Bangalore, the ship

Savitha Karthik writes about a convict ship called ‘Bangalore’ that sailed the high seas and transported convicts to various colonies in Australia...

Once there was a convict ship called Bangalore, and she sailed the high seas, transporting British and Irish convicts to Australia. She was built in 1843 in the Channel Island of Jersey. There have been many ships named Bangalore in the pages of maritime history, but this ship tells the story of crime and punishment. It tells the story of the criminal justice system in England back then — later came to be known as the Bloody Code — rife with a list of over 200 capital offences at one point between the 18th and 19th centuries.

Before transportation became an option, punishments were in the form of death, whippings or fines. Transportation became the norm for crimes that were serious but not enough to merit executions. The British transported its convicts to American colonies till the American Revolution. Following that, the alternative was Australia, and the First Fleet of 11 convict ships landed there in 1788. Between then and 1868, over 1,62,000 convicts were transported to various colonies in Australia. Hundreds of ships were drafted in, and one of them was the Bangalore.

Convict records of the 18th and 19th centuries available on a community-based Australian website (convictrecords.com.au) lists offences such as “stealing a snuff box”, “stealing beans”, “stealing potatoes” and “stealing corn”, among others. There are 133 entries listed under “stealing a handkerchief” on the website. Many an ‘Artful Dodger’!

If Bangalore were to tell stories, she would tell the story of a basketmaker who stole a purse, some coins and watch, a silk weaver who stole a bobbin of silk from his employer, a housewife who stole a handkerchief…

The Bangalore transported convicts on two voyages to Australia, one from Bermuda to Van Diemen’s Land (present-day Tasmania) in 1848, and another from Spithead, England to Moreton Bay in 1850.

The Ballard story

James Edward Ballard, a basketmaker and waterman, was among the over 200 convicts aboard the Bangalore on its 1848 journey. What took him to Bermuda, and why was he sent there?

Judy Gibson, who is a descendant of James Ballard, and resident of Tasmania, has been researching the Ballard family history for the last 30 years. The 63-year-old explains via email that in 1843, James Ballard and William Smith were charged with assault and robbery. She cites records of Ballard and Smith charged with assaulting and robbing James Heeney of “one watch and one purse, valued at 4 shillings and 6 pence, one half-sovereign, 2 half-crowns and 1 shilling.”

James was found guilty and would be transported to Bermuda on a prison hulk called the Thames. At Dockyard, Ireland Island, Bermuda, James worked for some time and was even able to earn some money, according to Judy Gibson. James was then transferred onboard the ship Bangalore, and arrived at Van Diemen’s Land in July 1848. He was given a ticket of leave, and slowly built his life in the new land.

The Ballard family lore has it that James managed to bring some English willow to cultivate in VD Land, and use it in his basket making trade. The willow, according to Gibson, came from Surrey, England.

James Woods, daughter Iola Woods and Nelson Ballard harvesting the willows in 1902
James Woods, his daughter Iola Woods, and Nelson Ballard harvesting the willows in 1902

James would go on to meet Ellen Crowley, an Irish convict from Cork, and marry her eventually. Once James was proclaimed free after serving his ticket of leave period, he started manufacturing baskets, apart from running his grocery store. He became a reputed and respectable member of Launceston society. The Ballard baskets were hugely popular, and Gibson says her father, Ivan Ballard was the last of the Tasmanian family of Ballard basket makers.

Who were the others onboard the Bangalore? One of the convicts was Henry Weston who broke into a house at Bethnal Green and stole nine metal taps, worth 5 shillings, according to Old Bailey’s online records and convictrecords.com.au. He was first sentenced and sent to Bermuda, from where he set sail on the Bangalore.

The East Riding Museum’s website shows that it was no different for Luke Dales, who was sentenced to transportation. Dales had been convicted earlier but the crime for which he was sentenced to transportation for seven years was stealing. What did he steal? “A top coat (valued at five shillings).” He, too, was sent to Bermuda, where the British had set up a convict colony. Dales was one of the many who were drafted in to build a Royal Navy dockyard there.

Clare Anderson, professor of history, University of Leicester, points out to me on email that none of the convicts sent to Bermuda remained there when the settlement was closed. Also, no women went to Bermuda, she clarifies. Prof Anderson, who is also the author of A Global History of Convicts and Penal Colonies, among others, writes in an online essay (convictvoyages.org) about the conditions in which convicts worked on the hulks in Bermuda. “As the dockyard site developed, one hulk (Tenedos) was converted into a hospital ship, and used until a convict hospital was constructed on Ireland Island,” she writes. “Certainly, 1,260 of the 9,000 convicts died while under sentence, from illness or accidents,” she states. The last convict ship sailed out of Bermuda in March 1863, she notes.

The second voyage to Australia

In 1850, the Bangalore made its second voyage to Australia, this time to Moreton Bay. The 1850 journey was from England and there were over 290 ticket-of-leave holders and more than 100 free people aboard the ship. One of the convicts was John Penaluna who was accused of stealing a pig. Jenkin Rees, a brickmaker, stole a handkerchief, and was sentenced for seven years.

Accounts on convict discipline and transportation published in 1851 presented to both Houses of the British Parliament say “no corporal punishment took place; no irons were used; and not even the stoppage of a ration as a punishment,” during the journey. While the Bangalore was the last convict ship to land on the east coast, ships continued to land at Van Diemen’s Land and Western Australia.

The last convict ship, the Hougoumont, landed in Australia in 1868, just over 150 years ago, bringing the curtains down on the chapter of transportation.

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