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The Ship Hillsborough



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  • Name The Ship Hillsborough 
    Gender Unknown 
    Associatn Abt 1798 
    Voyage 23 Dec 1798  Portland Roads, England Find all individuals with events at this location 
    • and arrived in Sydney, NSW on 26 July 1799. The Master was William Hingston.

      Three hundred convicts were on board the ship when it left England and the long trip to Australia was dreadful. Governor Hunter described it to the Under Secretary as follows - "Figure to yourself a ship having out of three hundred people embark'd in England, and having stopped for their refreshment several weeks at the Cape of Good Hope, yet hav'g upon her voyage buried of the above number ninety-five, and four since landing; those who still survive are in the most sickly and wretched state, put on board the ship in England with the cloaths only in which they stood, consequently arriv'd here naked, where cloathing is not to be found.

      According to the description of the voyage by William Noah, a convict died nearly every day. Discontent was rife among the convicts who meted out a horrible punishment to one called Wiltshire, whose nick name was "Muckbolt", for telling the sailors who among the convicts had removed their irons and how they were plotting to seize the ship. The convicts dealt summarily with Muckbolt by giving him twelve dozen lashes, gagged him and put needles in his tongue so he couldn't put it into his mouth. Some wanted to cut off his tongue for having betrayed them. The Captain, hearing of this then inflicted most severe punishment on all the guilty convicts. They were also deprived of provisions and water. The voyage was so uncomfortable that "indeed Death would have been a welcome friend".

      The Hillsborough was a large and roomy ship, and, according to the Transport Commissioners, had been fitted out on an improved plan; the bars on the prison being built far apart to admit the air more freely. She embarked 152 prisoners at Gravesend, and when she arrived at the Motherbank on November 17th 1798, her Master, William Hingston, reported to the Transport Board's agent at Portsmouth, Captain Charles Patton, that one convict died and several others were sick. Sir John Fitzpatrick, who had inspected the ship in the Thames, ordered the sick to be transferred to a hospital ship, and urged most strongly that the ship's complement of convicts should not be made up from the prisoners in the Langstone Harbour hulks, aboard which the gaol fever, or typhoid, had raged in a malignant form for some time. His advice was disregarded, as were his further protests after the Langstone convicts had been embarked. He insisted, however, that five prisoners, all in an advanced stage of the disease, should be disembarked, and all five died within a few days.

      The Hillsborough sailed in a convoy from Portland Roads on 23rd December 1798, and at once ran into heavy weather. As her decks required caulking, and the sea was breaking over her continuously, the convicts' quarters were deluged and their bedding soaked. When the weather moderated a few days later, a youthful informer told the Captain that many of the convicts were out of their irons and intended to murder the officers. Those found out of their irons were flogged, receiving from one to six dozen lashes each, and were shackled and handcuffed, some with iron collars round their neck. The allowance of rations and water was also reduced, so that for several days the prisoners were half starved.

      In all the circumstances it is not surprising that the disease carried aboard by the Langstone convicts spread rapidly, and from the beginning of January deaths became alarmingly frequent. Yet the convicts were kept closely confined and double-ironed, were short of water, and were half starved. It was, one would think, wrote William Noah, a convict who left a moving account of the prisoners sufferings in his diary of the voyage, enough to soften the heart of the most inhuman being to see us ironed, handcuffed and shackled in a dark, nasty dismal deck, without the least wholesome air, but all this did not penetrate the breasts of our inhuman Captain, and I can assure you that the Doctor was kept at such a distance, and so strict was he look after, that I have known him sit up till opportunity would suite to steal a little water to quench the thirst of those who were bad, he being on a very small allowance for them.

      According to Noah, thirty convicts had died when the Hillsborough anchored in Table Bay on April 13th 1799. There were then about 100 prisoners very ill, and although fresh provisions were served, deaths became so frequent that the authorities were alarmed, and the ship was ordered to move to False Bay. Noah alleges that to avoid further interrogation, the Master buried some of the convicts at the Harbour Entrance, but within a few days the bodies were washed ashore. On may 5, by which time at least 28 convicts had died since the Ship's arrival at Table Bay, the Surgeon, JJW Kunst, returned from Capetown with an order permitting the sick to be landed. Why this step was so long delayed is incomprehensible but it was useless because no provision was made for the proper accommodation of the patients ashore. When 146 were landed on May 6 they found that their miserable hospital had previously been a stable and was without a fireplace, windows and lavatory accommodation, and next morning 56 of the prisoners were returned to the ship. When the Hillsborough sailed on May 29 at least 50 of the convicts had been buried at the Cape.

      Governor Hunter, when the Hillsborough reached Sydney, described the survivors as the most wretched and miserable convicts I have ever beheld, in the most sickly and wretched state. almost every prisoner required hospital treatment. The frightful mortality was due primarily to the embarkation of the Langstone prisoners, but also partly to the harsh treatment of the convicts on the voyage. Noah's diary proves that they were kept double-ironed, and when on deck were chained together, so that they could not walk about at all, but had to stand up or lie down on the deck. They were inadequately fed, and, especially between the Cape and Port Jackson, the weather was so stormy that the prison was continuously damp and the convicts bedding seldom dry
    Person ID I23434  Mote/McInnes
    Last Modified 18 Jun 2011