Official Paper


A series of Chief Secretary’s Office records entitled Official Papers (CSO OP), is a further collection of incoming papers which, have been acquired by the National Archives of Ireland. There are three sub-series of Official Papers. The first series (1788-1931) is listed in two volumes by date and subject of document. There is a comprehensive card index to these volumes giving volume number and page number within the volume.

The Official Papers are also well worth consulting on transportation as the topics mentioned above tend also to be discussed in these papers. Because the series begins in 1788, it is possible to examine the system as it operated before the enquiry of 1817.

There is for instance, correspondence relating to the state in which convicts were housed in their county gaols (jails) prior to being moved to the port. They were not usually moved until a sufficient number had accumulated to justify the expense of such a journey. Because of overcrowding at Dublin and Cork, convicts very often had to remain in county gaols for some time, much to the annoyance of the local authorities or Grand Juries, who were responsible only for the custody of those with imprisonment sentences to be served in the gaol. Although it had been agreed that the Grand Juries provide clothing for the convicts, they invariably declined to allocate money for this purpose and as no government allowance was made for their upkeep, convict quarters in county gaols were usually neglected and in very bad condition.

Correspondence relating to this subject includes a letter from the governor of Roscommon Gaol to the Chief Secretary Robert Peel in 1816, in which he protested that seven women whose names he enclosed, were begging to have their transportation sentences carried out as quickly as possible because they could not bear the overcrowding and bad conditions prevailing in the prison (NAI,CSO OP/1816/462/20).

Before the convict depot was opened in Cork in 1817 as a result of the enquiry mentioned above, there were several scandals relating to those brought from Dublin in sloops or brigs to await embarkation. Because of delays, transportees sometimes had to wait on board these vessels for extended periods in appalling conditions. In l8l5, Governor Macquarie of New South Wales complained of the high mortality rate on the Three Bees and theCatherine. The Inspector General of Prisons, Foster Archer, attributed this to the fact that the convicts had to remain in dock at Dublin for six weeks awaiting suitable winds. They received neither clothing nor bedding, which were considered an unnecessary expense due to the shortness of the journey to Cork. Because only a few were allowed on deck at once, they spent most of the time in irons in the hold in very unhealthy conditions. The journey itself was made in two days, but the sloop was again detained in Cork harbour before the convicts were removed to the ship. Archer insisted that in this case it was the long detention in port which probably caused the high mortality. To support his case, he told of returned convicts who had informed him that the period spent in the harbour was more distressing than the voyage and that they underwent more suffering and sickness in the passage from Dublin to Cork than in that from Cork to Botany Bay (NAI, CSO OP/1815/439/5).

Other subjects covered include religious controversies, such as an incident brought to the attention of the authorities in l8l6, when the Roman Catholic chaplain complained to the Lord Lieutenant that he was refused access to the prisoners on board the ship Surrey. Robert Harding, (Edward Trevor’s predecessor as convict superintendent), admitted to having devised a new rule whereby the captain was no longer permitted to allow any strange person to go on board without directions from the Inspector General and that the chaplain in question had gone to the ship without having obtained the necessary clearance as stipulated under the new ruling. Harding added however, that the chaplain in question had not on every occasion in the pastconfined his clerical duties to his own flock but has extended his pious care to the Protestant soldiers, by putting into their hands books for the purpose of making proselytes – these I have got from a good many soldiers. The LordLieutenant directed that in future, no difficulty should be placed in the way of the Roman Catholic chaplain, but that every facility should be afforded to him for the purpose of visiting the convicts (NAI, CSO OP/l8l6/462/7).

Also in the Official Papers is the incident in l838, when a bishop wrote from New South Wales complaining that the surgeon superintendent was compelled by the regulations, even though he was a Roman Catholic, to read Protestant prayers to an almost entirely Catholic ship (only about 5 per cent of the ship’s complement was Protestant), and had to distribute Protestant bibles, prayer books and tracts to the prisoners. He suggested that where the surgeon superintendent was Protestant, one of the Roman Catholic prisoners might read prayers for the remainder under proper superintendence. As a result, Palmer was instructed to consult with the surgeon superintendent of the next ship and with the archbishop, to prepare some prayers to be printed in a cheap form and distributed to the convicts on their embarkation (NAI, CSO OP/l838/329).

Like the CSO RP, these papers also contain information with respect to the official stance, if such there was, on the transporting of convicts’ children. Expressing concern for the fate of eleven children whose mothers were due to sail on the ship Canada in l8l7, Robert Harding made much of his arrangement to have the two youngest accepted at the foundling hospital of which he was governor, achieving even that only by what he considered a very circuitous route. The older children could not be got in by any means and so he asked the Chief Secretary for permission to send them with their mothers. There was apparently abundant room on board, as the ship had been chartered for l00 and provided with all kinds of necessities for that number. He believed that not more than 86 or 88 females would be fit to be sent, and probably the surgeon of the Canada will object even to some of these. The Chief Secretary answered that he did not have the power, and that application must be made to the colonial secretary (NAI, CSO OP/l8l7/932).

Nothing appears to have been done about the matter but shortly afterwards the victualling agent asked that they be allowed to sail: I really do not know what is to become of the poor children of the female convicts, as there is no place here to receive them, and they cannot be taken from the prison and thrown in the streets. As there is abundance of room in the ship, a small allowance of porridge would be the only expense to government and it would be a great comfort to the poor women (NAI, CSO OP/l8l7/932). Later correspondence reveals that during the l840s it was the practice in Ireland to allow male convicts to take their children on the voyage but this ceased with the temporary suspension of male transportation in l847 (CSO OP/l847/99).

As with the CSO RP, these papers also reveal that every effort was made to get rid of as many convicts as possible onto the ships with certain exceptions. In 1835 the Chief Secretary instructed that none were to be kept back except those who may appear to labour under diseases, which would be likely to be aggravated by the voyage or produce contagion, or those who from infirmity or old age might not be able to endure the voyage (NAI CSO OP/l835/90).