CONDITIONS ON BOARD CONVICT SHIPS
Between 1850 and 1868, 9,721 convicts were transported to Western Australia on 43 ships. A Surgeon Superintendent was employed on each voyage to care for the convicts. They kept a journal in which they listed all those who were sick or injured during the voyage, together with the treatment and outcome. In total, 53 convicts died en route to Western Australia. In 1853 alone, there were nine deaths on the Robert Smalll and 10 on the Phoebe Dunbar.
The daily routine appears to have been similar on all of these ships. Generally, prisoner cooks were admitted on deck at about 4am; and at 6am prisoners washed and stowed their hammocks. The daily ration of water and biscuit was then issued, followed by the surgeon’s sick round. Breakfast was at 8am and at 10am half of the prisoners were sent on deck for exercise and the other half to ‘school’.
Dinner was at noon, with the daily allowance of lime juice served before and wine after. At 1.30pm, the prisoners who had earlier been on deck went to ‘school’ and vice versa. At 4pm, beds and hammocks were set up, supper was at 4.30pm and all prisoners were sent below deck at 8pm. Although flogging was still a legal punishment it does not appear to have been used as frequently or with the same severity on the ships to Freemantle.
The most common punishment was solitary confinement, on bread and water, in the ‘Black Box’, a dark, narrow cell erected under the forecastle.
Other forms of punishment included handcuffing, leg-ironing, and the stopping of wine or lime juice allowance.
Jill Chambers is an author and historian who runs the website www.swing riotsriotersblacksheepsearch.com
Life on board a prison hulk in 1858