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Fifty Years Under the Lash


(By Charles White.)

Author of “Australian Bashranging,” “The Story of the Blacks, etc


CHAPTER XIII. VAN DIEMEN’S LAND. (Continued). I will give two cases only in illustration, chosen from many. A constable was murdered at the Harbour by a prisoner named Edwards, who confessed to the superintendent the same day that he had committed the murder by striking the constable on the head with a stick, and afterwards pushing the body into a deep pool of water. The pool was dragged and the body found. The murderer was sent to Hobart Town* but on the way some fellow prisoners on the boat persuaded him to- state that the confession had been extorted from him from the superintendent under fear of punishment. He did this at the trial, and was acquitted. In the other case a policeman was murdered by a convict, one of a. party of nine, anyd five or six convicts came forward as witnesses ; but when the case was called ' at Hobart Town they prevaricated so much that the men would, have escaped had not the surgeon happened to be in town at the time, and he gave evidence that it'd to their conviction. The men had seized the cobstable and put him into a pool of water, one of thorn keeping his head under the water with his foot until the man was drowned. On one occasion the princiual authorities sought to serve out a warning to the convicts of the Harbour by sending up from Hobart Town two condemned criminals to be publicly hanged there, thinking that the sight would act as a preventive of crime. But the experiment failed. The convicts were drawn up round the gallows to witness the execution, but the occurrence was turned into an awful, horrifying farce.. So buoyant were the feelings of the men who were about to be hanged, and so little did they care, that . they absolutely kicked their shoes off among the crowd, in order, as they termed it, “that they might die game,” .while the men in the crowd kept up a jocular fire of exclamations, such as “Good-bye, Bob !’’ and “ Goodbye, Jack !” until the fatal bolt was drawn.

The soldiers only on that settlement were allowed a small modicum of spirits and tobacco, and the. latter article they used to sell to the convicts at an enormous price. On one occasion it was reported to the commandant that a soldier had sold a small fig of Negrohead tobacco to a convict for two dollars. The convicts considered tobacco the greatest luxury obtainable, and they frequently gave a shilling for the privilege of burning out an old .wooden pipe, the inside lined with tin, probably for smoking many months, and which had become clogged with the oil of the' tobacco. They would put a piece of ignited charcoal in the tjowl of the pipe and suck away until the oil was exhausted. At Macquarie Harbour at one time all „• The constables—the superintendent. the chief constable and the overseers —were convicts, and some of them were most brutal. One of them was noted for reporting those under his charge, and five or six men wore flogged every day for idleness, on his information. The prisoners were completely at the mercy of the constables, and if any act of insubordination were not reported, the constable himself would certainly be flogged upon the same being discovered.

The voyage from Hobart Town to Macquarie Harbour was a very difficult one,. occupying frequently a month or six wesiks. The convicts were frequently sent from Hobart Town to Macquarie Harbour halfclothed. On this point Surgeon Barnes boi-c testimony as follows ; -'■‘Sometimes they had trousers on, sometimes they were without them ; sometimes they had a jacket, but more frequently they were without it, particularly if they had been long in gaol at Hobart Town, when it would have been sold for tobacco or something of the kind. There were thirty five in the vessel in which I wont to 'Macquarie Harbour, a small schooner of seventy tons, and that was divided into compartments. The middle

part of the ship was the place for prisoners. There were no beds fitted up, nor was there a deck, but the convicts occupied the hold of the ship. If the ship happened to be in ballast, they lay on the ballast, hut if it happened to be loaded they had the luxury, to lie upon a cask instead of upon stones. If they had a blanket it was all very well : but I think out of the number that went down they mustered only four blankets. I recollect on one occasion the captain ordered their bedding to be brought on deck, to know what furniture there was and to whom it belonged, that it might not be purloined by the other convicts ; and on heal'd that vessel there was one prisoner who had neither jacket nor trousers ; he had only his shirt when he was sent out of gaol. The commanding, officer gave him a bit of canvas, which was manufactured into a pair of trousers, I have frequently, when at Macquarie Harbour, seen men, thirty or forty, in that state, who have been on board the vessel for five or six weeks, -and in the months of June, July, and August the weather was extremely cold, particularly on the western coast of the island.” In 183-3 it was arranged that the Harbour should be abandoned owing to the difficulty of maintaining connection with the place ; and it was when this purpose was being put into execution that the convicts under conveyance seized the ship Frederick and escaped.

(To be continued).

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Bibliographic details

Fifty Years Under the Lash, Southern Cross, Volume 15, Issue 4, 27 April 1907

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Fifty Years Under the Lash Southern Cross, Volume 15, Issue 4, 27 April 1907

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