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Project Gutenberg Australia
Title: The History of Botany Bay
Author: Arthur Gayll
eBook No.: 2300091h.html
Date first posted: 2023
Most recent update: 2023
This eBook was produced by: Colin Choat
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Ebook editor's note
Chapter I.—What Providence Intended
Chapter II.—What England Decided
Chapter III.—The Saturnalia Begins—Beast and Beauty
Chapter IV.—The King's Colours
Chapter V.—The Rum-Selling Corps
Chapter VI.—Convicts on the Voyage
Chapter VII.—The Convict in Port
Chapter VIII.—The Convict on Shore
Chapter IX.—Genesis of Our Flogging Laws
Chapter X.—The Convicts Hy-Brasil
Chapter XI. The Convict in Revolt
Chapter XII. The "Scotch Martyrs"
Chapter XIII.—At the Triangles of History
Chapter XIV.—Governor Bligh
Chapter XV.—The Deposition of Bligh
Chapter XVI.—An Australian Patriot
Chapter XVII.—The Corps Drummed Out
Chapter XVIII.—The Pure Merinos
Chapter XIX.—The Emancipists
Chapter XX.—Some Poets and Patriots
Chapter XXI.—White Slavery
Chapter XXII. The Assignment of Women
Chapter XXIII.—Vae Victis!
Chapter XXIV.—Wentworth and Wardell
Chapter XXV.—The Story of Sudds
Chapter XXVI.—Garotting the Press
Chapter XXVII.—Governor Bourke
Chapter XXVIII.—How the Convict System Worked
Chapter XXIX.—An Apologist for Vested Interests
Chapter XXX.—Under the Microscope
Chapter XXXI.—The Transportation Question
Chapter XXXII.—Constitutional Development
Chapter XXXIII.—The March of Events
Chapter XXXIV.—The Last of the Convict System
Chapter XXXV.—The Man Who Was Chained to a Rock
Chapter XXXVI.—The Island of Horror
Chapter XXXVIII.—The End of the Story
In a review, by W. E. Fitz Henry, of "The Books of the Bulletin" by Mackaness and Stone, which appeared in The Bulletin, Vol. 76 No. 3940 (17 Aug 1955, page 27), it is stated:
"The first Bulletin book listed by Mackaness and Stone in their 'The Books of the Bulletin', published in 1955, is 'The History of Botany Bay' (1888), a reprint of a series of articles written for The Bulletin by F J Donohoe under the pen-name of 'Arthur Gayll.' It was illustrated by Livingston Hopkins and Phil May, and was intended as a satirical counterblast to the smug histories published to commemorate the centenary of New South Wales. Over 20,000 copies were published, but a single copy is hard to obtain these days."
There is no list of references provided by Gayll, though occasionally he quotes from works of others, such as Joseph Holt, and occasionally refers to his sources for statements made. Still, there is ample evidence provided for his descriptions of the "punishments" inflicted on the convicts and the actions of the so called "Vested Interests" which operated to ensure the continuation of the penal system in the early days of the English Colony at Botany Bay. It is a harrowing story!
Every year in Australia sees another stage in the formation of a population as different from that of thirty or forty years ago as that of the United States of to-day is from the early Spanish settlers, or the Pilgrim fathers of New England. A history of Australia has not been written for the new people yet. These new people are the nucleus of the coming Australian nation—not the descendants of old Imperial officialdom, or of the people whom that officialdom ruled. Unfortunately, however, the traditions of the past survive in Australia, while the events that fathered those traditions are forgotten. The result is that Young Australia finds itself dominated by the surviving remnant of a class whoso history will make the Australian people of the near future burn their records and pray for a tidal wave.
A look-out on Australia to-day will disclose a strange state of things. Upwards of three millions of people, in one of the finest countries in the world, have a chance in the struggle for existence the peer of which no other spot on the globe save Eden has ever seen. But these three millions of people, with their popular democratic institutions, are governed in the interests of a small class by a little knot of men who rule in the name of the people but on the lines of the strictest and narrowest conservatism. We have in Australia our manhood suffrage, vote by ballot, the jury system, popular legislatures, and all the marks of an advanced political spirit. Yet side by side with these we have, rankly flourishing and openly encouraged, all the inequality of social conditions, the invidious class distinctions, the great monopolist property in land, the old feudal spirit in our property laws, and the mark of the same old familiar bloody hand in our penal legislation, that the free institutions we have just named were deliberately invented by English Liberals as political weapons to destroy.
The crude anomalousness of all this is patent. But it only requires to be looked at through the history of the past to be at once whistled down the wind. We have clothed the ass's body of social conditions and feudal-law traditions in the lion's hide of pseudo-democratic institutions. When the lion is expected to roar, we only hear the other animal bray. We are still ridden by the influence and ruled by the lineal descendants of the squalid officialdom of the grisly past. The whistle of the lash and the clank of the convict's chain are still distinctly heard, though fifty years have passed away since transportation ceased, and a democracy of freemen has been settled by immigration in Australia. The reason is, in a word, that the men of the class that came into existence under the Imperial regime made the most of their time. They founded family fortunes, and became territorial magnates and lords of the soil. They seized on the ownership of land, and established the principle of such ownership, and so consolidated a power and an influence that have enabled them to hold their position up to the present, and to buy up the dangerous leaders of democracy, body and soul.
Australian public spirit touched its highest level in Victoria under Graham Berry when he swept the country from end to end on an election cry for the bursting-up of big estates. That is the pivot on which the Australian politics of the future will turn. But the question will never stand out in a white light until Young Australia learns who the founders of big estates and vested interests were, and how these estates and interests grew. Young Australia will never learn that until the history of the past is candidly and fearlessly told. But when it is told, and the lesson learnt, then Young Australia will have also learnt the profound truth that these colonies will never get rid of the taint of a squalid officialdom, built up by the exercise of gaolers' authority over a herd of cruelly-abused wretches whose crimes were outweighed by their expiation, until the Imperial connection which rivets the past on the present for us becomes an exploded myth, and these colonies of ours form federated states under an independent Australian flag. The Imperial connection keeps the Past in its place. While it continues the public life of Australia will continue to be ridden by the horror of the past—the nightmare of our history as Sinbad the Sailor was by the Old Man of the Sea. Australia's own history, fairly told, alone can strip the bandage from her eyes. When that is once done the Imperial connection must go.
This is why The Bulletin is going to tell the history of Australia from its own point of view. The past has been veneered over by wealth from the gold discovery, and by free institutions that came full fifty years before their time. The Bulletin is going to scrape off that veneer. It is time that the theories of the people who want to engraft British feudalism on Australia were tested by a cataclysmic visitation of fact. Flying literary visitors like J. A. Froude mercilessly instruct us in our domestic concerns in the light of a ten days' experience of one side of one narrow colonial class alone. Two or three Australian politicians meet in the cabin of an English admiral and concoct a conspiracy by which British militarism shall be engrafted upon our system for ever and a day. Shotted rifles menace a public meeting because those who object to an address to the Queen on her Jubilee outnumber those who don't. Politicians who claim to hold democratic faiths threaten drastic legislation to crush the advocates of unpopular views which are unpleasant to the ear of official authority. And a surviving representative of Vandemonia proposes in his old age "a whiff of grape" as his prescription for Young Australia when she writhes under the intolerable burden of her Old Man of the Sea. All this would be a screaming farce if it were not so gruesomely serious. Our people's ignorance of our own people is abysmal. We have had poets and politicians, preachers and pseudo-patriots, penal laws and public institutions of a class the like of winch—thank the gods!—have never been seen before since the crust hardened on the earth. These phenomena spring from certain pre-existing causes. If the hair of the reader should happen to stand on end when we tell him what these grisly causes were, we are not to blame. We did not make our history. We only tell it. We merely flay the carcase of the hybrid and moribund monstrosity now on our demonstrating table, and dissect the congested organism underneath.
THE HISTORY OF BOTANY BAY
When Henry Kingsley wrote his book about Australia for British readers, he told them of a great, lone, melancholy island in the pleasant southern seas—the largest and possibly the grandest island in the world. The land of lonely rivers and level gray plains, he called it the land of wool and corn, incalculable to the human mind; the land of gold and jewels. "Who were to have this wondrous land?" he asks, "which lay for thousands of years asleep in a summer sea, waiting for its owners." With all the purblind saponaceousness that even good men exhibit when writing about Australia, he gives the answer: "Providence designed that country for us!"
If the Australian people of the near future know anything about that matter, Providence designed nothing of the kind. It is only the smug Englishman of the type that sung "Britons never shall be slaves," while not one man in one thousand had a vote or a voice in public affairs—who fought the battles of England abroad to take his attention off his own domestic miseries at home, that could answer for the designs of Providence in this flippant and familiar manner. The John Bull of the past, who looked on the great world-system of waters as a British lake, and on Divine Providence itself as a vulgar British institution, alone could fall into such an egregious error as that. If Providence had any design in the matter at all it was that the great Australian continent should belong to a great Australian people, ruling itself under its own laws, and free as Providence possibly intended every man and every nation to be. We can imagine Providence designing that a great people should grow up here, with all the mistakes of old-world legislation and class-traditions for its warning, and with all the preventable old-world miseries, poverty, and ignorance that those traditions and that legislation have developed into rank growth, for its beacons of quicksands to be avoided. So much for Mr. Henry Kingsley and his rapidly-expiring class.
Away back at the beginning of the tertiary period, Australia was joined to China by a broad land-belt. Presently a convulsion of nature occurred. The land-belt disappeared and water flowed in its place.
Australia "cut the painter" and floated away, as it were, on its own career of independence. Wallace's line on the map marks where the rupture took place. Had it not occurred, we might have been all Chinese to-day, with Australia twirling its pig-tail for the Brother of the Sun instead of throwing up its hat for the lady who is pre-eminent in grief and in wealth; and sitting at the feet of the wise Confucius instead of burning incense to our Old Man of the Sea.
But our Chinese cousins had another chance, and missed it. Long after palaeolithic man had passed away, a Chinese junk burst into these silent seas, with youth at the prow and pleasure at the helm, to the sound of the inspiring tom-tom. Old legends tell how the grisly apparition of these adventurous children of the Sun affrighted our "peaceful southern ocean" like a nightmare, as it passed on its mysterious way. We said just now that the Chinese had their chance, and missed it. That was a rash assertion. The enterprising navigator of that prehistoric junk, scanning the future with dim prophetic eye, saw that Australia had better be left for some other active persons to do the rough work of colonisation, and after that his bland and patient Celestial descendants might come along without ruffling an eye-lash, and scoop the whole institution like the merest fan-tan pool. He knew who it was Providence designed the "pot" for.
The Chinese sharp-shooter sailed away. He was our prehistoric ancestor, and doubtless his statue will occupy a vacant pedestal by-and-bye, when those of Victoria Wettin and Albert the Good are melted down into copper coin, to compensate the holders of great freehold estates which will have been confiscated for the benefit of the Australian people. When our ancestor faded away over the horizon, the "great, lone, melancholy island" had a rest for a time; and, by the way, when the reader digests this history he won't wonder any more why it was "melancholy." Two hundred and eighty-two years ago a picturesque Spanish freebooter, named De Quiros, paid it a visit. He also went away. The Dutch looked in about the same time. They also left—but in a hurry this time. The unanimity our early visitors showed in going away is striking. But to do these Dutchmen bare justice, they had good reason for their action. Their reception, it appears, was not altogether hospitable. The aboriginal inhabitants began to hatch a quaint suspicion that Providence designed the great lone, melancholy island for them. So they fell upon the crew of the Dutch yacht Duyfhen, killed a few of the number, and picnicked airily on the remains. The unpronounceable name of the vessel is their best apology. It must be confessed that their notion about the design of Providence was a crudely practical one.
But if the pure Chinese strain wasn't crossed with Dutch blood—if we don't all wear wide knickerbockers and pig-tails to-day and smoke big pipes and play the tom-tom—it is largely owing to the patriotic action of those impulsive aboriginals, and the hazy nature of their theological views. For the Dutch certainly left Australian soil in some precipitation before De Quiros' lieutenant struck Cape York and named Torres' Straits. In all probability both expeditions imagined that Providence designed this country for them. Dirk Hartog, another Dutchman, touched at Endraght's Land ten years later. Quite a locust-flight of flying Dutchmen found Australia in the next decade, from Zeachen down to Peter Nuyts. Tasman's visit was in 1642. He wrote his sweetheart's name all over the Australian map, and made it historical. This was the only touch of tender human sentiment the Island now called after him was destined to see for many a long day. In later times, after the horror of our history had held its Saturnalian orgy—when each blade of grass had its horrible story, and every woodland nook reeked with the strong flavour of bloody reminiscences—it was found advisable to destroy a good deal of poor Tasman's lover's romance, and change the name of Maria Van Diemen's father for one with somewhat less pungent associations. So we called the island Tasmania—and complacently allowed the rank growth of old institutions to flourish, while the name of Vandemonia that recalled them too keenly became a thing of the past. But though Tasman made several voyages there, Providence does not appear to have designed any part of the country for him.
The buccaneer Dampier, of Virginia, was engaged in a piratical expedition against some Spanish traders when he struck the North-West coast of Australia. Eleven years after, the English Admiralty authorities sent him out on a voyage of discovery. He had several theological controversies with the aboriginal inhabitants about the designs of Providence, and after his expedition nothing more is recorded on that subject until 1770. In the meantime the Spanish De Quiros had called the continent "Australia," while the Dutch named it "New Holland." Fortunately the Spanish name was the one eventually retained. Dampier came in 1688. It is well to remark that persons engaged in piratical expeditions have been striking the Australian coast very violently ever since.
It is a distressing but characteristic fact that the discovery of the eastern coast of Australia was reserved for a person with the unromantic name of Cook. We have always been unhappy in our nomenclature. No one with an inspiriting name of his own would have thought of calling his discovery by such an uncouth designation as "New South Wales." And no people that did not glory in its disgrace would have retained the name and its dismal associations so long. But the trail of the serpent, as it were, is over all we do. Do we soar into sentiment? Our airy flight is impeded by the dead-weight of the past that hangs like plummets on our nobler parts—so that we have to sacrifice the delicate flower of romance in the story of Maria Van Diemen to the necessity of getting rid of the association the name calls up. Do we, like Mr. Silas Wegg, drop into poetry?
Every bushman in this afflicted land scourges our ears with damnable iteration of platitudinous phrases about the balmy fragrance of the yellow wattle-bloom, until that Australian vegetable has come to have no more romantic sentiment in association with its name than the fatuous cabbage or the hypocritical onion.
Cook decided the question that had perplexed so many explorers without a moment's hesitation, and handed the country over to "my Sovereign, George the Third," whose royal progeny—the Prince of Wales and the Duke of York, uncles to Her Gracious—used to tie their royal parent to the post of the royal bedstead and play "bait the bear" with him in his dotage, and then go down to their club and tell what fun they had with the old king. Greville tells the story in his memoirs; and also how the Commons voted the Duke of York a pension for his filial piety in visiting his demented progenitor on these occasions. But what has this to do with Botany Bay? you ask. Well, nearly everything. We are coming to it now.
It is time to revert to Henry Kingsley:—"At about this time (1787) the British Government were beginning to find out that hanging men for petty theft was a large mistake. Anyhow, hanging did no good. Transportation was tried, and the great dominion of Australia founded." This is crisply put, but its accord with the "designs of Providence" theory is not apparent at a glance. The simple fact of the matter is that the penal laws of England at the time, and for fifty years after, were a black disgrace to civilisation. Women and children were hanged for shop-lifting to the value of a pocket-handkerchief. Black Monday opposite the Debtor's Door at Newgate will not bear description. One writer has this on a quite recent aspect of the subject:—"A public execution in London was a scene to fill an observer with something like loathing for the whole human race. Through all the long night before the execution the precincts of the prison became a bivouac ground for the ruffianism of the metropolis. The roughs, the harlots, the professional robbers, and the prospective murderers held high festival there. The air reeked with the smell of strong drink, with filthy jokes and oaths and blasphemy. The moral effect of the scene was about as great as the moral effect of a cock-fight. The soul took its flight as if it were a trapeze performer in a circus." The Government began to think it just as well if some of them took their flight to New South Wales. The American colonies, having just got their independence, refused any more white labour. A philanthropic proposal to hand criminals over to the slave-dealers of Morocco was made in a Christian country, and rejected. Consignments were sent to the fever-coast of Africa, where they died off like sheep, under the lash. So New South Wales was founded.
It was England that first seamed the white shoulder of Australia with the livid mark of the lash. It is the people who wielded that instrument of degradation, and their descendants, who wish to "draw the bonds of Empire closer" to-day. The Imperial connection is, therefore, a shameful one.
It was not a pleasant problem that confronted the British Cabinet just three years before the French Revolution. A large proportion of the population, cradled into crime by poverty and ignorance, had been convicted of more or less serious offences. It was clearly impossible to hang them all. Earnest efforts had been made to meet the difficulty in this decisive manner, but even the best intentions sometimes fall short of adequate performance. The question was even assuming a more irksome phase. An official communication, dated from Whitehall, August 18, 1786, informed the Lords Commissioners of the Treasury that the gaols were crowded, and that it would be necessary to ship the prisoners off somewhere. The revolt of the American colonies was a serious bore to my Lords of the Treasury, for they had for some time past been adding a yearly sum of £40,000 to the revenue by selling offenders as white labour to the planters. Now that market was closed, and the article became a drug on the purveyors' hands. The experiment was tried of sending a portion to the fever-coast of Africa. So many died there that sentence of transportation became synonymous with sentence of death. But this was cheating the hangman, and allowing a fine old British institution to fall into contempt. This was un-English. Something else would have to be done. Clearly, the Lords Commissioner were deserving of every sympathy. They received it in the shape of suggestions.
Humane men looked into the question in the light of their environment, and in the spirit of the country and of the age. They embodied their results in a series of proposals that might curdle the blood with horror. But as it is inadvisable that the reader should exhaust his capacity for disgust before he comes to our own immediate record, perhaps these are as well left alone. The most merciful proposition was one suggesting transportation to Botany Bay. In 1787 a book was published called "A History of New South Wales," the preface to which, written by a well-known Cabinet-creature of the period—the Hon. William Eden—strongly recommended the Botany Bay scheme. What he there wrote throws light on the whole aspect of the question:—"Criminals, when their lives or liberty are forfeited to justice, become a forlorn hope, and have always been judged a fair subject of hazardous experiments. If there be any terrors in the prospect before the wretch who is banished to New South Wales, they are no more than he expects; if the dangers of a foreign climate are nearly equivalent to death, the devoted convict naturally reflects that...offended justice, in consigning him to the inhospitable shores of New Holland, does not mean thereby to seat him for life on a bed of roses." If the devoted convict in his natural reflections ever did lapse into that idyllic train of thought, he was most woefully mistaken.
Mr. Eden was a philanthropist—save the mark!—and a colleague of Howard in a portion of his work of prison-reform. One of his recommendations reads thus:—"The more enormous offenders might be sent to Tunis, Algiers, and other Mahometan ports; others might be compelled to dangerous expeditions." All this time the gaol-fever was carrying off its victims by hundreds. Yet the process was not quick enough. Mr. Eden was the first to announce the approval of the Botany Bay scheme.
There was one other suggestion made which deserves mention. Australia, which escaped from China by a tidal wave, and from the legendary Chinese explorer by the foresight of that astute navigator, was again placed under offer to the Brother of the Sun. A pamphlet, published in 1785, recommended that the American loyalists who still cherished the Imperial connection might be transferred there. Prison labour was to be placed at their disposal; but—"the settlers of New South Wales are principally to be collected from the Friendly Isles and China; and the natives, no doubt, may in time be brought to unite in this society." History repeats itself. There is a class in Australia to-day which still cherishes the Imperial connection like the American loyalists, and which would gladly stamp out the democratic element by drastic legislation, or clear the way by a "whiff of grape" for the docile Chinese cheap labour which might in time "be brought to unite in this society." But this scheme would not include the natives—aboriginal, or otherwise.
Once this question of locality was decided, the preparations were soon made. Viscount Sydney, who was Secretary of State for the Colonies, ordered a convoy and transports to be got ready. On April 27,1787, Captain Phillip received his commission. In March the ships began to rendezvous at Spithead. On May 13 they hoisted sail. The fleet consisted of a frigate and an armed tender, six transports, and three store-ships. It carried 1015 persons—197 marines, 28 women, 17 children; 558 male convicts, 192 women, 18 children; and five controlling officers. The voyage occupied eight months. Some estimate of the forethought lavished on the enterprise may be gathered from the fact that forty convicts died on the voyage, and within the first five months of settlement twenty-eight more followed them; while sixty-six were under medical treatment, and two hundred were unable to work. But, as Mr. Eden would have said, these unhappy wretches were fair subjects for hazardous experiment, and the overcharged British gaols had to be relieved.
Arthur Phillip was the son of Jacob Phillip, of Frankfort, who had emigrated to London, and there earned a precarious subsistence as a teacher of languages. His son entered the navy at sixteen, and five years after was at the taking of Havannah in 1761. Here he was made lieutenant, and post-captain twenty years later. He saw service in the French war, in the East Indies, and in the employ of Portugal. A somewhat left-handed testimonial to his fitness for his new duties was borne by Lord Howe when his appointment was under discussion. "I cannot say the little knowledge I have of Captain Phillip would have led me to select him for a service of this complicated nature." This eulogium appears to have completely established his fitness as a subject for hazardous experiments. His commission was at once made out. He laid in a private provision of two puncheons of rum and twenty cwt. of loaf-sugar, with much port and porter, and many decanters and glasses—the official record amply bears out his care in this particular—and was soon as ready to colonise a continent as he had been to take troops to India to fight the French, or to offer his sword to Portugal. There was no weak prejudice or delicate coyness about Captain Phillip.
Captain Phillip was a man with views. In his blander moments—before he started, be it observed—he appears to have formed an idea that the expedition he was about to lead was a species of prolonged camp-meeting, flavoured with an airy soupçon of the Sunday-school picnic. "During the passage," he says in one letter, "I shall visit the transports when light airs or calms permit, to see that they are kept clean and receive the allowance ordered by Government, and at these times shall endeavour to make them sensible of their situation." His plans for the future were quaint to the verge of the grotesque. "The women in general," he went on, "I shall suppose possess neither virtue nor beauty." This is most ingenuously frank. But such a state of things presented no difficulty to Phillip. "It may be best if the most abandoned are permitted to receive the visits of the convicts in the limits assigned them at certain hours; the rest I should keep apart by permitting the men to be in their company when not at work. They will, I suppose, marry." Such was the pastoral Arcadia that the first Governor had in his mind's eye—an island valley of Avillon, as it were, full of bowery hollows crowned with lawny leas, where never wind blew loudly—and gentle shepherds ever piped as though they never would grow old. The vision of the impossible creatures who dreamt of being seated for their lives on a bed of roses was about to be realised. "There shall be no slavery in a free land," wrote the future Governor, "and, consequently, no slaves." But Captain Phillip naturally did not know as much of the history of Botany Bay as he afterwards learnt and helped to make. In the meantime, our extracts will serve to show what the original intentions really were.
The Governor reached Botany Bay first, on January 18, 1788. The rest of the fleet came up by the 20th. Phillip showed his good sense by preferring Port Jackson to Botany Bay as the cradle of the settlement. On the 26th all the ships came round and disembarked their cargoes at the mouth of the Tank-stream. Like Phillip's plans, this has since degenerated, and become the city sewer. Three royal salutes were fired, the echoes of which will not cease to be heard until the war-ships, for which the Parliaments of all the Australian colonies but one have unpatriotically pledged the people to pay a subsidy, salute the Australian flag before they finally set forth from Australian waters. Every man then received a pint of rum, and every woman half-a-pint. A whirl of festivity ensued, and the first Australian sun went down in peaceful summer splendour on a human hell. The Saturnalian orgy had commenced, and one of the blackest chapters in the world's history was fairly opened. The curtain rose on a new continent, under circumstances of squalor and degradation which never in all history had inaugurated the career of a nation before. As we hastily cover up and huddle away the historical picture that shows us the close of the first Australian day, and the pioneers that Britain sent us, sunk in their loathsome revelry, we find it almost impossible to realise, as Mr. Kingsley would have us believe, that Providence designed the country for these.
The mysterious island that had lain for a thousand years asleep in a summer sea, like the Sleeping Beauty in the children's pretty story, was thus rudely awakened—100 years ago—by the Beast! The advanced civilisation of England had confessed itself a failure. It had been in labour, and it brought forth a Calibanesque abortion. The silver trumpet of the Prince in the story was exchanged for the howl of a satyr. It was well that the centenary of Australia, which reminds of this, should be fittingly celebrated. It is easy of comprehension that those interested should have differed as they did about the method. But the occasion was too pregnant with lessons and morals for the opening mind of young Australia to be allowed to pass by. It has set Australian men thinking about the past history that others made for them, and it is only in this way that the problems of the present and the near future can be grasped.
A few days after the landing at the mouth of the Tank-stream, the Governor called his people together under some gum-trees where is now Macquarie-Place, and had the King's commission read. Letters-patent for the establishment of a civil and criminal judicature followed, and something like a first Charter of Justice was published. There was a beautiful simplicity about the Phillipian cede; but yet, following the conventional usage of codes, it called for some marginal references. After the manner of Blackstone and Stephen and other reputable jurists, therefore, the Governor issued a popular commentary on his work. It took the form of the execution of a boy. The lad was 17 years of age, and he was hanged for petty theft just six weeks after the fleet sailed through the Heads. Fate lost no time in reproducing that bloody character of the spirit of British penal legislation, which, with other British products, Australia has since made so fondly its own.
But Phillip, as we have seen, was not entirely a brute. The honest savage merely did what he conceived to be his duty. He was a captain in the navy of the time that Marryat has described. On his own quarter-deck the captain could do as he liked; and there is a droll story of such an officer who, with fine humour, tarred and feathered one of his midshipmen, and confined him in a hen-coop for several weeks. The Service afforded no redress, and the midshipman had to resign and sacrifice his career before he recovered damages in a civil court. The "cat" and the yard-arm were active disciplinary agents, and the seaman was as much a subject for hazardous experiments as the Australian colony was now to become. Phillip, his apologists say, only did his duty in hanging the boy. Leading colonists said the same thing one Christmas-tide not long ago when Governor Carrington refused to stay the execution of four lads of about the same age as their pioneer. The horrible blunder that resulted will blister the national sentiment until Australia forgets its past, and vomits its squalid traditions out of its mouth. But that late episode was consonant with the whole tenor of the history of Botany Bay. The old leaven lies deep.
The first law examination of which we have record occurred soon after. A woman passed in the practice and theory of the code. She filched a flat-iron—and went forthwith and hanged herself in her tent. It would be idle to enquire what she could possibly want with a flat-iron at that early stage of colonisation. The philosophical observer is thus forced back on the abstract significance of the fact. Viewed in this way, it bears the most complete testimony to the popular character of Phillip's commentary. Not every embryotic jurist has such a rapid success as this. But then, not every jurist has such an opportunity.
A fair understanding being thus established, the work of colonisation began. Two French ships under La Pérouse had arrived just after the fleet, and remained two months. Had they arrived a week earlier complications might have ensued. But Providence, which designed the country for Caliban, had arranged that the future of Australia should not fall into the hands of a people fresh from the partial awakening of the French Revolution. So the Frenchmen left, leaving no trace behind but a monument at Botany Bay which rose forty years later, and this entry in a diary now before the writer:—"The French officers listened to the proposals of two fair shop-lifters, who were missed two days after the Frenchmen had sailed." Then those who were not sick, or otherwise disabled, set to work. The houses for the officers, a soldiers' barracks, hospital, convicts' huts, and a storehouse for provisions rose slowly, for of those fit to work few or none had any mechanical qualifications. So little care had been given to the expedition that the first colonists consisted simply of a heterogeneous agglomeration of marines, magsmen, London sharpers, and cracksmen, and a sprinkling of pick-pockets. Of farming they knew nothing. The results came in their natural order. Dearth of provisions, sickness, famine; and by that time all that was left of Phillip's island valley of Avillon had vanished as completely as the boy that was hanged, or the Frenchmen's two fair shop-lifters.
The famine came like an angel of mercy to withdraw the stricken ones from the horrors that were to come. Those who escaped with life only preserved it to become the victims of a rapacity and a cruelty quite as blind and greedy as the grave. But this came after. The seed sown by the criminal neglect of the Home Government which adventured on this hazardous experiment, began to bear early fruit, and seven marines were hanged together in 1789 for stealing bread from the public store. A small party was sent to Norfolk Island to try to raise provisions there. Farms were laid out at Parramatta, and the site of the present Botanical Gardens became a farm for the support of the settlement. But in February, 1790, only four months' provisions at half-rations were left, and presently the Juliana with two hundred female immigrants arrived with the announcement that the Guardian store-ship, bearing food supplies for the settlement, had been wrecked at the Cape. Then the Sirius, also bearing stores, was wrecked off Norfolk Island. Phillip gave up his own private supplies to the common stock, and confined everyone to the same ration. He gave a State banquet at Government House—a rather better hut than the others—and each officer brought his own bread to the sumptuous board, impaled on the point of his sword!
From a journal, now extremely rare, published by Captain Tench in 1793, we take an extract here. It will show that the opinion held by the aboriginals of British institutions was almost as strong as the British objection to American political institutions to-day: "A convict was taken in the act of stealing fishing-tackle from Daringa, the wife of Colbee. The Governor ordered that he should be severely flogged in the presence of as many natives as could be assembled, to whom the cause of punishment should be explained. Many of them of both sexes accordingly attended...There was not one of them that did not testify strong abhorrence of the punishment, and equal sympathy with the sufferer. The women were particularly affected. Daringa shed tears, and Barangaroo, kindling into anger, snatched a stick and menaced the executioners." Here was a failure of justice in its deterrent effect at the very outset. The sight of a white man under the lash, instead of having a bluff, British, self-righteous influence on the savage breasts of these wild creatures, simply moved one of the women to tears, and another to menace the executioners with a stick. The degradation that a British seaman of the period could endure with slavish fatalism, or an Australian judge of to-day order with the most placid equanimity, caused a natural feeling of disgust and abhorrence in savage man in his lowest stage of development. It would be absurd to say that they failed to recognise the "natural justice" of the punishment. The woman from whom the stricken wretch stole the fishing-tackle shed tears at the brutal spectacle she had been brought to witness. If anything could have succeeded in making Phillip and his officers ashamed of themselves and their institutions, this incident, told by one of themselves, might surely have done so. But not so, the black man was to be educated up—or down—to the white man's standard in this particular. His crudest natural instincts had to be brutalised before he could appreciate the beauties of the lash. The savage, whose courtship consisted of a blow from a heelaman on the head of his affianced, was moved to abhorrence on seeing a white man flogged!
Major Ross was sent to govern Norfolk Island. Upwards of seven hundred persons were there marooned, amidst all the horrors of famine. It is impossible to repress the suspicion that every execution was looked upon as a public benefit, as lessening the number of mouths to be fed. "All persons, as well soldiers as others, the inhabitants of the Isle of Norfolk, are hereby prohibited from killing stock of any kind whatever, without consent of the Government, under penalty of immediate death by hanging." When the Sirius was lost martial law was proclaimed. "All plundering of public or private property will be deemed a capital crime." In August a proclamation was issued which makes the suspicion just indicated a certainty:—"Any person whatever, either male or female, who does not to the utmost of their (sic) power and strength continue their share of labour...shall be adjudged to suffer death." Words would fail to paint the misery of that accursed island, of which the hideous history was just commencing. The devoted convict might indeed reflect that his liberty was forfeit to "justice," and that he had become a fit object of hazardous experiments. Of the marines, Major Ross—whose measures were stronger than his grammar—wrote "Not one of them has a shoe to their (sic) feet or a shirt to their backs—not a pot to every twelve men—not a bed or a blanket amongst them." But the other helpless wretches could not call their souls or their bodies their own. If England is a great colonising nation to-day, the fact is due rather to the colonists themselves than to those who sent them forth.
It is a pitiful story, this recital of the first years of our history, and distressing to the writer as to the reader. But what we have seen of the steps which led to Australian colonisation scarcely promised any hope of better things. While the settlement was starving, the gaols "at home" were still belching forth their fetid contents, and the quicker the convicts were swallowed up by disease or death, the dangers of the voyage, or the fate that awaited them in Australia—the more the expedient proposed to cope with the difficulties of the dilemma in which the Lords Commissioners found themselves was hailed as a proven success. It served its purpose, and emptied the gaols for a moment. But it did more. For it colonised a continent where the English spirit of the time was to be perpetuated by the transmitted influence of the gaolers of these convicts, long after a new liberalism had entered into British politics, and long after the narrow spirit of a hundred years ago with convictism itself had passed away.
It cannot be too strongly insisted upon that the enduring effect of the convict system on the public spirit of the older Australian colonies is traceable not so much to the convicts themselves as to their gaolers. This is a significant fact which writers on Australian subjects have venally ignored. It is now time that these mercenary wretches were gibbeted for the scorn of honest men.
The early stage of settlement was bad enough, but it was reserved for the New South Wales Corps to discover a yet deeper depth. Two years after Phillip landed, Major Grose made a proposal to the Secretary of State to enlist a force for service at Botany Bay. He offered to raise two companies without expense to the Government on condition of his receiving a Lieutenant colonelcy, failing which he proposed to enlist recruits at bare cost to Government, in return for his having the right to nominate the captain and subordinate officers, and receive the levy-money. His letter has this passage:—"I will exert myself to the utmost to recruit them with as little expense as possible, and with as much expedition as it is in my power." Major Grose kept his promise. His recruiting sergeants scoured the hulks and the prisons for likely men. The Savoy, soldiers' hulk, furnished a large contingent of men under punishment. Bad subjects who had been condemned to service in India were reprieved on enlisting in the new company. "Characters who have been disgraceful to every other regiment in his Majesty's service," wrote Governor Hunter a little later, "have been thought fit and proper recruits for the New South Wales Corps." And, in another place:—"We find among these, men capable of corrupting the hearts of the best-disposed, and often superior in every species of infamy to the most expert in wickedness among the convicts." Thirty convicts, who had been soldiers, were added to the force. Such were the chosen watch-dogs of Phillip's peaceful Arcadian flock.
The officers were fit associates of the men they commanded. They were common gaolers, hired to do gaolers' duty. They had every qualification for the work. The British officer of the period was not likely to engage in the scramble for a commission in this glittering corps. These commissions, therefore, became the spoils of a set of wolfish jackals, who with few exceptions were no better than the men themselves. The Irish political prisoner, Holt, speaks of them in his memoirs as "those old tailors and shoemakers, staymakers, man-milliners, tobacconists, and pedlars, that were called captains and lieutenants." No jackdaw staff of a militia corps in a burlesque ever approached this. Yet these men were the founders of the "first families" of at least New South Wales and Tasmania. A cowardly slur on the national sentiment of Young Australia is often based on the fact that the colonies were originally convict settlements. The best apology that has been made is that it is not the fault of Young Australia if its ancestors were sent out by the best judges. But even this is hardly true. Major Grose kept his engagement only too well. It lies open to serious question if he did not recruit the founders of our first families with too little regard to expense, and with rather more expedition than was either necessary or desirable.
Wolves eat wolves' flesh! It is a carrion that no other beast of prey will flesh its fangs upon. But the wolf has no sentimental feeling in the matter, and neither had the officers of the New South Wales Corps for the caged human wolves they so eagerly offered to guard. Their record opens at a chapter of our history where no combination of invective or epithet can reach low enough to do justice to the foetid squalor it describes. But it has been too often glossed over to be let alone now.
In January, 1791, the first contingent of the corps, consisting of 171 men, with a captain and two ensigns, brought 1900 male and 150 female convicts to Botany Bay. They lost no time in getting to work on arrival. It is easy to understand that men reprieved from the hulks would enter on a season of enjoyment under the circumstances. So we presently find Captain Phillip complaining of his little beagles. "They were observed to be very intimate with the convicts, living in their huts, eating, drinking, and gambling with them, and perpetually enticing the women to leave the men." They fraternised with the populace, as it were. Strangely enough, the populace objected to the intimacy. It would be invidious to ask why; but doubtless a natural jealousy of experts who were "often superior to themselves in every species of infamy," had something to do with this ebullition of honest pride. But the King's uniform was not to be insulted in this manner. The soldiers took what Hunter violently described as the "very unwarrantable liberty" of destroying the dwelling-house of one John Bawgham. On a previous occasion "the greatest part of the detachment left their barracks with their bayonets to attack an unarmed people," and continued in a state of "open and avowed mutiny" for four days. The whole detachment, with the exception of the non-commissioned officers and five or six of the privates, took an oath to stand by each other and not to suffer a soldier to be punished for whatever crime he might commit against an inhabitant. One of the Governor's orders puts the matter in this feebly-deprecatory form:—"It is natural enough in every inhabitant of this colony to entertain apprehensions for the safety of their persons...whenever any private soldier shall think proper to consider them as persons deserving chastisement." It was simply a reign of terror, dominated by an armed ruffian horde. But where were the officers who were responsible for the behaviour of their men all this time?
These astute "old tailors and shoemakers, staymakers, man-milliners, tobacconists, and pedlars," who called themselves captains and lieutenants, were engaged in another direction. The officers of this glittering corps had other cats to whip, and other fish to fry. We shall see what they were at presently. Meantime, when the Governor called on them to protect him and the inhabitants from these ruffians—complaining bitterly of "the insults which have been offered to me"—the officers resented his interference. He belonged to another arm of the service. He retorted that if the soldiers expected him to "consider them by the very honourable appellation of British troops, it must be by their bringing forward the ringleaders of their shameful conduct." And eventually, in a fine burst, he wrote to Lieutenant-colonel Paterson in these terms: "I must declare to you, sir, that the conduct of this part of the New South Wales Corps has been, in my opinion, the most violent and outrageous that was ever heard of by any British regiment whatever." It is Hunter who writes thus. Here, again, his feelings were too strong for perspicuity. This coarse sea-captain should have been flogged like one of his own convicts for his criminal abuse of the King's English.
The officers were jealous of what they called, imaginatively enough, the honour of their corps. They resented interference with their privileges because it checked their action in the furtherance of private schemes. For we find that, as soon as they reached Sydney, they at once embarked in trade, almost to a man. They evidently regarded the money paid to Major Grose for their commissions as an ordinary trade investment. So they at once put themselves in the way of securing returns. They robbed their men and the inhabitants with indifference, and carried on a shameless and usurious trade, about which we will have something to say in its proper place. To secure their influence they interfered in all public concerns, in the administration of such law as existed, and in any and every measure of a social or commercial character intended to further the interests of settlement.
Let us gibbet a few names of officers of the New South Wales Corps. Besides Major Grose, we find Captains Nichols, Nepean, Hethe, Paterson, and Foveaux. The first and the two last acted as temporary Governors, and Foveaux achieved an infamous reputation later on as Governor of Norfolk Island. Then came Lieutenant McArthur—a colonial Machiavelli who will take up much of our attention as we go on—Lieutenants Thompson, Abbot, Beckworth, Prentice, Rowley; afterwards came Captain Kemp, a later Van Diemen's Land worthy, who survived to above the age of 90; Piper, Laycock, and others came after. Not all of these were equally infamous; but, like the husbandman in Aesop's fable, we will hang up these foxes with the others for the company we find them in. Of all the characters that Dickens has painted, next to Uriah Heep, that of Claypole was perhaps the most contemptible. The rank youth yearned to give some one a flogging, and arrived at his ambition at last in becoming a turnkey in a gaol. These early officers were the Noah Claypoles of Australian story, with all that worthy's penchant for safe petty larceny superadded. The observer of the pioneers of the first fleet might well have thought that the world at large could not produce a set of wretches more lost and degraded than those. The arrival of the gaolers of the New South Wales Corps discovered a yet lower level. But to degrade the degradation and cap the wickedness of the rank-and-file we must look to the officers themselves. To paint their character from their own records will be a task as easy as it is repulsive. Yet it is necessary to revive the history of the past to get a clear view of the anomalous position of the Australian social and political systems of to-day.
Changes had been going on while these events were taking shape. Phillip had made repeated applications to be relieved of his charge, rendered doubly odious by the conduct of the officers. He succeeded in getting away in December, 1792. He received a pension of £400 for his services. Australian writers have taken a delight in printing much tiresome rubbish about his benevolence and his forbearance—his temperate, judicious, liberal, patient labour. Had he been a Washington instead of a common gaoler of felons, his eulogists could not have apotheosised his memory more. Himself and his assistant warders had a more just conception of the position they occupied. A convict, on arrival, presented a letter purporting to come from Baron Hotham, asking consideration for the bearer. The clumsy forger had addressed Phillip as "your Honour!" The fraud was at once detected, says Captain Tench; for no one but a convict could have used such a mode of address to his gaoler. When the officers of the corps assumed the Governorship, no title short of "Excellency" would serve their turn. Let us see how they used their power when it came.
The New South Wales Corps ruled the colony either directly or indirectly from the departure of Phillip to the deposition of Bligh. Major Grose and Captain Patterson were lieutenant-governors until the arrival of Hunter, in 1795. In those three years the corps solidified its position, until it became strong enough, in 1808, to put Bligh under arrest. Shortly afterwards the corps was drummed out of the colony in disgrace, and ordered to England and thence to India as a "condemned regiment." But the officers did not go to India. Having led their men into mischief they deserted their colours, turned their backs on their followers, and resigning the commissions they had disgraced, remained behind in the colony and founded our "first families."
We have said that the officers looked upon the purchase of their commissions as a trade investment. They were nearly all keen men, but it was with the keenness of the huxter. They saw the misery about them, the degraded condition of their victims, and their own great power; and they proceeded to use this last to make money out of the other two. Not one spark of generous or even common human sympathy with the state of things they saw around them brightens their dank and squalid record. With incredible callousness to the most pitiable forms of misery they fattened and prospered on the filth of the time as the raven gorges itself on the carrion. It would be too Arcadian to expect any manly protest from such creatures as these, against the iniquities of the convict system. It was distinctly to their interest, as tending to lessen the chances of commercial competition, that their God-forsaken victims should be mercilessly ground down. The writer who would attempt to candidly describe the phenomenally sinister character of the officers of this picked corps, would lay himself open to the charge of aiming at the creation of a mere vulgar sensation. It is safer, therefore, to let their acts speak for themselves.
No one will be surprised to learn that the chief article of trade with these uniformed huxters was rum. "The rum-selling corps" is the glorious title they have carried on the flaming scroll of history. Few historic titles have been earned so well. The settlement reeked with ruffianism and rum. Rum was a recognised medium of exchange. Wages for labour, the price of farm produce, and every other transaction for which money usually serves, were paid in rum. This was a traffic quite after the officers' own hearts. They entered on it with enthusiasm, bought up all the rum they could lay their hands on, and retailed it at ruinous prices to the settlement. Lawlessness and disorder ensued, and successive Governors wrote home for advice. Instructions were issued from Whitehall, forbidding all officers, civil and military, from selling any spirituous liquors to the convicts or settlers. But the authorities might have saved their breath. For the officers procured licenses for their non-commissioned officers, for ex-convicts, and for those of their own men who could be trusted. Governor Hunter considered the trade as "highly disgraceful to men who hold in their hands a commission signed by His Majesty." And so, no doubt, it was. But everything was disgraceful, and this was of a piece with the rest.
It would be a difficult thing to say who did not sell rum in the settlement. The line can only be drawn at those who were incapacitated by drinking it. Dr. Balmain, whose duty it was as a magistrate to sentence men to be cut to pieces by the lash for absorbing too much rum—and the records show that he did his duty—had at one time, when a fitful effort was made to restrict the officers' traffic, upwards of 1400 gallons of spirits in his house! There were also a "few chests of tea and some bale goods"—truly a plentiful lack of bread to such an intolerable deal of sack! Mr. D'Arcy Wentworth had 3000 gallons. They offered to sacrifice it in deference to the new Order, at twenty shillings a gallon. But the farcical nature of all attempts to stop the lucrative traffic is shown by such instances as the following:—One day a ship arrived from Manilla, being described as carrying cattle to the settlement. There were two head of stock onboard. But there were also 7203 gallons of spirits. The Governor forwarded a copy of his Order to the master, bidding him land his two cows and take the spirits away. But this was entirely too infantile a suggestion; the master reported that his vessel was unfit to put to sea; and, adds the Governor, "under the circumstances and the unpopularity of preventing the spirits from being illicitly appropriated and consumed, I allowed of its being disposed of and distributed in the usual manner." For amazing artfulness, both in matter and style, this minute excels anything ever projected by Captain Cuttle.
It is a fact that each officer had his permission to land rum in quantities proportioned to his rank. This was sold up to £1 per gallon. A farmer has been known to give an acre of wheat, which would maintain him a year, for two gallons of spirits. When the officers sent their agents to purchase wheat from the settlers they took, not money, but rum. A bottle which cost the officer half-a-crown, we are told, would buy two or three bushels of wheat. The officers employed the settlers to illicitly distil the most infernal intoxicants from wheat, peaches and other things. Barrington, the famous pickpocket turned thief-catcher, explains that a bushel of wheat, which might be worth ten shillings, would produce five gallons of deleterious spirit at six shillings per gallon. The chief constable of Sydney had a license to sell rum; and, as Dr. Lang puts it, "the chief gaoler, although not exactly permitted to convert the gaol into a grog-shop, had a licensed house in which he sold rum publicly on his own behalf, right opposite the gaol-door."
The officers unblushingly made use of their power for trade purposes, and to secure the command of the market they entered into an infamous bond, binding themselves to treat through two of their number with the captains of vessels, for the purchase of their merchandise, to the exclusion of any person outside their own ring. They had the privilege of being the first to board vessels arriving in the harbour. But they knew each other too well to trust to the mere word of honour of such British officers as they were. They instituted a £1000 forfeit for anyone of their number who might attempt to effect a purchase without the connivance of his fellows. This flagrant conspiracy gave them the command of the buying market, and left them at liberty to fix their own retail prices. It might be thought that the generous, free spirit of the British soldier would have made a muddle of such closely-calculated commercial arrangements. But these old tailors and shoemakers, staymakers and man-milliners, were not this kind of soldier. The outcry of the inhabitants soon showed this. They were everlastingly memorialising, petitioning, and remonstrating with the Governor for allowing the daylight robbery to go on. But as a rule the Governors knew better than to interfere in any serious mood. When one of their number did try to make a stand the "gentlemen" of the New South Wales Corps arose in their indignation, created what they called a great popular upheaval against the horrid tyranny that oppressed the groaning masses, and, rushing the Governor's bedroom with a horde of armed and drunken myrmidons, they fished Bligh out from under a bed and summarily locked him up!
The thoroughly business-like principles on which these officers fleeced the settlement may be gathered from a few facts. When Hunter arrived, after three years' direct rule by the corps, the Reverend Mr. Johnson, chaplain of the settlement, preached a little sermon, in which he exposed the government of the officers, "their extortion, their despotism, their debauchery, and the ruin of the colony, driving it almost to ruin by the sale of goods at 1200 per cent, profit." He congratulated the settlement on the "abolition of the military government." He might well do so, but it was not abolished yet. An extract from Holt's Memoirs is worth quoting:—
"Captain Anthony Fenn Kemp, when a soldier came to him for his month's pay, would usually accost him with, 'Well, what do you want?'
"'I want to be paid, sir,' the soldier would say.
"'What will you have?' was always Captain Kemp's answer. 'I have very good tobacco, ten shillings the pound, and good tea at twenty shillings the pound, prints at eight shillings a yard—' and so on.
"If the poor soldier answered, 'Sir, I do not want any of your goods,' the captain's comment was, 'You don't! your are a damned saucy rascal!'
"Perhaps then the soldier would say, 'Sir, if you please, give me half money and half goods.'
"But this proposal was equally objectionable to Captain Kemp, and generally led to his thundering out, 'Begone, you damned mutinous scoundrel, or I'll send you to the guard-house and have you flogged for your impertinence to your officer.'"
"This was the manner," summarises Holt, "that these people made their fortunes, by the oppression and extortion of the soldier, the settler, and the poor."
"Their debauchery," said the Reverend Mr. Johnson in his little sermons; but the foul and disgusting story of these men's debaucheries and immoralities is so sickening a recital as to be quite unfit for detailed publication. A select committee of the Commons on transportation in 1812 brought out a mass of information on oath which abundantly proves the worst that has been said about the New South Wales Corps. Such a picture of wanton rapacity, unbridled greed, and bare-faced robbery of prisoners by their gaolers—robbery under its most repulsive form—was never disclosed on oath before.
There is a strikingly dramatic picture given by Dickens in "Great Expectations." You remember how he describes the capture of Magwitch and Compeyson on the marshes; and then how Pip from the shore watches the marines rowing through the fog to the convict hulk lying out on the gloomy water. One of the soldiers carries a torch, which gets dimmer and redder through the mist as they go. Now the boat reaches the ship. The re-captured convicts are helped on board. The marine throws the torch hissing and spluttering into the sea. There is a quick flash—and all is dark again. It seems to the boy that the lives of those convicts have gone out with it. But both Dickens and Pip were wrong. The unhappy convicts' miserable lives were recommencing. They held wonderful unexhausted capacity for the endurance of hellish torture yet.
The system under which transportation was first carried on was a disgrace to the British name, and, so far, it was consistent with the rest of this grisly story. The work of carrying convicts was entrusted to contractors, who received sixpence per day for each convict's food-allowance, beside a tonnage rate. It would be impossible to believe the stories told of the wolfish greed of these contractors, if they were not borne out by State papers and recorded facts. The longer the voyage lasted, the longer the contractors drew their miserable allowance, and these sixpences were, of course, saved in cases where the convict died. Thus a businesslike understanding was established, under which the human cargoes died off like rotten sheep. The figures tell the story. Dr. White, the colonial surgeon who came out with Phillip, wrote some reports on this subject.
"Of the 939 males," he says, in 1790, "sent out by the last ships—the Surprise, Scarborough, and Neptune—26l died on board, and 50 have died since landing; the number of sick this day is 450, and many who are reckoned as not sick have barely strength to attend to themselves; when the last ships arrived we had not 60 people sick in the colony."
One hundred and sixty-four convicts died on the Neptune alone. In 1802, 66 convicts succumbed on one voyage between Cape Town and Sydney. During the first eight years of settlement upwards of one-tenth of the convicts died on the voyage. The caravan-tracks across the desert are marked by the bleaching bones of beasts and men, but the track of these convict ships across the ocean might have been as easily distinguishable by its line of floating corpses.
This was not all. "Floating hells" was the name the convict-ships soon earned. Crowds of convicts were thrown into the holds, with little ventilation and without supervision. Brutality and irons were the only means used to enforce order. The wretched vessels employed were not large enough to accommodate the number of convicts whom the greed of the contractors and the carelessness of the Government forced on board. They might well have felt themselves handed over to the irresponsible tortures of fiends. If any were over-tortured and died in consequence, they were easily thrown overboard. There was no difficulty about that. Herded like pigs, but not half so well-fed; half-clothed, and robbed on board of any comforts a kind hand might have provided for the voyage; chained to a dead body, sometimes, or to a dying man, and flogged into mutiny and out of it at the caprice of a drunken skipper, these unhappy convicts, in their despair, often preferred the gaping maw of a hungry shark to the horrors of the prison-ship. The shark, at least, would use no more violence than was necessary. But the records show that these drunken skippers tortured their victims because they liked it.
If the condition of the men was bad, that of the females and children was worse. Under the savage laws of the time women and girls, often of gentle lives and honest parentage, were found on board the women's ships. "Not a few of the convicts," says Bonwick, "were mere boys and girls of from 13 to 15 years of age." This is the one touch of horror wanted to complete the revolting picture. The rest of the shameless story is best indicated by another quotation. In 1806 Captain Bertram, writing about these floating Gomorrahs, has this:—
"The captain and each officer enjoy the right of selection. Thus they continue the habit of concubinage until the convicts arrive at Sydney town. Each sailor or soldier is permitted to attach himself to one of the females."
The reader can fill out the picture for himself.
Surely no den of infamy or lair of vice and crime ever equalled the scene presented by the hold of one of these prison-ships! The horrors of the slave-trade have made men's blood boil with indignation, and the smug virtue of the bourgeois Briton even induced John Bull to relax his purse-strings—an exaggerated excess of emotion!—to put down the foreign iniquity. But what story of the slave-trade ever equalled in the graphic intensity of its horrors the unholy abominations carried on with white men and white women and girls as the helpless victims for nearly fifty years under England's own flag? These wretches were criminals, it is true; but they were men, women, and children still. Their crimes were often petty offences by contrast with the outrages of their gaolers, or in the light of the British criminal code of to-day. But the smug hypocrisy which would have freed and Christianised the black man had no merciful thought for them. What Mumbo-Jumbo fetish or Oriental fanaticism has ever evoked greater horrors than these results of boasted British civilisation under a Christian Parliament and king? Surely none. By its fruits you may know it.
We read sometimes in the stories of the slave-trade how the negroes were forced on deck to dance to the music of a pipe. This was for exercise. It was thought wrong to depreciate the market-value of the labour on board by sapping its strength in idle confinement. The convict men and women also danced on board sometimes. But it was to the music of the boatswain's "cat." It was considered a treat for the sailors to be allowed to flog the convicts. But it was a refinement of luxury to flog women. The noble creatures pleasantly contended for this graceful privilege. If any woman-convict objected to the arrangement described by Captain Bertram—as some rustic Devonshire girl convicted of stealing apples and transported by some booby squire might have done—she was at once flogged into submission. If this was not done on the direct charge, another was easily invented. But, as a rule, no misunderstandings arose from idle scruples in this matter. If a drunken officer wanted a man or woman, girl or boy, flogged at the gangway for his amusement, there was no trouble about a trifle like that. But the best results in this direction were obtained when the ships carried a guard of recruits for the New South Wales Corps on board. These were artists in vice, in their own squalid way. Often they were placed in charge of a women's-ship. The Juliana, for instance, carried 226 women. One is not surprised to find that the voyage lasted 15 months. The wonder is that it ever finished in the usual way at all.
One ship carried 36 pairs of handcuffs and 200 basils with chains for use on the voyage. Many convicts made the voyage in irons all the way. It saved trouble. Charges of attempted or intended mutiny were trumped up. Governor Hunter mentions a case where, "in consequence of some conjecture that they meant to seize the ship and murder the officers," the whole cargo was ironed for the whole voyage. "They look most wretched from their long confinement," he adds, with simple neatness. On the Marquis of Cornwallis, in 1796, an intended mutiny was disclosed to the captain by a convict. The captain could only induce the soldiers and sailors to spare lives by tempting them with the offer of a wholesale flogging, in which each should take his part. "At 11 o'clock we commenced flogging these villains at the gangway, and continued engaged on that service till 42 men and 8 women received their punishment." The Lady Shore left England for Sydney in 1798, with a reinforcement for the New South Wales Corps, and 60 female prisoners. The voyage was an orgy from the start. At length the soldiers mutinied, seized the ship, which was carrying provisions for the colony, and murdered the master and first mate. They carried on a wild career of license and debauchery on the high seas with their floating bagnio of convict-women for a time, and then sailed to Rio Janeiro, and handed the ship over to the Portuguese Governor there. The captain of the Hercules fired volleys into the hold of his ship in expostulation with the convicts there confined. He was tried for murder, convicted, and—fined! A revolt of convicts in Sydney Harbour was once quelled in this way. Shotted blunderbusses were often fired into the holds of vessels. Naked women fought there like fiends, and men festered in their filth like worms. But, in the end, a fair proportion of this hazardous colonising material reached Australia.
It is calculated that fifty thousand convicts left British ports for Botany Bay during the fifty years that transportation lasted. They did not all reach their destination. The horrors of the voyage for some years decimated the dêportês. The Black Hole of Calcutta was only a trifling incident in comparison with this tale of torture long drawn out. From the reports of Dr. White we gather something of the horrors these "floating hells" carried into harbour. When he went on board, as it was his duty to do, he found dead bodies still in irons below, amongst the crowds of the living. Here is what he found in another place:—"A great number of them were lying, some half and others quite naked, without either bed or bedding, unable to turn or help themselves. The smell was so offensive that I could hardly bear it. Some of these unhappy people died after the ship came into the harbour, before they could be taken on shore. Part of these had been thrown into the harbour, and their dead bodies cast upon the shore, and were seen lying naked on the rocks. The misery I saw amongst them is inexpressible."
"It is distressing," says Captain Collins—one of the few humane men the early settlement knew—"to see the poor creatures daily dropping into the grave."
"I shall never recover my accustomed vivacity and spirits," said Captain Hill, after a voyage in a convict-ship.
But now the end of the long voyage was reached at last, and the survivors were about to enter into the inheritance Providence had destined for them. Let us see how they got on there.
The convict who descended into the hold of a prison-ship at an English port from nine to fifteen months before—and who completed the voyage alive!—in many cases never came on deck again, or saw the sky and sea, until the ship passed the Heads at Port Jackson. On some ships they were allowed on deck in relays, but the merest suspicion of an attempt at mutiny was often alleged as a pretext to deny this concession. The convict had no protector, and no person's influence stood between him and his fellow-creature who saw a chance of saving six-pence a day by his death from starvation. This may seem an exaggerated way of stating the case; but the reports of the Committees of the House of Commons, from which this writer draws his information, are still extant, and open for reference.
The sight that greeted the felon's eye was not a re-assuring one. It may be taken for granted that the study and pursuit of an arduous profession—the cracking of cribs and the picking of patent locks is not an intuitive accomplishment—had left him little time to cultivate an eye for the merely picturesque. It is, therefore, probable that the natural beauties of Sydney Harbour were lost on him. But the landscape held other features. Dr. White, the Sydney surgeon, has already limned some of its characteristics for us in a few graphic touches. Floating corpses of the hundreds who had died on the prison-ships, and were thrown overboard in the harbour when the holds were cleared, lent a charm of their own to the bright waters of the bay. Moored close in to the shores of Neutral Bay, the convict just brought on deck might see the naked bodies of his comrades, as the surgeon has told us, lying upon the rocks. The sharks and the gulls held revelry together on these carcases of outcasts. But there is another feature in the landscape.
As the convict ship came down the harbour at about the end of the last and the beginning of the present century, one ghastly object met the view and stamped its repulsive characteristics on the new country whose granitic water-gates had just been passed. Full in the ship's fairway, and just before reaching one point that intercepted the straggling buildings of the infant settlement from the view, there rose straight out from the water a certain rocky crag. This was Pinchgut—so-called by those who affected plain Saxon speech, because the convict who broke the regulations was sen there and exposed to the weather by day and night on bread and water until the caprice of his irresponsible torturers was gratified. Five men were thus kept here on one occasion for three months. Sometimes the convict would attempt to swim across to the northern shore, and so escape into the bush. Stories are told of the efficiency of the sentinels—the sharks, which swarmed about the little island. The fact that the convict was sometimes seized and devoured by these vigilant fish as he made his desperate bid for life and liberty, only lent a piquant zest to the proceedings. There was a bond of sympathy between the shark and the gaoler. On the summit of the crag was a gibbet, and here the skeleton of a murderer swung in the wind, clanking its chains to every breeze that blew. This dismal sight, as it was probably the last he saw on English soil—in one of Hogarth's pictures you see an example of the custom that obtained of hanging malefactors in chains by the sea shore—was likewise the first that greeted the outcast's eyes as he once more touched land under the English flag. It was a familiar object, this dismal scarecrow of civilisation. And the unclean thing doubtless communicated to the observant convict a home-like and domestic feeling, and showed him that his comforts had not been unforeseen or unprovided for in the strange land that Providence had designed for him.
The skeleton was that of a cooper named Morgan. He held crude views as to the rights of property, and he attempted to investigate that economic problem and a colonist's skull at the same time. However, this untutored cooper did not investigate by the aid of legitimately applicable principles. He used an adze. A boat that went one day to the North Shore for wood, says the thief-catcher Barrington, brought back a man's hat with blood on it. Further search discovered a body. This good cooper was one of eight men sentenced to death for divers offences, and, by way of lending special éclat to the proceedings in his case, he was hanged on a high gallows on Pinchgut rock. In those days, and for many a long year after, it was the custom for the gibbetted criminal to devise a last dying speech and confession to his testamentary legatees. As Mr. Morgan was hoisted into the balmy air, and the virginal loveliness of the surrounding scenery burst upon him in all the magic of its native charm, that respectable cooper gave expression to the responsive harmony within his soul in certain memorable words. "You have here, indeed, a beautiful harbour!" said this excellent man, as he was upset into eternity. The observation has become historical, and has been repeated with enthusiasm and received with exuberant effusion by all who love their country ever since. It is probably apocryphal; like so many more of the cant sentiments of history.
"Morgan was ordered to be hung in chains on the Island Mat-te-wan-ye," runs the story. "This spectacle, shocking to the refined mind"—it is Barrington, the pickpocket turned thief-catcher, who is speaking now—"served as an object of ridicule to the convicts and terror to the natives, who, though hitherto particularly partial to that spot, now totally abandoned it." This is the second flaring instance of the effect of advanced British customs on the savage mind. We have seen already how the flogging of a white man moved them to anger and to tears; now we find them disgusted at the spectacle of a a malefactor hanging in chains. There is evidently something repellent to the savage mind in both the rope and the lash. It is only under a high-pressure civilisation, where the rights of property are understood and maintained, that these adjuncts of order and law—so shocking to the refined mind, as this mawkish thief-catcher would say—become thoroughly appreciated and intelligently used.
Morgan was hanged in 1796; in 1800, Holt, who arrived then, describes a skeleton in chains as one of the first objects that met his eye. It would be a nice question to discuss—Who was responsible for this desecration of our beautiful harbour? Not the murdered man; he certainly had no voice in the matter. Clearly not Mr. Morgan; he, in his modesty, would have been satisfied to hang anywhere. The blame is at the doors of the authorities of the time, who, surfeited with executions and floggings, which doubtless palled on their appetites for these horrors, capriciously directed the hanging of this wretch on Pinchgut Rock as a pleasant variation from the beaten track pursued in these cases.
Many years after, Dr. Lang complained bitterly when Governor Denison hewed this rock away and erected his gingerbread fortifications there. It was removing an old landmark, wailed the Doctor, and effacing a picturesque feature of the landscape. He was right. Yet for these very reasons it would have been better had a few ounces of melanite done the business, and blasted the crag and its foul associations for ever out of sight and out of memory. But if a commencement were once made in this way, where could we consistently stop before we had blown the whole seaboard of the colony into the sea? While such associations remain it is not to be wondered at that the people of Sydney continue to be proud of their historically beautiful harbour.
When the hold had been cleared, the convicts unchained, and the corpses thrown overboard, those who survived were ranged up in three lines on deck. The convict-ship was surrounded by a fleet of boats, packed with pardoned pick-pockets eager to welcome their newly-arrived acquaintances. No one was allowed on board. A boat approached too closely to the ship that carried Holt, and was challenged by the sentinel. The rowers did not move away as quickly as the sentinel desired. "He levelled his musket, and fired," says Holt; "the ball passed through the arm and then the body of a young man, who instantly expired. When I got on shore I heard that this man bore a good character; the murderer was brought on shore, tried for wilful murder, and acquitted. But to save him from the vengeance of the people he was sent to Norfolk Island, where Divine vengeance followed him, for I saw him with a deformed frame and covered with vermin." The ship was now visited by Captain Johnstone and other officers, with privileged spectators. Captain Johnstone read from the indent the name of every convict, offence, sentence, and place of conviction. Those whose trades or professions made them of public use were claimed by the Government. Then the officers of the New South Wales Corps had their choice. The rest were scrambled for by the inhabitants, according to their position or influence.
Place aux dames! We have explained the principle of natural selection that obtained on the women's ship. It was repeated when they arrived in port. Lieutenant Bond, of the Marines, describes what took place in all its naked brutality. And here it may be observed that whenever, in such portions of our narrative as this, the facts and details of Australian story become too gross and revolting for editorial description, this writer has contented himself with transcribing the simple words of those eye-witnesses whom no mock-modesty restrained. Adam and Eve before the fall were shameless from excess of innocence; these felicitous creatures arrived at the same point in the circle by travelling in a directly opposite direction.
"The commissioned officers come on board," says Lieutenant Bond, "and as they stand upon deck select such females as are most agreeable in their persons; who generally, upon such occasions, endeavour to set themselves off to the best advantage. In this state some have been known to live for years, and to have borne children. The non-commissioned officers, then, are permitted to select for themselves; the privates next; and lastly, those convicts who, having been in the country a considerable time, and having realised some property, are enabled to procure the Governor's permission to take to themselves a female convict." Thus was the Scriptural injunction to increase and multiply obeyed. Yet it is significant that it was those convicts only who had realised some property who were enabled to "procure" the Governor's permission to follow the Mosaic counsel, and thus enable their descendants to boast with realistic truth of their "ancestors by purchase." But after this process of selection had been gone through, there was still a rejected residuum left. Lieutenant Bond has no scruple in telling us how the authorities disposed of these.
"The remainder, who are not thus chosen, are brought on shore, and have small huts assigned them; but, through the want of some regular employment, are generally concerned in every artifice and villainy which is committed."
Then follows a sentence which, to have its full significance, must be read beside what has been said of the officers of the "rum-selling corps."
"Females of this description," it runs, "are usually employed in selling such cargoes of ships as are purchased by the officers." This unholy partnership bore its appropriate fruit in the disorders, the outrages both illegal and legalised, and the wholesale executions of this squalid time.
So the convict population entered upon its inheritance. There is a weird story told by an old writer, in which he describes how a dead man regains consciousness beyond the Acheron, and meets again in the world of shades the forms of those whom he knew in life, and from whom he thought he had parted for ever. Some of the most dramatic passages in Dante's "Inferno" are descriptive of his meeting with the damned souls of his Florentine acquaintances in the Malebolge pool. The position of the newly-arrived convict was not dissimilar. It is a dismal parallel. Dead, and judicially damned by the savage laws at home—there were over 300 capital offences at the beginning of the century—he regained consciousness after his long Styx-like voyage to be in time for his re-awakening in hell. The tortures were there, and the damned. One of the first men Holt saw on his arrival was a man whom he saw tried, and on whom he had heard passed the awful sentence of death. Such encounters were frequent. It was an eerie world, peopled with criminal ghosts. The one thing needful was the attendant demons. But the New South Wales Corps was there, so that the demons were never missed.
"The greater number of overseers in the colony," wrote a man who was himself in charge of a chain-gang, "have been criminals themselves, and have neither prudence, honesty, nor humanity. They are ruffians, who are actuated and influenced by the worst passions, and frequently flog an unfortunate wretch for complaining of their oppression." These were the gentle creatures to whose tender mercies the newly-arrived convict was now handed over. When a convict had passed through the horrors of the voyage, and the Inferno of convictism in the colony, and had shown to the satisfaction of his very competent judges that he had been improved into the lowest grade of brutality, he was made an overseer of a chain-gang. By this means the standard of brutality and barbarism was efficiently kept up. By an exact analogy, and with a very slight modification of the principle governing the same process, we find the traditions of convict government surviving in the colony to this day, with a criminal code which, for sanguinary brutality, will compare favourably with that of any other country in the world—with the single exception, perhaps, of Crim-Tartary.
The labour-gangs were drafted away into the Parramatta or the Hawkesbury districts, and set to work in the fields like the beasts of the same. The political prisoner, Holt, has a note of something he saw on entering one of these cultivation-paddocks for the first time. The Reverend Mr. Marsden—we must deal with this worthy presently—Mr. Atkins—the Judge-Advocate, who also claims a space in the story—Captain Johnstone and Dr. Thompson were with him.
"We proceeded to a Government settlement. At a distance I saw about fifty men at work, as I thought, dressed in nankeen jackets, but on nearer approach I found them naked, except for a pair of loose trousers. Their skin was tanned by the sun and climate to that colour. I felt much pity for the poor wretches."
A little conversation ensued, which is worth recording:—
"Captain Johnstone addressed me, saying, 'Mr. Holt, you are a good farmer, I suppose?'
"'I do well enough with horses and oxen, but not with men,' said I.
"Dr. Thompson then said, 'Do you not think these men would understand you better than horses or oxen?'
"'Yes, sir,' I replied, 'but it appears great brutality to work men in this manner.'
"'Well,' said he, 'it matters not what you think about it, you will soon come into it.' The humane doctor, it will be seen, had the profoundest confidence in the brutalising effects of the system on all who were brought into contact with its operation. And he was right."
The soil of Parramatta and its vicinity is scored as deeply by convict-labour as ever the backs of the convicts were excoriated by the lash. Every hill, probably, has seen its whipping-post, and every field has been watered by convict blood. The gallows on Constitution Hill stretched its black, gaunt arm like a grisly sceptre over the land, claiming everything in view by the right of exclusive possession. To this day the ghost of dead and buried convictism broods over the district, which bears a repute in old colonial history not second either to that of Port Arthur or Norfolk Island. Horrible stories of convict murders, of men flogged to death, of convicts at the triangles and on the gallows, hang like dead-weights on this chapter of our miserable colonial story.
The Government regulation set apart a certain quantity of work to be done in a given time. The persons to whom convicts were assigned gave this out to their white labour by the day, week, or month. The convict was to be paid a certain price for all the work he did beyond the stipulated quantity. Each man cost his employer 12s. per week, for rations, lodging, and such clothing as he had. If any were idle, and did not do the regulated quantity of work:
"...It was only necessary to take them before a magistrate," says a writer of the time, "and he would order them 25 lashes of the cat on their backs for the first offence, 50 for the second, and so on; and if that would not do"—in some cases it did not do, because the slave-driver was so anxious to get some return for his 12s. per week that he compelled his victims to work while their wounds were still gaping—"they were at last put into a gaol-gang, and made to work in irons from morning till night."
There are some instances given when an occasional holder of convict labour treated his men with a certain tolerance. These cases were few, and happy was the convict who could get into such a service.
"Most of them," we are told, "by finding out that honesty was the best policy, became sincerely honest and well-conducted, and lived and died valuable members of society. So much does gentle and mild treatment win upon the minds of men, while harsh severity and coercion hardens their hearts, and brutalises their characters."
But the gaolers of these men and the officials of the settlement cared very little about these moral observations. It was not to their interest to see their victims become valuable members of society. That interfered with the dishonest fortunes these officers were making. It was to their interest that the unhappy convict should be remorselessly and hopelessly ground down. It was on this view that they consistently acted.
The magistrates were in collusion with the officers, and the judges with the magistrates. Judge Dore was nearly always drunk, and Judge-Advocate Atkins, who relieved him, was more drunk still. But this only sharpened their appetite for blood. In Governor Bligh's report on the colony he expressly mentions that Judge-Advocate Richard Atkins had repeatedly pronounced sentence of death in moments of intoxication. Mann, who has written about the early days, writes this with a running pen, as it were:
"As instances of the irregularities [this word is Machiavellian] that have been practised by some of those in magisterial capacities, I need repeat none others than that I have known men without trial to be sentenced to transportation by a single magistrate at his own barrack; and free men, after having been acquitted by a court of criminal judicature, to be banished to one or other of the dependent settlements; and I have heard a magistrate tell a prisoner who was then being examined for a capital offence, and had some things on him supposed to be stolen, that were he not going to be hanged so soon, he (the magistrate) would be d——d if he would not make him say from whence he got them; nor do I believe it less true that records of an examination, wherein a respectable young man was innocently engaged, have been destroyed by the same magistrate before whom the depositions were taken."
It need only be added to this that transportation meant hard labour, often for life, in the coal-mines of Newcastle, or banishment to Norfolk Island.
Judge Atkins was not popular, strange to say. He could sentence men to flogging or transportation with a hiccup, and cock the black cap over his eye with a leery air as he pronounced the last sentence of the law in what Bligh euphemistically called his "moments" of intoxication—and yet they did not love him! These accomplishments, and the genially sociable qualities of this drunken Draco palled on their jaded appetites. So they excogitated a little plot. Unfortunately, perhaps, it failed in its execution, and the plotters were arrested. Judge Atkins adjudicated, and this is what took place:
Question; "Did you hear the prisoner say all this?"
Witness: "No; I only heard him say that he would flog the Judge to death."
Judge Atkins: "Did he say for what reason he would flog me to death?"
Witness: "Because, sir, you had ordered men to be flogged, and they had died from the flogging."
And yet the Judge was not popular—except, indeed, amongst the class which admired his firm and uncompromising administration of the law. Colonial history is always repeating itself, and this opportunity has not been missed.
"The more convicts that can be made over to individuals, and taken off the stores, the greater will be the advantage," said a Whitehall despatch of 1796. The principle thus laid down was carried out in a very thorough-paced fashion. The labourers worked from five in the morning till eleven, and from two in the afternoon to sunset. The Governor in 1800 wrote thus:—
"Notwithstanding the number of people brought from Ireland by the last two ships"—this was just after the rebellion—"we have received no great accumulation of strength. Many of the prisoners have been either bred up in genteel life or professions, unaccustomed to hard labour. These are a dead-weight on the public stores."
Barrington's history, referring to these men, says:—
"Notwithstanding the detestation of the crimes many of them are transported for, yet it was not possible for the Governor to send a physician, the once sheriff of a county, a Catholic priest, or a Protestant clergyman and family to the brick-carts, brick-fields, grubbing-hoe, or the timber-carriage. The lower class of convicts in these cargoes were mostly old men, fit only for hut-keepers, to remain at home and prevent robbery while the other inhabitants of the hut were at labour, thus making good the old proverb, 'Set a thief to catch a thief.'"
Each officer had 10 assigned servants. A letter to the Duke of Portland contains a statement that assigned servants "were allotted to the service of convict prostitute women." In the service of private masters convicts received such bad treatment that the Government resented this interference with its privileges, and an order was issued to the effect that "if any person should beat or use their (sic) servants ill they will be taken from them to Government labour, and the offender dealt with according to their situations in the colony." But if any convict attempted to work for himself while at assigned service with a view to improving his condition by-and-bye, he received the reward of his industry in the shape of 100 lashes and 12 months in gaol. That stopped him for the time.
"Magistrates," we read, "would oblige one another as employers in authorising the removal of obnoxious servants, or by inflicting lashes for supposed disobedience of orders—an elastic charge by which the poor fellow lost the benefit of his fixity of tenure."
Many men were kept in a state of servitude long after the expiration of their sentences. It was not until 1797 that the Secretary of State promised that "in future lists shall be sent from England and Ireland of the terms of sentence." For the first two years not an item of information on this subject was despatched with the transports, and only irregularly afterwards. The fact proves rather conclusively that the Government in England had little thought of its outcasts as soon as it got them off its hands.
Perhaps the most painful thing in connection with this part of our history is the manner in which Australian writers have dealt with it. The fortunes that were made by the oppression and cruelty of these early days have been worshipped, and the deeds of the men who made them glossed over. The unhappy wretches who became their victims are passed over without a word of pity for their sufferings, or of reprobation for the conduct of those who caused them. Yet no class of men ever called more strongly for reprobation.
"It would have been far more merciful," says an eye-witness of what he describes, "to have hanged all who violated the laws of their country, than to have sent them out to New South Wales and its dependencies, subject to the unmerciful treatment of human tigers, who tortured or killed those within their power according to the caprice of the moment. I saw many a fine man die in misery, inch by inch, from the oppression he experienced—the most cruel of all deaths." All this, and more also—it is almost impossible to realise it!—took place during year after year in sunny New South Wales!"
When the Australian colonist of to-day wakes up now and then with a spasm of horrified disgust to find a creature of weak intellect, or otherwise mentally diseased, deliberately flogged in the police-stations at the corners of Australian streets, he is under no misapprehension, as to where our flogging laws and customs come from. He knows they come down, with the people who make and administer them, in a kind of un-apostolic but strictly canonical succession, from the men and the manners of one hundred years ago at Botany Bay.
It is quite easy to diagnose our progress since that time. We have only to compare the present with the past. The whistling lash sings a story in the ears of all who will listen to it, of the survival in colonial life of the influence of the gaolers of the convict days. The convicts have gone—let oblivion go with them! No offences of theirs could have outweighed their expiation. But their miserable memories call for the execution of a pitiless justice on those who once made their chains hang heavier and their gyves gall deeper, and whose representatives would hang in convict-irons to-day the free spirit of an Australian people, who have nothing to do with the past other than to submit to be governed, as long as it may please them, by the surviving spirit of the convict-days.
Deserted by God and man, the convicts on their arrival were left to the mercy of wretches whose characters are best painted by their own acts. The story becomes too Zola-like in its realistic horror to be minutely treated by any other than a Zola's pen. Men and women were flogged alike at the triangle, or at the cart's tail. A Botany Bay "dozen" was twenty-five lashes, and as many as one thousand were often ordered and administered. Such a sentence as this reads now-a-days like a sentence of death by torture, but the presiding fiends had, to some extent, guarded against that. So we read in the old stories of men who were cut to pieces from the neck to the knees, and when all semblance of humanity was thus crushed out of the quivering jelly that represented the body, as the system had long since driven the divine image out of the soul, the victim was saturated in brine to expedite his recovery, so that his sentence might be completed in a similar way. One such sentence, signed by Judge-Advocate Atkins, John Harris, and Thomas Jamieson, is given with others in the report of Colonel Johnstone's court-martial. It bears date 1807, and sets forth that seven convicts, having attempted to escape from the settlement, were recaptured and brought back. They were sentenced: one to receive 1000 lashes; three others, 600 lashes each; one to hard labour in an iron collar (!) in the coal-mines at Newcastle; and two others to 200 lashes, with three years' hard labour. It is not difficult to imagine the genial Judge—whom, you will remember, certain convicts unkindly wished to flog to death because men had died under his floggings—joining the festive circle after delivering that appalling sentence, and being carried thereafter drunk to his quarters by convict servants who were afraid to break the bloodthirsty ruffian's neck!
We get a pleasant little social picture of the Judge-Advocate in these lines from Holt's recollections. They make that excellent man live again. He met Atkins arm-in-arm with Barrington, the pickpocket, in Parramatta one day. "Mr. Atkins asked me into his house, and Barrington followed. A bottle of rum"—this beverage corresponded to Amontillado and the like in those days—"was produced, and some pleasant conversation passed. At length I wished to retire, but Mr. Atkins said he never allowed any bottle off his table till he saw it emptied. We finished the half-gallon bottle (!), and were, of course, not a little elevated, being each of us as full of chatter as a hen magpie in May. Mr. Atkins was not a Judge then, but acted as a kind of deputy when Judge Dore was not able; which frequently happened, for when spirits were plentiful in the colony he was generally indisposed." This was in 1800.
Another charming vignette is presented in the following terse bit of description. A number of desperate creatures had been goaded into an attempt at rebellion. They intended to seize the Governor and the officials, and rule the colony themselves after disarming the soldiers. Of course they were detected in their plot and were duly sentenced to be flogged, under the infliction of which some died. This is what took place in one instance:—
"We marched to Toongabbee, where all the Government transports were kept, who were called out to witness the punishment of the prisoners. One man was sentenced to receive 300 lashes, and the method of punishment was such as to make it most effectual. The unfortunate man had his arms extended round a tree, so that flinching from the blow was out of the question, for it was impossible for him to stir. Two men were appointed to flog—namely, Richard Rice, a left-handed man, and John Johnson, the hangman from Sydney"—one wonders how on earth they spared him!—"who was right-handed. They stood on each side, and I never saw two threshers in a barn move their flails with more regularity than these two man-killers did, unmoved by pity, and rather enjoying their horrid employment than otherwise. The very first blows made the blood spurt out from the man's shoulders: and I felt so disgusted and horrified that I turned my face away from the cruel sight...I could only compare these wretches to a pack of hounds at the death of a hare; or tigers, that torment their victims before they put them to death."
This is such pleasant reading that we cannot do better than continue the extract:—
"I have witnessed many horrible scenes," this onlooker goes on to say, "but this was the most appalling sight I had ever seen. The day was windy, and I protest that, although I was at least 15 yards to leeward from the sufferers, the blood, skin, and flesh flew in my face as the executioners shook it off from their cats. The man received his whole 300 lashes, during which Doctor Mason used to go up to him occasionally to feel his pulse, it being contrary to law to flog a man beyond 50 lashes without having a doctor present. I shall never forget this humane doctor, as he smiled and said, 'Go on; this man will tire you both before he fails!' During the time he was receiving the punishment he never uttered a groan; the only words he said were, 'Flog me fair; do not strike me on the neck.'"
The hapless wretch knew that he might sue in vain for further mercies.
Our apology for continuing these extracts is found in our existing flogging laws and the whole spirit of our penal system:—
"The next prisoner who was tied up was a young lad of about 20 years of age; he also was sentenced to receive 300 lashes. The first hundred were given on his shoulders, and he was cut to the bone between the shoulder-blades, which were both bare. The doctor then directed the next hundred to be inflicted lower down, which reduced his flesh to such a jelly that the doctor ordered him to have the remaining hundred on the calves of his legs. During the whole time he never whimpered or flinched, if, indeed, it had been possible for him to have done so."
This lad was asked if he would give information about the alleged plot. He answered that he did not know anything, and if he did he would not tell.
"You may hang me," said he, "if you like; but you shall have no music out of my mouth to make others dance upon nothing."
He was put into the cart and sent to the hospital.
"After this terrible execution was over," writes the eye-witness, with an unconscious touch that will strike the reader with a strange effect, "the Provost-Marshall and I walked to Parramatta, and went to a tavern kept by James Larra, an honest Jew, where we dined upon a nice lamprey and some hung beef."
Just so! The good Provost-Marshall could not live on floggings. He required more substantial refreshment. But even the beef he assimilated happened to be hung!
There is a story of how Governor King ordered a woman 100 lashes for using impertinent language to an overseer. In 1806 the old Sydney Gazette mentioned in a paragraph that Margaret Camel, being an accessory to a theft, was sentenced to be publicly whipped through the streets of Sydney, at the cart's tail. This was a common street scene; as well as the procession of convicts to the place of execution, with their officers beside them, in a cart.
It is Byron who says that the first sight that met his eyes in an English town after returning from abroad was the spectacle of a woman being whipped through the streets at the cart's tail, and Botany Bay was not to be left behind in such a matter as this—not, it may believed, even if Judge-Advocate Atkins and his compeers had to build a cart for the purpose themselves. In 1829 Judge Dowling sentenced a man to be flogged in this way from the George-street Police-court to the Market-street wharf, for stealing a pair of oars. So the popular mind was familiarised with horrors, and children gazed on in pleased appreciation as men and women were hanged and flogged in public for their encouragement. Thus the natural feeling even of the young was blunted—and thus, perhaps, it comes about that we have been unable to see the barbarism of some of our traditionary laws, and have been content to retain them so long.
While the flogger was busy, the hangman was not idle. It is almost a farce to describe the legal proceedings that led up to these executions, for legal proceedings, properly so-called, there were none. A criminal court consisted of seven naval or military officers—the officers of the New South Wales Corps! To hang a man a total of five voices was needed. The old records tell how the proceedings were conducted. Eight men were charged, in 1803, with stealing nine pecks of wheat. They had been tried for something else and acquitted, but the Court was clearly determined to have them, for they were escaped prisoners. So the second charge was brought. The prosecutor, as in all such matters, conducted his own case. In this instance, the Judge-Advocate, who always framed the indictment, prosecuted. The Court deliberated for some minutes, and then passed sentence—"All guilty—death!" That was all.
For a good many years the authorities just ran up a gallows wherever they happened to require it—on Pinchgut, for instance; Lower George-street was a favourite convincing ground, but afterwards, always with an eye to the picturesque, the gallows was removed to a place known to fame as Gallows Hill. The officials liked to see a fellow-creature dangling against the sky-line. It added to the scenic effect of the landscape. In 1804 the gallows was removed to the corner of Park and Castlereagh streets, where the Barley Mow Hotel now stands; this step was probably taken in sheer disgust at the failure of an execution on the old site. Joseph Samuels, who was suspended in 1803, for stealing a desk containing money belonging to one Mary Breeze, broke the rope in the middle the first time, unrove it at the fastening on a second attempt, and, on a third trial, snapped the rope once more. A hangman with any pride in his profession would resign after this bungle, but the Provost-Marshall merely went to the Governor, and had the man reprieved for his agility. An execution or a reprieve—sentence of life or death—never cost a second thought to the officials of those early days. It was not till the hanging customs were seriously curtailed that the authorities fought to the last gasp before they yielded up an erring creature's life to the popular sentiment asking that an execution might be stayed.
During the first six years 95 persons were hanged. In a small population decimated by sickness and famine, this was a highly encouraging average. But no authentic record—what a horrible chapter of miseries this blank space must cover!—was kept of the executions up to 1825. In August, 1821, 19 men were hanged together in Lower George-street, to which place the gallows had been moved back from the sand-hills behind the new Barracks. Just before that it stood at the corner of the Protestant burial-ground in Devonshire-street; and still earlier, and after leaving the site of the present Barley Mow Hotel, it was erected near the site of the present Barker's Mills, in Sussex-street. The first execution at the gate of Darlinghurst Gaol took place in 1841.
Why is this record of the hanging and flogging customs of the early days revived? it may be asked. And why should public sentiment be outraged by the revival of such memories? Simply because such record explains the genesis of our own existing Australian customs; and because the people who can stand those will stand anything that may be said on this or any other subject.
In coming to Australia, therefore, it will be seen, as the philanthropic Mr. Eden prophesied, that "the devoted convict was not seated for life on a bed of roses." Enough has been said to show that of all the vile spots on the earth, Botany Bay was the vilest—always with a reservation in favour of Norfolk Island and Van Diemen's Land, which will receive attention in their proper places. The consequence was that the convict was dissatisfied with the maternal provision the mother-country had made in his regard, and was even known, on repeated occasions, to endeavour to make his escape.
Nothing can be more miserable than the records of these attempts. They took various forms—sometimes attempted mutiny, sometimes flight by sea, and sometimes flight by land. In the very first year of colonisation an attempt of the last-mentioned kind was made. The desperate convicts had heard from the blacks a wild tale to which their own hopes gave the colouring. Some 500 miles to the south-west, they gathered, there was a city of white men. A plan was formed to break away from the settlement, and journey on until this storied city was reached. It was a kind of convicts' Hy-Brasil—that fabulous island on the waters that appeared for a moment to the eyes of old-time visionaries, and "flamed, and flashed, and passed away." The convicts' hope was just as illusory. Sixteen of them were captured and brought to Sydney, and under the influence of a merciless flogging the wild hope seems to have evaporated for a time. Four convicts were allowed to go with four soldiers to see if there was any truth in the report of the white man's city. In ten days three returned, and the fourth 23 days later. He brought nothing back except a bird of Paradise, and, strange to say, we have no record of this man being flogged. But it showed the dreamers that their hope was a vain one, and it left them to their despair. The settlement was a prison as strongly secure as though it were girdled by strong stone walls and iron bars. As he entered the Heads, the convict might read the fatal sentence that Dante read over the gates of Hell, "All ye who enter here, abandon hope!"
There is a story of a convict fisherman named Bryant, which is as romantic as Robinson Crusoe and as dramatic as Monte Cristo. He was engaged in fishing for the supply of the settlement, and while so engaged the desperate hope came to him to make his escape in his fishing-boat, and so return to England with his wife and two children. It is touching to read these instances of a kindly domestic feeling amongst the cruelly-outraged victims of those social laws which lead to ignorance as well as to crime. He spoke to the master of a Dutch vessel which brought provisions to the colony from Batavia. The honest Dutchman seems to have sympathised with the poor fellow's natural desire for liberty. He gave him a compass, quadrant, and chart, and such information as he could. Bryant mentioned his project to seven others, and when all was ready they put some provisions with Bryant's wife and children into the boat, and so set sail. They suffered horribly on the voyage, but still they sailed bravely on in their little craft. One man was drowned in the Straits of Sunda, but the rest actually succeeded in reaching Timor, and then Batavia. But, alas for the vanity of these poor wretches' hopes! Bryant and one of his children, with two of the convicts, died here after all their perils past; but at least they obtained their liberty. Not so the others. The Dutch Government at Batavia arrested them, and afterwards handed them over to H.M.S. Pandora. No touch of nature shows through the whole of this melancholy business except what we find in the conduct of these convict waifs. The Pandora took them round the Cape to England, where they were tried and committed to Newgate until the term of their original sentences had expired. The convict period has many weird stories, but no more like this.
Then the convicts became possessed with an idea that they would reach China by travelling overland. Successive parties made their escape, and set out with that intention. Four convicts were found in the bush near Port Stephens in 1795; they made their escape from Parramatta five years before. In 1791, 20 male and female convicts started to walk to China. Some of them died in the bush, and others were brought back in the last stages of starvation. Fiji was first colonised by escaped prisoners, who copied as far as possible there the barbarism their gaolers had taught them at Botany Bay. The first mention of gold in Australia was made by an escaped prisoner. He asked for the free pardon of himself and a female prisoner as his reward for the discovery. Two soldiers were sent with him to see the spot, and he took the opportunity to make his escape. His gaolers were very much disappointed at his infidelity to his engagement, and when they caught him they expostulated with him severely—with a "cat." This improved his moral perceptions, and he again volunteered to enrich his torturers. Their greed led them into the cunning trap again, but they soon caught this farceur, and he confessed that the gold he showed in the first instance was made out of two gold rings and a brass button. This quite disgusted the officials. They flogged him again, and so we hear no more of him. Yet some day he will get a statue, too.
The daily "muster" was established to keep a check on the convicts who were so fond of running away. Different districts had different times for muster, but the persons for whose benefit this thoughtful institution was devised took such astute advantage of that circumstance that a uniform hour was appointed, and an order issued in 1801 which said:—
"Any person not appearing at the General Musters will be taken up as vagrants (sic) and punished to the utmost rigour of the law, if free; and if a prisoner, will be sentenced to one month's confinement in the Battery Gang." In 1806 an escaped convict, who was hard pressed, reported himself to a constable as absent without leave. This active and intelligent officer gave him a good dinner, and then went on to take him before a magistrate. But the other man held other views. His benefactor's beef had demoralised him. He therefore lifted that good man up in his arms and threw him into the river. Then he ran rapidly away.
Many an anxious eye turned with sickening hope to that far-away line of dim blue hills to be seen in the distance from Sydney. In those early days an idea gained ground that a nation of white men dwelt beyond, and not all the stories of Prester John together exercised such a fatal fascination as this alluring fable. The Governor said this notion was "unfounded, wicked as it is false, and calculated to bring the believers of it to destruction." So it did. He is always a good prophet who can secure the fulfilment of his own prophecy. A good many died in making the attempt to pass the mountains, and a good many were flogged within an inch of the same result when they were caught. A convict explorer, named Wilson, says he saw the skeletons of 50 runaway prisoners on the road to the Blue Mountains. In 1802 a case is mentioned of some escapees who had got to the Nepean river, others to the coast, while the rest of the party "had wandered about near the place they had left, after being absent about ten days, most of them nearly starved, and living on grass for five days out of the ten." Another party was subsequently sent to see if the Chinese really were located within measurable distance to the northward. A vaguely-described "copper-coloured people" were also searched for. A boat's crew accidentally picked up these explorers in a spot where they had been for nine days, and "where they must soon have perished but for this miraculous event. They were brought back almost exhausted for want of food."
Quite frequently attempts were made to seize ships or boats. In 1797 the Cumberland was seized by convicts, and the Venus, belonging to Robert Campbell, in 1799, and again, or one of the same name, in 1806. In 1808 the Harrington was taken out of the harbour by convicts, but H.M.S. Phoenix captured her in the Indian seas. However, they got another chance, as she was wrecked soon after on the Laconian coast, and all the convicts escaped or perished. The Unity was captured in 1813, and the Trial in 1816. The latter was wrecked, and her escapees drowned or killed by the natives. The William Caesar was taken in 1817, and the Isabella in 1823. This last was never heard of afterwards. As late as 1853, 22 convicts on their way from Van Diemen's Land to Norfolk Island seized the Lady Franklin, kept the vessel for 11 days, and then loaded the boats with provisions and left. The murderer Knatchbull was the hero of such an attempt in 1832, but it did not succeed, and Mr. Knatchbull lived to serve out his sentence on Norfolk Island and come back to Sydney to be hanged.
Bass, in his journal—to return to the period of this part of our story—found seven poor wretches marooned on one of those forbidding rocks in Bass's Strait. They had been away eight months, and seven others who had escaped with them had treacherously left them there to perish. They wanted to travel northward "to throw themselves on his Majesty's mercy." They forgot that the gentlemen who represented his Majesty had no mercy. Bass could not take them away, as his boat was too small, but he gave them a musket and some ammunition, a compass, and some fishing-lines. Two were ill, and these he took into his boat. The rest he landed on the mainland, and they started on their long walk back to Botany Bay. "When they parted with Mr. Bass and his crew, who gave them what clothes they could spare," says the story, "some tears were shed on both sides." An honest touch of nature, this.
Although it does not properly belong to this part of our story, this is, for many reasons, a fitting place to do justice to the memory of one of the few men who ever showed a human sympathy with these forlorn convict wretches. When the reader is sickened by the rapacity and cruelty of the New South Wales Corps, and the gaolers of the penal settlement generally, he may turn for refreshment to the name of Colonel Collins. "His conduct was exemplary, and his disposition most humane. His treatment of the runaway convicts was conciliatory, and even kind. He would go into the forests among the natives to allow those poor creatures, the runaways, an opportunity of returning to their former condition. And, half dead with cold and hunger, they would come and drop on their knees before him, imploring pardon for their behaviour." He would give them food and clothing, and send them back to their work. At this time Colonel Collins was Governor of Van Diemen's Land, But he died.
Besides these attempted escapes by land and sea, the convicts tried to break their fetters by rebellion. Goaded to desperation as they were by the brutality of their gaolers, and with the utter hopelessness of their abandonment perpetually staring them in the face, it was but natural that convict flesh and blood should mutiny. Isolated cases of assigned servants rising against their masters are numerous. In a moment of natural self-assertion a convict might strike his master or overseer. It would not be long before he found himself triced up to the triangles, and tortured until the capricious vengeance of his victim was entirely glutted. He would be cut down with murder in his heart, and it would not be long before the body of his tyrant would be found lying about, while a new bushranger would take to the bush. Instances of the kind might be multiplied endlessly.
The first mention of an organised movement among the convicts was in 1796. They began to complain with fastidious particularity that the record of their convictions and sentences had not been brought out with them. They clamoured for this luxurious attention, as if it mattered to their gaolers whether they carried their chains for five or fifty years. However, as we have seen, the matter received attention at home on the Governor's representations. In 1800, Governor King began to complain of the Irish political prisoners. They appear to have objected to the treatment the thieves and felons were subjected to. King complained to the home authorities of "the restless disposition of these people, which has not a little been aggravated by the artifices of Harold, the priest." There appears to have been absolutely no other foundation for the reported conspiracy than is found in the following from Barrington's history:—
"A convict who had, with great earnestness, propagated a report that many pikes had been secretly made, and, to prevent detection, sunk in a well-known part of the harbour, was examined. This fellow, on being examined by the magistrates, confessed he knew nothing of what he had stated, and said he was intoxicated at the time. For this he was severely punished."
Harold, the priest, was examined, but "nothing appeared to incriminate him." A general search was made among the persons suspected, in all parts of the colony at the same time; "the examination took place on the 15th, but nothing was discovered that could furnish the smallest evidence of the reported crimes." But this did not prevent wholesale floggings taking place in all directions to extract information. Under the influence of abject terror, some scared wretches invented stories, but they contradicted each other and were flogged for their pains, while others were sent to Norfolk Island without trial; and, here, again, it is strange to note how our history repeats itself. Since the introduction of responsible government we have seen a New South Wales Premier excite a similar scare, and call the dead from the grave—in the shape of the Kiama Ghost—to prove his slanders on a large section of the community. Our political leaders have studied their politics, as they have their laws, in the old convict records of the semi-savage and benighted past.
Thomas Holt, whom we have so often quoted, was one of the suspects on this occasion. He was taken out of bed after midnight, and brought from his place at Brush Farm to the gaol in Sydney. He gives a picture of the gaoler:—
"Mr. Daniel McKay, a person whose acquaintance I did not covet, for he had been a transport convicted of picking pockets. We do not attach much mildness of character to the turnkey of a gaol. It sometimes happens that a petty larceny rascal, or even a felon, who has not been steeped in the lowest dregs of villainy, may be so far reformed as to be thought worthy of being one of the many-headed dogs of a county gaol; a kind of deputy devil, with eminent qualities as a tormentor; such a man, in comparison to Daniel McKay, would have been thought worthy to be made a member of a colonial parliament, had such a thing existed, or a justice of the peace, or a judge. The mantle of grim prophecy seems to have fallen unawares on Mr. Holt.
"On my being handed over to his keeping the following ensued:—
"'Weel, Master General Hoult, and you're welcome; I'll be teaching you a new exercise, for I hae nae doot but ye'll be hangit, and I wish ye may, for weel ye deserve it.'
"I asked him if there was any news; he answered, with a sneer, 'Oh, yes; there be some foo of your Irishers to be hangit presently.'"
This was very consoling, but Holt had enough influence to save him, by the merest accident, from being hanged.
But the "Rebellion of 1804," as it is grandiloquently termed by the fantastic creatures who call themselves the historians of Australia, was the chief fiasco of this kind. A great many convicts were employed in the slave-gangs about Castle Hill, near Parramatta, and reports used to come in that mischief was intended. Holt describes what was taking place, and he had every opportunity of observing as he exercised authority in the immediate neighbourhood.
"The lower people," he says, "convicts and others, both English and Irish, seeing their torment increasing in this most ill-managed colony, conceived the idea that they could overpower the army, possess themselves of the settlement, and eventually make their escape from it. Where they were to go did not enter into the contemplation of these poor wretches, who fancied, at all events, they could not be worse off than they were already. Their numbers were contemptible, and their means still more so; therefore, they must assuredly fail and be hanged. I told them"—[in response to solicitations to join them]—"I would have nothing to do with the business, and if such a scheme should be put into execution, I would act on the side of the Government. Had I no wife or children, and been disposed to take the lead on this occasion, I could have made a short job of it. The military were so careless and lax in their discipline that anyone of skill could have formed a plan to surprise them, and might have taken magazine, army, and all in an hour."
Informers and false-swearers abounded in the settlement, and the officials soon heard of this wild plot. When the convicts broke out on March 4, the Governor issued this:—
"Whereas a number of labouring convicts of Castle Hill and other
parts of this district have assembled, and, in a rebellious and
daring manner, have attacked and robbed several of his Majesty's
peaceable and loyal subjects of their property and arms, and
proceeded therewith to great acts of outrages which the
preservation of the lives and property of his Majesty's liege
subjects demand an immediate stop being put to by the most
efficient means (sic),
"I do, therefore, proclaim the districts of Parramatta, Castle Hill, Toongabbee, Prospect, Seven and Baulkham Hills, the Hawkesbury, and the Nepean to be in a
"STATE OF REBELLION,
"and do establish Martial Law throughout those districts."
Then Major Johnstone set out with 40 soldiers and came up with the rebels at about half-past 10 next morning. It is amusing to read the various accounts of what took place. Says Major Johnstone:—
"I rode up to them, accompanied by one trooper (the emphasis is his own), and remonstrated with them on the impropriety of their conduct, and desired them to surrender, which they peremptorily refused. I went up a second time with a trooper, and desired to speak with their two leaders, who came up to us, when we forcibly drove them in to the detachments with pistols at their heads; the rest, to the number of 250, dispersed in every direction, and we have been under the necessity of killing nine and wounding a great many, the number we cannot ascertain."
The Major, it will be seen, was a military strategist of a high order. He just hoisted out a flag of truce, as it were, deluded two confiding wretches into trusting him, and then drove them into the detachment with pistols at their heads! But there are other stories.
Holt heard from Mr. Cox another account. The Major went up to Cunninghame, the leader, and told him that if he had any real grievance he would endeavour to get it redressed.
"Cunninghame advanced, took off his hat, and with it in one hand and a sword in the other, said, 'Death or liberty!' Johnstone made no attempt to molest him, but Laycock, who stood 6 feet 6 inches, a quartermaster in his corps, came up and with one blow killed Cunninghame on the spot. On this the whole of the mob took to their heels, and many were shot in the pursuit."
This account justifies the memory of the commanding officer so far as to show that he took shelter behind his big quarter-master, and only emerged in time to give the order to fire on a huddled crowd of panic-stricken men. There are one or two other versions, but they differ in no important particular.
It was, doubtless, magnificent sport chasing the flying rebels, of whom so many were wounded that the Major did not take the trouble to count them up. A good many got away, but the soldiers succeeded in bagging a fairly good catch. But if the chase was sport, and the murder of flying men a delight and a joy, the real pleasure was tasted when the business was over. When the pursuit was ended those who were caught were brought before a court-martial. Under ordinary circumstances this term associates itself in the mind with an assembly of officers and gentlemen; but it must be borne in mind that the present use of the term refers to a herd of gaolers and tradesmen wearing the King's uniform by accident.
"It was arranged that lots should be drawn from a hat," for the court-martial found them all guilty, and the soldiers could scarcely hang everybody; "and that every third man whose name was drawn should be hanged. Many fine young men were strung up like dogs, but the arrival of the Governor put a stop to this extraordinary proceeding. Among those hanged, there was a nephew of the Surgeon-general, Mr. Jamieson, but this was kept, as far as it could be, a profound secret." This settled the fate of the Rebellion of 1804.
One of the heroic stories of the period is that of "the Scotch Martyrs," who were transported in 1794. They were Messrs. Muir, Palmer, Gerald, Margarot, and Skirving, and the story of these men is a standing comment on the British civilisation and enlightenment of the day. At about this time England had just goaded the Americans and Irish into rebellion, and begun her career of arms in India under Wellesley, the period of fraud being over. She had founded New South Wales, and frustrated the designs of Providence by making Australia the abode of all the vile growths that her own grim social and political codes had called into existence. Having successfully created such a receptacle for vice and crime, it is instructive to see the class of people she sent out to fill it.
Muir was a Scotch barrister, and when an association was formed in London to bring about certain reforms in Parliament by constitutional means, his sympathies were enlisted, He helped to form a branch of the "Friends of the People" in Glasgow. All the members subscribed to a declaration of adherence to the established government, and claimed to be acting merely within their constitutional rights. The Glasgow Association reprinted some tracts issued by the London branch, and Mr. Muir was thereupon charged with "sedition." The others were indicted with him, and the trial is one of the scandals of history. The ruffianly Brabourne helped to try the cases, and all the Court influence was worked on and off the Bench to secure a conviction. When the accused left their hotel to attend the Court the horses were taken from the chaise, and an applauding crowd took their places. Arches and wreaths were held over Margarot as he passed along the street, bearing such words as "Reason," "Liberty," and so forth inscribed thereon. The Lord-Provost, with some constables and a "press-gang," met the procession, smashed the emblems, and took many into custody. There was never any doubt about the verdict. Margarot was sentenced to 14 years' transportation beyond the seas, Muir to seven years, and the other's to various terms.
An appeal was made to the Commons on behalf of Muir, and the Right Hon. William Adam moved and Mr. Fox seconded an address to the Crown on his behalf. The Government whipped up its party and defeated the motion, and the Annual Register for 1794 says that on February 10:—
"Messrs. Muir, Margarot, Skirving, and Palmer were removed from Newgate in a post-coach and four, attended by two King's messengers. We learn that they were taken on board vessels bound to Botany Bay."
Gerald followed a few months later. The Secretary of State charged the gaolers of these men to "keep a watchful eye over their conduct," and to search their effects diligently for seditious literature before allowing them to land. Brick huts along the side of Sydney Cove were assigned for their residences. Muir afterwards lived at Hunter's Hill, which he named after his patrimonial estate in Scotland, and Gerald bought land where the Botanic Gardens now are in Sydney. They made repeated applications to be allowed to return home, but the vindictive spirit that sent them forth dreaded freedom of opinion too much to accede to these requests.
Gerald, who was a man of amiable and refined character, died in 1796, and was buried in his little plot of ground at his own request. Skirving only survived him three days.
"A dysentery was the apparent cause of his death," says Collins, "but his heart was broken. Amongst us he was a pious, honest, worthy character. In this settlement his political principles never manifested themselves, but all his solicitude seemed to be to evince himself the friend of human nature. Requiescat in pace" adds this good Collins, feelingly. A "friend of human nature" was more likely to rest peacefully under the ground than on it in Botany Bay at that time.
When the history of these prosecutions became known in France and America, the newly-awakened popular sentiment of those countries was deeply stirred. The whole business was one of barefaced and shameless persecution. The late Chief Justice Cockburn has stated that the jury in Muir's case was packed by Lord Jeffrey of Edinburgh Review fame; the former never referred to this iniquitous case without horror. Muir's treatment in prison, we are expressly told, was vindictive and cruel. He employed his time after reaching Sydney in alleviating the miseries of the more abandoned of the convicts, and in protesting against being treated himself as a felon. The speeches of Adams and Fox had been read, and honest men had felt their blood boil at the story they told. Washington, in America, interested himself on behalf of this sufferer for liberty, and a vessel called the Otter was fitted out to enable him to escape from the colony. She arrived in Port Jackson under pretence of trade, and on February 11 Mr. Muir was smuggled on board, and made his escape out to sea. The ship got safely away, but was wrecked off California. All were drowned save Muir and two sailors. They followed the shore-line for four thousand miles on foot to reach Panama. At Vera Cruz, Muir shipped as a sailor on board a Spanish man-of-war going home. But capricious fate still followed him, for the ship was captured by a British frigate, and Muir, in the conflict, had the top of his head shot away. When the boarding-party came on board one of the men lifted the apparently lifeless body of Muir in his arms to throw it overboard with the rest, when an officer saw a Bible in his clasped hand. He opened it, and knew Muir's name as that of a dear old friend and schoolfellow. He was carefully examined, found still living, and sent to the hospital at Cadiz. Here he recovered, and the French Directory, hearing of him again, invited him to Bordeaux, where he was entertained at a banquet by 500 French gentlemen. Then he went to Paris, where he was publicly welcomed. He rose to speak at the banquet given him there, and fainted from excitement and weakness. He was taken to Chantilly, where he died in 1798, the French Government decreeing a State funeral to this early colonist, of whom Australian political leaders have never mentioned the name. The story adds that a message was sent to the martyr's parents, "who soon after died of grief at his loss." His age was 33.
This is a romantic story, which will be printed in school-books and told to every Australian schoolboy before another generation passes away; and the lives of these men will be quoted as lessons from which the Australian public spirit of the future may draw sustenance and vigorous life. Young Australia will learn from such stories, as well as from its own history when candidly told, why this continent cannot consent to remain an appanage of a country which has progressed much and far since these things were done, but which is kept back in the race of modern development under a dead weight of unwieldy interests, vested rights, and inherited customs, by which Australia need only be trammelled as long as her people please. It is the names of men like Muir and Margarot that will be taught to schoolboys by-and-bye, and not the names of squalid gaolers and convict-officers who masquerade in Australian history as our early officials and governors. Siberia has no more romantic story than that of Thomas Muir.
Margarot had other work to do; and the mention of his name brings our story back to the trading officers of the New South Wales Corps, and the events which culminated in what is nobly called the "Deposition of Governor Bligh." Margarot served out the whole period of his 14 years' sentence in the colony, and it was two years later before he was allowed to get away. He was present all through the latter sixteen years of the Corps' career of wholesale robbery and spoliation, and from his evidence given before the Committee of the House of Commons on the state of the colony we are able to draw unexceptionable information as to the officers' ways and means. Something has already been said about their usury, their daylight robbery, and their monopoly of trade and business of every kind, and this will serve to throw light on what is to follow, We will look at Mr. Margarot's evidence again later on.
The case of Governor Bligh has been made one of the difficult points of Australian history. The reason for this is apparent at a glance. From what has gone before, the unprejudiced reader will be able to glean a fair idea of the men who exercised early authority in the colony, and of the officers of the New South Wales Corps in particular. What he has read will not have prepared him to find these persons leading a popular movement, and defying the King's representatives in the name, and on behalf of, a suffering people. Yet this is the character these men have unblushingly given themselves. Facts have been distorted, and feeble perverters of Australian records have been corrupted, either by a pander's bribe or by native stupidity, to repeat the story the officers and their friends have shamelessly put forward. The time has come to change all that, and to show that the claim of "our first families," in this instance, is based on hypocritical cowardice and false pretences alone. In clearing up this moot point in the squalid history of Botany Bay, as in the others elsewhere given, the present writer has collected facts from all sources, and has put them together in their proper order. This simple yet novel arrangement of Australian records puts the case before the reader in the plainest and most candid way. He can judge for himself.
The conflict between the Corps and the Governors, as we have seen, did not begin with Bligh. It began with Phillip, and every Governor after him felt the consequences of any interference with the nefarious practices of the officers. Governor Hunter, whose intentions on the whole were much better than his grammar, incurred their special enmity. Macarthur went home to work up influence against him at headquarters, and his machinations led to Hunter's recall. Captain King was commissioned ostensibly to relieve Hunter, who merely gave up his appointment temporarily. As soon as that respectable man was "crimped" on board, as it were, it became known that King's appointment was a permanent one. Hunter went home and was made a rear-admiral. King was a typical sea-captain, full of strange oaths, and irascible to a degree. Of course he quarrelled with the officers. He filled a despatch-box with elaborate reports of their misconduct. They bribed a London pickpocket to pick the lock, filch out the documents, and put in old newspapers in their stead. When the box was opened in London the Duke of Portland doubtless thought the uncouth sailor-governor had blundered, as it were, in a passing moment of intoxication.
The real nature of the quarrel between the officers and the Governors came out when King gave certain emancipated convicts the right to sell rum. This was wounding the officers in the apple of the eye, so to speak. They protested against this monstrous interference with their privileges, and Major Johnston, who was wise in council as we have seen him brave after battle, objected in these gallant words:—
"I do not look upon convicts conditionally emancipated as amenable to the articles of war, or on a footing with those who are considered the respectable inhabitants of this colony, nor do I imagine that I could justify my conduct were I to sanction such a measure."
This was in 1803, and it expresses the jealousy felt by the officers in regard to the emancipated convicts, who were beginning to compete with them in trade. For 40 years afterwards, attempts were made to keep the line of demarcation rigidly defined.
The officers persecuted King until they drove him out of the country. Their attacks took the meanest and most unsoldier-like form. They wrote rude and indecent verses, and dropped them in a cowardly way about his premises. They circulated clumsy lampoons from hand to hand, of which the venom was more apparent than the wit. One bard was inspired to sing thus:
"For infamous acts from my birth I'd an itch,
My fate I foretold but too true;
Though a rope I deserved, which is justly my due,
I shall actually die in a ditch.
And be damned."
It will be seen that the officers kept an eye on Jack Ketch even when they burst into song. The verses of these people were as bad as their moral characters. They secured their point at last in making King "humbly implore leave of absence to submit his conduct" for home consideration. He got it, and Bligh took his place.
There were many privileged ruffians in early New South Wales, but none so richly deserve to be tied up to the triangles of history and flogged with the "cat" of honest criticism as Captain John Macarthur. He was one of our first merchants—such merchants as the officers of the New South Wales Corps were. He was the founder of the squatting order—but his public thefts were not confined to the public lands. He was the originator of the wool-growing industry. But John Macarthur was a great deal besides all that. "De mortuis nil nisi bonum," says someone; but the last word is an error. It should read "verum" instead.
Inasmuch as he opened up the wool-growing industry he did good work. But it paid him. There was no mawkish philanthropy about John Macarthur. He was as rapacious as a jackal, and as emotionless and cold as an oyster. Therefore his projects prospered well. He grew wool just as he sold rum—to make money. He made it. But the persons who have written Australian history want to make him a hero and a patriot as well. He was a patriot. But it was of the Australian brand. And the Australian brand has certain distinctive features which make it peculiar to Australia. Those who are ignorant of what these distinctive features are may glean a fair idea by noting the characteristics of this worthy Captain John Macarthur. All our patriots have a family resemblance. We will mark this one with the lash as he hangs by the wrists at the triangles of history, so that you may know the type when you meet it in Australian public life, or in these pages again.
Macarthur was about 20 years of age when he came to Botany Bay as Paymaster and Lieutenant in the Corps, with the first division that reached the settlement. If there was any doubt as to the motive that brought his confederates to Australia, there was never any about what brought him. He came to make money, and he made it. When the "rum-selling corps" was in action, he was always in the van. His hand was in everything that was going. The Corps put him forward as its representative, and he fought for their privilege to rob and defraud the soldier and the convict, and called his action a defence of the popular rights. He harassed the successive Governors, and boasted of having procured the recall of every one of them up to Macquarie. He helped to chase Phillip out of the country, and, when Hunter came, he persecuted that unhappy person so far that he had to appeal to the Home Government against him.
"I consider this officer's conduct to be an impertinent, indiscreet, and highly censurable interference with the duties and department of the Governor," he wrote, when Macarthur went home to work up a feeling against him there.
When King came he made himself as obnoxious as before, and scarcely allowed that good sea-captain time to flog his woman-convicts. This exasperated King very much, and he stated his views in certain lurid minutes to his superiors, ending with the words, "Should any further proof be wanting of the turbulent and restless character of Captain Macarthur, I must require that the evidence of the late Governors Phillip and Hunter may be procured."
Whoever opposed the nefarious proceedings of the Corps came in for his unscrupulous attacks. He had his faction amongst the settlers, and to those who did not belong to it his name was a cause of undisguised terror. When Judge-Advocate Atkins was not intoxicated, he was quarrelling with Macarthur, too, and some pretty squabbles were the result. They took action for libel against each other, but dropped them promptly, doubtless for excellent reasons on both sides. When the magistrate, Dr. Balmain, refused to play into the hands of the Corps, they persecuted him, too, and Macarthur was singular for the cunning yet shameless way in which he slandered the magistrate; who replied, "that he would maintain to his last breath the character of a gentleman, in defiance of every unmanly mode of detraction that Mr. Macarthur is capable of using." When the jackals of the Corps began to quarrel among themselves over the bones they stole, Macarthur, of course, was in the thick of the scramble. Captain Abbott, of the Corps, said something quaint about Governor King, and Lieutenant Marshall, of the Navy, whose proud soul revolted at this insult to another naval officer from a squalid captain of this unsavoury body, pleasantly signified his sentiments by pulling Captain Abbott's nose. They fought duels on Garden Island in those days; but Captain Abbott didn't. He thought it safer to bring a civil action. Colonel Paterson—a not unworthy officer, though in very bad company—could not help sympathising with Marshall. The irrepressible Macarthur thereupon picked a quarrel with his officer, and challenged him to a duel. Then the Governor got disgusted with the whole miserable business, and sent Macarthur home under arrest. But he soon came back. There was no scope for talents like his out of a convict colony.
Why did Macarthur come into such frequent conflict with the Governor and other officials? Simply because he had the largest stake in the trading operations of the Corps as already described. He and his accomplices were making fortunes out of the cruelly-forced convict labour, the open fraud and extortion practised on the soldiers and settlers, and the control and monopoly of that criminal traffic in rum which turned the early settlement into a Pandemonium. It has been said that Macarthur treated his assigned convicts well. If he did, it was for the return their prison-labour might produce him. But, fortunately, we have an explicit record bearing indirectly on this matter, which fairly states his good intentions for what they were worth. Macarthur made a public-spirited proposal to Governor Hunter to relieve him of the care of a number of convicts by taking them to work for him. He took great credit for his generosity in offering bread-rate for their labour. Hunter looked up his pocket-grammar, and fixed the patriot neatly, thus: "The daily wages of a labouring man, without furnishing food, was at that time 5s. or something more, and the price of bread was about 2½d. per lb. Supposing a man to receive two pounds a day, that would amount to 5d.; for this mighty saving to Government of 5d., he would have gained 5s. in labour." So Mr. Macarthur's benevolence was blighted; and nothing is here apparent to show why his turn at the triangles of history should be abridged by so much as a single lash.
It was part of the plan of these officers, and of Macarthur as their spokesman, to oppose every measure for the amelioration of the convicts' lot. To secure their own ascendancy they put forward every effort to crush the emancipated prisoners. When a proposal was made to establish them on small farms, so that they might have an opportunity of living honestly by their own labour, he vehemently opposed the project of giving land to what he called the "idle, worthless poor," whom he said should be "obliged to employ themselves in the service of an industrious and vigilant master"—assisted by a flogger, doubtless. For the same reason, respectable settlers with capital coming to the country were opposed and persecuted. Two such men, named Ellis and Boston, firmly but in guarded language ventured to protest against the exclusive monopoly claimed by the officers of all trade and business.
"This irritated the whole governing despotic power of the settlement against them," wrote Palmer, one of the Scotch Martyrs; "they were refused a grant of land and servants, and never employed."
But Hunter relieved them from their disabilities when he arrived, and the two men afterwards prospered in business, and became wealthy. But it is time to cut John Macarthur down, and let him go howling away until we want him again.
Margarot's evidence was given before the Committee of the Commons in 1812. It describes the state of things that led up to the Bligh fiasco. In answer to questions, he said, on oath, that the morals and conduct of convicts were not improved at Botany Bay, owing to the officers who were sent out there. To their trade, in which they had engaged "to a man," and personal ignorance alone he attributed their behaviour, which he described as barbarous and cruel in the extreme.
"Their trade," he said, "consists first of monopoly, and then of extortion; it includes all the necessaries of life which are brought to the colony." The trade is thus described: "When a ship has arrived, and the goods have been landed in the King's stores, after a few days the stores are opened to the officers, who go in, lay their hands on everything of value, and have their names affixed to it as purchasers, and they leave nothing but the refuse for the colony; having done so by themselves or by their agents, they retail that, as I have said before, at 500 per cent, profit." Other statements make the profit run up to 1500 per cent.
"If you offended one officer," continued Mr. Margarot, "you offended the whole; and any poor prisoner that had the misfortune to offend any one officer, would be sure to get a flogging from some other."
Such was the state of the colony when Governor Bligh arrived. He came with instructions to put a stop as far as possible to the traffic in liquor, and to curtail and check the proceedings of the officers of the New South Wales Corps. It was a perilous mission, for the officers had had everything their own way for many years, and their power and interests were by this time consolidated. In the light of these facts, what comes after will be more readily understood.
No one has ever ventured to deny that Bligh was a brave man, except the gallant officers of the Corps. They were not the best judges of courage and gallantry, but they said they captured the Governor under a bed. Bligh's record seems to give this statement the lie, but not more emphatically than the character of those who made it. He was famous before he came to the colony. The story of the mutiny of the Bounty has been often told, and there is little need to repeat here how his crew rose in insubordination, captured the vessel, and set Bligh and his officers afloat in an open boat on the wide Pacific; how he sailed 3500 miles, and was saved, while the mutineers colonised Pitcairn's Island in their own way.
Bligh had also been involved in the mutiny at the Nore. He had been twice court-martialled, and censured once for intemperate language. He sailed with Captain Cook for four years in the Resolution. He fought under Admirals Howe and Parker. He fought at Copenhagen under Nelson, and was publicly thanked on the quarter-deck by the great commander after the engagement. He gave up the command of a 72-gun ship to come to New South Wales. From all this it will be seen that he had a high character for bravery and good service, but also a reputation for hasty temper and high spirits. This kind of man was not cunning or mean enough to have any chance in the conflict with the officers of the Corps. They saw his weak points, and attacked them. They made his two court-martials and his censure for intemperate language their opportunity, and they relied on this part of his record as their justification for the vile conspiracy into which they entered in the interests of their own selfish rapacity and dishonest trade. Here, again, Mr. Macarthur comes to the front. An opportunity now offered for the play of those sinister talents in which he peculiarly excelled. We must tie him up to the triangles again.
The moment Bligh landed, Macarthur made an attempt to secure his influence. He tells the story himself. He says he wanted to interest the Governor in the sheep and cattle question, on the ground of the public good of the colony. But Bligh had heard of Mr. Macarthur, and he saw through the cunning device at a glance. His high temper found vent, and this was certainly a fair opportunity for its exercise. He saw that Macarthur's wily pour-parlers had as much benevolence behind them as his proposal to relieve the Government stores of the maintenance of a number of convicts by paying them bread-rate for their labour, and the bluff seaman naturally revolted at the knavery.
"What have I to do with your sheep, sir?" he bawled at the disappointed schemer. "What have I to do with your cattle? Are you to have such flocks of sheep and herds of cattle as no man ever heard of before? No, sir!"
"I endeavoured," says Macarthur, with innocuous mildness, "to appease him, saying that I understood the Government at home had particularly recommended me to his notice. He replied, 'I have heard of your concerns, sir; you have got 5000 acres of land in the finest situation in the country, but, by——, you shan't keep it!'"
This is Macarthur's own version of what took place, yet it shows how accurately Bligh's rough honesty had seised itself of the position. But Macarthur did keep the land—to have and to hold by him and his heirs forever.
Bligh's instructions were to stop the traffic in rum within the country by every means in his power. They are dated May 25,1805, under the sign-manual, from St. James', and they enlarge on the "great evils that have arisen from the unrestrained importation of spirits." He was enjoined "on pain of our utmost displeasure" to allow no spirits to land without his consent, and to stop the exchange of rum for daily necessaries. He arrived in 1806, and early next year he issued a General Order, threatening 100 lashes to any convict and three months' imprisonment and a £20 fine to any settler who bartered rum for food or clothing. Lord Castlereagh expressly approved of these measures, and conveyed to Bligh the expression of the royal approbation. Another matter in which Bligh earned the Minister's thanks was his action in relieving serious distresses caused in the Hawkesbury district by the floods of 1806. Provisions reached exorbitant prices, coarse meal and flour being half-a-crown per pound and the two-pound loaf selling at 5s. Bligh personally visited the breadless homes, slaughtered the Government cattle, and divided them among the starving people, and encouraged them to set to work again by offering fair prices for the crops they might grow. He saw that the results of the settlers' labour were minimised by the fact that the officers who ruled the market charged ruinous rates of exchange for what they had to sell. He therefore opened the King's Stores at Sydney to the settlers, and supplied them with what they required, to be paid for in produce at the following harvest. The settlers began to hope that a new state of things was about to rule in the colony; but the New South Wales Corps had to be reckoned with yet.
It soon became apparent to Bligh that the task of reform in the settlement would be met at every stage by the interests of the officers. Their rascally trade would be interfered with by every measure the Governor might take to make the settlers' lot more easy. Their influence was great, for they had the power of the Corps at their back. The rank-and-file shared the insolence of their officers, and Bligh soon found moral and material progress entirely blocked by this fine body of men. He wrote home in 1807 with a complaint to this effect, and added:—
"About 70 of the privates were originally convicts, and the whole are so very much engrafted with that order of persons, as in many instances have had a very evil tendency, and, it is to be feared, may hereafter lead to serious consequences, more particularly from their improper connection with the women."
This is not as lucid as it is true, but then none of the early Governors were selected for the purity with which they expressed themselves in their mother-tongue. Bligh went on to say that there was no remedy "but a change of military duty, a circumstance which can only prevent a fixed corps becoming a dangerous militia." If Bligh had been deposed for his feloniously bad English, there is ample justification here; but the reason was a more practical one than that.
To prohibit the importation of rum was easy, but the officers were not so docile as to allow a step like that to interfere with their dishonest fortunes. It was one thing to shut rum out of the colony, and quite another thing to keep people from making it within. The officers imported stills, and the last state of the rum traffic became worse than the first. Bligh forbade the distillation of spirits, and when two stills arrived in 1807 in the Dart, one being for Captain Abbott and one for John Macarthur, the Governor impounded them in the King's store. But the boilers had been artfully packed full of medicine, and they were therefore sent to Macarthur's place. This occurred in March. In October a ship was going home, and Bligh directed that the stills be put on board and taken back whence they came. Robert Campbell, who was the naval officer, made the demand, and Macarthur replied, saying that he had nothing to do with Abbott's still, and he was going to sell his own to some ship going to China. The Governor ordered the stills to be sent to England at once. Macarthur then cavilled about the receipt, and told the nephew of the harbour master to take the stills at his own risk. He took proceedings against the officer who effected the seizure, and complained that a British subject, in a British settlement, under British laws, had had his property wrested from him on the Governor's order. He defended the rights of property, and its privilege to make and to sell rum—for the boilers were certainly never intended to serve as mere medicine-chests—with a fine indignation and lofty scorn.
In the course of the following month a convict escaped by one of Macarthur's ships. The owner forfeited a £900 bond. Macarthur appealed to the Governor, who declined to set aside the Court's decision. Payment was refused, whereupon the ship was seized, and the officers soon found out that they had a firmer man to deal with than King, or Hunter, or Phillip had been. Macarthur sent the crew on shore, contrary to colonial regulations. The Judge-Advocate summoned Macarthur to answer in the case, and he declined to obey the summons. A warrant was issued for his arrest, and the Parramatta constable, Oakes, was charged with its execution. This honest man had been sent out as a missionary to the South Seas, but his spiritual ministrations were not favourably received by the natives of Tahiti, so they chased him away, and he became the police-constable at Parramatta; catching souls or bodies was all one to Mr. Oakes. He presented Macarthur with the warrant "with many humble apologies;" Macarthur chased him again, telling him if he came any more to come armed, and that if the person who issued the warrant had come—probably meaning his Honour the Judge-Advocate—he would have "spurned him from his presence." Then he spurned the constable just as the Taihitians had spurned him before, and gave him a little note to. Mr. Atkins saying that he regarded his warrant with scorn and contempt, as well as the persons who directed it to be executed. Oakes saw the Governor and the Judge-Advocate in the town next morning. They spurned him once more, and sent him back to arrest Macarthur, and lodge him in gaol. So the chief constable of Sydney and Mr. Oakes, with three other constables who had not been missionaries, went after Mr. Macarthur with cutlasses, arrested him at a friend's house in Sydney, and spurned him into prison.
He was committed for trial next day, but liberated on bail. This was December 17. On January 25 following, the Criminal Court met, consisting of the Judge-Advocate and six officers of the Corps. The officers had laid their plans in the meantime. The Court was crowded with their men, wearing side-arms. A convict attorney named Crossley prepared the indictment, as the Judge-Advocate's legal knowledge did not extend beyond sentencing prisoners. A series of horrid crimes and misdemeanours were charged against Macarthur. As soon as the Court was constituted the defendant objected to the Judge-Advocate on the ground of personal enmity, but that officer replied that, in the terms of the King's Patent, there could be no Court without him. Captain Kemp told the Judge he was merely a common juryman, and the officers compelled him to leave his seat as president of the Court, while Macarthur addressed those assembled in a wild and excited manner. He said that Atkins had "associated and combined with that well-known dismembered limb of the law, George Crossley," to accomplish his destruction. He added that he had proof, in the writing of Crossley, that it was determined to ruin him. "This precious document," he said, "came into my hands as if by the interposition of Divine Providence; it dropped from the pocket of Crossley, and was brought to me." Divine Providence in this instance was probably the same power that extracted the papers from Governor King's despatch-box—a clever pickpocket, namely, of the class whose services the officers had often occasion to use. The person who picked Crossley's papers up where he so opportunely dropped them might just as well have picked his pockets of them at once, though it might not have been so convenient for Macarthur to say so.
So the drunken Judge and the convict attorney and the turnkey-officers fought amongst themselves, and the reader to-day may judge, if he can, what there is to choose among them. When these squalid rascals fall out among themselves, we see what kind of creatures they really are. When Macarthur finished his harangue, the Judge-Advocate threatened to commit him, but Captain Kemp shouted:
"You commit! No, sir, I will commit you to gaol."
The Judge-Advocate then tried to adjourn the Court, and left, but Captain Kemp insisted that the officers were a Court. Macarthur claimed the protection of the officers against his enemies. They gave him a guard, and the Provost-Marshal, Mr. Gore, very properly treated their action as a rescue, and obtained a warrant for his arrest. The officers wrote to the Governor demanding that Atkins should be replaced by another judge, to which Bligh replied that it was out of his power to supersede the King's Commission. The officers repeated their request, and Bligh asked for the papers. They refused to supply them. Then the Governor wrote to Major Johnstone, asking his attendance under particular public circumstances. He replied, and said that he was "too ill to come," and was unable to write. The next morning, January 26, the Provost arrested Macarthur again, and the Judge-Advocate formally accused the officers to the Governor, of "crimes amounting to usurpation," and tending to incite rebellion and treason in the territory. Bligh summoned the officers to appear before him next day, and again summoned Major Johnstone, and again received a reply saying that the Major was still "so ill as to be unable to write." But he was not too ill to drive the same afternoon into Sydney to his barracks, where the officers met him, and persuaded him to usurp the government of the colony. The New South Wales Corps formed, and, with drums beating and colours flying, marched upon Government House.
But the troops did not march until John Macarthur again came on the scene. Though Major Johnstone was too ill to write to the Governor, he wrote an order to the gaoler at Sydney, bidding him to deliver up the body of that troublesome individual, and to "fail not, as you will answer the same at your peril!" When the gaoler received that hint he released Mr. Macarthur, who joined the officers in time to receive the Major when he came to town. Nothing could be done without John Macarthur. He drew up a requisition to Johnstone, in which he said that "the present alarming state of this colony"—meaning, doubtless, of Mr. John Macarthur—"induces us most earnestly to implore you instantly to place Governor Bligh under arrest, and to assume the control of the colony." The hollowness of this artifice will be apparent when it is remembered that Macarthur was released from prison by Johnstone so that this impudent lie might be concocted in time. That the officers fully understood the lawlessness of their action is evident from the words that followed:
"We pledge ourselves, at a moment of less agitation, to come forward to support the measure with our fortunes and our lives."
It is quite needless to add, as we shall presently see, that they never did anything of the kind.
Then the Major wrote to Bligh and lightly told him he was called upon to execute a most painful duty.
"You are charged," he said, "by the respectable inhabitants with crimes that render you unfit to exercise the supreme authority another moment in the colony;" and went on to add, "I therefore require you, in his Majesty's sacred name, to resign your authority, and to submit to be arrested, which I hereby place you under by the advice of all my officers, and by the advice of every respectable inhabitant of the town of Sydney."
The tone and style of this precious document are so much like those of the letters of Mr. Macarthur, that the suspicion of his having drafted it at once suggests itself; few men in the colony at that time had such a facile gift of lying as he possessed. We have progressed since, however.
It was about 9 o'clock in the evening when the soldiers marched up to the cottage in Bligh-street which served as Government House. Guards had been placed on the road to Parramatta and elsewhere, and no one was allowed to pass. Rum had evidently been served out to the men, as many of the soldiers were drunk.
"Three hundred men under martial law, loaded with ball," as Bligh characteristically expresses it, formed the party; and on arriving at Government House these braves, flushed with patriotism and rum, were met at the gate by the Governor's daughter, who tried to arrest their career of glory with her parasol. The Corps rallied gallantly to the charge, however, and, after a spirited attack the storming party succeeded in effecting an entrance. Lieutenant Bell was on duty as guard, and when he saw his accomplices approaching he ordered his men to prime and load, and then joined the marauding gang. He was afterwards a nominee member of the Legislative Council of the colony.
Bligh had a number of the magistrates of the colony at dinner when this irruption of rum-flushed ruffianism took place and interrupted the proceedings. The formal notice, signed by Major Johnstone, was merely a blind, intended to give his action an appearance of fair seeming in the event of future enquiries being made. The only intimation Bligh received was the approach of the Corps, as he wrote, "with colours spread, and playing the 'British Grenadiers.'" Bligh thus describes what happened next:—
"I had just time to call to my orderly-sergeant to have my horses ready, while I went upstairs to put on my uniform, the family being then in deep mourning; when, on my return, as I was standing on the staircase waiting for my servant with my sword, I saw a number of soldiers rushing upstairs with their muskets and fixed bayonets, as I conceived to seize my person. I retired instantly into a back room, to defeat their object, and to deliberate on the means to be adopted for the restoration of my authority, which, in such a critical situation, could only be accomplished by my getting into the interior of the country adjacent to the Hawkesbury, where I knew the whole body of the people would flock to my standard. To this situation I was pursued by the soldiers, and, after experiencing much insult, was conducted below by Lieutenant Minchin, who told me that Major Johnstone was waiting for me."
Johnstone repeated to Bligh what his letter has already told us, and placed him under arrest. Then the house was ransacked, and the Governor's commission, instructions, and other papers and reports seized, and a guard was set round the house to prevent Bligh's escape. This is his own account; the officers maintained that he was found concealed under a bed, from which he was extracted at the point of a soldier's bayonet. There is nothing inherently incredible about this version, but, coming from the source it does, the statement is probably a lie. The civil magistrates were at once placed under arrest.
Then a reign of terror set in. If any doubt existed as to the character of the officers of the New South Wales Corps and their leading spirit, Mr. John Macarthur, as well as of the real nature of the revolution they effected, the events that now followed rapidly dispelled it. The officers had everything their own way, with no responsibility for their actions, and under these favourable circumstances they soon showed the kind of material they were made of. On the day following Bligh's deposition Major Johnstone dismissed the magistrates from their offices, and took proceedings against the other opponents of his rule. The attorney Crossley, who prepared the indictment against Macarthur, was sent to the coal-mines at Newcastle for seven years. The officers of the Corps were appointed to the vacant magistracies, and Judge-Advocate Atkins was dismissed in favour of Captain Abbott, the same officer whose nose was pulled for his insolence by Lieutenant Marshall. It is probable that Atkins would have been sent to the coal-mines with Crossley, but the officers presently found that he might be useful to them; so they showed him a document found among Bligh's stolen papers, which we have already quoted from, charging him with drunkenness and incapacity. When Mr. Atkins read this little paper he at once threw in his lot with the officers, and was again appointed Judge-Advocate by those congenial spirits. As the holder of the King's Commission the officers knew that his acts would have a certain legality which theirs wanted, so they were content to bury the past, and possibly to persuade Mr. Macarthur to refrain from spurning the Judge-Advocate now that he had the opportunity.
The Commissary, Palmer, was also dismissed, as also was Robert Campbell, the naval officer with whom Macarthur had quarrelled. Macarthur was tried again before the new Judge-Advocate, promptly acquitted, and chaired through the streets of the town by the soldiers, who throughout these proceedings enjoyed themselves very much indeed.
It would be ridiculous to expect that the officers of the New South Wales Corps progressed so far without invoking Providence. Their rascality was of too finished a character for that. One of Johnstone's—or Macarthur's—first steps was to suspend the chaplain, but the interests of religion were not to be allowed to suffer by such a step as that. A person named Crook, whom Holt described as a barn-ranter whom nobody would listen to, was appointed to preach, but the duties of ordinary were discharged by no less a person than the vivacious Mr. John Macarthur. This man's sense of humour was of such subtle fineness as almost to elude the eye. He introduced a prayer into the Liturgy for Major Johnstone, styling him Lieutenant-Governor, and issued a proclamation calling on "every well-disposed inhabitant" to join in thanks for the merciful interposition of Providence in their favour by "relieving them without bloodshed from the awful situation in which they stood before the memorable 26th inst." But the finishing touch to this revolting hypocrisy and squalid caricature of the ordinances of religion was put by the appointment of Captain Kemp—whom we have seen forcing his men to submit to be robbed by him under threat of the lash—to celebrate marriages in the town of Sydney! Then Mr. Macarthur was made a magistrate and Colonial Secretary, and, to quote Dr. Lang, "the military and grog-sellers of Sydney were quite vociferous in praise of the new régime; celebrating the accession of Major Johnstone with bonfires, laudatory addresses, and the other customary manifestations of joy." In the eyes of this portion of the community a great moral revolution had been consummated, and the right of those concerned to make and sell rum amply vindicated.
Bligh was confined in a subaltern's quarters in the barracks for twelve months. All his regulations respecting the King's stores and the settlers' supplies were abrogated, and matters brought back as far as possible into the condition which existed before the power of the Corps began to decline. Rum was supplied freely to the friends of the new Government, with assignments of convict-labour and grants of land. To secure the goodwill even of the convicts certain free pardons were made out and given away. All public meetings were prohibited, except for the purpose of addressing the new rulers. Dr. Lang gives an instance of the weekly meetings of Presbyterians being stopped by Lieutenant Ball, in pursuance of this order. Persons were asked to sign the requisition under which Johnstone assumed the Government, and although only "six or seven names had been affixed to the paper when the troops marched from the Barracks," about 100 were afterwards found on it. Of these, many signed through timidity or fear. Mr. Arndell, a magistrate, who signed an address to Major Johnstone, addressed a private letter to Bligh at once saying that he had done so under the influence of fear.
But the climax was reached by Major Johnstone's
"The public peace being happily and, I trust in Almighty God, permanently established, I hereby proclaim the cessation of martial law. I have this day appointed magistrates and other public functionaries from amongst the most respectable officers and inhabitants.
"In future no man shall have just cause to complain of violence, injustice, or oppression; no free man shall be taken, imprisoned, or deprived of his house, land, or liberty but by law. Justice shall be impartially administered, without regard to or respect of persons, and every man shall enjoy the fruits of his industry in security."
The first steps after this noble declaration were to arrest the settler Suttor and the ex-Provost-Marshal Gore. The former protested against the illegality of the action of the Corps, and the other had Macarthur for an enemy. Suttor was imprisoned for six months in the condemned cell in Sydney, and Gore for eleven weeks and four days, after which he was sent to hard labour in the coal-mines of Newcastle for four months. This latter part of the sentence was added, possibly, to give the hapless Provost some idea of what a "just cause to complain of violence, injustice, or oppression" might happen to be. There was an addendum to this proclamation—all through which Macarthur's hand is plainly traceable—which was addressed to the rank-and-file of the Corps, in recognition of the bravery and high spirit shown by those gallant men throughout the trying time. It was couched in the heroic terms which some of the generals of history have affected in addressing their victorious troops after a decisive engagement:—
"Soldiers!—Your conduct has endeared you
to every well-disposed inhabitant in this settlement. Persevere in
the same honourable path, and you will establish the credit of the
New South Wales Corps on a basis not to be shaken.
"GOD SAVE THE KING!"
There is a rough, blistering irony about this, the force of which further words would only weaken.
One of the first steps taken by Johnstone was to communicate with his commanding officer, Colonel Paterson, then in Van Diemen's Land. He informed him of what had been done, and invited him to come and assume the supreme authority. But that astute officer too well knew the kind of warriors he commanded, and what they were capable of, to put his head in a noose like that. He had quite enough wisdom of the serpent to keep him out of harm's way; so he sent back a reply, informing Major Johnstone's party that, as they had begun a revolution, they might finish it amongst themselves. So Johnstone continued to hold office until the arrival of Colonel Foveaux, who returned from England, whither he had been to attend an enquiry into his action as gaoler of Norfolk Island. Still later, Paterson came over from Van Diemen's Land when he thought that step could be taken with perfect safety, and superseded Foveaux. During the term of the officers' rule more land grants were given away than under any previous ruler, and the officers were careful to make hay while the sun of their prosperity shone. The settlers and the general population fell back into the misery from which Bligh had but temporarily rescued them. And this was the Revolution of 1808.
Anyone with the slightest experience in the sifting of evidence or the examination of historical records will see at a glance the value of the claims put forward by John Macarthur and his party. The unparalleled impudence of the attempt which has been made to exalt them to the pedestals of patriots would only be possible in a country where the term itself is one of ridicule and derision. The Australian patriot has the great advantage over those of other lands in that he has known how to make the trade pay. Patriotism has been defined elsewhere as the last refuge of a scoundrel; in Australia it has always been the first trick of the huckster—political or otherwise. The term has such unsavoury associations that it stinks in the nostrils of Australians.
It requires courage to deal vigorously with these first chapters of our history, and particularly with the character of such a man as this John Macarthur. Long before his death his wealth—acquired as we know—gave him a commanding influence in the growing colony, as we shall see as we go on. His influence was used, up to the last, against the people of this country, and some of the worst and most despicable passages in that part of our story that is to follow will be found connected with his name, as were those that have been already told. That such a man and his accomplices should have continued to occupy their false position so long is a serious charge against writers of Australian history, as well as the popular spirit of enquiry which has allowed these drivellers to mislead it. Miserable attempts have been made in the face of facts to gloss over and conceal Macarthur's delinquencies because he introduced the practice of wool-growing; in view of which, says one of his apologists, "the faults of the man have been almost forgotten in the patriotism of the citizen." The "patriotism of the citizen" consisted in his laying the foundations of his own private fortunes. Australia has had many patriots like that!
"The genius of New South Wales," Bonwick writes, "as if in imitation of the pitying tear of the recording angel, has blurred the page that told of John Macarthur's errors, while lighting up by her smiles the letters which blazoned forth his glorious deeds in the path of peaceful progress."
This hopeless cant is a fair sample of the saponaceous idiocy on which the public sentiment of the Australian people has been hitherto fed. Such is the dismal drivel that marks our record from the beginning, and stamps it with its own fatuous character, which it will continue to retain until the Australian voter and taxpayer is able to think for himself. It is for this reason that the writer who would set the facts of our history in their proper place and order must cull them laboriously from manifold sources, taking facts alone, and leaving behind him the wilderness of dreary platitude and veneered venality in which they have been hitherto embedded and concealed.
The facts of the Bligh case, candidly told, are a sufficient condemnation of the officers. They sold goods, having dishonestly obtained by fraud and force the command of the market, at a usurious profit running up to 1500 per cent.; they robbed the poor settler of the produce of his labour for a tithe of its value, and they demoralised the settlement with licentiousness and rum. Bligh, as we have seen, had express instructions to stop some of those iniquities, and his honest efforts in that direction aroused the trading officers' enmity. They put in force against him the same vile tactics—more appropriate to a gang of thieves and pickpockets, which they were, than to British officers and gentlemen, which they certainly were not—that had driven Phillip, Hunter, and King out of the colony, and for many years ruined its chance of progress. When they found that Bligh was a stronger man than any of his predecessors, and shrewd enough to recognise the moving spirit of all their rascality and put him in gaol, then the officers and their worthy followers deposed the Governor "in the public interest." The facts of the deposition itself are damnatory. Johnstone was too ill to write to tho Governor, but not so ill as to be unable to write to the gaoler at Sydney, ordering him to deliver Macarthur at his peril—thus compelling the performance of an illegal action under a direct threat, which the gaoler knew only too well how to appreciate. Johnstone was too ill to attend Bligh's summons, but not too ill to come into town the same afternoon and depose him. He charged Bligh with crimes that rendered him unfit to exercise the supreme authority another moment in the colony; but he forebore to say what these crimes were. From first to last, as was clearly proven at the court-martial later on, this man was a mere instrument in the hands of Macarthur, who instigated Johnstone to his squalid rebellion for his own miserable purposes. He found he had gone too far with Bligh, and, being afraid to take his trial, he moved his weak-minded superior officer to rebel against the Governor so that he himself might get out of trouble and out of gaol.
The action of Colonel Paterson, who certainly knew the state of affairs in the colony well, and understood the character of his officers and men, has a significance of its own. That officer refused, point blank, to have any act or part in the "rebellion," when he heard of what had been done. Yet it is impossible to believe that he would have held aloof had the circumstances been, as Macarthur and Johnstone described them, such as to warrant recourse to the extreme measures taken by the Corps. The fantastic tricks played before high heaven by the persons who officiated as ordinary chaplain, and the solemniser of marriages would, perhaps, make the angels weep were they not better employed. Most of these people, we are told, kept regular harems of convict women, and very few indeed held aloof from these shameless excesses, which like everything else connected with these men were squalid and revolting, without one redeeming point or feature of extenuation. It is but fair to add that Macarthur was one of those of whom least has been said in this particular connection.
The prosecution of Gore and Crossley was a piece of revengeful vindictiveness for which there can be no palliation. Because Crossley assisted to draw up the indictment against Macarthur, and Gore took him from the hands of the soldiers who had forcibly rescued him, both were sent to the coal-mines of Newcastle by the malice of the canting ordinary, who had the audacity to insert special prayers in the Church Service for the instrument of his mean revenges. The case of Suttor was still worse. He was an industrious settler at Baulkham Hills, and no sympathiser with the aims and schemes of the officers. He and several others addressed a memorial to the Home Government disclaiming any part in their actions, and for this he was deprived of his assigned servants and locked up for six months in a condemned cell. Every extreme of malice seems to have been put forward by the officers while their power lasted to intimidate those who were disaffected to their illegal rule, and to revenge themselves on all who had sought to strengthen the hands of Bligh in his short-lived but well-meant efforts to remedy some of the miseries of the unhappy settlement.
Bligh remained under strict surveillance until March, 1809, when he was allowed to take command of H.M.S. Porpoise on condition that he returned to England at once. He accepted the condition, but he appears to have thought little of a promise obtained under such circumstances, and by such people, for he sailed to Van Diemen's Land. There is a story that when Bligh felt the timbers of his ship once more under his feet, he threw off all disguise and ordered Lieutenant King to open fire and "batter down the town of Sydney," as well as to turn his guns against the Admiral Gambler, then lying in the harbour, in which Macarthur and Johnstone had taken passage for England to forestall him in the enquiry they anticipated. At Van Diemen's Land Bligh was well received at first, until letters came from Sydney, when an attempt was made to arrest him. He escaped, and lay off the coast till the end of the year until Macquarie arrived to succeed him as Governor on 28th December. Macquarie had orders to reinstate Bligh for 24 hours had he been present in Sydney on his arrival; when he did come soon after he was received with the honours due to a Commodore. By the new Governor Bligh received despatches from Lord Castlereagh informing him that "the mutinous outrage committed upon him had caused the strongest sensation, and that his Majesty had ordered Major Johnstone to be sent home in strict arrest, to be brought to trial for his conduct." He was empowered to bring home with him any witnesses whose services he should require "to substantiate the charge, of that officer's mutinous proceedings." Bligh arrived in Sydney in January, 1810, and left on the following May. By October, when he arrived in England, there had been a change of Ministry, and in the meantime his enemies had been beforehand with him in blackening his character and prejudicing his case in the public estimation. It was not until May, 1811, that the Court-Martial was held, by which time the matter had become an old-world story, and the new Ministry had lost any small interest its members had ever taken in such a far-away matter.
"On the 4th of January, 1810," says Holt in his memoirs, "three ships hove in sight of Sydney—the Dromedary, the Indostan, and a storeship—which came up to the Cove with every preparation to give a broadside if they saw occasion." This meant that Governor Macquarie had arrived, with a detachment of the 73rd Regiment. The new Governor expected that he and his battalion would have to fight their way, and put down the insurrection by force; but this was merely an idle fancy of Major-General Lachlan Macquarie's innocent mind. The men he had to deal with were not given to fighting. They knew how to skulk out of their difficulty by a much easier process than that.
On the morning of the sixth, the troops began to disembark, and the New South Wales Corps was promptly on hand, in a burst of effusive loyalty, to salute the King's representative. The new comers marched on to the parade ground, and there the new Judge-Advocate, Ellis Bent, read the commission of Macquarie and his lieutenant, Richard Charles O'Connell, in the presence of all the soldiers and inhabitants. The 73rd then marched out of the town, and pitched their tents a mile and a-half away from the barracks, placing pickets, and taking all the precautions usual to a brigade on active service in the field. All this was viewed with the greatest perturbation by those who had been active in the rebellion. Macarthur and Johnstone had taken every care to get away out of danger long before, and were by this time in England slandering Bligh.
But the officers and men of the Corps saw at once that their day was over. They waited anxiously for Macquarie to break his ominous silence, and put them out of their misery and doubt. When it became known that the Corps was ordered home, the first sensation was one of profound relief. This was succeeded by the reflection that all their merry days at Botany Bay, with its petty tyrannies and its privileged ruffianism and its rum, were over, and that return to England meant going back to the old life once more. "The old soldiers, with their wives and children, were full of lamentations that evening; for they saw that they must quit New South Wales, and they knew that it was a very different thing living there and living in England." However, Macquarie allowed some few of the old soldiers to enlist in the 73rd. The rest were packed off in the first ships. It will be remembered that the Corps was originally recruited from the prisons and the hulks, and, as Hunter wrote, by enlisting "characters who had been disgraceful to every other regiment in his Majesty's service." Men who had been condemned to service in India were reprieved, as we before mentioned, to enlist in the New South Wales Corps. Their career at Botany Bay did not improve them, apparently, for very soon after their return to England they found their native level. They were constituted a "condemned regiment" themselves, drummed out of the country, and sent to spend the rest of their existence where the hopeless outcasts of the military service were sent—to India. They were good enough to conduct a philanthropic experiment and found a new British colony, but they were not good enough to remain a regiment in the regular service at home.
And so the New South Wales Corps rattles its drums in the town of Sydney for the last time, and drops finally out of our story. In the whole range of human history it would be hard to select even one solitary passage that, for dismal misery, cruelty, and squalor, could even distantly compare with what has been here touched with a very hesitating pen. To draw the curtain entirely aside from the squalid abominations of these first years of our story would be to disclose a picture of horror that is simply revolting and nothing more. Enough has been said for the purpose of the present writer, and more than enough to show what the beginnings of the colony really were. The subject is not an attractive one. Not one word would have been said to revive this squalid and debasing memory were it not that the shameful brand of this "rum-selling Corps" still reddens and burns in the flesh of Young Australia.
With the exit of the "rum-selling Corps" a new volume in the history of Botany Bay may be said to open. But it is sad to have to add that enough of the old leaves remained to make the new book, in many respects, a copy of the old. Had the Corps continued its rule, it is quite impossible to imagine what the colony would have eventually become. But when it was drafted home its officers, the responsible agents of all the rascality, resigned almost in a body and remained behind. This was their way out of the difficulties that surrounded them. They had made large fortunes, and founded large interests during the hey-day of their power. So they deserted their followers, whom they had first robbed and then led into danger; turned their backs on the King's colours, and settled down in the colony to continue their old practices as far as they might be allowed, to become nominee legislators eventually, and the founders of our "first families." The strong rule of the military Governors who, beginning with Macquarie, superseded the old naval Governors, did not allow of the same excesses as the first 20 years of our history presented. But the wealth and influence of these black leg officers, who deserted their followers after leading them into danger, made them powerful enough to recover from the shock and perpetuate the spirit they introduced, even down to our own days.
"All the oppressors were smashed together," says Holt, "and it was amusing to hear them abusing each other and cursing the Governor." And in another place we get this:—"Anthony Fenn Kemp lost his commission as Judge-Advocate, and from being a magistrate and a great officer in the colony, became nothing more than a captain in the 102nd Regiment," by which name the Corps was henceforth known. "And worse than this," goes on Holt, "his rotten tobacco would no longer pay the soldiers, so that misfortunes came upon him in various shapes." One of the first acts of Macquarie was to lower the price of provisions from the false standard to which the officers had raised it, and to have food sold in the open market instead of in the hole-in-corner manner they had forced on the settlement.
"This was of great service to the poor," we are told, "and injured no one but those who could bear it, and had too long enjoyed an unfair profit. Comfort and happiness now began to appear in the countenances of all the inhabitants of the colony. John Macarthur lost his villainous trade, but it had lasted long enough to enable him to make a large fortune." But, then, as we have before had occasion to notice, John Macarthur was not a man likely to waste either his substance or his sympathy on what he called the "idle, worthless poor."
Another of Macquarie's earliest steps was to declare null and void all the acts of the officers' Government during the time of their rule. Their grants of land and free pardons were revoked as illegal, and the documents conveying such grants or pardons were called in. But Macquarie was a man of marked tact, and it was his primary object to see justice done, as far as possible, so that none might suffer through the fault of others. Having vindicated his authority, therefore, by this act, he afterwards confirmed most, if not all, of these grants and pardons. He had instructions to use his discretion, in view of the two years that had elapsed since the rebellion, so that its traces might be effaced with the least possible friction. This was fortunate for the individuals, but for the colony and its future it was simply the worst thing that could possibly have happened. Had strong and drastic measures been adopted firmly and at once, and the wretches who had wrought such misery on the colony been swept away root and branch, and every trace of their squalid presence scattered to the winds, it would have been incalculably better for the Australia of to-day. Macquarie showed to these ruffians a measure of mercy they had never been known to show to others. We shall see, presently, how they repaid him.
Meanwhile, it cannot be overlooked that a very great reform had been effected in the condition and prospects of the settlement by the very first steps Macquarie took. The departure of the Corps was an omen of good. The drunken Judge-Advocate who indirectly caused the rebellion, and then took service under the officers who opposed him, was drummed out of Botany Bay with them, and another Judge-Advocate, who was not drunken, appointed in his place. A chaplain was also brought out by Macquarie, and the officer who solemnised marriages for the settlement found his occupation gone. A good many of the harems were broken up, for Macquarie brought his wife with him, and her presence kept the moral atmosphere in the neighbourhood of Government House and the official centres comparatively clean and pure. But it was many years yet before the "factory" at Parramatta discontinued to supply wives to the settlers on approval, to be returned and replaced if found unsuitable.
It was during the second year of Macquarie's government that the court-martial on Colonel Johnstone took place. It was held at the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, and lasted thirteen days, resulting in Colonel Johnstone being found guilty of the act of mutiny, and cashiered. It was added, in a general order of the Commander-in-chief, "that the Court, in passing a sentence so inadequate to the enormity of the crime of which the prisoner has been found guilty, have apparently been actuated by a consideration of the novel and extraordinary circumstances" surrounding the condition of the colony. The Prince Regent, in admitting the principle under which the Court had allowed this consideration to act in mitigation of the punishment which the act of mutiny would otherwise have suggested," said that "no circumstances could be received in full extenuation of an assumption of power, so subversive of every principle of good order and discipline, as that under which Lieutenant-Colonel Johnstone had been convicted." An enquiry into Macarthur's share in the proceedings resulted in his being prohibited for eight years from returning to the colony. He employed part of the interval in a pleasant tour on the continent. Many hundreds of poor wretches had been sent to Botany Bay for life for much less villainies than his.
Bligh was immediately appointed to the rank of Rear-Admiral in the Navy, and employed on active service. While the case was in progress Johnstone made capital of the fact that Bligh had been involved in such enquiries before, while to himself the position of prosecutor or defendant was new and painful. There was some truth in this; for Johnstone, as we have already seen, was in the habit of shooting and hanging prisoners without wasting time in prosecuting them. But Bligh manfully met the charge with a sailor-like and simple account of his career, which compelled the respect of his hearers and put the calumnies of the defence to the rout. He referred to the charge of cowardice; he said he knew that Mr. Macarthur wrote the despatch, in which the circumstance of his having been found by the soldiers in hiding under a bed was mentioned with vulgar triumph. But he could not anticipate, he said, that Colonel Johnstone's address to the Court would be written in the same spirit, and that, after being the victim of Mr. Macarthur's intrigues, he would allow himself to be made the tool of his revenge. Then he explained that just before his arrest he called for his uniform, which was not a dress adapted for concealment, and then, selecting his papers, he was tearing some to pieces and concealing the remainder when he was discovered stooping over some documents on the floor by the soldiers on the other side of the bed Macarthur's tactics pursued him to the last. Before the sentence was made known a false account of the trial was published in the British Express, containing severe reflections on Governor Bligh. A copy of this, wet from the printing-office, was posted anonymously to Bligh; and, says Lang, "on the inside of the envelope there was sketched the figure of a pistol, intimating, doubtless, that the old admiral had now nothing better to do than to use that instrument effectually, and be off!" The sender of this was never known. But if the reader will compare it with the anonymous attacks on Governor King, and with a certain surreptitious document issued by Macarthur later on, he will see unmistakable traces in all three of the one unscrupulous hand.
We said that when the New South Wales Corps was drummed out of the colony the officers were left there in possession of their ill-gotten wealth. Though their official positions were taken from them, by this time the officers had no need of any accidental aids to make their power felt. They were now the property-owners and land-holders of the colony, the holders of vested interests, as they did not hesitate unblushingly to assert, and to all intents and purposes the local aristocracy. It became their object to preserve these vested interests, and to draw a wide and deep line of demarcation not only between themselves and the emancipated members of the convict class, but the less wealthy section of free settlers as well. The yeoman Suttor was an example of the latter. He had come to the colony with the intention of making a home for himself by his own honest efforts. He was an honest man. The type was rare in the colony before Macquarie's time, and we have already seen that the temporary rulers expressed their enthusiastic sense of the honesty of this man by promptly putting him in prison.
When Macquarie began to govern, therefore, the persons who, as officers of the military force in the settlement, had opposed all the best intentions of Phillip, Hunter, King, and Bligh, now in their capacity as property owners and the representatives of vested interests, opposed every act of the present Governor that aimed at the welfare of the population. This fact in our history is an important one, and is worthy of special notice, for this is the first of the connecting links between the rule of the Corps, and the survival of Botany Bay traditions in Australia to-day. Having shown how these vested interests grew up, and the character of the people who formed them, it is necessary to show the steps by which, with a slight change of front, the malign influences that directed the first stage of colonisation continued to exercise their miserable sway and produce the same fell results.
The emancipation of convicts had begun with Phillip, and was continued by his successors. Many of the convicts, as already shown, were not criminals at all in the real sense of the word. As they were emancipated, or acquired their freedom by serving out the terms of their sentences, many of the convicts who escaped the contamination of the Corps and the rapacity of the officers began to engage in trade—some being so employed by the officers themselves. The result was that many of these made some money of their own, extended their operations, and began to compete with the officers in the trade of the settlement. But this would never do. This was revolutionary, and an interference with the social rights and vested interests of their quondam gaolers. The crime was made the more heinous by the fact that the emancipist traders actually sold goods at a lower price than the officers. Their virtuous indignation was aroused. These choice spirits said that it was not fitting that the ex-convict should set up a huxter's shop or a drinking-den beside that of his ex-gaoler, and even undersell him in the articles of fustian jackets and rum. So they formed a strong and closely-knit party among themselves, called themselves the old colonial aristocracy of New South Wales, and forthwith these squalid hypocrites proceeded to inveigh against granting to the emancipist the same civil rights as they enjoyed. From this point down to the granting of Responsible Government the same spirit actuated the same class, with certain modifications, and formed for many weary years an impassable obstacle to the progress of the people and the introduction of free institutions.
The vested interest class became known as the "Pure Merinos," as they were understood to bear the same relation to the rest of the population as the sheep of that breed did to those from the Cape. The freed convicts were known as "Emancipists." But though, in the then undeveloped condition of free settlement, the antagonism was at first between the "Pure Merinos" and the "Emancipists," it soon became a conflict between the former class and the whole population of the colony, whether emancipist or originally free. Macquarie's instructions directed him to carry out that part of the design of the first experimentalists in transportation, which aimed at making Botany Bay a place of reformation, as well as of punishment. The original plan, so far as there was any plan at all, proposed to give the convict facilities for earning an honest living as soon as his term of sentence had expired. But, of course, the dilettante philanthropists who conceived the scheme never foresaw the complications the New South Wales Corps was destined to introduce. To attempt to unravel these, after they had been formed, was the task of the new Governor.
Lachlan Macquarie was an honest British officer of the old school, to whom it would have been as impossible to engage in a squalid traffic in rum while bearing the King's commission as it would have been to mutiny against his superior officer. He saw the kind of men he had to deal with at a glance, as Bligh had done, but he had considerably more power than his predecessor. He saw that between the Emancipist class, on the one side, and its black sheep with the marks of the leg-irons still on their limbs, and the Pure Merinos, with their claims to consideration on the score of wealth and what they called social position, there was really very little to choose. It did not take him long to say so, either. "There are only two classes of persons in New South Wales," he told the Secretary of State, "those who have been convicted, and those who ought to have been." There was a military directness about this crisp statement of fact that offended the Pure Merinos very much indeed. Their susceptibilities were frequently wounded in this way. It was in a similar cordially appreciative spirit that the naval lieutenant in King's time pleasantly pulled Captain Abbott's nose. It must be confessed that, in the face of such discouraging little passages as these, the struggle of the Pure Merinos to raise themselves in the social scale was a sufficiently pathetic one.
One of Macquarie's first steps after the general state of the colony had been dealt with was one that showed how honest his intentions really were. For the second time the poorer settlers were to see their Governor really taking an active personal interest in their welfare. In 1809, just before his arrival, a heavy flood had again devastated the Hawkesbury district, and the settlers and small farmers there were reduced to the direst straits for want of food. Macquarie and his wife—a womanly, sympathetic lady, such as the colony had kept no record of up to that time—visited the suffering people, brought them food and clothes, and made them feel that their case was not entirely hopeless and desperate. The accounts of this visit show that the Governor was as simple-minded as he was honest. He walked about with his wife, and paraded the settlers and their wives and children before him to inspect the condition of their clothing. It is true, this was not a difficult task, for the poor wretches had not much to inspect. The descendants of some of these settlers attend the Governor's levee now in broadcloth and fine linen, as is proper; but many of these honest fellows made ready for the parade in a costume of which the most important garment was represented by a pair of patched pocket-handkerchiefs. Macquarie showed a fine skill in the detection of rents and patches, and some of his critical remarks thereon give evidence of much cultivated taste and discernment. When this public view was over—the only art exhibition the colony had to boast of, by the way—Macquarie embodied his reflections in some grandmotherly Orders in which he gravely remonstrated with the settlers on the disrepair of their variegated garments. He preached at them, too, in his honest and well-meaning fashion, and concluded thus, more in sorrow than in anger, as it were:—
"His Excellency, therefore, earnestly recommends and trusts that they will pay more attention to these very important objects, and by a strict regard to temperance and economy that they will, on his next annual tour, enable him to give a more unqualified approbation to their exertions." Then he gave them a rest from such preachments for the next twelve months.
Macquarie next planned a scheme of inland settlement that would remove the people out of the reach of the destructive floods. Up to this time the rulers appear to have been too busy hanging and flogging convicts, and squabbling among themselves about the sale of rum, to trouble much about schemes of settlement. Had a man of Macquarie's type been sent out in the first instance, early Australian history would have read altogether differently. He established the townships of Windsor, Castlereagh, Pitt Town, Richmond, Wilberforce, and Liverpool, and, by way of attracting settlers he offered town-allotments and cultivation-areas free of charge to those who would take them. He provided the settlers, as Bligh wished to do, with sheep and cattle on long credit, and for 50 miles around Sydney he built bridges and laid down roads so that the agricultural population might have no difficulty in getting their produce to market. Before his term of office was over he had constructed over 271 miles of road, and it was during his government, in 1813, that Blaxland, Lawson, and Wentworth discovered the pass over the Blue Mountains. The town of Bathurst was founded by Macquarie, and a road 130 miles long constructed thereto under his direction.
He was quite as active in the matter of the erection of public buildings, as so many of them unhappily remain to witness. Their number was only equalled by their ugliness of design, but for this, of course, Macquarie can hardly be held responsible. The memorials of the Dutch design of Governor Macquarie's demoniac architect cast squat shadows over all the old settled districts of the colony. Over 200 churches, schools, hospitals, stores, barracks, and other structures of the kind were built by him in New South Wales. In Sydney there were 67; in Parramatta there were 20 more; in Van Diemen's Land there were 47. The story of the "Rum Hospital" belongs to this chapter of Macquarie's activity.
Some years ago a building stood in Macquarie-street, Sydney, known as the Sydney Infirmary. It has since been pulled down, and its site occupied for some years by a half-finished edifice of dressed stone, on which the work was suspended because of some dispute, which arose when it was half finished, as to the purpose the building should be devoted to when completed. The useless walls still stand, to mark our purposelessness as a people. But it is to the old Sydney Infirmary that this story refers. When Macquarie expressed a wish one day that there might be a large general hospital in Sydney, three individuals came forward modestly with a little plan and a meek proposal. These men were D'Arcy Wentworth, Garret Blaxcell, and Alexander Riley. Their plan was for a building to cost £50,000, a sum which Macquarie, in his simplicity, thought out of the question. But here the meek proposal came in opportunely. These three philanthropists offered to build the hospital on condition that they received the sole right to buy all rum and other spirits imported into the colony for three years. This was granted, and the three philanthropists "rigged" the rum market. To say that the other rum-purveyors were disgusted with this astute manoeuvre would very poorly express the extent to which their honest bosoms were wrung.
The "boodlers" made the most of their monopoly. Whenever a ship came in one of the trinity would go on board and fix his own price, as the captain could not sell to anyone else. They usually paid 9s. per gallon, and 1s. to the orphanage fund! Then the publicans purchased from the store at from £2 per gallon to £2 17s. 6d. The rum was retailed at 5s. per half-pint. The result of the transactions is thus figured out by Dr. Lang;—
"In the year 1824, the Rum Hospital was calculated to be worth £20,000. The quantity of Bengal rum the contractors received was 60,000 gallons. The monopoly was for three years, it was afterwards extended to three years and a-half, and was supposed to be worth £100,000." This was over and above the first 60,000 gallons. "In short," says Lang, "the monopoly was a sort of regium donum, or royal gift, over and above the fair market price of the articles bargained for." Besides all this, the contractors paid half their men's wages in provisions or rum, and built taverns near the works to receive the cash payment back again.
"These three gentlemen, who have the monopoly of the spirit trade," wrote Holt at the time, "say that they built the hospital; but I assert it is the poor people of the colony who built it."
Hence the appropriate name of the "Rum Hospital." Macquarie was not, of course, a man of commercial training. But to outwit the schemes of men trained in the early rum traffic of Botany Bay would have taxed the faculties and training of Beelzebub himself.
Macquarie saw little difference between the convicts and their gaolers, except that the one class wore fetters while the other did not. As soon as the irons were knocked off there was nothing to choose between them. He therefore saw no reason why the Emancipist should not have the same chances as the Pure Merino, so he made no scruple about appointing ex-convicts to the magistracy, and inviting them to dine at his own table. Evil communication with the upper classes of the settlement had corrupted his manners to such a degree that he thought he might as well dine with ex-convicts as with their gaolers, and with better chance of finding himself in honest company. Wherever he saw encouragement he emancipated convicts, therefore, and those who prospered more or less honestly received the same recognition as those who had prospered dishonestly and had not been convicts. He reasoned that the settlement of Botany Bay was a penal settlement, and he failed to see that its gaolers had any further social claims than other turnkeys he had heard of. The ex-convict had some claim, for he was on his own ground, and when his term had expired he was entitled while within the colony to all the social rights and privileges he had forfeited on British soil by his offences. All this was very simple. But it did not please the Pure Merinos or fall in with their views at all.
Macquarie had not been a month in the colony before he made his first advance to the Emancipists. There is a story that the Governor found it necessary to say something caustic to Colonel Foveaux—a worthy man who barely escaped being hanged by the neck for an atrocity committed by him at Norfolk Island. Foveaux in revenge advised him to encourage the Emancipists, knowing that if he did so he would at once incur the remorseless enmity of the Pure Merinos. Macquarie took the advice offered him, which was in accordance with his own impulse, and made Andrew Thomson a magistrate. This man's story is a fair sample of that of a large class in the colony. He was transported while a mere boy, at the age of 16, for setting fire to a stack of hay. This meant that for a boy's freak he was taken from his home and his mother's roof and sent to herd for life with murderers and cut-throats, 16,000 miles away. The original design of the settlement offered some chance that when his sentence expired he might at least regain civil rights, though he could not leave the colony. But the Pure Merinos denied these poor wretches even that small mercy. For one thoughtless act done by an idle boy in a Scotch hayfield near his own home he was doomed to crawl for life on his hands and knees under the lash of ruffians whose crimes were a thousand times worse than his. But Macquarie came and rescued him. He had been a labourer in the stonemasons' gang at Parramatta, and possibly some of the stones in some of those dismal old buildings that yet reek with foul memories of the past, still bear the mark of Andrew Thomson's pick. When his sentence was done he went to Windsor, kept a shop, and sent boats down to Sydney. By hard work he became rich, and lent money to the Hawkesbury farmers, besides giving them credit for their supplies. When the floods came, instead of closing on the homeless wretches as the Macarthurs of the settlement did, he gave them assistance and time. He thus acquired great influence among them, and they learnt to trust him in preference to the officers who oppressed them. This was the man whom Macquarie made his first emancipist magistrate. He could not have chosen a man more distasteful to the Pure Merinos. When Foveaux found his advice taken, he said, in his elegant way, that "he had now placed a blister on Governor Macquarie that he would never be able to remove."
It must have been a touching spectacle to see Andrew Thomson take his seat at the table of the Governor, among his former gaolers. Pleasant reminiscences did they doubtless discuss over the walnuts and the wine—that is, if there were any walnuts, or wine, or any other beverage besides rum, in Botany Bay settlement in those days. The officers of the 73rd Regiment also admitted the new magistrate to their table, and the Pure Merinos' withers were wrung once more. But the familiar demon they blasphemously nicknamed Providence, who seemed to have deserted them lately, again looked after them as before. Andrew Thomson died. He was only a magistrate a very brief while. And the Governor set up a tombstone over the grave of the man who burnt a hay-stack when he was a boy, and on the stone he had an epitaph inscribed, which set forth "that it was in consequence of his character and conduct that he appointed him to be a magistrate in the colony, and that by that same act he restored him to that rank in society which he had lost." It was all the good-natured Macquarie could do for this rustic victim of savage British laws. There were no post-mortem examinations at Botany Bay in those days.
Alarmed at these serious encroachments on their privileges, the Pure Merinos had recourse to their old tactics. They wrote anonymous letters, and slandered Macquarie behind his back; and then they used their influence at home to set the Colonial Office in motion to have him censured or recalled. The same tortuous ways they followed to disgrace Hunter and King, and to slander Bligh, were crawled over once more to ruin Macquarie. The result of their scheming was that Mr. Commissioner Bigge was appointed to proceed to Botany Bay and enquire into the condition and prospects of the convict population, and the working of the transportation system generally. This man Bigge was signally unfitted for the responsible duties committed to him. He had as much qualification for his commissionership as Phillip had to bring out the First Fleet—a duty, as we have seen, for which his superior officer said he was not fit. Perhaps Bigge was appointed for the same reason; certainly appointments to Botany Bay were not much run after in those days. He seems to have fallen into the hands of the Pure Merinos from the start, and they so blew out this pitiful bladder of a man with stories about their own virtues and the vices of the ex-convicts that he nearly burst with the information that he absorbed. Mr. Bigge was morally garotted by the ex-officers the moment he set foot on shore. He was exactly in the position of a distinguished visitor to-day who visits the colonies, perhaps, to write a book. He, too, falls into the hands of a class; and goes away with an impression that Australia is populated with purblind lickspittles, who give good dinners and don't know how to serve them. This was the case with Mr. Bigge. He discovered that Botany Bay was peopled with angels—these were the ex-officers of the New South Wales Corps; and with fiends—who were the ex-convicts. He reported accordingly, and those who remember Macarthur's anonymous letters and the shameless slanders about Bligh, will not require to be told what that report said in detail. The burden of it was that vested interests and the rights of property must be maintained.
All the slanders that could be raked together against Macquarie's administration were put into that report. His very activity in building and roadmaking was made a charge against him, and his efforts to reform the convicts by giving them some encouragement to live honestly, were turned into an accusation against him. The grounds on which this was done are too characteristic to be omitted. It was said that many of these derelict creatures, when they got grants of land or wages for labour, at once turned them into rum. This was horrible. But not so horrible as the fact that the whited sepulchres who sold the rum to these wretches for their wages or their land, and enriched themselves further by the fact, were the same people who virtuously pointed out this state of things to the fatuous Mr. Bigge. Their moral indignation at the methods they themselves employed to make their fortunes would put the Scribes and Pharisees to shame. But the Australian "first families" have never been of the kind of botanical specimen that delights to blush unseen, and waste its fragrance on the desert air.
This case of Andrew Thomson is a representative one, and it demonstrates the tactics of the ex-officers better than anything else. Mr. Commissioner Bigge, who censured Macquarie in his report for making Thomson a magistrate, swallowed all the officers told him with gudgeon-like avidity. His report set forth that Thomson was said to have been a man of immoral life and an illicit still-keeper. Macquarie, on his tombstone, eulogised his character and conduct. There is, therefore, a conflict of evidence between Macquarie and the ex-officers. When it is remembered what adepts at slander these men had always proved themselves, and when their command of every channel of calumny from the anonymous letter down to Mr. Commissioner Bigge is also considered, the verdict becomes a very easy one. But the matter is settled when it is further remembered that these British officers and gentlemen were so notoriously profligate in their lives as to keep and maintain harems of convict women, who, when they had served their turn, were drafted off to retail for their owners that rum which was illicitly distilled for them by their convict servants when the importation of spirits was forbidden by King and Bligh. When it was necessary to hunt up some charges to blast the reputation of an unhappy wretch like Thomson, these ex-officers had only to look into their own lives to find abundant colour for their fancy pictures. Very little indeed was left to the imagination.
One thing all the machinations of the ex-officers failed to conceal, or to prevent from getting into Bigge's report. This was the fact of the awful misery and unspeakable dereliction of the convict classes in the colony. Horrible stories and horrible incidents of everyday so forced themselves on the Commissioner's attention that he could not but leave some record of what he heard and saw. Macquarie had indeed done something to cut out of the system a little of that barbarism that the New South Wales Corps had introduced. But it is to be considered that Macquarie was himself a man bred to a career which at that time was anything but a philanthropic one. His personal character impelled him in the direction of humanity in his rule, but his training was against it. Moreover the long rule of the Corps had so corrupted and demoralised both the free and the convict population that humanitarianism in the ruler would almost have been out of place. So the hanging and flogging went merrily on; but Mr. Bigge's report went home and began to open Englishmen's eyes to the cess-pool of legalised ruffianism they had established under their flag.
We have given so much attention to the antagonism between the Emancipists and the Pure Merinos because, as our story goes on, it will appear that after the old convict lines had been obliterated, and the country populated by free immigrants, the old antagonism between class and class was still maintained under different names. An instance soon occurred to show how completely the officials had been influenced by the ex-officers to oppose the amelioration of the convicts' lot.
When Judge Bent succeeded the Judge-Advocate of the same name, he established a regular Supreme Court, and one of his first acts was to deal with an application from certain Emancipists. Crossley, who was one of Macarthur's victims, and who had been released from the Newcastle coal-mines when Macquarie came, with two other ex-convict attorneys named Eagar and Charters, applied for permission to practise as solicitors and barristers. Judge Bent refused the petition on the ground that an Act of George I., to prevent persons convicted of felony from practising in the law-courts, was in operation in the colony. "I do now solemnly declare," he said, in giving his decision, "that I will not admit as attorneys of this Court, nor administer the oaths to persons who have been transported here as felons; it is contrary to law, and no circumstance and no necessity can exist so strong in my mind as to induce me to it."
The Governor supported the emancipist attorneys in their application, as the principle on which he based his conduct required. His contention was that the Act did not refer to a penal colony established to give emancipated offenders a chance of reformation. He wrote to the Secretary of State on the subject, explaining his position and the policy of his rule, as well as the machinations of parties opposed to that policy. Fortunately for Macquarie, his enemies were not beforehand with him this time. He had the full approval of the Home authorities for his experiment in the reformation of emancipists, and, inasmuch as the conduct of Judge Bent was entirely opposed to the success of that experiment, that person was at once recalled. Earl Bathurst, writing in the name of the Prince Regent, considered the removal of Judge Bent "as necessary to mark the sense and disapprobation which they entertain of the measures which, so indiscreetly for the colony and himself, the said Geoffry Hart Bent, Esq., thought it necessary to adopt." The same letter also conveyed to this luckless wight "the high displeasure of his Royal Highness, and his positive recall by his Majesty's Government, on account of conduct which, in their opinion, could admit of no justification." So Judge Bent sailed out through the Heads, and was seen of Botany Bay no more.
Judge Barron Field succeeded. He was a friend of Lamb, and knew Hazlitt and Coleridge, and De Quincey. Dr. Lang, who doesn't seem to have liked him, said he had the folly to consider himself a sort of universal genius, and in particular a poet. At all events he published a volume of so-called poetry which he named "Botany Bay Flowers." One of the "Flowers" is an address to a kangaroo, commencing:
Spirit of Australia!"
"He makes 'Australia' rhyme with 'failure,'" says Lang; "shrewdly considering the kangaroo a failure on the part of Australian Nature in her awkward attempts to make a proper quadruped for that country. His collection of pieces was altogether the wretchedest doggerel I have ever seen."
And Lang should have been a judge of doggerel, too; for he himself published later a most cacophonous collection of rhyming rubbish. It is strange to find an associate of Lamb and Coleridge on the Bench at Botany Bay in those days—snatching a moment, as it were, from his sentences of hanging and the lash, to pen little verses respecting the silent tomb, or the kangaroo; and inditing dreamy elegies on the death of cockchafers while his fellow-creatures writhed under the lash or dangled from the gallows to which he had sentenced them. It was only natural that so cultivated a spirit should seek such congenial literary society as Botany Bay afforded. We have seen how some of the officers had a pretty wit, and a deft hand at turning verses—chiefly relating to executions and other light subjects of the vers de société of those days. Among them Judge Field found kindred spirits, so that he yearned no more for De Quincey and Coleridge, and the gentle Elia was almost forgotten.
So that when the Emancipist question again came up, the new judge fell an easy victim to the wiles of the literary circle into which he had fallen. The rum-purveyors probably affected to admire his verses. Ex-convict Eagar again comes to the front, this time to press a case against a Mr. Prosper de Mestre. This was an American merchant settled in Sydney, whose imports of tea from China interfered with Eagar's business. Finding the law-courts closed against him, this latter individual had entered on a mercantile career. He brought an action to recover damages from De Mestre for the penalties he had incurred as a foreigner, under an old English Act, for trading in the King's colonies. But De Mestre knew the official feeling of the settlement. He moved for the official record of the plaintiff's conviction as his reply to the charge laid against him. He was successful. For Judge Field, emerging from his commune with the Muses, quashed the proceedings. This action on the part of the judge had only one meaning. It meant that no Emancipist could bring an action-at-law, under any circumstances whatever, without running the risk of having justice denied him on the ground that he had been once convicted of felony, and thus deprived for ever of all rights and privileges as a citizen. This was exactly the point the Pure Merinos were labouring to establish.
The delight on the part of the Pure Merinos was only equalled by the dismay among the Emancipists. They saw themselves again placed at the mercy of their enemies, and all Macquarie's efforts seemed vain. An agitation was set on foot amongst them, and on January 23, 1821, a public meeting of Emancipists was held in Sydney to protest against the decision. It was decided to send a delegation of two of their number home on a mission to the British authorities, to put the Emancipists' case before them. Strange to say, it was from this first public meeting of ex-convicts, nearly 70 years ago, that our present free institutions and Responsible Government arose. Stranger still, it is to ex-convict Eagar, the emancipist attorney, that Australia to-day owes primarily the institutions it possesses. For with him began the agitation, afterwards taken up by Wardell and Wentworth, which opened with a demand for a recognition of the civil rights of Emancipists, and only broke off short at the granting of Responsible Government in 1856. Eagar went home as one of the ex-convict delegation, and never returned to the colony to claim the statue he thus earned.
Macquarie had not much to say while this agitation was going on, for by this time the long opposition of the Pure Merinos was beginning to tell on himself. It would be strange if, after unintermittent attacks, extending over twelve years, with opposition in the colony and slanders at home, no results were to be produced. Macquarie was called on to explain the charges made against him—why he built hospitals and churches, laid good roads, and softened the lot of suffering convict wretches. This fine old soldier made a splendid reply. He described the state of the colony when he came: there were not 12,000 people, or 8000 acres under crops; the port dues were under £8000. Against this he described the colony as it was: nearly 40,000 people, 33,000 acres under tillage, and port dues of £30,000 per annum. The monuments of his excellent rule were broadcast throughout the land. The convict population had been relieved. But "even my work of charity," said Macquarie, referring to the charges of his enemies, "in endeavouring to restore emancipated and reformed convicts to a level with their fellow-subjects—a work which, considered either from a religious or a political point of view, I shall ever value as the most meritorious part of my administration—has not escaped their animadversion." But the slanders of his enemies carried weight. Sir Thomas Brisbane came in December, 1821, and Macquarie went home with the benedictions of the poorer classes in his ears to die three years later—another victim to the powerful remnant of the "Rum-selling Corps."
At this part of our story the name of Dr. Lang suggests itself. This fine old Scotch parson came to the colony just two years after Macquarie left, while his brother arrived in the year of that event. From the moment he felt the ground under his feet, the voice of the Doctor was heard in the land, and he fought gallantly and with all the vim of his combative nature whenever his sympathies were aroused. The son of an Ayrshire peasant, he had strong prejudices and equally strong sympathies; but, so far as he knew, and according to his lights, he did good work in his day. The honest old Doctor's heart was in the right place, and he sounded the first note of Australian national aspiration: quite a number of Australian patriots have been Scotchmen! When he was beaten or temporarily silenced by official influence he thumped the "drum ecclesiastic" against his foes; and when he drove a hole in the drum, as he sometimes did, the good man had a little trumpet of his own which he knew how to sound upon occasion.
Our special concern with Dr. Lang just here is in his capacity as an alleged historian. He wrote a book which he imaginatively enough called a "History of New South Wales," but which is nothing more or less than a very readable autobiography. As a history it is misleading, chiefly because the indisputable faith of the Doctor lends it an appearance of trustworthiness which does not altogether belong to it. Those who read between the lines will see that this fighting Scotch parson wrote his book with a purpose. But that purpose was not simply the preparation of a history of the colony. It was rather to confound the writer's opponents and, as he would say himself, to make his enemies his footstool.
Quite an awful command of Scriptural commination had the excellent old Doctor, and its choicest flowers were always at the service of his foes. He seemed to have searched the Scriptures with a view to preparing damnatory thunderbolts therefrom; and it must be said in all soberness that his multitudinous references to Holy Writ are exasperating in the extreme to the reader. Valuable information about the capacity of the pool of Hebron and other particulars of the kind are offered as appendices to this history of New South Wales, and interesting personal details about his relatives and their affairs relieve the monotony of the work. But in its philosophical scope Lang's history is very wide of the mark indeed.
"A new and a great nation, which is destined to extend the illustrious name, the noble language, the equitable laws, and the Protestant religion of Britain over the southern hemisphere," was Dr. Lang's ideal of the Australian national future. It was not a very broad or a very high one But it was all that could be expected by the most advanced at the time. Free and independent Australia, he said, "would be valuable to Great Britain as a mart for her commerce, a field for the growth of raw produce for her manufactures, and an eligible outlet for her redundant population of all classes;" and on the same page his prejudice and training so far get the better of him that he bursts forth into declamation to the effect that "it was not to be supposed that zealous Protestants of any communion could stand tamely by" and see Irish immigration to Australia! With a view to counterbalance it, he went home repeatedly and drafted out Scotchmen; and from this began those interminable race-feuds and miserable class differences on which scalawag politicians trade to-day. Nothing has done so much to retard the progress of the Australian people as these acclimatised racial hatreds and sectarian squabbles. And yet Dr. Lang boasts that he was the first to decide an election—at Port Phillip—by exciting the Scotch colony he planted there against the rest of the community.
In the struggle between the Emancipists and the Pure Merinos, too, Lang sided against the former. His relatives had received grants of land and assigned convict servants. The Doctor's sympathies were thrown in, therefore, with the propertied classes. But he was too honest to shut his eyes altogether to their real characters. So that, though his book is disfigured by rankly prejudiced attacks against Macquarie and others who strove to ameliorate the convicts' lot, and give them a chance to reform, it yet throws a certain amount of light on the proceedings of the propertied class, as the Pure Merinos began to call themselves, and on many of their devious methods and tortuous ways.
Had Lang been a man of less prejudice and—let it be said with all respect for his honesty—with less bigotry, it is hard to judge how far his national aspirations and liberal sympathies would have carried him. As it was, he opposed Wentworth and Wardell in the early part of their career, and threw away a great deal of his influence on petty personal disputes and miserable sectarian squabbles that were utterly unworthy of him.
Macquarie went home, as was said, with the benedictions of the poor in his ears. There is a slanderous and blackguardly book, published by Major Mudie—who was very properly horsewhipped in Sydney for his literary larrikinism—and known as the "Felonry of New South Wales," in which the case as between Macquarie and Commissioner Bigge is squarely put; and it must be owned that Mudie, whom we will tie up to the triangles when his turn comes, was not prejudiced in favour of Macquarie's work.
"Mr. Commissioner Bigge," says this red-handed witness, "busied himself, as is well known, infinitely more in pointing out and sanctioning trumped-up charges against the Governor, than in ascertaining the actual condition of the colony, which was his mission. He took every uncandid and unfair advantage; while the vipers and unprincipled men...filled the ear of the commissioner with everything that slander could invent or misrepresentation fashion into imputation upon the venerable representative of their sovereign. The commission, therefore, instead of being an enquiry into the state of the colony, was engaged in getting hold of everything that could in any way degrade or affect the good name of the Governor." So much for Mr. Bigge. Macquarie's death was attributed, by those who knew him best, to the effect of the Botany Bay calumnies with which he had been pursued. Sir Charles Forbes, Bart., a man of public virtue and private benevolence, pronounced his eulogium in the House of Commons, and his intimate knowledge of Indian and colonial affairs was understood to give the weight of authoritative decision to his high opinion of Governor Macquarie's official conduct.
"So many disgraceful things have occurred with regard to New South Wales," says this sensitive candidate for the public horsewhipping he afterwards received, "that it is absolutely painful to record them!" And then he goes on to tell the old story about the appointment of the first Archdeacon of New South Wales. Mr. Bigge had taken out to Botany Bay as his clerk, a person named Scott, who had failed in London as a wine-merchant. This Scott was active in collecting charges against Macquarie from the Pure Merinos, and "the clerk," we are told, "could condescend to practices from which the dignity of the commissioners must have shrunk." There were few rat-holes into which this ferret could not enter, and his employers were not ungrateful. An appointment was asked for him. There was none vacant. But that was a small difficulty while it was possible to make one. So Earl Bathurst was persuaded to nominate Mr. Scott, the bankrupt wine-merchant, as Archdeacon of New South Wales at an apostolic salary of £2000 per annum. Concerning whom there is told a certain frivolous story.
Now, in those days, the editor and proprietor of one of the Sydney newspapers was, strangely enough, a pew-renter in the Archdeacon's Church of St. James, in Sydney. He was moved of the Evil One to offer certain cynical observations in his paper respecting the new Archdeacon; and the wisdom of the serpent in that reverend if somewhat vinous person prompted him to retaliate and scoop the offender's pew. The editor was served with a notice to take possession of another pew "in a cold and comfortless part of the church."
He objected, and was told that police constables would be placed to keep the pew against all comers, and any trespassers would be forthwith ejected from the house of prayer. Now, the editor was the proud and happy progenitor of no less than six large daughters; and every Sunday he made a descent in force on the disputed dew, which had been locked by the vinous Archdeacon and the name-plate torn off, only to be repulsed by the constables with their staves. At first the newspaper-man contented himself with standing in the aisle, in mute protest, while "the delicate females, his daughters, sat on the cold stone steps of the altar-piece."
It must be confessed that these proceedings lent an agreeable attractiveness to the church service; and we learn that every Sunday the building was crowded by congregations that the Archdeacon's eloquence failed to attract, who trooped in to see the pantomime. It is to be remembered that there were fewer theatrical performances in those days than now. But standing in the aisle soon proved as tame and spiritless a course of conduct for the father as sitting on the cold stone steps, even of an altar-piece, was to his daughters. So he excogitated a new development, and every now and then, when the proud Archdeacon wasn't looking, the newspaper man would swoop down on one of his fail progeny, and, amid a whirl of white drapery and a flutter as of apocalyptic wings, the young lady would perform a thrilling acrobatic feat with her parent's assistance, and land with more or less elegance though always with considerable spirit on the inside of the pew. The congregation liked that. But the proud Archdeacon in his scarlet pride thought this was running the authorised performance rather close—there were no choirs of surpliced ladies then!—so he had the pew decked over with boards, held down with bars and screws to defeat the newspaper man. That stopped him. Then he took the case into court, seeing that it was likely to afford no more wholesome fun, and wrung the Archdeacon's bosom by obtaining damages for illegal ejection from his pew. Mr. Scott went home then, and his spirited apostolate came abruptly to a close.
The rule of Sir Thomas Brisbane, K.C.B., began on December 1, 1821. He was a Scotchman, and acute. He saw that Macquarie made unnecessary trouble for himself by his conscientiousness, so he determined to let Botany Bay have its own way. He built an observatory at Parramatta, therefore, and occupied himself in keeping a strict eye on the movements of Venus and Jupiter. While he followed the stars in their courses through a narrow tube the Pure Merinos took everything into their own hands more completely than ever. The old trading monopolies grew up again, and the old atrocities, and the old squalor. Convicts shrieked under the cat again, and dangled on gibbets as of old; the settlers were exploited and robbed on the old system, and all the miseries of the "rum era" were renewed once more. And still Governor Brisbane, in his eyrie at Parramatta, complacently surveyed the stars.
Free immigration began to set in in larger numbers now than ever before, and as most of those who came brought some little money with them, they are usually described as being of a better class than those who reached Botany Bay up to this time. If a new arrival could prove to the Governor his ability to maintain five convicts for a fixed number of years, and was prepared to enter into a bond to that effect, he received a grant of 500 acres of land, with a breeding cow to each convict. For ten convict servants he received 1000 acres and ten cows; and so on. From this, dates the real beginning of the convict assignment system, though, of course, convict servants had been assigned out more or less from the first days of the settlement. The demand for convict labour became so great that "though great multitudes were annually transported from England, numbers of free immigrants had to wait, with great inconvenience, for convict servants with whose labour to cultivate their lands."
It is needless to explain at this late hour of the day that convict service was in reality a kind of white slavery, intensified by all the most degrading and repulsive features of negro slavery, but also with some superadded horrors of its own. On their arrival, the convicts were first drafted off into the convicts' depot at Hyde Park. There applications were attended to, and white labour portioned off among the applicants in their due proportions. Major Goulburn was the Governor's Grand Vizier in those days, and the centre of the iniquitous system at whose heart he sat like some ill-omened spider in its web, disposing of the souls and bodies of convict men and women just as he disposed of the Government cattle and sheep. The "impenetrable Major," they called him in those days, and it can easily be imagined what an object of awe this all-powerful official was to the men and women whose lives lay at the mercy of his slightest sign.
His was an iron rule. The colony was a prison, he said, and the prisoners were to be treated accordingly. So they were. The Major was head turnkey, and all the duties of Custom-house officer, treasurer, and collector of revenue were discharged by him. He grew so despotic and so irresponsible at last, that, like all men who have been entrusted with powers which prove too much for them, he forgot his duty to his head-gaoler, the Governor, and wanted to dictate to him, too. The home Government recalled both of them, and the house of cards the "impenetrable Major" had built fell about his ears in a moment. It is quite interesting to see these all-powerful Botany Bay potentates knocked over like nine-pins by the merest breath of Imperial authority. Judges, governors, gaolers, even the floggers and hangmen themselves had to grovel piteously when the Colonial Office spoke. And so Major Goulburn went home, to spend his old age in bitterly remorseful memories of Botany Bay; and this story knows him no more.
The assignment system was actually commenced by Hunter, and lasted up to 1838. It will be remembered that Phillip once wrote of the Botany Bay settlement, that "there can be no slavery in a free land, and consequently no slaves." These fine words fell signally to the ground. From the moment the assignment system was introduced until the despatch was received for its discontinuance, a form of slavery more degrading than any Assyria or Louisiana ever knew—more disgraceful than negro slavery as the white man is above the black—held its unbridled course in New South Wales. It is startling to think that it is not yet fifty years since these horrors passed away, and that some of the persons responsible for their existence still exercise legislative power under the free institutions of to-day. The convict was in the hands of the official, body and soul. This state of things generated a condition of cringing servitude on the one side, and on the other a class sentiment of authority and assertion of superiority, both of which still strongly survive, though the conditions that produced them have long since passed away. So long as a single official, trained and formed under the old Imperial system, continues in the service of the country, and so long as the traditions of that system cling, so long will these squalid traces continue to be apparent.
Nearly every large holder of assigned convict servants was a magistrate. A flogger was part of each magistrate's retinue, and the triangles were a common feature in every well-regulated homestead. Neighbouring employers honoured each other's notes of hand by administering a flogging to the bearer; and often a worthy magistrate, in the cool shadow of his spacious verandah, dined pleasantly with his wife and daughters to the music of a yelling wretch triced up to the torture at an easy distance away.
In the book Lang imaginatively called his history there is a description of the way the system worked, illustrated by examples. He takes the common case of an emigrant settler—it is to be remembered that Lang was an eye-witness of all these things—who returns to his farm after an absence of some weeks idling about the country, and finds that his servants have been idle in his absence. He curses and swears at them until a man who has seen better days forgets himself so far as to reply to his ruffianly master. The convict is at once haled before the next magistrate, who orders the delinquent to receive 25 lashes or more. As soon as the man is fit for labour he is put to the plough, which he takes the opportunity, perhaps, to break on a stump. He is sent to the chain-gang for a term, and when that is over he escapes to the bush, perhaps murdering his tyrant, or setting fire to his homestead. It was so that bushrangers were manufactured. Lang adds that the escapees perhaps rob a settler's cart for food a few days after their escape, are captured, and hanged as a matter of course. And, speaking of his own solemn experience as a clergyman in these cases, he further adds that the "wretched men assure the minister who may visit them in gaol or attend them, on the scaffold, that it was the arbitrary and unfeeling conduct of their masters alone that brought them to an untimely end."
The assignment of women-convicts was a delicate task, and one that taxed all the ingenious evil of the officials of those days. The women were of many classes—from the harridan to the lady-pickpocket. Anyone who has read anything of the hideous state of things that obtained in Newgate when Mrs. Elizabeth Fry began her prison-work will not require to be told anything here about these ladies' apprenticeship for Botany Bay. The voyage out was a dismal orgie, of which the less said the better. "Every convict ship," says one writer, "carries out a herd of females of all ages, and of every gradation in vice, from the veriest troll to the fine madam who displayed her attractions in the theatres. All who can carry with them the whole paraphernalia of the toilette, with trunks and boxes stuffed with every kind of female dress and decoration they can come at." These women had unlimited freedom of intercourse among themselves in the prison-room, and on a certain portion of the deck at a fixed part of the day, and this completed the corruption of the younger among them. The discipline of the female convicts was entrusted to the surgeon, and many stories are told about the lady-favourites of the surgeons, and their conduct towards the rest of their fellow-convicts.
"The madams on board," wrote a sarcastic person, "occupy the few days which elapse before their landing in preparing to produce the most dazzling effect at their descent upon the Australian shore. With rich silk dresses—bonnets à la mode—ear pendants three inches long—gorgeous shawls and splendid veils—silk stockings, kid gloves, and parasols in hand, dispensing sweet odours from their profusely perfumed forms, they disembark, and," adds this poetically imaginative observer, "are assigned as servants, and distributed to the expectant settlers." Then we get descriptions of the triumphant passage of these syrens—of the offers of marriage made them loudly from the waysides, and the besieging of ardent swains at their new homes. Sometimes the settler wanted only a servant and received a sultana; and one writer describes how a fair creature so assigned him swept down on the devoted homestead with a cargo of attar of roses and botanical cream, Macassar oil and cosmetics and scented soaps, and a profusion of the delicate trifles that adorn a lady's toilette-table; and even then the flighty thing wept for an exclusive dressing-room of her own.
Of the other class of women-convicts it is said that their language, manners, and conduct were infinitely too dreadful for published description. "Their language, disgusting even when heard by profligate men, would pollute the eyes cast upon it in writing. Their open and shameless vices must not be told. Their fierce and untameable audacity would not be believed.
"Were the veil raised, and the appalling spectacle exhibited as it really is, the picture would be too horrid for affrighted humanity to look upon." A good deal might be said on this subject, but we prefer to leave these extracts to speak for themselves in this unsavoury connection. At the same time it may be added that if the writer on Australian subjects is to be squeamish on those matters there would be no such thing as Australian history at all. Most of our early story is made up that way.
When the Australian colonist of to-day, who does not belong to the past of Australian history and has no sympathy with it, looks back to see what the coming nation owes to the mother-country, the disembarking of the cargo of one of these convict-women ships will afford one crushing answer. The women who were sent out here with the full and avowed intention of making them the mothers of the future Australian men and women were such demireps and harridans as our eye-witnesses' extracts have described. When it shall become necessary, by-and-bye, to tell Imperial officialdom that its day in Australia is over, those who are called on to say as much will have to remember this fact, and nerve themselves to meet the sneer that will remind them of what the mother country kindly decided in their regard.
The female convicts were assigned within eight or ten days after their landing, and when the applicants were all supplied the remainder were sent to the Women's Factory, at Parramatta. That den of iniquity contained at times many hundreds of women, of all classes; from the rustic girl to the swell mobsman's "lady." They were divided into three sections. The first was made up of those who had never been assigned, or who, having been sent out to service, had been returned to the Factory without any recorded complaint against them. The third class contained those who had been returned from service for insubordination, or otherwise giving trouble, and female convicts who had been sentenced for offences committed in the colony to terms not long enough for transportation. The second class was filled by those who had completed their term of sentence.
For the demirep class of convict women the factory was rather a pleasant asylum than otherwise. "The females pass their time in sufficient merriment," we are told, "relating to each other their former histories, their amours and debaucheries, the thefts in which they have been concerned, and the crimes for which they respectively received sentence of transportation." So much was this recognised that it was said to be a common thing for female convicts of this class to demand of their mistresses to send them there, and "flatly and with fearful oaths to disobey their orders for the purpose of securing the accomplishment of their wish." But it was the women of the other class—the poor creatures who, for some petty offence had been torn away from their homes as hundreds were in those days, and sent to herd with felons at Botany Bay, that felt the full horror of this dreadful abode. The chaplain Marsden—he was familiarly known as "Old Flog 'em" by these Factory women—prescribed a flogging for all breaches of discipline, and the lash was always going in some part of the establishment or other, so that the chaplain's nickname was suggested by his favourite phrase.
The Factory was also a kind of matrimonial bureau. When the convict could obtain his master's consent, he repaired to the Factory to select a wife. Then the unmarried belles wore drawn up in line before this modern Paris of Botany Bay, whose duty it was to award the prize for which the goddesses disputed of old. Many were the languishing graces and captivating arts used to influence the hesitating swain, and some future poet or painter of Botany Bay will doubtless arise to do tardy justice to these novel conditions of love's young dream. When Paris made his selection and his critical eye was satisfied, he crooked his finger and said "'Ere!" to the blushing damsel, capriciously coy, on whom he had fixed his young affections. They talked it over together, and the other ladies looked on. Sometimes the fair one was difficult, and the terms could not be arranged. She was sent back to her place in the ranks of female loveliness, and another selection made without a moment's hesitation. There is no record of any swain having been rendered desperate by this outrage to his blighted affections.
In some cases when free settlers made their selection in this way, it was found after the honeymoon that the dispositions of the twain were incompatible. Then the discarded wife was promptly "turned in" to the Factory, and a new selection made. There was an easy facility about this method of divorce that recommended itself.
The ill-treatment of the convict women among the settlers was so general that most of them preferred to be in the Factory to being sent out to service. Servitude under one master for two years entitled these women to a ticket-of-leave, but during that time they were very often the creatures of the irresponsible caprice of their mistresses—and only a woman with power over another can really exhaust the art of cruelty in all its ramifications and possibilities. Of the five or six hundred women with which the Factory was always peopled, from one to two hundred were always mothers of illegitimate children.
The distance from Sydney to Parramatta by water is about 14 miles. Women were conveyed there in boats under the escort of a guard of soldiers. Judge Therry, in his Reminiscences, gives an account of these water-picnics. He describes the soldiers as taking provisions and rum with them in their boats—provisioning them as if for a lengthened cruise. As soon as they got away from the city a scene of drunken revelry commenced. It took the soldiers and their convoys sometimes seven days to perform that journey of 14 miles. The reader may consult the Reminiscences of the learned Judge fur further information on this and other kindred subjects.
Another feature about the assignment of convict servants was that men were often assigned to their wives, and wealthy transportees to their friends. When a man was convicted in London or elsewhere, he was sent to Botany Bay as a convict while his wife or any woman who passed as such—forged certificates were always common in Botany By—followed him in the first ship with the booty. She got her husband assigned to her. Sometimes the arrangement worked well, and sometimes not. But this novel matrimonial device had certain advantages. For it often happened that when the husband forgot his changed position—that he was a convict assigned to his wife, in short—these matter-of-fact women were careful to impress the fact on their affectionate spouses. This produced words and sometimes a quarrel But the women were quite equal to the conflict. They just handed their quondam lords and masters over to the nearest constable, who brought them before a magistrate. That excellent man promptly sentenced them to be flogged as convicts who had shown themselves insubordinate in their assigned service, and so the balance of marital power was in some measure equalised. These playful proceedings put the domestic question in quite a novel and captivating light.
After what has been said it is almost unnecessary to add that the morality of the town of Sydney itself was at a hopelessly low ebb. The practice of concubinage was common up to the time of Governor Bourke, and a general profligacy had gangrened the whole of the community. The immoral customs of the town were so flagrant and so notorious that no one ever thought of censuring another unless it was for falling behind in these brutalities of wantonness that had no redeeming feature to soften the repulsiveness of their vice. People have been brutal and coarse before, but most that have distinguished themselves in that way knew how to throw a glamour of some kind or another over their excesses. The villa of Lucullus saw strange sights and azure Capri has mirrored other scenes besides those of cloud and sky in its day. The story of such places has been told in more than one way, but most of those who have told of them have had something else to relate besides mere records of salaciousness. But in Sydney everything was bestial. There was no public redeeming trait. Perhaps the most repulsive picture ever limned by the historian is that cruelly graphic description of Sydney of 40 years ago that stands on record in the second volume of Justin McCarthy's "History of Our Own Time."
If the New South Wales Corps left anyone whatever behind to represent it, this was surely the time to find its representatives in full activity. Unless the leopard had changed its spots altogether, this was certainly the set of circumstances calculated to bring them out in their true colours. The atmosphere of moral filth which we have rather hinted at than described, was the native air of what was now the aristocratic element in the colony. It might indeed be alleged that their fine barbaric spirit had been veneered over by wealth by this time, and that they had settled down to honest courses and a bourgeois virtue. But the characteristics of the Corps were too deeply ingrained for that, and under favourable circumstances like the present they were brought out as naturally as heat brings out vermin. Under such extraordinarily promising conditions the Pure Merinos felt it incumbent on themselves to show their mettle and do justice to their training.
While Governor Brisbane was following the stars in their courses in his eyrie at Parramatta—the curious reader may yet see the corner-stone of his observatory beside Old Government House there—the Pure Merinos had everything their own way. While this Governor took charge of the solar system, his subordinates had full control over that insignificant portion of our own planet nominally committed to his care. The active concerns of government passed from his hands to those of his officials, and as Mr. Commissioner Bigge had censured Macquarie for his efforts to redeem the convicts from their hopeless condition, Brisbane was determined not to fall into the same blunder. Consequently the Pure Merinos arranged these matters after their own plans, and the last state of the unhappy convict became worse than the first. But what was much more to the purpose for these people, the Governor no longer endeavoured to regulate the trading concerns of the settlement as his predecessor had done, and the old iniquitous system of monopoly and spoliation began again as actively as ever. The Pure Merinos obtained command of the market, using the ill-gotten wealth they had amassed for the purpose, and the condition of things was soon as bad as it had ever been under the sailor-governors.
Trading operations were carried on under a system of exchange. The settler who sent a consignment of wheat to the King's Store at Sydney obtained a receipt from the commissariat officer in charge. This receipt he passed on to the merchant, in exchange for rum and other necessaries of life—such as clothing, provisions, and the like. The merchants were principally the Pure Merinos; and they, true to the traditions of their order, charged most exorbitant rates for the accommodation they thus gave the poorer settlers. The consequence was that these, as a class, plunged deeply into debt. It is said that nine-tenths of the population were hopelessly involved in this way during the rule of Sir Thomas Brisbane. During Macquarie's time they were, to some extent, protected against any undue use being made by their creditors of the great power thus gained. As the goods turned into the store were sold, these creditors were paid in whole or in part, and so the process went on. But with the new Governor the harpies saw their chance, and took it. Brisbane did not interfere in such matters, and in 1822 an order was issued in his name by the officials, stating that in future all grain should be supplied to the store by tender, and that no produce would be received at any one time beyond the amount required for the next ensuing quarter. This step was taken concurrently with another that worked exactly in the same direction. This was to change the circulating medium suddenly from colonial currency to sterling coin. This notable project at once raised the pound sterling 25 per cent, above the pound currency—for up to that time the medium of exchange in the colony was made up in motley fashion from English coins, Spanish dollars, moidores, and pieces of eight.
The devilish ingenuity that devised this double-handled weapon soon put it to active use. Two results at once accrued—the King's Store as a market for the settlers' produce was suddenly closed, and the money of the settlement was depreciated in value. The natural effect followed. There was a rush of settlers with grain to the temporary market opened for the collection of the quarter's supplies, and at the same moment a demand from the creditors for the settlement of outstanding accounts. The settler found himself in this position. Any money he held was reduced in value 25 per cent, by the change of currency, and the Commissariat receipts which he usually gave as securities for his debts were about to be withheld from issue. They were ready to sell at any price to save themselves from ruin; but the King's Store was only prepared to buy three months' supply. They, therefore, competed to undersell each other, to get the benefit of the market while it was open, and wheat, which had rated at from 7s. 6d. to 10s. per bushel, was eagerly offered at 3s. 9d. currency. The traders profited by this fall in price to make their claims, and the amount of their debts was paid six-fold in the value of the produce they received.
This sudden fall in prices gave rise to an impression that grain was superabundant in the settlement, and that over-cultivation had produced a supply in excess of the wants of the population. Unrestrained waste and profusion became the order of the day. Produce was valued at little or nothing. Provisions were wasted. And reckless improvidence soon cleared the way for the mistake to show itself. Before the season was over the supply of grain was exhausted. Famine began to menace the community, and the prices rose to 24s. per bushel. Distress and ruin threatened the agricultural and city population alike. And still the Governor in his eyrie at Parramatta complacently surveyed the stars.
It would be almost impossible to credit the villainy of persons who could prompt the framing of these regulations in their own selfish interest did we not know something of their history. Studied malignity marked their action in planning this diabolical plot against a whole community, and the way they set to work to take unsparing advantage of that plot's success. The long array of debts contracted by the settlers was suddenly produced. Peremptory demands for payment were made by these Shylocks in the face of the prevailing distress. Time was refused, an immediate settlement insisted upon, and in default the pound of flesh was mercilessly exacted. Macquarie's little grants of land were swallowed up wholesale. The poor rewards of industry fell into the insatiable maws of these ruffianly usurers. Farms were seized for one-fourth of their value. The cost of goods exchanged in advance against Commissariat receipts over long periods of years was calculated at, for the lowest, 100 per cent. above their value; the difference between sterling and currency was availed of to the utmost; and with vulpine craft in a dozen tortuous ways with which the usurer and the money-changer are cunningly familiar, the settlers were exploited and preyed upon by the merchant class, their little holdings forfeited, and the enlightened experiment of Macquarie stultified and blasted before it had time to take definite shape.
That this plot had been craftily schemed by the Pure Merinos for some time is proved by the fact that they persuaded Mr. Commissioner Bigge to recommend the tender system in his report. It will be remembered that the King's Store was opened to the settlers by Bligh and Macquarie to snatch them out of the clutches of the officers of the New South Wales Corps. It was the first object of these people to get back their power when the tide turned, and what they were no longer able to do by force or rebellion they now did by cunning and craft. While Brisbane was star-gazing, they put Bigge's recommendation into effect. But they added a little feature of their own. That fatuous person had some faint glimmer of intelligence or honesty of purpose, or some other valuable abstract virtue of the kind; and, moreover, he had no interest in being an absolute miscreant. When he recommended the tender system, therefore, he added that as much superfluous grain as possible should be bought at all times, as a provision against droughts and floods. Had this been done the market would have been kept open to the settlers. But this was not what the Pure Merinos wanted. So they suppressed and altered that part of the recommendation, and shut the market practically altogether. The conduct of the persons who deliberately reversed the Commissioner's recommendations is self-condemnatory. It proves what one would willingly be reluctant in believing—that creatures could exist of such depravity as these, to plot against the welfare of a whole community in their own selfish interests, and prostitute official power to such an end. But this was in Botany Bay.
There was no degradation so deep that these wretches could not find a deeper depth. One fact will speak more for the real character of the men than whole pages of description. The proceedings we have detailed plunged the settlement into famine and distress. People wanted food. There was grain locked up in the warehouses of these cold-blooded tyrants, but the victims were too poor to buy that. When the distress was at its height a vessel was sent to Batavia for rice, wheat, and other supplies for the relief of the suffering people. This was done by order of the Governor, whose eyes had now been opened to his own culpable negligence by the misery he saw around him. When the ship returned to Sydney with its precious freight, so anxiously expected, the Pure Merinos saw that the destitution out of which they were making profit as carrion-birds fatten on a carcase was about to be relieved. So they laid another plot, and it would be hard to believe that Mr. John Macarthur had nothing to do with this, for he was back in the colony long before this time. It was one of the privileges of the East India Company that no vessel should carry tea out of Indian waters without the license of the Directors; and the Company's charter empowered them to seize any vessel so transgressing as a lawful prize. Now, the relief ship from Batavia carried a small packet of 10lbs. of tea, a present to a Government officer in Sydney. The Pure Merinos informed the captain of a ship-of-war then in port of this heinous crime. It might be thought that the charter of the great East India Company was not intended to refer to a present of 10lbs. of tea. But the result of the criminal and unpatriotic act of the Pure Merinos was that the relief vessel, with all its anxiously-expected supplies of food for a starving people, was forcibly seized and carried off by the man-of-war in defiance of the Governor, and of the entreaties of the famishing population who looked hopelessly and helplessly on. The warship with its prey swept down the harbour and through the Heads out to sea. The relief-vessel was sold as a prize in an Indian port. And the Pure Merinos were saved.
These things appear to have galvanized the Governor into something like activity at last. The misery and privation of the people around him opened his eyes to the results of his negligence and infidelity to duty. He made enquiries into matters generally, and was not slow to find out that the conflict between the Pure Merinos and the Emancipists lay at the base of all the distress that had accrued. He found himself unpopular with the masses, because they looked on him as the passive instrument of the officials. And he was not long in finding out, also, that these same men condemned the very measures they had themselves devised and carried out. They followed their old custom, too, in slandering him to the authorities at home. Probably this fact had something to do with his conduct when he began to take an active interest in affairs. One of his first acts was to take up the cause of the Emancipists, and during the last year of his government he began to encourage the more wealthy members of this class. He even went so far as to agree to accept a banquet at the hands of the leading Emancipists. This unheard-of atrocity was a challenge to the Pure Merinos. It brought out one of their best efforts.
Of course, Mr. John Macarthur had a hand in this villainy. Wherever in the early history of Botany Bay we come across anything particularly disgusting we may confidently look for this good man's name. The invitation to the dinner of the Emancipists was given, and duly accepted, by the Governor. The Pure Merinos had also prepared their little banquet, and Brisbane, being unwilling to accept both invitations, suggested that six of the leading Emancipists might be invited as representatives to the official demonstration. The committee refused this compromise; their finer feelings and that nice sense of social distinction which were so peculiarly their own rebelled against this affront. So the Governor announced that no further preparations might be made for his company, and a few evenings later attended the Emancipists' banquet at Nash's Hotel, Parramatta. Addresses were presented by the people, who recognised that Brisbane's errors were those of negligence rather than of ill intent. Then the Pure Merinos sailed-in. Dr. Lang tells how on returning from one of his many trips to England, Mr. John Macarthur showed him a copy of a document which that Botany Bay Machiavelli had forwarded to Earl Bathurst. It was a list of the names of those who had attended the Brisbane banquet, with the causes of their transportation set out at full length, their career in the chain-gang and under the lash, and the growth of their prosperity subsequently—all from the Macarthur point of view. "I could not help regarding with a strong feeling of reprobation," says Lang, "the superlatively evil spirit which this precious document evinced, while at the same time I could not help admiring the consummate artifice with which it was concocted." But it must be remembered that its author was Macarthur, and he had given himself plenty of practice. Lang says in another place that he boasted to him of having procured the recall of every Governor up to Macquarie. His tactics in this instance may be compared by the reader with the anonymous newspaper episode in the case of Governor Bligh.
The picturesque highwayman of the Claude Duval type had vanished as completely as G. P. R. James' solitary horseman long before Botany Bay came into existence, and his place was taken by the accomplished pickpocket of the Barrington order. The romance of the road was done with and over. Gallant figures in cocked hats and cambric frills and laced coats no longer handed highborn ladies from their carriages to trip a measure under the greenwood tree before they were eased of their purses. Hounslow Heath was not haunted any more after dark by the younger sons of the nobility, who struck gallant attitudes and cried "Stand and deliver!" in the moonlight; or by the penniless scions of old Jacobite families eager to despoil the spoilers. The honest fellow who sprang out of Shepherd's Bush to suggest a startling alternative to the belated wayfarer was but an ordinary cutpurse or a footpad now, who was innocent of linen commonly, whose coat was only embroidered with tatters, and who wore no frills—cambric or otherwise. Yet all the same there were occasions every now and then when young fellows were captivated by stories of those old knights of the road—"Diana's horsemen," as they called themselves—and longed to emulate the enterprises of these minions of the moon. They were hanged as soon as they were caught, of course. But perhaps they thought it as well to fall into the hands of a Bow-street runner as into those of the press-gang. And perhaps, after all, they saw very little difference between a leap in the air and having one's legs shot away in some of the gallant Nelson's naval wars. So every now and then there was a story of some young fellow who threw his life away with all the airy abandon of the most lightsome cavalier who ever blew the foam from a tankard of nut-brown ale on the way to Tyburn Tree.
One dark night towards the end of last century a Dublin alderman, who was slumbering in his coach as it rumbled along one of the roads that led out of his native city, was drowsily aware of the clatter of horses' hoofs in his neighbourhood, and before he was well awake the challenge of a highwayman rung out on the crisp night air. The worthy citizen had only time to see his chaise-lamps flash on the masked faces of two men whose horses blocked the way. He was gagged with his own wig, and bound before he knew any more, and then a blunderbuss-shot from the roadside blew away the top of one highwayman's head, and nothing more was known of the occurrence until the coach and its gagged owner were found in the morning. Only it may be added that a young medical student was arrested as one of the actors in this little drama, and transported, on very slender evidence, be it added, to Botany Bay. He might have been hanged for his alleged share in this freak had it not been for that fortunate discovery of Captain Cook a very few years before. This was one way of coming to Australia in those days, but there were a good many others.
Quite early in the history of the settlement there was a certain young man employed as an assistant to the Sydney surgeon, and as he was a useful fellow of a respectable family and connections, he began to prosper presently. He was sent to Norfolk Island as medical officer, and, having married in the meantime, a son was born there in 1791, who afterwards achieved some fame fin this part of the world under the name of William Charles Wentworth. The elder Wentworth afterwards became a magistrate of Sydney and Principal Superintendent of Police, as well as being a merchant, contractor, and other lucrative things besides. He sent his son away from his dismal surroundings as soon as he could—at the age of seven years, in fact—to receive his early training as far as possible away from Botany Bay and its influences.#' The boy returned to Sydney later on, to be shocked and disgusted, doubtless, at what he saw around him there, and then went back to England to finish his scholastic career at Cambridge. He wrote some verses which have been quoted in colonial books and speeches so often as to be perfectly nauseous in the ears of Australian readers.
Young Wentworth came back to Sydney in 1824 as a barrister-at-law. He brought with him his friend, Dr. Wardell, also a barrister, and both together entered on the practice of their profession in the colony. They threw in their powerful sympathies with the Emancipists. It is possible that the generous spirit of these young men revolted at the squalid meanness and petty tyranny they saw everywhere around them, and that Wentworth particularly, as one of the native-born, yearned to do something to sweep away the organised oppression and injustice that degraded his native land even in his own eyes, and which must certainly have struck him with special force, fresh as he was from the atmosphere of an English University. As we go on we will see that he never entirely got rid of the results of this academical training, and that the class traditions he imbibed there threw him out of harmony with the real Democratic spirit that sprang up in Australia when convictism had passed away. But this was one of those things that came later.
About this time—in March, 1824—arrived also the first Chief Justice, Francis Forbes. He brought the first Charter of Justice with him—for the Draconic code promulgated by Phillip under a gum-tree at the head of Sydney Cove can scarcely be called by that name. It was a fortunate circumstance that this worthy Judge arrived about the same time as Wentworth and Wardell, for, as we shall see, they mutually assisted in each other's work, and in the long run worked together for the eventual emancipation of the populace. Forbes, before leaving England, had been entrusted with the duty of drawing up a Charter for New South Wales, and it is to him that the settlement owes its first steps towards those representative institutions and the right of trial by jury that came afterwards. The strongest proof of the extreme bad faith with which Australian history has been compiled and the fraudulent spirit in which it has been written, is provided by the fact that so little mention has been made of the name of our first Chief Justice. The same reasons that made the names of the Macarthurs and the gaoler-governors prominent in our historical records have operated to suppress such names as that of our first Chief Justice.
Chief Justice Forbes was a Bermudan, and his career in the colony is a strange instance of a colonial official breaking away from his early surroundings and training to recognise the justice of popular claims. He came to Sydney on the departure of Judge Field,'and the first Attorney-General, Mr. Saxe-Bannister, and the first Solicitor-General, Mr. John Stephen, followed him the same year. His first act on arrival was to promulgate the Charter of Justice at the Supreme Court, at Government House, and in the public market-place. This Charter, based as we have said on an Act framed by himself before he left England, was the first public act that lifted the people of the colony from the servile position they had hitherto occupied at the mercy of the irresponsible official and military authorities. The first Legislative Council was established, consisting of the Lieutenant-Governor, General Stewart, Judge Forbes, Colonial Secretary Goulburn, Surveyor-General Oxley, James Bowman, and John Macarthur. Any Act of this Council, in order to become law, required the certificate of the Chief Justice, and this prudent proviso worked most beneficially in the public interest later on.
Up to this time no jury of civilians had ever sat in New South Wales, and when at the Quarter Sessions Court held at Liverpool, on October 14, 1824, Judge Forbes directed the empanelling of a civil jury for the first time, the magistrates, following the traditions of the class to which they almost exclusively belonged, refused their consent to this measure of reform. The matter was argued in the Supreme Court before the Chief Justice, who decided against these obstructive magistrates.
It will be seen that this innovation was actually forced on the colony, in a measure, in opposition to the will of the leading colonists themselves. At the sitting of the Supreme Court next year a jury was again empanelled, but this time the Pure Merinos tried another stratagem. When the lists were made known it was found that the Emancipists were entirely unrepresented. Wentworth and Wardell had brought out with them to the colony a small printing-plant, with which they started the Australian newspaper on October 14, 1824—about a month after their arrival. The Australian took up the cause of the Emancipists, and pointed out the glaring injustice of a jury-list so framed. The Emancipists placed their case in the hands of Wentworth and Wardell, who made an application to the Court to call on the Sheriff to show cause why certain submitted names should not be inserted in the jury-list. Chief Justice Forbes was compelled to rule against this application on a technical ground, and for a time the movement for popular jury rights fell through.
Two years later, at a public meeting held in the Courthouse, this right of juries was again brought up by Wentworth, and a petition w r as drawn up and sent home. By this time ex-Governor Brisbane had returned to England, and he used his interest in favour of the popular movement. Sir James Macintosh was induced to present the petition to the Commons, and in his speech he referred to the evidence of Governors Macquarie and Brisbane and Chief Justice Forbes to prove that New South Wales was now as ripe for the enjoyment of popular rights and privileges as any other dependency of the British Crown. But it was not until the time of Governor Bourke that the right of trial by jury was fully recognised in its complete form.
In the meantime, circumstances were preparing the colony and its people for the struggle for popular privileges on which they were about to enter. Those who formed the rank-and-file of the population now saw themselves for the first time a power in the community. They had the most unbounded confidence in the two young men whom a happy chance had given them for their leaders. Through them the voice of the population at large was articulately given forth, and the unfortunates who had hitherto cringed under the lash of their masters now found their wants and opinions actually published and put forward in a newspaper of their own. They welded their forces together, and formed the Patriotic Association—not confined to Emancipists alone, but embracing all those free immigrants and settlers who looked forward to the time when the new country they were opening up should be freed from the miseries that cursed it, and made fit for their sons and daughters to live in.
While the Emancipists had been growing in numbers and influence, they were also growing in wealth. In many streets of what is now old Sydney fine blocks of buildings reared their stone fronts in the air, and it became a not unusual thing to find names that were first heard in the colony when they were read from the manifest of a prison ship, now flaunting in carven stone on the coping-stones of some of these pretentious edifices. The poorer settlers and free immigrants who had been for some years in the colony had also acquired wealth by this time, but the exclusive spirit of the old propertied classes had, so far, effectually shut them out from any real influence in the community. Both these classes, therefore, fell into line when the Patriotic Association was formed, and mutually strengthened each other's hands. Up to this time, the only newspaper in the colony was the old Sydney Gazette, started in 1803; and that journal did little else than chronicle the proceedings of officialdom. The first issue of the Australian, in the hands of its capable editors, marked a new departure.
It was quite a new thing to find any person of consequence in Botany Bay openly advocating justice and denouncing wrong. "Impenetrable Majors," assisted by the hangman and the flogger, had so cowed and broken the spirit of the community that men scarcely ventured to whisper their detestation of what they saw around them. The younger race, born in the colony, had become so inured to the daily and hourly sights and sounds of the convict system that it doubtless, in its limited experience, looked on what it saw around it as nothing more than the natural and proper condition of things. Under such circumstances it can easily be conceived that the action of Wentworth and Wardell brought in a tidal wave of new ideas and popular aspirations that perhaps gave courage to those who despaired of the future of Botany Bay, and taught those who knew no better that the condition of things amongst which they lived was a false and cruel one, and that something better might be won by fighting for it.
Wentworth was a young Australian, as we have seen, and Wardell a young English gentleman. Trained and bred among associations of culture and fine sympathetic influences, it was but natural that they should have been both sickened and disgusted at the state of things, which merely to describe leaves such a nasty taste in the mouth of the writer of Australian history. The task before them must have appeared a hopeless one, at the best, and it is something to say of the bull-dog courage of these young fellows that they did not shrink back from the very first collision with the constituted authority. How much their perseverance is due to the action of Judge Forbes it is, of course, hard to estimate now. But it will be seen from what is to follow in the new chapter of history we are about to open that to the first Chief Justice is really due the credit of the first steps that raised the colony from the slough of officialism and convictism into which it had fallen. Before we enter on the story of the long constitutional struggle which was now about to commence, there is one more episode to be dealt with which will put the positions of both parties in a clear light.
When Governor Brisbane left the colony in December, 1825, he was succeeded by Lieutenant-General Ralph Darling. His reputation had preceded him to Botany Bay. When he landed, the crowd of people who had assembled to see the new Governor clustered silently about the wharf, and refrained from cheering. Darling entered on his vice-royalty at once, and from the very first he seems to have given the populace no reason to repent of the coldness of the reception they accorded him. During his term of rule he came into conflict successively with the Chief Justice, with the Press, with the Patriotic Association and its leaders, and generally with the people as a whole. He was a man after the Pure Merinos' own heart, and no man could have been selected by the Home Office at this juncture whose personality and opinions were better calculated to harass and exacerbate the public sentiment of the people of the young colony, or precipitate the free institutions that his irksome rule was largely instrumental in calling into existence. The chief sufferers from the tyrannical rule of this "Bashaw," as he was called, were the unhappy prisoners who laboured in the chain-gangs of the colony. The soldiers of the regime on service in New South Wales were almost as badly treated; and it is in connection with two of these that the following story is told.
Every now and then in those days there would be a sound of martial music and a gleam of scarlet coats along the green lanes of rural England, and the word would pass round among the yokels that a party was out recruiting soldiers for the King. Lusty rustics listened agape while the glib sergeant told his story, and their hands closed on the bright shilling, and they found the cockade stuck on their hats before they realised that they had enlisted. Then the fife shrieked a farewell and the scarlet coats flashed for a moment in the sun, and in a few moments the green landscape closed on the recruit, who left village and friends behind him to follow the drum. Some of these followed it to Botany Bay, where they shared the barbarities of the convict system.
The story of Sudds and Thompson is one of those that have passed into circulation in connection with the barbarities of which the old town of Sydney was the scene. From what has gone before, the reader will have gathered that atrocities and cruelties were of common occurrence; and so much was this really the case that incidents of the kind were regarded in their day as being of so commonplace a character as to be unworthy of special notice or record. It is by an accident that we get accounts from time to time, principally from the recollections of old residents, of events and occurrences that might well make the blood of the reader of our dismal story curdle with horror, but which the good people of the past regarded as things of every day. If we are told sometimes that our penal laws, and our eagerness to hang and flog offenders at the present time, show a state of civilisation behind the world's average, our only excuse is that we have not yet got away from the past and its barbarism; and so long as we continue to be ruled by the men of the past and those who have inherited their traditions, we never shall.
Yet sometimes we find a thrilling incident of peculiar atrocity standing out from the sanguinary background of our early history, like the case of Sudds and Thompson. And such a case serves to fill out the picture the imagination has already coloured from our early records, while giving it something definite and concrete to go upon. There are many stories of unhappy wretches condemned to death for some petty offences, and dragged in procession through the streets of Sydney, with their coffins beside them in a cart. By a refinement of cruelty they were made to taste all the horrors of death and burial before the last brutal exhibition was given on Gallows Hill. Horrid tales still stand, too, of men who died under the lash, cursing their tyrants and their own hopeless lot. But these, we repeat, were common—so common as to become mere generalisations. What we have now to tell is a tale of only sixty years ago; let it stand as a comment on what has gone before.
Sudds and Thompson were two private soldiers in the regiment then stationed in New South Wales. Sudds was a Gloucestershire rustic, who had left a wife and child in rural England behind him, when he enlisted like the other louts of those days. The other had nothing special about his previous history. They came with their regiment to New South Wales. In those days the merry rule of the New South Wales Corps was long since over. Under the long-service army regulations of the period the soldier's term of service left little of a life-time to spare between youth and age. The contrast between the lot of the soldier and that of the Emancipist was a marked one. The convict who had passed through the Moloch-sacrifice, and whose term of five, seven, or ten years' service had been manumitted or served, might afterwards use the advantages the colony offered and acquire a fortune, as many actually did. Thompson noted this, and he soon made Sudds aware of the injustice of serving in the ranks until old age came on, while they saw the convicts they guarded dropping their chains and gathering wealth and comfort. Tempted by the prospect of domestic' enjoyment and by the arguments of his companion, he decided that a convict's sentence and treatment made a fair price to pay for the prospect of even an Emancipist's liberty. The two soldiers then deliberately walked into a shop in Sydney, and stole a piece of cloth in such an open manner as to invite instant arrest. They quickly cut the cloth into two parts, so that each might be equally guilty. They were tried, and, of course, convicted; and sentenced to seven years' transportation to one of the penal settlements.
Here the representative of Majesty came upon the scene. Governor Darling had no such mawkish scruples about interfering with the course of "justice" as seems to accompany even the exercise of the prerogative of mercy in these days. He set aside the sentence of the Court, and took the offenders out of the hands of the civil power. He altered the sentence to one of servitude in irons for the same period on the public roads of the colony—then to be returned to service in their regiment. But he did not stop here. This gross and most unjustifiable interference with the processes of law after sentence had been formally passed—this recondemnation of culprits for the same offence—was not vindictive or cruel enough to gratify Governor Darling's diabolical ingenuity. This ruffian Governor went a step further, and added a pendant of such wanton brutality as may well make the reader marvel at such examples of man's inhumanity to man as those of which the old town of Sydney has been the scene. He ordered the prisoners to be brought out upon the barrack-square—now Wynyard-square, Sydney—and there, in the presence of their late companions, to be stripped of their uniforms and dressed in the yellow convict garb. They were then to be loaded with irons, joined from the ankles to a spiked iron collar round their necks by a heavy chain. These spiked collars were a special device of the Governor. They were, finally, to be drummed out of the regiment, the "Rogues' March" being played after them with fife and drum as they left the scene of their degradation—a miserable spectacle for the delight of fiends and men.
This unspeakable sentence was carried out to the letter—or rather, it would have been so carried out had Nature been as pitiless as this criminal Governor. "The irons," said Thompson on examination by the Colonial Secretary and others, five months afterwards, "consisted of a collar which went round each of our necks, and chains were fastened to the collar on each side of the shoulder, and reached from thence to the basil, which was placed three inches from each ankle. There was a piece of iron which projected from the collar before and behind, about eight inches at each place. The projecting irons would not allow me to stretch myself at full length on my back. I could sleep on my back by contracting my legs. I could not lie at full length on either side without contracting my legs. I could not stand upright with the irons on. The basil of the irons would not slip up my legs, and the chains were too short to enable me to stand upright. I was never measured for the irons, and Sudds' collar was too small for his neck, and the basils for his legs, which were Swollen." The victims of the old days were many. Their graves yawn black and silent. This is a voice out from the depths.
Thus cruelly manacled, these unhappy wretches were exposed in the torrid heat of the barrack-yard while this capricious outrage was perpetrated; and then marched back to the gaol to the sound of pipe and tabor like figures in some modern Danse Macabre. Sudds had been ill, and was actually taken out of the hospital to participate in this grisly exhibition. Let Thompson go on with his story. "On our return," he says, simply, "Sudds sat down with his back to the wall, saying that he was very ill, and wished to go to the hospital again; but he did not go to the hospital till next morning. The basils of the irons cut his legs during the time we were coming from the barracks to the jail; it was owing to the sharpness of the basil and the weight of it that we were cut." During the horrible night that followed Sudds became worse; his fellow-sufferer begged a candle, and gave him some tea that he had bought. "I then asked Sudds if he had any friends to whom he would wish to write. Be said he had a wife and child in Gloucestershire, and begged that, if he did not get better by the next night, I would read some pious book to him, adding that 'they had put him in them irons until they had killed him.'" He lived long enough to be sent to the Gaol Hospital next morning, and "in talking to him of his disgrace," says the gaol surgeon, "he declared he would never work in irons, and wished himself out of the world." He was removed to the General Hospital two days later, where he died within twenty-four hours. Thompson merely became insane.
It is not difficult for the most unsympathetic reader to put himself in imagination in this poor soldier's place—to see his wife and child in Gloucestershire—to feel all his horror at the awakening from that affecting little dream of domestic happiness which was to have been so unselfishly purchased—with the public disgrace, the iron fetters, and the spiked collar which he owed to the ingenuity of the Governor—and the pathetic request for "a pious book" that might remind the wretch of the mercy that men denied this misguided rustic who was thus taken from the hospital to be disgraced, and die. God knows how many unfortunates had their lives crushed out in silence under the galling tyranny of those early days, but this is at least a solitary instance where the victim finds feeble voice, though it be but the bleat of the calf under the butcher's knife. There is no element wanting of studied cruelty and ingenious deviltry to make this instance of old colonial ways stand prominently out against the background of unrecorded horror. There are relics of feudal savagery preserved in the Tower of London, known as the "Scavenger's Daughter," "Little Ease," and other ingenious appellations, which might rival these devices of torture of Governor Darling's invention. But enough of this.
What did his Excellency the Governor? "However much the event is to be regretted," wrote he mincingly to Earl Bathurst, on the subject of Sudds' death, "it cannot be imputed to severity; none was practised or intended...With respect to the chains, which are designated as instruments of torture, it will be sufficient to state that they weigh only 13lb. 12oz.; and, though made with a view of producing an effect on those who were to witness the ceremony" his Excellency speaks here with the conscious but modest pride of an artist in his work—"the extreme lightness of their construction prevented their being injurious in any respect to the individual." No callosity of heartless words could better paint the character of the man, and the portrait is not weakened by the fact that this statement of the criminal Governor cover's a hopeless lie. The chains of Sudds weighed 14lb. 6oz. The usual road-gang irons weighed from 61b. to 91b., and those brought out from England on prison-ships weighed from 3½lbs. to 41bs. only. Nothing is said in the reply about the length of the chains, the effect of the spiked collars, and the basils that cut the flesh of the suffering wretches who wore them. The author of the outrage endeavoured to conceal his crime under a lie. A few years ago these spiked iron collars were kept in the office of the Colonial Secretary in Sydney, and possibly these disgraceful historical relics may be preserved there still.
A whirl of indignation went up when the facts of this outrage were made public. For the first time the popular sentiment had a chance to express itself. Wentworth and Wardell took up the matter in the Australian. Wentworth himself published a scorching pamphlet on the subject, entitled "The Impeachment," in which he gallantly declared his intention to follow Governor Darling to the foot of the gallows for his crime. Another paper had in the meantime been started in 1826, by Mr. Edward Smith Hall—the Monitor. The official paper, the Gazette, defended the outrage; but the public at large and the two popular journals pursued its author with execrations. Two results followed. One of these was an enquiry several years later by the English authorities into the case of Sudds and Thompson, and the other was the conflict between the newspapers and Governor Darling, which resulted eventually in the recognition to a certain extent, however limited, of the freedom of the Press.
The action taken by the public journals struck the Governor home. The plain truths, so unsparingly repeated, were not palatable to his Excellency. A weapon was therefore devised to crush the opposition, quite worthy of the system and of the time, and one which we have seen revived in our day. The vigorous and outspoken comments by Dr. Wardell on the late disgraceful event, were the first to penetrate the official armour, and that gentleman was promptly prosecuted for criminal libel by the Governor, for "an attempt to bring the King's representative into hatred and contempt." It might have been unsafe to have founded a defence on the plea that the accused had been anticipated by the Governor himself in this matter. But, though every effort was strained to secure a conviction, the jury-reform already obtained began to have its good effect. The jury—no longer a merely official one—disagreed on December 22, 1827, and Dr. Wardell was discharged on the understanding that this infamous prosecution would be abandoned. This action was founded on what were known as the "Gagging Acts" of Governor Darling, of which we will have more to say presently.
Although the proceedings against Wardell fell through, other charges were more successful. Mr. Hayes, who had become the editor of the Australian, was convicted, in April, 1829, of libelling the Governor in connection with the Sudds case, and was fined £100 and imprisoned for six months. Hall, the editor of the Monitor, who had also written in a public-spirited and outspoken manner on the same subject, was sentenced to twelve months' imprisonment in September of the same year. Quite an avalanche of libel-writs descended on this man's drooping head. In December following, he was convicted again of an old libel on the Governor, which was revived to form the ground of this charge; two days later he was convicted of libels on James Laidley, Deputy Commissary-General, and on F. A. Healy, Convict Superintendent; and on the day following, of libel on Alexander Macleay, Colonial Secretary. This rapid record shows the rate at which public opinion was forming, and the right and custom of public discussion and the expression of popular opinion, developing. It demonstrated at the same time the urgent necessity that existed for the letting in of light on the official procedure of the colony.
It was not till five years after the Sudds tragedy that its author left Sydney, but that event was not forgotten. He left amid the execrations of the populace. On his arrival in England, the enquiry into the case was commenced after an even longer delay than that into the Bligh affair. Nearly two years after the crime was committed—in 1835—a Committee of the House of Commons met to review the circumstances under which it occurred. Darling was befriended by the party in power. The propertied classes in the colony were his friends to a man, as his rule had favoured their party and repressed their opponents. Facts were distorted, and black indictments toned down. One victim was dead, indeed, and the other had been temporarily insane. But the Pure Merinos had got over greater difficulties than these. A dead man or a madman more or less made little difference in Botany Bay in those days. The result of the enquiry was a foregone conclusion from the first. The accused was acquitted. As a special mark of royal favour and of the influence of his friends in the Ministry, he was knighted immediately after for his chivalry by the King. Had Governor Darling been well and truly tried before a fearless jury of his countrymen for his atrocious crime, he would assuredly have been hanged by the neck.
There is a fine crusted story told of a certain bold free tyrant in old days whose innocent delights at the expense of a virtuous peasantry were sadly interfered with by a tendency on the part of a meddlesome clutch of prophets who dwelt in caves in the neighbourhood, to break out into the most rabid spasms of soothsaying, and other ungentle recreations. The periodical outbursts of these cataleptic persons set the whole district by the ears for a time, and the deluded people hatched under their influence a fleeting kind of public opinion, which is said to have taken the form of pikestaves and hayforks when the emissaries of the bold free tyrant swooped down. But he was a thoughtful person, this oppressor; and when not imagining new wickednesses he could always put his quivering digits on the springs of these popular disturbances. He was humane, too, in his capricious way, when not in the vein for promiscuous slaughter. "Let us hang a few prophets!" he would say in his light way, and the result was always the return of the peasantry to a more dutiful frame of mind. He thus cut off public opinion at its source. His method has always been very much in favour with rulers who find themselves out of sympathy with the bent of the popular mind, and when public opinion is going against them. Only instead of hanging a few prophets the policy is nowadays to gag the public Press.
This, as we have seen, is what Governor Darling proceeded to try to do. So long as the official paper, the Gazette, merely chronicled such of the official acts as would bear the light, without daring to comment in even the mildest form on the iniquities and irregularities that went on every day, and which it is everywhere the duty of the public journal to decry and expose, the Press, such as it was, went on its way unmolested. But when public opinion, directed by capable heads and hands, began to declare itself in a non-official publication, vested interests were aroused, and a serious danger to good government was at once discovered. This was striking at the roots of Law and Order, and undermining the foundations of society. It was necessary to hang a few prophets, or at least to gag the Press. This was the congenial task to which Governor Darling addressed himself. When the prosecutions against Dr. Wardell failed, and the official fangs were drawn by a properly-constituted jury, the proceedings had been undertaken under some Acts specially prepared by this respectable man and his advisers.
An infallible sign of an unhealthy state of public business and of the presence of a suspicious element in things generally, is an official attempt to stifle public enquiry. As the people look to the Press for their information as well as for the publication of their judgment on facts laid before them, the best and shortest method to render that judgment nugatory is to deprive it of the knowledge of facts to go upon first, and of public expression afterwards. Public opinion is nothing without public expression, and opinion cannot exist if the publication of facts is rendered hazardous or unreliable. This is what is meant by the liberty of the Press—not a claim to any privilege that the public does not possess, and no special powers or prescriptive rights in any direction, but simply the liberty to make known what is going on, and to express a candid judgment such as every individual is at liberty to form thereon. Wentworth, Wardell, and Hall claimed no more than this. But this was exactly the liberty of which Governor Darling was most anxious to deprive them. At this point the old convict officialdom and the awakening power of public opinion first came into conflict.
The Governor had already written home to Earl Bathurst, who was then Secretary of State for the Colonies, complaining bitterly of the attacks made on him in the public Press. In that communication the case was put strictly from the official point of view, and from the names of the first Legislative Council already before the reader, there will be no difficulty in believing that the Governor's advisers most cordially concurred with him in his statement of the case. The result was that a despatch was received from Earl Bathurst in November, 1826, in which a suggestion was made to pass some colonial enactments to deal with this vexed question. On April 25 following, a Bill was prepared and passed by the Council, "for preventing the mischiefs arising from the printing and publishing newspapers, and papers of a like nature, by persons not known, and for regulating the printing and publication of such papers in other respects, and also for restraining the abuses arising from the publication of blasphemous and seditious libels." Transportation was the penalty for a second offence under this Act. On May 3 another Act was proposed, imposing a duty "upon all newspapers and papers of a like nature printed to be dispersed to the public."
It will be remembered that, under the Constitution introduced by Chief Justice Forbes, that official had the privilege of a vote in the Council, and after a measure was carried there, it became his further duty to certify or not to its provisions as he thought fit, before it became law. Judge Forbes was not at the meeting of the Council at which this last measure was adopted, and on its presentation to him for signature he refused his certificate on the ground of its manifest illegality. The Governor again and again endeavoured to persuade or intimidate the Chief Justice to give way, but always without success. A bitter conflict ensued, in which the Chief Justice nobly espoused the cause of justice and the popular right, and honoured himself by his public-spirited and disinterested action. What the Governor failed to do by threats or persuasion he now attempted by slandering the Judge to the Colonial Office, but Forbes met and repelled all his charges. "I have been appointed," he said in one of his letters to the Colonial Office, "to discharge a sacred duty. I refused to certify the Governor's Bills, because I thought them repugnant to law, because I felt I should compromise my oath and my honour if I sanctioned them. What legal right has the Governor to press me further, or to endeavour to alarm me into compliance? Does the correspondence which passed between, us in April and May last, present the calm, the temperate, the courteous application of one high officer to another...or is it the mandate of a superior to an inferior, intimating his duty and warning him of the peril of disobedience? When the three judges of Bombay were brought to the consideration of the same question they discussed its merits in open Court and decided against it, in the heart of the Mahommedan country. I was called upon alone, under the bondage of secrecy—I will not pursue the contrast!"
The Chief Justice found himself in conflict, not only with the Governor, but with the rest of the Legislative Council as well. When this body was established, partly in deference to the exertions of Sir James Macintosh and ex-Governor Brisbane, the intention on the part of the Home Authorities was to give the population of the colony some share in the Government, which had hitherto rested in the irresponsible hands of the Governors alone. The members of Council were nominated by the Crown, and a Governor like Macquarie, or Brisbane during the last year of his rule, might have exercised this right of nomination judiciously, and with good results to the colony at large. No such results were to be expected from Darling, however, and the first Legislative Council was, therefore, merely a body composed of Crown officials and representatives of that Vested Interest class which first blossomed into being under the shelter of the New South Wales Corps. When we read of the attempt to stifle discussion at this stage, and to gag the infant Press, we naturally look for the name of the man in this connection who has hitherto been always prominent whenever the Vested Interests he helped to build up had an opportunity to exercise their influence. And those who look for the name of the übiquitous John Macarthur in this connection will not be disappointed. He is such a necessary part of everything that is sinister in the history of Botany Bay that the episode now under notice would scarcely be recognisable without him. He was Governor Darling's most active lieutenant in the Council, and the proposals to stifle the newspapers in their birth had his most enthusiastic concurrence. He out-heroded Herod in this matter, and even went further than the Governor himself; for he actually proposed a crushing tax of one shilling each on every copy of every newspaper published in the colony. This was too much even for Darling's distorted sense of justice. It was a flight of imagination that required a trained Botany Bay intellect to soar up to. So the tax was reduced to threepence. Macarthur died during the term of the next Governor, so that we will meet with him no more.
Through all this business, it is valuable to note the fact that every proposal to cripple the advance of the colony either emanated from, or received the most cordial support of, the Vested Interest class, as represented in the Legislative Council. Just as it opposed the introduction of the jury system, so it supported the attack on the freedom of the Press, and so it will be found consistently opposing and distorting every manifestation of progressive public opinion to the end of the chapter. Of such are the Botany Bay "patriots." It is satisfactory to have to add that after the correspondence on the newspaper tax had been digested by the Colonial Office at home, a despatch was at length received informing the Governor that "the law officers of the Crown have reported their opinion that in refusing to grant his certificate to the Act for licensing newspapers, Mr. Forbes correctly executed his duty, and that the reasons assigned by him for that decision were valid and sufficient." This despatch was a well-merited rebuff for the Governor and his myrmidons, and the Gagging Acts fell into abeyance. But the harassing nature of this conflict between his sense of duty on the one hand and the Vested Interest class and the Governor on the other, proved a severe strain on the health of Chief-Justice Forbes. He paid a visit home, and, strangely enough, considering the way such honours were usually apportioned, he was knighted in recognition of his high character and services. He returned to the colony and died soon after. Sir Francis Forbes was succeeded by Chief-Justice Dowling.
In this way was the process of garotting the Press begun in New South Wales. The official mind had so accustomed itself to handing convicts over to the hangman or the flogger for disciplinary treatment, that it naturally prescribed the same remedy for any evidence of outspoken criticism, or of public opinion through the Press. However, the grasp of the law was only partially successful in its attempt to strangle the freedom of public opinion in its infantile stages. We have now outgrown the time when the same measures could be applied by authority. Yet the spirit of the old convict-system is as active as of old, and without changing its views on the subject of the liberty of the Press, it has merely changed its mode of procedure and legal forms.
Before he left, Governor Darling succeeded in making himself offensive to almost every class in the community. This man was certainly the most unpopular Governor who ever held rule in New South Wales. At a dinner given by the Turf Club in December, 1827, some speeches were made reflecting in the most severe and direct manner on his administration and on himself. When the Governor's health was proposed, according to custom, the band played the significant air of "Over the hills and far away." The insult was marked, and even Governor Darling could not fail to take it. He withdrew his patronage from the club, and himself from the colony in October, 1831. The populace, which received him on his arrival in silence, hailed his departure with cheers. Some of the more demonstrative among the lower classes of the population sailed round the vessel in which Darling and his family had taken their passage, and these victims of his misrule insulted him with their taunts there as the vessel lay at anchor. Bonfires blazed along the shores of the harbour as the ship sailed away. The more reputable inhabitants were not so actively demonstrative, but the general feeling at Ralph Darling's departure was one of a profound sense of gratification and relief.
With the departure of this Governor the second period of the history of Botany Bay may be said to close. In the first we saw the foundation of the colony, and its beginnings taking shape. From the moment that any form was discernible in the inchoate material out of which the settlement was first fashioned, the squalid tyranny and oppression of the New South Wales Corps on the one hand and the hopeless misery of the convict classes on the other were distinctly apparent. The first 20 years was one chapter of conflict between the Corps and the Governors, ending in the temporary triumph of the Corps by the deposition of Bligh. How the victory was used it is not necessary to repeat. The chief point to be observed is the foundation of a Vested Interest class. The manner in which that interest formed and developed requires no further explanation. With the arrival of Macquarie came the second historical period. The Corps was drummed out, but the Vested Interests remained. All through this second period we find them at every turn opposing first the Governor's progressive policy and then every successive movement made in the direction of popular development and advance. Trial by jury, the freedom of the Press, the right of public opinion, enquiry into the iniquities of the convict system, and every other essay at progress was consistently opposed by the Vested Interest class. At the same time there began to appear the first indications of public intelligence—two popular newspapers, the Patriotic Association, and capable and recognised leaders of the people. In this manner the way was prepared for the stage that was to follow.
In the third stage of the colony's history we will see the popular cause taken up by the best Governor who ever held office in New South Wales. As Macquarie succeeded the misrule of the Corps, so Bourke succeeded Darling. He taught the people to rely on their own power, by allowing them to feel their influence under favouring conditions. He prepared the way in the most direct manner for the abolition of transportation, and he effected sweeping reforms in the convict system, pruning it of some of its brutalities, and stripping it of some of its most repulsive accessories of horror. From his time onward the process of advance to the granting of partial and then complete Responsible Government is marked and regular, until the first elected Parliament was called together in 1856, This will conclude the third part of our story, and will lead up to the fourth period, which has lasted to the present time. Every day the indications become stronger that there is a fifth stage still in reserve, to which this present is but the antechamber. Perhaps, some day we shall look back to the present stage of our history with the same historical interest as that with which we now regard the first, the second, or the third.
One of the most difficult of the twelve labours of Hercules was the slaying of the hydra. Whenever the son of Alcmena crushed one of the seven heads of the reptile of the Lernaean lake, several others grew in its place. Then he bethought himself of smearing with pitch the place of the heads as he destroyed them, and soon the "loathly worm" was discomfited. The task that lay before Sir Richard Bourke on his arrival was an equally difficult one. If he did not perform it so thoroughly it was only because his powers were not Herculean, and because the labour was too great for any one man. Lieutenant-General Bourke was born in the year the colony was founded, and had served in the Peninsula, as well as in Holland and South America. He was Lieutenant-Governor at the Cape for six years before he came to Botany Bay. Before entering the army he was educated for the Bar, and it is, perhaps, due to this fact that his rule in New South Wales was not marked by any of the narrow obstinacy and usual crassness of the professional soldier. He seems to have forgotten for the time his drum-head-and-triangle traditions, if he had ever been influenced by them, and to have set his face against their perpetuation in the colony. He dealt liberally with the people, and readily recognised the simple justice of their demands. He sympathised, too, with their aspirations after free institutions, and entered into the spirit which led them to look into the future for the destiny of the settlement growing up round them. Of course such a Governor as this was a pre-ordained victim to the Vested Interest class from the start. But though this class triumphed in the end, it was not until he had set a force in motion that might be temporarily stayed, but never finally stopped until its work was done.
One of the most important acts of Governor Bourke's term of rule was the granting of the complete right of trial by jury. This was directly due to the Governor himself. We have seen how Judge Forbes directed the empannelling of the first civil jury in 1824, and how through the machinations of the obstructive class the reform was defeated by the fact that the sheriff placed no names of members of the Emancipist class on his list. The appeal was dismissed on a technical point, and nothing more was officially heard of the matter until Bourke opened it up again. During the last years of Darling's term the Patriotic Association called the people together on several occasions in public meeting to address the Throne on the subjects of self-government and trial by jury. The two matters were taken together. Thus on the anniversary of the foundation of the colony, in 1827, a meeting was held at the Court House at which Wentworth spoke in support of a petition proposed for adoption. "The first topic contained in the petition," he said, "is a request for trial by jury. A great part of the population is held not eligible to sit as jurors. We urge that if it were more extended in the colony its beneficial effects would be most generally known." Sir James Macintosh presented this petition to the House of Commons, as already stated. In 1829 an Act of Council established juries in civil cases, and next year another meeting was held to prepare a popular petition. In 1831, when news arrived of the accession of William IV., the usual loyal and characteristically vapid address of the colonists contained at least one paragraph that meant something. It was a request that the new King would extend to the only colony of Great Britain bereft of the rights of a full participation of the benefits and privileges of the British Constitution. This was inserted in the petition by an amendment on the original address.
In this manner the way was prepared for some decisive step. The condition of the lower classes and the masses excited the sympathy of Governor Bourke from the first. When most of his predecessors had been either actively tyrannical or passively acquiescent, Bourke at once made earnest and open efforts to turn the tide. One by one he scotched the hydra's heads, and he succeeded in all but completely strangling the convict system. In 1833, the Governor himself proposed a Bill in the Legislative Council, declaring Emancipists qualified to serve on criminal juries, provided they possessed £30 of yearly income, or personal property to the amount of £300. He referred this measure to the three judges who then held seats on the Bench—Forbes, Dowling, and Burton—for an opinion as to its legality. They replied to the effect that the step proposed was in accordance with English law, under which offenders were allowed to sit as jurors in criminal cases on the completion of the term of their sentences. The Bill was then submitted to the Council, and in the absence of two of its members—Archdeacon Broughton and Mr. Robert Campbell, senior—that body divided equally on the question as to whether Emancipists were to be allowed to sit as jurors or not. The Governor had a vote in the Council as a sitting member, and another casting vote in the event of an equal division. The casting vote of Governor Bourke, in this instance, turned the scale and introduced the jury system—for that is what his action then meant. This further advance in the direction of popular reform was in a measure forced on the colony by the Governor, in the teeth of the bitterest opposition of the Vested Interest class.
Up to this time juries in criminal cases were exclusively composed of seven naval or military officers, eked out perhaps by civil officials. Before the Forbes Charter a majority of five voices in seven was sufficient for a conviction, even in capital cases. The prosecutor in those more early days pleaded his own case, the Judge-Advocate framing the indictment and practically conducting the prosecution; while the accused was always undefended! The starting-point in Botany Bay criminal jurisprudence was that everyone was held to be guilty until his innocence was made clear a few days after he had been hanged. Our enemies say that this is one of the features of the old system that still survive in a very slightly modified form.
The difference between the results of criminal cases before and after the Bourke Jury Law is sufficiently evidenced by a few figures. To take capital cases alone: 95 persons were hanged out of the small population on the shores of Sydney Cove in the first six years after Phillip's landing, but so wild and reckless was the process of the disposal of human life that no complete return of those who died on the gallows is available up to 1825. This is an eloquent blank. We gather from the records and Gazette files of the time that this laxity was due to the number of executions, and the indiscriminate and irresponsible manner in which they were ordered. It was easier to hang a man than to keep a record of the fact. At the Criminal Sessions in October, 1822, 34 persons were herded in the dock and sentenced to death—a noble subject for an Australian historical picture. During Darling's rule we know that 184 persons were hanged, and of the busiest year, 1828, no record has been kept. During the first four years of Bourke's term, and before the jury law was passed or had time to get into fair working order, 197 persons perished by the hangman's hands. But by this time the people had become accustomed to the exercise of the jury right, and the number of executions fell rapidly away, until in the year Bourke left the colony only 12 persons were hanged. During the nine years of which we have record between 1826 to 1839 the public executions averaged nearly one a week. For the nine subsequent years the average was about one in four months. Yet the moral tone of the community was higher, and law and order were daily taking firmer shape. So much for capital punishment as a deterrent.
The jury-law reform was bitterly opposed. The class that monopolised the privilege of serving on juries protested strongly against the innovation, and unscrupulously attacked it in its working after it was introduced. The treatment the lower classes of the population had received was not of the kind to make them the best citizens or the best jurors, and it was some time before the actual command of the new privilege familiarised the people with its use. Those who had the compiling of the lists were careful, with the view of bringing the new law into greater contempt, to put thereon the names of Emancipists of notoriously bad character, or who had been convicted of the most heinous offences. Thus one man was called who was released on bail, being charged with cattle-stealing; another, who was under sentence of transportation for life to Moreton Bay; and a third, who had been hanged a short time before. The gross clumsiness of these melancholy artifices, however, defeated their own object, and proved nothing beyond the fact that if the Emancipists were sometimes unfit to serve as jurors, they were not more so than the unscrupulous wretches who resorted to such means to discredit the progress of reform.
The first Act was introduced as an experiment for a period, and in 1836 a letter was addressed by the Governor to the three Judges, asking their opinion on the working of the law. Chief Justice Forbes and Judge Dowling both replied in its favour, and it is not likely that these two experienced men, with their exceptional opportunities for studying the working of the system, would have given such an answer had they not been satisfied of its truth. It is true that Judge Burton gave an adverse opinion. But this judge was a conservative of the purest water, and one of his last acts in the country was to resign his seat as President of the Legislative Council as a protest against the growing power of the people. The law was therefore confirmed, and as the enquiry elicited quite sufficient evidence of the venal character of those who compiled the jury-lists, and the trickery they resorted to to prove their case, a circular letter was addressed by the Governor and the Chief Justice to all the magistrates of the colony, cautioning them to be careful in the future to see that the discharge of this duty in the respective districts was not made a means to defeat the law, and bring it into contempt, by the choice of improper persons.
Dr. Lang, who acquired a repute for popular sympathies that he only half earned, was a rabid opponent of the jury-bill, as he was of Wardell and Wentworth, and the Patriotic Association, from the beginning of their work. He "entirely concurred with Mr. Justice Burton in his opinion on the measure;" he says in his "History;" he regarded it as one of the blots on the administration of Bourke, and said that the Emancipists claimed it because they were "taught and incited to do so by certain news-writers of their own class and origin, as well as by certain lawyers of inferior respectability, who depended chiefly on emancipist and convict practice, and who willingly pursued the arts of petty agitation to acquire an importance in society, which they had no other means of attaining." The venom in this extract is apparent on the surface; the newswriters and lawyers of inferior respectability being, of course, Wentworth and Wardell. In this respect the interest of the worthy Doctor appears to have led him astray. Looking back at the matter from the standpoint of the present we recognise that, whatever the objections to the granting of the jury-right may have been, and whatever the character of the persons who first advocated or exercised it, the fact remains that it was the first great instalment of popular right the people of the colony received, and that the persons who obtained it were the real leaders of subsequent democratic development. The names of Sir Richard Bourke, Sir Francis Forbes, Dr. Wardell, and William Wentworth are most closely connected with this first step towards the free institution of to-day. This was the crushing of the first of the heads of the hydra.
Another iniquity which Bourke lost no time in minimising was the Assignment System. Those who favoured Darling's rule wrote of that Governor that "under him the anti-convict system was introduced, and a commencement of real penal discipline made, amidst great outcry...He introduced and strengthened the laws for the management of the felon population, and...discipline was maintained with a firm hand." Lang says that his subordinate agents treated the convicts with great severity under his direction, "and with a reckless indifference to their feelings as men which their situation as criminals never would have warranted." The gaolers and overseers took their tone from their chief, of course. Darling established an Assignment Board which effectually controlled the appointment of white labour. So well was the work done that any person ill-affected towards the person or the acts of the Governor stood little or no chance of having his request for assigned servants attended to. All this Bourke resolved to correct, as soon as he realised the state of things into the midst of which he had been precipitated. He determined to introduce a more humane spirit into the convict system itself, and to new-model the Assignment system. He therefore framed a code of regulations for the latter purpose, under which the number of assigned convict servants was to be proportioned to the land held and under cultivation by the applicant. But even this reform called forth a howl of execration from the slave-masters. It throws a strong light on the condition of the time when we find that some of these people complained of the new assignment regulations because they permitted no more than 70 convicts to any one person. It was no uncommon thing to see these wretches placed in batches of 50 and 60 at the practically irresponsible mercy of avaricious ruffians who knew of no other method of suasion than that of the flogger or the iron-gang.
But one of the very first acts of the Governor, as soon as he saw the kind of people he had to deal with, was one that raised him a plentiful crop of enemies. Stories of the cruelties of masters towards their servants, encouraged under Darling's sanguinary rule, reached his ears nearly every day. One most atrocious instance occurred in 1834. Six men were charged with taking part in a mutiny of assigned servants on the estate of Major Mudie—the person who afterwards wrote the scurrilous lampoon called the "Felonry of New South Wales." This man had a particularly bad reputation for his treatment of assigned servants, and in the present instance the six men did not deny their part in the mutiny, but "persisted in the statement that they had been goaded on to their crime by the tyranny and ill-treatment which they had been subject to on the station." Five of the men were hanged—to encourage the others, probably. Their statements made such an impression, however, that a Commission was appointed to enquire into the treatment of the white labour on Major Mudie's property—"Castle Forbes" was what this aspiring creature called his estate—and enough was elicited to lead the Governor to strike his name off the Commission of the Peace. These and other similar instances determined the Governor to do something for the wretches who could only call attention to their miseries at the risk of the gallows. He found on enquiry that magistrates sentenced each other's assigned servants to indescribable tortures with the lash on the smallest provocation, and without other rule or system than their own cruel caprice. He therefore proposed to the Council a measure which became known as the Magistrates' Act, limiting the sentences which magistrates had power to inflict to 50 lashes for each offence. Some idea of the nature of the sentences complained of may be gathered from the liberal nature of this limit. Fifty lashes to-day would be regarded as barbarism and savage torture; then, such limit to the powers of petty magistrates was looked upon as a piece of capricious interference on the part of the Governor, and mawkish and ill-judged lenity. The measure was passed, after bitter opposition, and the hydra of convictism received another crushing blow.
The year after the right of trial by jury was won witnessed the untimely death of Dr. Wardell. That public-spirited man, whose talents were as great as his popular sympathies were progressive and wide, and to whose memory Australia must always owe an inextinguishable public debt, was murdered near his own home on the Parramatta Road on September 7, 1834. Some bushrangers waylaid him, and he called upon them to surrender. They failed to recognise him, and one of them shot him dead. The assassins, when they knew their victim, had the grace to cover the body with branches to protect it from the native dogs. A boy who was one of the number gave information, and the two others were arrested and executed. In Dr. Wardell's death the colony lost an invaluable public servant, in the highest sense of the word. The man whose name was so closely connected with his up to this stage lost a guide and friend, and a contrast between his previous and his subsequent career bears evidence of the value of the influence at so untimely an hour withdrawn.
If we can conceive of a writer in cold blood addressing himself to the compilation of a collection of tales of horror drawn from all sources, it is not difficult to set down a list of the places from which he might draw the materials for his gruesome and grisly task. There are the tales of the slave-trade in the Spanish settlements and in the Southern States of America and on the Guinea coast; the early excesses of the French Revolution; the felonry of Siberia; and the oubliettes and iron cages of the feudal ages. Any of these will give the most avaricious sensationalist whatever he may reasonably require, but for Australians there will never be any necessity to go outside their own borders, or beyond the limits of their own brief history. It would indeed be strange if a Governor had not at length arrived to find the state of things he was called to rule too much for his commonest instincts of humanity.
To get a clear view of the merit of Bourke's action, it is necessary to look at things for a moment as he saw them. The tales of convict life at this time had lost nothing in cruelty while events were progressing so far. The period of Darling's and Bourke's rule is fruitful in an abundant crop of harrowing stories. There is one told by an eye-witness which is so graphic and realistic that we cannot do better than repeat it almost in his own words. He was sent for one day to Bathurst Courthouse, he says, to identify a man who was supposed to have been driven by cruel treatment into the bush from the farm of which the person quoted was one of the overseers. On his way into court he had to pass the triangles, where the floggers had been busy wielding the lash incessantly for hours.
"I saw a man," he says, "walk across the yard with the blood that had run from his lacerated flesh squashing out of his shoes at every step he took. A dog was licking the blood off the triangles, and the ants were carrying away great pieces of human flesh that the lash had scattered about the ground. The scourger's foot had worn a deep hole in the ground by the violence with which he whirled himself round on it to strike the quivering and wealed back, out of which stuck the sinews, white, ragged, and swollen. The infliction was 100 lashes, at about half-minute time, so as to extend the punishment through nearly an hour. The day was hot enough to overcome a man merely standing that length of time in the sun, and this was going on in the full blaze of it. However, they had a pair of scourgers who gave each other spell and spell about, and they were bespattered with blood like a couple of butchers."
The photographic eye of this witness has struck off a picture that may stand at the head of our imaginary writer's grisly collection. The idle triangles, and the dog that, like those in the story of Jezebel, licks up the new spilled blood; the "man" who has been tortured, with the blood "squashing" out of his boots as he walks away; the sinews standing out from his back, white and ragged and swollen; and the tell-tale mark of the scourger's foot—here we have all the elements of a picture that should be painted and hung on the walls of every Australian gallery of art as a popular educator and an historical and political lesson. There is a passage in one of Thackeray's books which speaks of the reading of certain old familiar tales, the delight of "sweet girls and their gentle mothers" who have followed the adventures of the hero and wept and smiled with the heroine from one generation to another. But who will dare to tell the story of social life in Australia in a candid way for girls and gentlewomen to read, when it is made up of chapters such as this? Yet all this time, while every court-yard witnessed such horrors, sweet girls and their gentle mothers were the daughters and wives of the men who sanctioned and ordered these atrocities that had place every day under women's and children's unpitying eyes.
"The fact is," says the same speaker, "that such a sight is so common in this country that no one thinks anything of it. I have seen young children practising flogging on a tree, as children in England play at horses."
That was the way the system worked. People grew accustomed to what they daily saw around them, as we are accustomed to the idea of a man being strangled by process of law. Children grew up to look upon what they saw as the natural and proper state of things. The children of 50 and 40 years ago are the decaying generation of to-day. It is only natural and logical, therefore, and in no wise strange and wonderful, that so many of the old convict-period traditions and spirit survive amongst us still.
These remarks quoted were published in a certain magazine called "Meliora," in 1861. From the article we take also the following little instance. It was a common thing—and nothing shows more clearly the relentless barbarity of the men who administered the law and exacted the last pound of flesh the brutal regulations permitted—to call the same act by as many as five different names in the charge, and for five separate and distinct sentences to be passed on the accused for that one act. One instance given is that of a convict servant of a certain magistrate. This man had been given a glass or two of spirits by a travelling hawker. His master's son, an ill-conditioned Australian lad of the period and formed under the system, began to curse and threaten the servant. The man retorted. A constable was at once sent for, and the convict, realising his position and driven mad with terror, knocked him down and escaped into the bush. On his way he rushed into his own hut and took with him, as his only provision, three-fourths of a damper he had by him ready baked. He was captured presently, as a matter of course. The young slave-master prosecuted him for drunkenness, insolence, theft (for the piece of damper was regarded as the master's property until it was consumed), and bushranging. Then the magistrates made the constable prove the assault. From the spirited proceedings of the young man in this matter, and his ingenuity in proving the charge of theft, we may argue that he was a particularly apt pupil of his parents and guardians and a promising property-holder in the future.
This convict's story is worth following a stage or two further. He was sentenced to 25 lashes for drunkenness, 25 for insolence, 50 for bushranging, six months in an iron-gang for stealing the piece of damper, and three months for assaulting a police-officer in the execution of his duty. He got the lashes and joined the chain-gang, accordingly. While there he committed some trifling offence, real or imaginary, for which he was sentenced to receive more lashes. But he had a regardful memory of his previous experience in this direction, so he declined this further attention, and again succeeded in decamping into the bush. Here he found some bushrangers this time, for his previous experience had rather disgusted him of any closer acquaintance with the law. The bushrangers carried arms, and he assisted in several robberies with them. He was taken with arms in his hands after a time, and adroitly hanged up by the neck. He expired in that picturesque attitude.
"The man was a quiet, hard-working, honest fellow," we are told, "but he would not stand flogging and he was fond of liquor. The crime he was sent here for he had committed when drunk, and it was perhaps the only one he had to answer for. That man was murdered; and so hundreds upon hundreds have been, and are being, every year in this cursed country." The speaker was a labour-overseer, remember, and was speaking of what he saw and knew.
"Great tyranny was exercised even at the seat of government; but in the thickly-populated districts public opinion in some degree shielded the convict from the extremity of oppression." It is no matter of wonder, then, that the Vested Interest party howled down any attempt to express public opinion by free speech or by a free Press. The cruelty in Sydney, though bad enough, sank to a trifle when compared with the cruelty perpetrated up the country. But the system was the same, whatever its modifications might be. As instances of this, there are cases like the following:
"Here is an offence called by three different names, three several charges are made upon it, three several trials, three several sentences, and three several punishments following. A man gets drunk, has his clothes stolen, and is afraid to go home to his master. He is tried first for drunkenness, a second time for making away with his clothing, and a third time for absconding. His sentence is in sum total 100 lashes, which, with the cat-o'-nine-tails, is really 900 lashes."
There is a man mentioned here who received 2600 lashes in five years, and another who received 1200 lashes in 12 months. The planet had little in the way of real enjoyment to offer these wretches after this.
These instances will indicate what Bourke found on his arrival. The Act for restraining magistrates from ordering more than 50 lashes to convict servants was imperatively called for in the circumstances. Yet that Vested Interest class which was largely formed now of landed proprietors was, as usual, loud in its opposition. These people clamoured loudly against their deprivation of unlimited power, alleging that it was necessary to keep the convict element in check, and to get fair work out of their white labour. They threatened the colony with impending anarchy and destruction, and a general rising on the part of the convict population. Then they set to work to prepare petitions which were signed by many magistrates and landed proprietors, and sent to England, urging on the Home Authorities the necessity that existed for their being granted increased power to flog and torture the unfortunates who had been placed at their mercy by some cruelly whimsical caprice of fate. Their action in this matter is significant of their whole attitude when there was any question of progress or reform. Lang, whose honesty is often stronger than his prejudices, states the position neatly enough:—
"It was not civil and religious liberty—that pearl of inestimable price in the eyes of our forefathers in the early days of emigration to America—for which these Australian worthies petitioned; it was for a somewhat different species of liberty, the liberty to lash; and long and deep were the groans they uttered through their favourite organ when they found it denied them."
For the same reason Bourke reformed the assignment system, and curtailed materially the amount of white labour any one proprietor was allowed to own. The very fact that under the new regulations 70 was the maximum throws light on the state of things existing in connection with convict assignment. This measure, with the jury law reform and the Magistrates' Act just referred to, made Bourke extremely unpopular with the Vested Interest class. The persons who formed that class maintained that their labour and their services had opened up the country, and developed its pastoral and agricultural resources. Their capital, they said, had made the colony what it was. They claimed that they were the only persons entitled to consideration in any measure of Government that might be proposed, for on them the prosperity of the country rested, and if they were driven out the colony might relapse into primitive barbarism. Their expenditure of capital and their labour in the past, they said, gave them a Vested Interest in the state of things under which they had done their work and laid out their capital. They therefore objected strongly on the strictest grounds of equity and justice to any newfangled notions the Governor might introduce, or to any interference with their undoubted rights and privileges. This was the case for the Vested Interest party.
But the popular instinct, led by the Patriotic Association, regarded the question from another point of view. In the first place, no rational man could look on unmoved from day to day at the saturnalia of cruelty going on around him unless his disgust was allayed by a Vested Interest in the state of things that produced these miseries. To the popular mind these Vested Interests were the bonds and props that kept the fabric of the convict-system together. Just as the walls of the great cotton warehouses of Liverpool were once said to be cemented by negro blood, so might the colonial fabric be said to be built up by the bodies of convict men and women, and cemented with their blood. Looking back at the way in which the foundations of these Vested Interests were laid—as the process has already been described in these pages—the popular mind realised that from the very outset the great proprietorial fortunes of the colony had been begun in fraud and spoliation, and perpetuated in oppression and cruelty. It was clear from every incident in Botany Bay history up to this, that the Interests thus formed had nothing in common with the future of the colony or its ambition in the direction of progress. As for the capital the proprietors had expended, with the exception of that brought by later arrivals everyone knew how that was acquired. And as for their expenditure of work and energy, it was well enough known that the opening up of the country was due to the white labour of the iron-gangs and the herds of assigned convict-workmen, toiling like negro slaves in Georgia or Virginia, under the convict whips of their relentless and greedy masters. Such was the aspect of affairs from the popular point of view.
All the efforts of Sir Richard Bourke to sweep away the barbarism of the time and to reconcile these two views in some degree, only demonstrated the utter futility of any labour of the kind while the practice of transportation continued. Sir Richard saw what the future of the colony might become, and the impossibility of its realisation so long as the Convict System was perpetuated. There was but one remedy for what he saw around him on every side, and that was the cessation of transportation altogether. He sent a dispatch to this effect to the Secretary for the Colonies, and the first step was taken in earnest at last.
Long before this the Vested Interest class had recognised Bourke for an enemy. He had made a friend of Wentworth, who was a frequent guest at the Governor's table, and his private words and public acts showed the exclusionists that their interests were in danger at his hands. They therefore revived all those agencies of attack which they and their predecessors had brought to bear so often before on previous Governors—the anonymous letter, the scurrilous lampoon, the private slander, the public charges to the Colonial Office, and all those miserable adjuncts of the art they had been at such persistent pains to cultivate. It is unnecessary to pursue the ramifications of this business, and the purpose of this paper will be as well served by one case as by fifty. We will select a typical one; and nothing we know of more clearly shows the character of the people who opposed Bourke than the book called "The Felonry of New South Wales," by Major Mudie, before alluded to.
We have seen how this man so cruelly ill-treated his convicts that some of them broke out into open mutiny as their only chance of escape from this chartered ruffian. Five of these men, it will be remembered, were hanged for their part in this mutiny, and the Governor was so struck by the state of things disclosed at the enquiry that he removed Major Mudie from the Commission of the Peace. This mild punishment appears to have excoriated the Major's tender sensibilities to such a degree that he became one of Bourke's bitterest opponents in his own small way, and the book just named is the result. Major Mudie became the mouthpiece of the class to which he belonged, and of which he was such a worthy member. The object of this vile production was, in his own words, to "arraign at the bar of public opinion the conduct of the Governor, and that of several of his functionaries in the government of New South Wales, and particularly as regards his and their spirit of favouritism towards the convicts—it may even be politically said, criminal collusion with convicts." From this extract it will be seen that the gallant Major was readier with the lash than the pen, but of course something must be allowed for continual practice. Then the story goes on.
Under the influence of pernicious principles respecting popular rights and popular institutions, he continues, Bourke easily fell into the hands of Judge Forbes and Mr. Wentworth, and other politically dangerous men in the community. Of these "the most dangerous, both from his position and his insidiousness, was the Chief Justice. A Bermudan by birth and educated in an American college, Mr. Chief Justice Forbes is a known Republican...From the first he assumed and performed the part of the protector of the felonry." This was the verdict of the class Major Mudie represented on the character of our first Chief Justice, and the man who introduced the beginning of Constitutional Government. Careful as they always professed themselves to be of the interests of law and order, when these terms meant the preservation of their own power, they were unscrupulous enemies of both order and law and those who were appointed to preserve it under what they called "felonial" government. When Wentworth was appointed a magistrate the cup of their bitterness was filled to overflowing. His policy was described as one of "eagerness to gain popularity by hollow pretence to convictism and emancipitism," and, says the injured Major, "he had taken a part in colonial politics so violent and peculiar, besides that there were other circumstances regarding him to which it is not necessary to advert, he was the very last free man in the colony who should have been placed on the Commission of the Peace. It gave to this hot-brained and intemperate political partisan a right to interfere still more than he had done in the affairs of the colony, and particularly with the proceedings of the magistracy." This extract will throw some light on the subsequent career of Wentworth.
"One of the many grave charges against Sir Richard Bourke," says the Major again with the utmost seriousness, "is that he has exhibited an undue, an unwise, an impolitic and a dangerous leniency towards the convict population of the colony, and that he has not only manifested this disgraceful propensity in the acts of his Government, but that he has taken into his special grace and favour the well-known apologists and advocates of the convicts, while he has averted his countenance from the disciplinarians who have presumed to oppose his frantic experiments, or to remonstrate against the lax and demoralising tendency of his system." This good Major is clearly one of those people who have been counselled not to play with edged tools. A pen in this man's hand is as dangerous to the class of which he is the mouthpiece as a petard or a torpedo. In this extract, this disciplinarian whose men were glad to escape him even through the trap-door of a gallows admits the whole case against the Vested Interest class, and throws away the mask. No man was better qualified to speak on behalf of the disciplinarians than this writer. Before the mutiny on his estate occurred a story was told in which he figured rather unpleasantly, and which perhaps had a great deal to do with what happened afterwards. One of his assigned servants took to the bush, and travelled on foot one hundred and forty miles, presented himself at Government House, and complained of the outrageous tyranny and oppression of his master, Major Mudie. The Governor's son and private secretary saw the runaway, heard his story, comforted and advised him, and sent him back to his master with a letter, begging that the unfortunate man might not be too severely visited for his error in taking to the bush to lay his case in person before the authorities. It is Major Mudie himself who tells the story, and he unblushingly adds the sequel. He charges the Governor's son in his book with unlawfully and criminally harbouring a bushranger, and immediately on the return of the man he handed him over to a bench of his neighbour magistrates, who promptly sentenced him to labour in the chain-gang as a bushranger—"in conformity with law," adds the Major. There were at that time one hundred free and convict labourers on Mudie's estate, and it may easily be believed that the unlucky result of this man's application for help from the authorities, and their master's action in the matter, precipitated the mutiny that followed.
It would be tedious to follow this writer in his defence of the class of which he was such a worthy member. His book is nothing more or less than a foul collection of villainous charges against Bourke and those of his officials who assisted him in drawing the fangs of the propertied classes. Some filthy stories about the private lives of successful Emancipists have been carefully garnered up, and Major Mudie devoted his congenial talents to the collection of all the incidents of this kind that delighted his delicate fancy. Utter unscrupulousness and literary larrikinism are evidenced in every page; but the result of the whole is merely to place the class he spoke for in a worse light, if possible, than before. Of course the Governor was the chief mark for his slanders, and the very line of attack his scurrilous assailant takes is, perhaps, Bourke's best apology. After explaining with approval how Governor Darling prohibited the convicts from directly addressing themselves to the Government on any pretence, and confined them to making their complaints or applications to the nearest bench of magistrates, he charges Bourke with the flagrant crime of encouraging "the correspondence of convicts with himself and his functionaries, receiving the secret accusations of any of the ruffians of the colony against their masters, and even comforting and advising runaways who repaired to him for consolation."
The good faith of this accusation and its maker may be judged from the fact that the complaints of convicts were usually against the cruelty of their masters. It has been already explained that the magistrates were the convict-masters, and were in the habit of obliging each other by the torture of the assigned servants brought before them. This was a reciprocal favour; the magistrate who sentenced his friend's servant to the lash to-day might ask a similar favour from the friend the day after, or even the same day. It was a pleasant system, based on the polished amenities and graceful sense of the duty of mutual obligation which is the invisible bond of all polite society, and it is much to the credit of Governor Darling's proper taste that he recognised this feature in the higher circle of colonial life, and paid its members the delicate attention to which Major Mudie so appreciativly refers. was no coarse and brutal interference with vested rights on Darling's part, therefore, when he commanded that if a convict had any complaint against his master he should make it known to his master's friend. Botany Bay etiquette required this. It was nothing, of course, to the convict that any chance of redress was denied him, for he had no vested rights except in the lash, and he could not be expected to appreciate the amenities of polite society. But Bourke had the excessively bad taste to listen to complaints that reached him, and even to encourage the oppressed to make their condition known. Worse than that, he actually endeavoured to extend to these miserables a certain measure of protection and redress.
Major Mudie was righteously indignant, therefore, at these horrible solecisms.
"So high-minded, indeed, under this childishly-foolish system have the felon population become," he says, "that convicts are quite indignant at being called convicts, and insolently deny the right of anyone to treat them with disrespect."
This was another attempt to deny to the Vested Interest class one of its most cherished privileges, but Major Mudie was not the man to endure this kind of thing without a murmur. He would not submit, he says, "either to their folly or caprices, or to their insolence or their tyranny." He "not only kept his convicts in their proper place and at their proper distance, and compelled them to wear the regular convict dress, but he had the dress of each branded with a number and with his own name as the assignee master." What with that which the disciplinarian Major has told us of his treatment of his white labour, and what he omitted to tell but which has come to us from other and perhaps more reliable sources, we get quite a pleasant picture of slave-life on the estate of "Castle Forbes." When the assigned servants mutinied, they endeavoured to express to him their deep sense of the trouble he had taken in their interests, and had the Major not been so exceedingly deft at running away he would certainly have had no cause to complain of their ingratitude. They took possession of his house while he was away, and though they refrained from assassinating its mistress, they pillaged the place of what arms, ammunition, and food they could, and took to the road in search of their master.
They found that good man, and were pleasantly preparing to flog him to death with his own cat-o'-nine-tails, when he jumped into the river and escaped amid a shower of shot and curses. One is apt to experience a tender regret here that these clumsy convicts did not give him some lashes—just a few—before his modest diffidence led him to decline that testimonial. We scarcely know where to bestow our astonishment—on the strange revulsion of feeling which led the Major to condemn the use of the lash in this single instance, or on the gaucherie of the uncultivated Boeotians who allowed him to make his escape.
The moral obliquity which would make the state of things existing under the assignment system decently tolerable is almost incredible at even this short distance of time. But the records of actual occurrences set down by one who believed and was an active agent in that system put the circumstances of the time out of the region of incertitude. This is the value—and the only value—of Major Mudie's slanderous book. The only touch of colour wanting to what has been already described will be found perhaps in the fact that the souls and bodies of convict men and women were committed to the irresponsible care of men like one whose character and personality are candidly painted by himself in his own shameless book. It is almost impossible to doubt that the man was sincere—that he believed as emphatically as the men who approve and administer the penal laws of to-day, in the justice of the system of which he formed a part. The hypocrisy which would allow a man to write as this man has written if he did not hold the views he sets forth would be too fiendish or too melodramatic to pass ordinary criticism. And the fact that the lives of men and women were at the mercy of such merely mechanical instruments of torture as this man describes himself to be only goes to prove the worst that has been said about the convict system.
"The scorching glow of conscious shame—and the groan of the convict's agony—are more appropriate," wrote the Major referring to Bourke and his officials, "to the feelings of men thus indelibly stamped with the guilt of public delinquency, and held up to derision, contempt, and scorn for their mental incapacity and folly. "
This fantastic sentence reads almost like the words of a man who really believes in what he says.
The Governor could not take any notice of the slanders in this book, but it was just as well, perhaps, that the gallant Major slandered someone who could give him his attention, and from whom it would seem that sturdy disciplinarian could not run away. Most of Major Mudie's libels were perpetrated on safe men—on men who had been hanged, for instance, or on the Governor who could not reply, or on officials who were advanced in years. But in one of his slanders Major Mudie caught a Tartar. Mr. Kinchela, afterwards Judge, held office as Attorney-General in his time. That gentleman had displayed a certain amount of humanity in the discharge of the duties of his office—was, perhaps, concerned in the enquiry into the "Castle Forbes" mutiny. Major Mudie referred to him in his book in these terms:—
"Deficient in legal knowledge, he has not even the address or manners, or the language of a gentleman. His utterance is bad, and strongly tinctured with the brogue of Kilkenny; and, to crown the whole, he is excessively deaf—a defect necessarily subjecting him to the most mischievous or the most ludicrous mistakes."
The Attorney-General could not resent this scurrilous blackguardism. But he had a son. The young fellow interviewed Major Mudie with a horsewhip. He had talked the matter over with his friends, and they decided that something like fifty lashes would about meet the Major's case. So the young man stepped airily up to that gallant and high-spirited officer one day, and with cool precision proceeded to carry out the sentence. There was no river for the Major to jump into this time, and he could not run away. So he had to take his punishment with the best grace he had, and content himself with the usual threats of redress in the courts of law. He took his case into court, and as there was no denying either the assault or the events that led up to it, young Kinchela was mulct in the sum of £50, being at the rate of £1 for every stroke of the whip. The young fellow paid the money with pleasure, and expressed an opinion that the entertainment was a very cheap one at the price.
Enough of Major Mudie. He and his book have served their purpose, and that brave man himself has gone to his own place—a place, perhaps, where he will have no reason to complain of the severity of the penal discipline. We have used him and his book to throw light on the character of the class to which he belonged, and on the nature of their opposition to Bourke and his policy. What has been said in this and the preceding paper will give the reader an idea of what the work of reform really meant. One cannot fail to be struck at the similarity of the things described to that which existed under the New South Wales Corps in the first years of settlement. There was the same division of classes and the same cruelty and oppression on one side, and suffering and despair on the other. Major Mudie is the legitimate successor of Captain Macarthur, and the seed that pioneer sowed had by this time brought forth a plentiful harvest crop after its kind. The settlement had now been in existence for nearly 50 years, and the only mark of development or progress yet shown so far as administrative detail was concerned, was that mentioned above. The scene described as having taken place in the Bathurst Courthouse may be read side by side with another, elsewhere treated, which occurred at Parramatta at the beginning of the century. On that occasion two floggers set to work on the victim at once, so that the torture was comparatively short. This was a crude and unrefined method, with no element of the artistic about it. But on this last occasion the executioners relieved each other, and the lashes were given at half-minute time, so that the suffering wretch might miss no twinge or throb of his torture. This was progress, indeed. It was one of those thoughtful attentions which had their origin in that more polished society of the "colonial aristocracy" into which the ruder conditions of the New South Wales Corps had been translated. It would be pleasant to speculate as to the further results in the way of refinement of cruelty these ingenious wretches would have devised had Bourke not prematurely crushed the whole system out of existence altogether.
If these things moved Bourke to vigorous action, how much more may they not be supposed to have goaded men like Wentworth and Wardell, and the Patriotic Association they led? The case of Wentworth was a singular one. Born at Norfolk Island, the very hot-bed and centre of all that was horrible in the convict-system, he went home at a sufficiently early age to leave his mind open to other impressions. His character was formed on something that differed widely from Botany Bay models, by the time he returned to Australia in the company of the man who influenced his future action so nobly. These men personify for us the intelligent patriotic sentiment of the time. They saw with a more sympathetic eye than Bourke the details of the working of the convict-system. Occupying no official position they were in a measure identified with the colony and its larger interests, as distinguishable from the Vested Interests against which they unrestingly fought. The terrible social results of the convict rule were always before their eyes, and they saw shipload after shipload of rustic transportees discharged from prison-ships at Circular Quay, to be dragooned and tortured into hopeless criminals and duly fitted and trained for their end—the gallows. Instances might be multiplied indefinitely to show how surely and fatally the system worked to transform the raw import into the finished article. It will not be necessary to go into detail to demonstrate this, however, and we will be content in this case, as in others, to select a typical case and let it stand as representative of all.
Quite a large proportion of those who were sent out to Australia in prison-ships were convicted of poaching. From the time of William the Conqueror, when men's eyes were put out for killing a hart, the game-laws have always been among the most priceless treasures of British criminal jurisprudence. The young man who shot a hare or a partridge was sent to Botany Bay in the same ship with the murderer or the habitual criminal. A love for sport and a borrowed gun have sent more good colonists to New South Wales than any other impelling power save the goldfields. We have now before us the police history of one of those juvenile poachers, drawn up in the Convict Superintendent's office for some purpose of which we have no present indication, in 1851. The name at the head of this faded document is "Hugh Doogan," and it appears from the record that he was convicted in Dublin, 1838, of snaring pheasants, and sentenced to transportation beyond the seas for a term of seven years. God knows what history of domestic woe is summarised in these three or four official lines, but that there was something of the kind we may be certain, for the lad was only eighteen years of age. Like thousands more he was huddled below deck out of sight, and floated away in due course into what he and the thousands like him doubtless regarded as the veritable under-world. He arrived in 1839, took his place among the working-convicts, and proceeded to exemplify the working of the system in his own microscopic way. It may be here remarked as a singular circumstance amply borne out by facts and figures that these young Irish convicts, sent out for petty offences, formed the class out of which the convict-system produced its worst and most characteristic results. It is well-known that the nationality of these men subjected them to a great deal of harsh treatment, and their own impulsive temperament seems to have added whatever was necessary to make them promising raw material for the operation of such a system.
This Hugh Doogan was in the colony just nine months—about long enough, we may suppose, to give his fetters time to bite—when we find him, by this record, sentenced to 36 lashes for being absent without leave. After this first step the descent to hell was easy. Six months later we find him sentenced to 50 lashes for disorderly conduct, and 12 months after that to 50 lashes for neglect of work. Six months later he was locked up in the cells for 14 days for drunkenness, and as this treatment does not appear to have recommended itself to his capricious approval, we find him absconding as soon as he got out of his exquisite little cell. He was captured and sent to the treadmill for two months, and six months after he finished his arduous labours in that capacity he achieved six months in irons for drunkenness and assault. Six months after his release again—the insect we have now under the lens seems to have generally kept within bounds for six months at a time—he was sent to Cockatoo Island for the remainder of his sentence. There is no reason given in the record before us for this step, but perhaps the authorities thought it a pity to neglect such a promising instance of the success of the system by leaving its development to mere chance. He was quiet again for just six months, when the record says he was sentenced to seven days' cells for disorderly conduct; but this does not seem to have discouraged him, for we find him nine days later sentenced to two months at the treadmill, also for disorderly conduct. Two months after that was over he took it into his mind to assault someone—a keeper, perhaps, for he was sentenced to nine months in irons for his little freak. Sent to Blackheath, he ran away from the stockade there when his period was over, and there is no sentence recorded. It would be useless to speculate why. But at the end of 1846 we find him sentenced to twelve months in irons for repeatedly absconding, which was a bad habit. Six months after that he again ran rapidly away, though in what miraculous manner he did so this time the dry record before us disdains to tell. At all events, he was sentenced to twelve months in irons for his feat a week later, so we may guess that Mr. Doogan did not succeed in running away very far.
Bearing up under his difficulties, he made another attempt to add to his record three months later, when he was sentenced to 14 days' cells for bad and abusive language, which was wrong and no doubt thoroughly inexcusable. But two months later we find him dancing with a light heart on the treadmill again for two months because he once more tried to run away. He does not appear to have taken the same interest in the experiment of which he was the subject as the reader does, possibly, but then some allowance must be made for the personal equation in these matters. Bad and abusive language, four months later, sent him for 14 days to the retirement of his little cell, and in two months more we find him at the treadmill again for another eight weeks for absconding. Then for nine months we hear nothing further of him. We have now brought this specimen up to the end of 1847. His original sentence was for seven years, but he has already spent nine in penal servitude, so that we may infer that at about this stage Hugh Doogan was released. During the period of his servitude we can count 16 subordinate sentences recorded against this man, who came to the colony a mere boy whose crime was the snaring of pheasants. One hundred and thirty-six lashes are recorded here, five weeks in the cells, six months at the treadmill, and three years and three months in irons. Add to this the miseries of the ordinary convict's lot when not "under punishment," and we get a fair idea of the educative agencies brought to bear on this poor wretch, who entailed on himself a career of life-long misery for stealing a brace or two of birds.
Turned adrift at the expiration of his term, as we suppose, it is not difficult to realise his position. This item of humanity had had no experience whatever of life, outside his 18 years of rustic boyhood and his nine years under the convict-system. Of the outer world he knew nothing. Had Mr. Doogan been hanged at this point in his career, and his mental state diagnosed by an autopsy of the brain—supposing the operation effectual for such a purpose—it would doubtless have been found that the universe for him consisted of a squire and a gamekeeper, a judge and a court of justice, a prison-ship, and the chain-gang. This suggests a pretty metaphysical study, which we will not pursue. Only it might be pointed out that, whatever the scheme of Creation may be, a creature in the position of this Hugh Doogan could have no part or hope in it. Under the circumstances what was he to do—cut adrift, as he was, among people who had nothing in common with him except in one point? He solved that question in the only way open to him, and joined the only people who had anything in common with himself. He didn't take long about it, either. For in September, 1848, just seven months after he completed his last sentence, we find him tried at the Maitland Criminal Court for horse-stealing, and sentenced to ten years' hard labour on the roads or other public works of the colony. This was a signal triumph for the system as a manufactory of criminals. It was as certain and as sure in its operation as the grinding of the mills of God, and the boy who entered under the yoke emerged at the end of his sentence a graduated and hopeless felon, ripe for the gibbet, and unfit for anything else in the existing state of the criminal law.
And just here occurs a singular entry in the police history before us, which is susceptible of at least one explanation, and we can think of no other. On the same day that the last sentence was recorded, Doogan, who arrived by the convict-ship Waverley, was charged in the name of Henry Herbert, per ship Maugles, and sentenced to 12 lunar months in Sydney gaol for horse-stealing. Unless Mr. Doogan was imported in sections, in two different ships, there was clearly something wrong here. But in the face of so much that was flagrantly wrong there is no room left for astonishment at any trifling detail of this kind. At any rate our specimen took his place again among the convicts, and one month later we find him going to the cells for 14 days for refusing to work and threatening the overseer. For 12 months he is quiet again, when we find him discharged of an imputation that he had been fighting in the mess-shed. Five months after that he is sentenced to 14 days' cells again for outrageous conduct in the office; and so far as this record shows or is concerned that is his last appearance on that or any other stage. Whether he died under the system, or was released and reclaimed; or if this ink-faded and patched document—bearing date February 11, 1851—was compiled for the information of a judge whose duty it may have been to sentence Hugh Doogan to the last penalty of the law: there is no evidence before this writer to show. The rest of this man's dismal story is lost among the tens of thousands of life-stories that lost themselves blindly among the horrors of the convict-system, as feeble summer creeks in the Australian interior trickle and lose themselves amongst the desert sands.
This, then, is the story of a convict in the forcing-bed of crime which is meant when we speak of the convict-system. We have seen him pass through all the stages, just as a college-bred youth passes through all his academical degrees to become a doctor of divinity, or a piece of crude ore through its processes to come out a needle or an anchor. And just as these mechanical processes could not produce a fish, for instance, but must needs result in a needle or an anchor according to the design of the artificer, so even this rustic lad could not emerge from the system through which he was passed in any other form than that of a confirmed criminal. Such a system would have sufficed to barbarise a philosopher; and assuredly this poor pheasant-filcher was not such. His ultimate end, therefore, was as fixed as fate and as unavoidable, and though the record is silent as to what became of Hugh Doogan, it leaves very little room for speculation on the subject. So far as essentials are concerned the system is the same to-day. The criminal chooses his career in the first instance, and so far the responsibility rests with circumstances over which he has more or less control. But once his choice is made there is no escape from it. Even to this very day we have every appliance for punishing and distinguishing those who break the law, but none for reforming them. All authorities on prison discipline admit the fact, and their only reason or excuse is based on considerations of expense. By-and-bye someone will discover that this ground is untenable, and that law-breaking may be minimised under an enlightened and philosophic system which will recognise the fact that crime is a necessary evil, but that its propagation is not a necessary State function. In that Utopian day perhaps the money-vote for the maintenance of the Department of Prisons will be more intelligently employed.
No doubt such cases as the one we have individualised came daily and hourly under the observation of Wentworth and Warded, and it is a significant fact that up to the death of the latter, these men were always in the front of any movement that tended to do away with the first cause of all these things. As time went on, and Dr. Wardell himself fell a victim to the state of things he denounced, the action of Wentworth became less single-minded. He gradually left behind him most of his popular sympathies, until at last he actually left the colony altogether rather than live under the free institutions he is credited with having brought into existence. The stages of this falling-off will be seen as this account goes on; but in the meantime this is the place to note the appearance of another liberal leader. Dr. Bland, whose name is one of the best-known of the popular party, was himself a transportee. He was a distinguished physician's son, and became himself a surgeon in the navy. He fought a duel with the purser of his ship on an East Indian station, and killed his man at the first shot. Then he challenged one of the lieutenants for imputing unfairness. The men met, but neither was injured. A little later both were arrested, and, on being tried at Calcutta, were sentenced to seven years' transportation. William Bland was sent to Botany Bay in 1814, and within a year obtained a free pardon and entered on the practice of his profession. He was imprisoned for twelve months and fined £50 for libelling Governor Macquarie, and on his release he showed that his enforced opportunities for closely observing the working of the convict-system had not been lost on him. He at once entered on the career in which he persevered until his death in 1868, at the age of seventy-nine years; and one of the most striking sights in Sydney for some years before that event was the spectacle of this white-haired and benevolent old man, the greater part of whose long life had been spent in doing good, and in unswerving devotion to the popular cause. Such a life as his stands out against the squalid story of Botany Bay like the shadow of a great rock in a thirsty land.
Bland was one of the first members of the Patriotic Association. He brought to the popular cause the aid of his voice and pen, and he also laboured with most benevolent zeal in his professional capacity among the poorest and most friendless of the population. It would be impossible to reproduce the feelings of the people in his regard without the use of words that might lead to a suspicion of exaggeration. The public charities were his especial care, and whatever is best in them we owe to the philanthropy of Dr. William Bland, whose name is one of the worthy few we are so rapidly forgetting. Some day, perhaps, some popular speaker will make a popular speech and recall to the minds of those who can remember him, the venerable figure of this old-time hero, and all the good work that he has left after him as a pleading memory.
A series of letters written by Bland to Charles Bulwer, M.P., England, on the rights of colonists in Australia, placed him in the front rank of the popular advocates. In his speeches at the meetings held from time to time to advocate the views of the Patriotic Association and its claim for free institutions, Bland was always well in accord with the most enlightened aspirations of the class that eventually gained the responsible government that came after. He was a strong opponent of Vested Interests in the convict-system and all that sheltered under that unclean thing, and he unsparingly pointed out how those Interests were opposed to the prospects of the colony, and an obstacle in the way of progress. In one of his best known speeches he dwelt on the rights of the native-born, claiming that the possession of talent was more important than the possession of ill-acquired acres, and stating that for his part he knew of no "stake in the country" save that of liberty and life. For this he earned the scurrilous enmity of the Vested Interest party on the one hand, and on the other was elected in due time one of the first members of the Legislature for Sydney, when the first measure of self-government was introduced.
It will be unnecessary to do more than give a brief synopsis of the results of Governor Bourke's rule. We have seen what the colony was when he came into it. He practically established the jury system. He gave up the privilege of assigning convict servants into the hands of a Board. He amended the brutal and barbarous prison discipline, and struck the names of 33 convict-master magistrates off the list at one blow. He issued regular accounts of State receipts and expenditure for the first time; before his coming the Governors did as they thought fit with the revenues. He established a system of free immigration. He did away with a State Church, and with the law which gave it one-seventh of the lands of the colony as its dowry. He established religious equality. He founded Victoria. He acknowledged the liberty of the Press. This skeleton list is more eloquent and effective than volumes of eulogy to fix Bourke's place in Australian history. It only remains to add that the Vested interests drove him out of the country. The Governor had nominated Mr. Roger Therry (afterwards Judge) to the Chairmanship of Quarter Sessions. His candidature was opposed by Mr. Riddell, one of the Vested Interest class and Colonial Treasurer. The latter was successful. Bourke removed him from the Executive Council for his official irregularity in opposing the Governor's will. The matter was referred home, and Riddell was reinstated. The Governor tendered his own resignation, which Earl Grey begged him to withdraw. He remained firm, however, and retired from the colony which he had so ably governed—a victim to the unscrupulous and unrelenting opposition which has consistently pursued every friend of popular measures before and since.
Bourke continued to hold office as Governor of New South Wales from 1830 to 1837. No Imperial ruler has deserved better of the country than he. A statue stands in the Sydney Domain to remind the people of the mother-colony of his services, and of the condition of things against the survival of which they have to guard. His endeavours were not entirely successful; it had been a miracle if they were. But that statue in the Sydney Domain is a mile-stone for the people on their way from the state of things he found on his arrival towards that fair prospect to which his liberal rule pointed the way.
Sir George Gipps arrived at the beginning of 1838. He had been a captain in the Engineers, and afterwards private secretary to a Cabinet Minister by whose influence be was made one of three Commissioners sent to Canada before the little rebellion there in 1837. Gipps was a clever and experienced man, a good speaker, and Lang says "his moral sense was somewhat obtuse." But then Lang was in the habit of making Gaelic remarks about everyone who did not favour the claims of the Scots' Church. However, Gipps arrived in the colony just after a masterful predecessor, and it is proverbially a difficult task to fit the prophet's mantle to his successor's shoulders.
For some years after Bourke's departure the results of his policy followed each other in rapid succession. We have said that, appalled at the magnitude of the evils of the convict-system, and the hopelessness of any attempt to remedy them from within the colony, he sent a despatch to the Colonial Office urging on the authorities the discontinuance of the transportation system altogether. In 1836 that correspondence in which Dr. Bland took part was opened up with Mr. Lytton Bulwer, and the abolition of transportation became one of the test-points of the Patriotic Association. The Governor's despatch gave the agitators a definite ground to go upon, but two years after his departure the Vested Interest party held a large meeting in Sydney—February, 1839-to advocate the continuance of the convict-system, to which that party was so much attached. In October of the following year Gipps informed his Council that the Home Government, moved, doubtless, by Bourke's powerful representations, had decided to stop the custom of transporting criminals to New South Wales, and next month the Eden, which the colonists regarded as the last prison-ship that would bring its freight of sorrow and sin to Botany Bay, sailed down the harbour and discharged its convicts at Circular Quay. But the struggle was not to end so easily as that. It was not to be expected that the vile and degrading custom that had obtained from 1788 to 1840, from which so many unique results had been obtained, and on which the Vested Interest party had fattened and grown wealthy from year to year, was to be allowed to die out without a gallant fight.
Lang says that the strongest advocates for the revival of transportation were the proprietors of flocks and herds in the interior—that is to say, the squatters. These men "disliked the advances that were evidently making by the middle and industrious classes of the free emigrant population around them, and felt that their own dignity and self-importance would be much more easily maintained in the country if there were no middle class in the country at all—nothing, in short, between the master and the slave." These squatters and proprietors were often men who had brought out some capital to adventure it in the colonies and return to England with the proceeds. But the class that led the clamour in this matter were the descendants of the men whose career has occupied so much of these pages, and who were ready to ally themselves with any and every person or force that could hold back the colony on the path of progress, and plunge it hopelessly in the squalor of the old convict days.
These people had been brought up under the convict-system, and at a time when theatres and places or opportunities of public entertainment were infrequent in the colony, it was their practice to refresh themselves with the sight of public executions, and the flogging of men and women.
"They had acquired," says Lang, "a liking for the system; especially for the arbitrary power which it virtually confided to the master, and the summary punishment to which it subjected the slave—the 50 lashes, for instance, for insolence, laziness, or disobedience, or any of the other imaginary or constructive crimes and misdemeanours of the convict code."
These people, then, met together to discuss the dreadful disaster that had fallen upon them. They could foresee quite plainly the time when the supply of convicts would die out—and then what would there be to replace the white labour which made their fortunes for them, and what would become of the gallows and the "cat," the spiked iron collars, and the fetters of the chain-gang? The contingency was a dreadful one. But these questions have answered themselves since then. Convict labour has been replaced by something that certain people would like to see made equally hopeless. And as for the gibbet and the "cat" and the other barbarous relics of our savage stage, these little trifles are still in active use, and, so far as they were concerned, the Vested Interest, party would seem to have agitated itself without reason. We still hang boys of tender years.
A petition was prepared by the people who organised the meetings of the party. It prayed for the revival of transportation, and gave some most excellent and indisputable reasons why the continuance of the convict-system was absolutely necessary to the existence of New South Wales as a self-supporting colony. No doubt the petitioners believed all they said in this precious document, for we can easily believe that they found it impossible to realise a Botany Bay in which, to quote the words of Phillip, "there should be no slavery, and consequently no slaves." The petition excited a great deal of public attention. It found advocates later on in the Legislative Council, of course. Amongst the people at large it was condemned with one voice, and the petitioners gibbetted for popular execration under the name of the "Banditti Party." The leader of the Banditti Party in the Legislative Council a little later was Mr. William Charles Wentworth.
It is not to be thought that the shocking enormities of the convict-system had escaped censure in England. The men who advocated the Reform Bill of 1832, and the abolition of slavery, were not likely to allow these things to pass in silence after they had once been brought under their notice. By the Grace of God the were always humane men there who lifted up strong voices against its crying iniquities. Among these was Bishop Hinds, who wrote in 1832 condemning the system in unmeasured terms in the name of religion, humanity, and morality—national and private. This man looked into the future, and made an honest effort to gauge the influence on colonial social conditions of the institution he condemned. His conclusions were not favourable ones. "Begin by breaking up the system," was the only advice he could offer. "There is no chance for the colony unless that preliminary step be taken." But this was not all. So convinced had he become of the extent to which the traditions and spirit of the system had sunk into and leavened the whole of colonial society, that he could see no reasonable hope for the future so long as those traditions were allowed to cling. This conviction has been amply borne out by events. Every association that could reveal the past was dangerous, he thought. "There should be a change of place," he recommended—"a transfer, if possible, of the seat of Government to some site within the colony as yet untainted with the defiling associations of crime and infamy." This language is strong, but just.
This writer dreaded that, even if the plague-spot were to be removed, the public sentiment would continue to be charged with the disease so long as the infection of association remained. We must look into our criminal code, and the traditional spirit that underlies our social conditions to find how far his dread was justified. But this honest bishop might have gone a logical step further, and recommended the complete removal of all officials and others trained under and associated with the convict-system, or officially formed on the models of the men who administered it. These were the men into whose souls the iron had entered.
Archbishop Whately, speaking in the House of Lords some years later—in 1840, namely—used even stronger words. A committee of the House of Commons on transportation, which met in 1837, had in the meantime collected a startling body of damnatory evidence. Its publication struck horror into the minds of all who read it, and many voices were raised against the abomination that had been nursed into being under the British flag. Said Whately, voicing the public sentiment on the subject:—
"Better, far better would it have been that the lands of New South Wales should have remained till the end of time in their primitive wildness, better for the mother-country, for the aborigines, for the settlers themselves, that the whole region should have been swallowed up in the ocean, than that it should have been erected into such a monument of national folly and perversity, such a stronghold and seminary of wide-spreading and moral corruption as it now exhibits."
These scarifying words represent the verdict of an English Archbishop on the working of that so-called "designs of Providence" theory which, as we saw in the first of these papers, was announced as having given the Australian continent—the "great lone, melancholy island that had lain for thousands of years asleep in a summer sea"—to the civilisation of Britain as its inheritance.
It cannot be too often repeated in this connection that such invective as this was intended to apply, not so much to the actual convict, whom, indeed, it was proposed to recall (sic), but still more, and with far greater reason, as their influence for evil was the stronger, to the class built up by the exercise of the gaoler's authority. Dr. Whately understood as well as any man the true character of this element in the Australian community. He knew what he was talking about when he spoke these words. For in the years that preceded 1838 he was instrumental in collecting evidence to put a stop to that Assignment System under which the evil had grown up, and which he had been engaged in unsparingly exposing for some years before.
Listen to Dr. Whately again:—
"To persevere, I say, knowingly and deliberately, in thus creating a profligate nation, and by continual fresh supplies making and keeping it from generation to generation the most hopelessly corrupt community that ever the sun shone upon, would be a national crime and folly which I do trust there is too much good feeling and good sense among us to endure."
And to Bishop Hinds, in choral response:—
"Think of what stuff this people will have been made of; and who it is that posterity will then curse for bringing this mildew on the social intercourse of the world; who it is that will be answerable for the injury done by it to human virtue and human happiness, at a tribunal more distant, but more awful even than posterity."
Truly, the opinions of experts on the subject of the designs of Providence were beginning seriously to differ!
What side Dr. Wardell would have taken in this dispute, of course it is now impossible to say with certainty. Certain it is, however, that Mr. Wentworth became one of the leaders of the "Banditti Party," and an advocate for the continuance of the state of things against which he was understood to be lighting up to the present stage. He had by this time become largely interested in squatting and an employer of convict labour, and as he grew richer and began to acquire a Vested Interest of his own in the system, he exchanged his popular and patriotic sympathies for a price which few patriots, at least in these modern times, and certainly in Australia, have been found able to resist. The ambition to become a larger landed proprietor and territorial magnate of Botany Bay was too much for Mr. Wentworth's patriotism, although he still continued to take an active part in the agitation for responsible government, which, as we shall see presently, had been going on all this time.
"Not satisfied with being one of the largest speculators in land and stock in New South Wales," says Lang, "that gentleman had fixed his eye on a principality in New Zealand."
Mr. Wentworth had a fondness for titles and dignities, and it will be seen when we come to speak about the Constitution that a proposal to create a peerage of colonial dukes, earls, and barons was actually inserted by him in his first draft of the Constitution. Something similar seems to have moved him in the case to which Lang refers, which is interesting for the strong light it throws on the personal character of the man. The first colonists visited New Zealand just after the beginning of the century, but it was not until many years afterwards that colonisation set in there. Some time previous to 1840, Wentworth had bought from a few of the Maori chiefs, whose tribes were sparsely scattered through the Middle Island, an expanse of territory covering twenty millions of acres—nearly the whole of the island. The treaty of purchase was drawn up by a few Maori chiefs on the one side, who ceded the territory, and William Charles Wentworth, who paid over the stipulated price in blankets, muskets, powder, and some store goods from Sydney. The instrument or deed was made in Maori and English, and signed by the chiefs and Mr. Wentworth, in the presence of regular witnesses.
This sale the authorities in Sydney disputed, and Wentworth appeared before the old nominee Council and advocated his claim in person, "proudly displaying his parchment with the signs-manual and seals of the independent and sovereign chiefs aforesaid," and concluding by asking nothing from the generosity or charity, but demanding everything from the justice of England. Gipps saw through this pseudo-patriot. "He showed up the claim of Wentworth in a torrent of sarcasm which it is no marvel," said Lang, "that that gentleman has never been able to forget," and "concluded by literally overwhelming Mr. Wentworth and his notorious attempt to appropriate, for his own private benefit, the country which might otherwise become the happy home of myriads of his fellow-countrymen." Clearly, Mr. Wentworth was a man of large views, but it appears to have escaped the notice of those who condemned this vigorous stroke that there was no difference in principle to the "myriads of his fellow-countryman" between the fact of his taking up all this country alone, and its being taken up by 40 or 50 monopolists in the same terms. The myriads are just as badly off in any case, and the bulk of the freehold lands of Australia are just as securely locked up in the hands of less than 100 capitalists as if a proprietorship had been claimed by one. The difference is, of course, a great one to the hundred individuals who divide the spoil, but nothing whatever to the myriads who are equally shut out in either case.
"If all the jobs which have been done since the days of Sir Robert Walpole were collected into one job they would not make so big a job," said Gipps in his speech in the Council, "as the one Mr. Wentworth asks me to lend a hand in perpetrating; the job, that is to say, of making to him a grant of twenty millions of acres, at at the rate of 100 acres for a farthing! The Land Company of New South Wales has been said to be a job; one million of acres at eighteen pence an acre has been thought to be a pretty good job; but it absolutely vanishes into nothing by the side of Mr. Wentworth's job."
That speech finished the patriot's business. It burst up his scheme for a principality in New Zealand, while at the same time it conclusively demonstrated the impossibility of ever again trusting Mr. Wentworth in the position of a popular leader. Public confidence fell away, though the masterful character of the man still kept him well in front of the popular movement until Constitutional Government was obtained. Meantime, after this instance, there is no occasion to explain the application of the term "Banditti Party" to the people of whom Wentworth was now the recognised leader.
For a time the anti-transportation question remained in abeyance. A larger question absorbed public interest, and kept the minds of all parties abundantly occupied. The movement towards Responsible Government and a popular Constitution had been going on all this time, but, as the issue became more and more certain, the popular will grew more vague and nebulous in its expression, and the public demands more blurred and ill-defined. The absence of capable and trustworthy leaders became more marked, as Wentworth's work which promised so well broke off short like one of those fractured columns, once part of a noble pile, that now glitter vacuously and meaninglessly in the white light of an Eastern sun.
When, 20 years before, Governor Brisbane awoke from his contemplation of the stellar system to a knowledge of his immediate surroundings, he saw that the people required to be protected from the rapacity of certain among themselves. He saw that their evils came, not from Downing-street, but from the people in immediate authority in the colony itself. On his departure, as we have seen, he took with him a strong desire to serve the future interests of the settlement he had at first neglected, and a deputation of colonists which waited on him before he set sail to express their regret at his leaving, took the opportunity in the address they presented to state their desire for taxation by representation through an elective Assembly of 100 members. This, the first recorded request for Parliamentary institutions, and the first public meeting for the purpose, took place on 21st October, 1825. The deputation that presented this address consisted of Messrs. D'Arcy and William Charles Wentworth, Thomas Raine, W. J. Browne, and Daniel Cooper. As far back as 1812 the Select Committee appointed to enquire into the affairs of the colony recommended that the Governor should be assisted in his duties by the advice of a Council. This was in Macquarie's time. That official knew too well, as Brisbane and Bourke afterwards discovered, that the class from which such a Council would be drawn—the official and propertied element—had no sympathies in common with the settlement at large, and that the colony rather asked and required protection from these gentry than representation through them. His own efforts for the general advancement were frustrated by the men who would have been called upon to form a Council had it been then established. The Macarthur element would have proved a sorry protector and director of the young commonwealth. He opposed the recommendation, therefore, and in doing so did wisely. When the approval of the Secretary of State was refused he wrote:—
"I feel great satisfaction at the determination of his Majesty's Government in not acceding to the recommendation of the Select Committee of the House of Commons is regard to the Governor of this colony being assisted by a Council. I indulge a fond hope that this measure will never be resorted to in this colony."
This was in 1813. Now, the sincerity and purity of Macquarie's motives no honest man will question. It is clear, therefor, that his opinion of the people who "were not convicts, but who should have been so," was a very strong one. It is abundantly clear now, too, that the objections he foresaw were afterwards borne out by facts.
Towards the end of Brisbane's term, however, a Legislative Council was appointed to advise the Governor. It first met on August 11, 1824. Purely a nominee and official Council, it consisted of the Governor; William Stewart, Lieutenant-Governor; Francis Forbes, Chief Justice; Frederick Goulburn, Colonial Secretary; John Oxley, Surveyor-General; James Bowman, Principal Colonial Surgeon; and last, but by no means least, John Macarthur, of Camden, by this time a territorial magnate and an indisputable lord of the soil. Thus the person whom history presents to us as the wiliest enemy of the people and the most restless opponent of every popular advance, was the first man "of the people" chosen to advise a Governor, one of whose predecessors he had deposed for interfering with him and his class; four of whom, according to his own boast, he had induced the English Government to recall; while each one had denounced him as a turbulent colonist, a merciless opponent of good government, and an oppressor of the people. The single-minded devotion of this able man to one clear and definite end would, had that end been a good one, have made him the father of his country. As that end was a selfish one, his evil methods and politically immoral means did not prevent their issuing in the successful aggrandisement of himself.
The first Act of Parliament passed in Australia was no weak-minded sentimental abstraction, commemorative of the dawning of the legislative function—that highest exercise of the faculties of man—in a virgin country. It was simply a measure to make promissory notes and bills of exchange payable in Spanish dollars available as if they had been drawn payable in sterling coin of the realm. This was on 28th September, 1824.
Governor Darling appointed a new Council on December 20, 1825. Besides Messrs. Forbes and Goulburn, it included Attorney-General Saxe-Bannister; Solicitor-General John Stephen, father of Sir Alfred Stephen; Sheriff Mackaness; John Carter, Master-in-Equity; and D'Arcy Wentworth, Police Magistrate of Sydney. Archdeacon Scott, Alexander Macleay, Robert Campbell, senior, and Charles Throsby, were afterwards added. Two years later than this, on January 26, 1827, a public meeting, elsewhere referred to in connection with the agitation for the jury-right, was held in Sydney to ask for representative rights. A memorial, signed by 24 emigrant settlers and emancipists, representing a million sterling, asked Sheriff Mackaness to call a meeting to petition the Home Government on the two subjects named. The meeting is said to have been the largest held up to that time. It was convened in the Court-house, and Mr. Wentworth and Sir John Jamison proposed and seconded a resolution for the adoption of the petition. A deputation consisting of the Sheriff, Mr. Blaxland, and Mr. Wentworth, waited on Governor Darling to request him to forward it to the King. Copies were also sent to Sir James Macintosh and to Sir Thomas Brisbane for presentation to the Commons and Lords. It was for tolerating language "offensive to Church and State" at this meeting, that Sheriff Mackaness was suspended from office, as we have seen, by Governor Darling. Next year, March, 1828, a new Legislative Council was appointed, consisting of the same members as the other, with the exception of Messrs. Carter, D'Arcy Wentworth, Stephen, Saxe-Bannister, Mackaness, and Goulburn, who had been succeeded by Alexander Macleay as Colonial Secretary; and with the addition of the ubiquitous John Macarthur. On July 13 of the following year a Royal Charter arrived, appointing new Executive and Legislative Councils. The former consisted of Archdeacon Scott, the Colonial Secretary, and the Commander of the Forces. The Legislative Council included these officials, with Francis Forbes, Chief Justice; Alexander Macduff Baxter, Attorney-General; Michael Cully Cotton, Collector of Customs; William Lithgow, Auditor-General; John Macarthur, Robert Campbell, Alexander Berry, Richard Jones, John Blaxland, Captain P. P. King, and Edward Charles Close—the Governor presiding. In this Council the Civil Jury Bill was passed. Archdeacon Broughton succeeded Archdeacon Scott on his arrival in September of the same year. This Council sat through the period of Bourke and Gipps, up to 1843. The first expression of local popular opinion on the question of the Civil List was given by Mr. John Blaxland in 1834, who entered formal protests against the amounts of the salaries of the Colonial Secretary (£2000 per annum), of the Archdeacon (£2000 per annum), and of the resident at New Zealand (£500 per annum). Copies of these protests were sent to the Secretary of State. In the same year measures were passed fixing the recoverable rate of interest at 8 per cent.; legalising marriages by Catholic and Presbyterian ministers; and appropriating reverted grants hitherto held by the defunct Church and School Corporation, to the expenses of orphanages and to general education. Next year, besides certain postage regulations and the establishment of a Criminal Court at Norfolk Island, a sum of £55,040 was voted for the maintenance of the police and gaols of the colony. This was an important step, and was taken by command of the Home Government, which devoted the surplus land revenues of the colony after the emigration vote had been deducted to meet this outlay. It is a highly significant fact that this measure—the first step towards making the colonies self-supporting—was only carried after a strenuous opposition by the non-official members, by a majority of seven to six. Only one non-official member voted with the majority. Three years later, on June 6, 1838, the proceedings of the Council were thrown open to the Press and public for the first time, and from this date the business of the House was regularly reported in the newspapers.
But the Nominee Council was never in harmony with the people, as, indeed, it was never expected to be. As Macquarie foresaw, its sympathies were class sympathies and its legislation was class legislation, except when a masterful man like Bourke controlled its actions and shamed or forced it into incidental lapses of liberalism. As our story has shown, every step of the kind was bitterly and determinedly opposed. And with each step gained the popular cause grew stronger, and its outlook more hopeful. On February, 9, 1830, another popular meeting was held to ask for the jury-right and a Representative Legislature. Sheriff McQuoid took the chair, and the resolutions passed were transmitted to Sir James Macintosh and the Marquis of Sligo for presentation, Mr. Stuart Donaldson being asked to act as agent for the colony. When the news of the accession of William IV. arrived next year Mr. Wentworth inserted that amendment in the address quoted in reference to the jury-right, asking for the general recognition of colonial civil rights. On January, 26, 1833, a public meeting was again held under the presidency of the Sheriff, at which a petition was adopted, requesting a Representative Assembly to consist of not less than 50 members, which should have the right of imposing and appropriating its own taxes. The petition was moved and seconded by Messrs. Wentworth and Lawson, and unanimously carried. On this occasion a paid representative for the colony was first proposed, it being agreed to memorialise the Governor for a grant of £1000 per annum for a Parliamentary agent, to be chosen every three years by the landholders and householders. Two years later the sum of £l400 was placed at the disposal of Mr. Lytton Bulwer for this purpose. At this meeting, also, Messrs. Bulwer, Robinson, and Joseph Hume were thanked for their services to the colony in the British Parliament.
Many indications showed about this time that a favourable issue to the popular agitation was at last within measureable distance. The basis on which the representative institutions asked for should be formulated now became an anxious subject for discussion, but it is humiliating to see how, up to the very drafting of the present Constitution, popular ignorance and vested interests split up the all-important question. A meeting of the Patriotic Association was held on December 8, 1835, to discuss the form of legislature and the electoral qualification. Two forms were discussed, one being for two Houses—Upper and Lower—and the second for a single elective Chamber of 50 members, 10 to be nominated by the Government. Six years later, in 1841, the Land and Emigration Commissioners published their first report, and in September of that year a meeting was held, under the presidency of the high-minded Dr. Bland, to consider the same.
The result was that the meeting decided that the Legislature of the colony, as it at that time existed, had not shown itself "either capable or desirous of supplying the wants or representing the feelings of the colony." A petition was thereupon adopted praying the Queen to give the people a government based on popular representation. The movement was taken up in the country, and petitions to the same effect generally adopted. The agitation again gathered way. Foiled by the influence of an unpatriotic and selfish class within the colony so far, the popular demand became more earnest and more pressing as its temporary leaders—of whom Dr. Bland deserves most honourable mention—forced upon the people the conviction that the enemies of their cause were the very persons whose misgovernment called forth the present protest. This idea, once taken up, was not allowed to sleep. Six months after the last meeting another great gathering was held to press on the request for Representative Government. The meeting was adjourned, in the midst of a stormy debate, to a future day at the Sydney College, where, on February 16, another petition was adopted, in which the following facts were categorically set forth:—
That the colonists were free subjects, forming a population of 130,000; that their property amounted to £30,000,000; that the annual increment was £2,500,000; that the maritime commerce for the years preceding touched £22,500,000; that the annual revenue raised was £350,000; that they had spent £1,250,000 to relieve the British Islands of 57,000 of their surplus population; and that, meanwhile, the people had no control over taxation or their own public business, no representation in Parliament, and almost none of those free institutions which every Briton prized.
But while these proceedings were going on in Sydney, the same subject was occupying the attention of the Imperial Government, and in July 29, 1842, the new Constitution Act was passed by Lord Stanley, then Secretary of State for the Colonies, which introduced the principle of elective representation into the legislature of New South Wales. The Act was received in Sydney on January 5, 1843. It constituted a new Council to sit for five years, and consisting of 36 members, of whom 24 were elective, and 12 to be nominated by the Governor. Six of these latter were to be official members—the Colonial Secretary, Treasurer, Auditor-General, Attorney-General, the Commander of the Forces, and the Collector of Customs, constituting an irresponsible Cabinet. The electoral qualification was a £200 freehold, or a £20 rental; that for a member of Council was £2000 or an income from real estate of £100 per annum. Steps were promptly taken to form the Council, and the election of two members for Sydney was made by open voting on Hyde Park, June 13, five members being nominated. A riot ensued, in which life and property was destroyed. Messrs. Wentworth and Bland were elected, Messrs. O'Connell, Cooper, and Hustler being the rejected candidates. In July, Governor Gipps was able to inform Lord Stanley that the elections were completed and the House formed. As nominee members it included, besides the officials, Messrs. R. Jones, Blaxland, Hamilton, Berry, Icely, and Elwin. The elected members were Messrs. Wentworth, Bland, H. H. Macarthur, Bowman, D'Arcy Wentworth, Lawson, Cooper, Foster, Bradley, Coghill, Murray, Suttor, Lord, Dumaresq, R. Windeyer, Macleay, Panton, Therry; and for Port Phillip, Lang, Thomson, Nicholson, Walker, Ebden, and Condell.
On August 1, 1843, the House was inaugurated by Mr. Deas Thomson, Colonial Secretary, and Mr. Macleay, then in his 77th year, was elected Speaker by 17 votes to 13 over Mr. Hamilton, a Crown nominee. These numbers show the strength of the old leaven in the new House by no means conclusively, as Mr. Macleay was himself an old official of the Darling period. He was succeeded by Sir Charles Nicholson as Speaker on his resignation in 1846. The measures brought forward in the Council claim attention. Of these, Wentworth proposed three. The fate of the first illustrates a feature. The Lien on Wool Act was passed by the Council to enable the pastoralist to give a mortgage over a forthcoming woolclip. It was not confirmed in London, on the ground that the principle of granting a mortgage on a growing crop was not recognised by law. The difficulty was overcome by re-passing the Bill, which, having the force of law in the colony until its rejection was announced by the Secretary of State, gave local pastoralists the temporary benefit of the measure for the season. The Solvent Debtors' Bill and the Usury Bill were rejected by the Council. The former was intended to place a legal obstacle in the way of creditors who wished to rush a debtor's estate to a forced sale—a practice by no means unfamiliar in the past. The latter measure proposed to fix the rate of interest recoverable on loans and mortgages at 5 per cent., to apply to all existing mortgages.
The two proposals directly hit two blots on our early commercial and business record, the characters of which have already been sufficiently explained. They came into existence under the uncontrolled domination of the class whose power it was hoped to limit by a partially elective Legislature. But the result of the very first election held in the country, certainly under a restricted franchise, showed that the public spirit was scarcely intelligent enough to discern what it wanted, or to put forward the proper candidates to represent its wants, if known. It is not reassuring to note the motives, so characteristic of the narrow spirit in which the task of self-government was entered on, which were attributed to the mover of these measures. It was openly alleged by his opponents that all Wentworth's proposals tended directly to his own pecuniary profit. But whether this was so or not matters little.
Another proposal gives us the first instance we can find of the exercise of the Governor's power to refuse his assent to a measure. A committee's report was adopted by the Council recommending a uniform postage rate of twopence for the colony. Sir George Gipps vetoed the proposal. He also refused his concurrence to a vote in favour of a National System of Education. One very important action taken by the Council was in respect of its attempt to control without reserve the local public expenditure. We have seen how one step had been already conceded in this direction in 1835. Mr. Richard Windeyer, a man of liberal sympathies, moved a reduction of the future Governors' salaries by £l000—from £5000 to £4000—and, on the motion being passed, the Governor informed the House that his instructions did not allow of his assenting to its act. At this time the Civil List reserved from local revenues by the English authorities amounted to upwards of £8l,000, and it was held by those who wished to see the colony self-governed as far as possible, that such a sum was disproportioned to a population of 130,856, as shown in the census of 1841. But it was claimed that even the sum asked for was too small. The Council was asked to supplement it in certain particulars. Some of the members took the opportunity to question some of the original items. But here the Governor interfered, and withdrew the Estimates on the plea that they were fixed by the Secretary of State, and were above revision. The additions were not voted, but the claim to the right of control on the part of the Council was defeated.
This gives the story of the growth of the Legislature up to the time of Governor Gipps. It is instructive, as proving that the interests of the colony, as a general rule, required protection rather from the first legislators themselves than from any outside official power. Some of the Governors were bad enough in all conscience, and some of the efforts of Downing-street authority to control colonial affairs in the wrong direction were baneful to the last degree. But the singular fact about our history is that in all these instances it was the local members of Council who suggested these misdirected efforts of authority, and who aided and abetted the Governors in the work they tried to do. The plea on which the agitators founded their appeal for Responsible Government was embodied in this fact—the fact, as they themselves said, that the local Legislature had not shown itself "either capable or desirous of supplying the wants or representing the feelings of the colony." The logical corollary from this position would have been the sweeping away, utterly, and root and branch, of every adjunct of the system they objected to, when the moment came for reform. We will see that this was not done. The reformers forgot what they set themselves to reform. They were about to have a chance to do all that Bishop Hinds recommended. But they neglected to take the chance when it came.
During the period of Governor Gipps' rule the relations between the public and the ruling classes the Governor represented became still more strained. The principal points of opposition had reference to the appropriation of large salaries from the revenues by the home authorities, and also the fluctuations in the price of land, which rose and fell at the mere will of the Governor. The whole question of the uses to which the revenue of the country should be put also formed a standing subject of public agitation, and it began to be generally held that the practice of transportation, which rendered necessary such enormous outlays on the police and prison system of the colony, should be done away with.
Gipps came into collision with public opinion chiefly over the land, and it is instructive to note how the power of the popular agitation was directed from its legitimate ends by Wentworth and others, to play into the hands of a class. The price per acre in 1843, when the first elective Council met, was £l. This caused the most intense dissatisfaction among those who hoped to get land at 5s., and build up estates to last for all time.
Distress followed on dissatisfaction. The Bank of Australia failed, live-stock became unsaleable, and the colony was only saved from financial ruin by the device of a squatter named O'Brien, of Yass, who began to slaughter his stock and boil the carcases down for tallow. In this form they realised more than the living animal. It was at this unhappy juncture that Gipps proposed to increase the taxation of land, and establish a number of regulations and restrictions of a somewhat harassing kind.
The squatters formed an Association for their protection. The leader was the notorious Ben Boyd, a gentleman of the London Stock Exchange, of unlimited credit and aristocratic connections, who came to the colony in his own yacht, with the avowed purpose of acquiring the ownership of a million sheep and founding a phenomenal fortune in Australia. He brought money to the colony at the period of its greatest distress, in 1841. For a time he had everything his own way. The squatters of the colony followed his lead as their own flocks followed the bell-wether. He knit them together into an organisation, and devised a number of plans to carry on pastoral operations with the aid of as few shepherds as possible, and the employment of no more than the very minimum of labour. It was part of his policy to cut the wages of his shepherds down to 3s. 10d. per week.
Hitherto these shepherds had been allowed by their masters, rations of meat, flour, tea, and sugar. Boyd proposed to save the two last items, which he regarded as unnecessary waste and extravagance. In his evidence before a committee of the Council in 1843 he gave it as his opinion that any more wages than £10 per year only drove men to the public-houses. He imported a great number of islanders from the South Seas, giving them a Scotch cap and a blanket, and sixpence per head, for their services as shepherds. But they died off rapidly. He engaged in whaling pursuits, and in nearly everything else he could turn his active hands to. But he came to a mysterious end in some remote island in the South Seas while away on one of his enterprising cruises, and the name of Ben Boyd was heard no more. The squatters' movement went on badly without him, although Wentworth threw into the scale in the squatters' favour all the weight of his influence, obtained as a representative of the interests of the people of the colony at large.
The matter of immigration also began to attract attention. Bourke commenced the custom of devoting a portion of the revenues of the colony to this purpose. He decided that the best way to check the preponderance of the convict element and the influence of the convict-masters, would be to introduce a new leaven of free men and women by a system of assisted immigration. The matter was badly managed by the agents in England, however, who aimed at securing the bounty offered them at all costs, making the type of emigrant sent out an entirely secondary matter. The results of this state of things were of the most disastrous character. The streets of Sydney were soon flooded by an influx of friendless females of good character, and females whose reputations were anything but spotless. In 184041 the total number of respectable females who were unable to obtain employment counted up to 600. These women rapidly fell away into immorality, for which, indeed, they were abundantly prepared by their experience on board the licentious immigrant ships.
The name of Caroline Chisholm demands mention here. This philanthropic lady threw herself nobly into the work of assisting the friendless immigrants, and rescuing these unfortunates from the necessity of sleeping in the parks and gardens of the city rather than succumb to temptations of their position. She established for their reception the Sydney "Immigrants' Home." This institution began with a store-room 7ft. square, and the work went on until it developed into an agency for the supply of servants, dealing with thousands of cases of otherwise friendless and homeless immigrants. This noble lady well earned her title of "The Immigrants' Friend." She instituted proceedings against the captains of immigrant ships whose conduct on the voyage had been particularly atrocious, forced the immigration officers to introduce some method and order into their work, and though she had had little or no money to start with she succeeded in the space of about four years in providing for upwards of 11,000 friendless new-comers who would otherwise have been thrown on the streets with no means of subsistence other than their own poor resources.
Sir George Gipps left the colony in July, 1846. His term of rule is remarkable as witnessing a wonderful measure of increased activity in the public life of the colony, consequent, no doubt, on the introduction of the elective principle into the Constitution of the Legislature. The way was now cleared for the transportation question, which was finally dealt with in the term of the next Governor.
Two months after the arrival of Governor Fitzroy the Anti-transportation Question was revived. A despatch on the subject had been received from Mr. Gladstone, then Secretary for State, and Mr. Wentworth moved for and obtained a Select Committee of the Legislative Council to inquire into and report upon the renewal of transportation. The inquiries of a committee framed in this way could only tend to one result, of course, and no one was surprised to find, when the report of the committee was brought up, that its finding was strongly in favour of the continuance of the practice. Mr. Macarthur, following the traditions he had inherited from his father, distinguished himself by his earnest advocacy of the transportation and convict systems. But the public opinion of the country had already been formed on this subject. Large popular meetings were held to protest against the finding of the committee. At the first of these, held in the City Theatre, Mr. Charles Cowper presided, and moved a resolution expressing the sense of regret and alarm felt at the proposal to renew transportation after it had practically been in abeyance for six or seven years. The Rev. John McEncroe, who was soon to become a prominent leader in this and the constitutional agitation, also addressed the meeting, and a petition was adopted to which 2000 signatures were appended. On the last day of the session, October 22, 1846, this document was presented to the House, and no stronger commentary is required on the unrepresentative character of that Chamber than the fact that the motion for its being printed was summarily rejected by the nominee and elected members.
This action of the House, and its prorogation just after, was an affront to the public meeting which had drawn up the petition that could not be allowed to pass over in silence. The Report of the House favouring transportation was in readiness to be sent to England, and it was important that the document should not be allowed to tell its story unquestioned. An anti-transportation committee was therefore formed, and a memorial to the Governor drawn up asking that officer to send an official copy of the petition to England with the Report, and to interest himself in the agitation on the side of the expressed will of the people. Sir Charles Fitzroy promised to forward the petition, but declined to interfere or to use any influence in the matter. The partial success of this move encouraged the opponents of transportation to organise meetings throughout the colony, and elicit expressions of opinion on the subject from all large centres of population. These began to come in day by day, declaring unanimously against the perpetuation of the convict-system. With this movement the anti-transportation agitation in its second phase may be said to have been fairly launched.
Another great popular demonstration took place in the Victoria Theatre on February 13, 1849, at which the Secretary of State's despatch was again considered and condemned. Charles Cowper, Robert Lowe (now Lord Sherbrooke), and Dean McEncroe delivered strong speeches on the subject, and a petition was adopted stating on the part of the colonials that "they felt bound humbly but firmly to represent to her Majesty that it was their duty and their determination, by every legal and constitutional means, to oppose the revival of transportation in any shape." A similar meeting was held in Melbourne on the same day, and the provincial towns followed the example thus set. Another popular meeting took place next month, March 9, at the Victoria Theatre, the Mayor presiding, and the same speakers addressed the people. This increased activity was caused by the receipt of news that a ship laden with convicts for Australia had been detained in port owing to the accident of cholera having broken out on board. The circumstance still more strongly excited the popular mind.
On June 8, 1849, the last of the convict ships arrived in Sydney Harbour. The Hashemy, a vessel of 936 tons, commanded by Captain Ross, passed through the Heads on that day with 212 transported prisoners. Popular excitement reached its highest pitch. A great meeting was convened three days later at Circular Quay to discuss the situation, and protest against the action of Earl Grey and the Colonial Office. About 4000 persons assembled, and the authorities were so alarmed at the serious manifestation of public feeling that the guards of Government House were doubled and a ship-of-war then in port was brought up the bay and ordered to train her guns on the place where the people's meeting was held. Mr. Robert Campbell presided, and among the speakers were Messrs. Robert Lowe, G. A. Lloyd, Flood, Lamb, Wilshire, Grant, Peek, and Fullerton. On this occasion, too, Mr. Henry Parkes made his first important public appearance. He was then an obscure agitator among the herd, with no stake or interest in the country; but his amorphous Democratic sympathies had already made him known in his own sphere, and he had become a member of the League, formed, as we have seen, in 1835. Mr. Lamb moved a resolution at this meeting in which the loyal inhabitants of Sydney protested against the transportation of British criminals to New South Wales on the grounds that it was in violation of the will of the majority; that many colonists had emigrated on the faith of the Government that the practice had for ever ceased; because the practice was incompatible with our existence as a free colony desiring self-government; because it was unjust to sacrifice the social and political interests of the colony at large to the pecuniary profit of a fraction of the inhabitants; and because that act of injustice would tend to alienate the affections of the colony from the mother country.
A deputation of six was formed to present the petition to the Governor. They asked that the ship in port might be sent back, but this request was refused. A week later a meeting adopted a petition praying that Earl Grey, having forfeited the confidence of the colonists by his perfidy to the pledge given, should be removed from her Majesty's councils. On Tuesday, June 19, paragraphs in the Sydney papers informed the public that the convicts were to be removed from the ship that day. Forty-five were sent to Moreton Bay, for hire by the settlers. The men were not to be employed in the county of Cumberland. The name of Mr. Lawson was given as one of the hirers of this last batch of convict labour. It is remarkable how strongly the old taint clung to these men. This man's name is an easy link between the early days of grisly horror and the last manifestations of the convict-system in New South Wales. In the course of the same year the Governor visited Port Phillip, and the colonists there took the opportunity to request him to use his influence to preserve that part of the country from the evils of the convict-system. A promise was obtained that any vessels that might arrive at Port Phillip would be ordered on to Sydney. Later, but still in the same year, another despatch on the transportation question was received, stating that the re-adoption of the system had been decided on, but limited to convicts who might be entitled to conditional freedom on their arrival. Next year, 1850, saw further developments. During its course transportation ceased to Moreton Bay (May 12), and commenced to Western Australia. On September 16 another popular and uncompromising protest was recorded by a meeting of 6000 persons on Barrack Square. The Revs. Archdeacon McEncroe, Ross, Beareer, Boyce, and West, with Messrs. Lamb, Mort, Bowman, Holden, Weeks, and Piddington, spoke on the occasion, and the New South Wales Anti-Transportation Association was formed.
In the meantime some person had discovered, among some Parliamentary papers sent out to the Sydney Free Library, a despatch from Governor Fitzroy to Earl Grey in relation to the great meeting at the Circular Quay in the previous year. The Governor described that gathering as one of the mob alone—an "assemblage of a few hundred people of questionable character." It went on to say that most of those present were idlers attracted by curiosity, who took no part in the proceedings; while of those actively concerned there was scarcely one person who occupied any position of influence in the community—contentions remarkably similar to those which have so often been used in later times by the colonial Tory or "Jingo" party for the purpose of endeavouring to discredit democratic movements or demonstrations. The publication of this document revived all the elements of incipient disaffection. An indignation meeting was at once called, and 4000 persons adopted a petition to the Queen, in which the Governor was charged with maligning the great majority of the colonists, misrepresenting public facts to his official superiors, and betraying the interests of the colony. It further set forth the incapacity of the Governor, and demanded his recall; expressed the general distrust of Earl Grey, demanded the revocation of the Order in Council proclaiming New South Wales a penal settlement, and asserted that responsible institutions were an absolute requisite for the safe government of the colony.
Mr. John Lamb, a nominee member of the Legislative body, but whose popular sympathies on this particular question at least are sufficiently evidenced by his part in the agitation, brought the question about this time under the notice of the Council, and moved a resolution to the effect that an address might be presented to the Queen, asking for the revocation of the obnoxious Order in Council. The opponents of the popular will, led by Mr. Wentworth, affected to misunderstand the demonstrations of public opinion on the question, and their majority was sufficient to postpone the motion for a month to enable the people to give their desires definite expression This was a transparent trick, unworthily resorted to as a means to gain time to organise the interest which favoured the continuance of transportation. But it defeated its own object and resulted in an occurrence which put the question out of the region of debate at once and for ever. The transportation party collected their strength and prepared a petition in favour of perpetuating this public disgrace, in their own selfish interests. They secured 525 signatures in all to this flagitious document. A popular meeting was held, and a popular petition prepared. It bore 36,589 signatures, representative of all classes in the community but one. It was presented to the Council. A debate ensued, which was followed with the keenest interest throughout Australia wherever an adventurous settler had penetrated or a knot of people had collected together. This time the opponents of the popular will and the advocates of one of the direst disgraces to civilisation of which the world's history has record, were about to be outnumbered in the division. But they were consistent to the last. When the question was about to be put they rose in a body and left the Chamber, while the remnant of the House carried the Address in their absence.
This episode in our history shows us the old Vested Interest of the colony, which we have seen form and grow under the most distressing circumstances of squalor and corruption, driven from its last ditch as an organised force, openly leading in the struggle between the people and a class. Henceforth its members betook themselves to a more dangerous and more congenial guerilla warfare, shooting their bolts from behind hedges and blind walls, and bribing the weak, the ill-informed, and the venal among the popular party with Greek gifts—crumbs of the treasure their unpatriotic selfishness in the past had enabled them to acquire.
The Address thus carried was sent on, and presented in due course to the Queen. The responsible advisers of the Crown could not but acknowledge the legislative rights they had themselves conferred. There could be but one result. So far as New South Wales was concerned it was conceded that the practice of convict transportation must cease. The Order in Council was revoked. Yet the Colonial Office still had nefarious designs on other parts of the continent. But Australia was now on the eve of an event which was destined to completely change the whole face of this and kindred questions. On February 12, 1851, Edward Hargraves announced his discovery of gold in New South Wales, and by that act, in the words of Mr. Wentworth, "precipitated the colony into a nation." The colony was not prepared for its dazzling apotheosis. Its suddenness took the popular mind by surprise, and prevented our grasping the matured fruits of such a golden seed-sowing of national fortune.
In January of the same year the agitation had been carried on with enthusiasm, gathering strength from the fact that transportation to Van Diemen's Land was still in force. At a meeting held it was proposed to constitute one General League, the members of which should covenant together to take every means to discourage and discountenance the practice of convict transportation. The Anti-Transportation Association was incorporated into the General League, and delegates were sent throughout Australia to organise public opinion on the subject. The League described itself as "bound by every obligation of duty mid affection to protect the children of the country from the dangers incident to the transportation of offenders to these colonies," and its members "united in a solemn appeal to the humanity and justice of the Sovereign and people of Great Britain on behalf of the rising generation." This is the first recorded public recognition of the fact that some others besides the adventurers who had settled in the country for the fortunes they secured there, had a claim on the Australia of the present and of the future—the race, namely, that was to be born and cradled there. On February 8, 1851, the petition of the colonists against transportation was presented to the House of Commons by Mr. Molesworth. Five days after that date a great meeting on the same subject was held in St. Patrick's Hall, Melbourne.
On July 9 a muster of the General League was called, and a meeting held under the chairmanship of Mr. Charles Cowper, in view of an announcement from Earl Grey that, in order to meet the objections of colonists, the Moreton Bay district should be erected into a separate colony, to which convicts might be sent. The popular Archdeacon McEncroe, with Messrs. Norton, Wright, Kemp, Holden, Lamb, Campbell, Josephson, and Parkes were the speakers. A petition to the Queen was adopted, requesting the dismissal of Earl Grey, and "entreating her Majesty to redeem the honour of the British Crown by fulfilling the pledge touching transportation, repeatedly given to the colonists." Animadverting on the conduct of the Minister responsible in the eyes of the colonists for this breach of faith, the petition went on to say that "the petitioners felt compelled, humbly but firmly, to represent to her Majesty in person that the subterfuges, equivocations, and breaches of faith practised towards these colonies by Earl Grey had unhappily destroyed all confidence in his administration of colonial affairs."
On April 2, 1852, one of the most remarkable of all the demonstrations on this subject took place in Sydney. By this time the added influence of the gold discovery began to make itself felt, and the speeches took a freer tone. It was thought by many that the colonies were on the eve of independence. One special point in the address of Archdeacon McEncroe, clearly showing the temper of men's minds, was thus commented on by the Empire newspaper next day in a leading article:—
"At this numerous, influential, and earnest meeting, convened by public announcement in the largest city in the Australian colonies, where any man could attend and express his own sentiments or his dissent from those of any other man—at this meeting the Secretary of State is plainly told, for the first time in serious earnestness, that 'the colonists, rather than surrender their rights in this struggle, will "cut the painter" and drift away from the mother-country in their frail bark of freedom.' And the venerable Archdeacon, who spoke these words, was stopped by the meeting with tremendous cheering. This 'cutting of the painter' was the master-thought—the all-pervading idea, running its electric light through the varied tissues of every speech, and diffusing its influences like a moral atmosphere round that congregated body." The Empire had been started by Mr. Henry Parkes in 1850, and was contributed to by Robert Lowe, Edward Butler, James Martin, William Forster, Deniehy, Mitchell, and others. The new journal became an intelligent and advanced advocate of Liberalism. No man reading its columns nearly 40 years ago, with an impossible prescience of the part some of the members of its contributing staff were to individually act in the public life of this country, would have foreseen the hybrid social conditions and inconsequent and anomalous political system which has since been evolved in Australia under their eccentric guidance. A cynical person, however, whose allusions have been corroded by experience, might look at the matter from another point of view, and find little difficulty in accounting for this distressing infidelity to first principles on the lines laid down by a certain sarcastic Spanish proverb.
Let us finish this chapter with a thumbnail sketch of one of the actors in the little drama we have just gone over. Among the strangers who haunted the public gallery of the Legislative Council after one obscure figure might have been often seen, He was tall, this young fellow, and somewhat gaunt; with hollow features and eyes, and all the indications of a highly sanguine temperament. Tire early legislative proceedings seemed so have a fascinating interest for this unnoticed observer, dressed as a workman, and with the marks of toil common to his class about him. Fresh from Birmingham with its crowded fight for life, he had starved on the streets of Sydney, sought and obtained hard work as an immigrant in the colony, and, later on, established himself as a maker of toys in Hunter-street. When not at work he was discussing politics among persons of his class, following a taste he had acquired at Chartist meetings "at home," His knowledge of men and things was acquired in the workshops and from his perch in the old Legislative Council Chamber, and from a dame's school at Stoneleigh which he left in his eleventh year. Now, in 1845, Henry Parkes is just 30 years of age. Fate will capriciously place within his hands a marvellous opportunity by-and-bye. And because he has not been trained to exercise such an opportunity, he will fatuously throw it away.
We have now seen the last of the convict system, but, before the subject is finally closed, it will be well to illustrate what has been said about its iniquities by one striking characteristic instance. To tell the whole story in its naked horror would be impossible, and our purpose in this, as in other instances, will be served just as well by selecting one example as a type or standard. Meantime, it is as well to add that between the years 1840 and 1845 no less than 17,000 convicts were sent out to Tasmania.
The case we now take is that of a transportee named Charles Anderson, and his career will illustrate the working of the old penal system of the colonies for us before we close this inquiry into the causes that have influenced our later development. Nothing so clearly fixes the impression of the general character of these early influences than a representative instance displaying the system in its working and in its effects. Charles Anderson was one of the tens of thousands who fell under the merciless penal laws of their country, and were sent out to Botany Bay. His father was a sailor who was drowned, leaving a wife and two boys, of whom this individual was one. The mother died and the two children found their way to the workhouse, and from that enlightened and painfully benevolent institution they were sent to sea. At the age of 9 years Charles was apprenticed to a collier, served his term, and then joined a man-of-war. He was at the battle of Navarino, where he received a wound in the head. Now, neither the collier nor the workhouse were good schools for getting a clear grasp of socio-economical questions, and whatever airy perceptions this good fellow had of these matters were further considerably knocked askew by that unkind buffet he got in the service of the King. The consequence of this was that when a little excitement or less rum overset the balance that held him between right and wrong, he incontinently toppled over into evil courses. He was with a party of drunken sailors in a Devonshire seaport town one evening, and in the street row that naturally followed some shops were broken into. Charles Anderson was arrested, convicted, and sentenced to seven years' transportation to Botany Bay. The wound received in the service of the King was of little avail for him on that or any other occasion.
Charles Anderson was now 18 years of age. No one said a word in his favour, and not a step was taken in his behalf. When he recovered from his semi-lunatic state he had no recollection of what had taken place. The judicial proceedings simply dazed him. He perhaps knew of no crime that he had committed, and for a lad whose life had been spent in the workhouse and at sea the action of the Courts was, likely enough, an absolute mystery. Before he realised what was going on he was at sea again; not this time wearing the King's uniform but the fetters of a convict hulk. On his arrival at Sydney, after a voyage of which the miseries need not be repeated, he was sent to Goat Island. This unhallowed spot, which has a history of its own in the records of convict discipline, was a place of detention for English or first-convicted prisoners. The mental state of Charles Anderson at this stage is thus described in an article printed in an English magazine some years later, "Doomed to a punishment involving the deepest degradation," says this writer, "for a crime of the committal of which he was not conscious, the bitterest hostility against his kind took possession of his breast." This remark embodies the experience of every observer of the system, which embruted the men it was supposed to reform. "Utterly ignorant both mentally and morally," this article goes on to add, "he had little idea of patient submission, which, indeed, physical disease rendered impossible. No wonder, then, that violence created violence. His floggings were almost innumerable; but, sturdy and staunch for good or evil, punishment had no effect on him. His was no spirit to give in to harshness, and kindness was never dreamt of." Under these conditions, this man may be regarded as having made a fair start.
Goat Island kept Anderson two months, when he elected to retire. His views respecting penal discipline did not at all coincide with those of the humorous individuals who held sway in Goat Island. He absconded, therefore, eluded his keepers, and, braving the sharks that were induced by judicious feeding to "swarm around the island, swam ashore, and made his escape. From this point his real enjoyment of the situation may be said to commence. He was caught, taken to the Sydney Barracks, and presented with 100 lashes for his activity. Then he was sent back to Goat Island, where the authorities, scorning to be deprived of the wholesome fun that was justly theirs by any precipitancy on the part of the people at the Barracks, generously gave Charles Anderson 100 more lashes for the same offence, and in a spirit of philanthropic reform added a sentence of 12 months in irons—also for the same offence. During that 12 months he received exactly 100 lashes a month, being 1200 in all, for offences which are recorded in the register as "looking round from his work," "gazing at a boat in the river," and other such atrocious outrages. At the end of the 12 months he shed his irons, and obnoxiously made use of the first chance opportunity offered to take his chance among the sharks once more. He escaped, and, of course, was arrested again. Remember, the original sentence of this 18-year-old boy was for seven years.
The Goat Island people acted with splendid decision this time. It is solemnly recorded that they first incontinently gave Charles Anderson 200 lashes for absconding, then had him tried for the same offence, gave him 100 lashes more, and then sentenced him to be chained to a rock on the island for two years. This humorous device was carried out.
"With barely a rag to cover him, he was fastened by his waist to the rock with a chain 26 feet long, and with trumpet-irons on his legs. A hollow scooped out in the rock, large enough to admit his body, served for his bed, and his only shelter was a wooden lid perforated with holes, which was placed over him and locked in that position at night, being removed in the morning."
Chained up like a recalcitrant chimpanzee in this way, the unhappy youth was left such liberty as his 26 feet of linked iron afforded to feed the aesthetic side of his nature with uninterrupted views of such matchless scenery as our beautiful harbour affords; the other food he required was "pushed" at him, we are told, on the end of a long pole. Sometimes one of the other prisoners would so far close their eyes to the humour of this novel situation that they would be led insanely enough to pity their comrade.
One brutalised individual, who had been a messmate of the Chimpanzee, actually gave him a piece of tobacco. For this the Good Samaritan received 100 lashes at the hands of his gaolers, who could not understand such an abnormal eccentricity of sympathy towards a fellow-creature.
The humanising effects of the system on the general public were finely illustrated by the case of Charles Anderson. The good people made up little picnics and pleasant water-parties to see the Chimpanzee. They regarded him as a wild beast, we are plainly told, and when they passed in boats would throw lots of bread and biscuit at him as at a bear or a real Chimpanzee, to see him bolt the morsels, or to hear the creature swear. But we had better let an extract tell the rest of this part of the disgusting story. This is what we find in the English magazine we have referred to: "Exposed to all weathers, and without clothing on his back and shoulders, which were covered with sores from repeated floggings, the maggots rapidly engendered in a hot climate feeding upon his flesh, he was denied even water to bathe his wounds, such denial being not an infrequent portion of the punishment to which he had been condemned; and when rain fell, or by any other means he could obtain liquid, he would lie and roll in it in agony." On such occasions doubtless the water-parties would offer extra attractions. No word need be added to this except to remind the reader that this took place, not in some remote convict-pandemonium on a distant station in the interior, or away on a lonely rock in the vast Pacific, but on an island in the fairway of Port Jackson within a stone's throw almost of Government House; and not in the time of Governor Phillip or of the New South Wales Corps, but under the rule of Governor Darling and not much more than 50 years ago!
When Bourke arrived in the colony and heard of this horror, he lost no time in visiting Goat Island and personally enquiring into the circumstances. He saw the Chimpanzee and tried to reason with him, offering to release him if he would promise to go back to work. But things had gone too far. Anderson refused to work, for be said that "if he worked he would be punished and if he did not work he would be punished the same." Bourke released him, however, and sent him to work at Port Macquarie away from the Goat Island associations. Here the gaolers devised new tortures. He was put to work carrying lime in baskets on his back from the kilns to some Government barges lying off the settlement. His overseer, Anthony, threatened that the lime and salt water should burn the flesh off his back, "and in effect," we learn, "it did burn off the skin, causing excruciating agony." Anderson demurred, and accepted an early opportunity that presented itself to run fleetly away from the uncongenial society of Mr. Anthony. He travelled several hundred miles on foot, suffering cruel hardships that were endurable to him since they did not come from his fellow-creatures. He joined some aboriginal tribe, who were pursued by the police for having attacked and killed some settlers. These police captured Anderson and sent him back to Port Macquarie, where Anthony gave him 200 lashes and returned him to his labour gang.
But the monotony of these proceedings became simply fatiguing, and eventually palled on Anderson. He lost all interest in Mr. Anthony's personal welfare, and when a fellow-convict invited him to kill the overseer, Anderson accepted the invitation with effusion. He was tired of life, he said—and no wonder; he said "he would do the deed, and be hanged for it." So on a pleasant morning, when the sun was bright on the sleeping water, he smote Mr. Anthony on the ear with a spade, and that excellent man expired. The soldiers spitted Anderson with their bayonets, and when he was taken to the hospital he was found to be wounded in five places. He was cured, tried in Sydney, sentenced to death, but, some meddlesome fellow having most inopportunely made some remark about the case and its circumstances, the man was snatched from the gallows and sent to work in chains on Norfolk Island for the term of his natural life. Here we lose sight of him, but only for a time. His record shows that during his residence at Norfolk Island he still continued to furnish encouraging results to the working of the system, insomuch that this Charles Anderson may be regarded as one of the best representative types the operation of the penal laws affords.
Captain Maconochie was the next person to interest himself in Anderson, and on his arrival to take charge of Norfolk Island he found his record to be 10 convictions for violent assault, three times scheming to avoid labour, and many charges of insolence and insubordination. Anderson was at this time 24 years of age, but, adds the record significantly, he looked 40. He was now a desperate character, had been so for some time, in fact. According to official appraisal he was just the kind of convict for which Norfolk Island was established—that is, the utterly reprobate and hopelessly beyond reform. The justification for the existence of that island of horror was the phenomenally bad character of the people found there, but the story of Anderson and of hundreds like him shows that these outcasts were regularly and systematically developed by the convict-system, and cultivated up to the phenomenal pitch of rascality which was the effect of the system and not its reason or cause. When Captain Maconochie arrived he was told Anderson was "cranky," and his fellow-prisoners amused themselves, after the manner of their gaolers towards themselves, by teasing him and making him vicious. This was shopped, and Maconochie took the case in hand. There were some wild bullocks running about the island, and Anderson was placed in charge of these. He went by the nickname of "Bony" now, and a good many people thought mad Bony and his wild bullocks would come to grief. No one was allowed to interfere with him, however, and soon a marked change made itself apparent in the man.
"He became less wild," we read, "felt himself of some value, and won praise for his good conduct and successful management of his bullocks. He and they grew tractable together." But what a contrast between this poor wretch's treatment of his bullocks and his own treatment by his gaolers! Maconochie had heard of his being chained to the rock on Goat Island before he saw Anderson at all, and he humanely resolved to do his best to give him his chance among the rest of humanity; there were occasionally exceptions among the gaolers of the convict system. He watched his lunatic herdsman, and "often were the anxious watchers of the experiment amused by the first insight into criminal discipline which Anderson displayed in the treatment of his charge." The watchers were "amused"; but the experiences of the herdsman that taught him what he knew were probably not of an amusing character. No more blasting censure could be passed on the system than the story of this benighted and God-forsaken creature, thus turned from an honest sailor-lad, who had, in his own ignorant way, served his country under fire, to this mad herdsman on this faraway abode of despair. The experiment went on successfully, however, and it was observed that he and the bullocks seemed to understand each other, and that "he knew instinctively that high and strong tempers will not bend to the lash." Constant occupation strengthened and steadied his mind again, and as he improved the old longing for something of his sailor-life came back to him.
Captain Maconochie found that his physical liability to excitement continued, and he was afraid to let him mix with his fellows. His constitution, too, was so shattered as to unfit him for heavy work. It occurred to Maconochie to erect a signal-station on Mount Pitt, the highest point of the island, and place Anderson in charge. His delight was extreme, for he now felt himself a man again, and, dressed in his sailor's costume, he soon regained the bearing of a man-of-war's man. The top of Mount Pitt was cleared, a hut built, and a staff with a complete code of signals provided. Anderson got a little patch of garden-ground to till and keep in order, he grew the best potatoes on the island, and every giver of a new flower was a benefactor. He showed his gratitude to Captain Maconochie by bringing every day a fresh basketful of potatoes for the use of his dinner-table, and the signals was so well attended that the settlement at once knew if a sail was in sight.
There is a story that Sir George Gipps visited Norfolk Island about three years after Maconochie arrived, and while driving one day Anderson was seen tripping along in his trim sailor dress, full of importance, with his telescope under his arm. "What smart little fellow may that be?" said Gipps. "Who do you suppose? That is the man who was chained to the rock in Sydney Harbour," came the reply. "Bless my soul, you don't mean to say so?" was the Governor's astonished rejoinder.
We will let an extract tell the rest of this story of Charles Anderson, leaving the reader to look for himself behind the curtain which in this perfectly-authentic biographical sketch we have drawn aside for a moment from the vision of horror it covers up and conceals. From this and other instances we have given the reader may judge of the whole system, and this story of one-man's life is not told with any sensational object, but with the view to point a political moral that has a direct interest for every voting unit of the population. The days of the convict-system have gone. But our institutions are branded deep with the old mark, and the story of the past is the explanation of the present and the key and guide to popular action in the future. The extract which follows tells us the last we know of this victim of British laws that were highly approved of in their day, but which have been partially reformed in the light of Democratic progress, just as the anomalies of the present will disappear one by one before the intelligence of the future.
"As he regained his self-respect Anderson revealed a noble, generous heart, and a gay and sociable disposition; but his excitability eventually became madness, and not long after the benefactor who had restored him and hundreds like him to the feelings and duties of humanity was peremptorily recalled from the scene of his philanthropic labours Anderson was seen in a lunatic asylum by one whom he had known as a friend of the captain in Norfolk Island, The poor fellow recognised his visitor and spoke of nothing but Captain Maconochie and his family." Here his story finishes, and no blacker condemnation of the unspeakable Convict-System and its agents at Botany Bay could be imagined or found.
It is impossible to tell the story of Norfolk Island. No writer would dare to put in words one tithe of the record of that unexampled hell upon earth. Such was the tiger-like ferocity of the gaolers, on the one hand, and of their caged victims on the other-such the bestiality and savagery that ruled, the cruelty, the misery, and the unspeakable horror of that accursed plague-spot in the Pacific, that the task would be easier to describe an island of lepers than that civilised and enlightened moral experiment. No one has yet ventured to tell the truth, the whole truth, about Norfolk Island, and probably no one ever will. Marcus Clarke, in his tale, has given a glimpse of what went on there; but, even for the purposes of realistic fiction, the material that island has to supply is too brutal and too revolting for the most courageous realist to use. This inquiry into the origin of our social and political system necessitates some historical mention of Norfolk Island, but we will not linger on the unsavoury subject.
We have already described how Lieutenant King founded the settlement at Norfolk Island in March, 1788, and was relieved by Major Ross two years later. The very first lines of the island's story, like that of Botany Bay proper, are written in blood, for, under Major Ross, it will be remembered, men and women alike who would not work were "adjudged to suffer death." Towards the end of the following year King resumed the chief-gaolership, and in 1800 Major Foveaux went there as Lieutenant-Governor of the island. This worthy was one of the officers of the infamous New South Wales Corps, and under him the place really began to produce its most refreshing results. There is some information on this subject in certain papers placed at the writer's disposal, from which we gather, amongst other things, that Norfolk Island was already regarded as "the dwelling place of devils in human shape, the refuse of Botany Bay, the doubly-damned, and a place of horrid banishment and cruel treatment."
Major Foveaux was the undisputed despot of the place. He began by taking a fancy to the wife of one of his non-commissioned officers. Sergeant Sherwin did not fall into his Major's domestic plans very readily at first, and hesitated about handing his wife over. But Major Foveaux locked the Sergeant up for this insubordination, at the same time confiscating his wife. Under this gentle suasion the Sergeant was brought to a proper frame of mind, and induced to think it better to save his life and lose his wife than to lose both. "He was wise enough," we are told, "to perceive that it is very foolish to quarrel with the judge where there is no jury, for no man will give a verdict against himself." So Ann Sherwin remained with the Major, and the Sergeant left the island as soon as he could shake the dust off his feet, showing his sense of the trouble that had been taken to impress his mind with moral views by marrying another wife soon after. It is an ill wind that blows nobody good, however; and Ann Sherwin seems to have been a woman with an honest womanly heart, strangely out of place as it was among her surroundings. She acquired an influence over the "tigerly Major," and she was always ready to use it on the side of the oppressed. Many thousands of lashes were diverted from intended victims by her interference, it is said, and the prayers of men who never prayed before were made for this gaoler's mistress. But in Norfolk Island little regard was ever paid to the morality of women or the lives of men. Governor King introduced a system which did away at once with any conventional prejudices. He sold convict-women to the highest bidder. This is what we are told of him: "Governor King's proceedings respecting the poor convict women on their arrival in the colony was abominable. They were disposed of by Potter, the bellman, as so much live-stock. I have seen them afterwards sold, some of them for a gallon of rum, others for £5, and so on; and thus they were transferred from one brutal fellow to another, without remedy or appeal."
How the convict lived in those days on the island will not bear detailed description to anyone who cares to preserve any remnant of his original faith in human nature. But the order of the day's proceedings was something like this: The convicts were locked up all night together in compartments, where their berths were hung one above another with the one object of crowding as many men into a given space as possible. Two hours before daylight in winter these wretches were called out; each one then tied up his bed and carried it out into the yard where it lay all day in the rain or sun as chance ruled. Convicts were then paraded before the head gaoler's door, and the gangs would then be taken out by overseers, and each man apportioned his work. Some of them would work hard to save some time in which they might work for themselves to earn some provisions, as five pounds of flour per week was the maximum allowed them. It was a pleasant diversion to the overseers to watch for industrious people of this class in their gangs, and send them to work in the surf as soon as they were done their task. There they usually remained till 10 o'clock at night, being without food all day.
"I have myself with them experienced this treatment," says one of them, "and have been sent back to gaol with the gang wet from head to foot, in which condition we have been turned in and reckoned like a flock of sheep, without time being allowed us to prepare our food. The next morning, when the bell rang at 5 o'clock, the order for every one to get up was given in these words: 'Get up, you damned souls!' We had then to look for our wet rags; and if the slightest grumbling escaped the lips of anyone the order was 'To the triangle!' where the flogger was ready to give the unfortunate wretch 25 lashes, after receiving which he had to go back to his work as usual. I ask," continues this victim of what he describes, "whether hanging or shooting, which puts a man out of his misery at once, is not infinitely preferable to this kind of treatment?"
The case is given of a young man, an Irish political prisoner, who was compelled to walk about and work with a chain weighing 12 pounds on his legs, and while suffering from dysentery was driven into the sea to carry packages ashore from the boats. He became too weak to work, and had his irons knocked off when too late, for he died soon after. There was really only one check on the irresponsible cruelty of the gaolers, and that lay in their sense of the fact that a convict could at any moment escape from their gangs and revenge himself at the same time by knocking them on the head. This was very often done, and the wild justice of revenge was very frequently invoked by some overwrought victim of the system, as we have already seen.
"If I could have bought or borrowed a pistol," wrote one of these convicts afterwards, "the world, I think, would soon have been rid of this man-killer, Foveaux; for, why should any man, with the means of placing himself on equal terms, and exchanging life for life without the endurance on his part of protracted misery, allow himself to be murdered by a lingering death, and see his murderer rejoicing before him?"
This most natural question doubtless suggested itself more or less definitely many thousands of times to the victims of the convict-system, and the wonder is that the impulse was not acted on more frequently. "There are cases in which a man who shudders at the idea of murder may be obliged to become an assassin in self-defence," continues this embryonic cutthroat, reflectively; "and did not tyrants feel and tremble at this power which an act of self-sacrifice can accomplish, there would be, I believe, more despotism and injustice in the world than already exists." This convict-philosopher has not had his confidence in his fellowmen increased by his observations, but there is a merciless truth about his logic that must commend itself to everyone who feels the slightest spark of the tine fire of assassination in his soul.
Foveaux's best achievement was a little Sabbath observance he went through one Sunday. Of course there was no limit to the Governor's power to hang or shoot any of his happy family when he felt so disposed, but sometimes the fancy seized him at unconscionable times. It is quite easy to understand that his duties in Norfolk Island sometimes palled on the Major, and a little stimulating excitement on such occasions would be like the morsel of Gruyere that brings out the real flavour of your wine. So one Sunday Foveaux took two men out of church, where they sat listening to the parson's prayers, put them in a cell, and two hours later hanged them without trial, and without wearying them with any idle explanation of his freak. The charge was the usual one of conspiring to mutiny, but probably the Major had found the parson's prayer slow or his sermon dull. It is unfair to criticise the Major's action without being acquainted a with his motives. Yet this is what some good people had the excessively bad taste to do, and Foveaux was actually recalled to explain his conduct in hanging these two men. His disgust at the worry about such a trifle was extreme, as if no one had ever been shot or hanged or flogged to death before. But justice held her unrelenting sway. In the absence of prosecutor, plaintiff, evidence, or public opinion, Major Foveaux was acquitted without a stain on his soul or a blot on his character. The order of St. Michael and George had not been devised as a reward for colonial merit in those benighted days, but the Major was made a Lieutenant-Colonel, and allowed to return to the colony.
This kind of thing continued until 1805, when the island was evacuated and the settlers sent to Van Diemen's Land, where they settled on Norfolk Plains, named after the island they left. The prisoners went with them. It was not until August 15, 1826, that Norfolk Island was again proclaimed a place of detention for convicts reconvicted in New South Wales. At this point its history re-commences, and from that time until the convict-system was finally broken up, the saturnalia of crimes against humanity went on again. In 1834, Judge Burton, who once wrote an absurd book on the "State of Religion and Education in New South Wales" (and who died in England in August, 1888, aged 93) went there to hold a session of his Court for the trial of some convicts who had made an ineffectual attempt at revolt, and what he elicited at that trial and published thereupon in his ridiculous book shows what progress had been made in the island of horror during the ten years since it was re-opened as a convict settlement. At this trial 87 witnesses were examined, and, in the words of the Judge who tried the case, their evidence "revealed to the Court such a picture of depravity, as it may be assumed no human Judge ever had revealed to him before." Most of the evidence against the prisoners was given by convict informers, and these people were cross-examined by the prisoners with a view to rendering their testimony valueless by demonstrating the characters of the men who gave it. This brought out a mass of appalling facts relating to the state of affairs on the island. Herded together like pigs as they were, and with all the hopes and feelings of men crushed out of them, these disclosures revealed a condition of things to which the state of pigs was preferable. Thirty of the prisoners were sentenced to death, and it is recorded that some of these men showed signs of capacity and education, and some hid wives and families belonging to them in the outer world from which they had been cut off.
When these 30 men were sentenced to death, and their last hope was taken from them, the judge tells us that they "completed the abominable revelation by commenting to the judge, in earnest, deep, but calm expostulation, on the crimes committed there." It was so long since these derelict wretches had seen the slightest human interest exhibited in their miseries that they strong, and the facts themselves are so recent, that no room is left for doubt, and the inevitable must be perforce accepted. Judge Burton was struck with horror at what he heard and saw there. His description of what he saw on visiting the gaols where the convicts were hived one above the other in tiers of hammocks, or chained in rows to beams running down the centre of the apartment, is suggestive of nothing more than some of those efforts of horror of the Florentine who drew from his lurid imagination those pictures of the Malebolge pool. Burton described the island, in his quaint, old-fashioned way, as "a cage full of unclean birds, full of Crimes against God and Man, Murders and Blasphemies, and all Uncleanness."
When Dr. Ullathorne visited the Island to prepare some of the condemned men for the death that awaited them, he went into the crowded cell to announce his mission and read the names of those who were finally adjudged to die. No scene in the whole history of the convict-times is more appalling than the one that good man describes as taking place in that miserable abode on that occasion. One by one the condemned men fell on their knees as their names were read out for death, and deliberately and calmly thanked God that the gallows was about to deliver them from that horrible and unspeakable place. What a subject for an historical picture by some Australian artist of the future, when men's minds are free to feel a natural horror at these triumphs of civilisation and law!
Such was the horror that the name of Norfolk Island inspired in the minds of the most desperate convicts that many stories are told of attempts to escape from the vessels that took them down to the island. In 1827 a serious outbreak occurred in the settlement, and 50 escaped to Phillip Island, seven miles away, but were either killed or re-captured by the governor of Norfolk Island, who took their place of refuge by assault. A brig was seized and taken away by prisoners in 1827. In 1842 the convicts rose on the island and captured the Governor Phillip, which carried supplies. The convict boats crew who wore employed between the vessel and the shore disarmed the sentry at a pre-concerted signal, forced some of the vessel's crew to jump overboard, and secured the captain, mate, and soldiers below dock. The captain and mate managed to break through a partition, joined with the soldiers, and tired with effect through the crevices at the convicts. They then rushed on deck, engaged in a hand-to-hand struggle, and soon re-captured the vessel after five convicts had been killed and two wounded, and one soldier killed and five wounded. Four convicts were hanged for their share in this affair. The notorious Knatchbull, the "Jamieson-street murderer," was also concerned in a mutiny on the way to the settlement. From the first day that Norfolk Island was set apart as a penal station until the convicts were finally removed, that accursed spot in the wide Pacific held its wretches who were marooned there in a state of torment as fierce as Tophet and as hopeless as hell.
Van Diemen's Land is as infamous for old-time horrors as any other part of Australia, even including Norfolk Island. The pretty little southern colony seemed destined by nature to be a garden and beauty-spot for the continent, but its first rulers turned it into an abode of despair and misery, and of men who were worse than fiends. "Vandemonia" was the sinister name it became known by in those old days, and no better step could have been taken when its people had shuffled off its convict coil than to change its ill-omened name to Tasmania.
The first convicts were taken to Van Diemen's Land by Lieutenant Bowen in 1803. He brought with him a surgeon and ten male and six female prisoners. Next year came Collins, who abandoned an attempt to found a convict-settlement on the shores of Port Phillip, and discharged his convicts at the head of Sullivan's Cove, now Hobart, on January 30, 1804. From that date this spot was the scene of the usual sights and sounds of the convict system, which has already been described in sufficient detail. It is here and at Port Arthur and Macquarie Harbour that Marcus Clarke lays the scene of the earlier chapters of his novel, "For the Term of his Natural Life." It is possible that some of the stories that are told about these places surpass in their cold-blooded horror anything that is recorded of any other part of the convict settlements. A return of the sentences at Macquarie Harbour, during the five years between 1822 and 1826, shows that while the roll of convicts never reached 300 there, and in one year was less than 200, the total number of lashes administered was upwards of 33,000.
There was a small rock off the settlement in Macquarie Harbour which was used as a place of punishment for refractory convicts. They were sent to sleep there, and "it seldom happened that an individual could land upon the rock without getting wet, with the result that he must either sleep in his clothes or go without clothing; the greater part of them slept in their clothes, and particularly those who had chains on; nine-tenths of those who slept on this small island were in heavy irons." This is from the evidence of a witness before the Committee of the House of Commons in 1838. The same witness described the peculiar kind of "cat" with which the 33,000 lashes were inflicted. It was a double cat-o'-nine-tails, each tail of which was of a double twist of whipcord, and each tail contained nine knots, forming a much more formidable instrument than the ordinary cat-o'-nine-tails. Deponent, who resigned his position at Macquarie Harbour rather than continue to live among the horrors of that dreadful place, says that he never knew a convict benefited by flagellation, and that the punishment always had the effect of demoralising the recipients to the lowest possible degree. They were so much degraded by the punishment, he says, that they often told him they would never rest satisfied till they had been executed for some further offence. He gives an instance of one man who received 100 lashes a few days after his arrival for attempting to steal a boat. "After he was taken down from the halberds he immediately turned round to me and said, 'It is the first time I have been punished by the cat, and it shall be the last;' he added that the first opportunity he had of committing a crime which would send him before a criminal court would be one which should hang him; and the man's words were verified, for he was executed for an offence committed at Macquarie Harbour, and that offence was the murder of his constable, and I believe that three or four out of the same party, who were punished that day for the same offence, were executed for the same murder."
The same witness, in answer to a question by one of the Committee, assured his questioner that the convicts looked upon execution as a means of escape from the settlement. The ceremony produced a feeling, he said, of the most disgusting description among the convicts. "The convicts were assembled round the gallows for the purpose of witnessing the execution, and so buoyant were the feelings of the men about to be executed, and so little did they care about it, that they absolutely kicked their shoes off among the crowd as they were about to be executed, in order, as the term expressed by them was, that they might die game; it seemed, as the sheriff described it, more like a parting of friends who were going a distant journey on land, than of individuals who were about to separate from each other for ever; the expressions that were used on that occasion were, 'Good bye, Bob,' and 'Good bye, Jack,' and expressions of that kind among those in the crowd to those about to be executed." Crimes were very frequent at Macquarie Harbour among convicts who desired to be sent for trial to Hobart Town, and sentenced to death. Others attempted to escape, and out of 116 who absconded between 1822 and 1827, 75 are supposed to have died in the bush, one was hanged for murdering and eating his companion, two were shot by the military, eight were known to have been murdered by their companions and of these six were eaten, 13 were hanged for bush-ranging and two for murder.
"Of these six were eaten." Cannibalism was one of the developments of the convict-system, and you will remember how Gabbett, in Marcus Clarke's book, evolved a scheme for escape, and took with him provisions for his flight in the shape of two or three living comrades. Among the papers put before the Committee in 1838 is a report of the case of a man named Pierce, who is described as having lived on part of a comrade's body for two days. But this man was a fastidious epicure, for he became a cannibal although at the time he had some pork and bread in his pocket.
Mr. Pierce escaped with seven others, who "made it up for to take a boat and proceed to Hobart Town." They did so, and landed to walk across the island. After being without provisions for two days, they were very cold and hungry. "Bill Cornelius says, 'I to so weak that I could eat a piece of a man.' The next morning after this there were four of us tor a feast. Bob Greenhill was the first who introduced it, and said he had seen the like done before." But to here give details would be too revolting. Suffice it to say that Marcus Clarke's hideous story of Gabbett, of whom Bob Greenhill was the original, is in nearly all respects absolutely true. Anyone who has the nerve and the inclination to read the ghastly narrative of Pierce will find it given in full in the Appendix to the Report of the British Parliamentary Commission on Penal Settlements, dated 1838. After killing and eating the last of his companions Pierce lived on some pieces of opossum he found, and some birds he caught, until at length he came across a flock of sheep. He had killed a lamb and was eating it raw when the shepherd came up and recognised him. Then the story goes on until he was at length captured, tried for his escape and other crimes, and duly hanged in 1823.
This is the authentic original of one of the stories of the convict days in "His Natural Life," and we epitomise it here to prove that the worst that has been said about the effects of the convict-system is true. No more need be said on the subject, though volumes might be written. Had mere sensationalism been the object much that has been carefully left out would probably have been retained. No limit exists to the horrors of Macquarie Harbour and Port Arthur, and if we stop here it is because, as before stated, the purpose of these papers will be as well served by one representative instance as by 60. These matters are adduced in illustration of our contention that the convict-system was radically and abominably cruel and bad, and that everything we inherit in our prison system of to-day, in the traditions of our public policy, and in the officialism trained and formed under the old convict-system, is demonstrably bad in a proportionate degree.
We wonder every now and then that our criminal law is so harsh and cruel, that men are flogged in the police stations at the corners of Australian cities at mid-day, that the spirit of officialism is so strong, and that public opinion is so weak—and these papers are intended to give the answer. Take any one single instance of what we refer to, and trace it back from precedent to precedent in the history of our criminal law or public policy, and we venture to say that in every one single instance the origin of what we are ashamed of will be found in the state of things which, in these representative instances that have been quoted, have been indicated rather than described.
This history of Botany Bay reaches its last episode in the granting of Responsible Government in 1856 The reader has seen how the settlement developed from stage to stage in the earlier chapters of this story, and he may now be said to be thoroughly acquainted with the people, the officials, and the system of these early days. In the time of Bourke we saw the beginning of the changes, and later on the break-up of the convict-system and the cessation of transportation. Then came the gold discovery, and with it the influx of new population made up of men and women who had not been broken in to the convict-system and the spirit of gaoler-officialism, on the one hand, and to that tone of cringing subservience on the other which it necessarily engendered. New blood came into the country at the rate of 90,000 arrivals per annum, and all this time the convict element was at first gradually and then rapidly dying out. It was practically a new people that won the fight against the old conditions which they had no act or part in producing, and which they were determined not to tolerate.
It is interesting to observe how the process of development went on from this point. The new people were not satisfied with the social conditions of the colony as they found them, but they had not, at the same time, any definite conception of that which was to take their place. There was no Adams or Jefferson among them to reenact the splendid historical role played by these great men of bold and original mind in the old American colonies. The half emancipated immigrants who began to fill the towns of the colony had no one to open their minds to a conception such as that embodied in the opening lines of the American declaration of independence, which sets forth the equality of men and their equal rights to equal chances in the battle of life. On the contrary, the designers of the feeble patchwork of the Colonial Constitution were blinded by their early training and traditions, and had not yet forgotten to pull the forelock to the squire, or cringe to the colonial imitator whom they found ready here to take his place. They embodied their timid spirit in their Constitution, and with it all those feudal traditions which the framers of the American Constitution, in a wise spirit of philosophic statesmanship, lost no time in lopping off at the roots.
Mr. Wentworth is usually credited with the authorship of the Constitution of New South Wales, on which that of the other colonies is modelled. But this is only half true. A great deal that he advocated was too much even for the amorphous popular intelligence as it then existed, and his proposals were very seriously altered before they became the letter of the Constitution. At the same time it is to be observed that if Mr. Wentworth had exercised his great force of character and influence in the right direction—if he had been a man of original philosophic mind, capable of grappling with the problems to be presented in the history of a young country, he might have given the colonies constitutions of a much broader and more liberal caste than those which are usually credited to his origination.
The events relating immediately to the granting of the Constitution and Responsible Government date from 1851. In that year Mr. Wentworth, in his place in the Council, moved a resolution that the House was prepared to grant a Civil List to the Queen, on condition of receiving responsible control of the lands and revenue of the country. Some months later a minute was entered on the Proceedings, setting forth the sense of the House that the Imperial Parliament should not have the power to impose colonial taxes, and that the public lands and revenues, official appointments, and legislative powers should be at the command of the colonial authorities, and not at that of the Secretary of State for the Colonies. In 1852 a committee was appointed to draft a Constitution for the colony. It consisted of Messrs. Wentworth, Donaldson, Deas-Thomson (then Colonial Secretary), Attorney-General Plunkett, J. Macarthur, Cowper, Lamb, Martin, Murray, and Dr. Douglas, In September of the same year two Bills were laid on the table of the House—to confer a Constitution on the colony, and to grant a Civil List to the Queen.
Next year saw considerable progress. Sir John Pakington, then Secretary of State for the Colonies, transmitted an official despatch to the Governor, announcing that it had been decided, on the representation of the Council, that the revenue and taxation should be entrusted to the local legislature, that transportation to Tasmania should cease forthwith, and that a Parliament should be called together in New South Wales on the basis of an elective Assembly and a nominee Council. The Governor reported the despatch to the Council, which at once appointed a committee to draw up a Constitution. The members of this committee were ballotted for, and Messrs. Wentworth, Deas-Thomson, Macarthur, Plunkett, Cowper, Martin, Donaldson, Macleay, Thurlow, and Murray were chosen. Mr. Wentworth was elected chairman of this Constitution Committee, from the proceedings of which the present Constitution was evolved. When Mr. Wentworth brought up his report it was found that the framers so utterly misconceived their office and the desires of the people, as to advocate the creation of a peerage for members of the Upper House, with hereditary titles. This was a scheme worthy of the time of the Norman Conquest, or of a gang of South Sea Island freebooters, and it was received on the part of the public with all the contempt it deserved. Unspeakable ridicule was poured out on the devoted heads of the Baron of Woolloomooloo and the Duke of Vaucluse, as the ambitious creatures who devised this notable project were called.
Public meetings took the matter up and began to discuss this peerage question with a good deal of acrimony. An advertisement was issued to the public calling attention to the proposed creation of Botany Bay peers out of the representatives of the old New South Wales Corps and the officialdom of the convict-system. The formation of an Upper House in which the people would have no voice was condemned, and a protest entered against the plot "to fix irrevocably on the people this oligarchy in the name of free institutions, so that no future Legislature can reform it even by an absolute majority." A great meeting was called at the Royal Hotel in George-street, Sydney, in August, 1853, to express the popular mind on this subject. Messrs. John Bayley Darvall, Johnson, Henry Parkes, Mort, Deniehy, McEncroe, Piddington, Flood, and others addressed the gathering and spoke up manfully against the mushroom peerage proposals. It was decided by the meeting that the Bill was radically defective, and the populace bound themselves to oppose every attempt to foist a Constitution on the colony so distinctly inimical to the wishes and interests of the people.
The Constitution Committee, however, went on with their measure. Mr. Wentworth proposed the second reading of the Constitution Bill in its objectionable form, and after a debate of seven days its adoption was carried by a majority of 34 votes to 8. This action of the Legislative Council showed the public that their interests were not safe in the hands of its members, and the fact excited them to still stronger measures of agitation. A great gathering took place at the Circular Quay to petition the Queen against the Constitution Bill, and the attempt of the old leaven to wreck the prospects of free institutions just as they seemed to be at the point of realisation. The People's Constitution Committee was here declared in permanent session to take steps to protect the popular rights from the Committee of the Council. The peerage proposals were withdrawn, and when the House was moved into Committee on December 6, to consider the Bill, the other clause conferring life membership on the existing Government was dropped in deference to these manifestations, and the third reading passed by 27 votes to 6 on December 21, 1853, amid a great demonstration of applause from the members of the Legislative Council. The Constitution created two Houses, the Assembly to sit for five years and the Council for life. Messrs. Wentworth and Deas-Thomson were sent to England to pilot the measure through the British Parliament, and on its final passing there and receiving the warranty of the Royal Assent, returned with the news to New South Wales. Immediate steps were now taken for the election of the first Parliament, and all the business was completed and the elections over by May, 1856. On the 22nd of that month the first popular Parliament sat in the old Council Chambers in Macquarie-street, Sydney, for the first time.
There is no necessity to pursue this record any further. We have now seen the latest stages in the development of the political institutions of the colony, and the circumstances show exactly the same conflict of vested interests and old-time traditions against the popular sentiment that every stage in the colony's history has exhibited. Manhood suffrage came later, and it may now be said that, with this and the free institutions we possess, the political future of the Australian system is in the hands of the people themselves.
It may be so. It may be that for what we have we must blame or praise ourselves-that the power for good or evil is in the people's hands, and that they can do whatever they will. But if the reader who has followed the progress of the story we have undertaken to here set down without exaggeration or extenuation, will compare the things of to-day with the occurrences of the time antecedent to forty or fifty years ago, he will not fail to note the distinct survival of some of the worst features of the worst period of Botany Bay, They have been veneered over and hidden from ready view by the change of manners and the lapse of years, but the essentials of our criminal law, the official mind, and the spirit of our political action and outlook are much the same. Our criminal law, we are often told, is more bloody and brutal than any other on the face of God's earth to-day. Every death sentence recorded in our courts of law shows that the gallows is only reft of its victim after the most violent and strained relations between the popular sentiment and the official mind, if the lunatic criminal or the practically irresponsible boy is ever rescued from the grip of the hangman at all. The lash and the flogging laws are still in active operation in the Australasian colonies, and the penal system is still to all intents and purposes as powerless for reform as ever it was in the instances we have individualised in the pages that have gone before.
The official mind is the last refuge and resting-place of what remains of the past. When Dr. Whately and his fellow-workers spoke against the convict-system fifty years ago, as we quoted those earnest and thoughtful men some chapters back, they recommended the break-up of the convict system as the least of the steps to be taken to eradicate the evils it had caused. They were still more earnest in advocating the removal of the centre of settlement from the scenes of early misery and horror, and from anything that could suggest the past to the popular mind. The old officialism, too, should be swept away root and branch; and this with the view of leaving no influence in existence which would operate to preserve any of the spirit of the old days of degradation.
But the influence that had been built up through so many years in the colony had too much power to allow itself to be swept away. As the men of the new period brought out by Responsible Government rose in the political scale, they were absorbed by the "Conservative" class in the community. Our history is full of instances of men who began their careers in sympathy with the indefinitely-expressed popular sentiment and ended them as tinselled knights of a flimsy colonial order. But our history is passing through an intermediate stage, and the period of transition is still to come. Indications are forthcoming every day that a new race is growing up in Australia, which is not Colonial but Australian, and which only requires to be put on the right track and trusted to its honest instincts to work out Australia's future on bright and popular national lines which will not have their starting-point in the miserable episodes of old-time squalor, or their vanishing-point in Federation or Imperialism. It is for the guidance of this instinct, and to assist the popular mind' in coming to broad conclusions on national questions, that this political pamphlet on the beginnings of Australian colonisation has been written.
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