Neva (ship)

Career (United Kingdom) UK Naval Ensign
Name: Neva
Builder: by Firbank and Rumney in 1813
Refit: Early 1830s as convict carrier
Fate: wrecked in Bass Strait, 13 May 1835
General characteristics
Tonnage: 327 tons Old Measurement
Length: 104 ft 4 in (31.80 m)
Beam: 27 ft 1 in (8.26 m)
Height: 6 ft 5 in (1.96 m)
Sail plan: Three-Mast Barque

The Neva was a three-masted barque that as a convict ship was wrecked in Bass Strait on 13 May 1835. One of the worst shipwrecks in Australian history, 224 lives were lost.


Origins of the Neva

Built at Hull, England by Firbank and Rumney in 1813, Neva spent most of her career trading between England and Jamaica, but in the early 1830s was refitted to carry convicts sentenced to Penal transportation to New South Wales for owners S. Masters and J. Lachlan of London.

Final voyage and wreck of the Neva

The Neva sailed from Cork, Ireland for Sydney on 8 January 1835 carrying 150 female convicts with 33 children, nine free women (probably wives of convicts) with 22 children, under the care of Surgeon Superintendent John Stephenson, R.N., and 26 crew under the command of Captain Benjamin Peck. With the deaths of a crewman, a convict and a free woman, and one birth, during the voyage, by the time the Australian coastline was reached the total complement was 239.

About 5 a.m. on 13 May 1835 the ship hit a reef northwest of King Island in Bass Strait and broke up rapidly. Many of the women became hopelessly drunk on rum that was being carried as cargo and were unable to save themselves. 22 survivors drifted ashore on the northern end of King Island on two rafts formed by the fore and aft decks of the collapsed ship, but seven of these died of exposure "aided if not abetted by the inordinate use of rum" during the first night ashore. The remaining fifteen survivors, including the captain and the chief officer, lived with local sealer John Scott and his aboriginal wives and children until being rescued a fortnight later by the schooner Sarah Ann and later taken to Launceston.

The cause of the disaster

Initial press reports state that the Neva was wrecked on the Navarine Reefs, which lie northeast of Cape Wickham on King Island. A map by the master suggests that the vessel hit an uncharted reef well to the west of King Island, but modern reconstructions suggest Neva hit the Harbinger Reefs, because the captain had failed to allow for the set of the currents at the northern end of the island after land was first seen.

The wreck of the Neva in fiction

The wreck of the Neva was clearly the inspiration for a pamphlet The Particulars of the Dreadful Shipwreck of the Ship Tartar, Free Trader, With the Horrible Sufferings of Part of the Crew, Who were compelled to Eat each other to Support Existence, published by John Carmichael of Glasgow in 1840. It purports to tell the story of John M. Daniel of Galway, sole survivor of the ship Tartar of 837 tons (which does not appear in Lloyd’s Register) that sailed from Cork on 8 January 1839 for Sydney with 75 crew and passengers, including ten women and thirteen children, but was wrecked on an island west of King Island on 13 April. Twenty-two survivors landed on the uninhabited island, seven died soon afterwards, and the remainder built a raft on which they endeavoured to reach King Island. It was this party that was forced to eat each other until the raft drifted ashore, by which time only two survived. One of these, the vessel’s master J. H. Peck, died soon after landing.

See also


  • Graeme Broxam & Michael Nash, Tasmanian Shipwrecks, Volume One, 1797-1899, Navarine Publishing, Canberra, 1998.
  • Mawer, Most Perfectly Safe, pp. 78–94;

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