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Memoranda by Convict Davis Servant to Mr Foster, Suprintt of Convicts, Norfolk Island - 1843 -
elating principally to Macquarie Harbour.1

Edited by Hamish Maxwell-Stewart

© all rights reserved

This narrative has been broken into 3 sections: I/II/III

Section I

Please note the main body of the text was written on the back and front of Commissariat order forms, however, some text is missing from the original copy. The section enclosed in {} is taken from the transcript of the original located on the same reel of film. Original spelling and punctuation has been adhered to throughout.

{In the year 1822 A penal Settlement was formed on the N.W. Coast of Van Diemans Land for men convicted a Second time in the Colony Macquarie Harbour is 37 miles long and from 5 to 9 Broad the settlement is upon an Island about two miles in circumference (and 25 miles from the Heads or entrance)2 one mile from it is small Island which is a perpendicular Rock fifty feet above the level of the sea about 40 yards Long and 8 Wide - a rude stairs cut in cliffs is the only Road to a Truly wretched Barracks Built with Boards and Shingles (the timbers quite Green) into which 79 men were often confined in to crowded a state as to scarcely able to lay down on their sides - to lay on their Backs was out of the Question

The Military Forces was one Lieut Commanding the Detachment the Commadant and 33 privates John Cuthbertson of the 48th Regt was the officer3 - appointed to form the Settlement - and I think the most inhuman Tyrant the world ever produced since the Reign of Nero - I have seen several Commandants on Norfolk Island but the worst was a feeling one compared to him Oppression and tyrany was his Motto he had neither justice nor Compassion for the naked starved and wretched - Humanity was a virtue he did not acknowledge a man taken before him was allowed no apeal he was in a manner tried before he was taken to the office he had a scale of punishments laid Down for every probable offence or crime -

The following is a true Copy Robing a House or Huts or the Kings Stores taking to the Bush or Striking an Overseer 100 Lashes and six Months in Irons4 - Breaking a Saw Axe Spade Oar or any other tool no matter how as he did not admit accidents he would say it was carelessness 50 lashes and 3 months in Irons5 - If any part of your Slops were stolen and the thief could not be found you would be sure to get 50 lashes and as irons invariably followed6 3 months in irons but, should the thief be detected he would receive the punishment instead of you if caught in suspicious place or position with a woman 50 Lashes - and three Months in Irons neglect of work 25 Insolence to Overseers 25 each - the two proceeding charges generally inseparable as the commandant would ask - if the charge was not as first stated against you if you had not been insolent as well as neglectfull of your work - it is Easy to imagine the reply

Generally - the Cats and the way they were made and used were the most Dreadfull things that can be thought of they had 9 tails or rather thongs each four feet Long - just 3 times the thickness of the Hobart Town cats consequently it took three pair of them to make one at this settlement - out of them they were made each tail had on it seven overhand knots and whiped some with wire and others with waxed ends7 - it was left to the Decision of the Commandant which should be used - the place of punishment was a low point almost levil with the sea - and just above high water mark was a planked Gangway 100 yards long - by the side of it in the centre stands the Triangles to which the man is tied with his side towards the platform on which the Commandant and Doctor walked so that they could see the mans face or Back alternately it was their custom to walk 100 yards between each lash - consequently those who received 100 lashes were tied up from one Hour to an Hour and Quarter - and the moment it was over unless it was in the Meal Hours or at nights he was immediately sent to work his Back like of Bullocks liver and most likely his shoes full of Blood and not permitted go to the Hospital until the next morning when his Back would be washed by the Doctors mate and a little Hogs lard spread on a bit of Tow8 - and off to work and it often happened that the same man would again be flogged the following Day for neglect of}work and in several instances the same man as been brought before the court 2 or 3 times a week until at last the Doctor as taken him in the Hospital where he as ended his days or kept it with a ruined constitution.9

Shortly after the formation of the settlement 5 men made their escape 2 of them Brothers of the name of Flanagan without provisions or any thing and on the following day they where persued by 3 soilders and 3 prisoners all armed well supplyd with provisions but strange to say they where never seen or heard of since the rout the men took was S.W. as if they intended to make Port Davy but therin was no boats [last?] and it was supposed that they all Perished in some of the altmost impeneratable scrub, with which that part of the Country abounds10 shortly after the above men left there was an other Party got ready in number 7 or 8 who considered that the former had failed through ignorance in Bush travelling but they proved quite if not more unortunate than the others they left the settlement with several more in a Whale Boat for the purpose of going to Kellys Basons (the place where they was employed falling Timber) distant 8 miles from the settlement but when half way over they sprung on the 2 soilders in the stern of the Boat and disarmed them and took command of the Boat and landed all but their own party and then proceeded to Coal head where their was a party sinking a Shaft to find coal being armed with 2 Musquets they took all the Miners Provisions and any thing that was likely to be useful to them they then placed themselves under the guidance of 2 of the Party named Pearce and Greenaway (late Master Mariner) and struck into the Low Lands and scrub where they wandered a boat all that Day and the next

all the provisions being gone they came to the horrid Determination to kill one of the party to eat 3 of the strongest then took on themselves to decide who the Victam should be a man was selected who had been a scourger in Hobart town a man was then appointed the Wretch that God may forgive him to do the deed taking up the axe he without the slightest notice struck the unfortunate man a blow on the Temple he then took his knife and stuck him in the neck as a Butcher would a sheep and caught his Blood in a tin dish of which he took a hearty drink they then cut some of the Body for their supper the Murderer claiming his Heart which caused a quarrel with another man after a number of blows the other gave in the murderer then cut out the Heart and broiled it on the fire with the greatest Indifference in the morning after a similar Breakfast the remainder was egally devided each man carring except the Butcher who carried the Axe and dish11 2 of the party, Cornelian and Marsh, however, struck at the Barbarous murder and expecting that it would shortly be their own fate resolved to return to the settlement and give themselves up to justice which they did living in about four pounds of human flesh in a bag they where both taken in Hospital but after taking any food no matter what it was immediately thrown up and they both died Marsh at the end of the 5 day and Cornelian on the 9 after their return having made a full confession of all that happened while they where away12 -

On the second day after the two left a second murder was committed which continued till only - Pearce and Greenway was left it then ceased for several days as they was both on the alert to see which could kill the other at last quite overcome with fatigue and sleep Pearce killd his last comrade and in an hour after fell in with a flock of sheep and 7 weeks had passed since they left the Settlement and the Brig had arrived in Hobart Town with the dreadful confessions of Cornelian and Marsh & Pearce was ultimately apprehended on arriving at an inhabitable part of the Colony joined a formidable band of Bh Rgs - then out - and give himself up with them on a proclamation issued by the Lt Gov but for want of evidence evidence of the [two illeg. words] a gain sent to Macquarie to react the horrid crime13 the 2 following cases selected out of Many as the most cruel and Tyranical will give the reader an idea of the cause (although it is to be feared that canot paliate the horrid and Dreadful Murder committed) they had to run away William Holliday I believe was the name of the man was in a weak sickly state and after going in the morning to hospital one day he was brought before the court for endeavouring to impose on Doctor found guilty and sentenced to 50 Lashes he was taken to the point to receive them he pleaded very hard to be forgiven on the score of illness but it was all to no purpose

he was tied up and punishment whent on admist the most Heart rendering screams and cries for Mercy but his appeals was made to men that never forgave a Lash - after 30 Lashes he never spoke when he had received 5 more, the supt of convicts returned submisively to observe that he thought the man had fainted the Doctor then stept of the gangway and found that he was quite dead how long he had been dead no one knew the murmers amongst the men say that he received 5 lashes after his Death but the affair ended without A question being Askd in fact I do not think it was ever known at head quarters afficially14 the next was James Crawford a seaman he was at work on the Island he was in a very sickly state his overseer a Sweed as great a brute as ever existed in the shape of a human being brought him to the Doctor who said that he was quite able to perform his share of work which was carrying lime from the warfe to the Commadants Garden the quantity they had to carry and the badness of the road made it very labourious work the result was to receive 100 lashes and 6 months in Irons for insolence to the Doctor and his overseer and neglect of work he was carried down to the point as he could or would not walk he was 1 hour and 25 minuets receiving his punishment which was I believe the longest time ever known there after it was over he fell down quite exhausted and gave the scourgers his days rations to carry him up to the Barracks where he laid until the next morning and was then carried to the Hospital where he remained 13 weeks but never properly recovered untill the day of his Death15 an other dreadful thing in the punishment there was from the extreme length of the cats after the blow the [appears to be a missing word] was dragged through the sand at the scourgers feet and every 5 lashes they where washed in salt water. 100 lashes may appear a trifle after the talk of their 300 on Norfolk but I do say that they man never was borne that could take 300 at Macquarie in the first place the rations was 1lb of flour and 1lb of raw salt beef (which was often eaten almost as it comes from the stores so that numbers of the men where almost dieing of the Scurvy)16 2d the exceedingly heavy cats and the way that they where made and the length of time a man was tied up.

On New years day 1822 a Report was made to the Commandant by the Supt of Convicts that the Military had been seen near the quarters of the Women in the Hospital,17 without any further enquiry he ordered a whale boat to be mand into which was put 7 days Flour and Beef for 5 women 5 blankets 1 iron pot 1 axe to cut fire wood 2 shovles 2 rakes some Canvas Bags 1 Musket and 20 rounds of ball cartridge to protect themselves should the Natives attack them the Coxswain was then ordered to take the 5 women into the Boat and proceed to the Long Beach which was 10 Miles outside the Heads and there leave them for 1 week at the end of which he told them he should send the large launch a 15 ton boat and if they had not a load of oyster shells ready they was to be left for a week longer but the unfortunate beings completed the task and contrary to every-ones expectations returned safe

Hamish Maxwell-Stewart, University of Tasmania, Australia. The Davis narrative has been broken into 3 sections. You have just completed Section I. Continue with sections: II/III. See also the introduction to this narrative and a discussion about the identity of Convict Davis by Hamish Maxwell-Stewart.


1 The original manuscript is located in the Dixson Library, State Library of NSW, Sydney, DLMS Q168.

2 These distances are slightly exaggerated. Macquarie Harbour is about 22 miles long and 5 miles wide. Sarah or Settlement Island is about 17 miles from the Heads.

3 Lieutenant John Cuthbertson 48th Regiment joined the army in 1804. Cuthbertson was appointed magistrate and first Commandant at Macquarie Harbour penal station on 8 December 1821, four days before the cutting out party departed Hobart to found the new settlement. The Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol. 1, 1788-1850, A-H, p.273.

4 Reference to the colonial conduct records of prisoners who were at Macquarie Harbour in the early 1820s reveals that Davis is not exaggerating. Thus (Police No 91) William Brown, a Seaman, was charged at Macquarie Harbour on 9 May 1822 with Suspicion of robbing HM stores & having property in his possession knowing the same to have been stolen there in and sentenced to receive 100 lashes and serve 6 months in irons. AOT Con 31

5 Again examples of such punishments can be found in the offence records for convicts who served time at Macquarie Harbour in the early 1820s. Thus (78) William Earl, an indoor servant who had been sent to Macquarie Harbour for opening their Masters desk with a false key & taking from thence 2 10s/-, was charged on the 9 December 1822 with Breaking a saw wilfully or through neglect and sentenced to 50 lashes. AOT Con 31 and Hobart Town Gazette, 7 September 1822.

6 (215) Alexander McCurdy was awarded 50 lashes on 4 November 1822 for Losing by neglect or making away with his shirt. AOT Con 31.

7 Davis description of the cat-of-nine tails used at Macquarie Harbour accords with that provided by Surgeon Barnes in his evidence to the Molesworth Committee. Barnes reported that the cat in regular use in the colony was known as a single cat and was the same as that employed in the army and navy. The one used at Macquarie Harbour was of a design known as the thiefs cat each tail being composed of a double twist of whip cord, and each tail containing nine knots; it was a very formidable instrument indeed. British Parliamentary Papers XII (1837-38) John Barnes, Esq. Minutes of Evidence 12 Feb 1838, p.38

8 Coarse flax prepared for spinning or a loose bunch of fibres.

9 (113) Patrick Doherty, a servant from Dublin who had been sentenced to receive 200 lashes and serve the rest of his sentence (which was transportation for life) at Macquarie Harbour for shooting at the settler Thomas Roadknight, was sentenced to 25 lashes on 11 November 1822 for Contempt & insolence to his Overseer. On the same day he was sentenced to a further 25 lashes for neglect of duty and three days later a further 25 again for neglect of duty, AOT Con 31.

10 X X {written over dotted underlined text}.

11 The two brothers were Phillip and Henry Flannagan who were convicted by a magistrates bench on 17 Nov. 1821 of Stealing 2 canvas bags the property of the Crown also plotting & contriving to escape from the Colony. They were sentenced to receive 50 lashes & be transported to such part of the Territory as His Honor the Lt Gov may deem proper for the remainder of his original term of transportation (AOT, Con 31). The brothers absconded on the 10 March 1822 in company with Patrick Cheevors, Patrick Hickey, Michael McKinion, John Matin and Edward O Hara. The three convicts sent in pursuit were George Groves, William Smith and John Walker. (Mitchell Library - B706 - An Alphabetical Return of Prisoners who have absconded from Macquarie Harbour, VDL since the foundation of that Settlement on the 3rd Jan 1822 to the 20th June 1832; & of whose fate no official information is known at Macquarie Harbour).

12 Most of the details here match the Government record except that Davis names (227) Robert Greenhill as Greenaway. The others absconders were Alexander Pearce, (286) Thomas Bodenham (178) Alexander Dalton (233) John Mather (1) Mathew Travers. They all absconded on 20 September 1822.

13 There is considerable confusion as to the names of the two men who returned to die in the hospital. According to the Wesleyan Burial register they were Edward Brown who died on 15 October and William Kennelly who died on 19 October. It is interesting that Davis account of the number of days that elapsed between these two mens deaths tallys with the Wesleyan account.

14 Surgeon John Barnes later supported this version of events in his description of the story to the 1837 Molesworth Committee. Pearce was returned to the Settlement as there was no proof against him save his own confession. British Parliamentary Papers XII (1837-38) John Barnes, Esq. Minutes of Evidence 12 Feb 1838, p.40.

15 X X X {written over dotted underlined text followed by the letter}G.

16 Again there is a discrepancy over names. According to the Wesleyan burial register, a convict named John Ollery died in hospital on 2 May 1822. Ollery had been sentenced to receive 25 strokes on 27 April (five days before his death) for Disobedience of orders and refusing to work. Significantly the punishment was stopped after just ten strokes had been administered on the advice of the Assistant Surgeon who was of the opinion that Ollery could not bear the remainder. AOT Con 31

17 ////// / {marked above the word scourgers}


The Davis narrative has been broken into 3 sections. You have just completed Section I. Continue with sections: II/III. See also the introduction to this narrative and a discussion about the identity of Convict Davis by Hamish Maxwell-Stewart.


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