Fanny O'Donnell's father, a convict on board was brought to give evidence.
Court enquiry on board “Royal Sovereign” convict ship.
State Records NSW : NRS1155 Reel 2427 [2/8275]
Transcribed by Tracy Grover June 2016.
Proceedings in to a court of enquiry held on board the “Royal Sovereign” convict ship.
At sea 6th October 1833.
The court being assembled proceeds to take the following evidence.
1st Evidence.Private Francis O’Brian 4th ..?.. King’s own regt. (one of the guard on board)
being duty bound states as follows. That about four days ago as he (witness) was passing
through the prison to the hospital John McGee (a prisoner on board) told him (the witness)
that he has a question to ask him and not to be astonished at what he was going to ask him,
when witness replied that he would not be the least astonished, upon which the prisoner
enquired “how he likes soldiering” when witness replied that he likes it very well which was all the conversation that took place between the prisoner and witness at that time.
That about 6 o’clock pm on the 5th October 1833 on witness going through the prison to the
hospital the prisoner again enters in to discourse with him and asks witness “could he keep a secret” who replied that he could upon which the prisoner said that if witness could assist him that in a few days he could take the ship, when witness asked him how he could do it, he told witness that there were plenty of well minded men in the ship who would assist him if he but spoke to them, saying also that three sentries are not much use, and that the three sailors
when they are working on the Poop could soon gag the sentry that is upon it and keep him
from alarming the officers, when witness said it was impossible for them to do that. Prisoner
then said if it could be done he would drive the ship into the United States as he had been in
that country before. Witness observed that the prisoner would have to put the officers on
shore to which he replied that he would.
1st Question to witness by the court: Did the prisoner say any thing regarding any of the prisoners who are in the habit of assisting Mr Samuel Taylor (second officer) in the hole.
Answer: Yes, the prisoner said that they were very active and would assist.
2nd Question to the witness by the court: Did the prisoner make any remark concerning the guard on board.
Answer: Yes, the prisoner said that the soldiers on board were all recruits and were not yet well
3rd Question to the witness by the court: Did the prisoner make any remark concerning the soldiers who are convict prisoners on board.
Answer: Yes, the prisoner said that they were very active and would assist if called upon.
The prisoner then remarked that as witness and himself had been conversing together a
considerable time it would be advisable for them to separate or they might be observed and
cautioned witness to keep closer(?).
Witness states that after leaving the prisoner he immediately went to Mr Leonard, Surgeon
and Superintendent on board and reported the whole of the conversation between himself
and the prisoner.
2nd Evidence. Neil O’Donnell (a prisoner on board) says that McGee told Maloney (a prisoner) that O’Brian
said if McGee could succeed in his conspiracy O’Brian had no doubt but that half of the
soldiers would join them, and states that about three or four might back McGee said if he had 3 or 4 dozen men he could take the ship and tie the whole fast or if he had one dozen like himself with as good a mind and as resolute a head as himself he could do it. Witness began to
jest with him and asked if he (McGee) was going to proceed in the same manner as he did in
the hulk because if he did he would be punished for it. McGee told witness to hold his tongue and do as he likes as he (the prisoner McGee) was aware that when he reached New South
Wales he (McGee) would not have to undergo any hard work as he would be freed by
purchase. When O’Donnell was reported by McGee to 2nd Boatswain Carolan for interfering with and annoying him but the Boatswain (not knowing anything of the conversation)
considered the matter frivolous and did not report it. McGee further told O’Donnell that as he
(McGee) had already gotten him reduced from a barber’s situation to the prisoners on board
he would be able on his arrival at Sydney to get him set to work with chains around his neck, as he (McGee) was certain of his own release on reaching the colony.
3rd Evidence.James Darcy (a prisoner) heard McGee state to O’Brian that he though it would be very easy for him (McGee) to get his liberty if a few hands would join him, O’Brian asked
him how he could accomplish it unless he injured the guard on board, the ship’s crew and the whole of the other prisoners, Darcy could not hear McGee’s answer.
4th Evidence. Daniel Moloney (a prisoner) denied all knowledge of the matter - prevaricated and evaded
every question, but on O’Donnell’s evidence being read to him owned that he knew
something of the matter but would tell nothing freely.
5th Evidence. John Fitzpatrick (a prisoner) states that on the morning of the 4th October 1833 whilst lying on the berth McGee came to him and said “Fitzpatrick I am going to take the ship” when the
witness told him it was impossible as he could not do it when McGee replied “Oh by God I can with 20 men without the loss of one” witness told him if he (McGee) attempted to do it he
would suffer for it when he said that he could do it witness said that the first port they would
enter the sailors would report them and they would be taken up but McGee replied that he
had an old man (a prisoner) who understood the sea as well as any sailor on board the ship -
he (McGee) would ..hush?.. the sailors only until they saw the land and then he would throw
them overboard. Fitzpatrick objected to the plan as they had neither money or clothes to
which McGee said there were plenty of both on board which he would secure for them.
McGee said he would throw the whole of the officers, guard and crew overboard and all the
prisoners except about 40 or 50 as he would only have enough to supply that number with
clothes, provisions and money. McGee said that there were 20 sailors on board but witness
said there were but 16.
6th Evidence. Peter Casney a prisoner states that about 6 or 7 nights since McGee asked him how the Poop was situated and how stocked with arms and concerning the 2 survival guns on the stern and where the soldiers arms were kept and in answer to his questions witness told him he was
ignorant in the use of arms and could give no information on the subject.
7th Evidence. Charles Geohagan (a prisoner) states that he heard McGee ask Maloney whether he was not
seafaring man Maloney replied that he was; he also heard McGee say that with 20 men he
would take the ship and not a prisoner would lose his life (this happened about a week or 10
days since) and McGee said he had other men who were willing to assist him.
8th Evidence. James McClusky (a prisoner) states that he hears McGee say that he had the greater part of
the prisoners ready to assist him in capturing the ship and further said that he (McGee) knew
several instances of convict ships being taken and how easy it would be to take this one if
men only had the courage and remarked that several of the prisoners on board had been
7th October 1833
9th Evidence. James Connolly (a prisoner) states that on yesterday morning he was at the cistern and
remarked to John McGee that he (the witness) was sorry to see the chains on McGee who
replied it was not as bad as a bad marriage witness said to him (McGee) “do you think there
will be any thing also happen to you besides chaining” he said he expected to be hanged as it was a serious crime and that there was only one way for him to be saved. He appeared to
enforce the conversation upon witness who asked him the way he could escape to which he
said that O’Brian (the first evidence) and himself being from the same place he spared his men to freely to him and O’Brian had discoursed upon him when witness asked him what was his conversation with O’Brian, he said it was about taking the vessel and O’Brian had told him that he had eight soldiers spoken to on the subject and that they had consented. Witness then
asked him (McGee) the way he thought he could save himself, who said that if he could get
two men to swear that it was O’Brian who proposed to him to get the prisoners to rise and
take the vessel it would prevent O’Brian’s statement being credited he also said that it would be easily accomplished but that he thought there would be some difficulty in getting a trusty
person to swear that O’Brian’s statement was false although he knew there were plenty of
prisoners who would do it. Witness has heard McGee frequently ..allude(?).. to the
circumstance here brought forward respecting the seizure of the vessel but never encouraged the conversation as witness thought it was a foolish practice he had of talking, but witness
considers that if McGee could have got assistance he would have put his plans into execution as witness has frequently heard him observe that as they called him Captain in the hulk, if he
could manage this plot he would be able to lay down the rules and regulations to them.
10th Evidence. Peter Carney (a prisoner) came forward again and states that the priaoner McGee told him
that if he (McGee) could get any assistance he would capture the ship without sacrificing a
prisoners life and he would take the vessel to North America and sell her and divide the
proceeds amongst the prisoners, he would also take the lives of the officers, the guard and
the crew and that he would speak to one of the soldiers in particular mentioning O’Brian (as
he knew him) to see if any of the soldiers would assist him (McGee) as he thought himself
such a valiant fellow he entertained no doubt but that he could bring some of them to enter in to his measures, he also said that those prisoners who he could bring in to his plan he would
liberate to navigate the vessel but the other prisoners he would keep in confinement below
until he reached America.
11th Evidence. Daniel Moloney (a prisoner) on being flogged for the falsehood and prevarication he has
presented when giving his evidence states that he heard McGee say that if he had a few hands who would join him he had not the least doubt but he would take the ship, he would throw
the sentry on the Poop overboard and see all hands on board except the convicts whom he
would let free, and that he would throw officers, soldiers and the sailors overboard with the
exception of a few sailors to work the ship. That as witness was a while in a fishing company
and had a small idea of the sea he wished him to join him and that he (McGee) would get the men working on the Poop to assist him and he said that any of the prisoners who would not
assist him he would keep in irons in the fore part of the ship and those who would assist him were to have every thing that the ship could afford, he need also to speak to the ..
Tailors/Sailors(?).. working on the Poop and to Carney in particular, that he would put in to the United States of America and sell her (the ship) and those of the prisoners that preferred
going on shore might do so, and those that remained with him would receive their part of the booty.
12th Evidence. Thomas or ..Tim(?).. King (a prisoner) will not own to any thing relative to the present
9th October 1833.
12th Evidence. Joseph McCabe (a prisoner) states that last week he was going to the water closet in the
prison which was occupied at the time, that witness sat down beside McGee who asked him
how he was getting on to which witness replied that he was doing as well as could be
expected and hoped to have a good passage to Sydney where he expected to do better, also that there were a great many on board of the same expectation. McGee said that there were a great many good men on board but they were bad one’s or they would take their liberty.
Witness advised him (McGee) not to talk such nonsense and got up and left.
13th Evidence. Peter Reynolds (one of the military convicts from 14th Dragoon Guards) states that several weeks ago he was one day sitting on deck and happened to say in McGee’s presence that if he was once landed in Sydney he would never take the journey upon him back again on which
McGee asked him if he (witness) was for 7 years witness told him he was for life McGee then
said you are a foolish man if ever you go to Sydney. Witness said he could not help going McGee remarked if he had either two dozen or 20 men the same as himself he would make the
ship his own as they (meaning the guard) were all recruits and he thought it would be easy to convince them to take the ship to America and sell her as it has been done before by convicts.
15th Evidence. Thomas or ..Tim(?).. King a prisoner being again brought forward states that he has heard
McGee say while in the hulk with the aid of a book he has in possession and 10 men he would take any ship that came in (meaning the vessel which might arrive to take the prisoners to
New South Wales) that he knows nothing of the present transaction and that Maloney told him (King) since his punishment if he was brought forward against McGee he would say that all he had previously stated was ..contorted(?).. from him by force.
10th October 1833.
16th Evidence. John Jones (a prisoner) states that on Saturday last he was sitting on the bench on front of the berth when John Fitzpatrick came from the upper berth to the lower one and John McGee
came from his own berth to that of the 4 mess, and stopped on his knees to speak to John
Fitzpatrick when he told that he (McGee) had everything ready and know 2 men who have a
book each (Miles Reilly and William Lawn) of geography which would greatly assist him, he
(McGee) also said that he had 5 or 6 able men who were transported for life to help him to
take the ship, he observed that he could get a great many more but that he was afraid to ask
them he would keep 5 or 6 of the best sailors amongst the crew.
17th Evidence. James Brady (a prisoner) states that he thinks about Saturday last after McGee and Fitzpatrick conversed together for some time the subject he could not overhear they went from the mess together then to the water closet having been interrupted by Bernard Devine in whose place Fitzpatrick was laying.
18th Evidence. James Connolly a prisoner (in addition to his former evidence) states that a few days after the prisoners came on board of this ship on going to the water closet McGee asked him if he
would come up in the berth and rest himself, one or other of as asked how we liked this
prison compared with the hulk McGee said he had been on deck that day and had observed
something which might be planned and executed and would be of service to those who
would engage in ti witness asked him what that was, he replied that he had seen that all the
soldiers were recruits and that they would be easily defeated, witness said it was foolish in
him to think of any thing of that sort. McGee said about 50 could do the whole of it and not a prisoners life be lost. Witness asked him how it could be done and he answered by jumping
over the railings and on the Poop and seizing the soldiers and sailors and throwing them
overboard with the exception of a few sailors who he would keep to work and navigate the
ship. The ship he said would be a very good prize he would take her to America where with a (?).. At her mast head she would be disposed of in the course of an hour. He talked of the
value of the articles on board and how he would serve out the spirits and would put an end to any one who would attempt to take any without his sanction and would place a guard over it, witness said all this is nonsense and that whoever he kept to navigate the ship would take her to an English port or where she would be retaken. His reply was that he would keep those
who navigated the ship separate by means of sentries and by so doing would ascertain
whether they were deceiving him or not and that he would tie them to the helm. He said he
would overhaul the cabin and perhaps would only get £30 of money and although there
would be several several notes or pounds these would be of no use, but he would get £6000 or £8000 for the ship. He lamented greatly he was not a scholar. - This was all which occurred on this day. Several times afterwards he spoke of the same thing to witness and upbraided
him for a want of courage in not joining him.
(Document is signed by four people named as Officers comprising the court. These people
include Leonard the Surgeon Superintendent and John Henderson the master of the ship.)