Anna Robertson 1851

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Anna Robertson was built in 1816 by Matthew Smith, a shipbuilder and dealer of marine stores in Calcutta. The ship had various owners using her for Far Eastern trade, leading up to her voyage to Western Australia in 1851 when she was owned by A. Nairn & Co. (1).

Specifications: Official #unknown, 441 tons registered in London. An early frigate barque. Hull of teak; three masts, two decks + poop deck, square stern, 1/4 galleries; figure head of a female bust. Length: 112.0 ft. Breadth: 29.1 ft. Draft: 14.0 ft. (2).

Whooping Cough Perth Gazette 26 Dec 1851
Whooping Cough breakout Perth Gazette 26 December 1851

Anna Robertson was contracted as a troop and migrant carrier that left London on 10th September 1851 with a crew of 20 bound for the Swan River Colony. She was not a convict ship and thus carried no enrolled pensioner guards. There are anomalies in reports of the number of ‘troops’ on board. It was intended that 70 Royal Sappers and Miners, a Captain and a Subaltern were to be dispatched (WO1-437 p.373). Lieutenant Henry Wray, Mrs Wray and 2nd Lieutenant Edmund Frederick Du Cane were on board to fulfil the Royal Engineers’ officer requirement. Contemporary newspapers reported that 65 sappers landed on 18th December 1851. Musters and Pay Lists confirm this number, and together with the five men already in WA since the Scindian’s arrival in 1850, made up the numbers to 70 (3). Captain John Harris’ Report to the Port of Swan River, records 210 steerage and 16 cabin passengers (4). The ten children born on board are recorded by most sources. Whether or not any of those children succumbed to the whooping cough outbreak which occurred on the voyage is unknown.
[Note: since I first mentioned the children and the whooping cough outbreak, a Mariner John Gutteridge who was on board Anna Robertson, clarified the whooping cough casualties in a letter to his wife in England.  Click here to read his enchanting but sad ‘letters home’ courtesy of Michael Jaques (7)].


Swan River Port Report
Swan River Port Report


Some of the cabin passengers were as follows:
Wray and Du Cane as above; William Ayshford Sanford, Colonial Secretary, John Conroy (later Police Commissioner) and Mrs Conroy; Roman Catholic Bishop John Brady; Rev Dr Coyle, Surgeon Superintendent; R C Elliott, Assistant Surgeon (5). The ship’s master on the 1851 voyage was Captain John Harris.

In July 1851 the Anna Robertson was a hot topic in the British Parliament when the Maritime Marine Act Amendment Bill was being debated. The current law required that if a crewman resigned from a merchant ship, mid-voyage, then he forfeited his pay, clothes etc. However, the crew member would be exempt from this forfeiture if he quit in order to join a naval ship. In the case of Anna Robertson, in a voyage from Hong Kong, 12 of her crew left the ship to join two ships of war. This, it was proposed in the debate, endangered the ship and its property (6).

Anna Robertson Missing
Anna Robertson Missing


A second ship named Anna Robertson was built in Sunderland and registered in Scarborough in 1842. At first it was problematic to pinpoint the 1816-built Anna Robertson’s fate owing to some confusion between the two vessels by some sources. However it seems that she left Melbourne for London on 5th April 1852 and it was feared had been lost at sea. The master on this, her last voyage, had been Captain Harris, as in the 1851 voyage to Swan River (8).




Also see sources & links
(1) Lloyds Register of Ships.
(2) Derrick Prall’s publication.
(3) Muster Rolls and Pay Lists WO11-126 December 1851.
(4) Port Report CSR213-161, WA State Records Office.
(5) Perth Gazette, 26 December 1851.
(6) Hansard House of Commons Debate, 19 July 1851 vol 118 pp.1049-62.
(7) John Gutteridge Transcriptions, Michael Jaques, Ontario.
(8) Argus, 25 January 1853.