"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.
Retaken - The Punishment - Other Adventures - Liberty
(Moreton Bay Courier, Vol. XIII, No. 745, Saturday 23 April 1859)
Guided by the sound I went to the old hut and asked, "are you there, Charley?'
"Oh dear! I shall die," was the response.
The gleam from the fire gave me light. I saw Charley was care-worn and beaten. His breathing was short and difficult. I stripped the covering from one of the young emues, and gave him some of the tit-bits after I had cooked them in the best manner I could for a sick man with the means at my disposal. I did not remember Point Danger any longer. He was sick - had run the same risks as myself if taken, and I nourished him, in my rough way, as if he had been a brother.
Day by day I tended him. I fetched shell fish from the Clarence, made the hut more comfortable, bathed him with warm water in the parts where he complained of pain, and when his head was "burning hot," I applied wet rags. For three days it was a hard case. A good constitution helped him considerably; and at the end of nine days, he proposed that we should go gently on our way.
Our journey, slowly as we went, came to an end. It would only weary to tell how I helped him in crossing creeks, and how I fetched him food. Suffice it to say we reached Port Macquarie, and as Boggs was still weak, and I knew some people there I thought I could trust, I proposed to seek a shelter, where I supposed the greeting would be "hail fellows, well met." So we turned into a bark hut and partook of comparative comforts. We told the history of our journey and our sufferings, and were assured of sympathy by the choice epithets bestowed on us by those who had authority over the prisoners. In this fancied security we reposed for a day and a night, when we were taken into custody by the superintendents and the military - our friends had sold us - to gain favour with the officials.
Charley Boggs and I were then taken to Sydney without being further foot-sore; and the finish was, he was sent to Norfolk Island, I was returned to Moreton Bay. What became of Charley further I don't know. I was easy in my mind as to my part in the affair; and I do think there is more satisfaction in returning good for evil than in seeking revenge.
I was brought back, and I fully expected I should have been "put out of the way," to save any further trouble on my account. The authorities were more merciful than my thoughts. I was sentenced to receive 150 lashes, which blessing I took with considerable disadvantage to myself. My poor lacerated bleeding back! My heavy heart - as if dogs were gnawing at it; the dull sensation in my body as the flogging proceeded, are all remembered; and I look back with surprise on the punishment inflicted and the stoical manner of behaviour I maintained.
I thought I had enough to last a lifetime. In this calculation I knew not my own mind, for no sooner was my back well, and as early as a good opportunity offered, than I was off again. I shall not stop to tell how a friend in Sydney found means to forward information that he would aid my escape, if I could but reach there. Suffice it to say, I started by myself, was seven weeks going down, carried my fire stick all the way, occasionally camped with the blacks, and made it a rule to avoid the dwellings of the whites; as badly as if every whitefellow was a Thug that would throttle me if only he saw me. 15
I reached Sydney! Yes - the goal of my wishes in Moreton Bay was accomplished. I went to my friend, who had been in as bad a state as myself at one time, and he stowed me away. I was in Sydney three months. I was there at hide and seek until I began to despise danger. I fancied I had been too much afraid, and as I expected to leave shortly in a vessel, for which partial arrangements had been made, I began too early to think I was free, and to take inexcusable liberties for a person in my condition. I was seen by somebody who recognised my weather-beaten face, and a few days previous to the time I was to have "left the country," I was apprehended, and ordered to be sent back.
I expected they would kill me "out-right" this time. I was in no hurry to reach the old spot. I was brought back, and when the incidents were narrated, they had mercy, for they only gave me one hundred lashes. That fiendish "cat" did duty once more, and my poor backed [sic ] was bared to the bones. I was looked upon in the settlement as a plucky fellow that could not be kept from running away; but this was the height of my offending in a state of society where bad language and immorality were far from uncommon.
I had seen Sydney, was nearly out of the country, and the joy I had felt at the prospect I could not forget. The back was well - I had come out again from the gaol-gang, and was quietly working, taking the hard fare and toil of the convict as my fate. Did I not think of her of whom I have spoken? I did - and though she was no more for me, for I had become too bad for her, yet the word "home," though I had none, spurred those old ideas for freedom which would at times come galloping with impetuosity, bearing me away to the spots of earth endeared by memory - since these were all that time had left. Nine months passed away, and once more I dared. I cut my irons, seven pairs I served thus in all, and starting again, I reached Point Danger, where I was unfortunate enough to fall in with soldiers, who were out searching after other runaways, whom they did not find - but they found poor I. They took me back, and now I shall have to relate the last sad scene of the runaway stories, in the punishment I received. I was sentenced to receive 300 lashes - 100 each morning or three successive mornings, just by the way of giving me an appetite for my dinner.
The first hundred I took very comfortably considering what was to come afterwards. The second hundred made me like a madman, only I did not shriek. The third morning they tied me up. My back and sides, my every part, were gnawn by excruciating agony, the bones bein [sic ] bared, and the old wounds of the previous mornings gaping ghastly, and giving forth a bloody gore. They flogged on - fifty had been counted - my tongue was swollen, and I gnawed a leaden button with such symptons of madness in my soul, though the sharp sensation of wringing pain had ceased, that if I had not had some hard substance in my mouth I should have bitten my tongue in twain. Seventy were counted. I felt giddy, and closed my eyes. Still they flogged on. I did not hear the count further until eighty-five was given, then I heard the word "cast him off," and the voice of him who had said thus greeted me with "you b- you will not holloa,' and he spit on the ground savagely.
"Have I had my punishment sir?"
"No - you are fifteen short."
"Then please give them to me now. I don't want them hanging over my head. I shall be sure to get them at some time."
'Take him away," said the same voice.
They took me to the hospital, dressed my wounds, and as I began to recover, all idea of escape seemed to go out of my mind. I did give it up. I own I was beaten; and if I had not been "a tough customer" I could not have kept up the desire and the attempts so long. Half the resolution to be honest in the earlier part of my life would have made me respected; and though it would not have reversed the decree which took me from my beloved, it would have smoothed the path of life and made me other than I am now.
I worked on for three years; then a good Commandant came to the district, who was reported to be kind to the men; as from the date of his command flogging was of far less occurrence. I made up my mind to apply to him, which I did, one of the convict officers being present, and what took place I will relate.
"Well, my man," said Captain Fines, 16 "what do you want?"
"Please sir, I want these irons taken off."
"What character does this man bear?" 17
"He is a good man for work, but he is always running into the bush."
"Is there anything else against him?"
"No, he is one of the best men to work in the settlement."
"Then, take off his irons instantly," said Captain Fines; "if you were a bird shut up in a cage would you not try to get out?"
God bless Captain Fines. I walked from his presence without the everlasting clanking of the irons, which had not only galled my legs, but planted wormwood in my soul. How grateful I felt when he told me to come next monthly-day, and he would see me. I worked on that month in good heart - was determined to run away no more; though even then the old desire would sometimes rise up to haunt my resolutions. I did go you may be sure as requested, and was pleased to find I was to be put on my trial for a ticket-of-leave. The Captain asked how long I had suffered for my offence, and when I told him the number of years he said, "you ought to have had your ticket-of-leave long ago."
The ticket-of-leave was granted. I began to do a little on my own account, and soon found how comparatively easy it would be for me to live in comfort. Then I had a longing that some of my brothers and sisters should come to a land where they would get rewarded for labor. I made enquiries in the best way I could, heard once more only of a brother who was poor, but he had grown too old to come; and thus all family life expired. I could have saved money myself, had I been so determined, but the love of grog, and the desire to be altogether a free man strangely commingled. I took care not to commit myself, and at the end of five years I was given my freedom, with liberty to go to any part of the world except the British Isles.
The final freedom, when it came, made me take a new view of life; though I must confess, I only felt freedom in the manner I shall mention. Do what you like - go where you please, unless to "home," only to commit no offence, and you are free. When I thought the matter over, I did think it hard that I, who had borne the punishment for twenty-seven years before I was free, and that only five years of that time I had been permitted to have a restricted mastership over myself, should be thus doomed. I said, in bitterness, "they might have let me go and see the old place once more." If they had done so, I believe my first journey would have been to the churchyard, to try to find a grave where all I had known of true life on earth was laid. I reasoned myself into a better state of mind. I fancied myself poor at home, with old age coming upon me, and all that I had known had gone. There would be a race of strangers, and if, perchance, one lingering old branch should be left, if I was recognized, the crimes for which I had suffered would be whispered and revived, and so far as disgrace was concerned, my life's tortures would have been in vain. If the Omnipotent is not more merciful in forgetting transgressions than man, how hardly all transgressors will fare.
Edited by Ian Duffield, University of Edinburgh. This narrative has been broken into 6 sections. You have just completed Chapter IV. Continue with chapters: V/ VI. Or, return to Chapter I , II or III. See also the introduction to Jack Bushman's narrative by Ian Duffield.
15 New South Wales river entering the Pacific about 65 km south of the mouth of the Richmond. This indicates a rate of progress of well over 20 km a day as the actual route would not have been on a direct bearing.
16 Thug: a reference to the alleged Thuggee criminal secret societies in India whose members were supposed to strangle those they robbed as sacrifices to the goddess Kali. It is now doubted if any such organisations existed, but powerful orientalist representations of the alleged cult were widely produced, read and credited from the 1830s on and still find strong echoes in the late twentieth century, e.g. in the films Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and The Deceivers. For an excellent modern analysis of the origins of the invention of Thuggee by the British, see R. Singha, '"Providential Circumstances": the Thuggee Campaign of the 1830s and Legal Innovation', Modern Asian Studies, 27, 1, (1993), pp. 83-146. The use of the word in a text published in Queensland in 1859 shows how successfully orientalist representations spread to remote corners of the British Empire.
17 Captain Foster Fyans (1790-1870) appointed Commandant of Moreton Bay 1835. The Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol. 1, p. 423, supports this portrayal of him as a humane man. However, Hughes, The Fatal Shore, pp. 454, 470-72 & 474-77 represents him as a sadistic man at both Moreton Bay and earlier on Norfolk Island. In this instance the misspelling of Fyans' name in the text is very close phonetically to the correct form.
This narrative has been broken into 6 sections. You have just completed Chapter IV. Continue with chapters: V/ VI. Or, return to Chapter I , II or III. See also the introduction to Jack Bushman's narrative by Ian Duffield.