The voyage of the Friends

The voyage of the Friends from England to New South Wales in 1811 was its only run as a convict transport. It was one of two ships contracted by a London shipping agent to carry convicts to Sydney at the beginning of 1811; the other was the Admiral Gambier. The Friends carried only women convicts; the Admiral Gambier took a male shipment.

The Friends was a three-masted, square-sailed ship of only 339 tons – two-thirds the size of the Admiral Gambier. Two years earlier, in the midst of the Napoleonic War, the then 11-year old ship had been repaired and equipped with new topsides and 14 guns. At the time, James Ralph also took over as master of the vessel.

The Friends was refitted again for its voyage to Sydney to turn its ‘tween deck into a prison deck. There were 101 women convicts on board and at least 15 children accompanied them. There were also a number of paying passengers, who included several families with children. Since it was a female transport there were no guards on board, unlike the Admiral Gambier which carried a regiment of soldiers who were en route to duty in New South Wales and who acted as guards for the voyage.

The Friends set sail from Galleons Reach on the River Thames, near Woolwich, on 9 March 1811. It sailed without its full planned contingent of 100 women: instead eighty-six women were initially boarded in the Thames and then three women were removed, some over health concerns. See People not on board Eighteen women boarded the ship at Portsmouth. These included five women from Scotland and one from Wales. The final number of convicted women on board was 101. The Friends left English shores from Portsmouth on 8 April. 

The Friends sailed through the east Atlantic, then across to the coastline of South America to Rio de Janeiro. It was a slow voyage – the vessel was caught in the doldrums – and it took three months to reach Rio in the middle of July. The Friends remained in port for two weeks restocking water and food supplies and set sail again on 28 July.

The Friends headed down through the South Atlantic and after a voyage of six months, it weighed anchor in Sydney Cove on 10 October 1811. It had just made the third fastest direct passage yet from Rio of 72 days.

The ship’s transportation register shows 100 convict women reached NSW on the Friends, however, a woman convicted in Chester also appears to have travelled on the ship but was not included on the register.

The story of the Friends’ voyage is told in more detail in The Girl Who Stole Stockings.

Lloyds Register of Shipping 1804 to 1811
Lloyds List no 4546, 19 March 1811 to no. 4552, 9 April 1811
Charles Bateson, The Convict Ships 1787-1868, Library of Australian History, Sydney, 2004 (first published Glasgow, 1959)
Sydney Gazette, 5 October 1811, p. 2
Ships log, Admiral Gambier, State Library of NSW, B597, CY, Reel 1389

AJCP Letters 14 February, 23 February, 19 March, 21 March 1811