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Thursday, January 30, 2014

A Lady's Journal on a Convict Ship

And, what's more, she was the captain's wife.

Her name was Eleanor Reid.  And, it seems, it was a last-minute decision for her to sail to the penal colony of New South Wales, and onward to the Spice Islands and India.

I found her journal by accident, printed originally in an old magazine, and reproduced on the internet.  The first leg of the voyage -- to New South Wales -- has also been reproduced in a book that is co-edited by Anne-Maree Whitaker, a New Zealand-born Australian historian who specializes in the story of the Irish convicts.

Just for fun, I will gradually transcribe the entire journal, as the whole of the voyage is of interest for me.  And here goes the first installment ....

From The Asiatic Journal and Monthly Register for British and Foreign India, China, and Australia, July 1819.

In March 1799, Captain Hugh Reid of the convict transport Friendship sailed from London for Cork, to load with Irish convicts, many of them rebels from the United Irishmen who had accepted the amnesty and given their parole, in return for exile in New South Wales.

Captain Reid’s wife, Eleanor, came to Waterford to visit him, but ended up staying on board the Friendship for the entire voyage.  Her journal begins with a description of a visit to a burial ground where a spirited rebel action had taken place.

End of June 1799—Our mutual joy was great at meeting, my sickness and fatigues were all soon forgot, when I joined the Friendship, which was lying at the passage of Waterford.

While we remained at this port, alternately residing at Waterford, making excursions to the neighbouring country, or giving days to pleasure in the ship’s boats; with a party of ladies and gentlemen, we visited New Ross, where Gen. Johnson had such a desperate encounter with those bands of deluded men, who had raised the standard of rebellion; seven or eight months after the battle, the large graves, where the men and horses had been buried promiscuously, were still fresh. 

We were informed by an eye-witness, that when the king’s troops had given way, and were driven back over the bridge, the general’s personal courage regained the day. He exhorted the soldiers at the bridge to rally and retrieve their honour, and revenge the death of Lord Mountjoy, who fell with many others at the Three-bullet Gate. Seeing them backward, he spurred his charger, saying, “Friends follow me, and enemies return,” he then galloped into the heart of the town, where his horse was shot and fell under him. Before he had disentangled his leg from the struggling animal, a rebel ran upon him with a pike to dispatch him; when the general rising on his elbow, darted such a look at the fellow as made him hesitate. At that moment some of the king’s cavalry came galloping up the street, on which the rebel fled into a house and escaped with many others by a back way.

When the king’s troops regained the town they were still fired at from the windows. One of the rebels, observing “he had plenty of powder, but no ball or buttons left”—“Never mind,” said another “fire away my jewel! The noise will frighten the horses, and I’ll engage they will dismount the trooper.” 

It was some of the defeated insurgents, taken with arms in their hands, which my husband was destined to convey to New South Wales, who by the lenienty of government were allowed to embark without trial. Many men of considerable fortune had been swayed by disaffection to revolt, and were now embarked on board the Friendship, viz, Mr. Brannen, who at one time was sheriff of the county of Wexford; Mr. Lysaght, who joined the ship in his own carriage; Mr. MacCullam, eminent for his medical skill; Mr. Sutton, and several others of equal repute.

There was another ship lying here, commanded by Capt. Dennett, called the Ann, whose destination was also for New South Wales, with people of the same description. The members of this sanguinary association were termed at this time Croppies, owning not only to their own hair being reduced to the fashion of the round-heads in Cromwell’s day, but to their horses, dogs, and cattle having their ears and tails cropped, as a mark to indicate that their masters were friends to the faction.  (to be continued)

Convicts on the Friendship: LIST

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