George III (ship)

The Wreck of HMS George III, by Knud Bull
Great Britain
Name: George III
Builder: Deptford, London
In service: 1810
Homeport: Port of London
Fate: Wrecked, 12 March 1835
General characteristics
Tons burthen: 394 tons bm
Length: 114 ft (35 m)
Beam: 28 ft 3 in (8.61 m)
Sail plan: Full-rigged ship

George III was a British penal transportation convict ship that was shipwrecked with heavy loss of life during its last voyage when she was transporting convicts from England to the Australian Colonies. She was a full rigged ship of 394 tons on measurements of 114 feet length, 28 feet 3 inches beam, built at Deptford in 1810. The ship was acquired by J. Heathorn and J. Poore in the mid-1830s. She was registered at the Port of London.

Last voyage

The George III sailed from Woolwich on 14 December 1834 for Hobart Town, Van Diemen's Land under the command of Captain William Hall-Moxey with a total of 308 persons on board. There were 220 male convicts, plus guards, their families and crew. On 27 January 1835, a fire broke out on board while the ship was nearing the equator. It was only extinguished with great difficulty and all on board were put on reduced rations as the fire had destroyed part of the ship's stores. An unbalanced diet caused an outbreak of scurvy and fourteen convicts died before the ship reached the coast of Van Diemen's Land on the morning of 12 March 1835.

In order to avoid being blown offshore and thus delaying arriving in Hobart Town, the master decided to enter the torturous D'Entrecasteaux Channel between Bruny Island and the Tasmanian mainland. At about 9.15 pm that evening George III hit a rock and over a period of several hours broke up in the heavy swell. The convicts were kept below to allow the women and children to be safely evacuated by the ship's boats. The guards fired their guns in order to quell rising panic; this gunfire is believed to have killed between one and three of the convicts. Many others drowned below decks, including many of the sick in their beds. In all, 133 lives were lost in the disaster, of whom 128 were convicts.[1]


An inquiry refused to ascribe blame for the disaster. The disaster did, however, result in renewed efforts to accurately prepare nautical charts of the Tasmanian coast so that mariners were warned of its many hazards to shipping, and the tightening up of regulations concerning provisions for the transport of convicts.


Local beliefs are that convicts were released into the sea and shot by the ship's officers, "A ten-year-old cabin boy was saved by the captain's wife who hid him under her dress. He was the only convict who survived the wreck." It seems this story is a verbal history artefact conflating various elements such as a lithograph of the wreck. Many former convicts settled in this part of Tasmania and the local legend would have been coloured by their attitudes.

"Forty Juveniles were among the 220 convicts, but the Captain's wife was not on board the ship." More than likely this part of the legend relates to a painting by H. E. Dawes, which was also produced as a lithograph, depicting a soldier's wife, Mrs Martin, heroically described:

"She contrived to secure herself on the forechannel of the ship among the Laniards and although the sea ran mountains high with frost and rain the poor creature was exposed for 48 hours to the weather with two babes suckling at her bosoms and her elder child held between her knees."

The lithograph is also inaccurate in that all the survivors had been rescued by the next morning, rather than "48 hours". The George III had been anchored after it hit a submerged rock, the ship was lying on its side in shallow water with the survivors perched on the high side. The ship's longboat made two trips to shore and the schooner Louisa arrived from Hobart Town, alerted by the ship's cutter which had been sent by Captain Moxey to get help. The lithograph, too, is a verbal history artefact with typical melodrama.[2]


  1. Broxam, Graeme. "George III". The Companion to Tasmanian History. Centre for Tasmanian Historical Studies. Retrieved 28 November 2011.
  2. Griffiths, David R. (9 October 1998). "Tasmanian Shipwreck Legend". Retrieved 17 May 2014.

Coordinates: 43°31′S 146°59′E / 43.51°S 146.98°E / -43.51; 146.98

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