Excerpts from the Diary of Richard Pelvin

Excerpts from the Diary of Richard Pelvin

As a 16 year old raw recruit, my g-grandfather Richard Pelvin was sent on the "Moffatt" to join his 50th Queens Own Regiment of Foot in Sydney with a party of 19 of the 51st Regiment going out by drafts to relieve the 21st regiment whose turn it was to go to India. Those who had family members on board the convict ship "Moffatt" may be interested in his account of the voyage.
Winsome Griffin

"At Chatham, breakfast consisted of one lb of black bread and a pint of black coffee. Dinner, three quarters of a lb of meat with bone, one pint of soup with vegetables and half a pound of bread. From 12 o'clock at dinner time they did not get a scrap of food of any sort and having no money to buy with, every recruit who joined was five or six months in debt. They were given a penny a day to buy tobacco, blacking, pipeclay, soap and for any other thing that they needed. Consequently they were always hungry yet had to turn out on a cold winter morning to drill on an empty stomach. The bread if thrown against a wall would stick like putty but when dismissed from drill they used run their hardest to see who would be first and get the biggest pound of bread. "We would devour it with the greatest relish and fancy if it were made of roller flour, it could not be sweeter".

We marched from Chatham to Gravesend one miserable, wet day, 25th October 1837, and were put aboard a lighter or barge, wet as we were and without fire or light or food, and went up with the night tide to Deptford which we reached next morning and embarked aboard the convict ship "Moffatt." The next day we took on board from Deptford dockyard 200 convicts with irons on one leg, and the other end was fastened to a strap around the waist.

We now got on gloriously for food, one pound of meat, one pound of bread, tea, sugar or cocoa, also one and a quarter pints of rum per man for a penny, which was our beer money.

We got full pay as we had to do duty all the time we were aboard the ship. Our sea kit cost us about 3 which made a hole in our ship's clearance.

The ship was dropped down the river to Sheerness where we took 200 more convicts on board from Chatham dockyard making in all, 400 convicts on board, who were in irons also. After being at Sheerness a couple of days, we started for Portsmouth, where we remained for eight days. We then left for Tasmania, via the Cape of Good Hope.

We were then told off in three watches, and every musket was loaded when the convicts came on board, with ball, and kept so the whole of the voyage, but the morning watch fired off their muskets every morning when relieved, cleaned them at once, and loaded them again directly.

There were four sentries, one on the poop, one on the main hatch, one on the fore hatch, and one on the fore-castle, each with a cutlass and loaded pistols.

The convicts irons were knocked off when we got out at sea, and were not put on again unless they misconducted themselves which very few did. The convicts were also told off in three watches, one on deck at a time, except when they had to clean their place below, when the whole guard was turned up.

The ship arrived at the Cape of Good Hope safely, and stopped there ten days. We should have run aground there if the convicts had not worked well to save the ship, as she was drifting on the sands, but we got clear away at last, and had a very good run to Hobart town, arriving about the end of March 1838 and laid in the Harbour about three weeks, but we were never allowed on shore.

The convicts and the soldiers of the 51st Regiment were landed, and we ten recruits were left on board, which we thought was very hard on us, after being so long at sea.

We put to sea again about the middle of April for Sydney with ten double convicts, on board for Norfolk Island and eight black convicts for a sugar plantation in Queensland."

Richard goes on to give graphic detail the conditions at Sydney at that time, those at Norfolk Island and then his experiences in India.

Transcribed and submitted to this site by Winsoome Griffin
Winsome Griffin 2002. All rights reserved

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Submitted 17-Mar-2002
Updated 31-Dec-2009