"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.
Another Taste of the Cat-O'-Nine Tails - Life in Misery -
Death in Preference
(Moreton Bay Courier, Vol. XIII, No. 743, Saturday 16 April 1859)
As soon as I had been "told off" properly, I was put into the "chain-gang." I was ironed very heavily; the weight I should fancy of my Moreton Bay ornaments being about 16 pounds. I was sent to work felling and clearing, and the first lesson I had of the management of my new quarters did not increase my love for the rustic retreat.
I was working by the side of a fellow prisoner called Macarthy, and I do believe he was ill, and unable to work; he was told to go on with his work by the overseer, and he said he was not able. The overseer reported Macarthy to the Commandant as a man who would not work, and he was ordered to receive 100 lashes.
How that poor wretch groaned - how tightly they gave it to him! When he was cast off he was told to go back to his work the next morning, and if he did not work, how they would flog him again.
The next morning found Macarthy in the gang, and he could not work. The overseer said he was able to do so, so they flogged him again another hundred. How glibly one can say, "one hundred lashes." They were not comfortable to take I can assure you. Well - poor Macarthy said also on the third day, he was not able to work; and they gave him, while he shrieked for mercy, another hundred, making three hundred in three days.
I believed Macarthy was ill - believe so now, and shall do so, even if all the doctors who were in the Government establishments signed certificates to the contrary. They fleyed his back till it was one mass of wounds. His spirit was broken. Life was despised. At that period no one knew anything of the back country. To go into the bush was to go to death, and yet Macarthy went, having by some means obtained release from his irons. I hear his agonizing wail now - see him in fancy, as he came the last time to the gang, heard, and knew he was missed - that he had taken to the bush, feel satisfied that he must have perished; and I may add, he has not since been heard of.
This little incident taught me I had come to a spot where they were not very particular how they kept the spirits in subjection, and I hoped by hard work and attention yet to be extricated from my misery. This kind of feeling would be succeeded by despondency, and when I hoped I had calmed down the tumult effectually, liberty and the thoughts of I know who, would make me say, "irreparable is the loss; and patience says, it is past her cure." I have no right to tell other than my own sufferings for my own sins, far less to moralize, but in the recital of a life such as mine, I pray you pardon me if I tell of a few of the sufferings of others.
A man who came down to Moreton Bay at the same time that I did, was punished with 100 lashes; and to increase his torture he was fastened to a fence so that the mosquitoes might increase his punishment. I forget his name, but had I ever known that free people would take an interest in reading the suffering of criminals, I might have been more particular in jotting down the incidents which daily came under my notice.
I had been in Moreton Bay some few months, when a fellow prisoner, whose name was Winter, agreed to run away with me. We cut the heavy irons through with an old knife, started at the first opportunity, reached as far as Point Danger, where we were retaken by the soldiers, sent up to Eagle Farm, and the morning after marched to the settlement for punishment. We were each given 100 lashes, and the weight of my irons was increased to 24 lbs. The next morning found me in the gaol gang, in which state of disgrace I continued about a month. Being as I have stated previously, a favourite for my working qualities, at the end of that time I was sent as a driver to a bullock team to cart some cedar for a vessel which Captain Logan was at that time getting built. I kept very quiet and continued to drive the team, until an act of villainy on the part of a fellow named Chaffey, brought myself and eight others into disgrace.
This fellow Chaffey was plotting to get his liberty, and as telling tales was a prevalent manner of scraping favour, he, with devilish plausibility, invented how I and eight others were going into the bush. There was no truth in his story. That did not matter; we were brought up, tried, and each was paid to the tune of 100 vile blows with the "cat-o'-nine tails,' which was equal to 900 lashes from a single thong. I make this remark in order that the severity of the floggings which I have to record may be better understood. We were all innocent of the alleged crime. One poor fellow, when smarting from the violence of the lash, gave vent to his innocence -
The Commandant immediately said, "I'll give you fifty more for doing something'" and he did according to his word.
Oh Lord! my back has been cut and chopped, until it was scarcely ever well. The fire used to flash from my eyes while I was taking the floggings, and it seemed as if the very hell of agony had fastened on me. A boiling sensation of pain, as if I was being scorched with a red hot iron was the sensation towards the close, and sometimes I thought I must have shouted for mercy; the devil of determined doggedness had taken possession, and I held my pains to myself, so that I was looked upon as "a brick" that "tanning" could not tame in the desire to be free.
The "gaol-gang" was my dislike. I didn't like the extra heavy irons, nor the way we were chained of a night all together. It would have given us a tough job to have cut that large chain, which encircled us all in our misery. I wish I could remember distinctly many circumstances of interest, but as I am growing old, and did not keep an account of ought save my trials for liberty, I can only speak of a few incidents which were of such a character as to fasten themselves on the memory of the most obtuse.
One day as I was at work with another man with a sand cart, a soldier behind us, when my mate, finding one of his leg-irons slipping onto his heel, put down his hand and stooped to lift it. The soldier, without a word of warning, plunged his bayonet into the poor wretch's back, saying as he did it, 'go on you b-." I kept on with my work; but turning my eyes, I saw my comrade down. Poor fellow, it was his death-stroke. They did say the bayonet entered his kidneys. At all events, he died in three days, and there was no more about it. This scene was enacted near to the Old Water-hole. I grew tired of life, and so did others. Working one day on the line of road which was then being constructed, there was a prisoner named Tom Allen, and a Scotch boy by his side. I call the last named a boy, as he was so young, though he had apparently grown up. I give the scene exactly as it occurred.
'I am tired of my life," said Tom Allen.
"So am I," answered the boy.
"I will kill you, if you like," responded Tom, "then they will hang me, and there will be an end to both of us."
"Do so," spoke the boy.
Tom raised the pick he was using, struck the boy on the head, from the effects of which blow he fell. Tom drew the pick from the head of the boy, placed his foot upon the head, and dealt another blow - the boy's life was gone. As Tom finished his bloody deed, he exclaimed, "So, we are now both dead men."
Tom Allen was taken to Sydney. After the formulas of the law had been observed, as much as they used to be in those days, he was hanged. He sought to lose his life, and they rewarded him in the way he wished.
A convict was engaged in hoeing. He rose upright, waited for a moment, then leaned upon the implement he had been working with, and seemed meditating. Perhaps he was thinking of some green spot in his existence, when the irons had not encircled his limbs, before crime had scorched his heart. I know, by myself, that there are some such moments in the flitting light of depravity, when good beckons to purity, and puts to flight a legion of evil desires.
"Go on with your work," halloed the overseer.
The convict remained fixed in his meditation.
"Go on with your work."
No response - no motion.
"Go on with your work."
The convict stood still and silent.
The overseer went towards him, struck him with a stick, a very heavy blow on the back of the head, the man fell; the blow had killed him. They wrapped him in soogee-bags, took him away to the hospital, and I don't think there was an inquiry about it. 9
I had in the meantime managed to get out of the gaol gang, but for some fault or other, found myself in it again. Nine of us were in together in a mess, and one dinner time we made up our minds to try to get out. With an old knife the rivets were cut; all was ready for action; the bars of the window were also cut and hope was high. The signal went around, we began our work, some had passed through the open space, and the others were waiting to follow, when the alarm was given. All were taken save one Jack Ellis, who eluded the search, passing up a drain, but he was discovered and hauled out the next day. The usual 100 were given to all who had been concerned in this futile attempt. To tell of the cruel blows would only be a repetition of what I have already narrated; oh what will the slave dare for liberty?
Gaol-gang again, more heavily ironed than before, with a regular runaway character - such was my lot, and I thought as well as I could, if it would not be better to "give up," than keep failing and receiving punishment. This train of reflection only lasted a short period, before "liberty" tempted me again to dare.
There was in the gang I was in at this time one Charley Boggs. Captain Cluney 10 was the Commandant - but no matter who commanded, we felt we were slaves. While engaged at work I muttered to myself, "I'll reach Sydney, if I live, so that I can get out of the country." Charley was spoken to by me on the subject, he entered into the plan with zest, and the next day we deserted, taking with us an axe, a little flour and some rice. We jogged along very comfortably, considering our short fare and the difficulties, until we reached Point Danger. I could not swim - there were no other means of crossing that I could imagine, so Charley swam across and left me. I tried to follow the best way I could, lost the axe and some other little trifles in the water, so was fain to content myself on the side where I fancied the greatest danger existed. Charley went on his way, leaving me to do the best I could. I thought it precious hard at the time, that he should desert his chum, and accused him, to myself, of not being a true fellow. Had I been able to swim as he did, and he not able to cross, I might have left my companion, for they were times in which no one was very particular, the bayonet and the lash seeming to goad on the forsaking of all to save one's self.
For three days was I on this side of the water, vainly trying to cross, and I had begun to think of dying, when a party of blacks made their appearance. I expected to be used roughly. I told them my story, and repeated what I had lost in the water. These hospitable blacks got my kettle, my trousers, and old knife and the axe from the water; gave all to me save the axe, which they kept, and took me to a place where I was able to cross with some contrivance which they had previously arranged for their own convenience. Once more on the way I steered again for the coast, where I fell in with two gins who * gave me some cockles and oysters, in the strength of which I pursued my journey. I began to feel the effects of travel and hunger, when near the Richmond. 11 About a mile from this river, "I fell in with a kangaroo," which I carried to a deserted camp, and some fire being found in a hollow log, I roasted my prize, and was soon forgetful of the troubles I had experienced and the dangers still before me.
The next morning I awoke refreshed, and gazed upon the Richmond. I had gathered experience from the delay at Point Danger, so set to work to make a raft. When I had completed my great operation, I launched the fragile construction upon the water, and not being sufficiently careful, the tide carried it away before I could commit myself to its tender keeping. "Don't give it up," I said, for I had a way of talking out to myself, for want, so long in my life, of having anybody else to talk to. I made another, was more successful in the launching, ventured on it, and after many narrow escapes from drowning, arrived safely on the opposite shore.
I travelled on, nothing to cheer me save liberty, until some time that day I hit upon Bogg's tracks. I began to be in luck, and followed them as sharply as if I had been a Red Indian on a war trail. I was worse. I was on the trail of liberty or death; 12 for I expected, if ever I was retaken, that the punishment would be strangulation with a hempen halter. The thought every now and then quickened my steps, until my wary sense told me not to quicken too much, or I should never reach the place I sought. For three days did I travel on, cheered by the tracks, till good fortune threw in my way nine young emues, 13 which I killed and carried with me, so that I might not die of hunger. At the close of the third day I was near the Clarence, 14 darkness had come on, and I, finding some deserted huts, began to prepare for my night's repose. I had no fire, and began to fear I should have to eat some of my emues uncooked, when, lying on the ground, a little distance from me, I saw a spark of light. I stood upright and looked, but was unable to see it in that position. Fancy was rife. I wondered what it could be! I resumed my old position, saw it, and crawling on my hands and knees towards the spot found, to my great joy, that it was a small coal of fire, a long way up a hollow log; which must have been burning for a long time.
I tore a piece of the old and dirty shirt I wore, and fixing it in the end of a long stick which I obtained, put it to the fire; and having waited some little time in endeavouring to get it to light, was at last successful, and began to make a fire. The crackling sticks began to give the fire power, and when the stream of light shot up, I heard a moaning noise. I said, half afraid, "Who's there?' There was no answer, but the moan again. "Halloa" - moan again. At last I shouted, "Is that you Charley?" A faint "yes," made my heart leap. I was no longer alone in the world. Calling out of the depths of past experience, though years had gone by since I heard the only voice of welcome for which I had a blissful response, and though the voice of him who gave the feeble "yes," was the voice of him who had left me to my fate at Point Danger, I felt for a time happy. The greater overshadows the less. Companions in distress can sympathise truly, and only humanity that has suffered even as he and I had done, can know how lightly I tripped to the hut wherein he was; in hopes of going along the "way of difficulty" together. My hopes and rejoicings nearly went down to zero when I learned his state.
Edited by Ian Duffield, University of Edinburgh. This narrative has been broken into 6 sections. You have just completed Chapter III. Continue with chapters: IV /V/ VI. Or, return to Chapter I or II. See also the introduction to Jack Bushman's narrative by Ian Duffield.
9 If the horrors so far recounted in this chapter seem exaggerated, the account by Hughes in The Fatal Shore, pp. 443-50, of Logan's régime suggests they are plausible enough. Evans & Thorpe, op. cit., also gives much gruesome illustration of the level of brutality at Moreton Bay. Reports of one convict agreeing to kill another, with the survivor certain to be executed for the crime, occur from other penal stations. For example in December 1835, at Port Arthur, Van Diemen's Land, a prisoner called Scuttleworth killed his work-mate, Reiley, with a pickaxe handle - see Ian Brand, Penal Peninsula; Port Arthur and its Outstations 1827-1898, (Regal Publications, Launceston, Tasmania, no date), p. 27.
10 James Oliphant Clunie (1795-1851) arrived at Moreton Bay in October 1830 and succeeded Logan as Commandant after the latter's death, remaining in command of the penal station till 1835. The Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol. 1, p. 233, excuses his severity on the grounds that after Logan's tyranny the convicts were near rebellion. Clunie's régime is represented by Hughes, The Fatal Shore, pp. 453-4 as one in which the economy diversified successfully and the convicts received better rations.
11 Racist term for an Aboriginal woman, widely used in Australian English.
12 River entering the Pacific about 150 km southwards of Brisbane, though considerably further for a man on foot following the coast.
13 'Liberty or Death' was, significantly, also the slogan of the June 1825 convict escapees at Port Macquarie in which Thomas brooks had participated. It was also used by the mainly Irish convict rebels at Castle Hill in 1804.
14 i.e. emus; an emu chick is quite large enough to provide a meal and of course much easier to catch than a full-grown emu.
This narrative has been broken into 6 sections. You have just completed Chapter III. Continue with chapters: IV /V/ VI. Or, return to Chapter I or II. See also the introduction to Jack Bushman's narrative by Ian Duffield.