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The vain ambitions of the Nantucket whalers: Campbell's preoccupations with land in Kent: `I fear Mr Adams demands are not the most moderate': Convicts at Cumberland Fort, Portsmouth: Duncan Campbell and the Blackheath Connection: `The gaols are in so crowded a state': `Destitute in all comforts of life':


The Blackheath Connection

Chapter 30


The vain ambitions of the Nantucket whalers:


There were 22 ships in the South Whale Fishery for 1785. On 22 July, 1785 the American whaler Rotch arrived after his departure from Nantucket in Maria Capt. Wm. Mooers, to London, bringing with him 20 whaling and/or other vessels. Rotch lived with a friend, Thomas Wagstaff of Gracechurch St, and picked up his mail c/- Enderbys at Paul's Wharf. Rotch remained a friend of Robert Barclay who later arranged for him to meet with Pitt. ([1]) (The agent for Nova Scotia at the time was Richard Chamberlain.) ([2]) Also in July, 1785, doubtless irritated with delays in legislation being implemented, London's Lord Mayor wrote to the Secretary of State urging a speedy resumption of transportation. But the fact was, government still had nowhere to send the convicts. And during 1785, a glutton for punishment, George Moore was still willing to take convicts to North or South America. By July, 1785, Cabinet had been talking of Canada, the West Indies or the West Coast of Africa. Useful shipping lanes were implicitly part of discussions. From this time, disparate forces were to have unexpected outcomes.


27 July, 1785 was the date of an agreement with Campbell for hire of the Ceres for the reception of convicts. A guard and attendants would be charged at 175 per month for the first six months, thence to reduce to 150 per month. Nepean, lately receiving critical remarks from Clark, London Lord Mayor, found his thoughts working on a wider scale, and he wanted information on likely numbers of prisoners due for transportation. He asked Campbell how many prisoners might normally be expected annually for transportation? ([3]) Nepean asked Campbell for a copy of the 1779 report of the Committee of the House of Commons looking into transportation. (1779, the year in which both Campbell and Joseph Banks had given evidence, with Banks first suggesting Botany Bay might be suitable for a convict colony). The 1779 report had contained evidence in the form of a heated debate on the worth of an African location, and Nepean presumably wanted to reassess that debate.


Campbell Letter 136:

London 29 July 1785

Evan Nepean Esq

I have looked over & over my papers but cannot lay my hand on the report of the Committee of the House of Commons of 1779 touching the Convicts for Transportation however I have made out a state of those Transported for the last of years which upon an average was 543, Convicted for Transportation from London, Middlesex, the Home Circuit & County of Buck. The number from these was always held to be a large half of the transportation from the Kingdom.

I shall be in Town on Monday

to obey your further Commands ([4])


Campbell's clerks had shuffled through files, still, Campbell could not find his copy of the Bunbury committee report of 1779. But, Campbell estimated he transported half from the Kingdom - 543 per annum. The reason that Campbell could not find his copy of the report was probably that Justice Buller, who had borrowed it in 1782, had not returned it. Copies of the 1779 report had been distributed to all MPs by the committee producing it. And while Campbell mentioned a "large half" of prisoners from the Kingdom - there was another other lesser half from the country gaols. Nepean chose not to mention the country prisoners when he shortly gave evidence to Beauchamp's committee.


Lord Beauchamp's committee continued. ([5]) Nepean when he gave evidence deposed there were five classes of convict transportable. At the time, he said he was interested in a plan for sending convicts to the island Le Maine. This he felt was desirable since the African Company had refused to take any more convicts into their settlements. Two hundred could go to Le Maine in ships chartered from Anthony Calvert, not in a king's vessel, to Yanimaroo. Significantly, when asked if Britain had any territorial right to Lemaine, Nepean answered, not at the present, but we probably would have such right. It was owned "by some chief". (Bradley of course had bought the island, but he had not yet returned from his mission). If Nepean knew of Bradley's success in negotiating sovereignty over the island Le Maine, he did not mention it to the committee questioning him, which seems strange. More importantly, the committee pressed the sovereignty question. Possibly scornful of George Moore's spectacular failures with transportation, Beauchamp's committee seems to have had a sensible attitude to British sovereignty over any place convicts might be landed. It was this insistence on the part of the committee, (I believe), which led to the formulation of the doctrine applied to Australian territory (terra nullius).


Beauchamp's committee did ask Nepean about George Moore, and Nepean admitted the trouble with the Honduran logwood cutters. Nepean said he had also heard negative reports on possibilities at Nova Scotia, and he had heard of no plan to send convicts to Canada (a place which might have been thought ideal?) In general, Nepean was not wholly frank. (For example, an official, Thomas Cotton, was later reimbursed 457/10/6d for reimbursing Richard Bradley for the purchase of Le Maine. ([6])


Following up Nepean's keen interest in an African location, Beauchamp's committee then heard a debate on Africa in the round. John Barnes, an African merchant who had originally proposed sending convicts to Le Maine, was still for the plan. He had spoken with Lord Sydney about the matter - but Sydney himself was evasive when asked about this. Sydney only said that a few plans had been mooted in conversation. ([7]) Another supporter of the African plan was John Nevan, a captain in the African trade who knew the Gambia River. Thomas Nesbitt a trader in wax and ivory also promoted the African scheme.


As with the 1779 debate, where African plans were discussed, humanity finally won out. Against the African site were Sir George Young, who with John Call had been promoting settlement in the Pacific. John Call deposed he had been in Senegal and the Gambia in 1750; he was against sending convicts there. Sturt, MP, recalled being with naval sloops and 350 convicts sent to Cape Coast Castle in 1782, and he was against the new plan. Commodore Thompson felt sure the convicts would stir up the natives. Henry Smeathman from four years experience of Africa felt sure that any prisoners sent there would perish; not one in a hundred would survive the first six months. ([8])


Earlier, Beauchamp's committee had questioned magistrates, and asked about the gaols situation. Mr. Recorder of London, the first witness, said that after the late Act of 1784, the judges at the Old Bailey had adopted a new form of sentence for transportation, pursuant to the Act, leaving it to the king-in-council to declare a place for a convict landing. A few prisoners had been sentenced for Africa, and the government had sent 100 from Newgate (to Ceres hulk). The felons for Africa were from a special list, including some women. The number actually removed was 78, as some had died. At the last Old Bailey sessions only a month or two previous, five only were sentenced for Africa. All those intended for Africa were desperates or dangerous, though the Recorder had known of many originally for America who were now destined for Africa.


Mr. Recorder probably knew it; some of those convicts were on the hulk Dunkirk at Portsmouth, which by March 1786 was overseen by Henry Bradley, brother of Richard Bradley who had bought Le Maine. It is difficult not to see the Bradleys being given non-Thames hulks contracts as a payoff from Nepean for helping Nepean organise the African plan. ([9])


* * *


The outspoken acting magistrate for Lancaster, T. B. Bailey, who had scathing opinions about politicians in many penal matters, said convicts were unable to be transported and therefore the law to him appeared to be defective. Bailey maintained nostalgia for the system of transportation to North America. He complained, the Law gave no power to magistrates to compel masters of ships to take prisoners. No captains of vessels were willing to undertake the service [by law they could not]. In a pointed reference to Campbell, he said that in the country, it was found that there were no persons, as there had been in London, who had ever made "a Trade of conveying Transports beyond the seas".


Bailey added that in his experience, since convicts could not be transported, there'd been an accumulation of prisoners in the country gaols and other prisons at great expense to county rates. Being closely ironed, these prisoners could not work. Since August 1784 the local magistrates in his area had appointed two of their number to contract for the transportation of prisoners. Bailey himself had sent the secretary of state for the Home Department (Nepean), an account of the prisoners available, asking where to send them, but had received no answer. The two local magistrates appointed could not exile prisoners for lack of a place. Hence he found the law defective. ([10]) Bailey's complaint of being ignored by Nepean could have been echoed loudly around the country. Nepean was strangely silent to Beauchamp's committee on the build-up of resentment in the counties about the failure to resume transportation. Perhaps Nepean's motive in failing to tell all was simple embarrassment?


Nepean had let drop some information on the former king's guardship now a hulk, Dunkirk. He informed she held 100 felons, 40 under their original sentences. The rest were convicts returned from transportation [on Moore's ships], except for ten capital respites. He said Ceres, Campbell's latest receiving ship, held 150, with room for 100 more for Africa. Further, he said as far as he knew, the hulks were all the places [the only places] there were regarded by the secretary of state as having been appointed for the reception of transports. The felons on Dunkirk were not sent down to labour, they were left idle, but the Thames hulks held both transports and those for hard labour.


Why Nepean when he spoke to the committee failed to mention the counties' problems with their transports remains unclear. There seems to have been a pressure of transportable numbers existing, or for the future, that he chose to deliberately ignore. He was downplaying certain figures. Perhaps government had decided NOT to resume transportation on a grand scale, and that only limited numbers of desperates would be sent out, perhaps to Africa? Others, such as Bailey's transports, might have been intended for hard labour, if the hulks could be proliferated? But Nepean did not want to reveal this?


At this time, for example, James Ruse, destined to be "Australia's first farmer", was still intended for Africa. He had been in the Wood St Compter, and Nepean does not seem to have mentioned to the committee any figures for that kind of metropolitan prison. There were other transports with Ruse there, before they were sent to Dunkirk. If Nepean was hiding something, possibly a plan to proliferate the hulks system "on any navigable river" and to scale down transportation, and made this public, he would probably have unleashed more protest than the African plan had already unleashed. And he meantime still suffered from the George Moore debacles. Lord Sydney was wont to complain that obstacles were put in the way of any plan unfolded Which was probably why he and Cabinet on 18 August, 1786, worked well away from the ears and eyes of parliament. They had simply gotten sick of the continual obstacles.


Oddly, as we have seen, Alderman Newnham - an apologist for transportation - put a Bill to Parliament to enable the Mayor and Commonalty of the citizens of London to pull down the gaols the Poultry and Wood St Compter and purchase some land to rebuild same. ([11]) ([12]) Strange possibilities in this domain may also have been on Nepean's mind. One possibility is that London interests [such as Newnham] were playing with the idea of deliberately being seen to be trying to reduce prisoner accommodation, in order to either embarrass the government, in order to focus extra attention on the number of transports there actually were. This seems to be only one of several tricks tried by London interests before cabinet made its decision in August 1786.


These "tricks from London" will have to be watched closely. But on the other hand, Nepean could with finding the African plan so unpopular, and the resumption to transportation so knotty a problem for lack of place, have been considering proliferating the hulks system, and this perhaps even as a prelude to building prisons along the lines suggested (in the still-ignored legislation of 1779) by either William Eden, or later by Jeremy Bentham. But Nepean could not afford to risk public protest by advertising such possibilities.


In public, Nepean was planning only for transportation to an African location. Part of that plan was the assurance of the use of shipping from Calvert and Co., who were at odds with the Africa Company about the plan anyway. Lord Sydney, who formulated the policy guiding Nepean, was betwixt and between on Africa, and he must have been embarrassed by Beauchamp's quite proper line, that transportation could only be to a place where Britain had suitable sovereignty. Nepean had also told the committee that representations had been made against the idea of sending felons to Nova Scotia. He thought there were possibilities of a timber-cutting operation at New Brunswick's north shore, or a naval stores guarded settlement at Cape Breton Island where there were few settlers.


In July, keeping up the pressure, London's Lord Mayor Richard Clark wrote to Nepean urging the usual "speedy resumption of transportation". (Clark, an attorney with literary interests, had been a friend of Dr Johnson). ([13])


And still glutton for punishment, George Moore resurfaced. He wanted to send convicts to Honduras. In his final unhappy Memorial to treasury, Moore said that in 1782 and 1783, he had made a contact to shift 143, and then 179 convicts, men and women, but mutiny had occurred. Moore had suffered losses of 4500. Yet in September 1785 Moore had contracted to shift another 29 convicts, to Honduras, with some indentured Negroes and other servants to be employed in felling logwood and other labor. He complained, his agents had been obstructed by the settlers at Honduras, who claimed the convicts had not been ordered there expressly, and Moore had wanted from Lord Sydney some written orders directed to the superintendent at Honduras, had been assured verbally by Nepean that no obstruction to the convicts being landed. So Moore had hired a vessel and they had arrived in December 1785. Lord Sydney had written to Colonel Despard the superintendent of Honduras who was at Jamaica, the convicts had been put back on the ship again, forcibly. Trade to Honduras being monopolised by a few persons, one Mr. White their agent had a letter of 19 August, 1785, and Mr. White said he had spoken with Lord Sydney.


In all, Moore had been conned, as Lord Sydney backed Mr. White, and the owner of the vessel since it had been detained had billed Moore for 745/18/4d, for demurrage and incidentals. Moore said it was all more than he could bear to pay, and claimed contradictory orders. He wanted the 745 plus another 841/13/7d which he had otherwise spent. ([14]) Moore had later wanted from Lord Sydney some written orders directed to the superintendent at Honduras, as he had been assured verbally by Nepean that no obstruction to the convicts being landed would exist. (About August 1785, as Olson writes, more former American merchants were foundering, and more sinkings were expected. it was claimed there were daily bankruptcies). ([15])


Were there any London interests with a motive to block Moore's efforts? After all, Moore's initial efforts had been blocked in part by Matthew Ridley. Britain had been cutting logwood in Honduras since before 1762, and was keen to retain that right, as it had been in peace negotiations at the end of Seven Years War. ([16]) Lloyd's Register for 1768 informs: In "140" Townshend Capt Fra Hall Built River in 1740, Capt. Calvert for Lo Honduras. One George Abell (sic) also sent out a ship to an unknown destination in 1768. In 1790, according to Board of Trade records, on 15 March, 1790 was considered a letter from Mr. George Dyer about the interests of merchants trading to the Bay of Honduras, engaged in the mahogany trade. The board decided to see these men, who were George Dyer, James Allen, George Abel, James Potts, John Inglis, all for W. W. Grenville's attention. ([17])


It is more than peculiar that the names Calvert and Abel should surface in respect of trade to and from Honduras, since in 1785-1786 the only merchants in London willing to transport convicts were Calvert's firm, and a firm linked with alderman Macaulay, who had once worked in George Abel's counting house. Could it have been that joint action by Calvert and Abel-Macaulay was deliberately blocking Moore's efforts? Moore was the first of several men to complain that somehow, certain parties were trying to monopolise any new business in transporting convicts.


In September, 1785 more convicts were transported by George Moore on Fair American. ([18]) But the settlers there once again drove the ship off. Britain and Spain re-negotiated over Honduras in July 1786, mahogany was becoming more important than logwood, Britain agreed to evacuate the Mosquito Shore, Honduras had no room for a penal colony. Moore anyway had hired a vessel and his convicts had arrived in December 1785. Sydney had written to Col. Despard the Honduras superintendent residing at Jamaica, as Moore asked. But Moore's convicts had been put back on their ship again, forcibly. Later, Moore complained that trade to Honduras was being monopolised by a few persons, one Mr. White their agent had a letter of 19 August, 1785. This Mr. White said he had spoken with Lord Sydney, Moore had in effect been conned, as Lord Sydney backed Mr. White, and the owner of the vessel since it had been detained had billed Moore for 745/18/4d, for demurrage and incidentals, more than Moore can bear to pay, claimed contradictory orders, and so Moore wanted the 745 plus another 841/13/7d which he had otherwise spent.


Note: On 1 August, 1785, the French explorer La Perouse sailed from Brest for the Pacific. ([19])


Meanwhile, as a tactic to increase the political pressures stemming from the numbers of untransported transports, a reduction in the number of prisoners being made available by the courts for hard labour would have caused further consternation. Duncan Campbell noticed just such a reduction in early 1786. It can be concluded that, even more obsessed with getting rid of convicts than the government, London interests had decided to tip the political balance. London forced the issue, and made government choose a place of last resort - which happened to be Australia. Maybe a London business overview is required at this point as part support for this new theory? Who might have been involved?


* * *


As hulks overseer, Duncan Campbell would probably have been privy to any secret intention of government to proliferate the hulks system. After all, there were only a limited number of desperates who would be offered up to dread Africa. Campbell should have been expecting a normal number of prisoners for hard labour to come his way. The opposite happened. For the last quarter of 1785, the number of hard labour men dried up. Presumably more were being sentenced for transportation. And if so, this could only have been achieved by collusion amongst the London-based magistrates. While, provincial legal functionaries such as T. B. Bailey at Lancaster had no satisfaction with where to put their transports!


The Beauchamp committee gave its second report on 28 July, 1785. On the grounds of humanity, and conceivably as a delaying tactic as well, they urged the locations they had discussed be ignored. On 22 August was ordered up the sloop Nautilus to search an alternative site. Public feeling on transportation had risen, Lord Beauchamp's committee had killed the Gambian plan, but had examined how to implement the 1784 legislation on transportation and despatched Nautilus to examine the suitability of Das Voltas.


Political pressure was still to build. On 12 July, 1785, ([20]) Joseph Loxdale at the Shrewsbury General Quarter Sessions was ordered by the Clerk of the Peace to write to Lord Sydney to implore his Lordship's assistance in getting the sentences to transportation carried out. He gave prisoners' names, ages, sentences, and referred to fear in the county of the spread of gaol fever. There was no hospital accommodation for the prisoners. Once again, government was being informed about the crowded country gaols, the topic which Nepean had downplayed to Beauchamp's committee. It appeared, the counties risked a major health threat.


* * *


Campbell's preoccupations with land in Kent:


During 1785, Campbell was increasingly preoccupied with land. On 28 May, 1785 he wrote to Nathaniel Kent of Fulham, thanking him for the maps of Kingsdown. Campbell was talking with Mr. Taylor about the lease for the Lower Knotts Farms, which commenced in 1771, but he thought the building on Knotts Farm had been let tumble down. ([21]) On 1 June, 1785 he wrote to Peter Campbell, Jamaica, about sugar for London on the ship Mt. Pleasant. Peter had been helping care for Campbell's sons, Colin had sailed to Newfoundland, William Bligh was on Lynx. Campbell predicted Mrs. Newall would be a sufferer by William Dickson. ([22]) Campbell on 28 June, 1785 wrote to Arthur Shakespeare (the associate of his old enemy, Currie), about Shakespeare's brother's bond. It was rare for Campbell to ask to borrow money, but he needed money for his Kent purchase and wanted to borrow 1000 for two months, compts to Mr Shakespeare. ([23]) He must have got the money, since in a day or two he wrote to William Hamilton, Tues 12 o'clock. Hamilton was evidently helping Campbell with the Kingsdown business... a message was, "Mr Dunn, to meet at 1pm". ([24])


* * *


`I fear Mr Adams demands are not the most moderate':


Late in the summer of 1785, William Bligh took command of Campbell's "fine new ship" for Jamaica, Britannia. And by August, 1785, the (London) Standing Committee of West India Merchants and Planters had decided to renew their efforts to introduce the breadfruit into their islands...


Weate and Graham indicate that between June 1783 and August 1787, "Bligh plied the seas between the West Indies and England on Campbell's ships, carrying cargoes of sugar and hogsheads of rum. ([25]) In this time, there was a brief period when he was "stationed" in Jamaica, acting as Campbell's agent at the Port of Lucea. Judging by Bligh's correspondence with Campbell, he was extremely conscientious, and anxious to repay Campbell's favours by offering good service." Weate and Graham indicate that Duncan's son, John, felt it was a privilege to serve under Bligh. More likely, Bligh had orders from Duncan to train John in the sea, by employer's right. They also indicate, "Bligh's connections with the West Indies trade helped him to secure the Bounty appointment." This should be translated as meaning, Campbell's connections helped Bligh obtain the appointment.


Glynn Christian writes differently: "Duncan Campbell was an influential and rich man, a merchant trader and a plantation owner in the West Indies as well as the proprietor of convict hulks. He was also involved in the slave trade." .... "Bligh was extremely grateful for the interest shown in him by Campbell, who was to become a regular correspondent, adviser and mentor." ([26]) And so, Bligh in succession commanded Campbell's ships Lynx, Cambrian and Britannia. [An incorrect sequence]. Glynn Christian comments, [Bligh's] "letters to Campbell are a constant apology for bad business and lack of contacts, complaints about the weather and a retailing of misfortunes, as well as the usual affirmations of friendship and duty and a listing of compliments that had to be given; even in the context of eighteenth-century correspondence which is verbose and emotional, the letters of Bligh always seem to slop over the boundaries of taste, convention and the manner of the period and into a stagnant pool of self-pity and unctuousness". [This assessment is correct].


Christian feels Fletcher Christian first sailed with Bligh on Britannia, Bligh's third voyage for Campbell to Jamaica. Further, Christian says that before Bounty, Bligh and Christian had previously sailed together for only 9-10 months. On Britannia, Bligh and Christian remained friends, Bligh teaching Christian navigation and other relevant arts, Christian, ten years younger, found Bligh overly passionate but otherwise bearable. If the two were indeed friends on Britannia, they seem to have fallen out on Bounty partly due to differences in shipboard discipline aboard naval versus mercantile vessels. Bligh preferred the authoritarianism of naval vessels, and he never claimed to have been a successful commercial captain.


Sailing with Bligh and Christian on Britannia were the demoted Capt. Ross, as mate; the later sailmaker on Bounty, Lawrence Lebogue, and one Edward Lamb, who provided many quotes still retailed in books on Bligh. On Bligh's appointment to Bounty, Glynn Christian writes, "Thanks to Duncan Campbell, Bligh had a patron of status and substance at last." Well and good, except that no writer on Bligh has ever indicated how Campbell exerted influence on Bligh's behalf. The proposition that Campbell helped Bligh has merely been asserted, and uncritically reiterated. The problem began with Mackaness' writings on Bligh published by 1931; Mackaness, who at the time had Campbell's letterbooks in his possession and never quite managed to work out what had happened. ([27])


* * *


The notion of a voyage to Tahiti in the Pacific for the procurement of the breadfruit tree and its transplantation in Jamaica and other West Indian islands had two fertilizations. One was the scientific curiosity expressed by Capt. James Cook, "militant geography" as Joseph Conrad once called it. It was thought that Cook's scientific curiosity, aligned with Joseph Banks' brilliance, might have found for Britain a possibly useful foodstuff plant. The second impulse was strictly economic. The breadfruit could be a source of cheap food for the slaves of British West India. If so, the West Indies would be less dependent on ships from North America, and more profitable. The economic pressure referred to here had become greatest during the American Revolution. The idea had first risen not long after Cook's death in Hawaii.


Valentine Morris had been staying at Berkely Street in London... captain-general of British West India, the owner of considerable property there, and "a keen gardener". Morris on 17 April, 1772 wrote to Joseph Banks from Berkely Street, London, just as he was about to proceed back from to the West Indies. Morris noted the lack of food suffered in the West Indies and asked Banks if the breadfruit could be successfully transplanted in the West Indies? He said, with the trials experienced in the Caribbean, the fruit would prove a great blessing. But the time was too early. Nothing came of it. Banks hived off to Iceland for further scientific research. The idea kept a currency however among botanical men, including Hinton East, receiver-general of Jamaica during the period when a distant relative of Duncan Campbell, Major-General Archibald Campbell, was governor of Jamaica. East died in 1792, never to see breadfruit transplanted in his own gardens.


As early as 1777, The Royal Society in London offered a gold medal as a prize to anyone succeeding in transplanting the fruit to the West Indies. The offer proved an insufficient incentive. There were no takers and matters lapsed again, although a standing committee of West India merchants resolved to supplement the offer of the medal. They met on 18 February, 1777, at the London Tavern, and decided to enter into subscription for "obtaining the different species of breadfruit tree". ([28]) They had no taker until May 1787, the month the First Fleet left for Australia, and that taker was Campbell.


Bligh's biographers have tended implicitly to regard Campbell as an "influential" member of the West India Merchants and Planters' committee, but there is nothing in Campbell's Letterbooks to support such a contention. Nor does any information in the minute books of the meetings of the West Indian men refer to Campbell's involvement or influence. As a West India merchant, Campbell maintained a low profile and he did not participate in the political lobbying the West Indians constantly engaged in. The reason is that he was probably too busy with other lobbying, as with his activities with the British Creditors. It seems best, now, to view Campbell a