Catalogue description Folios 43-46: Surgeon's general remarks. On 10 December 1836, 130 male convicts were...

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Details of ADM 101/60/7/13
Reference: ADM 101/60/7/13
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Folios 43-46: Surgeon's general remarks. On 10 December 1836, 130 male convicts were received at Woolwich from the Justitia and Ganymede hulks. On the 13 December the surgeon inspected prisoners at Chatham and the following day 120 were received from the Fortitude hulk. They were cross ironed since many of them were desperate characters who had been involved in an escape attempt on 7 November. Five men had overpowered the guards and attempted to escape in boats but the tide was out and there was not enough water to float the boats. They jumped overboard, intending to swim, but found themselves stuck in deep mud from which they had to be rescued. Another 7 men had taken possession of the main deck of the Fortitude but were driven below by the officers and guard, 'aided by the cook with a red hot poker'. Another 7 men had signed a paper and 'sworn to be true to each other and have death or liberty'. The Government authorities reported these 19 men to the surgeon as 'desperate characters' and the Admiral's Secretary at Sheerness wrote to say that their friends had been trying to bribe the fishermen and watermen to help them escape. Many of the men were in poor health from long confinement, this, combined with a great deal of bad weather, the loss of both anchors and cables, the ship being driven back to port in a gale, three weeks of continuous sea sickness and being unable to take nutrition, all contributed to the early appearance of scurvy. The first case, George Willett, appeared on 29 January and treatment using the solution of nitre recommended in Mr Cameron's pamphlet on scurvy was tried. The preparation of the solution and its administration in doses is described. It seemed less effective if diluted more with wine or water but in the more advanced cases this was necessary to make it more palatable. When the nitre supplied was expended, the surgeon extracted nitre from the gunpowder on board, by evaporation. There was little observable difference in the effects on the patients who were given the nitre originally supplied, that extracted from the gunpowder, or the gunpowder itself. After about 6 or 8 days of the limejuice mixture, the salt provisions also being stopped and a generous diet provided, the symptoms often disappeared and the patient was kept on the medicine and put on the 'half diet scorbutic list'. Sometimes in cases of diarrhoea, minute doses of the sulphas cupri with extract of opium was given but in many cases this was too harsh. The surgeon lists other 'local applications', including frictions, fomentations, poultices, rollers, gargles and 'occasionally removing portions of fungus from the gums'. At the start of the voyage there were slight cases of fever, catarrh, headaches from obstructed bowels, various eruptions, phlegmonous tumours and slight attacks of rheumatism, all attributable to changes of diet, the weather and sea life. In the tropics, a diversity of pimples, boils, furunculi with deep seated cores, cutaneous efflorescences, excoriations, prickly heat, 'moon blindness' and ring worm. The surgeon discusses the treatment of Edwin Hughes for typhus, the attention paid to cleanliness and the simple diet followed. He emphasises the importance of fresh air and sleep in treating fever and states that he does not believe the Boatswain, George Wells, would have recovered had he been treated in the hospital rather than in the open air on deck. Strict attention was paid to comfort and cleanliness, both of their persons and clothing. In warm weather the prisoners bathed in the mornings in three tubs, aided by persons with brushes, and rubbed afterwards with hard, dry towels, which each man who had money was made to supply before leaving port. Below decks was kept clean, dry and ventilated. As soon as they were out of sight of land, each man's irons were removed and the prison doors kept open from 6am until they were mustered at night. The prisoners were made to take exercise and play games on deck. One third of the men at a time were made to go round the longboat 58 times, the equivalent of a mile, while the band played on top of the longboat. The surgeon comments that although the music was not as good as on his previous voyage, it was still sufficient to cause the prisoners to go at double pace. There was dancing in the evening, which the surgeon considered 'highly conducive to health aboard a convict ship'. A school was formed and great progress was made. Divine Service was held every Sunday and the sick were read to separately. Admiral Hawker contributed largely to the stock of religious books. The surgeon intended to call at the Cape but the wind coming from the north east it was thought more prudent not to. On the 5 May 1837, they put in towards the land, not being sure of the ship's position, and found themselves off Rain Head, near Bass Straits. The ship was caught in a strong gale off a lee shore and, in trying to clear Cape Rowe, had all her sails blown away. The violence of the sea broke the side scuttles in and a great deal of water got into the prison and hospital down the hatchways, filling it to the level of the lower bunks. There were no scuttles on the larboard side to allow the water to pass into the hold. About midnight, the ship was struck by a heavy sea on the starboard side, which again burst in the scuttles and knocked down every standing bed place on that side, 'carrying the unfortunate sick to almost a watery grave on the opposite side, with their kits, kegs, tin pots, bags and broken planks full of nails'. The ship had broached to, the water came nearly as high as her main top and, the surgeon thinks, she must have shipped several tons of water down the hatches. The 'hurricane' lasted until 7pm the next day, the pumps were kept going constantly assisted by the prisoners. The damage was too great for the carpenter's to repair all the berths. The bedding and clothes were taken on deck to dry; there was no bedding or clothing except that on the upper bed places on the starboard side that was not soaked. The surgeon remarks that he knows 'few things more impressive than the sounds caused by the flapping of a wet sail in such a fierce gale as this, when the sheets are carried away, and the unconfined sails tugging and tearing to get clear of the yard'. The Prince George leaked constantly and for half the voyage the lower beds were useless from leaks. This circumstance and the unfortunate start to the voyage produced such debility that 27 men had to be sent to the hospital on arrival at Sydney. George Edward Peacock’s exemplary conduct throughout the voyage is mentioned and the surgeon interceded to have him appointed as Gate Keeper and he was subsequently employed as a clerk.Signed Thomas Bell, Surgeon RN.

Date: 1836-1837
Held by: The National Archives, Kew
Legal status: Public Record(s)
Closure status: Open Document, Open Description

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