Alexander (1783 ship)

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For other ships with the same name, see Alexander (East Indiaman) and Alexander (ship).
Great Britain
Name: Alexander
Owner: Walton & Company
Port of registry: Hull
Builder: Walton & Company, Hull[1]
Launched: 1783, or 1784[1]
Fate: Last listed 1808
General characteristics
Type: Barque
Tons burthen: 4448594,[1] 452, or 468[2]
Length: 114 feet (35 m)
Beam: 31 feet (9.4 m)
Sail plan: Ship rig
Complement: 40
Armament: 1799: 4 × 6-pounder + 2 × 4-pounder guns[2]

Alexander was a merchant ship launched at Hull in 1783 or 1784. She was one of the vessels in the First Fleet, that the British government hired to transport convicts for the European colonisation of Australia in 1788. On her return voyage from Australia the British East India Company permitted her to carry a cargo from Canton back to Britain. Thereafter she traded out of London until 1809, when she is no longer listed.

Construction and ownership[edit]

Alexander was barque-built in Hull in 1783 with three masts and two decks.[3] She was a plain-looking vessel, without galleries or figurehead. At 452 tons burthen, she was the largest transport in the Fleet and carried at least 30 crew.[4][5] Her owners were Walton & Company, a firm of Southwark merchants headed by master mariner William Walton.[6] Her master was Duncan Sinclair.[5]

Lloyd's Register for 1786 gives her master as J. Metcalf, and her trade as Petersburg-London. An amendment to the entry gives the name of a new master as W. Hunter. Lastly, it shows her launch year as 1784, and her burthen as 650 tons (bm).

Lloyd's Register for 1787 shows her master as W. Hunter and her trade as London-St. Petersburg. However, a later addition to the entry shows her master as D. Sinclair, and her trade as London-Botany Bay. It does not report any armament, which is not surprising as Britain was not at war with anyone. It still shows her launch year as 1784 and her burthen as 650 tons (bm).

First Fleet[edit]

Voyage to Australia
An engraving of the First Fleet in Botany Bay at voyage's end in 1788, from The Voyage of Governor Phillip to Botany Bay.[7] Sirius is in the foreground; convict transports such as Alexander are depicted to the left.

In early 1787, Alexander loaded her convicts at Woolwich Docks. The convicts came both from prison hulks on the Thames and directly from Newgate Prison.[8] The ship then sailed to Portsmouth alongside Lady Penrhyn to meet the remainder of the Fleet.

Before Alexander left Portsmouth, a fever broke out on board that killed 16 men.[9] She left Portsmouth on 13 May 1787, carrying 195 male convicts. Fifteen more convicts died on the journey, the most for any ship in the fleet. The cause of the fever was likely inadequate management of the bilge, as reported by John White, the surgeon aboard HMS Sirius in June 1787: —

The illness complained of was wholly occasioned by the bilge water which had by some means or other risen to so great a height that the panels of the cabin and the buttons on the clothes of the officers were turned nearly black by the noxious effluvia. When the hatches were taken off the stench was so powerful it was scarcely possible to stand over them.[10]

Complaints by Surgeons White and Balmain to First Fleet captain Arthur Phillip led to regular pumping of Alexander's bilge thereafter, with a corresponding improvement in convict health.[11]


Sinclair thwarted an attempted mutiny aboard the vessel in October 1787. A band of five convicts and a number of able seamen had armed themselves with iron bars, intending to overpower the guard and sail the vessel to the nearest landfall. Sinclair, aware of the plot through an informant, had crew and convicts locked below decks while the conspirators were identified. One of the mutineers was Philip Farrell.[Note 1] A second mutineer was Thomas Griffiths.[Note 2] Sinclair transferred them to Sirius, where they were flogged, and then sent aboard Prince of Wales for the remainder of the voyage to New South Wales.[16] Sinclair transferred his informant to Scarborough for the informant's own protection.[17]

Arrival in Botany Bay

After passing Tasmania, on 16 January Arthur Phillip transferred from the Flagship Sirius to the tender Supply and in company of the three fastest transports under John Shortland in Alexander, sailed ahead as the advance party, being the first ships to reach Botany Bay on 18 & 19 January 1788.[18] After the decision was made to move the site of the colony, Alexander arrived at Port Jackson, Sydney, Australia, on 26 January 1788 to unload her convicts.


At Port Jackson Henry Kable, a convict, successfully sued Duncan Sinclair for Sinclair's theft of the convicts' possessions.


The British East India Company had hired Alexander in 1786 to carry tea from Canton after she had disembarked her convicts. She left Port Jackson on 14 July 1788 in company with the Friendship, whose crew she picked up when that ship was scuttled at Batavia on her way to Canton.

Alexander arrived in the Thames on 1 June 1789.[1] Unfortunately there is no readily accessible record of the return voyage.

Alexander carried with her to England the last papers of the French navigator Laperouse, who was subsequently shipwrecked and never seen again.

Lloyd's Register for 1789 show Alexander's master as D. Sinclair, and her trade as London-Botany Bay. A later amendment to the entry gives the name of a new master, and a new trade, neither of which is legible. However, the amendment does correct the burthen from 650 to 445 tons (bm).

Subsequent career[edit]

Lloyd's Register for 1790 has a legible entry for Alexander. It gives her master as L.D. Bruce, and her trade as London-Dominica. The year of launch is still 1784.

Issues of Lloyd's Register for 1799 to 1801 describe Alexander, as built in 1783 in Hull, of 468 tons burthen, and as trading between London and Petersburg. They list her master as J. Fraser, and her owner as Leighton.[19] Lloyd's List for 1802 repeats the information, and shows her traveling from London as a transport.


Lloyd's Register lists Alexander until 1808. The volume for 1809 no longer mentions her.


An Urban Transit Authority First Fleet ferry was named after Alexander in 1985.[20]

See also[edit]

Notes, citations, and references[edit]

  1. ^ Philip Farrell, had been a bo'sun's mate aboard HMS Goliath, until he was convicted in 1784 of stealing a handkerchief worth 1 shilling and sentenced to seven years' transportation.[12] Later, in April 1788, he was accused of stealing peas from the government store in Port Jackson, but acquitted due to a lack of witnesses.[13] In 1790 Farrell was himself a victim of theft when another convict stole Farrell's personal supply of food.[14]
  2. ^ Thomas Griffiths, the former master of a French privateer, convicted at the Old Bailey in September 1784 for the theft of 140 yards (130 m) of black gauze from a warehouse in Bishopsgate.[5][15]
  1. ^ a b c d Hackman (2001), p.58.
  2. ^ a b Lloyd's Register (1799 & 1800).
  3. ^ Bateson 1969, p.95
  4. ^ Hill 2009, p.53
  5. ^ a b c Gillen 1989, p. 427
  6. ^ Bateson 1969, pp.95-96
  7. ^ The Voyage of Governor Phillip to Botany Bay (1789)
  8. ^ Hill 2009, p.70
  9. ^ Hill (2009), p.96.
  10. ^ White, John (1790). John White: Surgeon General to the First Fleet. Debrett's, London.  cited in Hill 2009, p.104
  11. ^ Hill 2009, p. 104
  12. ^ Chapman 1986, p.86
  13. ^ Cobley, "1788" 1980, p.131
  14. ^ Cobley "1789-1790", 1980, p.287
  15. ^ "September 1784, trial of THOMAS GRIFFITHS (t17840915-73)". Old Bailey Proceedings Online. April 2013. Retrieved 20 September 2014. 
  16. ^ Bateson 1969, p. 101
  17. ^ Hill 2009, p. 123,
  18. ^
  19. ^ Lloyd's List (1801).
  20. ^ Sydney Ferries Fleet Facts Transport for NSW
  • Bateson, Charles (1969). The Convict Ships. Brown, Son & Ferguson. OCLC 11085505. 
  • Cobley, John (1980). Sydney Cove, 1788. Angus and Robertson. ISBN 0207141797. 
  • Cobley, John (1980). Sydney Cove, 1789-1790. Angus and Robertson. ISBN 0207141711. 
  • Hackman, Rowan (2001) Ships of the East India Company. (Gravesend, Kent: World Ship Society). ISBN 0-905617-96-7
  • Hill, David (2009). 1788. Random House. ISBN 9781741668001. 
  • Gillen, Mollie (1989). The Founders of Australia: A Biographical Dictionary of the First Fleet. Library of Australian History. ISBN 0-908120-69-9. 

External links[edit]