Free Settler or Felon
Convict and Colonial History

George Fairfowl R. N.,

Convict Ship Surgeon-Superintendent

Date of Seniority Royal Navy 2 June 1805

George Fairfowl received his first appointment as naval surgeon in June 1805 and was employed on the Alexandria in 1808. [1] He was included in the Navy List of Medical Officers in 1814. [2]

George Fairfowl was one of the most active Surgeons and was well regarded by Colonial Authorities and Leaders of the day. He was employed as Surgeon-Superintendent on the following nine convict ships between the years 1817 and 1834.

1). Ocean in 1818 - 2 deaths

The Ocean departed England on 21 August 1817 and arrived in Port Jackson on 10 January. George Fairfowl kept a Medical Journal from 24 June 1817.

2). Dromedary in 1820. 11 deaths

The Dromedary departed England on 11 September 1819 and arrived in Van Diemen's Land on 9th January 1820 where all but two of the convicts were disembarked. The Dromedary then proceeded to Port Jackson arriving there on 28 January 1820. There is no Medical Journal available for this voyage.

In Sydney George Fairfowl joined the Dromedary on her voyage to New Zealand with Rev. Marsden, departing 12th February. While in New Zealand George Fairfowl produced several sketches and maps of the Bay of Islands.

Fairfowl, G (George) Bay of Islands from Dromedary's log 1820.

Fairfowl, G (George) :[Bay of Islands from Dromedary's log] 1820. Reference Number: Map Coll--832.11aj/1820/Acc.22947

Shows Districts of Shunghee; Whytanghi; Paroa; Korh Korah and Long Island; Shoel Bay; Otteeow

3). Woodman in 1823. 3 deaths

George Fairfowl's third voyage as Surgeon-Superintendent was on the Woodman bringing female convicts from Ireland. He kept a Medical Journal from 22 July 1823 to 20 June 1824 in which he described the first few days on board.......On Monday 29 July 1822 I received a warrant from the Navy Board appointing me on board of the female convict ship the Woodman; and forthwith proceeded to Deptford where I placed myself under the orders of Captain Young the Board's Agent. On 24 August 1822 the ship sailed from the River and on the 13 September 1822 we anchored in the Cove of Cork. We remained here until 22 December 1822, when a small miserable schooner, the Mary of London brought us from Dublin 22 free passengers and 47 female convicts. They had suffered severely during the passage of five or six days. The weather was cold and stormy they had no beds the straw they slept on was scanty and wet and they were badly clothed.

He was in dispute with the Master of the Woodman Henry Ford during this voyage and on arrival in the colony the circumstances of their dispute was formerly investigated.

On this voyage in 1823 he brought out olive tree plants for Hannibal Hawkins Macarthur who in 1825 named his third son George Fairfowl Macarthur. He returned to England on the Competitor in January 1824 with surgeons John Rodmell and Peter Cunningham.

4). Royal Charlotte in 1825. 1 death

George Fairfowl joined the Royal Charlotte at Deptford on 22 October 1824. He kept a Medical Journal from 22 October 1824 to 6th May 1825. The Royal Charlotte embarked 136 male convicts to New South Wales. The Guard was under orders of Major Edmund Lockyer of the 57th regiment. There was an attempted mutiny on this voyage. George Fairfowl separated the ringleaders. Ten of them were secured in triple irons and fed on bread and water and were placed under the forecastle, 18 were confined in double irons in the boys room and another 10 were double ironed in the main prison. He imposed no other punishments and there was no further trouble on the Royal Charlotte.

After the voyage of the Royal Charlotte he returned to England on the Columbia departing on 8th March 1826. The Columbia carried a full cargo including wool, blue gum planks, cedar, cocoa nut oil and seal skins. Edward Sparke junior was also a passenger on the Columbia.

5). Asia 1827. - 2 deaths

He was next employed as Surgeon on the Asia to Van Diemen's Land. The Asia departed Portsmouth 17 August 1827 and arrived in Van Diemen's Land on 7 December 1827.

He returned to England on the Eliza in October 1828. Also on board the Eliza were J. MacArthur and Drs. Cooke, Dixon and Rutherford and Mr. Jones - Asiatic Journal 1828

6). Sovereign in 1829. No deaths

He received his appointment on the Sovereign on 7 March 1829. The Sovereign departed England with female prisoners on 23 April 1829 and arrived in Port Jackson 3 August 1829. He kept a Medical Journal from 7 March to 14 August 1829

At first the convict women were disposed to be disorderly, however under George Fairfowl's rules, by admonition and steady punishment they learned that perseverance in improper conduct invariable tended to their own discomfort.' They were made to rise at 7 in the morning, and when dressed, to roll up neatly their beds, pillows and blankets in a hard roll. After this the prison was swept out, and such parts as were wet dried up, and when this was properly done, and not before, breakfast was served out. After breakfast when the weather permitted, they were all sent up on deck, carrying with them the utensils they had used at their breakfast, and the prison received a thorough cleaning. It was then locked up until noon, to prevent any going below without express leave, and it was well ventilated by means of stoves burned in the water closets and by windsails. These were the regular times of cleaning the deck; but one mess daily received charge of it, and was responsible for it being, at all times dry and clean. The water closets were also washed out three times a day, and oftener when required, and each time sprinkled with the solution of chloride of lime. The women and children were mustered on Sundays and Thursday, and inspected to see that their hair was combed and their persons linen and stockings were clean. Cheerful and innocent amusements among themselves were encouraged, and provided the songs were not licentious, singing was permitted until 8 o'clock except on Sundays and Thursdays. On Sunday mornings church services were read to them; on the quarterdeck when the weather permitted, and in the evening in the prison. On Thursday evenings the service was read in the prison, and as they were permitted to sing the psalms and hymns which many, having been trained to it in Newgate, did with considerable taste and melody, it became a pleasant duty, instead of an irksome task, and was rarely omitted. It served a purpose of keeping them occupied at a time when they were usually all crowded together in the dark, and inclined to quarrel or to play mischievous tricks on each other, for want of useful employment.

After this voyage he returned to England with samples of wool for Rev. Marsden.

7). Andromeda in 1830. 8 deaths

He was appointed to the Andromeda on 30 June 1830. The Andromeda transported male convicts from Cork to New South Wales. He kept a Medical Journal from 30 June 1830

The examination of the convicts took place on board the hulk in the presence of the Superintendent of Convicts and surgeon of the hulk. It (the examination) is very unsatisfactory, for the men being anxious to get away, and the surgeon equally anxious to get rid of bad or troublesome cases both the parties from whom the naval surgeon expects to receive information are interested to conceal any symptoms of disease. While the squalid looks of the generality of Irish convicts at least of all those on board of the hulk while I was there, make it difficult from the mere look to discriminate so as to pick out every case of sickness. Many therefore were approved who ought never to have been brought forward for examination and even some of those whom I had rejected were embarked - a piece of disingenuity not found out until too late to be remedied. In a few days the numerous daily applications for medicine taught me to anticipate a sickly voyage.

The Andromeda arrived in Port Jackson on 18 December 1830.

In May 1831 after the voyage of the Andromeda he returned to England on the Sovereign along with Drs. Bell and West.

A remarkable instance of the natural habits of this bird has lately come to my knowledge, which deserves to be recorded. The late Mr. George Fairfowl, surgeon R.N., on his return from New South Wales, in the year 1831, caught one of these birds, and let it go, with a ribbon tied round the body, by which it was easily distinguished; the bird was thereby observed to follow the ship, from day to day, for the space of 5,000 miles.- Proceedings of the first expedition, 1826 - 1830 under the command of Captain P. Parker King

8). Clyde in 1832. 1 death

The Clyde departed Portsmouth on 9th May 1832 with 200 male convicts and arrived in Port Jackson on 27 August 1832. There is no Medical Journal available for this voyage.

After the voyage of the Clyde George Fairfowl returned to England on the Sovereign departing in March 1833. Drs. Wilson and Logan also returned to England on this vessel. It was later reported that Captain McKellar met with a serious accident on this voyage - that of breaking one of his arms by a fall on the quarter deck. Luckily Drs Wilson and Fairfowl were on board and rendered their assistance to the Captain.

9). Hive in 1834. 2 deaths

His last appointment was to the Hive. He received his appointment from the Admiralty on 18th November 1833. He kept a Medical Journal from that date until 27 June 1834. The Hive departed Falmouth 8 February 1834 and arrived in Port Jackson on 11 June 1834. It was a tedious voyage according to George Fairfowl.

Evidence Before the Select Committee

On his return to England after the voyage of the Hive in 1834 he gave evidence before the Select Committee as to the military establishments in the colony.

Minutes of Evidence Before Select Committee On Military Establishments in the Colonies - Parliamentary Papers p.78

17 July 1835

Mr. George Fairfowl, called in ; and Examined.

1042. Are you lately come from Australia? - I left it nine months ago.

1043. Can you give the Committee any information as to the commissariat establishment Australia or Van Diemen’s Land ? - No, not much; I know that everything is done by tender now.

1044. Everything is done by contract ? - Yes, and public tender.

1045. How long has it been so - Four or five years.

1046. The troops are not fed from the commissariat depots, but are fed from the contractors’ depots - I am not sure that I can answer that question positively: they are fed both ways; the out-stations are principally fed from the contractors’ depots, but in Moreton Bay and Norfolk Island they are fed from the commissariat; these provisions, however, with the exception of some turned into store from convict transports, etc., are purchased by the commissariat by public tender. There are at present no means of sending stores to those places but by the government vessels, or in cases of emergency, by vessels hired for the purpose.

1047. The contracts are not universal? - I fancy not.

1048. Supposing they were to contract at Sydney or other places, could not the contractor send stores in the same way that the government could - It is very possible, but the government boats always take them. -

1049. Do you believe, at all the other stations, the troops are fed from the con- tractors' stores? - I believe so.

1050. Is there any difficulty in finding persons who will contract to supply the troops with provisions 2 - No, none at all; there is great competition for it.

1051. Do you suppose that the colony is capable of supplying provisions to almost any amount for the troops? - Beef, certainly, to any amount.

1052. Bread - Yes, in common years, but occasionally there is a scarcity, and then it will come high ; this is not a very frequent occurrence.

1053. You are aware of the number of convicts in South Wales? - I am not aware how many are fed by government.

1054. All those, except those that are liberated, are fed by government –All assigned servants are fed by their masters; emancipists, ticket-of-leave men, are fed by themselves; the convicts retained in government employ, the disabled, and men under punishment, are fed by government, and I am aware that they amount to a considerable number.

1055. Could you name the number ? - No.

1056. As far as meat goes there would be no difficulty 2–No; for men write, beef is only a penny, or a penny and a fraction of a farthing a pound, under the contract; that is for the convicts; I believe it is 1 g d. for the soldiers.

1057. Mutton is equally cheap ? - Not so cheap, but very cheap; mutton by the joint, from 4 d. to 4 d. ; by the carcass, about 3 d. or 3 d.

1058. What should you put the average price of bread? - It fluctuates very much ; when I came away they were threatened with a scarcity, wheat was 9 s. a bushel, and it threatened to be higher, it was 11 s. ; it is a very uncertain country for wheat; the average price may be taken at 2 d. per lb. or rather lower. When the wheat in a scarce year was 13s. per bushel, the 4 lb. loaf was 1 s. 1 d. Upon the whole, I think the colony is capable of feeding any number of troops or convicts which is likely to be sent out; I should say, double the number it feeds at present : the increased demand would cause an increased production to meet it.


George Fairfowl made a Will when he was residing at Great Brompton, Middlesex in September 1835. Perhaps he was already ill as he died on 24 June 1836 at Ayr, North Britain. After leaving money for funeral expenses he left most of his estate to his sister who resided at Ayr. Executor William S.B. Barrois. The National Archives; Kew, England; Prerogative Court of Canterbury and Related Probate Jurisdictions: Will Registers; Class: PROB 11; Piece: 1865


[1] Naval Chronicle

[2] Navy List

[3] UK, Royal Navy Medical Journals, 1817-1857 . The National Archives. Kew, Richmond, Surrey.