'Lieutenant John Shapcote, naval agent, stared at the letter in his hand.
Damn the Navy Board for flinging him into this kettle of fury, just when
he was hoping to drift comfortably to retirement.
Why couldn't these trumped-up Army officers learn the rules of shipboard
life? The master's word was always final, as he had been forced to spell
out to Captain William Hill and now, here was another Army officer,
Captain Nicholas Nepean, running the self-same dispute over hatch keys
with the master of the Neptune, Thomas Gilbert. He supposed Gilbert had
gone too far - the man had challenged army man John Macarthur to a duel -
but Gilbert's real error had been to engage himself against the brother
Under-secretary of State to the Home Office, Evan Nepean. It was
Nepean's letter which lay in Shapcote's hand now, demanding that he
should reconcile the differences between his brother and Gilbert.
Shapcote felt trapped. His instinct as a naval officer was to side with
Gilbert as he had with Trail but Shapcote also had an instinct for his
own survival. He would just have to tell Gilbert that, should he give
Captain Nepean any further cause for complaint, he would be removed from
'Elizabeth Macarthur tried to comfort the baby wriggling on her lap. It
would have been easier had she any comfort to give him, but what was
there, cramped into this miserable little cabin with only the prospect of
many more months of the same? It wasn't even a whole cabin for it had
divided to provide housing for more female convicts. Her senses were
assaulted by them day and night. She could hear every uncouth word
through the flimsy partition and the noisome stench from their slop
buckets invaded her every breath.
She was already beginning to regret her decision to leave her comfortable
home for a life in an uncivilised colony, but what other choice had she?
She and her husband John had been married for only a year when he had
enlisted as a lieutenant in the New South Wales Corps. At 22, he was
ambitious and eager to throw off the embarrassment of a humble
background. The posting was a heaven sent opportunity for him.
Little Edward was becoming even more fractious, so she scooped him up in
her arms and made for the ladder to the upper cabin, from where she could
have access to the deck of the Neptune. They had been at sea two weeks
now and, in spite of the January cold, she always found solace for her
soul in the
freshness of the winds and the spaciousness of the seascape. She pushed
at the hatch, but it was stuck. Handing Edward back down to the maid,
she banged to loosen it, but it would not budge. In frustration, she
hammered both her fists against the immovable wooden boards and cried out
Lieutenant John Macarthur felt that similar swell of rage bubbling up
inside him as he marched along to Captain Nepean's cabin. Between them,
they had managed to get that oaf Gilbert removed from command, but his
replacement, transferred from the Surprize, was even worse. Donald Trail
had ordered the hatch to be nailed up, virtually making a prisoner of his
darling wife, since she refused to set foot amongst the convicts and
their toilets - now the only access to the deck. And all because he,
John Macarthur, had the temerity to berate the man for cheating on his
He knew it was Trail who had ordered the steward to keep back a portion
of the soldiers' rations and he knew why. Any spare food left at the end
of the voyage could be sold at a pretty penny to the desperate
inhabitants of Sydney and the profit would line Trail's own pockets. Not
one to remain silent, he had accused Trail to his face and now this
monster had done this.
Without knocking, he burst into Nepean's cabin. What right did Trail
have to cut his rations and those of his wife and child, he demanded?
Nicholas Nepean simply replied that, as master of the ship he had every
right to do as he pleased. He returned to his writing and John was
With his commanding officer against him, there was nothing John could do
but watch his wife's tears as she railed against the inhumanity of those
who took pleasure in aggravating her distress.
'1006 convicts embarked on the three ships Neptune, Surprize and
Scarborough. Of these, 267 (27.5%) died on the voyage, with a further
117 dying within six months of landing. By comparison, the death rate on
the First Fleet was less than 3%, as was that on the Lady Juliana.
Donald Trail was brought to trial in England in June 1792, but was
William Grenville was replaced at the Home Office in July 1791.
Lieutenant John Shapcote never reached Australia, dying seven weeks
Captain William Hill was so appalled by the treatment of the convicts
that he declared that he would never recover from the voyage. He is said
to have been one of the party of explorers who discovered the Nepean
River. He died as a victim of cannibals on his journey home to England
Lieutenant John Macarthur's irascible nature pitted him in constant
confrontation with the Governor and figures of Authority. By force
cunning, he acquired power and vast holdings of land which he farmed to
great advantage, becoming the founder of the Australia sheep and wine
 [SOURCE] IGI, LDS 916919