On board the convict ship (for Australian National Family History Week)

It’s National Family History Week in Australia (until August 10). So I’m going to leave the Irish history theme for now and pick up some of Nicholas Delaney’s story in New South Wales.

Starting with his arrival.

Human cargo

On October 30, 1810, the convict ship Atlas II docked at Sydney Cove after a five month sea voyage. He and the 207 others transported as human cargo were unusually lucky. Not for them the high death toll resulting from poor food, filthy conditions, untreated illness, lack of air and exercise and a voyage spent below decks in chains.

Only four died during the journey, thanks partly to Atlas II being a new ship as well as to the work of surgeon Thomas Davie, the attitude of the captain, Thomas Musgrave, and probably to sheer luck in that no fatally contagious diseases raged through the ship.

By contrast Atlas I, which sailed some months before, lost 65 convicts out of 176.

And when Musgrave’s ship was sighted, bets were laid that only half the convicts would have survived. But, to the onlookers’ amazement, a long stream of men appeared blinking in the strong light, while the ship’s captain shook hands with every one of them.

Musgrave, that enlightened man, who had not insisted that his ‘cargo’ remain in chains once he had set sail, treated them as fellow humans even to the last.*

Political prisoners

Out of the 208 convicts aboard Atlas II, 190 were Irish political prisoners, according to Captain Musgrave. The other men tried alongside Nicholas – Edward Neil, James Dempsey, Patrick Stafford and John Kavanagh – were there. So were other south Wicklow men convicted on Biddy Dolan‘s evidence, including John Nowlan, Richard Carr and Patrick Murray. These Wicklow men, the ‘Forgotten Prisoners’, seem to have stayed in touch once they reached Australia.


Nicholas was about to start a new life working for Major George Johnston, commander of the New South Wales Corps – the infamous Rum Corps.  Interestingly, it was Johnson who was credited with putting down the ‘other’ Battle of Vinegar Hill, at Castle Hill, near Parramatta, in March, 1804.

Later Johnston was himself involved in civil unrest – as a leader of the Rum Rebellion against Governor William Bligh. Piling irony upon irony, Bligh was already well known for another uprising against his authority – the Mutiny on the Bounty.

* There is much more about Nicholas’s transportation and Atlas II on the A Rebel Hand website.

Some useful links

A search on the net brings up a lot about convicts transported to Australia. Two resources I found useful are Peter Mayberry’s Irish convicts pages and Lesley Uebel‘s claim a convict pages (not just Irish).  The National Museum of Australia has some information and there are some great descriptions of transportation to Australia, plus information about free settlers, here (scroll down, it’s quite long).


© Frances Owen and A Rebel Hand, 2010-2014

About rebelhand

A Rebel Hand is: about Nicholas Delaney, Irish rebel of 1798, transported as a convict to New South Wales, roadbuilder, innkeeper and farmer. My great-great-great grandfather. Other ancestors transported to Australia, like Sarah Marshall, John Simpson and James Thomas Richards, pop up as well. This blog's also about the historical background to their lives, in England, Ireland, and Australia. My respectable Welsh ancestors sometimes get a look in.
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5 Responses to On board the convict ship (for Australian National Family History Week)

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