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admin | Category: Crimal Background Check | 12.02.2014
The combination of a callous and brutal master and a weak, incompetent surgeon made the voyage of the first Britannia one of the worst in the history of transportation.
On the question of the general treatment of the convicts, the evidence disclosed that the Britannia had been very leaky. The court was unanimous that Dennott’s punishment of the convicts had been imprudent and ill-judged by reason of his failure to individually consult the other officers, and that his conduct had bordered on too great a degree of severity. To the everlasting shame of the British authorities, neither Dennott nor Beyer were punished, except that they were not again employed in the convict service. There was one death to every 17 prisoners embarked, 10 men and one woman dying out of 144 men and 44 women; but the convicts were brutally mistreated and the Survivors were landed in a wretched and emaciated state.
The convicts were never to be admitted to the deck in batches of more than 30 at a time or for longer than two hours at a stretch, and when on deck were always to be chained to the ship’s side. As Beyer previously had been surgeon of the Scarborough in the second fleet and of the Boddingtons, he became the first surgeon to make a third voyage in a convict ship to Australia. Afraid of the convicts and fearful that they would cut his throat, he always carried a stick and seldom descended into the prison.


Firstly, he was accused of having caused the deaths of six convicts by the severity of the punishments he had ordered, and secondly, he was charged that his general conduct had not been conducive to the carrying out of the government’s intention that they prisoners should be conveyed to Sydney in health and safety. He admitted that he had not interfered with the floggings or advised the master that the convicts under punishment were not able to bear further punishment, but explained that, as his frequent reports to Dennott had been ignored; he regarded himself as being under restraint. Had she carried English prisoners, the deaths would have been far more numerous, but the ability of Irish convicts to withstand the hardships of the voyage to Australia under the most distressing circumstances was remarkable. The commander of the guard, Lieutenant William Burn, of the New South Wales Corps, remonstrated with Dennott for placing a woman convict, who bore a good reputation, in the neck-yoke for two hours, but was curtly told by the master that he had no right to interfere with the convicts, and after this rebuff Burn seems to have no further protest regarding the brutality with which the prisoners were treated. Another convict, Stapleton lived three or four days after he had been flogged, and James Brannon, although flogged on successive days, lingered longer.
Convicts in need of medical treatment had to be brought to him on deck, but many were so afraid of him, or of his methods of treatment, that they refused to consult him. A convict found in possession of any instrument was to receive four dozen lashes, when found in a berth all the occupants were to be thus punished unless they named the culprit. These punishments, typical of those ordered by Dennott, were by far the most severe ever to be administered in a convict ship during the entire history of transportation to Australia.


One sailor asserted that he was asked by convicts who had been flogged to procure plasters for their lacerated backs, but when he approached Beyer the latter refused the requests. At first some efforts were made to dry out the convict’ quarters, but later, presumably because of the discovery of the suspected mutiny, these measures were neglected.
Thus Dennott transferred from the surgeon to the chief mate responsibility for deciding if the convicts should be admitted to deck.
Many of the convicts were crying out for water, but none was sent down to them until Garodby’s death. Whatever the correct explanation for the neglect, the fact remains that several beds were destroyed and the convicts to whom they had belonged were compelled to sit up at night, while, from want of brooms and swabs, the prison became extremely filthy. Dennott ordered Frome to knock down any convict he found out of his berth and the third mate struck a man named Connor across the loins as he was stooping to get a drink.



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