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Rules & Regulations
Daily Routine

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General Rules
Daily Routine
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A Selection of Surgeon Superintendents' Reports

Although convict ships travelled from England to various parts of Australia for a period of eighty years, out of necessity, shipboard routines would have been basically the same.

Apart from the ship's crew, who were employed to make sure the voyage was a successful one, others were employed to ensure the cargo of convicts reached their destination in good order.

Prisoners were housed below decks on the prison deck and were confined behind prison bars. They slept on hammocks and at times were allowed up on deck for exercise and fresh air. A Surgeon Superintendent was employed to care for their well being and a Religious Instructor attended to their education. Warders kept them in order and in many of the Western Australian voyages they were also supervised by Pensioner Guards who were employed to help guard the convicts during the voyage before settling in Australia as part of a recently introduced British emmigration scheme.

Often the warders and pensioner guards were accompanied by their wives and families.

The Surgeon Superintendents kept detailed journals of each voyage and passed on a report to the Governor of the Colony on arrival. In many cases these journals have survived and are able to be read on films held in the Australian Joint Copying Project. In other cases diaries written by Religious Instructors and some convicts have survived and may be found in the Battye Library in Perth, the Mitchell Library in Sydney and the National Library in Canberra.

Apart from day to day journal entries, these diaries can contain such treasures as:

  • a list of the rules of conduct on board the ship
  • the daily and weekly routine laid out for the convicts
  • lists of convicts, pensioner guards, warders, wives and children
  • punishment lists for prisoners and guards and the reasons for punishment
  • school reports from the Religious Instructor
  • embarkation details for the prisoners, pensioner guards and warders
  • lists of supplies and rations used during the voygae
  • recommendations from the Surgeon Superintendent
  • copies of weekly shipboard newspapers published by the prisoners

Surgeon's Logs have not survived for all voyages, but where they have, they have been listed with each ship's voyage details. Not every voyage journal or diary has the same information and as time permits it is hoped that transcripts of some of the journals can be made available on this site.

In the meantime, a selection of Surgeon Superintendent's reports from the Western Australian voyages of the 'Lincelles' in 1862 and the 'Merchantman' in 1863 have been reproduced below. Unfortunately, some words were indecipherable and have been replaced with '???'.

Purple Bar Rules and Regulations: Observed by the prisoners on the Lincelles on passage from England to Fremantle, 1862.

  1. The prisoners must conduct themselves in a respectful and becoming manner to all the officers on board and they are strictly to obey such orders as I may issue through the Captain of Divisions and Heads of Messes.

  2. The prisoners must behave themselves in a decent and becoming manner at all times but more especially when prayers are had at Divine Service, performed prayers morning and evening weather permitting.

  3. Cursing and all foul language, shouting, quarelling, fighting, selling, exchanging or giving away clothes are strictly forbidden.

  4. Any person stealing or secreting any of the ships stores or any other article belonging to the stores in the ship will be severely punished.

  5. The prisoners are on no ocassion to hold conversation with the guard or ships company or talk through bars below.

  6. Each mess shall have a captain and it will be the duty of each man in his turn to clean the untensils, the latter after each meal are to be taken on deck and thoroughly cleansed before being passed below, the members of each mess are to sit together.

  7. The captains of messes are warned that they will be held responsible for the good order and cleanliness of the mess, they are to see that the men wash themselves every morning and that they attend to them and that there are no ??? at ??? and men sleeping with their clothes on.

  8. Smoking or striking lights below in the prison, washing or attempting to dry clothes will not be allowed under any pretence whatever.

  9. All captains of messes will receive their provisions in the order of their messes ??? of meat and deliver them to the ??? they are ??? their messes.

10. Two inspectors in rotation will be appointed who will superintend the issue of provisions. A printed copy of the established rations of provisions will be hung up and should they appear of bad quality or deficient in weight they are to submit them for examination to me before they pass the quarter deck after that it will be too late to complain.

11. The night watch will be set at 8 o'clock and they will be held responsible for the peace and good order of the prison during the night, and it will be their duty to see that no more than one person at a time is in the water closet.

Prisoners are warned that if found congregating at the bottom of the ladder leading to the water closets, they will be punished should anything ??? occur they are immediately to report to the sentry at the gate.

12. The bedding is to be taken on deck every morning when the weather will permit. The captains of divisions are to see the beds neatly rolled up by 6 o'clock a.m. after which they must be handed through the prison gate to the upper deck crew to be stored by them and when they are ordered down they are to be ??? from the same party.

13. If at any time a prisoner has reason to complain of provoking language or treatment from the ships company or guard he is strictly ??? not to retaliate but to make the same known to me that the complaint may be investigated.

14. Each captain of a division will have charge of a certain number of ??? he is to attend to every man in his division and see that they muster clean and orderly. The captains are to attend to the cleaning of the prison to check impropriety they may ??? and to report to me everything that may affect the discipline established.

15. The surgeon superintendent has to impress on the minds of the prisoners that their future prosperity and happiness will depend on their good conduct on board and the report he shall have to make to the Governor of the Colony on arrival.

Purple Bar
Daily Routine Lincelles, 1862

4.00 a.m. Prisoner cooks (3 in number) admitted on deck.
5.30 a.m. Captains of divisions and upper deck for the purpose of filling wash tubs and prisoners at the same time to commence taking up their beds and hammocks.
6.00 a.m. One half of the prisoners admitted for the purpose of washing their person under the supervison of their respective captains half an hour being allowed for this purpose.
7.30 a.m. Down all prisoners. Ships company to commence washing upper deck and water closets.
8.00 a.m. Breakfast.
8.30 a.m. One man from each mess admitted on deck for the purpose of washing up their mess utensils.
9.00 a.m. All the prisoners admitted on deck with the exception of the men in each mess who in turn will clean and scrape dry the prison deck and their berths the bottom boards of the latter being removed during which time I will attend in the surgery and on the deck.
9.30 a.m. Prison inspected after which all the prisoners will be assembled on deck for prayers.
10.00 a.m. One half of the prisoners sent on deck for exercise the other half being arranged in schools under the superintendence of the Religious Instructor assisted by monitors.
11.30 a.m. School to break up.
12.00 a.m. Dinner.
12.30 p.m. From each mess one man to be admitted on deck for the purpose of washing mess utensils.
1.20 p.m. Deck to be swept up.
1.30 p.m. Half the prisoners to be admitted on deck the remainder below to be arranged in school as in the forenoon.
4.00 p.m. Down all beds and hammocks.
4.30 p.m. Supper.
5.00 p.m. One man from each mess admitted on deck to wash utensils.
6.30 p.m. Prayers.
7.00 p.m. Petty officers of the day and night muster on deck.
8.00 p.m. Down all prisoners.
9.00 p.m. Rounds.


The same as Monday and all prisoners to be shaved.
Captains of divisions see this order carried out.


The same as Monday and those prisoners whose turn it is to be on deck to wash their clothes, one man in each mess delivering the same to the captains of the upper deck.


The same as Wednesday and remaining half of prisoners to wash their clothes.


The same as Monday.


Schools suspended.
Bottom boards to be scrubbed and dried on deck.


The same as Monday.

Divine Service at 11 a.m.

Prisoners professing the ??? of athiest Faith will have one of their members to lead Prayers to them. (already appointed).

It is expected that all will assemble together in a clean and orderly manner for the Worship of Almighty God. Purple Bar General Rules: To be observed by convicts on board the Merchantman, 1863.

The Surgeon Superintendent directs attention to the following regulations which are issued for the general benefit and comfort.

  1. You are strictly prohibited from holding intercourse with the Crew or Guard except in the discharge of duties directed by the Surgeon Superintendent.

  2. The Surgeon Superintendent will select from the general body of men, such persons as he may deem fit and will appoint them to assist in carrying on the discipline which he may think proper to direct. To these men, when appointed, the Surgeon Superintendent expects the same prompt obedience as to himself.

  3. You are required promptly to obey all orders which from time to time be issued by the Surgeon Superintendent or the Religious Instructor, whether issued from them personally, or those whom they may place in authority.

  4. You will be admitted on deck at such times and under such regulations as the Surgeon Superintendent may direct.

  5. The Lower (or Prison) deck to be kept clean and dry, no water to be spilt, the water kegs to be properly secured and no person to wash anything below.

  6. No prisoner is on any account to exchange or sell his clothes or any other article belonging to him.

  7. No prisoner is allowed in any mode, to gamble for his provisions or for any of his property.

  8. No one is allowed to keep any clothes or other description of property which he may find, but is to give it up immediately to the Surgeon Superintendent for the purpose of it being returned to their proper owners.

  9. It shall be the duty of the Superintendents to preserve order and good behaviour among the men in their departments of the ship over which they may be stationed, and in particular to prevent all quarelling, fighting, swearing, the use of profane and obscene language and the singing of immoral songs and to see them all in their proper berths by 8 p.m. and after 8.30 p.m. no singing, speaking, or noise of any kind will be permitted.

10. One man from each two consecutive messes to attend with the Principal Superintendent the weighing and issuing of provisions.

11. It is expected that every person will conduct himself in a quiet, orderly and respectful manner, as the Surgeon Superintendent begs distinctly to intimate that a record of the names of all defaulters will be kept for the purpose of being reported to the Governor on the arrival in the colony, and that their future comfort very much depends on the report that in the discharge of his duty, he shall have to make concerning them.

Signed: William Smith M.D., Surgeon Superintendent. Purple Bar Daily Routine: Merchantman, 1863
5.00 a.m. Tuesdays and Fridays washing days after breakfast until 11 o'clock. The cooks are to come on deck and commence their duties. At daylight the prisoners are to roll up and stow singly their hamocks and bedding, the hammocks to be lashed up and all stowed in their proper places or brought on deck in fine weather. The cleaners are to be mustered on deck and commence their duties washing water closets, decks &c. All hands to wash, which must be finished by 6.30 a.m.
6.30 a.m. Their daily allowance of water to be issued.
7.00 a.m. Their daily allowance of biscuits to be issued.
7.30 a.m. The Surgeon Superintendent will visit the sick.
7.45 a.m. The mess men are to be mustered on deck to receive the breakfast allowance and all the other prisoners will go below and sit down in a quiet orderly manner, each in his own berth.
8.00 a.m. Breakfast. Immediately after each meal, the mess whose day it is for messing (are on the upper deck), to wash the mess utensils belonging to their respective messes and then return those to the mess men who are to remember that there is a place for everything and that everything must be in its place. After breakfast all the prisoners will be admitted on deck and the prison is then to be cleaned throughout by the cleaners.
10.00 a.m. Divine Service.
10.30 a.m. School.
11.40 a.m. The allowance of lime juice to be issued.
12.45 p.m. The mess men to be mustered on deck, all the other prisoners to go below in same manner as at breakfast.
1.00 p.m. Dinner. After dinner the prisoners to be admitted on deck and cleaners to sweep the whole of the prison deck.
1.30 p.m. The daily allowance of wine to be issued.
2.00 p.m. School. After school, all prisoners on deck.
4.45 p.m. Mess men to muster on deck, all prisoners below.
5.00 p.m. Supper. After supper, the whole of the prisoners to be admitted on deck and the prison to be again carefully swept by the cleaners. Before dusk the allowance of salt meat to be issued to the messes.

At dusk the hammocks are to be taken below and the beds made.

8.00 p.m. All in bed.
8.30 p.m. No more talking or noise of any kind will be permitted in the prison during the night.

Signed: William Smith M.D., Surgeon Superintendent. Purple Bar Surgeon's Remarks: Merchantman, 1863

I beg to submit the following remarks connected with the conveyance of convicts to Australia.

1. I would suggest that a convict guard at the rate of ten men to every hundred convicts would be ample, and that a steady intelligent Sergeant Major is most indispensible, especially where no officer is sent in charge. I would also recommend that every ship should have at least one Principal and three Assistant Warders, as I consider such men from their knowledge of convicts to be invaluable in their management.

The system of sending warders to sea, supplied with thick chunky boots only fit to be worn on shore, renders them unable to get about the decks with any comfort to themselves, and when the ship is knocking about much, makes them almost helpless. In the 'Merchantman' to obviate their inconvenience, I allowed them to go about bare-footed, but of course in cold weather this could not be done. I would therefore recommend that proper shoes be supplied to them.

2. I most decidedly object to the presence of women on board convict ships, it is no place for them, and in case of an outbreak they would be a bad incumberance, and in fact their presence would be a further inducement to determined and lawless ruffians to try and get the ship into their possession.

3. The dieting on board is quite sufficient both for guard and convicts when in health but I would strongly recommend a supply of poultry for the use of the sick, or perhaps what would be better still, to require the Master to victual from his mess any number of sick persons on the Surgeon Superintendent's requisition, granting a far remonstration and at the same time the ship's provisions could be checked. By this means the recovery of the sick would be most materially assisted.

A supply of malt liquors, wine and brandy are also necessary, the port wine allowed not being sufficient. In the 'Merchantman', I demanded them at Bermuda and Admiral Milne, the Commander in Chief in the West Indies, quite agreed with me as to the necessity, and granted them accordingly.

4. The system carried out at Bermuda of allowing convicts half a gill of rum daily I look upon as being objectional, it is an indulgence which, I conceive, men undergoing penal servitude are not entitled to, besides I can see no benefit from it in a medical point of view to men in good health. In the 'Merchantman' I considered it prudent to allow half a gill of wine daily but it was not looked upon at all as an equivalent for the rum that had been stopped and was the cause of much discontent on board. By my instructions, I am forbidden to allow smoking on board, but in the case of the convicts embarked in the 'Merchantman' in Bermuda, I thought it prudent to continue the system pursued there, more especially as the Comptoller there, with the Governor's approval, sent on board a regular supply of tobacco for their use, and I am sure that had I acted up to the strict letter of the law, I should have had the greatest difficulty in managing them, but I must strongly protest against such an indulgence, which I concern to say the least of it is by no means beneficial to health and most decidedly prejudicial when taken to the smallest excess.

5. The Colts Revolvers sent on board were rendered in a manner inefficient from the small quantity of ball cartidges, (250), and precision caps (375) supplied. It is of course necessary to keep revolvers loaded to render them immediately available, now this could not be done, as after a certain time the revolvers missed fire owing to the damp of the ship. I would therefore recommend that the supply should be sufficient to enable them to be fired off at least once a week, say for four months. 30 rounds for each chamber are now supplied.

6. I would suggest the stowage of spirits in all convict ships should be so far removed from the neighbourhood of the convicts as to render them getting at it an improbability; this was the case in the 'Merchantman', but I am led to believe that in some ships, the spirit room has been broken into owing principally to its proximity to them.

Signed: William Smith M.D., Surgeon Superintendent.

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