"Jack Bushman": Passages from the Life of a "Lifer"
Edited by Ian Duffield
© all rights reserved
This narrative has been broken into 6 sections:
Chapters I, II, III, IV , V & VI.
Strange Experience in Town and Country - Left for Death
(Moreton Bay Courier, Vol. XIII, No. 741, Saturday 9 April 1859)
Edited by Ian Duffield, University of Edinburgh. This narrative has been broken into 6 sections. You have just completed Chapter II Continue with chapters: III / IV /V/ VI. Or, return to Chapter I. See also the introduction to Jack Bushman's narrative by Ian Duffield.
Sheerness was the year for embarkation, 1818 the year, the ship the G-, the number of convicts 262. This number was large, and as all escape was hopeless, I thought the best way was to make myself as comfortable as I could. I wore leg-irons like all the others, which weighed about seven pounds, and at first they made me feel rather curious. I don't know how some of those must have felt, who had received an education, and those who were innocent were to be pitied. God help such poor wretches, called upon to mix with the guilty, and become but units in the multitude of outcasts. I have nothing to complain of on board the ship. The soldiers kept strict guard, our convict life had begun, the bayonet was my monitor - my leg-irons the tell-tale to recall me if ever I went back again in thought to - well - no matter where.
For six weary months did the good ship labour to make the haven. It was a long and rough passage; but at that time, more than forty years ago, it was not considered out of the ordinary runs.
I landed with a good character, and, being a strong and willing hand to work, was sent to the "stone quarries" to toil, being guarded to work, all day the same, and marched back to barracks, with that most conclusive monitor I have just mentioned to avenge any attempt at freedom.
When I landed, and for some years afterwards, the convicts who behaved themselves were not used so very badly. I thought the punishment was severe then, but afterwards experience opened my eyes as to what a convict's life really was. I came to the country in a good time for the prisoners, as Governor Macquarie had a decided objection to freemen, believing that the introduction of such in plenitude would interfere with what he considered the ultimatum of New South Wales, the nethermost part of the earth, a hiding place for England's scoundrels, where they should reform and begin the work of a nation; like the spots which Rome had chosen for the receptacle of her banished ones, from whose exile sprang peoples. It was not on such as I that the Governor smiled. I was poor and ignorant, had only strong arms, a working disposition, with "a thankee" if ever I obtained a glass of rum. There were, however, others who had brains who had availed themselves of the lenity shown, and thus who had prospered in wealth and standing. Generally speaking this class of men, who thus advanced themselves, were those who had been sent out of the country for heavy crimes. There were several who had grown rich, and it was no uncommon matter for the whisper to pass, as some apparently respectable man went by, as I and my companions toiled, "there that fellow is a lifer."
This kind of observation, and the current stories of daily life, made a great impression on my mind. I thought I would behave well, and if I could but obtain my liberty, to be once more a freeman, what I would do. I confess now that I resolved that I would be good so that I might take the first opportunity of stowing myself on board a ship, to return to my native country - for there was a longing desire for the old spots and the old town never seemed half so sweet as when I thought of the little cottage and my once happy span of life.
I had been in Sydney about two years when there were such a number of convicts, and difficulty in finding them employment, that one of the acts of the new scheme was to send some of the best men for work to settlers, with powers delegated such to watch over the convicts with careful guard, and report if there was any departure from the regular routine of the rules, which were made to them the poor wretches in, in such a manner as to convert them, body and soul, into tools for the agency of what their employers commanded. There were exceptions to the rule. Many, I say, treated the "Government men" kindly, and were ill requited in numerous instances for their generosity, by those who had not learned to appreciate the kindness flowing spontaneously from good natures. Take all in all I was not uncomfortable in these times, save an indefinable longing for the old country; and although I knew to me it was forbidden for ever, by the stern dictum of my sentence by law, yet I clung to the idea that I should be able to manage an escape.
Governor Macquarie beautified Sydney by the erection of public buildings; and, during the three years that he continued to govern after I landed, stone quarrying was considered as of second importance, to the masons who fashioned and laid the shapen stones in the construction of noble edifices. With the advent of the rule of Governor Brisbane 1 the convicts were sent to the settlers in large numbers; but I, being a good quarryman, was kept at work for some time, but was eventually leased or sold to a settler at Kissing Point, which kind of life, in the then woods, was so different to the past life I had led in Sydney, that I took to the bush; and, after a short time, was back again, lurking in the town, in hopes of escape.
It was in 1824 that I reached Sydney as described. I was enabled by the aid of confederates to keep close for a time, but was discovered at last, my sentence being, "To Newcastle for the remainder of your sentence."
My hardships now began. Major Morrison 2 was in command at Newcastle, and I was sent to work in the coal mines. I had hard work, was badly fed, and the free use of the lash at this place was a standing caution to be careful how I conducted myself. "Plenty of flogging!" how strange it sounds! I grew tired of the way in which I lived, pined for Sydney, thought of the dangers I had undergone, and every now and then there started up a half resolve to make a bold stroke to regain Sydney; the idea of escape still uppermost, with the dim picture of early life limmed on the tables of my reputed hardened heart.
Before I tell of this venture in my struggle for what I had lost, I must mention, that the report which had reached me of the conduct of my second wife, after my banishment, had entirely obliterated her from my care. When I did think of her, and of the child I had imagined had been ushered into the world as mine, it was only with a momentary pang as to our relationship. Her conduct, as reported, did not seem to add to my disgrace. Had it been the other one who had thus acted - but no! she would never have been thus guilty, I should have wept like a child. It is strange how, when the angel is taken from the home, the devil soon enters. Had she, the lost beloved one, but dwelt in my ark of safety a few years longer, I had not then to tell this lengthy story of my life and sufferings.
My desire for Sydney, as the point from which to leave New South Wales, increased. I often cried mentally, "If I could but get out of this country!" Thought succeeded thought, the one resolve working itself into the agonised determination. I could endure it no longer; and so, watching my opportunity, I took to the bush, and being guided by the coast, reached Sydney once more. I might relate the dangers of the way, the successful eluding of pursuit, and the means by which I obtained food, gathering shellfish from the coast; and the fear of the natives; all this can be imagined by those who know what bush travelling in uninhabited parts is like, and therefore I pass on.
I had only been in Sydney two days, when I was retaken, ordered to be sent back to Newcastle, and when I arrived there my sentence was, that I was to receive 75 lashes.
They tied me up - having bared my back, and the cruel whip descended. The first blow made me feel sick in stomach and heart. I resolved not to betray my feelings. Again and again the nine thongs came twisting and gloating with my flesh; and as the instrument of torture was made to do duty continuously, I felt the blood running down my back, and there was this query in my thoughts, "of what use is life?" I had not settled the interrogation, save by a moody negative as to impossibility to solve it myself, when I was cast off, with a sore back, and as I had ventured and found my way from Newcastle to Sydney, I was ordered to be forwarded to Port Macquarie. 3
Now I began to think seriously of working on, and making no further attempt to escape. It was a hard struggle, and the desire for liberty conquered. The soldiers and superintendents kept watchful guard, the fact of my having run off twice increased the affectionate care they seemed to take of me. Ironed as I was I did my work without complaint, took the food without a murmur, and from the quiet life I led I verily believe the authorities were puzzled to reckon me up. One impression seemed certain - that I should "bolt" if I had the chance; and after I had been at Port Macquarie two years, another of the longing fits came on for home; and seizing what I considered a chance, I went off into the bush, to try to get to Sydney. I had not been a free lad on my own account in the bush more than a day or two, 4 when I was taken by the soldiers, brought back, sentenced to receive 100 lashes, and to remain some time in prison. I also was blessed with a heavier load of leg-irons to carry, and began to think the black mark was so dark and long that I never should have the opportunity to try my luck, or escape from my guard of the red-coats. I did so behave myself in prison and toil that I was sent up to the Plains to Mr. Scott's but here the old longing came over me so strongly, and some with whom I came into company were also of the same mind, that a party of four was formed; amongst them was Black Gough, a half-caste lascar, 5 and away we went, roughly in our appearance, bound for the metropolis. For some time we travelled on, our only guide the coast line, but we managed to get into the neighbourhood of Macquarie, and were hunted down by the soldiers. Our sufferings had made us resolute, and as we had been some days at large, and not seeing great use in a life such as ours, we tried to escape, when challenged, instead of surrendering, which I grant would have been the wisest plan, as the sequel will show. Scrambling among bushes, hunted by soldiers, with "brown bess" pointed around corners where hope pointed for safety, with the stern cries of the party in command, is not one of the most pleasant amusements. For a time we managed to elude them, and all came together in a scrubby part, in breathless anxiety; the first word of encouragement had scarcely been whispered when a scramble was heard again, and the cry "surrender" rang out clearly in the bush. Again we ran. Immediately the sharp cracking sound of a number of muskets were heard. I turned my head, Michael Clansey had fallen - dead; another of my companions was shot in the knee, and he had also fallen. Black Gough and I turned like lions at bay. What could we do? A few minutes longer and we were both secured - the wounded man taken also - the dead body dragged to the beach, and soldiers and convicts, Gough having a rope round his neck the better to secure him, all into a boat, and we were in a few hours secure in gaol.
We were tried at Sydney and sentenced to die. While under that ban, there seemed a palsied sickness in my resolve, and if the voice of one I had loved spoke to me in the darkness of the condemned cell, with looks of pity and words of affection, it was only when sleep had shut out the knowledge that I was an outlaw, and shortly about to be sent into the unknown. My dull nature believed that love I had cherished had somewhere a counterpart, and though I was not skilled in the hope and consolation of religious faith, yet to see the angel of my cottage once more, was the palladium fancy drew as an antidote against cowardly fear; and a something of good, I knew not what, beyond. I dreamed she bade me come. I heard her words of forgiveness ringing sweetly, and happiness shed a ray of light.
The day on which Governor Darling 6 came on shore was signalled by no fewer than 23 reprieves. Four unhappy wretches stood on the framework of the gallows, with halters about their necks, ready for being swung into eternity; and as some of the officials wanted to greet the appearance of the new Governor, an indecent haste was observed, till good Father Terry 7 would make an allowance for time for prayers. The few minutes allotted for the preparation on the gallows saved the men's lives. The Governor saw or heard the four-fold execution about to take place, and granted them all a pardon - thus saving them from present death, but they were of course still "lifers." The next act of clemency which Governor Darling showed, was to visit the prison where I and eighteen others were under sentence of death; and enquiring what was the nature of our offences, and referring to the crimes for which we had been banished, he kindly reprieved us all.
There was now a further stain. I had been "left for death," and so was strictly guarded. I was sent on board the Phoenix hulk, where I was kept for a short time, and in the year 1825, the first year of Governor Darling's rule, I was sent from Sydney to Moreton Bay, where a settlement had been formed. There were eleven others beside myself, guarded by a detachment of the 57th Regiment, under the command of Captain Logan, 8 and when we landed I thought we had come to a wild country, where cruelty might be practised, or a man be "put out of the way", without much enquiry as to the circumstances.
I pause for a space, collect my thoughts, see old familiar faces in fancy, hear the shrieks of the sufferers, toil in the road party, hear the clanking of the irons, the dull ring of "fixing bayonets," and I had better commence a new start to tell you of what I saw and suffered in Moreton Bay.
1 Sir Thomas Brisbane (1773-1860), Governor of New South Wales 1822-5.
2 This should be Major Morriset. James Thomas Morriset, (1780-1852) was appointed Commandant of the penal station at Newcastle, N.S.W. after his arrival in the colony with the 80th Regiment of Foot in 1817. There and during his subsequent period as Commandant of the Norfolk Island penal station (1829-34) he became notorious for his inflexible and savage severity. There is a good account of Morriset's career in Hughes, The Fatal Shore, pp. 458-79. Curiously, there is no article on this notorious man in the Australian Dictionary of Biography, perhaps an indication that the editors wished Morriset to disappear into an Orwellian historical 'memory hole' in an attempt to sanitise Australia's past. The error in 'Jack Bushman's' narrative concerning his name is, if anything, a sign of the text's authenticity, the kind of small slip that might be expected after the passage of decades.
3 Port Macquarie, 270 miles north of Sydney on the estuary of the Hastings River, was first explored in 1818 and founded as a new and remote frontier penal station in 1821. In 1830, Governor Sir Ralph Darling decided to permit free settlement in the district and remove the worst prisoners to the much more remote penal station at Moreton Bay, a sign that the penal station had fulfilled its purpose of providing the necessary infrastructure for this. The penal station had military Commandants up till 1832; the change thenceforth to civilian Resident Magistrates was a sign that life at Port Macquarie was becoming progressively 'normalised'.
4 This may be the escape on 2 February 1825 of six prisoners reported in Archives Office of New South Wales, SC T21, No 25/190, Henry Gillman, Commandant's Office, Port Macquarie to Frederick Goulburn, Colonial Secretary of N.S.W., Sydney, 8 February 1825. A Thomas Brooks is listed among them but his ship is given as the Hebe - possibly a clerk's error. Significantly, there is also a John Banks listed, the name of one of the three ringleaders tried for the subsequent outbreak in June 1825 and mentioned in ch. 5 of Passages from the Life of a "Lifer" as the narrator's particular friend and as being 'among the gang when I was guarded up from Sydney in 1825'. Thus these men were probably at least twice companions in an escape attempt.
5 This identification of Gough (or Goff) as a 'half-caste lascar' is puzzling and almost certainly incorrect. Goff's indent entry, which uses that version of his name, identifies him as a black man. It also states that he was a seaman born on the Isle of Wight: see Duffield, 'The Life and Death of "Black" John Goff', p. 31 & note 6, p. 41. 'Lascar' is a generic term for South Asian seamen, many of whom were employed aboard the East India Company's shipping. A police office notice in the Sydney newspaper The Australia, (16 December 1824), p. 3, refers to 'Gough' as 'a mulatto' while an absconding notice in the Sydney Gazette, (14 June 1822) refers to him as of 'black complexion'. There was a significant population of Africans in late eighteenth-century Britain (Goff was born around 1792) and it was common enough for them to have children by white wives or de facto partners. For black family in Britain in this period, see Norma Myers, 'In Search of the Invisible; British Black Family and Community', Slavery & Abolition, 13, 3, (December 1992), pp. 156-80. By contrast, lascar seamen ashore in Britain were largely confined to residence in the barracks provided for them in London (the home port of East India shipping) by the East India Company. As a seaman, Goff fits very well one of the main occupations of Afro-Blacks in early nineteenth-century Britain: see Duffield, 'Skilled Workers or Marginalized Poor? The Black Population of the United Kingdom, 1812-1852', in David Killingray (ed.), Africans in Britain, (London, 1994), pp. 49-87; Myers, 'Servant, Sailor, Soldier, Tailor, Beggarman: Black Survival in White Society 1780-1830', Immigrants and Minorities, 12, 1, (March 1993), pp. 47-74. My conclusion is that Goff was not a lascar and that his description as such in the text is probably a misunderstanding on the part of the person who wrote it and/or of Thomas Brooks. Lascars bore South Asian names very distinguishable from the plain English name of John Goff. A few identifiable Lascars do occur in N.S.W. & V.D.L. transportation records.
6 Sir Ralph Darling (1775-1858) arrived in New South Wales as Governor on 17 December 1824 and retained office until 1831.
7 John Joseph Therry (1790-1864) was an Irishman from Cork who arrived in Sydney in 1820 with the approval of the Colonial Office as well as the Roman Catholic hierarchy. He died in Sydney, a much loved man, in 1864. For his consolation of John Goff on the scaffold, see Duffield, 'The Life and Death of "Black" John Goff', p. 36.
8 In popular memory, Morriset pales into insignificance as a cruel tyrant compared with Captain Patrick Logan. Logan, unlike Morriset, does have an entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol. 2, 1788-1850, I - Z, p. 124, which attempts a damage limitation exercise by emphasising 'he showed a fine sense of duty, and no thought of gain in any of his activities' while conceding that he was 'reputed' cruel and harsh to convicts and that Moreton Bay was 'in continuous unrest and uprisings were frequent under his command.'
This narrative has been broken into 6 sections. You have just completed Chapter II Continue with chapters: III / IV /V/ VI. Or, return to Chapter I. See also the introduction to Jack Bushman's narrative by Ian Duffield.