The transportation of female convicts in 1820, onboard The Morley

On 22 May 1820 a ship named The Morley, sailed for New South Wales, arguably there was nothing new about this one as plenty of ships transported convicts to Australia at that time, but this ship was transporting 121 female prisoners, along with some several children, and was one sailing which we know a good deal more about than many other such voyages.

The reason for this being that the ship’s surgeon, Thomas Reid, who was a young man of just 29 years of age when they set sail, kept a detailed account of this voyage, with specific references and a dedication in the book to his good friend, the prison reformer, Elizabeth Fry. She and representatives from the British Ladies’ Committee, boarded the ship several times to deliver Bibles, prayer books and to also give the convicts moral advice prior to the ship sailing.

The ship was prepared ready to receive its female prisoners and some children.

A supply of books and other things fit for the children was carefully sent on board from the Ladies’ Committee; and to complete their benevolent design, a quantity of straw for plaiting, and some materials for knitting and sewing, were purchased, as their funds would allow, in order to afford the convicts employment on voyage.

Convicts arrived at the dock from prisons all over the country from Cumberland to Devon. The main crimes these women were being deported for were, by today’s standards relatively minor, such as theft of clothing, forging of bank notes, both such crimes would more than likely have been committed due to the extreme poverty they were living in and as a way to support their families.

Accompanying two of the Ladies from the committee, on one occasion, was the Solicitor to the Bank of England.

The Solicitor was commissioned by the Bank to make a present of five pounds to every woman who had been convicted of uttering forged notes, or of having them in possession.

He issued this money to the forty one women convicted of this crime, to ‘alleviate in some degree the distresses and wants brought upon them by their prosecution’.

A set of regulations were produced to ensure the health and comfort of the convicts:

The care and management of each mess shall be intrusted to a monitor who will be held responsible for any irregularities committed by those under her direction; it is expected that everyone will behave respectfully and be obedient to the monitor of her particular mess.

Cursing and swearing – obscene and indecent language, fighting and quarrelling, as such practices ten to dishonour God’s holy name, and corrupt good manners, will incur the displeasure of the Surgeon Superintendent. And be visited with punishment and disgrace.

Cleanliness being essentially necessary to the health, comfort and well-being of every person on board, it is desired that the most scrupulous attention in this respect be observed on every occasion.

The monitors are particularly enjoined the utmost vigilance in taking care that nothing disorderly shall appear among the members of their respective messes.

Anyone convicted of disturbing others whilst engaged in reading the holy scriptures, or other religious exercise, will incur special animadversion, and such misconduct will be entered into the journal.

A proper reserve towards the sailors will be held indispensable and all intercourse with them must be avoided as much as possible.

A daily account will be kept, and a faithful report made to His Excellence the Governor of New South Wales of the conduct of each individual during the voyage, and those who behave well, though they may have come here with bad characters, will be represented favourably; the Surgeon Superintendent pledges to use hi utmost effort to get everyone settled in a comfortable manner who behaviour shall merit such friendly interference.

NB Any breach of above regulations, or any attempt to deface or destroy this paper, will be punished severely; and the person so offending must not expect to be recommended to the kind notice of the Governor of New South Wales.

It took quite some conservable time for all convicts to board the ship, with one of two being old and frail who had to be disembarked, as it was thought that they wouldn’t survive the journey.

One of the women I came across who was named in Reid’s journal, was Browning Owen, she was one of the many women convicted for the forgery of bank notes and was sentenced to 14 years. Browning had four children, John, Eliza, Robert and Elizabeth; Reid wrote this about her situation:

The case of this poor woman seems one of aggravated distress. About nine months since, her husband incited her to commit crime; and after involving her in guilt and misery, left her with a helpless family without a friend in the world. Her conduct having been exceedingly good since she came on board, induced me to lay a statement of her case before Mr Capper, for the consideration of the Secretary of State, whose benevolence granted permission for all the children to be embarked and accompany their mother.

We now know from the New South Wales, Census and Population Books, 1811-1825, that all 4 children did accompany her and were named in the 1824 records for Parramatta, New South Wales.

Two women from York were brought on board, and a few minutes afterwards, three from Winchester.  The two women from York were Ruth, the wife of Joseph Clapham and Jane Peck, both had been sentenced to 14 years each. Ruth was from Halifax and her crime was to have knowingly used two promissory notes. Ruth had lived in the village of Northowram near Halifax, with her husband Joseph and at least one son.

It has been possible to trace the three from Winchester from the court registers and newspapers. We have Ann Welch, Sarah Bromley and Catherine Burns. Ann and Sarah were, according to the Hampshire Chronicle 15 November 1819 were convicted of using a forged £1 note. It’s not clear whether they forged it themselves or merely used it as payment to a Jane Moses.

From Newcastle gaol we have Isabella, wife of John Dennison. Isabella was convicted on 29 March 1819, for larceny and sentenced to seven years. The second woman being Frances, the wife of John Pattison. Frances was sentenced on 14 August 1819 to life. We know a little more about the case for Frances from the Northumberland, Durham and Cumberland Gazette of 7 September 1819:

Frances Pattison was charged with passing a note of British Linen Company knowing the same to be forged. On the 30 March, about half past seven, the prisoner went to the shop of Mrs Shiell, in the Milk Market in this town and bought two shilling loaves, for which she tendered the note in question. In consequence of some observations made at the time, the prisoner went out, saying she would go and fetch the neighbour she got it off, but she did not return. There were two forget notes of the same company found in her pocket by Forsyth, who went to apprehend her, after she had got into bed at 10 o’clock at night. The prisoner in her defence, she went to get some beer with a woman named Martha Hand, on the night in question, who desired her to go and get some bread and cheese. When she found the note was bad, she went to look for Hand, but could not find her, she then went to bed, thinking it was too late to go to the shop that night. She saw no more of Martha Hand, who was in custody soon after the prisoner was taken. She did not positively say she got the notes from Hand. Guilty – Death.

Clearly, her death sentence was lessened at some stage, to transportation.

Next, we have Eliza Dilling, alias Dillon, who was convicted at The Old Bailey for pickpocketing, she was aged about  34 and sentenced to life. You can read the account of her trial here.

According to the Stamford Mercury 30 July 1819,

Jane Brown, aged 18, late of Holbeach, Lincolnshire, a single woman, was charged with stealing, on the 26 March last, notes and cash to the amount of 18 shillings, 10 pence in the welling house of Mr John Smith, farmer of Holbeach.

Jane was also initially sentenced to death; however, this was amended to a sentence of 14 years for her crime and transportation.

A View of Hobart, Tasmania 1846 YCBA

The Morley arrived in Hobart, Tasmania, disembarked many of the women, then sailed on to Port Jackson, New South Wales, where the remainder were disembarked.

The Hobart Town Gazette and Southern Reporter 2 September 1820 reported:

The whole of the female convicts on board The Morley have reached this port in the best state of health and order and their condition in all respects affords the amplest testimonial of the humanity, attention and judgement which have been employed upon the passage. On Thursday Lieutenant Governor inspected the female prisoners of board and this day the number of 60 destined for this settlement were landed and appropriated to service.

Records of this journey have survived with a full list of convicts being held on the Australian Convict Transportation Register. Sadly, although we have names, dates of conviction, length of sentence and which assizes they were sentenced, we know little about the backgrounds of the women themselves which would make for a fascinating project to track them all down before leaving England.


11 thoughts on “The transportation of female convicts in 1820, onboard The Morley

    1. Sarahmurden

      Thank you so much for sharing your article – it’s amazing where an item such as a trade card can take you – they’re one of my passions. These cases are often so sad, and the punishment so harsh in comparison to the crime committed, in so many cases 😦


    1. Sarahmurden

      Very true and very sad, I’m afraid. I wish I knew what became of those women and whether they had the opportunity to create a new and better life for themselves eventually.


  1. lmadden42

    Fascinating. Prisoners were also transported to the American colonies. Among them were some of my ancestors on my mother’s side. As a Southern woman, she was proud of and connected to all aspects of her heritage. Encountering someone with the surname “Bell,” she remarked, “oh were your people prisoners like mine?” The “Bell” descendant was not pleased.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Loyalist Trails 2023-14 – UELAC

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.