Close the Window Voyage Diaries
Nile, 1858

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Transcribed by Janice Hayes (nee Hale)

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Letters From the Bishop of Perth (Australia)

        Convict ship 'Nile', Bahia, Nov 3, 1857

My Dear Friend - When you parted from me alongside the Nile on the 23rd 
September, you entertained serious apprehensions that we should not 
accomplish our voyage without disturbances. You had heard from different 
quarters the desperate character of some of the prisoners who had embarked, 
and there appeared to be but too much ground for your apprehension. I send 
you below some account of our proceedings; but cannot help first making 
some observations on the conduct of prison officials in England, in sending 
such characters as some of these we have on board to people a new colony. I 
firmly believe that the higher authorities composing the home government 
are sincerely desirous of dealing with Western Australia in a fair and 
honest manner; but it is not enough for employers and heads of 
establishments to intend honestly, they are bound to see to it that their 
agents and subordinates act faithfully and carry out their intentions 
properly and correctly. Now the compact with Western Australia with respect 
to the class of convicts to be transported, is that they shall be men 
selected for their good behaviour, men whose antecedents allow a reasonable 
hope that they will become reformed persons in their new country, and prove 
to be useful members of the community. That is the understanding no one 
attempts to deny; on the contrary, this was most fully admitted by 
witnesses who were examined last year before the Committee of the House of 
Lords. But, nevertheless, the prison officials in England whose duty is to 
select prisoners for transportation persevere in defiance of all obligation 
in sending out many convicts who are utterly unfit for the purposes of the 
If this had happened only once or twice one might charitably hope that it 
had occurred through inadvertence; but this practice of sending out 
desperate characters - men who have just escaped hanging - have been 
persevered in now for upwards of two years, in spite of the strong protests 
and remonstrations from a variety of different persons connected with the 
colony, in addition to the official representations from the present 
governor. The late governor, Captain Fitzgerald, and the present 
comptroller-general, Captain Henderson, both protested in the strongest 
terms against this system in the examination above referred to. The 
gentlemen last-named, in answer to a question put to him, stated it to be 
his conviction that if the system of sending out desperate characters was 
not discontinued it must soon put an end to transportation altogether. And 
assuredly this must the result. Can it be supposed for a moment the 
inhabitants of the colony however docile and tractable they may be, will 
suffer themselves to be made for ever the victims of so gross and fatal an 
injustice, and to have their country overrun with an class of men who are 
certain, if set at large, to fill the land with robbery and murder? Indeed 
there is no knowing to what extent of crime and violence such as these, 
where they have opportunities of acting upon large bodies of men who are 
not under the restraint of right principle, may proceed. At the end of 1855 
there were more able-bodied men of the convict class in the colony than 
able-bodied men of the free class; no doubt the former class have at the 
present time a still larger majority than they had in 1855. Any drunken row 
or accidental riot occurring in any part of the colony might in a few hours 
be turned by a knot of desperadoes into a general rising of the convict 

There is nothing in the condition or circumstances of the colony to prevent 
such a catastrophe; there is nothing to prevent frightful crimes lately 
perpetrated in India being again repeated in Western Australia. The handful 
of soldier and enrolled pensioners now in the colony who may be sufficient 
to uphold order and discipline in quiet times would be utterly unable to 
offer any successful resistance to an excited mob which would reckon its 
numbers by thousands. In fact, the colonists live, as it were, continually 
with a charged mine beneath their feet, and the system pursued by the 
mother country, of sending from time to time a regular supply of men ripe 
for any outrage, is a system exactly suited to the purpose of springing 
that mine, and bringing ruin and desolation upon the whole country.

If the colonists posses even the most moderate share of prudence, and any 
regard for the peace and safety of their families and their country (to say 
nothing of the moral condition of the community), they will without loss of 
time unite as one man and will with profound respect but with the utmost 
firmness, humbly petition her Majesty the Queen either to cause persons who 
faithfully fulfil her gracious intentions towards the colonists to be 
applied to select the prisoners for transportation, or else to release them 
altogether from the engagement which they have entered into to receive 
convicts from the mother country. To submit a continuance of the present 
practice is to acquiesce in a course of treatment, which must lead to 
results most disastrous to the colony and to all who are connected with it.

With respect to the conveyance of prisoners in convict ships, perhaps it 
may be of some use if I mention some circumstances which have in our own 
case tended greatly to promote the disorder and misrule which have 
unhappily prevailed in this ship. In my narrative below I shall refer to 
the want of an officer previously acquainted with the person of the 
prisoners. Where there is the slightest tendency to insubordination it is 
absolutely necessary that the governing powers should possess, or be able 
to obtain, a particular and personal knowledge of individuals amongst the 
dangerous classes. Further by means of their own eyes or the eyes of the 
others the might be able to keep watch upon every probable disturber of 
the peace to mark his every movement, that so they might stop the very 
first commencement of disturbance. It does not matter whether it is an 
empire or a gathering of twenty half clothed children, this knowledge of 
individuals must be the secret by means of which order must be maintained 
wherever there is any tendency to disorder.

In this case there were 270 men, many of them of desperate characters, and 
bent on mischief, turned loose together in a low half lighted prison 
between decks, without any officer in the ship who had previous 
acquaintance with the worst characters. It was not until the warders had 
obtained by dearly bought experience a knowledge of individuals that they 
could possibly deal with this unruly multitude.   

In the darkness of the prison, it was perfectly easy for the leading 
rioters to conceal themselves in the crowd to avoid detection. The chief 
warder is apparently a very able man, and thoroughly acquainted with the 
duties of his situation; and if opportunities had been afforded him of 
forming acquaintance with the whole body of convicts before they left their 
respective prisons, I firmly believe that the insubordination might have 
been checked at its very first commencement. The want of a place of 
separate confinement in refractory prisons will also be hereafter referred 
to; and the evil consequences arising from this want will be forcibly 
illustrated by the circumstances which occurred. The neglect of a strict 
and vigilant watch of the men's persons will also be noticed and its evil 
consequences shown. Having said thus much about the neglect of means which 
might here have been used to repress disorder, I will now say a few words 
about the means which might have been used to promote order, and to bring 
about a state of right feeling amongst the men; viz, a routine of useful 
and profitable employment, affording opportunities for imparting moral and 
religious instruction.

A scheme is laid down by authorities at home which looks remarkably well 
upon paper, marking out three hours and a half per day for school. But this 
nice looking scheme is completely destroyed by the actual posture of 
affairs. In the first place men are so closely packed in the prison that to 
distribute them all into classes in such a way as to enable them to perform 
their school duties is quite out of the question. In the next place, on 
account of the mutinous spirit which has been manifested and the threats 
which have many times repeated of taking the ship, it is not considered 
safe to open the prison and allow the duties of the days to be commenced 
before daylight as supposed by the scheme already mentioned. The prisoners 
are kept below until there is light enough for the men to be watched, and 
until the usual guard for the day is mounted. This upsets the "timetable" 
at once.

In the next place, under any circumstances, require a great amount of good 
humour amongst the men and their ready and active co-operation, to carry 
through the business of the day in accordance with the "scheme". Where this 
alacrity is wanting it will easily be conceived that the performance of 
each duty will be prolonged beyond the time assigned to it, and that some 
portions of the time will be found quite unavailable for their intended 
purposes. In this way, amongst other more forcible pressures, the three 
hours and a half of school become squeezed away altogether.

In the next place, the supply of books for school purposes is miserably 
defective. Some of the men cannot read at all and others can only just put 
together short and easy words. For the men in this stage there are no books 
at all. There are other impediments to school keeping which have arisen out 
of the disturbed state of the prisoners. It is not considered prudent to 
allow more than one-third of the men to be on deck at the same time; so 
that they are obliged to come up for their airing in three different 
divisions. This tends greatly to destroy regularity of routine, and operate 
against a steady settling down to books. Again, slates cannot be used 
amongst the men. The first time the chaplain took the slates into the 
prison ten were stolen; they were no doubt taken by the riotous party; and 
there is every reason to believe that they were taken to be used as 
offensive weapons. The surgeon therefore has prohibited the use of slates.

These circumstances may serve to illustrate what an incalculable amount of 
injury and injustice is done to a large body of men by mixing amongst them 
in a convict ship a certain number of rioters and desperate characters. 
With respect to the performance of our own ministerial offices; the 
prisoners have always two full services on Sunday, and prayers in the 
prison every evening. The chaplain is constantly among them either singly 
or three or four together. He has been most persevering in his endeavours 
to organise the school, but the utmost that he has been able to accomplish 
has been to induce the men whilst they are on deck for airing, to assemble 
in classes for a short time on the forecastle. Each class is presided over 
by a monitor, and the chaplain remains amongst them to exercise a general 

For my part, I take a class from the men remaining below. I am going 
regularly through the whole number in order that I may become personally 
acquainted with every prisoner on the ship. When the class ceases reading 
I conclude with a short lecture, or an exposition of some passage which has 
been read adding some words of personal advice or consul to the men.

Our Sundays have generally not been fine; on the two occasions when the 
weather has been favourable in the morning all hands have been assembled in 
the after part of the ship; the guards under arms and the ship's crew on 
the poop; and the prisoners on the quarter-deck. Mr Wright read the 
services and I preached on both these occasions. The other Sundays, when 
the weather was not fine, Mr Wright and I divided the services, one 
officiating in the cuddy, and the other in the prison. The prisoner's 
service, in the afternoon, is always held below.

I also addressed the prisoners on the occasion of their giving up the 
leading rioters when these latter was secured in the forecastle, as will be 
hereafter described. The surgeon-superintendent and the chaplain 
accompanied me to the prison, and I endeavoured to point out the folly as 
well as the wickedness of those who had occasioned the late riots. I 
commended warmly those who had stood forward in the cause of order and had 
given up the disturbers of peace. I spoke of the colony, from my personal 
knowledge, as a place affording them excellent opportunities of redeeming 
their characters and retrieving their lost position; and finally entreated 
them to make their peace with God through Jesus Christ, and to strive to 
prepare for a future life.

I must now proceed to give you some account of what has actually occurred 
in the ship. I have already alluded to the very unfavourable reports, which 
we heard upon our first arrival at Plymouth; and the on going on board. I 
certainly did not find things better than I expected. It was quite certain 
that there were amongst the prisoners a certain number of very desperate 
characters, and that those put on board at Plymouth were especially, taking 
them all together, a very bad set. The warder who came to the ship with 
those men said that they were as bad a body of men as the prison could 
produce. It was here also that a singular want of care and vigilance was 
manifested with respect to articles which the prisoners were allowed to 
bring on board with them. One of the soldiers of the guard in the ship 
discovered a life preserver in the possession of one of the convicts as he 
came over the ship's side. Subsequently knives and files were found in 
possession of the prisoners; and it is not easy to account for their having 
these articles unless they brought them into the ship. Some implements of 
this description they retained amongst them undiscovered; and by these 
means some of the men who afterwards were put in irons were able to get the 
irons off, and thus to defy authority at a most important crisis. There can 
be no doubt that this successful resistance to the arm of the law 
contributed in no slight degree to aggravate the disturbance which 
eventually took place.

I think it very important to call attention to the circumstances that a 
certain portion of the convicts showed signs of insubordination from the 
time of their first entrance into the ship. They seemed bent upon mischief; 
and not only were insolent and troublesome, but declared boldly that the 
ship should never reach Australia.

The minds of both of the sailor and warders appear to have been unsettled 
by the state of things prevailing. Nine sailors refused to work, on the 
plea that when they signed articles they were not aware that the ship was 
to carry convicts. These men were landed and taken before the magistrates 
at Plymouth, and were sentenced to one month's imprisonment. Two warders 
likewise refused duty, and they were also put ashore at Plymouth.

After we got to sea it was evident that the prisoners were in a very 
unsettled and unsatisfactory state of mind. There was a constant tendency 
to insolence, and several depredations were committed by them whilst they 
were upon deck for their airing.

Upon one occasion the harness cart in which the meat for the cuddy table 
was kept, was plundered. Upon another occasion the chief mate discovered a 
prisoner in the act of carrying off a goose from the longboat; he pursued 
him and recovered the goose. This gave rise to jeers and taunts from the 
other prisoners upon deck; some shouted to him that he had better count 
the sheep and see whether they were all right. This offender was punished 
by being put into the "black box", which is a box something larger than a 
coffin, and when a man is put into it is either left standing in a 
perpendicular position or laid down upon the deck, close by the station of 
a sentry. Another man was detected in the act of passing down an iron 
crowbar from the deck into the prison; he was also punished by a period of 
incarceration in the black box.

The evening of Thursday, Oct 1, Mr Wright went below to the prison to 
conduct the service as usual. The prisoners sang some verses of a hymn, and 
then commenced screaming, whistling through their fingers, using abusive 
language, shouting out, "We'll do for you," and uttering other threats of a 
similar character. The surgeon-superintendent was standing by the hatchway, 
a little behind Mr Wright; and after a time they both retired, finding it 
impossible to proceed with the service. Mr Wright informed me that a 
similar disgraceful scene had been enacted upon a previous occasion, before 
I joined the ship at Plymouth.

The night of the 4th October one of the warders on duty on the prison was 
assaulted and injured, another warder also received a blow. For this and 
other disorderly conduct six men were seized on the deck the next 
afternoon, Monday, October 5, just as it was getting dark. These men 
received corporal punishment, and one who appeared to be the ringleader, 
was detained in the "black box". The other five were ironed and sent below 
with the rest of the prisoners. In a very short time, however, they all 
five freed themselves from the irons, no doubt by means of the files which 
had remained undiscovered in their possession. Whilst we were sitting at 
tea in the cuddy, a little before seven o'clock, an alarm was raised of a 
disturbance in the prison; everything was immediately in confusion and the 
cuddy table deserted. It was impossible to ascertain at the time what was 
really the matter, the women and families of the soldiers and warders were 
afraid to remain in their own place, and came in great alarm into the cuddy 
and on the poop. In about fifteen or twenty minutes the chief warder was 
led forward from the hatchway bleeding, and apparently considerably injured.

It appeared that the surgeon-superintendent whilst below in the prison 
heard a missile whiz forcibly past him, and on looking round saw the chief 
warder had received a violent blow on the jaw. The missile was immediately 
picked up, which proved to be a piece of sand-stone attached to an old 
handkerchief in such a way as enabled the thrower to hurl it like a sling. 
The chief warder was obliged to remain off duty for some days. The surgeon 
has now reason to believe that the blow was intended for him, and he has 
been told that a deliberate plan had been at one time in course of 
information to take his life.

The following night, Tuesday, Oct 6, the rioting was renewed, and this time 
carried to still greater lengths. As the night advanced the prisoners 
became exceedingly disorderly, at first singing in a loud and boisterous 
manner, proceeding then to hurrahs and cheers, and getting on by degrees to 
a complete riot. Many of the men who had been glad to have remained quiet 
were compelled to leave their berths by the violence of the more turbulent. 
Hitherto the practice had been kept up of placing one of the warders in the 
prison during the night. The warder who was upon this duty upon this 
occasion remained during these proceedings in fear and trembling until he 
was at length withdrawn. He reported that the number of violent rioters was 
about 30 or 40, who rushed up and down the prison from end to end, becoming 
thereby more and more excited. At one time they made an attack upon the 
bars under the hatchway, at another time they directed their efforts to the 
after bulkhead (the partition which divides off the prison from the rest of 
the ship). For my own part, knowing the effect which may be produced by the 
mere brute force of so large a body of powerful men in a state of violent 
excitement, I entertained very considerable apprehensions that the bulkhead 
would give way.

I need not say that during all this time great alarm prevailed among the 
women and families of the soldiers and warders, they all left their berths 
and the places which they usually occupied, and as they had done the night 
before came crowding in a terrified manner into the cuddy and up on the 

From nearly the commencement of the disturbance the guard had been under 
arms, and the men mustered and furnished with cutlasses, ready for any 
emergency. When the bulkhead and bars were attacked, which was perhaps 
about 12 o'clock, a party of the guard was marched to the bars down the 
hatchway in order to intimidate the rioters, with a show of firing in upon 
them. The prisoners then assailed the officers and surgeon superintendent 
with the most violent abuse, telling them the mode in which they would be 
murdered respectively when they got them into their hands; two were 
specified who were to "walk the plank", another was to be cut up piecemeal 
- they even threatened the manner in which the women were to be treated. 
The appearance of the soldiers at the prison bars seemed however, to have 
the effect of restraining their actual violence; and, after a time, the 
tumult gradually subsided. By about one o'clock quiet was again restored.

After this the prison still continued in a very unsatisfactory and unquiet 
state, sundry acts of violence and petty thefts having been committed 
amongst the convicts. On the night of Monday, October 12, about 11 o'clock 
the officer on guard came to the surgeon superintendent to report that an 
aggravated assault had been committed upon one of the convicts. After some 
consultation it was determined that a party should enter the prison 
immediately and seize the offenders. The surgeon superintendent, 
accompanied by the mate of the ship and two or three soldiers, proceeded to 
act upon this determination, and it appeared that a party of the most 
desperate of the prisoners (no doubt the same men who had occasioned the 
previous riots) had been plundering several of their fellow prisoners, 
especially taking biscuits; many of the prisoners were thereby exasperated 
against them, and readily rendered assistance in bringing forth and handing 
out several men who were known to be the principal rioters. The general 
desire to get rid of the whole party was manifested by their pulling out 
and passing up one man before he was even demanded. The men were in this 
way taken from the prison, put in irons, and kept to receive corporal 
punishment in the morning. This flogging they received soon after daylight, 
but there were being no separate place of confinement, and were allowed 
again to mix with the rest of the prisoners. What could be worse, or tend 
more to renewed rioting, that these men lashed into fury by their 
punishment; and thinking to be revenged upon the other prisoners who had 
given them up, should immediately have the opportunity given to them of 
exciting the passions of their comrades, and of instigating them to further 
violence. For my own part I entertained so strong a belief with respect to 
the generally unpromising state of affairs, that in the course of the 
forenoon I requested the surgeon superintendent, the captain of the ship, 
and the commanding officer to allow me to express my views to them. These 
officers kindly assembled in the surgeon's cabin, and then I formally 
stated my belief that things were getting worse and worse, and that I fully 
expected that unless some effectual steps were taken to put down the 
rioting, serious disturbances attended with bloodshed, and probably loss of 
life, must inevitably accrue. I ventured to propose as a remedy that we 
should put into some English station, either Ascension Island or St Helena, 
in expectation of meeting with a ship of war bound for England, with a view 
to transmitting again to the mother country some five or six of the most 
desperate prisoners. This plan, however, appeared to be impracticable. The 
surgeon and commanding officer expressed an opinion that they would not be 
satisfied in giving up the prisoners; and the captain stated that, from the 
present position of the ship, great delay and difficulty would be 
occasioned by making either of the islands which I mentioned. The 
correctness of my opinion, however, as to the posture of affairs was fully 
born out before the close of the day. In the course of the evening one of 
the warders reported that the men, whilst upon deck, had appeared to be in 
a disturbed and excited state, that they had been endeavouring to procure 
offensive weapons, had contrived to secrete some sticks, and that the 
boatswain missed five belaying pins which he had seen in their places in 
the morning. In fact, it was evident that a serious riot was intended 
during the night. Upon receipt of this intelligence the surgeon determined 
to retake the men who had been flogged in the morning, and keep them in 
irons and separate from the rest of the prisoners during the night. Six of 
the men were brought out and made fast accordingly. Seeing no prospect of 
getting the ship freed from these leading rioters, I took an opportunity of 
having further conversation with the captain of the ship in the evening. I 
repeated again to him what I had said in the morning - that I was firmly 
persuaded unless something was done to prevent it, the prison rioting would 
get worse and worse, and would be eventually attended with very serious 
consequences, and I urged upon him the imperative necessity of finding a 
place in the ship which could be fitted up as a refractory prison. I 
suggested the hold, but he said it would be quite impossible to fit up any 
place there. At last he thought of the forecastle. It is the practice in 
convict ships, to have the sailors in the after part of the vessel, and 
therefore, the forecastle (usually occupied by the sailors) is in the 
convict ships available for other used. The captain came to the conclusion 
that this place could be fitted up as a refractory prison, and the plan 
when announced to the surgeon and the commanding officer was warmly 
approved of. By the evening of the next day, Wednesday, the 14th, all the 
arrangements were complete; a chain was fixed in the forecastle on the 
starboard side, and the six riotous prisoners, being already in irons, were 
made fast to the chains. They persevered in their insolent bearing even up 
to this time, and said to the surgeon and those who were fastening them in 
a threatening manner, "You will have to pay for this". Up to this time 
scarcely a night had passed without some disturbance or act of violence 
occurring in the prison. I am now writing sixteen days after the six 
ringleaders were separated from the other prisoners, and no disturbances of 
any kind has occurred in the prison during that period. Those men have not 
only boasted of their achievements in breaking out of gaols and freeing 
themselves from irons, but they are given proof of their skills in the last 
normal accomplishments; they are therefore watched with untiring vigilance. 
Some of their colleagues have attempted to confer with them, while taking 
their daily airing on deck. These men have been paraded before the guard, 
that their persons may be known; and they have been informed that they will 
be punished in a summary manner if they are again detected in communication 
with the prisoners in the forecastle. One day a written communication from 
those men was intercepted. It was an earnest appeal to the other prisoners 
written with considerable spirit, exhorting them to hold well together, to 
be true to one another, to make common cause with the sufferers in chains, 
together with an admonition not to forget the traitor who betrayed them. It 
is not known who is particularly alluded to in this last expression, 
probably one of the prisoners who assisted in giving them up to the 
surgeon. I must now mention another circumstance, as tending to illustrate 
the state of affairs in general.      

A gang of eight or ten prisoners had been employed during the whole time as 
deck-washers for the forepart of the ship. The head of this gang was a fat, 
burly, good-humoured looking prisoner, named J.........., formerly a sailor 
who is known throughout the ship as "Boatswain J......". All the men of the 
gang have appeared to conduct themselves in a quiet orderly manner, and do 
their work satisfactorily (A.... Is one of them, and has hitherto behaved 
himself apparently with great propriety; being quiet and respectful in his 
demeanour and active in the discharge of his duties). They are on the deck 
nearly the whole day, and are permitted to move about the ship and take 
part in what is going on in a way that is not allowed to the other 
prisoners. On Friday, Oct 23, one of the warders overheard some of these 
men in conversation, and he gathered that a plot for taking the ship was on 
foot amongst them. Although he did not hear enough to gather any certain 
information, the surgeon-superintendent considered it quite necessary to 
make a counter move to defeat any scheme which might be going on. He had 
himself perceived (or thought he had perceived) a difference in A........'s 
manner for the last few days; he therefore displaced half of the gangs, viz 
those whom he judges most likely to be tools in the hands of boatswain 
J......, and put in their places men who on other departments, had 
conducted themselves well and appeared to be worthy of trust. He has 
reasons for thinking that it would not be politic to displace J..... And 
A..... At the present time; and the changes which have been effected here 
have been made without any words or explanation. He observes that J...., 
although not displeased himself, shows evident signs in his looks and 
manner of being much put out and disconcerted, and he is thereby greatly 
confirmed in his belief that some scheme was in contemplation; and that the 
warder was not mistaken in his suspicions. 

Wednesday, October 28 - This morning a displaced member of J....'s gang was 
paraded before the guard, together with another prisoner, as men suspected 
of holding intercourse with the prisoners in the forecastle. The surgeon 
had himself overhead from them which induced him to take this step. In the 
afternoon this same man and four other were reported by the sentry as 
having been improper proximity to the forecastle, and every preparation was 
made for inflicting corporal punishment on the chief offender. There was no 
evidence, however, that they actually communicated with the prisoners in 
the forecastle and after making great promises of more careful conduct for 
the future, they were dismissed by the surgeon with severe cautions. Three 
of these were men lately displaced from the deck-washers gang.

Friday, Oct 30 - Today another prisoner was out and paraded before the 
guard as one who was to be particularly noticed. This is a very young 
fellow bearing countenance every indication of recklessness and daring. He 
is said to be the one who hurled the stone in the handkerchief on the 5th 
inst., and wounded the chief warder, but I believe the evidence against him 
as regards to this affair is not quite satisfactory. He was brought today 
in consequence of its being reported that he had been overheard to say that 
he was ready to lead an attack; that the bullets would go over his head, 
and that he would break through the barricade.

Monday, Nov 2 - Yesterday the weather was rather showery and we had the 
prison service below. I took the whole service, and Mr Wright officiated in 
the cabin. I preformed the whole service with a sermon again in the cuddy 
at 7 p.m. The cuddy was quite filled by the soldiers, warders and their 
families. This morning, I am sorry to say, corporal punishment was again 
inflicted. One of the men punished was one of the six in irons; his offence 
was threatening the chief warder, and declaring that he would take his 
life. The other two men were punished for smoking below. The surgeon 
exhausted all other means in endeavouring to put a stop to this practice, 
which is of course, one extremely dangerous to the whole ship.

(A subsequent letter contains sub-joined passages.)

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               Convict ship 'Nile', Jan 1 1858
                 Approaching the Coast of Western Australia

My dear Friend, - I wrote to you at the beginning of November from Bahia, 
Brazil, giving you an account of our voyage up to that time, and of all the 
anxieties we had undergone in consequence of misconduct of some of the 
convicts. I have now every reason to express the most heartfelt gratitude 
to the Almighty God for the favour which had been shown us in this latter 
part of our voyage. We have been favoured in every way since we left Bahia. 
We have had fair winds and a quick passage, and the prisoners have not been 
to us an occasion of anxiety or alarm. 

We reached latitude 44 deg, south on the 1st of December; being at the same 
day in the meridian of Greenwich, in the parallel of latitude just 
mentioned, viz, 44 deg. South, our captain determined to make the greater 
part of his running eastward. The period at which we were in that latitude 
was as you are aware, just at the height of summer in this hemisphere, and 
yet we experienced some very cold and indeed, wintry weather. This great 
change in temperature took place about the 27th November, and the cold 
weather continued for a month, viz, to a day or two after Christmas day. We 
left our southern parallel, December 23, in longitude 90 east, and since 
that time have been gradually creeping to the north. The thermometer, 
during the greater part of the time above mentioned, while in latitude 44, 
was generally about 55 deg. In the cuddy; several times it stood at 
55 deg., and twice it was observed as low as 46 deg. And 47 deg. The usual 
temperature on deck during the middle of the day was about 45 deg., or 46 
deg. When you consider that this was during the height of summer and that 
the corresponding parallel of the northern hemisphere runs through the mild 
climate of the South of France, &c., the lowness of the temperature will 
appear remarkable. Our captain, who has been thirty years at sea, and has 
rounded the Cape of Good Hope every year during this period is of the 
opinion that the season must have been quite an unusual one, arising 
perhaps from some very extensive break up of ice, and drifting of large 
quantities to a distance from the South Polar regions.

We were constantly fancying that we might get a sight of an iceberg, but 
nothing of the kind appeared to us. We had fine strong winds nearly the 
whole time above-mentioned from the S.W. and W. We had four or five gales 
sufficiently strong to reduce us to close reefed topsails; once we had to 
lay to.

We have run from the meridian of Greenwich to this place (close upon 115 
deg of longitude) in 31 days; and as our ship is by no means a fast sailer, 
this is sufficient to show the character of the winds we have been favoured 
with. The prisoners, as I have already stated, have caused but little 
anxiety of late. In fact, there is no difficulty in preserving order in 
convict ships when the ships are supplied with the requisite appliances, 
and the prisoners become individually known to those who have care of them. 
The six men who were put in irons, and confined separately in the 
forecastle before we reached Bahia, are still in the same condition; and 
will be handed over to the authorities of Fremantle with their irons on. 
They have been constantly endeavouring to keep up a communication with the 
other prisoners; and have urged them to use violence to rescue them; but 
their movements are watched with untiring vigilance, and all their schemes 
defeated. About the beginning of December, there appeared to be a 
disposition to mischief in some few men in the main prison, the members of 
one mess. It was understood that they intended make an assault upon the 
surgeon superintendent and two of the warders; and they were providing 
themselves with bottles to be used as offensive weapons. The surgeon 
consequently required all bottles to be delivered up, and frustrated all 
their intention. Upon another occasion, about the same time, he felt it 
advisable to station a few soldiers at the main hatchway while he went his 
rounds. About the same period there was a rumour abroad that a plan was 
arranged for effecting the rescue of the six prisoners in irons, as a 
counterplot to this, the surgeon, without making any remarks or 
observations upon the subject, caused the port forecastle to be prepared 
fitted up for the accommodation of close prisoners in a similar manner to 
the starboard forecastle, where the six men are confined. It is presumed 
that the intending champions did not like this demonstration, as no further 
steps were taken in the matter of the rescue, but these were measures of 
precaution. I believe I am correct in saying that not a single open act of 
insubordination has been committed, since we left Bahia.

With respect to the previous part of the voyage, many little things have 
transpired since I wrote my former letter, all rending to show the care and 
method with which the gang of desperadoes had prepared their measures for 
taking the ship, and the atrocious character of their designs. Two 
prisoners have died during the voyage; one from pulmonary disease, the 
other from a complaint of the liver. It appears that in both instances the 
disease had been serious, and was of old standing before the men left 
England. The surgeon superintendent has been most assiduous and anxious in 
his attention to the men during the whole voyage. He has had a most 
difficult task to perform, and he has performed it most ably and 
efficiently. The disturbance which occurred during the first month are to 
be attributed to the large number of desperate characters amongst the 
prisoners, to the fact that the persons characters of the men were wholly 
unknown to those who had the care of them, and to the imperfect 
arrangements of the ship. The school occupations of the men have gone on 
much more satisfactorily since the first month of the voyage. I am informed 
by Mr Wright, the chaplain, that several of the men have made very great 
progress indeed. The general demeanour during the performance of Divine 
service has now been most orderly and satisfactory. The two men who died 
gave earnest attention to Mr Wright's ministration, during the latter part 
of their sickness, and appeared to deplore their former evil life. But 
alas, a hurried repentance upon a death-bed is, at the best, but a 
melancholy termination to a life of crime. Mr Wright and I share the Sunday 
services between us, one officiating in the prison, and the other in the 
cuddy. I have generally taken the prison service on Sunday morning. The 
prisoners have formed a very excellent choir, and sing remarkably well; and 
the attention and orderly behaviour during the whole time of the service 
has been most striking. Being myself so familiar with the character of the 
Australian country and the details of pastoral occupations, I have given 
lectures to the prisoners on these subjects, also upon their own future 
prospects and positions in the colony. The men manifested the deepest 
interest in those lectures, and I trust they have been of use to them.

January 7 - It is with feelings of heartfelt gratitude to Almighty God 
that I now inform you that the Nile cast anchor at Fremantle about 10 
o'clock p.m. On the 1st inst, we were at the meridian of Greenwich Dec 1, 
and therefore we had run the whole of our east longitude (115 degrees) in 
exactly one month. The refractory prisoners and two or three invalids were 
landed the day after our arrival, the rest remained on board until the 5th.

I am happy to say that the majority of our men give much satisfaction to 
the superintendent of the prison (so far as he is yet able to judge) by 
their general appearance and demeanour of the conduct on board of this 
majority, we have every reason to speak well, and one cannot but lament for 
their sakes, as well as on every account, that the desperate characters who 
caused all the disturbances were sent into the ship. Since our arrival I 
have been favoured with a sight of the 'paption' (?) of one of the 
desperadoes, and it is a perfect mystery to me how any person holding a 
responsible position could ever reconcile it to his conscience to turn such 
a man loose into a ship with 269 other convicts, knowing there existed in 
that ship no sufficient appliances for the permanent safe custody of a 
dangerous person; and knowing also that no warder or officer in the ship 
had been forewarned or cautioned with respect to this man [George Woodcock]. 
I may safely say that the crimes and outrages committed by this one man 
if divided amongst ten convicts, instead of being all accumulated upon one, 
would stamp each of the ten as desperadoes, utterly unfit for the purpose 
of colonisation. This man is known to have passed under feigned names and 
aliases to the number of at least 15 to 20, he has been traced and identified 
in no less than seventeen different prisons in England. He has been guilty 
of violent conduct, murderous assaults upon the warders, attempts upon 
governors of prisons, breaking out of jail, and outrageous behaviour of 
every description so many times as to defy all attempts to record them all. 
He has become so madly and desperately furious that, for the safety of 
others, it has been found necessary to keep him lashed down hands and feet 
for upwards of a fortnight together.

This is the man who is sent to Western Australia in the face of the most 
distinct understanding that the best and most orderly prisoners are to be 
selected for transportation to this colony. In addition to this he 
possesses far more than average ability, has considerable command of apt, 
forcible language, and great fluency of speech. He has been noted in the 
English prisons and has distinguished himself on board the Nile by his 
daring infidelity, and the bold blasphemous expressions which he makes use 
of. In fact if we could imagine any persons indulging a wish to do the 
greatest amount of injury possible to a ship's company and the inhabitants 
of a colony no more direct method could have been taken to carry this wish 
than to turn loose amongst them such a lend-like? criminal as this. He had 
scarcely embarked in the ship before he commenced to prepare for further 
violence by picking the pocket of the warder who brought him off of his 
life-preserver. (This is quite a different affair from that of the 
life-preserver which was taken from a prisoner coming over the ships' side, 
as mentioned in my former letter). Happily, another prisoner took the 
weapon from him and gave it up to the authorities. I trust the events which 
have taken place on board the Nile will operate as a caution and henceforth 
we shall receive from England such convicts only as have conducted 
themselves with some kind of propriety in prison of whom we may entertain 
some hope that they may, by God's grace become reformed; and become 
eventually creditable members of society. 

I am 
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