Free Settler or Felon
Convict and Colonial History

Convict Ship Sir William Bensley - 1817

Embarked: 200
Deaths: 1
Surgeon's Journal: no
Previous vessel: Fame arrived 8 March 1817
Next vessel: Morley arrived 10 April 1817
Master Lewis E. Williams
Surgeon William Evans
Convicts and passengers of the Sir William Bensley identified in the Hunter Valley region

Sir William Bensley was built at Ipswich in 1804.[8] The prisoners came from counties throughout England and Scotland. One man who was court-martialled in France was embarked at the Cape of Good Hope.

Prison Hulks

Some of the convicts had been tried at the Old Bailey before being sent to Newgate prison. From Newgate they were sent to one of the prison hulks.

Francis Bodenham was convicted of bigamy at the Old Bailey on 11 January 1815 and sentenced to 7 years transportation. Along with twenty-six other prisoners he was received on to the Perseus hulk at Portsmouth from Newgate on 22 April 1815 and therefore spent approximately 17 months on the Hulk before transportation.

Convicts Embarked

Sir William Bensley was reported to be at Deal on 13th September 1816 [5]. On Wednesday 25th September 1816 one hundred and thirty-five convicts were embarked at Portsmouth on board the ship Fame, and the next day 116 were sent to Sir William Bensley. [1].

Cabin Passengers

Lieutenant Governor Sorrell, recently appointed to Van Diemen's Land came as cabin passenger. [2]

Mr. Urban Fidkin arrived as a free settler [7]


Both ships were expected to sail immediately for New South Wales and planned to touch at the Cape of Good Hope on the way. Governor Macquarie's journal confirms that the two ships departed England on the same day, 9th October 1816. [6]

Select here to read Commissioner John Thomas Bigge's thoughts on the various routes that convict ships should take.

Military Guard

The guard comprised a Military detachment of 32 non-commissioned officers and privates of the 46th regiment commanded by Lieut. Ross. The Headquarters of the 46th regiment commanded by Lieut-Col George James Molle arrived on the Windham and other detachments arrived on the Marquis of Wellington, Lord Eldon, Fame, Recovery, Elizabeth, Larkins, Three Bees, General Hewitt, Guildford, Surry, Surry, Shipley, Sir W Sir William Bensley, Morley and Bencoolen.

Port Jackson

They arrived in Port Jackson on Monday 10 March 1817.

On Saturday 15th March, Lieutenant Governor Sorrell boarded the Governor's barge at 11am to be conveyed to the Governor's wharf. A Salute of 13 Guns was fired from Dawe's Battery. [2]

Convict Muster

The convicts were mustered on board by Captain Gill of the 46th regiment on 15th March....... Agreeable to the Government General Orders of the 15th March, I proceeded this day on board the Sir William Bensley convict ship and mustered two hundred male convicts that number having embarked in England, but one jumped overboard on the passage and was drowned and one was embarked at the Cape of Good Hope. I am happy to inform your Excellency there are a great many sawyers but few other useful mechanics. Their general appearance is that of good health and of having received good treatment. The usual questions being put in regard to their treatment by the Captain and Surgeon. They expressed themselves perfectly satisfied. The Muster roll herewith will inform your Excellency of the ordinary particulars...Captain Gill, 46th Regiment, Engineer. [3]

Convict Indents include such information as name, when and where convicted, sentence, native place, calling, age, physical description and occasional ticket of leave notes.

The prisoner William Young who drowned after falling or jumping overboard on 4th November 1816 was the only death.

Governor Macquarie was pleased with the low death rate on the recent convict ship voyages......

Governor Macquarie to Earl Bathurst 4 April 1817

It must be a Source of peculiar Satisfaction to Your Lordship to reflect how Many Lives of Convicts have been saved within the last four Years by the Introduction of the New System of sending properly Qualified Naval Surgeons in Charge of the Convicts coming hither; as the Contrast between the State of Health they now Arrive in, and that they formerly Used to Arrive in Eight or ten Years ago, must be very Striking indeed on a Comparison ; and therefore I Consider the Difference of Expence as Nothing in Comparison of the great Advantages obtained by the Adoption of that System
. [8]

Convicts Disembarked

The prisoners were disembarked on 21st March 1817. William Hutchinson, Superintendent of Convicts, determined their places of assignment - Twenty-five men were assigned to the Windsor district; sixteen to Bringelly; twenty-three to Parramatta and twenty to Liverpool district [4].

Departure from the Colony

Sir William Bensley departed Port Jackson bound for Calcutta in May 1817. Those intending to depart included the surgeon William Evans, J.H. Bent, former Judge of Supreme Court and Mrs. Bent, Frances White, John Mortimer surgeon of the Fame, Thomas Humphrey, Thomas Glover and Charles Walker.

Notes and Links

1). William Evans was surgeon on the convict ships Sir Godfrey Webster, Sir William Bensley in 1817,Bencoolen in 1819, Hindostan in 1821, Asia 1824 (VDL), Southworth in 1834 (VDL) and the Earl Grey in 1836

2). Valentine Wood arrived on the Sir William Bensley. He was executed in 1822.

3). In Sydney in July 1818 eleven desperate convicts made a bid for freedom by attempting to steal two boats. They attempted this while Governor Macquarie was on a tour of Newcastle settlement and there was no mercy for them when they were captured soon afterwards. William Thompson of the Sir William Bensley was among them. Find out more about their attempted escape here. The Governor considered them all to be of the most depraved characters in the colony and they were sentenced to work at hard labour in double irons at the Lime Kilns near Newcastle for up to three years.

4) Return of Corporal Punishment at Paterson 1833 - William Truelove

5). William Adams Broadribb arrived as a convict on the Sir William Bensley (See Australian Dictionary of Biography)

6). The Sir William Bensley was built at Ipswich in 1804.

7). The number of Convicts who died on the passage to NSW in 1816.

8). Convicts and passengers of Sir William Bensley identified in the Hunter Valley region


[1] Caledonian Mercury 28th September 1816

[2] Sydney Gazette 15 March 1817

[3] Colonial Secretary's Correspondence Reel 6046; 4/1737 pp.215-6

[4] Colonial Secretary's Correspondence Reel 6005; 4/3496 pp.77-9

[5] Ship News . The Morning Post (London, England), Monday, September 16, 1816; Issue 14244. 19th Century British Library Newspapers: Part II.

[6] Monday 10. March !!! This afternoon, between 3 and 4 O'clock, Anchored in Sydney Cove, the Ship Sir Wm. Bensley Transport Commanded by Capt. Lewis E. Williams, with 200 Male Convicts from England (one only having died in the Passage), guarded by a Detachmt. of the 46th. Regt., commanded by Ensign Ross; Mr. Evans being Surgeon & Supdt. of this Ship. The Sir Wm. Bensley sailed from England on the 9th. of Octr. last, and touched at the Cape of Good Hope. Lieut. Governor Sorell, lately appointed to supersede Lt. Govr. Davey as Lt. Governor of Van Diemen's Land, is arrived a Passenger in this Ship. Lachlan and Elizabeth Macquarie Archive

[7] HRA, Series 1, vol IX, p. 344

[8] Wodderspoon, John., Memorials of the Ancient Town of Ipswich, in the County of Suffolk