Nile 1858

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Nile Drawing (alleged)
Nile Drawing (alleged)

Nile was built at Sunderland in 1849 for Duncan Dunbar. According to two sources, she was abandoned in late 1880 with no reason given. (1).

Specifications: Official #10726, 763 tons registered in London. An early frigate ship. Hull of oak; three masts; deck + poop. Length: 133.5 ft. Breadth: 32.5 ft. Depth: 21.5 ft. Draft: 15.0 ft. (2).

Nile was employed as a convict transport and left Plymouth, England on 23rd September 1857 with a crew of 34 bound for the Swan River Colony, stopping at Bahia, Brazil en route. She carried the nineteenth of 37 shipments of male convicts destined for Western Australia. The voyage took 100 days and arrived in Fremantle on 1st January 1858 with 268 convicts (two had died on the journey) and at least 60 other passengers. W. Johnson was the captain of the vessel, the ship’s surgeon Robert Whitmore Clarke RN. Rev Mr John Wright was religious instructor (3).

Perth Gazette 8 January 1858
Perth Gazette 8 January 1858

There were no enrolled pensioner guards on the voyage. Captain the Hon.  J J Bury, Lieutenants E C Sim and R G Thorold, Royal Engineers, and a small contingent of Sappers and Miners (27 men, 13 women and 29 children) were on board (4,5). The military men together with ten Warders appointed in England to take up employment at Fremantle Prison, were expected to assist in the supervision and control of the convicts. A convict insurrection on the voyage between Plymouth and Bahia proved a frightening experience, and although ultimately quelled, it is clear that the warders in particular were unprepared for the trouble.

Bishop Mathew Blagden Hale
Bishop Mathew Blagden Hale


Janice Hayes (nee Hale) a descendant of a cabin passenger Mathew Blagden Hale, the Bishop of Perth,  has provided two transcripts of personal letters written by him. Hayes’ transcripts give an insight into convict behaviour as Bishop Hale described periods of unrest on board before he joined the Nile in Plymouth and in the months that followed (3).

Edward Agar - Bullion Thief
Edward Agar – Bullion Thief

Trivia: One of the convicts on board was something of a celebrity. Edward Agar ‘the approver’ was perpetrator and leader of the ‘Great Bullion Robbery’ of May 1855 when bullion destined for British troops in the Crimea was stolen from a South Eastern Railway mail train.


Return Journey
On 4th February 1858, Nile made her return journey to England via the Cape.  On board was Captain Henry Wray who had completed his work in the Colony as a major player in the construction of public works, notably the Convict Establishment (Fremantle Prison). Wray had spent two years as Acting Comptroller of the CE in the absence of Captain Henderson who had been on leave in England. Wray’s wife and two daughters had left for England the previous March on Dolphin, together with four rank and file Sappers and Miners and their families (6).

Also see sources & links
(1) Lloyds Register of Ships and Crew List Index Project.
(2) Derrick Prall’s publication.
(3) Perth Dead Persons Society.
(4) Muster Rolls & Pay Lists WO11-158 December 1857 to January 1858.
(5) Perth Gazette, 8 Jan 1858.
(6) Perth Gazette, 6 Mar 1857 & 12 Feb 1858.

Photographs and Drawings courtesy of:
Convict Stockade Website
Old Haleians’ Association.