Free Settler or Felon
Convict and Colonial History

Convict Ship Scarborough - 1788

Captain John Marshall
Surgeon Dennis Considen
First Fleet Ships - HMS Sirius and HMAT Supply accompanied by six convict transports, Alexander, Charlotte, Friendship, Prince of Wales, Lady Penrhyn and Scarborough, and three store ships, the Borrowdale, Fishburn and Golden Grove

The Scarborough was built at Scarborough in 1782. She had a length of 111 feet, 6 inches, width 30 feet 2 inches, height between decks 4 feet 5 inches. She was a two-decked, three-masted vessel, rigged as a barque, and was owned by three Scarborough merchants, Thomas, George and John Hopper[3].

The Scarborough was one of eleven vessels of the historic First Fleet to Australia. The First Fleet consisted of two Royal Navy escort ships, HMS Sirius and HMAT Supply accompanied by six convict transports, the Alexander, Charlotte, Friendship, Lady Penrhyn, Prince of Wales and Scarborough and three store ships, the Borrowdale, Fishburn and Golden Grove.

The First Hulks on the Thames

Many of the prisoners of the Scarborough would have been held in the Hulks prior to transportation. The first prisoners ever taken to the hulks were admitted on 15 July 1776. Below is an article from the Book of Days published in 1864 telling of the first days of the Hulks.....

English statesmen, in past days, felt a difficulty which the lapse of time has rendered very little more stable than before: viz., the best kind of secondary punishment to adopt for offenders against the law - the most effective mode of dealing with criminals, who deserve some punishment less awful than that of death. Whipping, transportation, silent imprisonment, and imprisonment with hard labour, have all had their advocates, as being most effective for the purpose in view; and if the first of these four has given way before the advanced humanity of English society, the other three still form a debatable ground among thinking persons. Early in the reign of George III., there were so many kinds of crime for which capital punishments were inflicted, that executions used to take place in London nearly every week, giving rise to a very unhealthy tone of feeling among the lower class. It was as a means of devising a severe mode of punishment short of death, that the Hulks on the Thames were introduced, in 1776.

'Hulk' is a nautical name for any old ship, applied to temporary purposes after its sea-going qualities have become impaired; it has often been applied to prison-ships, fashioned out of old men-of-war; but these prison-ships have sometimes been constructed for this special purpose, and yet the term 'hulk' remains in use as a short and easy designation. The avowed object in 1776, was 'to employ prisoners in some kind of hard labour for the public benefit;' the severity and the continuance of the labour being made dependent on the good-conduct of each prisoner. Special care was to be taken that the imprisonment, while on the one hand not cruel, should on the other not be comfortable. 'They [the prisoners] are to be employed in as much labour as they can sustain; to be fed with legs and shins of beef, ox-cheek, and such other coarse food; to have nothing to drink but water or small-beer; to be clad in some squalid uniform; never to be visited without the consent of the overseers; and never to be supplied with any gifts from other persons, either in money or otherwise.'

The Thames between Woolwich and Barking being much choked with mud, it was deemed a useful work to employ convicts in dredging. A vessel was built, neither a ship, tender, nor lighter, but combining something of all three: on a plan approved by the king in council. Part of the stern was decked in as a sleeping-place for the convicts, part of the forecastle was enclosed for the overseer, and the rest of the vessel was open. There were overhanging platforms, on which the men could stand to work; and on one of these was 'a machine called a David, with a windlass, for raising the ballast' which was probably the same thing as sailors now call a davit. The vessel had space for about thirty tons of sand, mud, or ballast, dredged up from the Thames. Such was the hulk or prison-ship, which was placed under the management of Mr Duncan Campbell, a sort of superintendent of convicts.

Prison Hulk PortsmouthPrison Hulk at Portsmouth

On the 15th of July, in the above-named year, the first party of convicts chained two and two by the leg, entered the ship, and commenced their labours off Barking Creek. Many violent encounters took place before the convicts could be brought to understand the reality of the system. On one occasion, several of them attempted to get off their chains; they were flogged, and made to work harder as a consequence. On another occasion, five of them slipped down into a boat, and rowed off; they were pursued, and fired at; two were killed, one wounded, and two recaptured. One day, during a violent north wind, the hulk was driven across from Barking Creek to Woolwich; fourteen of the convicts rose on the keepers, compelled them to keep below, and escaped; a naval officer meeting them on the Greenwich road, persuaded eight of them to return to the vessel; of the six who refused, some were afterwards captured and hanged. In a further instance, eight convicts effectually escaped; they seized the arm-chest, took pistols, intimidated the keepers, and made off in an open boat. This system of working in hulks had a long trial on the Thames, but gradually gave way to other arrangements. [5]

Convicts Embarked

The Scarborough and Lady Penrhyn, embarked convicts at Portsmouth and the Prince of Wales and Alexander at Woolwich. The Charlotte and the Friendship embarked convicts at Plymouth.[1]

The Ladies Magazine reported in 1786.....Portsmouth October 20 1786 - Orders are come down here for the men to work double tides to get those ships out of dock which are to sail to Botany Bay with a governor and other officers. The subalterns and soldiers are to go on board those vessels that carry over the convicts. A number of tents are ordered to be got ready for the use of the officers etc., till houses can be erected for them. Amongst the convicts are bricklayers, carpenters, and smiths, who are to be employed in the buildings, and to have some indulgence more than those that are of no trade. [4]

Major Robert Ross, Lieutenant-Governor of New South Wales sailed on the Scarborough. While at Portsmouth on the 14th March 1787, Major Ross informed Under Secretary Nepean that the convicts had arrived....... I yesterday muster'd the convicts on board the different transports at the Mother Bank. The enclosed lists are exact as to numbers, and the most correct I could get from them of their names. I hope it will answ'r all your purposes, and if there is anything else wanted you will please to let me know, and I shall have pleasure in obeying your commands. Perhaps you would wish to have similar lists of those on board the ships from Plymouth; if you do, you have only to let me know. I have great pleasure in informing you that the convicts seem perfectly satisfied and obedient. They wish, if possible, to be allowed more bread than is at present served them - taking off as much, if so, of the allowance of their salt provisions, as may be equal in value. You are too well acquainted with the consequences attending them being kept long upon a diet of salt provisions to need my saying anything upon that head, being well convicted that whatever can be done for the preservation of health will be done by you. [2]


The First Fleet was delayed several months awaiting orders to sail. On 13th May 1787, Governor Philip having hoisted his flag on board the Sirius gave the signal to weigh anchor and the fleet finally departed England's shores. They were accompanied by the Hyaena frigate to carry back dispatches if necessary. The Hyaena returned on the 20th with the intelligence that the convicts in the Scarborough had formed a plan for getting possession of that ship which the officers had fortunately detected and prevented. This was the only attempt of the kind made during the voyage to Australia.[1]

Sergeant James Scott remarked in his journal that two of the ringleaders were ordered from the Scarborough on to the Prince of Wales. John White recorded the incident in his journal.......

20th May. A discovery of a futile scheme, formed by the convicts on board the Scarborough, was made by one of that body, who had been recommended to Captain Hunter previous to our sailing. They had laid a plan for making themselves masters of the ship; but being prevented by this discovery, two of the ringleaders were carried on board the Sirius, where they were punished; and afterwards put on board the Prince of Wales transport, from which time they behaved very well. Being now near one hundred leagues to the westward of Scilly, and all well, Captain Phillip found it no longer necessary to keep the Hyaena with him; therefore, having committed his letters to the care of the Hon. Captain De Courcey, he in the course of this day sent her back.


The Fleet reached Teneriffe in early June 1787 and Rio de Janeiro on 6th August 1787. They sailed from there on 5th September 1787 and reached the Cape of Good Hope on 13th October 1787.

Botany Bay

The Scarborough arrived in Botany Bay on 19th January 1788.

Only two convicts who arrived on the Scarborough have been so far identified at Newcastle, NSW...

Joseph Dunnage was sent to Newcastle in November 1813 and

Joshua Peck was sent to Newcastle in 1821.

Return in 1790

The Scarborough returned with the Second Fleet in 1790

Notes and Links

1). Captain John Shea of the marines sailed on the Scarborough. He died in February 1789 and was buried in the Old Sydney Burial Ground

2). Soldiers Robert Smith and James Webb of the 102nd regiment arrived free on the Scarborough

3). Sergeant Major Richard Clinch arrived on the Scarborough. He died in 1799 and was buried in the Old Sydney Burial Grounds as was convict William Cockow who died in 1807 and convict James Stuart who died in November 1806.

4). The following men who all arrived on the Scarborough became members of the First Nightwatch in Sydney in 1789. Herbert Keeling tried at the Old Bailey 10th September 1783; Charles Peat tried at the Old Bailey 5 December 1781; William Hubbard who was tried in Surry in 1784; John Coen Walsh tried at the Old Bailey 11 September 1782; John Neal tried at the Old Bailey in May 1784; William Bradbury tried Old Bailey 1782; John Archer tried at the Old Bailey 26 May 1784.

5). Richard Knight is listed in the 1825 Muster as arriving free on the Scarborough. He was resident in the Benevolent Asylum in 1825.

6). Frederick Meredith arrived as steward to Captain Marshall. He returned to England in 1791 and arrived back in New South Wales the Bellona in 1793.

7). Ship details from the National Archives - Extra ship, measured 1786, 2 decks, 4in bottom, length 109ft 3in, keel 87ft 1/4in, breadth 29ft 10in, hold 12ft 51/2in, wing transom 17ft 4in, 411 tons. Voyages: (1) From China 1788. Capt John Marshall. Whampoa 17 Dec 1788 - 28 May 1789 Downs.

8). More about Captain Marshall.......Memoirs of Hydrography.....

CAPTAIN MARSHALL. In the transport Scarborough sailed from Port Jackson bound to China May 6th, 1788, being engaged to take in a cargo of tea by the East India Company. For a considerable part of the voyage he found himself in company with the Charlotte, Captain Gilbert, the latter discovered and named Matthew rock, Charlotte bank, and several of the Gilbert group which bears his name. Captain Marshall, in like manner, fell in with and named after himself, the Marshall islands. Both vessels touched at Tinian of the Ladrone islands, previously discovered by Lord Anson, to recruit the health of their men, who had suffered greatly from scurvy, and to procure water. A heavy S.W. gale which afterwards ripened into a hurricane, rendered it necessary for both vessels to cut their cables and proceed to sea. Macao roads were arrived at 7th September, 1788, without any further noteworthy occurrence taking place. Voyage to Botany Bay, with an account of the establishment of the colonies of Port Jackson, and Norfolk island, and the Journals of Lieutenants Shortland, Watt, and Capt. Marshall, with accounts of their discoveries. Ho. 1789.

9). On 26th January 1838, the fiftieth anniversary of the colony, the Sydney Monitor published the following interesting article: A little old man, an oyster seller whose circumstances at one time, promised a more dignified vehicle, was, yesterday, trundled along George street in a wheelbarrow, his hat ornamented with the word Scarborough, the name of the vessel which brought him to the colony, and which formed a part of the first fleet. This man, at one time, since he has been in the colony, supported a respectable establishment, and had for an assigned servant, a person, who now, if not the richest man, is one of the richest in the colony. The master, however, has descended the ladder, and for the remainder of his life, like his own oysters, must be content to live in the mud.

10). A climate reconstruction of Sydney Cove......This study presents the first analysis of the weather conditions experienced at Sydney Cove, New South Wales, during the earliest period of the European settlement of Australia. A climate analysis is presented for January 1788 to December 1791 using daily temperature and barometric pressure observations recorded by William Dawes in Sydney Cove and a temperature record kept by William Bradley on board the HMS Sirius anchored in Port Jackson (Sydney Harbour) in the early months of the First Fleet's arrival in Australia. Gergis, J., Karoly, D. J., and Allan, R. J. (2009). A climate reconstruction of Sydney Cove, New South Wales, using weather journal and documentary data, 1788-1791. Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Journal, 58(2), 83-98.

11). A gentleman lately returned from New South Wales has favoured us with the following story:...'Having occasion frequently to pass from Sydney to Cockle Bay, and being always ferried across by an old, honest looking sea faring man, I was once induced to ask him the cause of his transportation. The question brought tear from his eye, and, as it glistened on his cheek, he told me, he was one of the crew of the Royal George,, at the time of her sinking at Spithead. 'I was sitting between decks; said he, 'looking at some young gentleman who were playing cards for a considerable sum, when the alarm was given. They immediately dropped their cards, and flew on deck, leaving about ten guineas on the table, which I took the liberty to put into my pocket and seeing the water rush in at one side of the ship, I jumped out of a port on the other side of the ship, and was immediately taken up by a boat, which landed me and a few others at Portsmouth.

Fearing I might meet the young gentlemen whose money I had, I set off for London, where my friends lived. The dishonest act I had committed weighed heavily on my mind; but instead of resolving to return the money, I got into bad company, who led me to greater crimes, and in less than a year I was capitally convicted at the Old Bailey, and should have been hung, had not a friend, who, influenced by the afflicting account I gave of the loss of the brace Admiral Kempenfelt, and my ship mates, and my providential escape, obtained a remission off my punishment to fourteen years transportation.

I was sent out among the first of the convicts to this Colony , where I have endeavoured to atone for my violation off the laws of my country at home, by strict conformity to them here, and trust, by sincere repentance and gratitude to the god of all goodness, for affording me time and disposition, I have obtained forgiveness. In this country, Sir, where there are so few incitements to sin, and so many to honest industry, callous indeed must the the heart which does not get rid of vicious propensities. I married soon after I got here, and my wife and myself have brought up a large family, and have now several grand children, and I thank God, they are all sober, honest, and industrious.

My bowels often yearn to revisit the dear land of my father, but that cannot be; I cannot leave my children; poor old John Water* will never see old England again. Forty years have I been here, praising the mercy that spared me from an ignominious death, and the bounty that has blessed my exertions to provide for my numerous offspring
.'..Finns Leinster Journal 21 July 1827. (*?John Walker)

12). The next convict ship to arrive in New South Wales after the First Fleet was the Lady Juliana.


[1] A new and complete system of universal geography

[2] Historical Records of New South Wales, vol. 1, part 2, p 57

[3] Bateson, Charles Library of Australian History (1983). The convict ships, 1787-1868 (Australian ed). Library of Australian History, Sydney : p96

[4] The Ladies Magazine : Or Entertaining Companion for the Fair Sex, Volume 17

[5] Chambers, Robert, ed., The Book of Days: A Miscellany of Popular Antiquities in connection with the Calendar, Volume 2, p. 67