It is natural to infer that Government understands it is simply landing these people in Africa, to let them shift for themselves, and get their Board in the best manner they can’. Richard Miles, Governor Cape Coast Castle to Home Office, London.

West Africa: In 1644 England during the third Anglo-Dutch War captured Cape Coast Castle from the Dutch and established a permanent foot-hold in West Africa.

In 1655 Oliver Cromwell made ‘reprieve from death conditional on ‘banishment out of the realm’.

London – 1717/18: After legislation, 4 Geo. c.11, transportation to ‘an American colony’ became the normal sentence for criminals who had their death sentence forgiven on condition they be banished.

By the time of King George 111’s reign ‘transportation to America’ – tied to twice yearly sittings of county courts, ran like-clock-work.

Every convict sent to America was sold like a slave. The only essential difference…one was sold for life the other for a term of years’. Roger Ekirch, Bound for America, 1981

And government made money. Contractors paid Treasury, each prisoner purchased was shipped them to America where their ‘service’ – labour – was sold to plantation owners.

‘To provide for the more speedy removal of convicts, 8 Geo. 111, c15 declared that where the King’s mercy was extended to them on condition of transportation they were to be delivered to the contractor forthwith, instead of lying in prison until the next session of the court to plead their pardons‘. Wilfrid Oldham, British Convicts to the Colonies, Library of Australian History, Sydney, 1990

The numbers…a minimum of more than 1200 convicts were taken annually from the gaols of the British Isles and the stream, as far as it is recorded, was fairly steady’. Oldham. ibid.

 America: Britain, between 1717 and 1775, exported  50,000 convicts to her North American colonies.  In 1775 revolution, American War of Independence (1775-1783), brought an abrupt end to the convict trade.

However the judicial system rolled on as before . Judges continued to reprieve death on condition of ‘transportation to America’ . Gaols became grossly overcrowded.

England: Parliament passed the Hulks Act in 1776. The legislation changed the ‘status’ of all convicts under ‘order of transportation’ they became ‘servants of the realm’.

‘If contemporary opinion can be accepted, labour on the hulks was a form of punishment particularly dreaded. Death reduced the number on the hulks much more than did pardon or escape’. Oldham. ibid.

So bad were the conditions only male prisoners could be legally confined on these floating-prisons moored along the River Thames.

‘The prisoners were supposed to be the most hardened, serious offenders yet they included boys under ten years of age. The weak were at the mercy of the tough once the ships had been battened down for the night… Like transportation the hulks were not operated by the state but delegated to a private contractor [who]…had no stake in the prisoners’ work, which was for government projects’. Richard Byrne, Prisons and Punishments of London, 1992

However until they left ‘English waters’ the Home Office retained responsibility for those sentenced ‘to transportation’ not solely to America but ‘beyond the seas’.

America:  By 1782 the shooting war was over. Against all odds Britain lost the war, America won independence from the ‘mother country’.

West Africa –  6 November 1782: Government turned to Africa as a penal destination. At the end of 1782 the Den Keyser was chartered to transport forty (40) or so criminals to Senegal, on Africa’s west coast to serve sentences of seven (7), fourteen (14) years or life at the fort settlements of Goree and Cape Coast Castle.

Samuel Woodham and John Rugless were destined for a life-time of military service. Civilian prisoners like Thomas Limpus were to be dumped and left to ‘shift for themselves’.


‘Any convict who returned before the expiration of his period of servitude was to become liable to a sentence of death’. Oldham. ibid.

Goree – 3 December, 1782: After a month a sea Den Keyser arrived off Goree but permission to land was denied. A Mexican stand-off between ship and shore lasted four (4) days.

Eventually, on the 7th of December, twenty (20) prisoners including Thomas Limpus were allowed ashore.

Captain William Lacey the local Lieutenant-Governor, who had replaced the murderous Governor Joseph Wall, ‘sent [the others] off and would not give them any victuals’.

Cape Coast Castle: A day or so later, 10th of December, the remaining convicts ‘landed…naked and diseased on the sandy Shore of Cape Coast Castle’. Miles. op. cit.

1783 – February: Richard Miles, Lieutenant-Governor of Cape Coast Castle, wrote to the Home Office complaining of the unannounced arrival of Den Keyser

‘No provision whatever is made for them’ Miles wrote ‘the grand consideration seems to be, to get them out of Europe at all Events’.

Goree – 1783: Meanwhile at Goree Thomas Limpus sized up his situation and decided to get away as soon as possible. After a few days working for food he joined as crew of a trading ship due to depart for England.

London: Limpus was back in London by mid-August 1783.

Goree:  Meantime Samuel Woodham and John Rugless joined their assigned military detachment where most regular troops had been at this outpost of Empire for some time.

Many sick starving, eaten up by venereal disease, were more than a little mad. The fort was more or less defenceless as most soldiers had traded their weapons for food grog and sex.

Officers flogged the rank and file mercilessly. In one incident Lieutenant-Governor Joseph Wall ordered Sergeant Armstrong, receive eight hundred (800) lashes. Armstrong died in the process.

Woodham and Rugless saw nothing good could come from staying at Goree. At the first opportunity both, like Limpus, worked their passage home. See: Three Amigos + One Thomas Barrett

 England – October/November 1784:  Woodham and Rugless arrived back in England by the end of 1784 and were soon in trouble with the law.


‘The administration gave no consideration to the date of expiry of sentences and several of the First Fleet convicts had been tried as early as 1781 and 1782’. Dr John Cobley, Crimes Of The First Fleet, Angus and Robertson, 1982

Portsmouth – 13 May 1787:  Thomas Limpus, Samuel Woodham and John Rugless departed England ‘bound for  Botany Bay’ in the ‘First Fleet’ on 13 May 1787.

Sydney Cove – 26 January 1788: The three (3) friends disembarked at Sydney Cove in January 1788 where Limpus met up with Thomas Barrett an old friend from the hulk Dunkirk. See: A Vicious Circle – The Hangmans Noose 

Biographical information taken from: Mollie Gillen, Founders of Australia, Library of Australian History, Sydney 1989. 


London – 1802: Governor Joseph Wall was recalled to England. Tried at the Old Bailey, found guilty of murdering Sergeant Armstrong, he was executed outside Newgate before a rowdy crowd baying for blood.

Sydney – November 1825:  A chilling echo in 1825; Major-General Ralph Darling then Governor of New South Wales, inflicted severe sadistic punishment on two (2) soldiers one (1) of whom died as a direct result.

Privates Joseph Sudds and Patrick Thompson due for repatriation stole some cloth from a Sydney shop because neither wanted to return to England.

‘On 22 November [1825] they were stripped of their uniforms and dressed in convicts’ clothing. Sudds and Thompson were drummed out of the regiment to the tune of the Rogue’s March.

Iron chains, personally designed by Governor Darling, were hung from a spiked iron collar around the prisoners’ necks, to the waist, then to the ankle. The chains [weighed 6.35kg] were three times heavier than the chains worn by convicts in the road gangs.

The two prisoners were unable to stand erect or to lie down at full length. Sudds was already ill when first sentenced and by this time could hardly stand. In this, and wearing the heavy iron collar and chains, his illness worsened and he died five days later’.

Patrick Thompson was put to work at Emu Plains on a road-gang.. When he could no longer stand he was loaded onto a cart and taken to the Penrith lock-up where the neck iron was removed.

Governor Darling was more fortunate than Governor Wall he died a respected Knight of the Realm.

‘Despite the critical twenty-year role the New South Wales Corps played in shaping the colony, and the calls for a written history of the corps since 1970, there has been none’. Stephen Gapps, The Sydney Wars, New South Press, 2018 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply