Prince of Wales (ship)

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Prince of Wales
Career (Great Britain)
Builder: Christopher Watson and Co, Rotherhithe
Launched: 1786
General characteristics
Type: Barque
Tons burthen: 350
Length: 103 feet (31 m)[1]
Beam: 31 feet (9.4 m)[2]
Sail plan: Ship rig
Boats & landing
craft carried:
Complement: 25
Armament: None

Prince of Wales was a transport ship in the First Fleet, assigned to carry convicts for the European colonisation of Australia in 1788.

Built in 1786, she set sail for Australia the following year, reaching Botany Bay in January 1788 with 49 convicts, 31 marines and 23 civilians. On a difficult return voyage in 1788–89 she became separated from her convoy, was taken eastward around the world instead of west and drifted helplessly off Rio de Janeiro for a day while her crew was incapacitated with scurvy. She remained in use until 1797; her fate thereafter is unknown.


Prince of Wales was a square-sterned barque of 350 tons,[3][4][a] 103 feet (31 m) long and 31 feet (9.4 m) wide and with a height between decks of 5 feet 8 inches (1.73 m) amidships and 5 feet 9 inches (1.75 m) fore and aft.[1][5] She was built on the River Thames in 1786, by the firm Christopher Watson and Co. of Rotherhithe which also built HMS Sirius,[7] and was designed to be sailed by a crew of around 25 under the direction of a single ship's master.[5] Her owner was Cornhill merchant John Mather,[8] who had previously purchased and disposed of Captain Cook's Endeavour after that vessel had returned from Botany Bay.[9]

In 1787 Prince of Wales was contracted for the First Fleet voyage by south London shipbroker William Richards, who selected her after consultation with Royal Marine officers Watkin Tench and David Collins.[10] Both marine officers would sail with the Fleet to Australia, Tench as a captain of marines and Collins as judge-advocate for the new colony.

She was the second-smallest of the First Fleet transports after Friendship and the last to be contracted to join the voyage.[1]

Voyage to Australia[edit]

An engraving of the First Fleet in Botany Bay at voyage's end in 1788, from The Voyage of Governor Phillip to Botany Bay.[11] Sirius is in the foreground; convict transports such as Prince of Wales are depicted to the left.

By order of the Navy Board, Prince of Wales was assigned to the First Fleet on 2 March 1787 under the immediate command of ship's master John Mason, and the overall command of naval officer and future Governor of New South Wales, Arthur Phillip aboard Sirius.[12] She was the last transport to be added to the Fleet before it sailed.[13]

She left Portsmouth on 13 May 1787 with a crew of around 25, and accompanied by the other vessels of the Fleet: five transports, three storeships and two Royal Navy vessels. The 24-gun post ship HMS Hyaena accompanied the Fleet through the Channel as fleet escort, departing when the ships reached Atlantic waters.[14] Prince of Wales arrived in Tenerife on 5 June, where she was resupplied. A second resupply was conducted in August in the Portuguese port of Rio de Janeiro, including the delivery aboard Prince of Wales of quantities of fresh fruit and vegetables, seeds and an additional provision of rum for the marines.[15] Prince of Wales then turned southeast with the Fleet, reaching Cape Town in October and entering the Great Southern Ocean on November 13 for the last leg of the voyage to Australia.[16] The first death among the crew occurred on the night of November 24 when a seaman fell overboard from the topsail yard and could not be rescued.[17] A week later a second seaman, Yorgan Younginson, drowned after being washed overboard in heavy seas.[18]

By mid-December the ship's supply of flour and butter for the voyage had been exhausted and permission was obtained from Phillip to broach the stores set aside for the future colony in order to continue to feed the convicts.[19] A month later on January 20, 1788 Prince of Wales reached Australia's Botany Bay to unload her convict cargo. Six days later she sailed for Sydney Cove as part of the relocation of the convict settlement to Port Jackson.[20] Leaving Botany Bay she collided with Friendship, losing her mainmast staysail and topsail, but the damage was swiftly repaired and she was able to enter Port Jackson in line with her fellow transports.[21]


Prince of Wales carried 47 female convicts on departure from Portsmouth. After five days at sea, two males were also brought across from Scarborough, ringleaders of a failed mutiny. They remained aboard Prince of Wales for the remainder of the voyage to Australia.[14]

Convict health was comparatively good during the voyage, with a report by Governor Philip showing only nine cases of illness aboard Prince of Wales by the time she reached Tenerife, the least for any First Fleet transport.[b] Indeed, Phillip wrote to Admiralty advising that "the convicts are not so sickly as when we sailed," though the women aboard Prince of Wales had no new clothing and were still in the ragged apparel they had worn in prison.[22] There was no ship's surgeon aboard but the vessel was periodically visited by Chief Surgeon John White, who was rowed out to her from Sirius when weather and sailing conditions permitted.[23] As the Fleet headed toward Rio in July, humid conditions and heavy rains generated a "plague of bugs" below decks with more than a hundred insects found in one small sleeping area alone.[24] There were also reports of rats, fleas and lice, and an outbreak of scurvy in late December.[25]

Despite this, serious illness remained rare and the first convict death was from accidental causes rather than disease. On July 24 the ship's longboat fell from a boom and struck 22-year-old Jane Bonner in the head; she died from her injuries six days later.[23] A second convict, John Hartley, died of unknown causes on August 5.[26] These two deaths compared favourably with those of other transports, particularly Alexander which suffered 30 deaths as a consequence of overcrowding and an overflowing bilge.[26][27]

Convict discipline was also well maintained, except for prostitution between the female convicts and the crew, which was rampant on Prince of Wales, Friendship and Lady Penrhyn.[28] The first recorded punishment of a convict aboard Prince of Wales was in October 1787, nearly nine months after she had sailed; six lashes for a woman caught stealing from her fellows while they were "at prayer."[29]


The ship also carried a contingent of 31 marines comprising lieutenants Thomas Davey and Thomas Timins, 24 privates and five other ranks. Sixteen of the marines embarked with their wives, and there were six children. Discipline was poor. In June 1787 two marines were court-martialed for disobeying orders with one receiving 300 lashes. Later in the voyage, two sergeants refused to share a mess after one insulted the other's wife.[30] Drunkenness was also common. In June one drunken marine sergeant fell through an open hatchway and injured the pregnant wife of another marine, for which offence he was placed in legcuffs for two weeks and then transferred to Alexander. And in late October, First Lieutenant James Maxwell, who had recently transferred aboard from Charlotte, was found incoherently drunk on duty and promptly sent back to his previous vessel.[31]

Two more children were born to the wives of marines during the voyage.[c] In October 1787 the wife of marine drummer Benjamin Cook died from an unspecified illness and was buried at sea after a brief ceremony.[31]

James Scott, a Sergeant of Marines, wrote an account of the voyage in his journals, now held at the State Library of New South Wales[33]

Return to England[edit]

Lieutenant John Shortland, commander of convoy of First Fleet ships on the return voyage to England in 1788.

Prince of Wales remained anchored in Sydney Cove for five months after her voyage, while her stores were unloaded. A shipboard inspection during this time found her hull was rotten with shipworm and on May 23, 1788 she was careened on the beach for repairs.[34]

In July she was released from government service and set sail for England on the 14th of that month, in convoy with her First Fleet sister ships Alexander, Borrowdale and Friendship and under the overall command of Lieutenant John Shortland in Alexander.[35]

It had been intended that the convoy sail north to rendezvous at Lord Howe Island, then set a course broadly parallel to the Great Barrier Reef with the aim of reaching the Dutch port of Batavia.[36] From there the convoy would sail west through the Sunda Straits to the Cape of Good Hope, then north through the Atlantic to England. This route was comparatively well mapped – the first part largely mirroring that of James Cook in his first voyage in the Pacific from 1768 to 1771, and the remainder from Batavia being the traditional route of Dutch East Indiamen returning to Europe. Shortland estimated the voyage would take the convoy between six and ten months.[35]

This navigation plan was abandoned when both Prince of Wales and Borrowdale lost sight of Alexander and Friendship during a severe storm in late July, and found themselves alone and off course by the time the weather cleared. The two lost ships anchored while their masters, John Mason in Prince of Wales and Hobson Reed in Borrowdale, consulted. Neither considered it likely they could reach the Lord Howe Island rendezvous. They were also reluctant to hazard the voyage to Batavia through the Great Barrier Reef, without Alexander in the lead. Instead, they agreed to turn their ships southeast into the open ocean and to return to England by sailing the other way around the world, via Cape Horn and Rio de Janeiro and then northeast across the Atlantic to Europe.[36]

The Pacific weather proved favourable but by August the two ships had lost sight of each other and continued their voyage separately. On August 23 Prince of Wales rounded Cape Horn alone and headed northeast and north on a path to Rio.[37] Throughout the voyage her crew had been heavily reliant on a diet of salted meat and by early September the majority were incapacitated by scurvy. Mason died from the condition on October 9, and another 13 men were too ill to leave their bunks.[36] When Rio was finally sighted on October 13 the crew were too sick to bring the ship to port. She drifted helplessly in the outer harbor until Rio's harbourmaster sighted her the following morning and had additional seamen rowed out to assist.[5][36] Twelve of Prince of Wales' sickest crew members were hospitalised in Rio while the remainder recovered on board.

A resupplied Prince of Wales set sail from Rio on Christmas Day 1788, completing an uneventful final leg to reach Falmouth in England on March 25, 1789. Despite the delays of disease, weather and an unfamiliar route, she was the first of the Fleet to return home, two months ahead of Shortland's Alexander which did not reach England until May 28.[36]

Second voyage to Australia[edit]

Her convict transport contract having run its course, Prince of Wales returned to private merchant service. A second government contract was received in 1796, for the transport of provisions to New South Wales. She set sail early in the year under the command of Master William Milner and carrying 111,216 pounds (50.4 metric tons) of beef and 261,678 pounds (118.7 metric tons) of pork.[38][39][40] She made landfall in Port Jackson on 2 November and was unloaded over a period of three weeks. While in port she took aboard the colony's master boat builder, Daniel Paine, recently dismissed from his position for "insolent and contemptuous behaviour" and seeking a passage back to England.[41]

Voyage to China[edit]

Prince of Wales departed New South Wales on 18 November, heading for Macao where Milner planned to purchase a shipment of tea.[42] It had been intended to sail north along the Australian coast, then northeast into open waters and north towards the Chinese coast. Sailing conditions were fine, but Prince of Wales quickly became off course; on 6 January 1797 her crew were startled to make landfall among the Mariana Islands, 4° west of their expected path.[43] Through a combination of dead reckoning and guesswork, Milner and Paine charted a new course north in the hope of reaching China, and on 16 January were rewarded with glimpses of the island of Formosa. The weather was now cold and foggy, with heavy seas near the shore. Attempts to contact local fishermen and seek a guide to Macao were unsuccessful, as the Chinese vessels fled whenever Prince of Wales drew near.[44] More land was sighted on 18 January. Milner believed this was the Chinese mainland and attempted to put ashore in a longboat to again ask for a guide; but he was rebuffed by an angry crowd which gathered on the beach beating gongs and making threats.[45] Prince of Wales again sailed on, now in the face of rough seas and a strong gale from the northeast.

A mid-sea collision occurred on 22 January, when shortly after midnight Prince of Wales collided with a smaller Chinese ship. Neither ship was at anchor, and the Chinese vessel was struck amidships and crushed under Prince of Wales' bow. Several Chinese seamen sought to avoid drowning by grabbing Prince of Wales forechains and rigging and pulling themselves on deck. But in the confusion of the incident they were mistaken for pirates and thrown back overboard by Milner's crew. The misunderstanding was not recognised until the following morning, when the wreckage of the Chinese vessel could be seen trailing behind the English one.[46]

Later service[edit]

Prince of Wales returned to Europe in the following year, and from 1797 was registered as being based in French-controlled Fort Royal at Martinique.[47] There is no record of her ultimate fate.[47]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Other sources say 333 tons.[5] and 318 tons[6]
  2. ^ From Phillip's report: 3 convicts were suffering from venereal disease, 3 convicts and 2 marines from "intermittent fever" and 1 convict from "fever."[22]
  3. ^ The seventh child was born on August 29, while Prince of Wales was at sea; the eighth while the ship was anchored off Cape Town on October 17.[32]


  1. ^ a b c Hill 2009, p. 54
  2. ^ Bateson 1959, p. 275
  3. ^ Bateson 1959, p. 81
  4. ^ Cavanagh 1999, p. 9
  5. ^ a b c d Gillen 1989, p.429
  6. ^ Keneally 2005, p. 58
  7. ^ Henderson and Stanbury 1998, p. 40
  8. ^ Bateson 1959, p.80
  9. ^ Allan 2002, p. 1929
  10. ^ Keneally 2005, p. 49
  11. ^ The Voyage of Governor Phillip to Botany Bay (1789)
  12. ^ Britton (ed.) 1978, p.56
  13. ^ Keneally 2005, p. 50
  14. ^ a b Moore 1987, pp. 46-48
  15. ^ Hill 2009, p.333
  16. ^ Hill 2009, p. 334.
  17. ^ Hill 2009, p. 131
  18. ^ Hill 2009, p. 134
  19. ^ Bateson 1959, p. 98
  20. ^ Britton (ed.) 1978, pp. 121-122
  21. ^ Hill 2009, p.149
  22. ^ a b Letter from Governor Phillip to Lord Sydney, 5 June 1787, cited in Britton (ed.) 1978, pp.106-107
  23. ^ a b Keneally 2005, p. 73
  24. ^ Journal of Lt Ralph Clark, July 1787, cited in Hill 2009, p. 102
  25. ^ Hill 2009, p. 103, 136
  26. ^ a b Gillen 1989, p. 450
  27. ^ Hill 2009, pp. 103-104
  28. ^ Hill 2009, p. 105
  29. ^ Moore 1989, p.66
  30. ^ Moore 1989, pp. 55, 60-61
  31. ^ a b Moore 1989, pp. 69-70
  32. ^ Moore 1989, p.64, 69
  33. ^ "James Scott". catalogue entry. State Library of NSW. Retrieved 11 December 2013. 
  34. ^ Governor Philip to Admiralty, 10 July 1788, cited in Britton (ed.) 1978, p. 166
  35. ^ a b Cavanagh 1999, p. 2
  36. ^ a b c d e Cavanagh 1999, p. 5
  37. ^ Cavanagh 1999, p. 6
  38. ^ Knight (ed.) 1983, p.32
  39. ^ Correspondence, the Duke of Portland to Governor John Hunter, Whitehall, 11 August 1796. Cited in Watson (ed.) 1914, p.582
  40. ^ Correspondence, Governor John Hunter to the Duke of Portland, Sydney, 12 November 1796. Cited in Watson (ed.) 1914, p.677
  41. ^ Knight (ed.) 1983, p.xxiii
  42. ^ Correspondence, Governor John Hunter to the Duke of Portland, Sydney, 18 November 1796. Cited in Watson (ed.) 1914, p.705
  43. ^ Journal of Daniel Paine, 6 January 1797. Cited in Knight (ed.) 1983, p.46
  44. ^ Knight (ed.) 1983, pp.47-48
  45. ^ Knight (ed.) 1983, pp. 48-49
  46. ^ Cite error: The named reference Knight48-49 was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  47. ^ a b Bateson 1959, p. 103


  • Allan, John (2002). "The Fate of Cook's Ships: Cook's Ships – A Summary Update". Cook's Log (United Kingdom: Captain Cook Society) 25 (3): 1929. Retrieved 2 November 2013. 
  • Bateson, Charles (1959). The Convict Ships. Brown, Son & Ferguson. OCLC 3778075. 
  • Britton, Alex R., ed. (1978). Historical records of New South Wales. Vol. 1, part 2. Phillip, 1783–1792. Lansdown Slattery & Co. p. 56. OCLC 219911274. 
  • Cavanagh, A.K. (1989). "The Return of the First Fleet Ships". The Great Circle (The Australian Association for Maritime History) 11 (2). JSTOR 41562684. (subscription required (help)). 
  • Gillen, Mollie (1989). The Founders of Australia: A Biographical Dictionary of the First Fleet. Library of Australian History. ISBN 0-908120-69-9. 
  • Henderson, G; Stanbury, M (1988). The Sirius:Past and Present. Sydney: Collins. ISBN 0-7322-2447-0. 
  • Hill, David (2009). 1788. Random House Australia. ISBN 978-1-74166-800-1. 
  • Keneally, Tom (2005). The Commonwealth of Thieves. Random House Australia. ISBN 978-1-74166-613-7. 
  • Watson, Frederick, ed. (1914). Historical records of Australia : Series 1, Governors' despatches to and from England (1788-1848). The Library Committee of the Commonwealth Parliament. OCLC 321045909.