The ‘Mary Ann’ was an all-female convict ship which had sailed to New South Wales (Australia had not been named yet) as part of the Third Fleet in 1791 “under strange circumstances.”
Although officially one of the Third Fleet the ‘Mary Ann’ sailed independently of the rest of the fleet, leaving England forty days before the first of the other ships. The remaining nine vessels were mostly in a bad state of repair, “mostly old, and the Navy Board’s officers were less than vigilant than usual or had no alternative but to accept vessels that were in poor repair and ill-found.” 1
Under the command of her part-owner, Mark Monroe, the 298 ton vessel sailed from England on the 16 February, 1791, arriving in Port Jackson on 9 July. This was the fastest voyage yet made by any ship of the three fleets. Bateson reports a cargo of 150 female convicts but the records of ‘Shipping Arrivals & Departures, Sydney, 1788-1825′2show this to be incorrect. The ‘Mary Ann’ (officially) carried 141 female convicts, six children and one free woman. Six children and one free woman? She was the only ship in the fleet to carry exclusively female, and no male, convicts.
There were a number of indications of a hasty departure. As reported by Collins, the Master of the ship “had not any private papers on board (but what added to the disappointments everyone experienced), he had not brought a single newspaper, and having been but a few weeks from Greenland before sailing for this country, he was destitute of any kind of information.” 3
Even more intriguing was an incident reported by Charles Bateson. After a grueling 143 days at sea “possibly because she called at only one port en route to refresh her prisoners with fresh provisions” a very strange thing happened.
“The Master landed a boat in a bay on the coast about 15 miles to the southward of Botany Bay; but no other observation of any consequence to the colony, than that it was a bay in which a boat may land.” 4
Notice it was the Master who landed the boat according to Bateson.
Puzzled by this I wrote to my genealogist in England asking for information about the ‘Mary Ann’.
“There seem to be no ships musters for the ‘Mary Ann’,” he wrote back. “Looked next the embarkations returns for 1791 but there was no mention of the ‘Mary Ann’ … I looked at the Home Office lists for the ‘Mary Ann’ but these give only the list of convicts, so there is something wrong with your data.”
I found the list of female convicts on the ‘Mary Ann’ but none for the free women and child.
So what have we got?
The Master of the ‘Mary Ann’, a female convict ship carrying six children and one free woman, lands a boat on the coast away from the main settlement about fifteen miles from their port of destination, for no apparent reason, even though there must have been many on board who were ill and in need of fresh food and water having stopped only once on the journey. Her departure does not seem to have been recorded in England. No ships musters could be found. She leaves hastily “under strange circumstances” without the usual papers, sailing over a month in advance of the other ships in the fleet and making the trip in record time. The captain also happens to be the part-owner.
Was something fishy going on here?
But that’s not all.
Bateson offers another interesting observation. “Of the ten sail of transports [the Third Fleet] lately arrived, five, after delivering their cargo, were to proceed on the southern whaling fisheries – the ‘Mary Ann’, ‘Matilda’, ‘William and Mary’, ‘Salamanda’ and ‘Brittania’. Two of the whalers, ‘Matilda’ and ‘Mary Ann’, came in from the sea the day on which the others arrived. The former found a boat in a bay on the coast six miles to the southward of Port Stephens …” 5
Port Stephens is some 200 miles to the north of Botany Bay.
Was there some kind of cover-up going on?
I know what was going on and it was a cover-up to save the Prince of Wales’ Skin.
Or maybe his neck.
I wrote the book to answer this and other big questions.
You can buy ‘The Great Regency Cover-Up’ HERE.
Love and Peace.
Neil the Smith
1 ‘The Convict Ships’ by Charles Bateson, Naval Historical Society of Australia. Page 131.
2 ‘Shipping Arrivals and Departures, Sydney, 1788-1825’, Roebuck Society, Canberra, 1977.
3 ‘An Account of the English Colony of New South Wales’ by David Collins.