Assignment

From all accounts the Friendship’s passage to New South Wales was decidedly taxing and the passengers and the female convicts would have been very pleased when they finally arrived at their destination. No doubt Captain Armet and Surgeon Cosgreave were equally relieved to have completed their remit.

The arrival of a female convict ship was a matter of considerable interest to the inhabitants of the colony many of whom took to small boats and surrounded the vessel, eager to inspect ‘the goods’ and to assess their suitability as potential wives or assigned servants. The interval between a vessel’s arrival and the disembarkation and ‘disposal’ of the convict women was therefore particularly challenging for the authorities whose role it was to keep all unauthorised people away from the women and to prevent communication between the women and those onshore. It was during this period that the immediate futures of the Friendship women were decided. Thomas Bigge, in his report on the State of the Colony of New South Wales, described the procedures for disembarkation of female prisoners as follows.

Application for distribution of the female convicts is regulated by different principles. Great difficulty is found in preventing boats from hovering round the ships; but no person is permitted to go on board without a pass from the superintendent. This privilege is granted only to inquire for servants; and the applications having been previously made to the superintendent, the women are sent to their respective places of destination as soon as the muster is completed. The governor has not been in the habit of inspecting the female convicts on their arrival, but a list of them and the persons to whom they are assigned is constantly sent to him. Each person who receives a female convict signs an indenture in which he obliges himself under a penalty of £20. to retain her in his service for the space of three years, providing sufficient subsistence, clothing, washing, and lodging, and not to part with her either directly or indirectly during the term, without the approbation or authority of a magistrate, or in case of misconduct proved and determined before him.

Married female convicts are assigned without such indenture to their husbands, whether free or convict; and, in many cases, both receive tickets of leave, as affording greater facilities of support. The females likewise who bring property with them, or are recommended by the captains or surgeons superintendent of the ships, receive tickets of leave on their arrival … Those who are accompanied by children, are rarely taken by settlers, and are sent to the Factory at Parramatta. Indeed of late it would appear by the evidence of the superintendent Hutchinson, that a greater number of female convicts of every description have arrived, than were required by the settlers of New South Wales; and consequently those who were not sent to Van Dieman’s Land, were consigned to the factory at Parramatta..[I]

According to the Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, the Friendship women were divided into three groups, the first being those to be assigned in Sydney town and/or the outlying settlements.[ii] With reference to the stated pre-transportation occupations and skills-set from the muster information against the requirements of those who had applied for servants, the authorities drew up an assignment list for 28 women. This list included 16 whose husbands were already in the colony, and to whom they might be assigned. I have not yet identified all of these 16 women, one of the difficulties being that some were not transported under their married names and, indeed, some of the men may have been known under a different surname or adopted an alias. An example, was Martha Thatcher, although she was actually one of those who died on the voyage. Her convict husband arrived on the Almorah (1817) under the name Samuel Hale.[iii] One of the men tried with Lucy Meares, likely her husband, was one John Meares (alias Andrew Wood) who, apart from stealing the ribbon which Lucy received, was separately charged with having ‘returned from transportation before the lawful time’. His death sentence was reprieved and he arrived back in the colony on the Ocean (1817) under the name Andrew Wood (alternatively recorded as David and/or Daniel).[iv] We can, however, be certain that the following women, and hopefully their husbands, were anticipating a family reunion.

The second group comprised 13 women (not identified) who were found to be suffering from scurvy and who were to be sent to the General Hospital.

The remaining 56 were to be transhipped to Hobart Town on the government ship Duke of Wellington.[v] If the two groups said to be staying in NSW totalled 48, the balance for VDL would have been 54. In the event, there were only 53 Friendship female convicts on the list of those to be embarked on the ship Duke of Wellington on 30 January 1818. The Colonial Secretary, in a covering memo of 5 February 1818 to Lieutenant Governor Sorrell concerning the Duke of Wellington’s convict contingent, declared:

The Women … are nearly all by the latest arrival from England and they may consequently be considered less hackneyed in view than those who have been longer here.[vi]

On arrival at Hobart Town 16 of these women still had a bit further to travel as they were initially assigned to the northern settlement of Port Dalrymple.

As an aside, Governor Macquarie, ‘consistent with My anxious wish to avoid by all practicable means the Incurring of unnecessary Expenses to the Government’, had written to Earl Bathurst on 5 June 1817 suggesting that, commencing from early 1818 and thereafter in every second year, arrangements be made for one ship with about 200 male convicts and one with about 100 female convicts be sent direct from England to Hobart Town, ‘for the General use of that Island’. He continued:

By adopting this Plan, the Government will be relieved from a Considerable Expence; and under the Consideration that the Settlements on Van Diemen’s Land are now becoming very populous and extensive, and that many Settlers prefer receiving their Lands there to any part of this Territory, such an Arrangement, as I have now the Honor to propose to Your Lordship, will prevent a Continued Increase of Expence to the Crown now necessarily incurred by transhipping Prisoners from hence to the Derwent; and the Numbers proposed will not be more than the increasing Population of these Settlements will hereafter require.[vii]

Meanwhile Macquarie, ‘as much as possible’, and subject to the supply and demand for convict labour, consigned batches of male and female male convicts to Van Diemen’s Land –

… as would prove Useful to and could be Maintained by the Settlers on that Island … deeming the Expence of transporting those Convicts thither a trifling Consideration in Comparison to victualling them here [NSW] for Seven or Eight Months, and without any Employment that could Compensate for the Expence of Victualling them.[viii]

On 3 March 1818, shortly after the Friendship’s arrival at Port Jackson, Governor Macquarie in despatch “No.1 of 1818” to Earl Bathurst summarised the current state of the colonies.

The present Harvest, both here and in Van Diemen’s Land, I am happy to Inform Your Lordship, is Very Abundant, and the Inhabitants perfectly peaceable and progressively Improving in Industry and Consequent Prosperity.[ix]

John Slater, a framework-knitter and one of the notorious Luddite gang that had attacked a factory at Loughborough in June 1816, had escaped the gallows, but was transported for life, arriving at Port Jackson on the Larkins on 22 November 1817.[x] On 27 April 1818 he wrote to the wife he had left behind, giving an account of the journey and, more particularly, describing various aspects of life in the colony. He hoped that his letter would persuade her to join him in the colony. He mentioned the government buildings and houses of officials which, while not measuring up to the grandeur of buildings in England, were impressive enough. Transport and communication were quite adequate – a network of roads having been constructed, including a 140 mile road in the interior with connecting branches to the various settlements. It would have been of interest to his wife to know that the housing ‘for the poorer orders of society’ was noted for its neatness, every house having a garden attached. Spiritual needs were catered for by various divines and moral standards were noticeably improving with many more marriages than previously being performed. Prospects were good for those prepared to work and keep out of trouble. With this in mind, John Slater also asked his wife to arrange to bring with her a stocking frame.[xi] The full text of the letter is provided in the following PDF document.

John Slater letter

Four years later, George William Evans, by then Deputy-Surveyor of Van Diemen’s Land, published A Geographical Historical and Topographical Description of Van Diemen’s Land with Important Hints to Emigrants etc, in which he refers to Governor Macquarie’s 1821 visit to Van Diemen’s Land, and the Governor’s particular satisfaction at the changes in Hobart Town, initially the home of the majority of the Friendship’s VDL women, since his first visit in 1811.

The wretched huts and cottages of which it then consisted were now converted into regular, substantial buildings, and the whole laid out in regular streets, several of the houses being two stories high, spacious, and not deficient in architectural taste … On the stream which passes through the town four water-mills had been erected for the grinding of corn … On Mount Nelson a signal-post and telegraph had been established … A well-directed attention had been displayed toward the accommodation of the shipping interests, in the planning of a substantial pier … which work, combined with the natural facilities of the place will render Sullivan’s Cove one of the best and safest anchorages in the world.

In general, he continues, the industry and spirit of enterprise exhibited by the inhabitants of Hobart Town, bespeak a favourable opinion of their manners; and the numerous comforts enjoyed the them, as the result of their application, mark the certain regard which will ever be attendant on persevering industry; which the prevailing desire for improvement of the town bids fair to render it one of the handsomest and most flourishing in Australia.[xii]

With respect to Governor Macquarie’s tour of the northern settlements Launceston, Port Dalrymple, and in particular George Town, the administrative centre from 1819 to 1825, George Evans wrote:

After spending a few days at Launceston … the Governor proceeded by water down the river Tamar, to the lately erected settlement of “George Town,” seated at York Cove, near the entrance of Port Dalrymple, and within a few miles of Bass’s Straits. His Excellency felt agreeably surprised at beholding the very considerable progress lately made in the erection of the more immediately requisite public buildings at this new station … His Excellency derived particular satisfaction from observing that the troops and convicts have been respectively most comfortably accommodated; the former having a very good barrack, and the latter neat huts, with gardens adjoining, sufficiently large to supply vegetables in abundance.

The chief buildings completed in George Town are – The Commandant’s house; quarters for the Civil and Military Officers; a commodious parsonage house; a gaol; a guard-house; and a temporary provision store : there is likewise a temporary chapel; together with a large school-house, in progress and nearly completed.[xiii]

John Slater’s target audience was his wife Catherine; George Evans wrote with prospective free immigrants in mind. It is understandable, therefore, if their accounts exhibited an overly enthusiastic salesmanship. But at least John Slater did give an account of the Parramatta Female Factory, where a number of ‘our girls’ spent time. In the Evans’ account there is reference to a gaol having been completed at George Town, but no specific mention of facilities for recalcitrant female prisoners – indeed it was not until 1822 that the George Town Female Factory was established – ‘a wooden building in the lumber yard small and inconvenient having no place for the women to sleep in’.[xiv]

As 30 January 1818, the day of disembarkation dawned, and the reality of their situation truly struck home, what was going through the minds of the New South Wales ‘Friendship Girls’ as they were rowed ashore towards the government wharf to take up their assignments, and/or, particularly women with young children, to be taken up river to the Parramatta Female Factory, or, in the case of the 13 invalids, admitted to the Hospital? Similarly, how did those who were to embark on yet another vessel for the voyage to Van Diemen’s Land receive this news? They could have little idea of what was before them or how, or even if, they would be able to adjust and fare well in the new surroundings. Did they put on a show of bravado? Were they filled with despair? Or were they determined to seize the opportunity to make something of their lives?


NOTES
[i] Report of the Commissioner, Inquiry on the State of the Colony of New South Wales, (extracts), Free Settler or Felon? https://www.jenwilletts.com/commissioners_of_enquiry.htm.

[ii] The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 31 Jan 1818, p.2. Free Settler or Felon? Convict Ship Friendship 1818, http://www.jenwilletts.com/convict_ship_friendship_1818.htm.

[iii] Convict Records, Almorah 1817, https://convictrecords.com.au/ships/almorah/1817.

[iv] Biographical Database of Australia (BDA), Biographical report for Andrew Wood, Person ID: B#10013610901. Convict Records, Ocean 1817, https://convictrecords.com.au/ships/ocean/1817.

[v] The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 31 Jan 1818, p.2. Free Settler or Felon? Convict Ship Friendship 1818, http://www.jenwilletts.com/convict_ship_friendship_1818.htm.

[vi] Assignment Lists and Associated Papers, https://stors.tas.gov.au/ CON13-1-1CON 13-1-1, Images 106 and 107, Libraries Tasmania, http://www.libraries.tas.gov.au/archive-heritage/Pages/.

[vii] Historical Records of Australia (HRA), Series I, Volume IX, The Library Committee of the Commonwealth Parliament, 1917, pp.429-430.

[viii] HRA, Series I, Volume IX, p.711.

[ix] HRA, Series I, Volume IX, p.751.

[x] BDA, Biographical report for John Slater, Person ID: B#10013593201.

[xi] John Slater, A Description of Sydney, Parramatta, Newcastle, & Settlements in New South Wales with Some Account of the Manners and Employment of the Convicts, etc. Sutton and Son, Bridlesmith Gate, 1819.

[xii] George William Evans, A Geographical, Historical and Topographical Description of Van Diemen’s Land with Important Hints to Emigrants etc., J. and C. Adlard, 23, Bartholomew Close, London, 1822, pp.60-63.

[xiii] Ibid, p.79-80.

[xiv] Alison Alexander, ed, Convict Lives at the George Town Female Factory, Convict Women’s Press, Hobart, 2014, p.22.


Introduction
Preparing for the Journey
The Voyage
The Arrival
Statistical Overview
Profiles
Selected Sources