Henry Cone, aged 24 years, was sentenced to death on the 28th March 1787, Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk Assizes for a burglary he committed at Halesworth (a small town near the River Blyth in East Suffolk.) In June his death sentence was commuted to transportation for life and in mid 1788 he was sent to the 'Lion' prison hulk at Gosport. Henry became one of thousands of unfortunate convicts who were imprisoned on the “Lion”, one of the notorious hulks in Plymouth harbour.
The wanton cruelty on board rivaled the Spanish Inquisition. These hulks were widely used in England in the last half of the eighteenth century for the confinement of convicted prisoners - they were dirty, crowded, unhealthy and were consistently infested with disease.
On 8th September 1789 he was embarked on HMS Guardian and the ship sailed from Spithead on 12th September 1789. He along with twenty four other convicts were selected because of their farming experience and it was thought their skills would be useful in the colony. Five did not survive the voyage. The GUARDIAN was built by Robert Batson in March 1784 at Limehouse ship building docks, London. She was a Clipper of 879 tons armed with 44 guns and was 140 feet overall, and was commanded by 26 year old Lt.(N) Edward Riou. The Guardian was sailing to the new settlement at Port Jackson (now called Sydney, Australia) and was one of the ships in the First Fleet and the last to sail alone. At Woolwich on the Thames, large quantities of salt meat, flour, medical supplies, clothing, bedding and other items were loaded. The ship then moved around to Spithead where the 25 convicts were brought on board on the 8th September. They were to work as seaman on the voyage. Also on board was a ships company of 88 and there were 36 passengers. After a call at Teneriffe, the ship reached Table Bay at the Cape of Good Hope on 24th November 1789. At the Cape more plants and a number of horses, cattle, sheep, pigs, rabbits and poultry were purchased for the colony and the ship sailed for new South Wales on 11 December but it was never to reach it’s destination.
0n 24th December 1789, at lat. 44 deg. S.
long. 41deg. 30min. E., the weather being extremely foggy, an island of ice was
seen about 3 miles away. Lieut. Riou approached and sent two boats to collect
ice to add to the ship’s water supply which was low due to the large number of
cattle they had on board. The boats brought off several lumps while the ship lay
to, then sail was made to stand off. The bow of the ship struck on an invisible,
underwater part of the ice and her stern swung round, knocking off the rudder
and badly damaging the stern frame, the ship becoming embedded under the
terrific bulk of ice. When at last the Guardian’s sails filled she began to
forge off but struck again and continued crashing on the ice underneath her
until she at last got clear.
Captain Edward Riou
Henry Cone survived the near-sinking of the Guardian after a collision with an iceberg and was transferred to the convict ship 'Neptune' at the Cape. He was granted a conditional pardon for his role in helping to save the Guardian and lived on Norfolk Island from the late 1790's.
The conditions on this ship were gloomy, dank and unsanitary and disease took a high toll on the convicts, primary among these were scurvy, dysentery, typhoid fever and small pox. Starvation would take the the bigesst toll of the prisoners below the decks of the Neptune. John Shapcote was the Naval Agent in charge of the Second fleet comprising also the Scarborough and the Surprise. The reality was the health and welfare of convicts during these voyages came second, the first consideration was to empty the gaols and hulks. The fleet had sailed from Portsmouth 19th January, 1790 and during the 84 day voyage from England to Cape Hope, 46 convicts had died on the Neptune - proof that they had been mistreated right from the start.
It undertook to transport, clothe and feed the convicts for a flat inclusive fee of £17 7s 6d per head, whether they landed alive or not. Henry and the 19 from the stricken Guardian were taken on board Neptune. The starving prisoners lay chilled to the bone on soaked bedding, unexercised, crusted with salt, shit and vomit, festering in scurvy and boils. Convicts were dying around them, and the ship's master dished out inhumane and brutal treatment and there was gross incompetancy and negligence by the navel agent. Despite remaining at the Cape for 19 days and taking on fresh provisions, the convicts continued to be deliberately starved to death, chained in irons to one another constantly below deck a method barbarous and used previously for slave transportation. They were refused access topside and were stapled to the deck. Brutal floggings with cat-o'-nine-tails were excessive and very common.
The naval agent died shortly after leaving the Cape and it was during this last part of the voyage the rate of death escalated. This was highest mortality rate in the history of convict transportation to Australia - 502 convicts embarked, and 161 died and 269 sick.
When the officials boarded the three transports at Port Jackson, they were faced with a sickening sight. Convicts, most near naked, lying where they were chained. Most were emaciated with a lot dead or very close to it in their chains. The majority of convicts were unable to speak, walk or even get to their feet. All were degraded, covered in their own body waste, dirty and infested with lice and all exhibited the savage brutality of the beatings and floggings as well as the visable signs of the starvation they had endured. The death rate on the Neptune was one death in every 3 who left England. Donald Trail, master of the ship Neptune and his chief mate were tried at the Old Bailey in 1792 for murder but Captain, First Mate and the contractors escaped prosecution.
Cone was sent from Port Jackson to Norfolk Island arriving 7th August 1790 on
the "Surprize", which had travelled with the Neptune. He was recorded as being
there in 1801 and in 1805 he was described as a landless labourer.
In September 1808 Henry Cone sailed with a
woman (Mary Ann) and child Robert onto the 'City of Edinburgh' for Van Diemens Land where
he was granted thirty acres in the Argyle district at New Town near Hobart. In
1809 (his name was written Cohen) he was mustered with a woman and two children
on the land (which was not yet under cultivation), owning two pigs. As a former
inhabitant, he is recorded as lodging a complaint that he did not receive
remuneration for buildings on Norfolk Island. In 1819 (now with four children)
he had ten acres sown in wheat, beans and potatoes. The children included Henry
(c1809), Ann (1815), John (1819), James (b&d 1822) and James (1824). (one
child born before 1819 has not been identified).
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