was breakfast and that he had best hurry if he wished to have any. He was hungry enough and obeyed the summons with haste. He filled a borrowed tin can with the foul-stenched mess, and took a spoonful. The taste made him splutter, being, if anything, more loathsome than its smell, and he gave up the idea of breakfast forthwith. The ingredients, he was told, were a very coarse barley, and the tough meat which was the convicts' allowance on alternate days, boiled together until it became the malodorous, tacky mess in the tub. The dietary on the hulk, apart from this so-called soup, was a portion of cheese of the maximum indigestibility three days per week. On the days when meat was not allowed, breakfast and supper consisted of a pint of coarse barley plain-boiled in water, and in addition each man was given one pound of black bread, with a pint of sour vinegar mis-called table beer. [2]

Work on a Hulk

Work of some kind was provided for all the convicts, a certain number being detailed in cleaning the hulk, cooking, and as servants to the officers. The rest were sent each day to labour in the dockyard in gangs. Rashleigh, without any consideration for his fitness for the work, was placed in a timber gang, and found himself yoked with about twenty others to a large truck, each man being attached by a broad hempen band which was fixed over one shoulder and under the opposite arm. The foreman of each gang was a veteran sailor of the Royal Navy, who was apt to visit upon the convicts the same kind of tyranny as he had been subject to from his officers when he had been on shipboard, though his mercy could be purchased by the price of drinks, obtainable at the local taps. Rashleigh's ganger was a natural tyrant who delighted in the crippling and injuring of the men in his charge. They were all ignorant of the correct way of handling timber, and he would deliberately compel his gang to proceed so awkwardly that great baulks of timber would crash from the skids and smash a leg or an arm. These injured were carried off to the hospital, where their death or recovery depended upon the whim of the naval surgeon, whose coarse joke was 'that he was getting terribly out of practice, and the amputation of a few limbs was just the thing he needed to keep him from getting rusty.' While Rashleigh was attached to the hulk, scarcely a week passed without some poor devil giving the surgeon the practice he required. Rashleigh, being unused to such heavy manual work, was at once treated as a skulker and malingerer, and so came in for a double share of oppression.

Justitia Hulk Death of a convict on the Justitia Hulk - National Library of Australia

Overstrained, bullied, and more than half starved, he came to look forward with a feeling of relief to the day when the ship should arrive that was to take him to New South Wales. There was small comfort in this, however, as a vessel had sailed a few days before his reaching the hulk, and another was not expected to leave for three months. The terrible strain was too much for his constitution, and he fell ill, and being transferred to the hospital ship, he was prodigally treated with purgatives, bleedings and blisterings, until he was as near dead as a man well could be. The rest, however, despite the vigorous medicinal treatment, benefited him and he managed to survive by pouring into the urinal the medicines that were given him, and after some weeks graduated to the convalescent ward. One day three patients died, and Rashleigh was one of the gang of convalescent convicts chosen to form the burial party, over on the Gosport side, in a graveyard known as Rat's Castle. [2]

Military Guard

It was reported in the London Morning Post on 20th September 1826 that the Guard for the Midas, a detachment of the 39th regiment, were ordered to embark at Portsmouth. The Guard comprised 30 rank and file of the 39th under orders of Lieutenant George Meares Bowen. Select here to find other convict ships bringing detachments of the 39th regiment to New South Wales.


Rev. James Norman with Mrs. Norman and 2 children, and Mr. and Mrs. Lisk embarked on the Midas at Deptford on 18th September, a passage having been granted by H.M. Government. Rev. Norman and Mrs Norman later became Master and Mistress at the King's Female orphan school in Hobart.[1]

James and Charles McArthur and Ensigns Bulkly and Lewis of the 40th regiment also embarked as passengers.

In The Adventures of Ralph Rashleigh, the author claims to have escaped from the hulk for a while before being re-captured. With many others, he was transferred to the Midas on the 2nd October 1826 and a ship board regime was soon established -

On Board the Midas

The routine of the ship was arranged so that, during the voyage, the convicts were allowed the liberty of the deck from sun- rise until sunset, under an armed guard of three soldiers posted at points of vantage which gave them full surveillance of the tough bunch of derelicts in their charge.

A boatswain and six mates were selected by the surgeon-superintendent from among the convicts, and they were made responsible for the cleanliness and orderliness of their fellows. The convicts' food-ration was what was known in the transport service as 'Six upon Four,' six convicts sharing between them the rations normally allowed for four Royal Navy sailors. The food was mainly salt tack, and on alternate days a small portion of wine or lime-juice was issued. Water was the only item of diet which had to be carefully apportioned: the food, such as it was, was plentiful.

In addition to the surgeon's sanitary party selected from the prisoners, there were also chosen another boatswain, two cooks, and other servants, who formed monitors or leaders of the squads of eight into which for purposes of food supplies the convicts were divided. [2]

The Midas was the next convict ship to leave England for New South Wales after the departure of the Albion on 4th October 1826.

Departure of the Midas

The Midas departed Plymouth on 16 October 1826 -

As night fell on the English Channel, the convicts were ordered below to the sleeping-berths, between decks. These were framed of deal boards, supported by stanchions and quarterings, and subdivided in compartments, each sleeping six men in very close proximity. These sleeping-berths were framed in rows along each side of the ship, with a double row between them separated by narrow passages. Rashleigh, being a good sailor, enjoyed what amusement could be got from the conduct of those who were unused to the motion of the ship. Many of them had never been to sea, and the vertiginous motion of the vessel caused by the broken sea of the Channel, filled them not only with nausea but with terror.

Soon after being shut below, the sea freshened, and at first there was much confusion among the closely-packed prisoners. Those who were not too terrified to do other than lie in the immobility of fear, filled the night with a contrasting chorus of oaths and prayers. Gradually, however, a semblance of quietude came, and Rashleigh went to sleep, but as he was lying athwart the ship and she started rolling, his rest was continually broken by the violent motion. The increasing seas at last made sleep impossible, and he sat up for greater comfort, listening with awe to the crash of the waves against the bows, and feeling the shiver that ran through the ship at each thudding impact. [2]

James Morice's Surgeon's Journal

Three prisoners and two soldiers died on the passage out. James Morice kept a Medical Journal from 23 August 1826 to 1 March 1827 and recorded the circumstances of the deaths: -

Michael McBride, aged 22 a private in the 39th Regiment complained of headache, pain all over his body, a cough and difficulty in breathing. He died while the ship was still at Spithead on 20 October 1826.

John Watts, aged 21, a private of the 39th Regiment presented with severe pain across the thorax, difficulty of breathing, incessant cough and pain in the head, back and extremities. His skin was hot and dry. James Morice thought Watts to be a plethoric habit of body. He had fallen asleep on deck and remained there for several hours exposed to a heavy dew and smart frost. Watts was put on the sick list on 10 October 1826 at Spithead but died on 29 October 1826.

The first convict to die was John Colville aged 33. He was suffering from contracted muscles and his legs were swollen. He died at sea on 14 January after six weeks illness.

Thomas Hayes aged 25 died on 30 January after becoming ill with jaundice.

William King aged 31 died on 3rd February after displaying symptoms of scurvy for six weeks.

There were two serious accidents requiring Mr. Morice's skill. George Challen, a prisoner aged 36 was badly scalded by hot boiling water on his face, body and extremities due to a sudden lurch of the ship. He was put on the sick list on 25 November and discharged on 16 January with no disfigurement or stiffness of joints. The other was John Outram, a private of the 39th regiment. He was severely wounded on the cheek and mouth by the accidental firing of a musket on 9th January. He recovered sufficiently to march with his detachment to the barracks in Sydney on 13 February 1827. [3]

Arrival of the Midas at Port Jackson

The Midas made a dramatic arrival in February 1827 when she nearly ran over the pilot boat at the entrance to the Port.

Convict Muster

A Muster was held on board by Colonial Secretary Alexander McLeay on 19th February 1827.

The process is described in The Adventures of Ralph Rashleigh -

The day after their arrival, the Colonial Secretary, the Principal Superintendent of Convicts, and other officers came on board to muster the newly arrived prisoners, who were each called separately into the cabin, asked their names, ages, religions, native places; trades and a host of other interrogatories, the replies to which were taken down and a personal description of each convict added. When this ceremony had been gone through with all the new arrivals, these official visitors departed and a number of other persons came on board, some seeking news from the 'old country', some to enquire after expected relations, a few of the great ones to ascertain what sort of men the new chums were, and whether there were certain descriptions of persons among them, according to the wants of each querist in the article of labour. [2]

Information in the indents includes name, age, education, religion, family, marital status, native place, occupation, offence, date and place of trial, sentence, previous convictions physical description and where and to whom assigned on arrival. There is also occasional information about colonial crimes and sentences, deaths and pardons.

There were no very young boys, the youngest prisoners being seventeen years of age. All had been tried in various counties throughout England, - there were no men on the Midas who had been convicted in Scotland.


The prisoners were landed on Thursday morning 1st March 1827.

In about a fortnight from their arrival the prisoners on board were again mustered preparatory to their going ashore and received each a new suit of clothing, after which they were placed in boats, by divisions, and rowed to a spot of land near Fort Macquarie, where, being landed, they waited until all had arrived and then proceeded through a part of the public promenade known as the Domain, up to the Prisoner's Barracks, where they were placed in a back yard by themselves, and shortly afterwards again paraded. [2]

On their dismissal a host of the older prisoners insinuated themselves among them for the purpose of bargaining for clothes, trinkets or other property, and many a poor new chum - the distinctive name bestowed upon them by the old hands - was deprived of all his little stock of comforts by the artifices of the others, who appeared to pique themselves in no small degree upon their dexterity with which they could thus pick up (rob) the unwary newcomers. [2]

Assignment on Arrival

There were said to be but few mechanics among the Midas convicts, most being labouring men. There were drovers, shepherds, gardeners, ploughmen, cotton spinners, grooms, chimney sweeps, tinkers and errand boys. There were also brass founders, bricklayers and coal miners.

'The day after Rashliegh's landing the dispersion of his shipmates began, and in four days there remained but himself and two others out of about 140 who had safely reached the Colony with him, the remainder having all been sent, or, as the phrase ran, 'assigned', to the service of private individuals, by tens, fours, threes, or single individuals, according to the priority of application or degree of interest possessed by the masters. Most of these men were employed at the trades and occupations at which they had been brought up or accustomed, except such as had been used to trades which were not then in existence in NSW. They were assigned as labourers and sent into the interior. Of these the most numerous class was the weavers, who subsequently made but sorry shifts at using the axe or the hoe, the latter being by far the most usual mode of tilling the soil in that early period of Australian agriculture.'[2]

Thomas Brewer a 26 year old brass founder from Staffordshire was sentenced to transportation for life for striking a serjeant. He was assigned to the Australian Agricultural Company on arrival. Other prisoners assigned to Australian Agricultural Company straight from the ship included John Balls, Nicholas Dunn, Robert Hurrell, Francis Jackson, Samuel Keane, John Ling, William Scotton, Cornelius Shrivell and James Stephenson.

Several men were assigned to the Paterson district. Some to James Adair and others to John McIntyre - Edward Green, Thomas McGrath and Wheelhouse Wilson were all assigned to John McIntyre who was murdered in 1830. Some assigned servants came under suspicion and Thomas McGrath was tried for the murder, found guilty and sentenced to death. Later the sentence was recommended to be commuted to Norfolk Island for life.

Convicts of the Midas identified in the Hunter Valley - -

Ball, John

Benstead, James

Bent, James

Bentham, William

Bessey, William

Betts, Fisher

Bray, Thomas

Brewer, Thomas

Challen, George

Coleman, Jesse

Collins, James

Compton, William

Dunn, Nicholas

Grant, John

Green, Edward

Green, George

Greenhalgh, John

Grey, Thomas

Hall, Benjamin

Hanson, John

Hayes, James

Humpage, William

Hurrell, Robert

Hyde, John

Jackson, Francis

Jackson, John

Janes, Charles

Keen, Samuel

Light, Thomas

Ling, John

McGraw, Thomas

Meers, John

O'Connor, William

Pake, Charles

Price, James

Price, James

Quittington, Henry

Rawston, Henry

Reading, Thomas

Reed, William

Rice, Joseph

Roper, Robert

Scotton, William

Shrivell, Cornelius

Stephenson, James

Tucker, James

West, James

Wilbee, Cornelius

Wilson, Wheelhouse

Wiskins, Joseph

Wood, John

Wray, John

Notes and Links

1. James Bent from Stockport was sent to Moreton Bay for fourteen years for burglary in 1829

2. Three brothers William, John and Robert Howell from Norwich were all transported on the Midas under a sentence of transportation for life after being convicted of house breaking.

3. Find out more about James Tucker at the Australian Dictionary of Biography

4. Seventeen convict ships arrived in New South Wales in 1827 - Grenada, Brothers, (F) Albion, Midas, Mariner, Countess of Harcourt, Guildford, Marquis of Hastings, Princess Charlotte, Manlius, Cambridge, Harmony, Prince Regent, Champion, Eliza, John and the Louisa

5. Return of Convicts of the Midas assigned between 1st January 1832 and 31st March 1832 (Sydney Gazette 14 June 1832; 21 June 1832; 28 June 1832; 5 July 1832).....

Aaron Abrahams - Dealer, assigned to Henry Abrahams at Sydney
John Grant or Brotherston - Blacksmith, assigned to John Reddall at Campbelltown
John Mears - Gun barrel maker. Assigned to John Abbot at Windsor
Michael Rafferty - Shoemaker, assigned to Henry Bayly at Bayly Park

6. Convict ships bringing detachments of the 39th regiment included the following -

Regalia departed Dublin 16 March 1826. Lieutenant William Sacheverell Coke

England departed the Downs 6 May 1826. Major George Pitt D'Arcy

Marquis of Huntley departed Sheerness 16 May 1826 - Major Donald MacPherson

Boyne departed Cork 29 June 1826 - Captain Thomas Edward Wright

Speke departed Sheerness 8 August 1826 - Lieutenant Henry Clarence Scarman

Phoenix departed Dublin 27 August 1826 - Lieutenant Charles Cox

Albion departed Plymouth 4 October 1826 - Captain Francis Crotty

Midas departed Plymouth 16 October 1826 - Lieutenant George Meares Bowen

Mariner departed Cork 14 January 1827 - Captain Charles Sturt

Countess of Harcourt departed Dublin 14 February 1827 - Lieut. George Sleeman; Ensign Spencer

Guildford departed Plymouth 31 March 1827 - Captain John Douglas Forbes

Manlius departed Downs 17 April 1827 - Quarter-master Benjamin Lloyd

Cambridge departed Dublin 2 June 1827 - Colonel Patrick Lindesay

Champion departed London 3 June 1827 - Ensign Reid

Bussorah Merchant departed London 27 March 1828 - Ensign W. Kennedy Child

Sophia departed Dublin 15 September 1828 departed Dublin 15 September 1828 - Major Thomas Poole

7). National Archives - Reference: ADM 101/53/7 Description: Medical and surgical journal of HM convict ship Midas for 23 August 1826 to 1 March 1827 by James Morice, surgeon and superintendent, during which time the said ship was employed in conveying prisoners from England to New South Wales.


[1] Hobart Town Courier 6 December 1828

[2] The Adventures of Ralph Rashleigh A Penal Exile in Australia, 1825-1844. Project Gutenberg Australia.

[3] Journal of James Morice on the voyage of the Midas in 1827. The National Archives. Kew, Richmond, Surrey.

[4] Bateson, Charles, Library of Australian History (1983). The convict ships, 1787-1868 (Australian ed). Library of Australian History, Sydney : pp.346-347, 385

[5] Journeys in Time, Lachlan and Elizabeth Macquarie Archive