Fifty Years Under the Lash
(By Charles White.)
Author of “Australian Bnshranging,” “The Story of the Blacks, etc
(ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.)
CHAPTER XIV. VAX DIEMEN’S HAND. (Continued). To enter upon anything - an elaborate description of general convict life in Van Diemen’s Land would he simply to traverse ground already covered, ” for it ran upon all fours with convict life in New South Wales. In appearance and fact the second edition of the Antipodean penal system was similar to the first, although Van Diemen’s Land was made the settling ground of many of the convicts who were considered worse than their fellows in New South Wales. I have confined myself, therefore, so the "brief narration of the working of the system at the -penal settlements. The reader may, however, bo interested in a brief sketch of the second prison colony about the time when the agitation for-the abolition of transportation was at its 'height. About. 1850 the population of the island was centcsimally 'divided thus; Free immigrants and born in the colony, 46 per cent. ; bond and emerged into freedom, 51 per cent. ; military, aborigines, etc., 3 per cent. In the streets of Hobart Town a stranger .would not sec so much of the penal features of the place as might be expected, although every other person he met on the wharves and in the streets may have been transported. Only those who were still prisoners under probation, who were clothed in the degraded broad-arrow marked grey or grey and yellow, according to crime or character, could be distinguished as a class. All others moved on a common plane, and" class distinction as between those who had come out free and those who had earned freedom was marled by a very thin lino. The prisoners for the most part were either confined in the gaols or kept at work in the stockades away from town, although they could be seen marching under guard to their~ work in the early morning and back again at sunset ; while an occasional gang of silent, scowling - ' creatures with clanking chains, some harnessed to and others pushing at a handcart, would pass along to repair some disordered street—each bearing- his number and the name of his station in large letters on his back and cap. Here also a gang might be seen labouring with pick and shovel on the roadside, or sitting apart breaking road metal. The progress of the island was surprisingly rapid ; although, like New South Wales, its prosperity as a colony was chequered by occasional reverses. As early, in its history, as 1835 a . block of land at Hobart Town was sold for £3OOO per acre; Twelve years later the population had reached a total of 70,164. Among the actual convict class the disparity between the sexes was very great, as shown by the followingofficial returns : “Of the ticket-of-leave holders the males were five to one ; o the prisoners in Government employ, eight to one ; and of pass-holders in service, also eight to one. In other words, the males are 291 per cent, and the females only 5 per cent., making a difference between the sexes of 24-J per cent. in this class of the population. On 81st (December, 1858, the convict population wasi 25,459, of whom ,40 per cent, held tickets-of-leavo, 48 per cent, were pass-holders, and 12 per cent were under probation of sentence. Lieut.-Col. M-undy gives the following graphic description of the country through which he passed on his way to Eagle Hawk Neck : “This post, by reason of its somewhat unique feature—a line of canine sentries—is one of the lions of Van Diemen’s Land. On either shore of the imet there is a chain of huts each containing a constable and hia dog, to prevent the escape of runaways by swimming this arm of the sea—a desperate measure, since the fugitive fortunate enough to evade the tipstaff and mastiff would have to battle with an outlying picquet of sharks abounding in these waters-. No sooner came we in sight of the low, sandy, scrub-grown isthmus which cut across the head of the inlet than our ears were saluted by the bay of the deep-mouthed dogs, and as we walked up the pier towards the guardroom at the enu of it, they all
joined in a grand chorus, including three or four videttes stationed on little platforms laid on piles in -the water. Two armed sentries wer posted on the narrowest part of the neck, the one on the ocean side of it —in Pirate’s Cove —the other on the inlet side of it. The dogs, each chained to a post, with a barrel for a kennel, and a lamp to illuminate his night watch, connect their two biped sentinels and complete the cordon. The clogs were generally of a large rough breed, mongrels of the most promiscuous derivation, but powerful and ferocious. One of the family, who was permitted to roam at large, amused himself sometimes, and kept his- teeth and temper in practice by running into the shallow , and fighting the sharks ; and he not unfrequently succeeded in dragging them ashore. There are fourteen clog’s “on the chain’’ a t present. “Passing Woody Island and Sympathy Point, we came to an anchorage for the night just after dusk, off a small station —nameless as far as I know —at the head of Norfolk Bay, where, there being no accommodation we slept on board. A commissary officer, who resides here in all the solitude permitted him by a wife and six children, came off and kindly unclertoov to arrange for our passage to Port Arthur in the morning by railway. ‘By railway !’’ exclaims the reader ; ‘ a railway at the Antipodes ?’ Yes —by railway—not propelled by steam power, however,. but by human thews and sinews, and in the sweat of the human brow ! At 7 p.m. we landed on a rough pier of timber, upon which the rail, or rather. the wooden tramway, abuts ; and in the middle of the dreary little settlement, which consists of the commissary’s quarters and a few huts, we found a couple of low trucks on four wheels, with two benches in each, and standing near these not elegant vehicles eight convicts dressed in the grey and yellow garb. Another, in grey unvariegated, being in attendance as head man of the gang. These were to he cur teams. Dividing ourselves into two parties, Dr. and Mrs , and T, gut inf o one and two tolerably weighty gentlemen into the other. Upon this the prisoners seized certain bars crossing' the front and back of the carriages, and, after pushing them with great toil up a considerable plane, reached the top of a long descent, where,, getting up steam, they rattled down at a tremendous speed—tremendous, indeed, to lady-like ’nerves —the chains round their ankles clinking and clanking as they trotted along, and as soon as the carriages in their headlong race down the hill exceeded the possible speed of that slow - est of all animals, man, at a word from their leader the runners jumped upon the sides of the truck's in rather unpleasant proximity with the passengers, and away we all event,' bondsmen and freemen, jolting and swaying in a manner that smacked somewhat too much “the d 1 take the hindmost’’ —although a man sitting- behind contrived, more or less, to lock a wheel with a wooden crowbar when the descent became so rapid as to call for remonstrance. Accidents have not unfrequently hap-, pened when travellers by thile rail have encouraged, or not forbidden the men to abondon the trucks to their own momentum down the hills, for there are several sharpish turns in the lino, and the tramway is of the roughest construction,. Occasionally, perhaps, these capsizes have not been purely accidental when travellers obnoxious to the motive powers have fallen into their hands. One of' the highest public officers of the colony met, as I w - as told, with a tremendous upset on this railway- Rolling, without much damage into the ditch, he was picked up, teres atque rotundus , by the “canary binds,” who placed him upon his legs, and, amid a thousand expressions of contrition, set to work to brush the dirt off his clothes, and so officious were they that on his first reference to his pockets neither watch nor purse wore to be found “The tramway, alongside of which there is a bridle road, lays through a wild forest tract of the most splendid timber wholly wild and unclear ed, the largest trees being the blue gum, for which the island is fam-
' OUS, Our mode of travelling through this fine forest was not precisely such ras to add to our enjoyment of the scene ; indeed, it jarred most dis-* tressingly on my feelings, for our poor beasts of burden at the end of the traject seemed terribly jaded, and I saw one of them continually trying to shift the irons from a galled spot on his ankle The men employed on this tramway, which is more used for the transport of stores, and of provisions than of passengers, are under sentence of hard labour, and those who are_ young and active enough to go the pace prefer it to other task work—chiefly, I suspect, because many passengers, in flagrant breach of the convict rules, bestow some small reward on the wretched dragsmen, whereby they are able to procure tobacco —the grand desideratum of all prisoners—and other trifling luxuries the value of which a man never fully knows until they are unattainable. » . (To be contimued).
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Fifty Years Under the Lash, Southern Cross, Volume 15, Issue 6, 11 May 1907
Fifty Years Under the Lash Southern Cross, Volume 15, Issue 6, 11 May 1907
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