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Thirty-eight Years in a Prison.

Mr John Gale, ex-governor of Pentridge, before sailing for England on a well-deserved pension, gave an interviewer some interesting accounts of his prison experiences. Hero are a few of them :

1 ' I was a sailor in my young days. I came to Victoria in 1851 aa second mate of the Whitby. Being a nautical man, I got an appointment on board the hulks. 1 don't know whether you ever saw the hulks. They wero fitted up below decks with cages, which might have held wild beasts. That is what the ruffians we had charge of wore. They were the vilest criminals in the colony, and nothing but the fear of being shot dead kept them in check. As it was we had to fight our way. When a cell, orrather one of the iron-barred dens, was opened you would as likely as not get a fist in your face, in spite of all the punishment. The most refractory scoundrels led a fearful life, but flogging was not allowed. Solitary confinement was the chief punishment to break them down, but thev were always plotting 'a rush."' "What kind of a rush?"—"'A rush' was a concerted attack a mysteriously arranged conspiracy, which there was no getting to the bottom of until the signal was given and the rush was made. Sometimes it was an attempt to escape even if murder were done, as when Warder Owens was killed; sometimes murder without hope of escape, as when Inspector-general Price was done to death. You know the prisoners used to work on shore, although they were confined in the hulks at night, and that gave them their chance. Every morning the boats were manned to take them ashore. There was an unarmed warder in each boat which carried prisoners unarmed, because an armed man might be overpowered and the arms used against him. The boatloads of convicts were accompanied by guard-boats, full of warders, with their double guns loaded with Blugs, which were far better for close quarters than rifles. On reaching the shore the gangs were set to work within a cordon of sentries. The sentries wero never allowed to approach close to the prisoners, who had to be kept at more than arm's length.

" The most determined rush I ever saw in order to escape," Mr Gale continues, "was one afternoon when the prisoners suddenly threw down their shovels and hammers, and scattered in all directions to try and get past the guards, but it was no use. The sentries called on the prisoners to stand, and then fired a volley, which brought down about a dozen men, killed or wounded. The others stopped running, and went back to their places over-awed, after which the ranks were formed, and the gangs marched back to the boats. There were four or five legs taken off that night—prisoners' legs—by the surgeon, of course. Not a single prisoner escaped. I was rewarded for my services on that occasion."

"Yon remember Warder Owens being killed ?"—" Oh, yes; I saw him -with his head smashed in when the boat was alongside the hulk. That murder was done while the gangs wore being brought bajk to the ships one evening. Warder Owens was in charge of one of the boats, The prisoners rose upon him. One of them had secreted a hammer—they were not searched nntil they got to the hulks and they beat him to death. They then tried to make their escapo across the bay in the boat, but were pursued, rowed down, and recaptured. One man disappeared in the melee.. It was never known what became of him ; whether he jumped overboard and was drowned, or whether he swam ashore and escaped, is a question to this day, All I know is that no trace of him was ever discovered, although the water was dragged for days. Ihero was very nearly being a far worse tragedy on that occasion—l mean the roasting of a shipful of convicts. It appears that when the scnflling was going on in the boats, the officer of the Lysander, one of the hulks whose full complement of prisoners were at the time under hatches, exploded a rocket which set fire to the vessel. I saw the smoke from the Success, which was my j hulk, and I immediately proceeded to board the Lysander with a boat's crew. The fire was coming up from below. I made my way into the lazarette and found a quantity of oakum, ropes, and ship's stores on fire. We dashed water on the burning mass and put it out; but by this time there was a frightful howl among the prisoners, who could smell the smoke and knew the ship was on fire, while they were barred and locked up below. They were beseeching the turnkeys to let them out and save their lives; but we went down and told them that the fire had been got under and that they had nothing to fear. It was a trying situation for them, as you may imagine; hut within an hour all was quiet again. However, it was a narrow escape." " Did you see tho Inspector-eeneral killed?"—"I was within 100 yds of the place, Mr Price's death was the greatest loss that tho penal service ever had. He was a born administrator. We never had so good a man. Mr Price was full of courage and firmness, and absolutely fair. He knew no fear, although his strict discipline incurred for him the rancorous hatred of the convicts whom he could have mastered single handed, three at a time." " How did the ' hnlkers' get a chance to destroy him ? "—" Why, by the folly of an old woman who was in charge of them, and by Mr Price disdaining to take any care of himself, even when danger was very near and plainly threatened. It was a rush of a new kind. The gangs, while at work, began to clamor about their food and to demand that they should see Mr Price. By the way, the dietary scale is a fruitful source of complaint in all kinds of prisons. You have constantly to listen to grumbliog about the quantity and quality of what the prisoners have to eat, but you choke off a good many complaints, for most of them are frivolous. The 'hulkers,' on tho day I speak of, got up a tumult while they were at work, and excitedly demanded to see Mr Price. The officer in charge had a plain duty before him—namely, to get the prisoners into their ranks, march them to the boats, and put them under deck without giving the mischief time to spread. Then, with the prisoners under lock and key, they could have been brought one by one before thelnspector-generalto state theirgrievances, if they had any, and full justice could have been done. But the officer in charge, being an old woman, as I have said, feebly listened to the tumult, and sent for Mr Price, who came at once, as he would have gone anywhere without a qualm as soon as he heard there was any trouble to quell. When he arrived on the ground he saw the warders with their loaded guns encircling the excited malcontents, who, lacking the grip of a firm hand, had by this time grown more excited. Mr Price was advised not to go near the men, but he could not be dissuaded. He wont on within the cordon of sentrirs alone and unarmed among a crowd of miscreants wbp thirsted for h's bjood.

They came towards him menacingly. A lump of dirt was thrown; then another 5 then a stone. The convicts got closer round the inspector-general and began to hustle him. The warders saw his danger, but could not fire for fear of hitting him. Neither could they go to the rescue with arms in their hands. If they once broke their cordon they might be rushed and overpowered, they were so few among bo many if they engaged in a hand-to hand fight. Not a warder moved—they kept their lines unbroken, in order to prevent a stampede of the prisoners. The result you know. Mr Price was hemmed in and crowded behind an embankment, out of sight of the warders, where he was so cruelly hacked with shovels by the dastardly crew that he shortly afterwards died. Ab soon as they had done their dastardly work, the murderers slunk away from the spot back to their stations, trying to escape observation and the retribution that was to come.

"Seeing the serious state of affairs, the volunteers were sent for, and were promptly on the Eoene. This display of force overawed the convicts, who did not know that the rifles were empty, and that the volunteers had no ammunition. The gangs fell into their lines at the word of command, and were taken back to the hulks. But when the prisoners were placed under lock and key they mado the hulks a pandemonium with their savage noises. Thty were so riotous that a detachment of the 40th Regiment of regulars was sent on board the Bhips. But they did not check the uproar, nor did a still more desperate expedient of the authorities. The mau-of-war Victoria was broughtalongside the hulks with shotted guns, and the prisoners were told that if they did not become quiet the hulks would be sunk by a broadside, with all on board. The prisoners knew very well that this would be too inhuman a course for the Government to justify, and they continued to be as disorderly as they were before." " All the murderers were not hanged, I believe?" some thirty prisoners who were charged with the crime found their way to the gallows. Among those who were acquitted was Captain Melville, a great scoundrel. After his trial, and while he was lying in the Melbourne gaol serving his former sentence, he was found dead in his cell, self-strangled with his handkerchief. My belief is that he never meant to strangle himself, but only to go pretty near it, aB a matter of braggadocia, and to make a sensation, only that he went further than he intended."

" One hulk, as I have described, was nearly burned; another was all but scuttled. It was while I was nautical officer of the hulks that I was responsible for the proper repair and equipment of the vessels. The President began to leak badly, and I went with the carpenter to discover the cause. The old tub was very rotten, and while the carpenter was stripping off the inner skin of the ship to find out the place where the water came in his chisel slipped through the outer planking. The leak was now enlarged to such a size that the water poured through in a volume which threatened to send her to the bottom with her full complement of imprieoned convicts. I lost no time in summoning help and in careening the vessel so as to bring the leak as near as possible to the surface, and then passed a stout sailcloth over the hole and into it by force of Buction. The sailcloth was fastened to its place by means-of ropes, and then the hulk was towed to a bed on the mud at the mouth of the Yarra. Her prisoners were s nt to the Melbourne Gaol, and they were very glad to get there. They did not fancy having only a pi ink—and a very rotten plai-ik—between them and the water."

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Permanent link to this item

https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/ESD18890706.2.30.11

Bibliographic details

Thirty-eight Years in a Prison., Evening Star, Issue 7952, 6 July 1889, Supplement

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Thirty-eight Years in a Prison. Evening Star, Issue 7952, 6 July 1889, Supplement

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