Journal kept by Dr T R Dunn (Surgeon Superintendent) on passage to Hobart with 176 Irish Convicts in the "Waverley", 1841

[Folio 1 - FRONT COVER]


No. 131


Copy of Daily Sick Book and Synopsis


Received [by whom – presume Admiralty?] 25th June 1842 [1]




Journal of His Majesty's Ship [2]

Convict Ship“Waverley”


[By] Mr. Thos [Thomas] R. Dunn, M.D., Surgeon Super[intenden]t


Between the 10th day of March [1841]

and 20th of Septr 1841


The National Archives reference: ADM 101/73/7

Transcription © Thomas Spinks

[Summary of original folios 2-10]


APPENDIX No. 11, and Art[icle] No. 32 of the Surgeon's Instructions. 


MEDICAL and SURGICAL JOURNAL of the Convict Ship “Waverley”, between the 10th day of March 1841 and the 20th day of September 1841, during which time the said Ship has been employed in transporting convicts to Van Diemans [sic] Land.


Nature of Disease

No. of Case

Men's Names, Ages, Qualities, Time when and where taken ill, and how disposed of.

The History, Symptoms, Treatment and Daily Progress of Disease/ Hurt



Richard Fitzgerald, a Convict, aged 14, taken ill at Kingston 21st April, and sent to Kilmainham [Gaol] 22nd April 1841.

[too detailed and lengthy to transcribe!]

Haemoptysis [?]


John Gallagher, a Convict, [aged] 30, taken ill at Sea 10th of May 1841. Discharged cured on the 13th May 1841.

[too detailed and lengthy to transcribe!]

Psoas Abscess


Michael Duffy, a Convict, age[d] 36, taken ill at Sea, on the 13th and died on the 25th May 1841.

[too detailed and lengthy to transcribe!]



Nicholas Cleary, a Convict, age[d] 22, taken ill at Sea, 25th May, discharged cured 1st June.

[too detailed and lengthy to transcribe!]



Luke Barry, a Convict, age[d] 23, taken ill at Sea [ed.: Bahia?], 20th June, discharged cured 17th July.


[too detailed and lengthy to transcribe!]

Diarrhoea &c.


Patrick Magrath, a Convict, age[d] 34, who was taken ill with Diarrhoea &c., at Sea, on 2nd September & died on 6th Sept 1841

[too detailed and lengthy to transcribe!]


[Folios 11-23 are blank.]


Transcriber’s Note:

The above were the only six entries made in the detailed medical journal kept by the Surgeon. A total of twenty-nine cases of various ailments were reported during the Waverley’s voyagefrom Dublinto Hobart– as recorded in the “Surgeon’s Nosological Synopsis” table (folio 24); however, only two deaths occurred. Additionally, one convict (Fitzgerald) was actually discharged, due to showing symptoms of typhus fever (a contagious disease) on 22nd April 1841, prior to Waverley’s departure from Dublin – another convict was substituted in his place. We do not know the names of the other twenty-three individuals who survived their ailment(s).


Folio 25 l/h page is entitled: “A List of Men who have received wounds or hurts during the period of this Journal” – this has been left BLANK by the Surgeon.



Abstract of the Journal of “Waverley” Convict Ship, during a voyage from Kingston [Dublin]in Ireland and Van Diemen’s Land, with 176 Male Prisoners, in 1841.


Editor: Here follow four pages which in tabular form give an abstract of the entire journey from Dublin to Hobart – listing dates, thermometer and barometer readings, latitude/longitude coordinates, wind direction, weather conditions, daily miles sailed, and the no. of sick convicts. This has not been transcribed – I have however, plotted the Waverley’s daily positions using Google Earth (see elsewhere on this site).



            “In March 1841, I [Dr Dunn] was appointed Surgeon Superintendent of the “Waverley” Convict Ship. On the 25th April sailed from Kingston in Ireland with 176 Male Prisoners. Crossed the Equator 10th June and on the 18th put into Bahia on the Coast of Brazil, having discovered a few days previously that the middle tier of water casks were [sic] in a leaky and unserviceable state. After obtaining a supply of water &c, we left Bahia on the 27th June and finally arrived at Van Diemans [sic: Diemen’s] Land on the 13th of September. On the 20th of the same month 174 Convicts were disembarked at Hobart Town in excellent health.

            During the tedious passage of 142 days, two deaths occurred among the Convicts. The first, a hopeless case of Psoas Abscess, which terminated about a month after embarkation[;] the second, a complication of pulmonic diseaseand enlargement of the liver, rapidly sinking at last from severe diarrhoea. The subject of Psoas abscess stated a few days previous to his dissolution that he had been suffering from distressing pain of the lumbar & right [illegible] regions for several weeks in gaol, but that he was advised to conceal his complaints from me as the only chance he had of recovering his health depended on going to sea. I need scarcely remark that the motion of the ship tended only to hasten the fatal event. Notwithstanding these unfortunate cases the “Waverley” proved to be in all other respects a remarkably healthy vessel. In looking at the Sick Report it will appear that only 29 entries were made during the voyage, nearly all of which were of a very uninteresting character; it will also be found that the daily average of Sick amounts to a fraction below one per cent of all the Prisoners embarked. When the unusual duration of the voyage is taken into consideration this result(?) I presume will be considered most satisfactory. From previous experience of the dislike entertained by Irish Convicts to Cocoa, I did not issue any during the voyage but substituted Oatmeal for breakfast, which I have no doubt contributed greatly to their good health, from its being an article of diet which they relish and are accustomed to in their own country. I am also inclined to attach some importance to the moral treatment I adopted.

            The System of Discipline established on board the “Waverley” is nearly conprised [sic] to the following Rules & Regulations – a copy of which I caused to be suspended in the prison for the Convicts’ guidance:-

1st – The main prison & upper deck will be placed under the immediate superintendence of two overseers, to be selected from the Prisoners. They will maintain order and regularity on their respective stations, attend strictly to cleanliness and prevent filth or nuisance being committed, and if any of the Convicts are guilty of cursing, swearing, gambling, fighting, singing improper songs, mutinous acts or expressions, causing noise or disturbance, smoking below, or transgressing any of the regulations laid down for their governance, the said Overseers will immediately report the offender or offenders to the Surgeon Superintendent and by any neglect of this duty they will incur exemplary punishment and disgrace to themselves.

2nd – Implicit obedience and respect to be paid to the officers of the Guard, the Captain & Officers of the Ship – they will also promptly obey all orders they may receive from the Commissioned Officers of the Guard and Sentinels on duty. The Prisoners are also directed to obey cheerfully all orders which I may communicate to them thro' [sic] the Overseers. All communication with the Soldiers of the Guard is strictly prohibited, and as little communication as possible is to be held with the ship’s crew.

3rd – Whoever is guilty of stealing any of the ships stores or the property of a fellow prisoner will be most severely punished.

4th – If any of the convicts presume to quarrel or fight with each other, they will be most severely punished. The party who returns a blow or makes use of threatening or abusive language, will be held equally culpable with the first offender, and sentenced to receive the same punishment.

To prevent any Prisoner from “taking the law into his own hands”, the Surgeon Superintendent will be found every morning at 10 o'clock in the main Prison, prepared to listen to and carefully investigate the complaints of the Convicts, and with all disputes.

5th – Soon after sunrise the beds will be lashed up as neatly as possible (having the numbers exposed) in order that they may occupy little room in the nettings and when the prison door is opened, the Convicts from each mess in rotation, will bring them on deck & deliver them to the persons appointed to the duty of stowing bedding.

6th – Whoever is guilty of keeping his bed, blanket, or pillow below during the day without leave or who shall cut, destroy, exchange, or sell either bedding or clothing, or erase the number therefrom, will be put in solitary confinement, fed on bread & water & kept in irons during the voyage; this regulation also applies to selling, bartering, or exchanging provisions.

7th – Two prisoners, in rotation from the Messes, to be called “The Inspectors” will see the rations daily served out by the Ship’s Steward, balancing the scales and taking care that all receive their due allowance. Breakfast will be served out at 8 A.M., dinner at 12 and supper at 4 P.M., and in fine weather the Surgeon Superintendent as an indulgence will allow these meals to be taken on deck.

8th – A “Captain” to be chosen in each Mess, by the Prisoners themselves who will have charge of the water Kegs, mess Kids[?], platters, Religious Books, &c, and to be held responsible for the good order and regularity of the mess.

One man from each mess will draw the rations, and attend to mess affairs for the day and any “Orderly” who is negligent or dirty in the performance of this duty, or who is guilty of cheating his messmates out of any part of their rations, may be tried by the Captains of the Messes, and receive such punishment as the aggravated nature of the offence demands.

9th – These messes will be employed daily in rotation, to wash the upper deck and assist in the general duties of the ship – the Captains and Orderlies for the day of such messes being exempted from this duty.

10th – The Surgeon Superintendent will afford every encouragement to such Prisoners as will volunteer to wash their messmates shirts & trowsers [sic] during the voyage. The Prisoners are strictly prohibited from towing their clothes overboard on washing days under pain of severe punishment.

11th – All the Prisoners are directed to wash their hands and faces and comb their hair every morning before breakfast. Wednesday & Saturday will be shaving days, and on Sunday “all hands” will be mustered in clean shirts, when divine service will be performed.

12th – Schools will be established on board, for the instruction and moral improvement of the Junior Prisoners, and the Surgeon Superintendent will consider it his duty, at the end of the voyage, to recommend to the notice of His Excellency the Governor such Prisoners as may distinguish themselves in promoting this object.

Prizes will be awarded, during the voyage, for good conduct, personal cleanliness general usefulness, & to the Captains of the best regulated and cleanest messes. 

13th – Lastly, the Surgeon Superintendent invites all Prisoners who are placed under his charge to endeavour by their exemplary good conduct during the voyage, to gain a name for the “Waverley”; that she brings out the cleanest, the healthiest, and the best behaved Prisoners that ever arrived in the Colony, & thus obtain a character for themselves, which will ensure their future prosperity & happiness in New South Wales [Editor: this meant the whole of Australian Continent at that time].”


The following remarks on the application of the Probation System on board Convict Ships, were drawn up by me [Dr Dunn] at the request of His Excellency the Lieutenant Governor of Van Diemans [sic] Land: “I have the honor [sic] to inform you that in my appointment to this ship I drew up a few rules and regulations for the guidance of the Prisoners entrusted to my care, in which I promised to recommend to the Governor such Transports [i.e. convicts] as might distinguish themselves during the voyage by exemplary good conduct, and general usefulness, but more especially such men as might zealously devote their time and talents to the education and moral improvement of their fellow Prisoners. On my arrival at Hobart Town, I first discovered that the Probation System had been established, which altogether precludes the possibility of His Excellency conferring at once(?), a special mark of favor [sic] or indulgence upon any Convicts, however meritorious their conduct may have been on board ship. I have lately perused with the greatest interest the Regulations which have been drawn up by the Director of the Probation System, & yet I doubt not you will readily comprehend how much I regret that as a stimulus to good conduct I have raised hopes in the minds of several most deserving men, which I now find by the present system, cannot be realized. It seems to me however that the object I have in view might be attained by introducing a modification of the Probation System in Convict Ships, which would not only lead to the happiest results during the voyage, but prepare the Prisoners' minds for the more practical operation of the system, when they are landed in the Colony. The plan therefore, which I have the honor [sic] to propose, is, to request His Excellency to obtain the sanction of the proper authorities in England, to grant to medical officers in charge of convicts, the privilege of recommending a limited number of meritorious Transports (say 10 per cent of the whole) to the favourable notice of the Governor for their services and good conduct – the Candidates to be selected and brought forward in the most public manner by the Surgeon Superintendent, when the Prisoners are drawn up in the Barrack Yard for His Excellency's inspection – their scale of Probation having been previously determined by the officers appointed to that duty. The great boon[?] which I solicit for these men is, to place to their credit as “Probation time” in whole or such period of the voyage, as they may have conducted themselves to the entire satisfaction of the medical officer in charge. Thus, Probation of two years might at once be reduced to twenty months and probation of fifteen months to a period somewhat less than one year. I beg however to observe that I should not feel disposed to admit usefulness alone, to constitute a claim to His Excellency's bounty, unless accompanied by good conduct in order that every appearance of favoritism [sic] to Overseers may be discountenanced on the part of Surgeons Superintendent and that the first indelible inspection conveyed to the Convicts' mind on landing, might demonstrate that good conduct only can had [ed.: does it mean add?] to an amelioration of their condition, & ultimate liberation. I presume it is almost superfluous to state, that the only object I contemplate in this communication, is to secure for my Brother Officers engaged in the Convict Service, such a claim on the hopes and better feelings of the Prisoners, as cannot fail to ensure their zealous co-operation with the Surgeons plans of discipline, and instruction on board, &c, &c, &c.

            The Colonial Secretary in conveying to me His Excellency's thanks for the above suggestions, states that His Excellency will have pleasure in submitting the same for the consideration of the Right Honourable the Secretary of State.”


[Signed] Thos R. Dunn, M.D. [Dr Thomas Russell Dunn]

Surgeon Super[intenden]t


[End of Original Surgeon’s Journal and the Transcription thereof]


Transcription © Thomas Spinks

[1] This is one day after the Waverley arrived back in London – the Surgeon’s Journal was likely handed in by Captain Morgan.

[2] This was pre-printed, but has been crossed out by hand.

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Latest comments

11.04 | 15:38

Volunteeres from HCS Macqueen are here. My ancestor George Fox was a seaman on that Macqueen trip. I wonder if George was on any other voyages.

04.09 | 11:06

It is good to know about the services of MICHAEL SPINKS. I will let my brother know about these after my

17.08 | 10:43

Blackwall London is a district and good place to explore. I have been there before my and had good experience

23.02 | 20:25

Brilliant account; brilliantly researched.
They that go down to the sea in ships,
That do business in great waters;
He quiets the night and ebbs the tide... :