The Charles Picknell Adventure

By Paul Draper and Haydon Luke, for Fairlight History Group (previously appeared in Fairlight News)

We in Fairlight are fortunate in having more than our fair share of celebrities and worthies buried in our graveyard. Most of us know about the better known people, including Richard D’Oyly Carte, Sir James Roberts, Sir Woodbine Parish, the 8th Earl Waldegrave, the parents and sister of Cecil Rhodes, etc. However, we have continued to investigate the graveyard and have found many more interesting stories. We outline below, one such new story, the story of Captain Charles Picknell who lived from 1810 to 1886. His family have many elaborate stones close to the south west corner of the church, including the well-known obelisk with the finger pointing to heaven.

Recently we were made aware of a story that appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald in Australia in 1930 concerning our Charles Picknell. (nb. The Sydney Morning Herald has been published continuously since 1831 and is still produced today). It seems that after spending twenty years growing up in and around Hastings, he undertook a monumental journey, a journey that he seemed to regret. Luckily for us, he kept a diary, at least for some of his adventure.

On 8th July 1830, Charles set sail from England as a crew member onboard the convict ship Kains, bound for Australia. This was no ordinary convict ship, being the second ever all female sailing. Although women had been deported as part of mixed sailings before, the Roslin Castle in March 1830 had been the first all female sailing and the Kains was the second. He kept a careful diary, complete with the predictable number of spelling mistakes, some of which needed careful thought to interpret. Unfortunately, his diary only lasts as far as The Cape of Good Hope, but the diary contains enough information for us to understand the nature of his time and the conditions onboard. The diary stops on 31st December 1830, two days after they sat sail from the Cape, bound for Australia.

All sailings recorded details of the Master, the Surgeon, the number of passengers and crew, plus the ship’s tonnage. The Kains was 353 tons with a crew of 26 and passengers 120. The Master was named as Captain William Lushington Goodwin, whereas the Surgeon had the wonderful name of Thrasycles Clarke. The journey took 246 days.

The ship was loaded with convicts from several prisons, named as Horsemonger, Newgate, Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham plus ‘Scottish’ and ‘Irish’ women. Additionally there were 3 ‘free’ women. The loading started on 29th June but the Kains did not sail until 8th July.

Clearly these women were a surprise to the crew because the first entry from the Surgeon, Thrasycles, read as follows:

The general character and conduct of the prisoners were such as might be expected from the lowest class of society – from persons whom all the wise and salutary laws of England had failed to reclaim, most immoral and abandoned, if there ever was a Hell afloat it must have been in the shape of a female convict ship, quarrelling, fighting, thieving, destroying in private each others property for a mean spirit of devilishness – conversation with each other most abandoned without feeling or shame. As regarded the personal cleanliness of the prisoners that in some measure depended on their natural disposition, education and attitude, some of them by nature and habit were cleanly while others were filthy to the 90th degree.”

The final entry from Thrasycles was:

“After a protracted and disagreeable voyage we arrived at Sydney on 11 March 1831 in as healthy a state as was possible having no case of serious illness on board. Two or three days after arrival several complained of severe griping and purging which was no doubt occasioned by change of diet as immediately on our arrival fresh provisions and vegetables were given to the prisoners. They also had means of procuring fruit, especially peaches. This bowel complaint passed to every female in the ship, not one woman escaped the illness, although it was not serious.” [Curiously he fails to mention that 2 women died!].

Charles’ diary is full of observations, too numerous to list in a short article, but here are some of his early entries:-

“August 1 steard s. for warmer climate. I have for a long time before and since afflicted with growing pains all over me. (grog duff for 1 week)

2. heavy sea a.m. three east indiamen 1 dean brig showed collours. homeward bound, England.

3am calm heavy sea. captain. me. tryed current if not N.E. 2 hundred fathoms water, no sound. bay biscay. in lowering the boat struck my head. nocked my teath to peases.

P.M. spoke to bark silvia of London bound to riogenary (Rio de Janeiro), sun hotter than ever in England, steard sw P.M. 6 o’clock.

Child dyed a little girl 3 years old. evening captain gave larbert watch bottle rum for singing to cheer the women up

4am fair wind. steard ssw 12 o’clock. launch child overboard after prayers. crying. PM saw 5 spanish schoners. 5 Italian schoners bound to windward.

5 fair wind. seard SSW AM saw one dutch gale yct. 1 grecian brig. PM all hands at work

6. fair wind. steard SSW 8 nots 21 sails on us all is well.

7. fair wind steard SSW 10 nots. I got the guns ready for a pirate and holey stone the quarter deck first, all is well PM captain confined the chief mate for getting drunk and encouraging his watch to sing saucy songs. drunk 24 glasses.

On August 8 the Kains reached the island of Porto Santo, of which event Picknell wrote:

‘Inhabited with portugese. mountains in the clouds, larbert watch saw it 50 nots before we got to it. rejoicing”. The chief mate was still under guard so the boatswain took charge of the larboard watch. On the 10th Picknell wrote AM made sandwich islands, saw immence sight of dolphins flying fish and mother careys chickens flying about. 6 nots going. made peak of tenreef hundred fifty miles off. going 11 half nots.

His detail of the Kains visit to Teneriffe is so good that it must be given as he wrote it.

11 Went into tenreef. let go our anchor then we let loose the chief mate. bumboats alongside. boco fruit (N.B. coco is an old Sussex word meaning fine, said to be from the French beaucoup). I went on shore with the captain in a boat. the first time I was on foreign land. first step was an unlucky one. I slip down. I had a glass of wine upon strength of it. spanyards inhabitants.

12 Thursday I went on shore. took in board 50 tons of wauter. washing day. bark integirty of London. experiment gernsy schooner. 11 spanish sconers in harbour then and hundreds of boats belonging to tenreef. I lost a collour over board penant flying.

13 took in 10 tons of wauter. I went on shore and swam along with the black boys. I went on shore 8 times at tenreef with the captain.

On August 14 the Kains voyage to Botany Bay was resumed but Picknell had uncomfortable reason to recall his stay at Teneriffe during the next few days. “I hurt myself eating fruit at tenreef. I sold my hankerchief for a hat full of grapes” he wrote.

“16 Flying fish like sholes of birds the first that flew on board. no land. no ship. all is well. lowanced gallon of wauter a man- half a gallon each pit. pint each goose, half a gallon dosen ducks. pint a dosen chickens. every day all the voige.

17. trades wind NE steard s west. chief mate confined again for sending from tenreef to London and other misconduct. I was verry sick and in the doctors hands. took a medick, verry light headed, soar throat eat nothing for 4 days.

18. verry bad and light head. doctor paid me verry great attention every our. chief mate let loos to walk the decks. he broke, to have no command nor say whatever no more on board:

On August 19 the Kains entered the tropics. Picknells fever continued. He had scurvy in the teeth, but said that he was well attended and by the 22nd he was able to record

“I got myself out of the doctors list, thank god for it. I was ordered to clear of the sun and moon always and ware a broad brimed hat”

One of the woman convicts died. “she twenty five years of age, two sisters. other one 15 years old belong to hull. 12 o’clock sowed up. prayers and then throwed her overboard, crying all over the ship. they was boath for life.”

Clearly life onboard was tough and most if not all the crew had to endure hardship, illness and poor nutrition.

The fate of some of the women is listed by later research. It seems that they were ‘assigned’ as follows:-

“The colonists should have held no high hopes for the usefulness of the women after their experiences with the women of the Roslin Castle, however there was a shortage of female servants in the colony; the Sydney Gazette reported that there were five or six hundred applicants to have the women assigned as servants and the factory at this time was almost full, so most of the women were privately assigned.

In the Hunter region they were assigned to William Ogilvie, William Dumaresq, Rev. Lancelot Threlkeld,  William Harper , Thomas V. Bloomfield, Emanuel Hungerford, Henry Hewitt, Major Benjamin Sullivan, John Gaggin, Peter Rapsey, Rev. Wilton and James Mudie.

Anne Groyne was assigned to Surveyor-General Sir Thomas Livingstone Mitchell; Jane Holmes was assigned to Lighthouse keeper Richard Siddons; Mary McPherson to Superintendent of Convicts F.A. Hely.”

There is far too much information to list in this article, but if anyone wants to learn more, can they contact us, or any member of Fairlight History Group.

The family graves at St. Andrew’s. The grave of Charles and his wife Charlotte is in the oreground showing the broken headstone lying on the main family stone. (to be added)

After enduring his big adventure, Charles settled down to a more normal life. However, many years ago, his very large gravestone broke at its base and had been lying facedown on the main family grave with the inscriptions hidden. After learning of his story, we were anxious to read the inscriptions but being a particularly large and heavy stone we thought we could not easily solve this situation. That remained the case until one day earlier this year some younger and stronger volunteers were working in the graveyard and after explaining the situation to them they somehow managed to turn the stone over. The inscription read as follows:-

In Memory of/Captain Charles Picknell/Who died February 18th 1886/

Aged 75 years/For 30 years Pier Warden of the/Town and Port of Hastings

His end was peace

Also of/Charlotte Picknell/Wife of the above

Who died on June 8th 1885/In her 81st year

Thy will be done.

So it seems he did not repeat his journey of 1830/31 and it is not mentioned on the stone. However, we were curious to know what a ‘Pier Warden’ did. Subsequent research revealed that he was responsible for collecting harbour dues from fishermen and any other duties payable. Surprisingly, other stories reveal that he was not very popular.

We completed our basic research on him by finding all the census returns between 1841 and 1881. He is initially listed as a “Mariner” and then later as the “Pier Warden”. We do not have details of his later adventures on the High Seas but surely none could match his 246 days onboard a ship containing 10 female convicts!


As usual, if anyone wants to know more about this adventure or, indeed has more to tell, please let us know.


Paul Draper and Haydon Luke




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