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Carlow County - Ireland Genealogical Projects (IGP TM)

Ship - The Marquis Cornwallis c.1796

Ship's log recounts convict mutiny en route to Australia 1795


The Ship's log recounts a tale of flogging, mutiny and death: Britain's policy of transporting convicts to Australia was never a pleasant business but a newly uncovered ship's log recounts the full horror of the experience. 

The voyage of the Marquis Cornwallis was particularly brutal even by the standards of the time, when thousands of British and Irish prisoners were shipped to Australia as punishment for sometimes very minor crimes.

A month after leaving Cork, on the south coast of Ireland, the convicts - described by the then-governor of Australia's New South Wales state as "a desperate set of villains" - rose up in mutiny.

They hatched a plan in conjunction with one of the ship's guards to seize the vessel and take it to the newly independent America.

However, the plans were leaked - the informer was later strangled by the enraged conspirators - and Captain Michael Hogan and his officers brutally quelled the rebellion by shooting convicts as they tried to storm the deck.

Retribution was severe. Forty-two of the male convicts were flogged, six females punished in other ways, with eight people killed during the incident.

Despite the violence, those being transported - 70 of whom were female - were by no means all hardened criminals.

They included political prisoners from Ireland, then ruled by London, a 12-year-old boy convicted of highway robbery and women sentenced to transportation merely for stealing gloves or sugar.

Much of the early part of the log, covering sections of the outward voyage, has been lost, and is assumed to have been used in evidence at a Court of Enquiry held in Sydney when the Marquis Cornwallis arrived.

The surviving pages cover events such as the landing of the convicts at Sydney Cove along with cargo such as dried fruit, two large cheeses and spare handcuffs, leg irons and thumb screws, as well as later voyages.

Captain Hogan, after being cleared of wrongdoing by the enquiry, took his ship to India, taking more convicts en route to the even more remote Norfolk Island in the Pacific.

He later made a fortune as a merchant and slave trader, settling in a mansion in the United States and serving as Washington's first consul to the newly independent Chile.

Excerpts from Captain Hogan

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