CON­DI­TIONS ON BOARD CON­VICT SHIPS

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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

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