Convict Ships – Medical Journals – 1816 to 1867

Convict Ship Florentia

The Florentia made two voyages to Sydney in 1827/8 and 1830

Convict Ships – Medical Journals – 1816 to 1867
Convict Ships to Australia

Medical Journals

Admiralty Class 101 – 1816 to 1856
Ministry of Transport Class 32 – 1858 to 1867


This index has been compiled to assist researchers to access medical journals that have been copied as part of the Australian Joint Copying Project (AJCP). Although there are lists on the UK National Archives web site and the NSW State Records web site, it is hoped that my list gives a better and more comprehensive guide and that it will make it easier to pick up information by entering the ship’s name in a search engine.

As part of AJCP, records of the Admiralty Office held at The National Archives in Kew, England, were copied on microfilm, and include Admiralty Class 101 – Medical Departments, Registers, Medical Journals. There are 30 microfilms. Details relating to these films are recorded on pages 69 – 71 of AJCP Handbook Part 7.

From 1858, journals were then filed within the Ministry of Transport and details of eleven journals relating to voyages to Western Australia are recorded on page 51 of AJCP Handbook Part 6 under MT 32. There is one microfilm.

After all the records relating to the government agencies held at the National Archives were copied, the AJCP staff then copied records held elsewhere in the UK. This series of microfilms is titled Miscellaneous and a detailed listing is in AJCP Handbook Part 8. Included are an additional 25 medical journals, relating to convict ships, that had been held in the Royal Naval Hospital at Haslar. The National Archives has now incorporated this group, except for one journal, in Admiralty Class 101.

These ships have been included in my Admiralty Class 101 list for ease of identification with a note to see an explanation and details by clicking on the link below.

Australian Joint Copying Project

For information about AJCP please click on the link below. The Preface to Part 7 of the AJCP Handbook in relation to the Admiralty states :-

“This Class includes journals kept by surgeons on convict ships, 1816-56, mostly travelling to Australia, and emigrant ships, 1825-53, bound for Australia and New Zealand.”

AJCP Handbook Part 7, pages 69 – 71 lists the ships involved in the order on the microfilm reels, which is close to alphabetical order. But this list does not indicate the particular voyages. So that researchers may establish whether the journal for a particular voyage has been copied I have listed below each voyage and the date the ship arrived in the colonies according to Charles Bateson’s book “The Convict Ships 1787-1868” as this is the most used and available reference source on convict ships to Australia. But please note that the date range of a journal can be slightly different to the departure and arrival dates for the voyage, and also that on occasions the dates in Bateson are incorrect.

Also there is a list of the journals in the same order as the AJCP microfilms in the NSW State Records guide on “Convicts and Convict Administration, pages 322 to 336.

In 2020 the National Library of Australia released online digital images of all the medical journals. They are in the same order as the journals on AJCP microfilms. There is no index to individuals named in the journals. This means that to access a particular journal you need to follow the same procedure as if you were looking for a particular ship on the microfilm reels, ie, check the online Handbook, select the particular microfilm and search for it on the National Library of Australia website. However this procedure is made easier by my index of ships that have surgeon’s journals, see below.

The National Archives in Kew, England, holds the originals of these journals and the Archives has entered extracts from the contents of some journals, including the names of those who became sick, as part of their online index. This means a researcher can check online to see if a particular convict is mentioned in the TNA online catalogue. Regardless of whether you find a convict in the catalogue, I strongly recommend looking at the journal on the AJCP Reel.

Transcriptions of Medical Journals

The Female Convicts Research Centre in Hobart has transcribed eightytwo at 2021) AJCP medical journals and published these on it’s web site.  There are three voyages of ships carrying female convicts to Hobart that do not have medical journals, namely for the Providence II 1821, the  Jane II in 1833 and the Hindostan in 1839. Also there is a journal for the ship Morley (1820) in book form  accessible on their web site. Click here to go to their home page and I have included a link against the names of the ships, to the particular journals. The link takes you to a list in year order so to find a particular ship scroll through to the year the ship arrived.

Medical Issues during the voyage

The following has been extracted from the journal of the Social Science History Association, “Social Science History” – Mortality on Convict Voyages to Australia, 1788-1868 by John McDonald and Ralph Shlomowitz – 1989, Vol 13, No 3, pp., 285-313.

‘Most convict voyages were undertaken by private contractors, who usually appointed the surgeons of the vessels. These surgeons, it is argued, had insufficient experience of naval conditions and authority to ensure that convicts would be well treated and that there would be an adequate system of sanitation on board. Although a medical official examined the convicts on embarkation and could recommend that sick convicts should not be transported, his advice could be (and on occasion was) overruled. Furthermore, contractors, masters, and surgeons were not paid by results, nor were they made directly accountable for their performance. Contractors were paid on a per capita basis whether the convict arrived dead or alive, and the pay of the master and surgeon was not conditional on satisfactory performance. As a result of these organisational deficiencies, convicts were sometimes transported when known to be suffering from infectious diseases; masters sometimes defrauded convicts of part of their rations, did not keep their ships clean, did not isolate sick convicts, and mistreated convicts more generally.”

In response to documentation of these abuses, a series of administrative reforms was gradually introduced: Medical officers were given increased authority to stop the transportation of sick convicts; contractors were paid by results (with about 20 percent of the per capita payment made to depend on the arrival of the convict in good health); masters were paid only on receipt by the transport authorities of a certificate completed by the governor of New South Wales that he was satisfied with the master’s conduct, particularly as it related to the treatment of the convicts on the voyage; and surgeons were required to keep a record of the sickness and sanitary measures taken. Finally, from 1815, surgeons were selected from the Royal Navy with the title surgeon-superintendent and were vested with the general control of the convicts.

Selected references

Branch-Johnson, W. (1957) The English Prison Hulks. London: Christopher Johnson.

British Parliamentary Papers (1812) Third report from the Committee on the Laws Relating to Penitentiary Houses. 2: appendix D. (1817-56) Biannual reports on the convict hulks. (1835) Second report from the Select Committee of the House of Lords
on the Present State of the Several Gaols and Houses of Correction in England and Wales. II: 256.

Cumpston, J. H. L., and F. McCallum (1927) The History of the Intestinal Infections (and Typhus Fever) in Australia, 1788-1923. Commonwealth of Australia, Department of Health, Service Publication No. 36, Melbourne.

Gandevia, B. (1967) Medical history in its Australian environment. Medical Journal of Australia 18 (November): 941-946.

Ignatieff, M. (1978) A Just Measure of Pain: The Penitentiary in the Industrial Revolution, 1750-1850. London: Macmillan.

Journals of the House of Commons (1776-78, 1778-80)

Lloyd, C., and J. L. S. Coulter (I963) Medicine and the Navy, 1200-1900. 4 vols. Edinburgh: E. and S. Livingstone.

McConville, S. (1981) A History of English Prison Administration. Vol. I. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

McDonald, J., and R. Shlomowitz (1988) Babies at risk on immigrant voyages to Australia in the nineteenth century. Unpublished manuscript.

McNeil, D. R. (1952) Medical care aboard Australia-bound convict ships, I786-I840. Bulletin of the History of Medicine 26 (March/April): 117-140.

Price, John Washingtom, The Minerva journal -1824 (2000), a voyage from Cork, Ireland to Sydney, NSW 1798-1800, transcribed and edited with an introduction by Pamela Jeanne Fulton.

Riley, J. C. (1981) Mortality on long-distance voyages in the eighteenth century. Journal of Economic History 41 (September): 651-656.

Robson, L. L. (1965) The Convict Settlers of Australia. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press.

Shaw, A. G. L. (1966) Convicts and the Colonies: A Study of Penal Transportation from Great Britain and Ireland to Australia and Other Parts of the British Empire. London: Faber.

Verso, M. L. (1950) A medical account of a voyage on a convict vessel. Medical Journal of Australia 13 (May): 625-627.

Walton, Jack (2013) Ships surgeons on convict ships 1787-1868

The McDonald/Shlomowitz article above makes references to changes to the arrangements of appointing surgeons from 1815. Its likely that these changes included the requirement for surgeons to maintain a journal. A key factor in leading up these changes may have been a report forwarded from Sydney in October 1814 by Governor Macquarie to the Commissioner of the Transport Board in London. This report related to the dreadful conditions on board the convict ship Surrey which arrived in Sydney on 28 July 1814; fifty people died. His report was supported by another report from colonial surgeon William Redfern who listed a number of recommendations.

Governor Macquarie wrote the following in his report to the Earl of Bathurst on 15 March 1816 (Historical Records of Australia (HRA), Volume Volume 9, page 56), “The good and beneficial Effects of the recently adopted System of Appointing respectable and Skilful Surgeons of the Navy to be Surgeons and Agents of the Convict Ships, are eminently Conspicuous in the four last Instances, namely, The Baring, the Fanny, the Mary Ann and the Ocean….” The Baring arrived in Sydney on 7 September 1815.

General Comments

I do not know the specific regulations or instructions relating to the maintenance of a journal by surgeons. Also such regulations probably changed over the date range. But there is a standard pre-printed format that was used by most surgeons. All are hand-written and can be difficult to read. One journal is in Latin.

The standard set of reports includes a sick journal in case order, usually with three columns. The first indicates name, age, quality, when and where taken ill, the second, history, symptoms, treatment, daily progress, and the third, discharged, died or transferred to hospital. Also there is usually a statistical summary of cases by disease classification and a summary under the heading General Remarks. For many trips the surgeons also included in their report a summary list by name of each person treated. On a few occasions the surgeon listed all persons on board.

For an example of a General Remarks report see the article in the Ancestor, the quarterly journal of the Genealogical Society of Victoria, Volume 19, No 3, pages 12-13, “General Remarks” from the Medical Journal for the “Eden”. This relates to the voyage to Hobart arriving on 21 January 1849.

For information concerning the regulations and procedures issued to and followed by surgeons consult Charles Bateson’s book “The Convict Ships 1787-1868”.

The list is in the order of the ships on the microfilms with M series ships included. This means that where there are a number of entries for ships with the same name, for example, Asia, the order of the film has been followed even though the ships can be different and identified by a number after the ship’s name. This number is not part of the ship’s name but was Bateson’s way of indicating different ships with the same name. I have indicated in the list a general remark about the quality of a particular report and whether any additional lists have been included. It should be appreciated if there was little illness during the trip then the journal can be quite brief. In fact only one surgeon’s journal had no sick list – for the Prince Regent, arrived on 17 January 1821 in Sydney.

The AJCP staff also copied some journals for ships that sailed to other destinations. These ships have been included so as to assist researchers to appreciate the sequence on the microfilms.


The first surgeon’s journal included in this series of journals relates to the voyage of the convict ship Shipley which covers the period 19 November 1816 to 3 May 1817. Bateson records this ship as arriving in Sydney on 24 April 1817.

There are 651 journals relating to voyages during the period 1817 to 1868. Twenty one journals cover voyages to more than one destination. The table below compares the number of destinations relating to the journals to the lists in Bateson. This indicates that the surviving journals relate to 88% of the voyages listed in Bateson. Note that some voyages have not been included in Bateson.

Sydney 317/354
Hobart 298/332
Norfolk Island 12/14
Western Australia 28/37
Morton Bay 2/2
Port Phillip 8/13
Other 7/ –
Total 662/752


If a reader finds a ship in these lists that is relevant to their research then I recommend examination of the journal.

Since 2020 you can view the AJCP copies of the Medical Journals online, see below.

If you would like to use the microfilms to examine a journal, they are held in all State Libraries and may be held by other major regional libraries. Films can also be obtained through your local library if it is part of the Interlibrary Lending scheme.

To check information about the arrival of a convict ship a researcher can go to the National Library of Australia historic Australian newspapers web site Trove and carry out a search using the advanced search facility by entering the name of the ship, selecting a date period, and selecting the relevant newspaper. Click on the link below to access this search facility.

Also the date of arrival can be checked by consulting the Historical Records of Australia volumes in book form, and the relevant indent for the voyage on microfiche held by many libraries in Australia.

In addition to accessing the list by alphabetical groupings below, please note there are links to the National Library of Australia site relating to the AJCP and Interlibrary Lending scheme.

Steps to take using this index

Step 1 Check to see if the ship you are interested in is listed in my index. If an M appears before the ship’s name, click on link below that relates to the Miscellaneous microfilms.

Step 2 Take note of the Class/Piece/Item number and the AJCP Reel number, eg, Adm 101/26/1, AJCP Reel 3195 for the 1826 voyage of the England.

Step 3 To view a copy of the journal online go the the National Library AJCP here.

Step 4 Enter the AJCP reel number and search. One of the search results should start “Convict Ships”, followed by the names of the ships on the particular reel you want to look at.
    a)    Click on this link
    b)    Click on “Get”, a small box should appear
    c)    Click on “View at Australian Joint Copying Project” This should bring up a page about the contents of the AJCP reel
    d)    Click on “Browse this collection/”. You will then be looking at thumbnail images of the contents of the AJCP reel which you can step through.

Step 5 If you would like to see what is recorded on the National Archives (Kew, England) website click on the link below and in the “Search for” box enter the reference number, eg, Adm 101/26/1. If this reference does not work then enter the shorter version, eg, Adm, 101/26.

Step 6 Check the National Library of Australia historic newspapers website on Trove to see if there is information about the arrival of a particular ship. Also the arrival date can be crossed checked by consulting HRA and indents.

Step 7 If you would like to view the microfilm reels, visit a library that holds AJCP reels and examine the copy of the journal by using the AJCP Reel number.

The National Archives at Kew has placed online for free access (PDF files) several complete medical journals as part of it’s Surgeons at Sea project. The convict ships copied are Albion 1828, Eliza 1822, John Barry 1821, and Ocean 1817 – click here

In compiling this list I noted that there are differences between the lists in AJCP Handbook Part 7, NSW State Archives Guide and the online index of the National Archives. As the National Archives continues to update their online index I expect that some item numbers may change, for example by using subdivisions A, B, etc.

If anyone has any comments or corrections please contact me.

Grahame Thom

March 2021

Indexes Home Page

Return to my indexes home pag

Australian Joint Copying Project

Background information on the National Library of Australia sites

The National Archives

Search page at TNA – Catalogue

NSW State Records

Guide to Convicts and Convict Administration

Interlibrary Lending

Information on the National Library of Australia site

Convict Ships A to C

Admiralty Class 101

Convict Ships D to H

Admiralty Class 101

Convict Ships I to M

Admiralty Class 101

Convict Ships N to Y and MT 32

Admiralty Class 101 – Ministry of Transport Class 32

Miscellaneous- Medical Journals

Convict ship on AJCP Reel M 711