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Prince of Wales (1786 ship)

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For Royal Navy ships of this name, see HMS Prince of Wales.
Prince of Wales
Name: Prince of Wales
Owner: John Mather
Port of registry: London
Builder: Christopher Watson and Co, Rotherhithe
Launched: 1786
In service: 1786
Out of service: After 1797
General characteristics
Type: Barque
Tons burthen: 350,or 318[1]
Length: 103 feet (31 m)[2]
Beam: 31 feet (9.4 m)[3]
Propulsion: Sails
Sail plan: Ship rig
Boats and landing
craft carried:
Complement: 25
  • 1799: 6 × 4-pounder guns
  • 1801: 6 x 3-pounder guns

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.

In 1796 she undertook a second voyage to New South Wales, carrying supplies of pork and beef for the fledgling colony. Returning via Chinese Macao, she lost her course and sailed aimlessly through the Mariana and Wanshan Islands while her crew sought a local pilot to guide her towards familiar waters. She reached Macao after four months at sea, returning to England in 1797 in the secure company of a fleet of other vessels.

Prince of Wales‍ '​ lengthy Pacific voyages had left her in poor condition and unsuited for further ocean-going trade. In late 1797 she was sold. Thereafter she passed through a number of hands, trading between London and the West Indies, and Mediterranean. She is last listed in 1801 and her ultimate fate is unknown.


Prince of Wales was a square-sterned barque of 350 tons,[4][5][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.[2][6] She was built on the River Thames in 1786, by the firm Christopher Watson and Co. of Rotherhithe which also built HMS Sirius,[8] and was designed to be sailed by a crew of around 25 under the direction of a single ship's master.[6] Her owner was Cornhill merchant John Mather,[9] who had previously purchased and disposed of Captain Cook's Endeavour after that vessel had returned from Botany Bay.[10]

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.[11] 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.[2]

First 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.[12] 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.[13] She was the last transport to be added to the Fleet before it sailed.[14]

She left Portsmouth on 13 May 1787 with a crew of around 25, and was 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.[15] 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.[16] 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.[17] 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.[18] A week later a second seaman, Yorgan Younginson, drowned after being washed overboard in heavy seas.[19]

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.[20] A month later, on 20 January 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.[21] 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.[22]


Prince of Wales carried 47 female convicts on departure from Portsmouth. After five days at sea, 2 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.[15]

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.[23] 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.[24] 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.[25] There were also reports of rats, fleas and lice, and an outbreak of scurvy in late December.[26]

Despite this, serious illness remained rare and the first convict death was from accidental causes rather than disease. On 24 July 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.[24] A second convict, John Hartley, died of unknown causes on August 5.[27] These two deaths compared favourably with those of other transports, particularly Alexander aboard which 30 deaths were recorded as a consequence of overcrowding and an overflowing bilge.[27][28]

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.[29] 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."[30]


The ship also carried a contingent of 31 marines of the New South Wales Marine Corps comprising lieutenants Thomas Davey and Thomas Timins, 24 privates and 5 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.[31] 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.[32]

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.[32]

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[34]

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 23 May 1788 she was careened on the beach for repairs.[35] 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.[36]

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.[37] 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.[36]

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.[37]

The Pacific weather proved favourable but by August the two ships had lost sight of each other and continued their voyage separately. On 23 August Prince of Wales rounded Cape Horn alone and headed northeast and north on a path to Rio.[38] 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 9 October, and another 13 men were too ill to leave their bunks.[37] When Rio was finally sighted on 13 October 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.[6][37] 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 25 March 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 28 May.[37]

Second voyage to Australia[edit]

The Whampoa Anchorage, Prince of Wales‍ '​ destination in 1796. Unknown artist, c. 1810

Prince of Wales returned to private merchant service until 1795 when the British East India Company hired her and contracted to deliver government provisions for the New South Wales colony. She left Portsmouth on 26 June under the command of Master William Milner,[39] and carrying 111,216 pounds (50.4 metric tons) of beef and 261,678 pounds (118.7 metric tons) of pork.[40][41]

The outward voyage was uneventful, with Prince of Wales rounding the Cape of Good Hope and proceeding eastward through the Southern Ocean to reach Port Jackson on 2 November.[42] Her cargo was unloaded over a period of three weeks and the ship was reprovisioned for a trading voyage to Macao.[43] While in Port Jackson 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 out of the colony.[44]

Prince of Wales departed New South Wales on 18 November, heading northward along the coast. Milner planned to turn the ship northeast into the open ocean, then swing northwest in an arc towards Macao and the Whampoa anchorage to collect a cargo of tea.[43] Sailing conditions were excellent with clear days and light winds throughout November and December. Despite this the ship was swiftly off course, and on 6 January 1797 made landfall among the Mariana Islands, around 4° west of their charted course.[45] On 16 January she came within sight of Formosa but was unable to make landfall due to heavy seas.

Milner decided to make contact with the Chinese to ask for assistance in plotting a course for Macao. His efforts were unsuccessful; local fishing vessels simply sailed away whenever Prince of Wales approached. On 8 January Prince of Wales anchored off what may have been an island in the Wanshan Archipelago. Milner sighted a village by the beach and attempted to go ashore to ask for directions. Again he was rebuffed, with the villagers gathering on the beach to shout threats and beat gongs to raise an alarm.[46]

Collision at sea[edit]

Prince of Wales raised anchor and returned to sea, sailing aimlessly north and east in the hope of finding a more hospitable village from which to seek a guide. Shortly after midnight on 22 January she collided with a Chinese ship, striking her amidships and crushing her under Prince of Wales‍ '​ bow. The English vessel suffered damage to her hull and the loss of her jib-boom, which fell over the side into the Chinese vessel. The smaller Chinese craft was more heavily damaged and began to sink, her crew scrambling overboard to avoid being dragged down with her. Several Chinese sailors sought to climb aboard Prince of Wales, panicking Milner's crew. Paine recorded in his journal that "the Alarm caused me to jump from my cot and run to the arms chest, but such was the call for cutlasses that it was not until the third or fourth attempt I could reach the deck, being accosted each time in the companionway with "O give me that cutlass sir, and get another for they are coming on board."[47]

When Paine finally attained the quarterdeck, he described a scene of confusion:

The Captain was bawling to square the yards and stop the Ship's way; but with very little attention from the Ship's Company who impressed with the idea of Chinese pirates were alone intent in cutting and slashing away upon the vessel's rigging and sail and preventing the China-men from coming on board ... (The Chinese) clambered up the Fore-chains, impelled no doubt with the fear of their vessel sinking after receiving so violent a shock; this with the extreme darkness of the night and the confusion of voices crying out, "a light, a light, a cutlass, a cutlass, a handspike, here they come!" with the addition of the unintelligible jargon of the affrighted Chinese.[47]

Those Chinese sailors who reached the English ship's deck were attacked with cutlasses and hurled back overboard, despite making "piteous cries" for mercy.[47] The sinking Chinese vessel also disappeared quickly astern. Prince of Wales‍ '​ crew regretted their actions the following day, when calmer consideration made clear the collision had been accidental and not part of a pirate attack.[46]

Wanshan to Macao[edit]

Damaged but still seaworthy, Prince of Wales‍ '​ continued her voyage. On 23 January Milner and Paine conferred on possible routes, with Milner insisting they were just 90 nautical miles (170 km) east of Macao. The ship turned east, but as more days passed it became clear they were still lost in the Wanshan Archipelago. On 3 February Paine observed that an island adjacent to the ship was the same one they had passed on 26 January.[48] A village was sighted by a beach and Milner again went ashore to ask for directions. The attempt was fruitless, as Milner spoke only English and the villagers had no knowledge of European ports or languages. Paine recorded in his journal that, "they view us with the utmost astonishment ... as if they had never seen a European, or any ship other than their coasting junks."[49]

Finally, on 5 February a Chinese merchant ship was sighted, and hove to in response to hails from Prince of Wales‍ '​ crew. One of the Chinese vessel's crew agreed to act as pilot for the English ship and two days later Prince of Wales was within sight of the port of Macao.[50]

On 16 April Prince of Wales was at Whampoa.[39] After some delays Milner was able to negotiate with the port's mandarins to obtain a shipment of tea. On 6 June she crossed the Second Bar,[39] and on 14 June, and in company with 13 other East Indiamen, Prince of Wales set sail for her return to England.[51]

Later service[edit]

An uneventful voyage followed, with Prince of Wales‍ '​ reaching England in late 1797. An inspection of her hull and fittings revealed that her Pacific service had left her in decrepit condition and no longer fit for ocean voyages. Her owner, John Mather promptly sold her, and by Christmas 1797 she was registered in Fort Royal at Martinique,[52] which had been in British hands since the battle of Martinique (1794).

Master Owner Trade Notes
Andrews Barclay London-Martinique
London transport
Lloyd's Register (1799)
do. do. London transport
Lloyd's Register (1800)
Farbridge Fairbridge London-Mediterranean Lloyd's Register (1801)

Prince of Wales is not listed in 1802, and there is no record of her ultimate fate.[52]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Other sources say 333 tons.[6] and 318 tons[7]
  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."[23]
  3. ^ The seventh child was born on 29 August, while Prince of Wales was at sea; the eighth while the ship was anchored off Cape Town on 17 October.[33]


  1. ^ Lloyd's Register (1799)
  2. ^ a b c Hill 2009, p. 54
  3. ^ Bateson 1959, p. 275
  4. ^ Bateson 1959, p. 81
  5. ^ Cavanagh 1999, p. 9
  6. ^ a b c d Gillen 1989, p.429
  7. ^ Keneally 2005, p. 58
  8. ^ Henderson and Stanbury 1998, p. 40
  9. ^ Bateson 1959, p.80
  10. ^ Allan 2002, p. 1929
  11. ^ Keneally 2005, p. 49
  12. ^ The Voyage of Governor Phillip to Botany Bay (1789)
  13. ^ Britton (ed.) 1978, p.56
  14. ^ Keneally 2005, p. 50
  15. ^ a b Moore 1987, pp. 46–48
  16. ^ Hill 2009, p.333
  17. ^ Hill 2009, p. 334.
  18. ^ Hill 2009, p. 131
  19. ^ Hill 2009, p. 134
  20. ^ Bateson 1959, p. 98
  21. ^ Britton (ed.) 1978, pp. 121–122
  22. ^ Hill 2009, p.149
  23. ^ a b Letter from Governor Phillip to Lord Sydney, 5 June 1787, cited in Britton (ed.) 1978, pp. 106–107
  24. ^ a b Keneally 2005, p. 73
  25. ^ Journal of Lt Ralph Clark, July 1787, cited in Hill 2009, p. 102
  26. ^ Hill 2009, p. 103, 136
  27. ^ a b Gillen 1989, p. 450
  28. ^ Hill 2009, pp. 103–104
  29. ^ Hill 2009, p. 105
  30. ^ Moore 1989, p.66
  31. ^ Moore 1989, pp. 55, 60-61
  32. ^ a b Moore 1989, pp. 69–70
  33. ^ Moore 1989, p.64, 69
  34. ^ "James Scott". catalogue entry. State Library of NSW. Retrieved 11 December 2013. 
  35. ^ Governor Philip to Admiralty, 10 July 1788, cited in Britton (ed.) 1978, p. 166
  36. ^ a b Cavanagh 1999, p. 2
  37. ^ a b c d e Cavanagh 1999, p. 5
  38. ^ Cavanagh 1999, p. 6
  39. ^ a b c National Archives: Prince of Wales (7) - accessed 29 July 2015
  40. ^ Knight (ed.) 1983, p.32
  41. ^ Correspondence, the Duke of Portland to Governor John Hunter, Whitehall, 11 August 1796. Cited in Watson (ed.) 1914, p.582
  42. ^ Correspondence, Governor John Hunter to the Duke of Portland, Sydney, 12 November 1796. Cited in Watson (ed.) 1914, p.677
  43. ^ a b Correspondence, Governor John Hunter to the Duke of Portland, Sydney, 18 November 1796. Cited in Watson (ed.) 1914, p.705
  44. ^ Knight (ed.) 1983, p.xxiii
  45. ^ Journal of Daniel Paine, 6 January 1797. Cited in Knight (ed.) 1983, p.46
  46. ^ a b Knight (ed.) 1983, pp. 48–49
  47. ^ a b c Daniel Paine, 1796. Cited in Knight (ed.) 1983, pp. 48–49
  48. ^ Knight (ed.) 1983, pp. 50–51
  49. ^ Journal of Daniel Paine, 3 February 1796. Cited in Knight (ed.) 1983, p.51
  50. ^ Knight (ed.) 1983, p.52
  51. ^ Knight (ed.) 1983, pp. 52–53
  52. ^ 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. 
  • Knight, R.J.B.; Frost, Alan, eds. (1983). Journal of Daniel Paine, 1794–1797, together with documents illustrating the beginning of government boat-building and timber-gathering in New South Wales, 1795–1805. Library of Australian History. ISBN 0-908120-49-4. 
  • 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. 

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