Henry Cone, eldest son of John and Hannah Cone, was convicted at Suffolk Assizes 20th March 1787 and sentenced to be transported for life - for stealing a sum of money, two crown pieces and three shillings, out of the dwelling house of Mr John Wade of Halesworth (this was reported in the Bury & Norwich Post.)

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.

Prison Hulk

These ships had been used to transport criminals to America but the War of Independence stopped this and their dilapidated hulks were moored in large ports and used instead as floating prisons, a practice that lasted nearly a century.

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.

HMS Guardian off the coast of AfricaOn 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.
Crew escaping in the longboat While they were congratulating themselves on escaping with little more than the loss of the rudder, the carpenter reported that two feet of water in the hold was increasing fast. Time was spent getting the chain pumps working, and the cattle were cleared off the deck. A few hands between decks managed to get up and heave overboard most of the bags of flour, peas, wheat, barley, etc. that had been taken on in the Cape of Good Hope. All the officers and men had been employed on clearing and pumping so Lieut. Riou, realizing that they would soon be exhausted, divided them into two watches and sent one half for refreshments. At daylight on the 25th it was blowing a gale but they managed, with great difficulty, to get one of the lower studding sails filled with oakum under the ship's bottom. The managed to pump the water down to only 19 inches but the gale increased and the fore and maintop sails were blown to pieces leaving them at the mercy of the waves. When the starboard pump broke down the water reached to the sloop deck and was gaining a foot every half an hour. Many by now were so despondent that they left the pumps to secrete themselves and waited to perish with the ship. The ship began to settle aft and water poured in through the rudder case so Lieut. Riou ordered the boats to be hoisted out and allowed those who wished, to leave in them. The launch, with only 8 men on board, was swept clear but rowed back and received some provisions. A small quantity of biscuit and an 18-gallon cask of water was lowered into the small cutter and Mr. Wadman, Mr. Tremlett and the purser jumped down into her. Mr. Somerville and John Spearman, a seaman, jumped into the water and swam to the launch which also took Messrs. Clements, Wadman, Tremlett, the purser, the Rev. Mr. Crowther, and two more of the men, out of the cutter, with two bags of biscuit and some water. Mr. Brady, midshipman, Mr. Fletcher, captain's clerk, and five seamen remained in the cutter but they could not be prevailed upon to return to the ship to take on more people and supplies. Mr. Clements handed over a spare compass and quadrant to the jolly boat, which had no water or provisions. Meanwhile Lt. Riou and the remainder of the crew continued in the ship which, though waterlogged, still floated. The ballast had been washed out of a large hole in her bows and the casks in the hold provided buoyancy. The weather moderated and she was able to make 4 knots and Lieut. Riou could keep her head on the course he wished to steer. His chief preoccupation was with his dispirited crew. who frequently threatened mutiny and at one time completed a raft on which they determined to take their chance, rather than remain on the ship. He persuaded them the plan would lead to certain death.
Painted by Lt. Edward Riou, Captain of the Guardian On right, the Guardian at Table Bay 22 Feb.1790 painted by the Captain NOTE: the two ensigns flags are flying upside down as a distress signal At length, on 21 February 1790, after nearly two months, land was sighted, and the GUARDIAN was towed into Table Bay by whaleboats belonging to a British ship. When he was frustrated in his attempts to get the ship round to Saldanha Bay, Lieut. Riou was forced to beach her in Table Bay.

The loss of the Guardian was a disaster for the settlements at New South Wales and Norfolk Island. The ship would have reached Sydney by March and relieved severe food shortages – some sheep and a large quantity of flour and salt meat was transferred to other Second Fleet ships and eventually conveyed to the colony but a vast quantity of other goods, plants and stock had been lost at enormous cost.
“The Guardian will never sail again" wrote Riou sadly in April 1790 and it was beached and abandoned but the story of the ship’s dramatic accident and the heroic struggle to save her, captured the public imagination. Riou became an instant celebrity and he appealed that pardons be given to the convicts for their aid and assistance in safely returning the ship to Table Bay.

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.

Norfolk Island 1790 Henry 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.
The produce from this settlement probably saved the Sydney inhabitants from starvation, but by 1804 it was no longer needed. The soil was fertile, but clearing the rainforest proved difficult and early crops were attacked by rats and parrots. Although settlement continued to grow, until it reached a population of over 1100 convicts it failed to become self-supporting and proved to be both difficult and expensive to maintain. From 1806 onwards the inhabitants were gradually transferred to Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania)and by 1814 the settlement was abandoned, and the buildings destroyed to discourage unauthorised occupation of the Island. It remained uninhabited until 1825 when a second penal settlement was established there, without free settlers, and prison for the worst convicts from New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land. It was officially described as "a place of the extremist punishment, short of death".

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).
Ref: The first Fleet Convict ship "Guardian" Convict ship "Neptune" Norfolk to Tasmania
"SYDNEY COVE CHRONICLE", 30th June, 1790"

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