Alexander (1783 ship)

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Career (Great Britain)
Name: Alexander
Owner: Walton & Company
Port of registry: Hull
Launched: 1783, Hull
General characteristics
Type: Barque
Tons burthen: 452
Length: 114 feet (35 m)
Beam: 31 feet (9.4 m)
Sail plan: Ship rig
Complement: 40
For other ships of the same name, see Alexander (East Indiaman) and Alexander (ship).

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

Construction and ownership[edit]

Alexander was barque-built in Hull in 1783 with three masts and two decks.[1] 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 40 crew.[2][3] For this voyage her owners were Walton & Company, a firm of Southwark merchants headed by master mariner William Walton.[4] Her master was Duncan Sinclair.[3]

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.[5] 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.[6] 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.[7] 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.[8]

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.[9]


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.[14] Sinclair transferred his informant to Scarborough for the informant's own protection.[15]

Arrival in Botany Bay

Alexander arrived at Port Jackson, Sydney, Australia, on 26 January 1788 to unload 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. She reached England on 3 June 1789. She carried with her to England the last papers of the French navigator Laperouse, who was subsequently shipwrecked and never seen again.


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

East Indiaman[edit]

Alexander made two voyages for the East India Company (EIC) as an extra ship, i.e., under contract. For the first voyage she was under the command of Captain William Wallace. She left Portsmouth 12 August 1796, bound for Bengal. She reached Saugor on 23 January 1797, and Calcutta six days later. She left Culpee on 27 March 1797. She reached the Cape on 12 July, St Helena on 17 September, and Long Reach on 18 December.[16]

On her second voyage for the EIC Captain James Normand left England on 28 April 1802, bound for New South Wales and Bombay. Alexander reached Rio de Janeiro on 30 June, and Port Jackson on 16 October . She left Port Jackson on 3 January 1803, stopped at Colombo on 20 March, and reached Bombay on 27 April. From Bombay she reached St Helena on 5 October, and the Downs on 18 December.[16][Note 3]


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

An Urban Transit Authority First Fleet ferry was named after Alexander in 1985.[18]

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.[10] 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.[11] In 1790 Farrell was himself a victim of theft when another convict stole Farrell's personal supply of food.[12]
  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.[3][13]
  3. ^ The records in the National Archives and Lloyd's Register are somewhat at odds. Issues of Lloyd's Register for 1799 to 1801 describe Alexander as built in 1783 in Hull, of 468 tons burthen, and trading between London and Petersburg. It lists her master as J. Fraser, and her owner as Leighton.[17] Lloyd's List for 1802 repeats the information, and shows her traveling from London as a transport. The key discrepancy between the National Archives and Lloyd's Register is in the name of her captain for the 1802-3 period.
  1. ^ Bateson 1969, p.95
  2. ^ Hill 2009, p.53
  3. ^ a b c Gillen 1989, p. 427
  4. ^ Bateson 1969, pp.95-96
  5. ^ The Voyage of Governor Phillip to Botany Bay (1789)
  6. ^ Hill 2009, p.70
  7. ^ Hill (2009), p.96.
  8. ^ White, John (1790). John White: Surgeon General to the First Fleet. Debrett's, London.  cited in Hill 2009, p.104
  9. ^ Hill 2009, p. 104
  10. ^ Chapman 1986, p.86
  11. ^ Cobley, "1788" 1980, p.131
  12. ^ Cobley "1789-1790", 1980, p.287
  13. ^ "September 1784, trial of THOMAS GRIFFITHS (t17840915-73)". Old Bailey Proceedings Online. April 2013. Retrieved 20 September 2014. 
  14. ^ Bateson 1969, p. 101
  15. ^ Hill 2009, p. 123,
  16. ^ a b National Archives: Alexander (2),[1] - accessed 8 November 2014.
  17. ^ Lloyd's List (1801).
  18. ^ 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. 
  • 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]