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Ship's Surgeon Report

MEDICAL and SURGICAL JOURNAL OF His Majesty's Hired Transport Strathfieldsay between the 16 December 1835 and 24 June 1836 during which time the said ship has been employed in conveying 270 Male Prisoners from England to New South Wales.


On the 28th of November, 1835 I was appointed by the Lord Commissioner of the Admiralty, Surgeon and Superintendent of the Convict Ship Strathfieldsaye. On the 18th of December, I received my instructions and joined the Ship at Deptford where she was fitting to convey 270 male prisoners from England to New South Wales. Owing to various delays the ship was not ready for sea until the 27th of January 1836 on which day the guard (a detachment of the 28th Regt) embarked - on the 28th all being ready for sea, we left Deptford and brought up off Woolwich. We received, without delay seventy prisoners from the Justitia Hulk, & then made sail down the river, being bound to Portsmouth where we were to receive 200 prisoners - But in consequence of heavy weather & contrary winds we did not reach the Downs until the 3rd of February. The wind being fresh & fair, we continued our course, & at past 5 next morning the ship struck on a sandbank where she remained hard & fast - I hurried on deck & found her on the Elbow of the River!! A bad beginning! - fortunately the tide was flowing rapidly and in rather more than half an hour the Ship was afloat & at noon on the same day we anchored at Spithead. This clumsy accident at the very beginning of the Voyage on a weather shore, vexed me exceedingly and tended to make me lose confidence in the Master. The Ship however did not accrue any material damage. Feb 6th. Received 130 prisoners from the Leviathan Hulk, and 70 from the York, I only rejected two out of the whole number but I must confess, that during all my former voyages I never had such a miserable looking squad.

We were detained at Spithead by strong adverse winds until the 18th of February, when, the winds being favorable we weighed anchor & made sail - all the Prisoners in pretty good health, but many of them, with broken constitutions & consequently unable to resist the attack of several diseases. We had a favorable passage down Channel & across the Bay of Biscay - We passed to the eastward of Madeira & approached rather too near to the coast of Africa & got entangled among the Canary Islands. We ultimately passed between the Grand Canary & Fuerte Ventura. We passed to the westward of the Cape Verde Islands & had a favorable passage across the line. The southeast trade hanging far to the southward carried us within sight of Cape Fria. It was therefore deemed prudent to touch at Rio de Janeiro rather than run the chance to being obliged to touch at the Cape of Good Hope - Accordingly on Sunday April 3rd we anchored off the entrance of the harbour & next day after a horror escape, we anchored near H M S Dublin. We just weathered the breakers on the starboard shore - this, second instance of want of caution or want of skill in this Master vexed me much - but he promised to pay in future more attention to my advice. We remained at Rio until the 10th April, having in the interval accrued a supply of water, fish, beef & vegetables & we also carried six bullocks to sea with us. We left Rio all in good health & had a fair average voyage to New South Wales where we arrived on the 15th of June & on the 24th 269 prisoners were landed in far better health than when they embarked. Having thus given a short outline of our voyage I shall proceed to give an account of the diseases which prevailed.

Shortly after the prisoners were embarked & until we got into mild latitude, many of the prisoners were affected with catarrhal complaints & affections of the bowels - but so slightly as easily to yield to simple means. While within the tropics, they were pretty generally affected with headache which gave way to smart cathartics - no sickness of the slightest consequence appeared. After leaving Rio, griping & bowel complaints were frequent, arising from too great indulgence in fruit. While off the Cape of Good Hope one prisoner died after a very short illness - this casualty excepted, all the prisoners continued well. Towards the end of the voyage, several were affected with Rheumatism catarrh & but the cases were all slight & not deserving of notice. In short, the prisoners enjoyed excellent health throughout the voyage of which, the fact ahead of mentioned (ie. that all the prisoners were landed in improved strength & condition) is a convincing proof. It afforded me much satisfaction that I had not occasion to send even one to the Hospital. I may likewise mention as a further proof of the healthiness which prevailed during the voyage that (tea, sugar & little barley excepted) I had no occasion to use any of the medical comforts - the wine -preserved meals were returned into stores untouched.

I may now say a few words respecting the provisions - they were all of excellent quality, particularly those received at Portsmouth & this voyage has added another proof of the correctness of the opinion I have invariably expressed viz that the scale of provisions for the prisoners is in all respects amply sufficient. With regard to the cocoa I may state that I found little difficulty in making all the prisoners partake of it. Those who disliked it I made come on the quarter deck & drink it in my presence after a few exhibitions of this kind, they drank it without reluctance. I found the oatmeal very agreeable as a change. In short, I have no hesitation in expressing my opinion that all the arrangements relating to convicts are as perfect as the nature of the service will admit.

In conclusion I may be permitted succinctly to state a few particulars as to my method of managing the prisoners. As soon as they are received onboard they are divided into messes (8 in each) & properly arranged in their berths. Cooks & others to assist in carrying the necessary arrangements into effect are selected from the most active among the prisoners. Their meals are issued as follows. Breakfast at past 8AM. Lemonade at 11AM. Dinner at 1PM. Lemonade at 3PM & supper at past 4PM. By dividing the meals in this manner it is obvious that benefit, in various ways, is experienced. As soon as we leave the land I order the irons to be removed from all the prisoners. I allow them to be on deck constantly from 7AM till nearly dark. The decks are generally dry hollystned (?) & hanging stoves are constantly kept burning between decks throughout the day. I attribute the healthiness of the vessel in a great measure to this circumstance. The decks are seldom washed, except within the tropics - I need not add that great attention is paid to preserve personal cleanliness.

Finally, it affords me much satisfaction to state, that not the slightest disturbance occurred during the voyage, the prisoners behaved with becoming decorum & propriety so that there was no occasion to resort to personal punishment.

(Signed) Thomas Braidwood Wilson MD Surgeon Supt.

ABSTRACT of the preceding JOURNAL, being a summary of all the cases contained therein, Nosologically arranged.

Nature of Disease, Put on Sick List, Discharged to Duty, Died on Board, Case Number

Febris, 1, 1, -, 1
Opthalmia, 1, 1, -, 6
Cynanche Tonsillaris, 1, 1, -, 4
Pneumonia, 2, 2, -, 3&8
Rheumatismus, 2, 2, -, 5&10
Apoplexia, 1,-, 1, 9
Diarrhoea, 1, 1, -, 2
Syphilis, 1, 1, -, 7

Total, 10, 9, 1

Last update: 11th August 2001