Denis HAMILL of the Three Bees

Denis HAMILL was born in Belfast, Ireland in 1790 to John HAMILL, a labourer, and Margaret.  We have a description of him as being five feet eight and a quarter inches tall, with a sallow, pockmarked complexion, hazel or grey eyes and black hair.  Denis was a weaver by trade, but little is known of his life in Ireland.   However, it seems Denis was an habitual criminal. His activities involved highway robbery and jail breaking.

Belfast Newsletter, Tuesday 11 December 1810, p.3.

A SILVER WATCH, Maker's name, JOHNSTONE, Liverpool no.8992 and a FIVE POUND Banker's Note, NEEDHAM & CO, No.2257 to RICHARD SUTTON , have been found upon the Person of DENNIS HAMILL, who was apprehended in Lisburn yesterday, for Robbing and Maltreating Mr GIBSON in Belfast some nights since. Whoever proves them to be their property shall have them, on application to me in Lisburn; and I will pay FIVE GUINEAS to any person who gives me information so that said HAMILL may be apprehended. He is a young man, very slender make, marked much with the small pox, and has not been hitherto shaved.
Lisburn, Dec 7.

Belfast Newsletter, Friday 14 December 1810, p.2.

Dennis Hamill, who was apprehended with Mary Taylor, accused of the robbery of Mr. Gibson, as mentioned in our paper of Tuesday, and who escaped from the prison at Lisburn, was again apprehended in Clough Fair on Monday last, by the very praiseworthy exertions of Mr William McCluskin, of this town. We hope the safe commital of the offender to the county jail, will now secure his surrender to the laws of his country, which it is said he has more than once violated.

It seems Denis may have escaped justice for these offences by breaking out of jail again, but the law eventually caught up with him when he re-offended.

Belfast Newsletter, Tuesday 24 March 1812, p.2
      The Hon. Justice DALY, Presiding Judge in the Crown Court, and the Hon. Sir Wm. SMITH, in the Civil Bill Court. The Court was opened at ten o'clock, when the following Gentlemen were sworn on the Grand Inquest :-
[Foreman and members of the jury listed, along with the name of the Sheriff]
      After the Jury had been sworn, the Hon. Justice DALY delivered his Charge, in which he adverted to the great number of names on the calendar, many of whom were charged with offences of a very atrocious description, which would require the serious attention of the Grand Jury. The Learned Judge took occasion to notice the practice in England, which, indeed, was the Common Law, for Grand Juries in finding Bills, to take examinations viva voce, and not from written evidence only. His Lordship approved of this mode, as most likely to answer the ends of Justice, and recommended the Jury, in every case where it was possible, previous to finding the Bills, to examine the witnesses themselves, as to the facts charged. His Lordship next directed the attention of the Jury to the Report he held in his hand, on the state of the County Jail, in which several improvements were suggested to render it more convenient. This he would leave to the Jury, who were authorised to present such sums as might be necessary for the purpose. The present situation of the Jail did not admit of all its salutary regulations being strictly adhered to. He particularly adverted to the impropriety of prisoners of all descriptions being associated together, whereas it was obviously desirable, that those who were charged with capital crimes, should not be permitted to mingle with those whose offences were less atrocious, and in no case were women to be in the same place of confinement with the men. His Lordship concluded with some excellent general observations, in which he said, the respectable Jury he was then addressing, would, no doubt, do all that was in their power for the welfare and advantage of the County at large.
      Dennis Hamill was indicted for a highway robbery, by knocking down R. Hamilton Taylor, in Ferguson's-entry, Belfast, last summer, and taking from him a silver watch.
      R. Hamilton Taylor, identified prisoner; knew his name, and often saw him before; was knocked down one day last summer, in Ferguson's-entry, in the morning about half-past six, and his watch, which, at the time, he had in his hand, was taken from him; swore examinations next day against prisoner, before Mr. Clarke, the Magistrate; had been in the same room with the prisoner on the morning of the robbery; drank two glasses of liquor about ten minutes before he was knocked down.
      W. Clarke, Esq. took prosecutor's examinations, which are those sworn to, and that prosecutor swore positively to his knowledge of prisoner.
      Prisoner was asked if he had any evidence to produce, when he desired to call John Coates, who having lived a considerable time in the same town, could give him a good character.
      Here, the Judge, with great humanity, cautioned the prisoner, not to call any witness, if he was not sure he would be of service to him; but he insisted upon it, when
      John Coates was examined; knows prosecutor, who is his uncle; also knows prisoner. Being asked his opinion of his character, he replied, that his general character was very bad.
      The Jury, without hesitation, brought in a verdict of ___ Guilty.
      This is the same fellow who was arrested for robbing a countryman of the name of Gibson, and who broke out of Lisburn Jail.

Belfast Newsletter, Tuesday 24 March 1812, p.2
      In the afternoon, the Judge passed sentence on DENNIS HAMMILL, convicted on friday [sic] of highway robbery, appointing him to be hanged on 24th day of April. The prisoner fell down on his knees and entreated for mercy, saying that he would serve in the army or navy, but his Lordship told him that he would not disgrace either of these by a man of so bad a character, and exhorted him to prepare for death for that he need not look for mercy.

Belfast Newsletter, Friday 27 March 1812, p.2.
We are requested to mention that the name of the person who was robbed of his watch by Dennis Hamill [sic], and who appeared as prosecutor at Carrickfergus Assizes is Robert Hamilton Taylor, a carpenter. Some persons have by mistake supposed it to have been Mr Robert Hamilton, tailor, in Highstreet, to rectify which is the reason we now notice it.

Denis was left to ponder his fate until the last moment, when pleas for mercy were heard.

Belfast Newsletter, Tuesday 24 April 1812, p.2.
His Excellency the lord Lieutenant has been pleased to grant a respite till further orders, to Denis [sic] Hamill, who was sentenced at the last Carrickfergus Assizes to be hanged this day.

Denis was instead transported to New South Wales for life.   At that time, there was an absence of selection among the convicts from Ireland.   All were transported without reference to age, health or crime.   In the northern counties, the men and women sentenced to transportation were brought first to Dublin, where they were examined by a doctor, shaved, bathed, clothed, and then shipped to Cork to board the convict transport at Cobh.   The sheriffs in the southern counties dispatched their men and women direct to Cork.   For the official version, see Appendix 38 to the Report from the Select Committee of the House of Commons on Transportation, 1812

With other convicts from the northern gaols, Denis was transported by the brig Atlas to Dublin, joining with prisoners from the new Dublin gaol for transportation to New South Wales on the Three Bees.

A brig

A fully rigged ship

The Three Bees was a first-class ship of 459 tons, built at Bridgewater, Somerset, in 1813.   To get some idea of how small the convict transports were, imagine sailing half way around the world in an old Manly ferry.   The Curl Curl and the Dee Why were bigger than the Three Bees and the great South Steyne, on which we often travelled to Manly as kids, was over twice as big .


A Manly Ferry

Investigating the voyage, Surgeon Redfern wrote the following report for Governor Macquarie:

Remarks on the Three Bees
The Convicts from the New Prison, Dublin, joined those from the Northern jails, who had embarked two days before on board the Atlas, hired Brig, on the 28th of August, 1813.   The weather was sultry, and as they were exceedingly crowded in a close hold, the nights were truly suffocating.   During their Stay here, one of the prisoners died, whose fatal termination, it was said, was Accelerated, if not solely Occasioned, by the foulness of the place Necessarily attendant on Crowding so many together.   They sailed from the Canal Docks, Dublin, the 20th September, and Anchored in the Cove of Cork on the night of the 22d.   Next day they were examined by Doctor Harding, inspecting Phisician (sic), and were removed on board the Three Bees as fast as they could be conveniently cleaned and dressed.   This Service was Completed on the 2d October.   The Cork and Southern Convicts, with those of the Atlas, completed their Number, two hundred and Nineteen.   On the 27th, She sailed from Cork and Anchored at Falmouth on the 30th.   The weather, during the time they were at Falmouth, was exceedingly Cold and the Prisoners suffered Severely.   They finally sailed from England the 7th December.

The ship was delayed while waiting to pick up a convoy.   Although Napoleon had lost over half a million men in the Moscow campaign of 1812 and had been beaten at the Battle of Leipzig in 1813, he continued to fight into the spring of 1814, until the Allies captured Paris and forced his abdication.   Napoleon later escaped from Elba and eventually was defeated at Waterloo (Belgium) in June 1815.   The challenge to British sea power by the French and Spanish navies had been eliminated by Nelson at Trafalgar in 1805, but the French still remained a threat to merchant shipping.

Dr. Redfern continued:

They were, while in harbour, Supplied with fresh Beef; their rations were uniformly and justly served out.   A gill of wine was issued every Sunday to each man, when at Sea, till they drew Nigh the end of the Voyage, when it was served out twice a week.   During the prevalence of Cold, damp or rainy Weather, fires were lighted in the Prison.   It was every morning cleaned, and was fumigated with Sulphuric Acid and Nitre, as long as they lasted; when these failed Camphor, Vinegar &c. were used.

The Convicts were formed into five divisions, each having a portion of the day on deck when weather would Admit.   In the Harbour of Rio Janeiro, they were all on deck together every day.   On which occasions, the Mercury in the thermometer fell in the prison 6, 7 and 8 degrees.   Here a Case of fever appeared, and as it bore all the marks of Common Ship fever, every precaution was used to prevent the Contagion from Spreading.   The Subject of the fever died.   They arrived at Rio Janeiro on the 3rd February, and left it the 17th.   On the 27th a Strange Sail appeared, and, as she bore down, had the appearance of an enemy.   The Prisoners' bedding was used on this Occasion as a barricade, and being kept on deck all night was quite drenched with rain.   After Several fruitless endeavours, on as many days to dry the bedding, it was put into the Prison; at the same time the Prisoners were Cautioned not to use it.   This injunction was disregarded, And Scurvy, which had been long lurking Among them, made its Appearance.   Seven men died of it, ere they reached Port Jackson, and fifty-five were sent to the Hospital in a dreadful State.   Nine Convicts died on the Passage.
[Letter from Surgeon Redfern to Governor Macquarie, Sydney, NSW, 30 September 1814]

Scurvy is caused by a prolonged deficiency of Vitamin C, and was especially prevalent in the days of sail, when months were spent at sea without fresh food, and was usually fatal.   The disease is characterised by progressive body weakness, inflamed and bleeding gums and loose teeth, swollen tender joints, and internal bleeding and green and yellow skin .

The Three Bees was one of three "fever ships" to arrive that year.  Aboard four of the ships to arrive in 1814 the mortality rate was one death to every 89.5 prisoners embarked, but in the General Hewart, the Three Bees and the Surrey the rate was one death to every 9.1 convicts embarked .   After the excellent health record or the transports in the immediate preceding years, this high mortality surprised and shocked both official and public opinion, and led to the decision to appoint a surgeon-superintendent in charge of each convict ship .

The newspaper of the day announced the ship's arrival:

Sydney Gazette, 7 May 1814
Sitting Magistrate - S LORD, Esq
Assize of Bread, Thirteen pence Halfpenny.
SHIP NEWS. -   On Wednesday arrived the Catherine transport, Capt. Simmonds, with 97 female prisoners from Ireland; which she received at Cork, and afterwards went to Falmouth for convoy, whence she sailed for this Colony the 8th of last December. Passenger, JOHN PALMER, Esq.
Yesterday arrived the Three Bees transport, Capt. Wallace, with 209 male prisoners, also from Ireland, but last from England, having sailed in the same convoy with the Catherine, under protection of the Niger and Tagus frigates; which captured, off the Cape de Verds, the Ceres French frigate, rated 36, but carrying 46 guns, after an action of 15 minutes, in which the Tagus only was engaged.
By the Three Bees, Lieutenants Miller and Morrison, and Ensigns Wilson and Skelton join the 46th Regiment; with 43 non-commissioned officers and privates.
The English news brought by the above vessels is of the most gratifying and important kind; comprehending in a coup d'oeil every success which the most sanguine imagination could have conceived or hoped.
The successes referred to by His Royal Highness the PRINCE REGENT, in His Most Gracious Speech to Parliament, are splendid and decisive.   Bonaparte's second army intended for the invasion of Russia has shared the fate of the first.   In a single battle, which was fought at Leipsig on the 13th of last October, his army was completely ruined.   A signal victory had been obtained by a division of the Allied army under General Blucher on the 16th; but on the 18th the power of France was humbled to the dust.   In this dreadful encounter both the grand armies were engaged.   Bonaparte was in the field, but fled; the town was assaulted and carried by the Allies; the French loss amounted to sixty thousand men, an immense number of prisoners, above 100 pieces of cannon; the desertion of the whole Saxon army, also the Bavarian and Wurtemberg troops, many Generals, the King of Saxony and all his Court made prisoners, and the whole rear guard of the French army, together with their wounded, who alone exceeded thirty thousand.   On the side of Holland, the Dutch are once more masters of their soil, the gallant PRINCE of ORANGE is restored to his hereditary dignities, and Holland, and all Germany with heart and hand combine their efforts in a common cause.   Bonaparte had gone to Paris, and the miserable remains of his army had been driven across the Rhine, stated by the best accounts to ...

Governor Macquarie sent the following despatch to Earl Bathurst:

...the Three Bees, commanded by Captn. John Wallis, arrived on the 6th inst. with two hundred and ten male Convicts, out of 219 originally embarked, the other nine having died on the passage; and out of those landed, it has been necessary to Send fifty five to the Hospital many of them being much affected with Scurvy and others labouring under various complaints.   On enquiring into the cause of this mortality and sickness, it appeared that many of them had been embarked in a bad state of health, and not a few infirm from lameness and old age.   I am happy in being enabled to state that the Convicts by the Catherine and the Three Bees have, without a Single Exception, borne grateful Testimony to their having been treated with the most unremitting care, Attention, and kindness, by the Masters and Surgeons of those Vessels, from the day of their Embarkation until they were finally landed here.   The circumstance of several of those unfortunate men being embarked in a diseased or feeble State will, I trust, shew (sic) the necessity for greater attention being paid to the state of the Health of the Convicts, who are to be embarked in future, which I have much reason to believe has not been so fully attended to by the Examining Surgeons as Humanity demands.
[Despatch No.8 of 1814 from Governor Macquarie to Earl Bathurst, dated Sydney, NSW, 24 May 1814]

On the 11th May fifteen of the convicts were assigned to masters at Parramatta, 20 to Windsor and ten to Liverpool .   At that time in the colony, assigned convicts and most convicts in government employment wore ordinary clothes and had to work after hours to pay for lodgings for themselves.   Except for convicts in chain gangs the colony was an open prison.   Convicts in the chain gangs wore distinctive striped costumes of yellow and black .

The prisoners were landed from the Three Bees the next day, Wednesday, 12th May 1814, six days after their arrival in Sydney.   Denis was apparently kept at Sydney, but was not one of the 55 prisoners (out of 210 landed) sent to the hospital sick after the voyage .

Sydney Gazette, 14 May 1814

Sitting Magistrate - W. BROUGHTON, Esq.

Assize of Bread, Thirteen pence Halfpenny.

The prisoners were landed from the Three Bees on Wednesday, though not in a generally healthy state as from their kind and humane treatment during their long passage might have been hoped; yet it would be the height of injustice to Capt. Wallace not to mention that without a single dissentient every man landed has expressed a strong sense of gratitude for the indulgencies and other humane attentions as they have uninterruptedly enjoyed throughout the whole voyage.   We must not omit at the same time the share of praise which falls to the lot of Capt. Simmonds for his no less indulgent treatment of the prisoners arrived per the Catherine, who also appear gratefully sensible of the kindness they have experienced.
On Thursday se'naight a fine schooner, of 40 tons and upwards, was launched by Messrs. Jenkins in Cockle Bay - her name the John Palmer.
Last night Mr. Birch's house at Birch Grove, near Goat Island, was robbed of its windows: every square of glass is stated to have been cut out, and part of the sashes also taken away.
Between 9 and 10 last night the cart of Mr. Wm. Roberts drawn by three oxen, was stopped by several footpads on the Liverpool road, and plundered of a quantity of provisions, a bed, and other property:   in effecting which the villains treated the driver with much cruelty, and afterwards broke the shafts of the cart, cut the harness, and turned the bullocks loose into the woods.

The ship gained further notoriety. The story was in the Sydney Gazette of Saturday 21 May 1814.


We have unfortunately to report the total destruction of the Ship, Three Bees, Captain Wallace, whose private loss we are confidently assured is very considerable indeed.

About half past four yesterday afternoon the ship was discovered to be on fire in the after hold, immediately contiguous to the powder magazine. It has since been recollected that a boy had in the fore part of the day attended an officer on duty in the hold with a candle and lanthern; and it is concluded that a candle snuff had then fallen unextinguished among some oakum, or other strongly susceptive substance, which communicating and extending the fire in a more latent way for some hours, at length kindled into a flame, and burst forth with an impetuosity calculated at once to astonish and confound.

A descendant of one of the last two on board suspects this may not have been accidental.

The proximity of the magazine to the place from whence the flames aspired was in itself a circumstance so dreadful as not to leave a moment to decide. To get down to scuttle her was utterly impossible, on account of the suffocating columns of smoke that from her hatches darkened the surrounding atmosphere.

Such was the rapidity of the flame, that in a few minutes they ascended with the smoke above the deck, and in large curls mingled with its vapour, by which the vivid flame was frequently conducted to her mast head, and soon set fire to her standing rigging. As no possibility to save the ship or any of her property existed, and the explosion of her magazine was expected every instant, the crew forsook her.

Her anchorage, close to the Government Wharf, menacing the destruction of the nearest buildings when she blew up, as it was currently reported, she had 130 casks of powder on board (though it since appears there were but 30), and as the wind was from the southward, arid it was probable she would drift outwards if disengaged from her moorings, she was cut adrift, and as she swung to and fro with the tide, menacing each point of the Cove with her broadside in turn, with her guns all shotted.

Being past all assistance, the ships and vessels at anchor shifted their births to safer situations. The brig, James Haye was for some time an object of apprehension from the position assumed by the ship on fire when first adrift. This was a tremendous crisis, a crisis of extreme agitation to the inhabitants of the town, and to those especially whose houses and other property were from the approximation of the danger, the more exposed. At this crisis, little short of the total Destruction of the Town of Sydney was expected every moment to take place by the Explosion of the Magazine. The alarm was so great that numbers of the inhabitants deserted their houses, and fled into the country to avoid being buried in its ruins.

A ship of nearly five hundred tons burden, cast loose, it may almost be said in the middle of the town, unmanageable, and pouring forth columns of smoke and fire, threatened desolation all around her, with her guns all loaded, first pointed upon one object, and then upon another, and every instant expected, by her explosion, to throw down or cover with the dreadful blast all the buildings around or near her !

About half-past six, when lying off the north east corner of the new Government Store, her first gun exploded in a direction, over Mr. Blaxcell's, or the new Guard-house.  Fourteen went off in all; and tho' there were several hair-breadth escapes, yet we are happy to find no personal injury has occurred.   A swivel ball, which had possibly made part of a charge of grape, as there were no swivels mounted, entered Captain Piper's parlour window, through the lower sash, which it knocked to pieces, together with the inside shutter; took the comer completely off a portable writing desk, and fell expended in the apartment.

Captain Piper lived on the west side of Sydney Cove, probably not far from where the photo below was taken.   He had arrived back in Sydney in February 1814 to take up the position of Naval Officer at Sydney.   His duties combined those of Chief Customs Officer, Harbour Master, and Water Police Chief.   He and his family lived in a house allotted to them on the west side of the cove, and did not move into the famous Point Piper Villa until 1822.   The Gazette continues:

By half-past seven, she had drifted over to the rocks on Bennelong's Point opposite Mr. Hook's stores, and about a quarter before eight the long dreaded explosion of her magazine took place, but not by any means so awful as had been expected; for by this time the whole of her upper works, her decks, and every substance that would have otherwise have resisted the force had been annihilated; and it is more than probable that she might have admitted a quantity of water, which finding its way to the powder, had destroyed a great part of it.

After this a number of boats approached her, and several persons went alongside, to gratify a nearer approach a curiosity which a more distant view of the awful spectacle had excited.   They found the copper of her sides standing, but the planks, and timbers mostly consumed, and they heard frequently the crash of weighty substances falling into the pile of ashes, smoke, and ruins that filled the small remainder of her hull, which burnt all night, and presented to the distant eye a spectacle exciting awe, and sensible regret in the mind of everyone who witnessed the dreadful spectacle, and was capable of reflecting on its consequences to those, who are the sufferers by her loss.

The Three Bees went down where the Sydney Opera House now stands, on Benelong Point

By the time of the 1814 Muster in November, Denis HAMMILL was off the government stores and assigned to a Mr BLACKERT in Sydney.   In 1816 Denis was at government labour, still residing in Sydney.

Sixpence, the next chapter.

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