About the Blenheim

The Blenheim that sailed to Port Nicholson in 1840 was a 375-ton barque, owned by Brown and Company of London. A barque is a type of sailing vessel with three or more masts having the fore- and mainmasts rigged square and only the mizzen (the aftermost mast) rigged fore-and-aft.

The name comes from the 1704 Battle of Blenheim in the War of the Spanish Succession, when John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, won a famous victory.

Silhouette of a barque, showing the sail formation of fore and main masts square-rigged and the mizzen mast rigged fore and aft.
Silhouette of a barque, showing the sail formation of fore and main masts square-rigged and the mizzen mast rigged fore and aft.

There were a number of vessels called “Blenheim” which operated in the 19th century and it should be noted that it is most unlikely that any of the images that are available are of the emigrant ship Blenheim involved in the Wellington and New Plymouth voyages.

The Blenheim was built in 1834 at Jarrow-on-Tyne, in the north-east of England for Brown & Co.

The Blenheim was first listed in the Supplement to the Lloyd’s Registers of 1835, with her Master being Captain Brown.

1834: Convicts from Cork, Ireland, to Port Jackson, New South Wales

The Blenheim, Captain James Temple Brown, Surgeon Superintendent James Wilson, departed from Cork on 27 July 1834 and arrived at Port Jackson in New South Wales on 14 November 1834 with a cargo of 200 convicts. The convicts had been imprisoned in the Surprize Hulk at Cork, in Ireland. The passengers included ten free settlers, sons of convicts, and there was a guard of 33 rank and file of the 50th regiment, plus 8 women and 9 children of the soldiers, with two officers. There were two deaths on the voyage (for more detail see the entry for the voyage on the website Free Settler or Felon?


A Lloyd’s Survey certificate issued on 23 October 1835 assigned an A1 character for nine years. The Lloyd’s Surveyor, George Bayley, noted that the frames and planking were of good quality English oak and between decks pine was used. There were some reservations as to a lack of butt bolts through the pine ceiling between decks and the rather rough workmanship. The masts were described as of good quality but queried as to size; rigging was only acceptable after being overhauled. The Blenheim was copper-bottomed, and carried one long boat, one cutter and one skiff.

In 1836, 1837 and 1838, the Registers noted that the Blenheim was engaged in London-Sydney voyages, with Masters being Captain Brown for part of 1836, and thereafter Captain Spence. The Nautical Magazine and Naval Chronicle for 1837 carried a letter from James Temple Brown, Commander of the barque Blenheim, advising of the discovery of a reef in the Chagos Archipelago in the Indian Ocean on 5 May 1836 during a voyage from London to Bombay. The reef is named the “Blenheim Reef.”

The Lloyd’s Register for 1839 recorded that Captain Grey had taken over, and the Blenheim continued to voyage between London and Sydney.

1839: Convicts from Dublin, Ireland, to Port Jackson, New South Wales

The Blenheim, Captain John Grey, Surgeon Superintendent William McDowell, left Dublin, Ireland for New South Wales  on 19 May 1839 with a cargo of convicts.

While moored at Kingstown, the Blenheim had received 200 prisoners on board on 8 May 1839. William McDowell kept a Medical Journal from 23 April 1839 to 8 October 1839 and reported all the men to have been in good health on embarkation.

There was an outbreak of dysentery in July. The surgeon considered it due to the bad water they had on board which emitted a most offensive putrid effluvia, almost intolerable, and caused many bowel complaints. Fresh water and provisions were obtained at the Cape on 6th August, however it came too late and three prisoners James Maginness, Martin Graham and Michael Farrelly all died from dysentery. Later another convict James Benson also died after suffering tonsillitis.

They touched at Simon’s Bay, Cape of Good Hope on 6 August. Very bad weather was encountered on 4 September, one prisoner James Feeney becoming so frightened that he required treatment from the surgeon.

The Blenheim arrived at Port Jackson on 27 September 1839 after a voyage of 131 days. She was one of eleven convict ships arriving in New South Wales in 1839.  For more details see the website Free Settler or Felon?

1840: Emigrants from Greenock, Scotland, to Port Nicholson, New Zealand

In 1840, the Blenheim, Captain John Grey, Surgeon Superintendent Neil Campbell, departed Greenock on 25 August and arrived in Port Nicholson on 27 December, with 203 passengers.

A full record of the voyage can be found at Jessie Campbell’s Journal, written from the perspective of a cabin passenger.

While Jessie Campbell had a generally good opinion of Captain Grey and his handling of the ship and the provisions for emigrants, other accounts suggest that he skimped on the food supply to the steerage passengers and that he had reserved supplies to sell in Wellington on arrival.  There were also complaints about the harsh treatment of the crew by the Captain.

During the voyage there were two deaths (both children) and six births.  There was a smallpox scare but the infected passenger was isolated and there was no spread of the disease.

The Captain and the Surgeon Superintendent were responsible for keeping the passengers clean, active and healthy.  There was regular dancing, bagpipe-playing and games such as leap-frog, and on Sundays there were church services in both English and Gaelic.

An old family tale relating to the voyage of the Blenheim is noted in both Poyntzfield and Pukehou, and suggested that prior to embarkation the Highland elders assembled the young of marriageable age and firmly warned them against any ‘funny business’ on the trip.  Nevertheless, apparently, John Fraser transgressed and was soundly and roundly cursed by the elders when he was brought before them.

There were at least nine marriages between Blenheim passengers, in many cases some years after arrival.

1842: Emigrants from Plymouth, England, to New Plymouth, New Zealand

The Blenheim, 374 tons, Captain John Grey, 159 passengers, arrived at New Plymouth on November 19, 1842, after a passage of 141 days from Plymouth, England.

The Blenheim called in at Wellington on the way to New Plymouth, with some of the passengers disembarking there.  The New Zealand Gazette and Wellington Spectator of 5 November 1842 noted the arrival, on 3 November, of the barque Blenheim, 375 tons, Grey, from London and Plymouth, with 47 cabin and intermediate passengers and 111 immigrants for New Plymouth.

In White Wings, Capt. Brett wrote that apparently nothing very unusual was noted about this long voyage, but it was interesting to know that the contract price for bringing out the passengers was £17 9/6 for each adult.

The journal kept by the Surgeon Superintendent, Samuel Norway, is available online.

A full passenger list is available on Denise and Peter’s website.

One outcome of this voyage was a case before the newly-constituted Vice Admiralty Court in Wellington.  As reported in the New Zealand Gazette and Wellington Spectator of 16 November 1842, the action was for mutiny and mutinous conduct, and for assault, aboard the emigrant ship Blenheim, and was brought by Captain Grey.  A seaman, Morris Mahoney, was accused of being drunk, drawing a knife and threatening his commander with a saw.  The Captain had placed him in irons for the remaining 103 days of the voyage.  The jury returned a verdict of guilty on the charge of assault, Captain Grey strongly recommended mercy given the length of time the prisoner had suffered, and in consideration of this the judge passed a lenient sentence of two months. A fuller account of the court case is in the New Zealand Colonist and Port Nicholson Advertiser of 11 November 1842.


The Lloyd’s Registers for 1841 to 1843 note that the Blenheim was now travelling to India, still with Captain Grey as the Master, but in 1844 there was a change of ownership from Brown & Co to H Barrick (a Whitby shipbuilder and shipowner), and the business moved to the London-St Petersburg trade, which continued in 1845.  In 1846 the London-Quebec trade was added, and at some point Captain Jackson became the Master, but the Lloyd’s Register included the ominous note “Missing”, and the vessel does not appear on subsequent Registers.

Other Blenheims

A number of other sailing ships working in the nineteenth century had the name “Blenheim”.

  • Blenheim: a barque of 382 tons, built in London in 1790, owned by Long & Co in 1830-1835, Master Frankland, then by J Terry, Master Wilson, sailed London-Quebec. No registration after 1837.
  • Blenheim: a snow, 162 tons, built in Newfoundland in 1812, owned by Sweetman, (a “snow” is a square rigged vessel with two masts, complemented by a snow- or trysail-mast stepped immediately abaft (behind) the main mast), in Register to 1838.
  • Blenheim: a snow, 223 tons, built in Sunderland in 1826, owned by Vipand & Co, sailed out of Exmouth, in Registry 1831-1838 and possibly 1849-1857.
  • Blenheim: a barque, 382 tons, built in Newfoundland in 1834 of  hackmatack and spruce with iron bolts, owned by Sweetman, based in Waterford, voyaged to Newfoundland, in Register 1838-1844.
  • Blenheim: a wooden clipper ship, 808 tons, built in 1845 in South Shields for Duncan Dunbar (a “ship” is a sailing vessel with at least three square-rigged masts and a full bowsprit); sailed London to Australia, made three voyages to Hobart with convicts in 1848, 1850 and 1851, and to Port Phillip with Government assisted immigrants in 1854; in Register 1846-1859.
  • Blenheim: a wooden ship, 1314 tons, owned and built in Newcastle in 1848 by T&W Smith, at the time the largest merchant ship in Europe; sailed London to India, and armed as an East Indiaman; in Register from 1861.
  • Blenheim, a barque, 411 tons, built in Sunderland in 1853 for A Strong, sailed London to Black Sea in 1857, London to India 1859-1860, Shields to Mediterranean 1861-1869, in Registry 1854-1869
  • Blenheim: an iron barque built by R. Williamson & Sons at Harrington in January, 1869, initially owned by A. Morgan of Liverpool, in 1879 acquired by another Liverpool owner, S. Martin, and her master was Capt. J.W. Garner; by 1889 the Blenheim had been bought for £3540 by Carl August Banck & Co. of Helsingborg, Sweden; in 1901 she was bought by Italian owners, and in 1905 was sold to owners in Genoa for conversion to a coal barge.
  • Blenheim:  3-masted fully rigged ship of iron, 1077 tons, built in Glasgow in 1877; owned 1877-1888 by the NZ Shipping Co Ltd, sailed as Wanganui; owned 1889-1903 by Leslie John, Aberdeen, renamed Blenheim; owned 1903-1910 by Michelson M C A, Norway, re-rigged as a barque; owned 1910-1913 by Staubo N A F, Norway; owned 1913-1917 by Olsen Rod A, Norway, sunk by German submarine on 22 February 1917 on a voyage from Pensacola to Greenock with a cargo of pitch pine.

The following images have, at various times, been incorrectly identified as the barque Blenheim that sailed to Port Nicholson in 1840 and New Plymouth in 1842.  All of these vessels are ships, i.e. three-masted and square-rigged.

The clipper Blenheim, 808 tons, built at South Shields in 1845
Either, the clipper ship Blenheim, 808 tons, built at South Shields in 1845, or the ship Blenheim, 1314 tons, built in Newcastle in 1848.
Ship Blenheim, 1314 tons, built in Newcastle in 1848.
The ship Blenheim, 1314 tons, built in Newcastle in 1848.
The Blenheim, built in 1877, originally the Wanganui.
The ship Blenheim, 1077 tons, built in Glasgow in 1877, originally the Wanganui, re-rigged as a barque in 1904.

Five ships of the Royal Navy have been named HMS Blenheim, after the Battle of Blenheim in 1704. The name was chosen for a sixth ship, but was not used:

  • HMS Blenheim was a 90-gun second rate launched in 1679 as HMS Duchess. She was renamed HMS Princess Anne in 1701, HMS Windsor Castle in 1702, and HMS Blenheim in 1706. She was broken up in 1763.
  • HMS Blenheim was a 90-gun second rate launched in 1761, reduced to a third rate in 1800 and wrecked in 1807 in the East Indies.
  • HMS Blenheim was the name selected for the captured Danish HMS Christian VII, but the name was not used.
  • HMS Blenheim was a 74-gun third rate launched in 1813. Reduced to harbour service in 1831, brought back to sea service  in 1839, served in the East Indies and China in 1839-43, converted to screw propulsion in 1847, used for harbour service and was broken up in 1865.
  • HMS Blenheim was a Blake-class armoured cruiser launched in 1890, used as a depot ship from 1907 and scrapped in 1926.
  • HMS Blenheim was a depot ship, previously the SS Achilles. She was purchased in 1940 and scrapped in 1948.


The images in the posting “The Blenheim Story” were found in a variety of sources.

  • The silhouette is from the website ThePirateKing.com, page providing information on the rigging of sailing ships.
  • The image on the left in the posting is at the State Library of Victoria (Accession No.H27568/40), and is described as 808t, 1845, Shields. The print is also at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, described as The ‘Blenheim’ East Indiaman (1848), 1400 Tons, artist Thomas Coldsworth Dutton.
  • The image in the centre is from the State Library of Victoria, Malcolm Brodie shipping collection, Accession Number: H99.220/330. The description is “BLENHEIM. Aberdeen. 1077 Tons. Built at Glasgow. 1877. Ex Wanganui. Sunk 1917. Shows a three masted ship at dock.”
  • The original of the image on the right is at Newcastle Libraries (www.newcastle.gov.uk/tlt), Accession Number: 012961. The description is: Blenheim. Owned and built by T.W.Smith at St Peters Yard Newcastle upon Tyne. Launched 18/6/1848; largest merchant ship in Europe at 205 ft 1489 tons.  The image used here was apparently sourced from a calendar page.

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