"The Queen Sails"
The first convict ship from Ireland to Australia sailed
just 210 years ago.
by Con Costello
eighteen year old, 400-ton ship Queen was one of those contracted
to form the third convict fleet to sail from England to
Port Jackson in the Spring of 1791. But, under its Master,
Richard Owen and with Lieutenant Samuel Bow as naval agent
it differed from the other eight vessels of the fleet as
it was ordered to call at the port of Cork to collect convicts,
the first such consignment of Irish transportees to go directly
from Ireland to Australia.
from all areas
For months before the appointed day of sailing the 136 men
and 23 women destined for Botany Bay and in the jails of
24 different counties had been warned of their fate. Arrangements
were being made to have them moved from Cork. On the morning
of 26th February the Dublin newspaper The Freeman's Journal
carried the news that "the jailer of Limerick set off
for Cork with a number of prisoners, where a large transport
is preparing to carry all the convicts in the Kingdom to
Botany Bay.' In Dublin when the prisoners were being
moved from the new jail a newspaper reported that 'none
of the women seemed to have less feeling for their situation
than the men, and Rositer, the woman who had been condemned
to die for robbing one of the rooms at the Linen Hall, called
out to the soldiers "clear the way" 'til she mounted her
landau.' One of her companions was Catherine Devereaux
aged 30 also reprieved from a death sentence in Dublin.
A total of 85 prisoners from that city were to be transported,
fourteen of whom had life sentences, and the remainder terms
of seven years. Before the vessel sailed three of the male
prisoners had died, and one woman had escaped.
The cost of transporting an individual from Dublin was £17,
plus the provision of rations for the passage, and the maintenance
of the convicts for one year in the colony. Messrs Camden,
Calvert and King, the English contractors who had supplied
the Second Fleet, were again employed, but this was to be
their last assignment due to the litany of complaints from
Cork, Lieutenant Blow, the Naval Agent who was to travel
on the Queen issued a receipt to the Mayor and the
Sheriff of the city for his dejected human cargo. The irony
of that transaction was later revealed when the sheriff
himself, Sir Henry Brown Hayes, was transported a decade
afterwards for abducting an heiress. His home, near Sydney,
Vaucluse, is now a National monument - but not on his behalf
- rather on that of W.C. Wentworth, the successful son of
an Irish convict.
The receipt of the convicts included four children, three
girls, and a boy aged between two weeks and two years, whose
mothers were from Dublin and on 7-year sentences, except
for one lifer from Armagh. Of the 133 male convicts it has
been estimated that about two dozen were agrarian offenders.
Some of the other crimes for which these transportees were
exiled included 'taking a drab cloth coat, value 10 shillings;
for stealing a copper kettle, value 3 shillings, for stealing
a pair of blankets, value 3 shillings; for stealing one
silver spoon, value 2 shillings; for stealing a black hat
value 2 shillings'; all of which rated seven year sentences.
James Black, a Dublin youth aged twelve, was found guilty
of stealing a pair of silver buckles. He died within four
months of arrival in Sydney. Also then transported was Robert
Flanagan from Newry, who had been prosecuted for robbery.
His case was unusual in that there had been a public subscription
to pay the prosecutor, and five gentlemen wrote to the authorities
requesting that Flanagan should be transported. Their letter,
dated April 1791, stated that he was 'a desperate, riotous
and lawless villain, and a robber of most infamous character.'
It was eight years before the indent list for the Queen
arrived in Sydney, by which time the majority of the prisoners'
sentences had expired.
When the Queen docked at Port Jackson on 26th September,
it was found that seven prisoners had died en route. The
surviving convicts were in poor physical condition and a
magisterial inquiry was ordered. It revealed that the second
mate who was responsible for issuing the rations, had ordered
that the leaden weights should be scraped, to reduce them;
consequently the 4lb weight was found to be six ounces under-weight,
and the 2lb one almost 3 ounces likewise. He had also used
3 lb and 4 lb weights instead of 4 lb and 5 lb ones, and
short rations of meat and fish were constantly given, causing
the cook great difficulty in providing the different messes
with even moderately adequate supplies. It was apparent
that the agent, Lieut. Blow, did not supervise the ration
issues, and when the prisoners decided to make a complaint
to the guard commander he referred them to the agent. Finally
the guard commander approached the lieutenant with the prisoners'
grievances, but he replied, 'My dear fellow, what can I
do?' During the inquiry the bench of magistrates, which
included Capt. David Collins from the King's County in Ireland,
found that the rations contracted for had not been supplied,
and that 'It appeared beyond a doubt, that great abuses
had been practised in the issuing of the provision.'
But it would seem that no disciplinary action was initiated
against the contractors or the ships' officers, though Lieutenant
Blow may have been reprimanded.
As they adjusted to life in the colony the new arrivals
from Ireland would have met their fellow countrymen and
women who had arrived on the previous fleets from England.
They would also have encountered officials from home, such
as Captain David Collins who had arrived on the first fleet.
He was not very sympathetic to his countrymen, describing
them as 'race of beings (for they do not deserve the
appellation of men) so extremely ignorant, and so little
humanised as they were.' He was commenting on the twenty
men and a woman from the 'Queen' who had escaped from the
convict settlement in November 1791, with the intention
of walking to China. In an official report on the China
attempt it was said that 'though several of them have
been brought in when so reduced that they could not have
lived a second day if they had not been found, some of these
very men have absconded a second time, and must perish.'
Another incident of Irish interest that month was the birth
of a son at Parametta to Catherine Devereaux, the woman
transported from Dublin. The infant was baptised on 18 December
and named James Devereaux. In adult life, it is believed,
he changed his name to Kelly and as Captain James Kelly
of Hobart Town is remembered as a pioneer whaler, sealer,
shipowner, pilot and explorer. It has been surmised that
the child's father was Kelly, a cook on the 'Queen'
who might have taken that job to enable him to travel to
Australia with his pregnant, but condemned, girl friend.
Thus was created another footnote in the folklore of the
new land which, before transportation ceased, was to receive
about 45,000 Irish men and women. Now there is pride in
having an Irish convict in one's ancestry, and even a society
which boasts 'We are descended from Convicts!' And
each year about 20,000 young men and women from Ireland
journey Down Under as visitors on working holidays, and
some as emigrants.
Costello has written "Botany Bay", the story of the transportation
of Irish convicts to Australia 1791-1853. It is available
from Mercier Press, Cork.
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