Jack’s death

When the Albermarle arrived in Port Jackson, New South Wales on 3 October 1791 32 of the convicts on board had died during the voyage (this included the two who were executed for the mutiny).

One of these deaths was Jack. His death is recorded as  27  August 1791 – just off the Cape of Good Hope – as the ship began the last part of its journey to Australia.


Across the 11 ships of the Third Fleet, over 2,000 convicts arrived in New South Wales whilst a total of 173 male convicts and 9 female convicts died. But as Wikipedia points out although this death rate was high, it was nowhere near as high as that which occurred on the Second Fleet.

On the Second Fleet – a convoy of 6 ships that left England for Sydney, Australia in 1870 –  Wikipedia reports that of the 1,006 convicts transported, one quarter died during the voyage and around 40 per cent were dead within six months of arrival in Australia.

It is clear from the date of Jack Kirby’s death that it took place well after the time after the mutiny on board the Abermarle in April 1791, so how did he die? What were the conditions like on board ship?  History Extra reports

“They varied substantially between voyages. On the First Fleet, the prisoners were treated relatively well and the vast majority survived the long journey. However, conditions were far worse in later fleets – prisoners suffered bad treatment, poor rations and outbreaks of disease.

Another article claims that although conditions on board the ships in the Third Fleet weren’t as “diabolical” as the previous year, they were still “outrageous”. This report taken on the arrival of a ship in the Second Fleet makes for chilling reading.

“On arrival at Port Jackson, half-naked convicts were lying without bedding, too ill to move. Those unable to walk were slung over the side. All were covered with lice. At least 486 sick were landed (47% of those embarked). Of these, 124 died shortly after they had landed. Of the rest the Rev. Johnson, who went among them as soon as the ships reached port, wrote that “the misery I saw amongst them is indescribable … their heads, bodies, clothes, blankets, were all full of lice. They were wretched, naked, filthy, dirty, lousy, and many of them utterly unable to stand, to creep, or even to stir hand or foot.”

So, things were probably somewhat better on the Albermarle – but not a lot better. It can therefore be assumed that Jack’s untimely death, at age 29 was due to poor conditions on board ship.

The Third Fleet was one of the early transportations to Australia, which continued well into the mid-19th century, so did conditions improve on board over time? This quote from Convict journey explains how the death rate did improve:

The Second and Third Fleets were in many ways exceptions. Most convict ships (such as those of the First Fleet) had a death rate that was low by the standards of the time. Furthermore, the growth of the British navy and burgeoning British empire brought improvements in the technologies of maritime transport across the period, and the government introduced strict regulations designed to eliminate disasters like the Second Fleet.

For most of the period of transportation, private contractors shipped the convicts to Australia; these contractors were required to adhere to government regulations. A death rate of 1 in 85 transportees in the early years had fallen to 1 in 180 by the end of transportation.

From 1815, every convict ship was required to carry a naval surgeon to supervise sanitary conditions and prisoner health. From 1832, the Admiralty assumed full responsibility for transportation. During the nineteenth century, the death rate on convict ships rarely rose beyond 1 in 100.”

And the article, Living Conditions on Convict Ships, suggests that with surgeons on board the ships, convict deaths were subsequently due to a multitude of other reasons.

“The health of the convicts on the voyage to Australia often depended on the state of the ship, quality of rations served and the attitude and level of skill of the Surgeon …

Most of the convicts had never been to sea before. They were injured in falling down hatchways, and by being struck with ropes and other workings and some fell overboard and were drowned. Serious injury occasionally occurred by scalding when serving out food.”

Interestingly, the captain and some crew members of one of the vessels in the Second Fleet were charged with offences against the convicts, although they were acquitted after a short trial. So was Captain Bowen, brought to account for the deaths on board the Albermarle?

It’s unlikely, because after having delivered the convicts, the Albemarle left Port Jackson on 3 December 1791, in company with Active, bound for India.

Then, a year after that, on 23 December 1792, the Albemarle departed Bombay (homeward-bound), again in company with Active.

However, in May 1793 she was captured by the French privateer Duguay-Trouin – that’s a private ship that was engaged in maritime warfare under a commission of war – and taken into Morlaix, France.  The ship was back in French hands.

> Part 3 : What happened to Jack’s family?

Last updated: January 16, 2023 at 22:20 pm