At the same time as the Friendship was being made ready for service as a convict transport, the process of selecting and rounding up the convict women who would make up her human cargo was set in motion. The authorities at the various prisons across the country where these women were being held were alerted and instructed to make the necessary arrangements for the nominated inmates to be transferred to Deptford in readiness for embarking on the vessel which was to be their home for some considerable length of time. Conveyed in carts or coaches, and often in chains, they arrived in dribs and drabs from all parts of England, some from as far away as Scotland and Wales. It would have been a very uncomfortable journey. In effect, the voyage of the Friendship women commenced with their removal from the respective prisons, this first stage of their journey often being recorded in the local newspapers.
The Leeds Mercury of 24 May 1817 reported:
On Thursday morning the following female convicts left York Castle, in order to be delivered on board the Friendship transport vessel, lying below Deptford, bound to New South Wales : – Hannah Hammond Crampton, who was convicted at the last assizes for having forged Bank notes in her possession and ordered to be transported for 14 years. Mary Buxton, to be transported for seven years.
Readers of the 31 May edition of the Caledonian Mercury were advised that:
Yesterday forenoon the following convicts, from Glasgow, were sent from the jail here to Leith, to embark for the hulks, viz. Jean Hume, Mary Cain, Jean Lang junior, Elizabeth Brodie, and Elizabeth Robertson.
On the same day, the Durham County Advertiser recorded that on Tuesday morning se’nnight, convicts Elizabeth Levison, Ann Granger, and Mary Smiles had been sent off from Newcastle gaol, for transportation, according to their sentence. The Hereford Journal of 10 June reported that one female convict [Sarah Chandler] was removed from Presteign county gaol for delivery on board the Friendship, at Deptford.
As noted previously, and reported in the 7 June 1817 edition of the Bristol Mirror, a contingent of ten female convicts was taken from Bristol’s Newgate prison for delivery on the Friendship. On 19 May 1817 the Governor of the Lancaster Gaol forwarded to the Secretary for State the orders of transportation for fifteen female prisoners currently under his custodianship.
A similarly large group of women was collected by coach from Newgate much to the discomfort of a gentleman passenger. In a letter dated 5 June 1817, ‘Your occasional correspondent, P.K.’ recounted the following unfortunate experience to the editor of The New Monthly Magazine.
Having business at Deptford a few days since, I took a coach in company with my wife from the stand in Gracechurch street; at which time we were assured that the coach would start in ten minutes. It was not, however, until fifty minutes had expired that it moved from the spot. Having at length proceeded a few yards, I perceived that instead of going down Fish Street Hill in a direct line for London Bridge, the coachman had turned up Lombard Street. I then called out the window to know what I was to understand by his taking that direction. The answer was: “Don’t you know, Sir, the pavement is all taken up at London Bridge, and that we are obliged to go round Blackfriars”. This assertion, as I suspected, was a palpable falsehood; but being at that time unacquainted with the state of the carriageway, I was unable to disprove it. We were accordingly conveyed through Cheapside, Paternoster Row, and Ludgate Hill; when, to my utter surprise, the man turned up the Old Bailey! I now concluded either that I had entered a wrong coach, or that the driver was non compos mentis. Having, however, proceeded thus far, and as Deptford was written upon the panel of the coach door, I resolved to wait for the issue.
On arriving at Giltspur Street, I observed that our pace began to slacken, and in a few moments, had the honour to find myself and wife drawn to the door of the Compter! Here we were compelled to wait ten minutes or a quarter of an hour longer, amid the gaze of the gaping multitude, while a quantity of motley luggage was lashed to the roof of the coach. When this operation was compleat, the coach-door was opened, and to my unspeakable astonishment, a party of eleven female prisoners, chained together, were ushered to the steps by the officers as our travelling companions. We instantly alighted, and as the rain had ceased, we took a seat on that part of the coach usually called the dickey— but this could not be retained: we had scarcely sat down, before I found that we were to be driven from that by at least six of the prisoners, who ascended the ladder with as much expedition as their clanking incumbrances would allow.
Disgusted with my company, and with my wife nearly fainting at such an outrage on female delicacy, we once more alighted, but could obtain no explanation from the coachman, except that he was “sorry the lady was frightened.” So that after being detained nearly two hours—driven from Gracechurch Street to Newgate instead of Deptford, and classed with the refuse of our prisons, we were obliged to seek refuse from the inclemency of the weather, by hiring a hackney-coach, to take us to the place from whence we at first set off.
As they stepped on board the Friendship the first person the women had to contend with was the Surgeon Superintendent. Receiving and accounting for these 101 women was a protracted and time consuming process. When their turn came, each of our women would be examined to ensure that they were not carrying any diseases and that they appeared physically fit enough to undertake the rigours of an extended sea voyage. At the Surgeon’s discretion, any person who did not meet these criteria could be refused entry on board but, in the case of the Friendship, all 101 on Shelton’s schedule passed muster. They were then interviewed by the Surgeon who recorded their name, age, and physical characteristics, after which they were issued with rations, bedding, cooking and eating utensils, etc, and the regulation clothing, though they were also allowed to keep their own clothes which were bundled up and labelled for return on arrival at their destination. Next, the women were divided into groups, referred to as messes. The members of the messes would generally sleep and eat together for the whole journey. While the convicts may have had some discretion to choose their own messmates, allocation was generally determined by the order in which they arrived on board. At this point one person from each mess was nominated as monitor. As part of their ‘orientation’ it would have been made quite clear to every woman on embarkation that they were to behave themselves at all times in accordance with the rules.
It was a requirement that, being responsible and accountable for all aspects of the care, health and welfare of his convict charges, the Surgeon Superintendent keep a daily journal of his activities in this regard. Unfortunately no such journal for Peter Cosgreave’s voyage has survived. Typically, apart from the day-to-day ‘medical’ entries, journals might include embarkation details, the daily and weekly routines laid out for the convicts, list of supplies and rations used during the voyage, and a list of the rules of conduct. By 1817 shipboard routines were fairly standardised, and it is likely that any regulations set down by Peter Cosgreave would not have been very different from those adopted by his contemporary, Thomas Reid, Surgeon Superintendent on the Morley, a female convict transport which carried 121 women to Van Diemen’s Land in 1820.
With a view to ensure the health and comfort of the prisoners, as to also establish a system of good order, decency, and religious conduct during the voyage, the Surgeon Superintendent has drawn up the following regulations, which must be strictly observed.
I.- The care and management of each mess shall be intrusted to a Monitor, who will be held responsible for any irregularities committed by those under her direction : it is expected that every one will behave respectfully, and be obedient to the monitor of her particular mess.
II.- Cursing and swearing, – obscene and indecent language, – fighting and quarrelling, – as such practices tend to dishonour God’s holy name, and corrupt good manners, will incur the displeasure of the Surgeon Superintendent, and be visited with punishment and disgrace.
III.- Cleanliness being essentially necessary to the health, comfort, and well-being of every person on board, it is desired that the most scrupulous attention in this respect be observed on every occasion.
IV.- The monitors are particularly enjoined the utmost vigilance in taking care that nothing disorderly shall appear among the members of their respective messes.
V.- Any one convicted of disturbing others whilst engaged in reading the holy Scriptures, or other religious exercise, will incur special animadversion, and such misconduct will be entered into the journal.
VI.- A proper reserve towards the sailors will be held indispensable and all intercourse with them must be avoided as much as possible.
VII.- A daily account will be kept, and a faithful report made to His Excellency the Governor of New South Wales of the conduct of each individual during the voyage, and those who behave well, though they may have come here with bad characters, will be represented favourably : the Surgeon Superintendent pledges to use his utmost effort to get every one settled in a comfortable manner whose behaviour shall merit such friendly interference.
N.B. Any breach of the above regulations, or any attempt to deface or destroy this paper, will be punished severely ; and the person so offending must not expect to be recommended to the kind notice of the Governor of New South Wales.
Elizabeth Fry, renowned prison and social reformer, made her first visit to Newgate Prison in 1813. Apart from her efforts to improve conditions for women and children incarcerated within the prison, she campaigned for the rights and welfare of those who were being transported. She arranged for each woman to be given a ‘vital care package’ containing pieces of material and sewing tools so that they usefully occupy themselves during the journey. Referring to Elizabeth Fry’s visits to the female convicts awaiting the departure of the Morley, Surgeon Reid commented:
Her absence, when unavoidable, was unremittingly supplied to the convicts by the care and watchfulness of Mrs. Pryor, whom not the roughest weather or greatest personal inconvenience could deter from the work of humanity. Her kind impressive admonitions and consoling advice were given to the unfortunate exiles without reserve, and several articles of comfort and convenience, which had been provided by the Committee, were then distributed by this amiable character.
Whilst these attentions to their personal wants were sedulously given, a due regard to their spiritual welfare was not forgotten. Bibles and Testaments … were furnished by the Committee, and also other books of a religious and moral description, peculiarly selected for their circumstances.
It is quite possible that that the Ladies Committee arranged a similar visit to those women awaiting their fate on the Friendship. Surgeon Reid also mentions an on-board visit by ‘The Solicitor to the Bank of England’ who was commissioned by the Bank Committee to make gratuity payments to some of the Morley women.
It is almost certain that a solicitor representing the Bank paid a similar visit to the Friendship in response to petitions for financial relief submitted by seven of the female convicts who were then on board the vessel awaiting the sailing date – Hannah Hammond Crampton (27 May), Mary Davis, Mary Lenny, Margaret Sellers, Barbara Oliver (4 June), and Susannah Courtney (7 June). (Refer to the individual profiles – Sections 3 and 4 – for further information).
With all the arrangements finalised, the Friendship, under the command of Captain Andrew Armet, set sail on 3 July 1817 for what was to be a very long and, as was subsequently revealed, troubled passage. Off the coast of Madeira the vessel came across an open boat carrying six Spaniards and an American sailor. Using their shirts as a jury rigged sail, exhausted and with no food, they were almost at the point of death, having been tossed around at sea for six days. Captain Armet ordered them to be hoisted aboard and found out that these ‘fortunate’ men were actually pirates from South America. The renegades were transferred to an American ship on 7 August. The Friendship anchored off the coast of Africa on the night of 22 September. The next morning the cable parted from her anchor and the ship was in great danger of being driven onto the breakers. On the 15th October she arrived at St. Helena where she remained for a week, during which time Peter Cosgreave sought the assistance of the Admiral of the naval base in recommending appropriate action to stamp out the fraternisation between the ship’s officers and the crew and the convicts. The matter was unresolved when the Friendship departed for New South Wales.
The Friendship finally arrived at Port Jackson on 14 January 1818 after a voyage of 195 days with four less than its original consignment of 101 female convicts.
The ‘Ship News’ column of the Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser of 17 January announced the arrival of the Friendship.
On Tuesday arrived the ship Friendship from England, Capt. Armet, with 97 female prisoners, under the medical superintendence of Dr Cosgreave, of the R.N. Three women died on the passage, which was unfortunately very long, being from 3d July, the day of her quitting England, to the 13th [sic] of January, the day of her arrival here. The names of the women who died were Ann Beal, Sarah Blower, and Martha Thatcher. To this number we are sorry to add Jane Brown, who from a sudden irritability of temper threw herself overboard and was drowned.
In its report of the arrival of the vessel the Hobart Town Gazette and Southern Reporter listed the names of Cabin class passengers.
The passengers arrived by the ship were, William Cordeaux and Thomas Walker Esqrs. of considerable rank in the Commissariat Department; and Mr. Giles of the Missionary Establishment, Mrs. Giles and family, intending for Otaheite.
In addition, and as mentioned earlier, the Friendship carried a small group of ‘indulgence’ passengers, wives and children of men who were already in the colony, having been previously transported. As well as reporting on the conduct of the 101 female convicts, Peter Cosgreave took it upon himself to provide character references for these indulgence women, some of which were decidedly uncomplimentary.
If the female convicts thought that arrival at Sydney signified the end of their voyage they were to be disappointed and no doubt somewhat frustrated over the time it took for them to be disembarked and hence commence the next stage of their lives, under whatever circumstances they found themselves. Indeed, even before the ship reached harbour, there was some concern that she was a carrier of contagious disease and her arrival might be further delayed. On 7 January 1818 the Colonial Secretary wrote to John Piper, Naval Officer, warning him that the Friendship might need to be placed in quarantine.
His Excellency the Governor having reason to apprehend that an infectious and highly dangerous disease had broken out on Board the Female Convict Ship Friendship just at the time of Her leaving England – and her arrival here now daily looked for, I have to convey to you His Excellency’s Desire that you do not Board her in the manner usual on arrival nor permit any other Person to board her, except that the Pilot, until such time as it shall be duly certified and ascertained that neither Small Pox or other infectious complaints exist on Board of her.
As your Duty will necessarily bring you acquainted with the actual state of the case which you will ascertain by communicating with those on Board, from such distances as voice will reach, you will also strictly enjoin every Person on Board of Her to remain there until further orders shall reach you from the Governor, and in the meantime you will give the necessary Orders for Her being brought to anchor in Neutral Bay, and strictly forbid any intercourse being held by them on Board with any Persons from the shore, and on no account whatever are any Persons to be permitted to Board the said vessel until a Health certificate be attained.
In the event, it seems that no contagious disease was identified.
Before any of the Friendship’s convict women could be disembarked they had to be mustered, a procedure undertaken by the Governor’s secretary and the superintendent of convicts – who in January 1818 were John Thomas Campbell and William Hutchinson respectively. As when records were written up on embarkation, this muster was time-consuming. Each women was asked her name, time and place of trial, sentence, native place, age, trade and occupation and the answers then compared (and if necessary corrected) with the information given on embarkation and any additional records from the holding prisons. Then the woman’s height was measured and details of the colour of her hair, eyes, and complexion, her build, and any particular identifying marks (e.g. moles, tattoos, squint) were noted down. Unfortunately, not all of these personnel records have survived. Thorough and meticulous recording was critical to convict management, as noted by Commissioner John Thomas Bigge in his report on convict administration in the colony.
The correctness and particularity of this muster is of great importance ; for when signed by the secretary, it forms a check upon any error that may have crept into the indents and assignments of the convicts that are transmitted from the Secretary of State’s office to the governor of New South Wales, and connects the date of trial and description of their offences with a complete identification, of their persons, highly useful for purposes of police, as well as for the regulations respecting tickets of leave and certificates of exemptions from penal servitude.
Finally, each of the convict women was questioned regarding the treatment she had received during the passage. Had she has received her full ration of provisions; did she have any complaint to make against the captain, his officers and crew; and lastly, did she have any bodily ailment or infirmity? Interestingly not one of the convict women lodged a complaint. To all intents and purposes Captain Armet and Surgeon Cosgreave had performed their duties to the satisfaction of all parties concerned and no doubt they were relieved to have seemingly fulfilled their remit and could look forward to receiving the payments due to them.
However, if the convict women kept silent, others were prepared to speak up. On 23 January 1818 Secretary Campbell wrote to the Judge Advocate advising:
Various charges having been preferred against the Captain and Surgeon of the Female Convict Ship Friendship, now in Sydney Cove, by Persons Designating themselves either Passengers, Ship’s Officers or Crew of that vessel, His Excellency the Governor deems it necessary that the same should be minutely investigated … [and] requests that you will summons a full Bench of Magistrates for tomorrow to enter on the necessary inquiry.
Surgeon Cosgreave had probably anticipated trouble. In what may be perceived as a preemptive defensive tactic to cover his back, immediately on arriving at Port Jackson, he had sent a letter dated 14 January 1818 to Governor Macquarie reporting that warnings to the crew of the consequences of ‘meddling with the Convicts’, and that attempts by both himself and the captain to repress or curtail the ‘highly reprehensible conduct’ had proved hopeless.
Similarly, Captain Armet, in a letter also dated 14 January to Governor Macquarie, referred to the ‘Circumstances of Prostitution in the ship During the Voyage and also the steps taken to prevent it’.
To assist the Bench the Secretary provided the following documents which he had received in support of the charges.
- A Letter signed ‘Amelia Wood’, an indulgence passenger on behalf of herself and other female passengers. (Of note is that Surgeon Cosgreave, in his assessment of the indulgence passengers, had described Amelia Wood as a ‘highly improper and vile character’. He also reported that, in addition to the daughter which she had been given permission to take with her, she had attempted to smuggle on board another daughter and, further, during the voyage she had given birth to a son).
- A Letter signed ‘M.C. Kearns’ who describes himself as Captain’s Steward.
- A Letter signed ‘Robt Culverwell’ designating himself 3rd Mate.
- A Memorial signed by 17 Persons styling themselves the ‘Crew of the Friendship’.
The Secretary also provided a list of the free passengers whose evidence the Bench might well rely on to ‘satisfactorily ascertain how far the Charges are founded in truth or originating in malice’ – William Cordeaux, Thomas Walker, Mr. Giles, Mr. and Mrs. William and Mary Hayes (free settlers), and Mrs. Charlotte Wells and Mrs. Broadribb (indulgence passengers). On the same day, the Secretary wrote to Captain Armet and Surgeon Cosgreave advising them that the inquiry would be held on 24 January, and they were both required to attend.
The inquiry extended over two days, during which depositions were taken from nine witnesses. Two issues were addressed – the distribution/withholding of rations and the alleged rampant prostitution on board. With reference to the latter, the depositions of Captain Armet and Surgeon Cosgreave are of particular interest.
Essentially, they were both apparently aware of reports that illicit fraternisation took place. They both claimed that they had taken every measure within their power to stamp it out, and this was confirmed by witness William Cordeaux. But, crucially in absolving themselves, both of them denied ever having actually witnessed any incidents of prostitution. As attested by William Cordeaux, with respect especially to the Captain, this was very much a case of turning a blind eye – ‘the Captain said he did not care about the thing (meaning Prostitution), unless it was done under his own Eye’.
The Magistrates handed down their report on 26 February. With respect to the mutinous crew, they declared that they did not have jurisdiction to rule on matters occurring on the high seas. Addressing the issue of insufficient rations provided to the free passengers, the Bench noted that this had been resolved. On the third count, however, the Magistrates unreservedly agreed that:
It has been most fully proved to us, that a criminal intercourse existed from the very commencement of the voyage, to its close, between some of the officers, the Ship’s company in general, and the Female convicts; in defiance of the orders of his Majesty’s government strictly prohibiting the same, which were repeatedly publicly read, and of every exertion of Captain Armet and Surgeon Superintendent Cosgreave to prevent its existence and continuance; who appear during the whole of the voyage to have acted with all possible attention to the orders of His Majesty’s Government, in every particular.
However, evidence subsequently gathered by Commissioner Bigge into the condition and treatment of convicts during the passage to New South Wales calls into question the exoneration of Captain Armet and Surgeon Cosgreave. In his report, under the heading Prevention of Prostitution, Commissioner Bigge made particular reference to the 1818 voyage of the Friendship.
Although, in the transportation of female convicts to New South Wales, the preservation of their health has been more easily and generally accomplished than that of the males, yet no scheme of superintendence has yet been devised by which their intercourse with the crew can be entirely prevented. From the evidence of Mr. Cordeaux, Mr. Gyles, and Mr. Walker, who were passengers on board the convict ship Friendship, prostitution appears to have prevailed in a great degree, and the captain and surgeon at last connived at excesses that they had not the means to resist, or any hope of suppressing.
[See also accounts of Rev. John Gyles and Rev. Samuel Marsden on the conduct of the Friendship’s Master and Surgeon– https://www.jenwilletts.com/convict_ship_friendship_1818.htm]
Given that so many of the convict women were implicated in the so-called ‘prostitution’ it is perhaps not surprising that they were reluctant to make any complaints when mustered on arrival. It must be remembered that a double standard existed for any untoward fraternisation. Women could (and frequently were) punished for consorting. But, as pointed out by Commissioner Bigge, no such legal recourse was provided for the men.
The punishment of the crew for holding improper intercourse with them, in the voyages from England to New South Wales, is, according to the present state of the law, not provided for; and … no master of a ship, however well disposed, will incur the risk of a mutiny of his crew for the sole purpose of preventing it, or the great degree of personal responsibility that would accrue from the infliction even of a moderate degree of corporal punishment.
With the conclusion of the inquiry, Andrew Armet and Peter Cosgreave could at last look forward to taking their leave of Port Jackson. By a Memorial dated 27 January, citing concern for the safety of his ship, Captain Armet sought Governor Macquarie’s permission for Chief Officer, Mr. William Hicks, to be discharged and also for the removal of a number of other crew members who he claimed, at the instigation of the Chief Officer, had manifested a high degree of insubordination and contempt by disobeying orders, plundering the stores and generally neglecting their duties, behaviour which continued even after the ship had weighed anchor at Port Jackson. A response was received the following day – His Excellency was prepared to allow Captain Armet to proceed without Mr. Hicks. However, based on the same rationale (the safety of the ship), the Governor could not possibly extend the indulgence to Captain Armet of discharging a number of sailors, who by his own account were ill-behaved. Thus:
His Excellency hereby notifies you that you will be required to remove all those disorderly characters whom you brought with you into this Country – their being suffered at large here, being on your own Statement, a dangerous experiment and by no means proper to grant.
By notice in the 14 February Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser both Andrew Armet and Peter Cosgreave advised that they were intending to leave the Colony by the Friendship, and requested that all Claims be presented forthwith. Secretary Campbell instructed the Commissariat staff to arrange payments to the now unemployed Peter Cosgreave Esquire, Surgeon, R.N. and late Surgeon Superintendent of the hired Female Convict Transport Friendship:
… for the usual Passage Money Ninety five Pounds Sterlg allowed on such occasions for their return to England, as also with Rations from the 30th January during his stay in the Colony.
On Sunday 15 March the Friendship sailed for England, via Batavia and Bengal.
The Bury and Norwich Post of 2 December 1818 announced to its readers that copies of the Sydney Gazette, up to the end of August, had just been received. One of the items of news noted was the arrival at Sydney in January 1818 of the convict transport Friendship. However, and illustrating the inconvenience of time and distance, when the Post’s subscribers were reading this news, the Friendship was no more. On arrival at Port Louis, Mauritius, and having sprung a leak, she was deemed unseaworthy and was to be sold off, with all her Stores, on 22 September.
All New South Wales, Australia, Colonial Secretary’s Papers, 1788-1856
England and Wales Crime and Punishment
Convicts to Australia, Life on a Convict Ship, http://members.iinet.net.au/~perthdps/convicts/shiplife.html
Free Settler or Felon? https://www.jenwilletts.com/
Prisoners’ Letters to the Bank of England, 1781-1827. Ed. Deirdre Palk. London: London Record Society, 2007. British History Online, http://www.british-history.ac.uk/london-record-soc/vol42
British Newspapers (Findmypast)
Bury and Norwich Post
Durham County Mercury
Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser
The New Monthly Magazine
The Hobart Town Gazette and Southern Reporter
The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser
Bateson, Charles, The Convict Ships, Library of Australian History, North Sydney, 1988
Historical Records of Australia, The Library Committee of the Commonwealth Parliament, 1917
Reid, Thomas, Two Voyages to New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land, Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme and Brown, London, 1822