THE EXILE'S RETURN: NARRATIVE OF SAMUEL SNOW WHO WAS BANISHED TO VAN DIEMAN'S LAND, FOR PARTICIPATING IN THE PATRIOT WAR IN UPPER CANADA IN 1838
published in CLEVELAND, 1846
Edited by Cassandra Pybus
© all rights reserved
This narrative has been broken into 3 sections: I/II/III
In briefly narrating some of the events which have transpired during the last eight years of my life, I shall not enter into a history of the causes of the disturbances that occurred on our northern frontier, and in the Canadian provinces, a few years ago, for that has already been the task of abler historians;1 and shall merely remark, that I entered the Patriot service with the best of motives, only wishing that our Canadian neighbours might, in the end, enjoy the same civil, religious, and political freedom, with which the citizens of the United States were blest 2
We remained prisoners at Kingston till September, 1839, when a company of eighty-two of us were sent to Quebec, and put on board the English ship Buffalo,3 Captain Wood, and on the 28th of that month, weighed anchor, and set sail down the St. Lawrence without knowing the place of our destination.4 When we went on board the ship, we found here fifty-eight French prisoners from Lower Canada, placed here for the same offence, which we had committed, and like ourselves bound to parts unknown.5 This increased our Patriot force to one hundred and forty, a number sufficient to have done a good business in a good cause, under the auspicious circumstances, had the "area of our freedom" been extended, instead of abridged. These French prisoners informed us, that they had undergone a sham examination before a court martial, and like the rest of us, had received no sentence, which left us in the dark as to the enormity of our crimes, and the penalty which we were doomed to suffer.
They being arrested in their own country, amongst their relatives and friends, were permitted to bring aboard their trunks, chests, clothing and money with them, which made their condition tolerable in comparison with ours, who were deprived of all these necessaries.
We were now fast leaving the shores of Canada, without a single wish to remain longer under the tyrannical government of Sir George Arthur; but when the thought of father, mother, wife and children, together with "the land of the free and the home of the brave," came over us, our feelings could not be easily suppressed. Our fate was hid in the dark future, and even hope was little inclined to flatter us, that we should ever return to our native land. Truly we could now say to our country,
We part with thee,
As wretches that are doubtful of hereafter
Part with their lives, unwilling, loath and fearful,
And trembling at futurity.
In a few days we passed out of the St. Lawrence into the broad Atlantic, and soon found we were going south, which convinced us that we were not bound to England. Some of our party suffered much during the first few weeks of our voyage, from sea-sickness. But one of our number died at sea; Asa Priest was relieved of future sufferings by death, a few weeks after leaving Quebec, and was thrown overboard.6
During the voyage we were kept upon the lower deck, with the exception of being allowed once a day to go above for a short time for exercise. This indulgence was not allowed to all at the same time. Generally four messes, of twelve men each, were ordered up at a time. After we had traversed the length of the deck a few times, looked out upon the broad ocean, and inhaled a few doses of fresh air, we were again remanded below, and others who were awaiting the privilege, took our places. Our rations aboard the Buffalo were similar to our fare at Toronto"rather small and not many of them." If I rightly remember, the orders given to the commissary in the distribution of our fodder was, FOUR UPON TWO, that is, four of us OUGHT to have what two of the marines DID have; but instead of these directions being strictly adhered to, I am sure that on many occasions, a whole BRIGADE UPON ONE, would have been nearer to the fact. Not that the gift of an English marine is better than ours, in discussing the important subject of PORK AND BEANS, but at this time their privileges were more exclusive.
Thus time wore slowly away, as we week after week were making to some unknown port, and at times could almost rejoice at our ignorance. We had no irons upon us on ship board, Captain Wood being satisfied, at the time of our first introduction to him at Quebec, that we were not very bad men, and the only restraint laid upon us on our outward passage was that of MORAL SUASION, enforced at the POINT OF THE BAYONET.
One day while we were off the American coast, two of our party were conversing together, and were overheard to say, "How easily this ship might be taken by us, if we were all agreed, and that too without killing a man. We could then run into some of the United States ports, as we have an old navigator among our number, or we could land on some rock, in preference to being here."
This conversation was overheard by a man, who straightaway informed the Captain, that a party was being organized on board to take the ship. For this information to the Captain, this person expected to be liberated and rewarded; but instead of it, he was hated by those he intended to betray, and despised by the whole ship's crew, for his story proved to be false.7 We were, however, all ordered to the middle deck by the officers, and the hatches closed upon us immediately; diligent search was made for weapons of destruction, but none being found, and no signs of mutiny appearing, we were again liberated, and our informer severely reprimanded. But in order to intimidate us, the sentries in the hatches were more severe towards the prisoners, keeping them at a greater distance by flourishing their swords, and for a while every sailor and marine kept their arms of defence about them.
One day the pistol of one of the sentries accidentally went off as he was sitting on his post by the hatchway below, and the ball passed between Lysander Curtis and Robert Marsh, who were seated by me on a bench conversing together, but no one was hurt. In a moment the officers were all below to see what had happened, supposing that the sentry must have had occasion to shoot a man, but in this they were happily disappointed.
The first and only port we stopped at during the voyage was Rio Janerio, in South America. The time of our being there I have forgotten, but recollect they were making a great show and rumpus in celebrating the birth-day of the Emperor of Brazil.There seemed to be a good harbor here, and the view we had of the town, from where we were at anchor, was delightful. A respectable fleet of shipping was lying there; every civilized nation seemed to be represented there by their flag, and among them all, none showed to better advantage than the stars and stripes of our own beloved country. We wrote letters home from here, and sent them ashore to be forwarded; mine was never received by my family. Those of the prisoners who had money, sent up to the town and bought oranges, lemons, bananas, pineapples, &c. A British Admiral came on board our ship, inquired as to the health of the prisoners, and said we should have vegetables and fresh provisions while we remained. We lay at Rio Janeiro three days, took on water and provisions, and then proceeded again to our unknown haven.
We suffered much from heat and thirst while we were sailing between the tropics, and the water on board getting short, we were put on an allowance of one and a half pints per day. After doubling the Cape of Good Hope, and entering the Indian Ocean, our convictions were strong that we were bound for Van Dieman's Land, and soon after, our suspicions were confirmed by the sentries telling us that that would be the end of our voyage.
On the 10th of February, 1840, after a voyage of four and a half months from Quebec, we came in sight of the Island, but the wind blowing strong from the shore, we could not enter the mouth of the river till the 12th, when we sailed up the Derwent thirty miles, and cast anchor in Hobart Town Bay. This bay we found to be a calm and safe place for ships to ride. We knew it was know mid-winter in the United States, and it appeared a little singular to see the sun to the north of us, and the people harvesting grain on the banks of the Derwent.
On the 13th, we were visited, on board the Buffalo, by Mr. Gunn, the Chief Police Magistrate,8 who registered all of our names, occupations, and former places of residence; on the 14th, we were sent on shore to a place called Sandy Bay, about three-fourths of a mile from Hobart Town.9
Thus we finally found ourselves again on terra firma, on the celebrated as well as notorious Van Dieman's Island; situated as I should think, without consulting geographers, on the very south-eastern outskirts of habitable creation.
This island was discovered by a Dutch navigator, in 1641, and was named Van Dieman's Land in honor of Anthony Van Dieman, Governor of Dutch East India. Its discoverer described this island in so graphic and singular a manner, that future navigators were afraid to pay it a visitation for many years, and little was known of it till Capt. Cook sailed around it during the last century. A spot of earth, "accursed in the sight of the mariner, when the winds roared and raged; where waves foamed and lashed and where DUNDER AND BLIXUM growled and flashed incessantlya land of storm, fire and tempesta coast rife with death, horror and shipwreck," would not be likely to hold out many inducements to those who could find a home elsewhere. In 1804, the penal colony of Botany Bay made choice of it as "a station for the condign punishment of their doubly convicted felons."10
We are told that Rome owed its greatness to the asylum it first offered to fugitives, vagabonds, outlaws, and culprits of all other countries. These, at Rome, became lawful citizens; and we are sure, that at no time, could Rome show a more desperate crowd of ruffians, than has constituted the convict population of Van Dieman's Land, since its settlement by the English. Four hundred convicts were sent from Sidney, or Botany Bay, in 1804, under Col. Collins and fifty marines, who landed on the spot now occupied by Hobart Town, and commenced the first settlement on the Island.11
For two or three years, this company was busy in building a jail, a tavern, a soldier's barracks, and a government house; and to this day, these are the most important public institutions on the island, in comparison with which, churches and seminaries of learning, are NON-ESSENTIALS, in perpetuating the supremacy of British rule.
Upon our arrival here, Sir John Franklin was Lieutenant Governor of the Island; he was a very old man, and is known the world over, as being a noted English navigator. He had been employed by the English government in several exploring expeditions, and voyages of discovery. His imbecillity, "that last infirmity of noble minds," now gave opportunity to the designing members of his cabinet, to govern the affairs of the colony in a manner which suited their caprice. Sir John's "illustrious predecessor" in office, was Sir George Arthur, who was transferred from Van Dieman's Land to the Governor-Generalship of Canada. He was the tyrant that signed the death warrants of Van Shultz, Abbey, Woodruff and others, before I left America. He had served in the capacity of Governor of Van Dieman's island, thirteen years; and it is the opinion of all, who were acquainted with his administration here, that Pharaoh of Egypt established a more moderate system of police, and governed the children of Israel with greater lenity, than was manifested by this scourge to the human race, towards his subjects, while clothed with brief, but arbitrary authority. A little may be learned of his cruelty and despotism, where the records of the colony affirm, that during his governorship of thirteen years, he signed FIFTEEN HUNDRED AND EIGHT death warrants, and only EIGHT of these condemned persons were saved from the gallows, and these were sentenced to toil in irons the remainder of their days, a fate worse than death itself, so that his very acts of royal clemency were but the most aggravated specimens of his cruelty.12 Many of the citizens could not tell what were the crimes of these victims, for which they were executed; these were secrets with the Governor and his officers.
The gallows on which these fifteen hundred culprits were hung, was erected in sight of Arthur's own dwelling, and the hangman generally done up his business early in the morning; and it was no uncommon sight for the citizens of Hobart Town to see a dozen convicts suspended at once, and their dead bodies left dangling the whole day, a spectacle for every eye. His Excellency seemed better to relish a good English breakfast of "beef and porter," after satiating his vision in the morning, by such horrid sights.
Of the six thousand natives who used to live upon this island, the most of them were hunted down and exterminated during his residence there; only about eighty now remain of the whole number, and they are kept as prisoners on a small island in the vicinity. When Sir George was recalled and sent to Canada, his loyal subjects unanimously manifested their AFFECTION by kindling bonfires, firing cannon and guns, and by various other significant demonstrations. On his departure, a delegation was sent to read him an address, expressive of the unbounded gratitude and pleasure of the citizens, at the termination of his lengthened mal-administration, and the festivity attendant upon this event continued ten successive days and nights. The poor Canadians had occasion to say to their Van Dieman's Land brethren soon after, "though that was sport to you, it was death to us." We believe this modern personification of Dionysius, the tyrant, was transferred from the Governor-Generalship of Canada to Bombay, in the East Indies; if so, another of the British dependencies can, ere this, add its testimony of his unmollified method of administering governmental affairs.
I will now recur to our landing upon the island. At Sandy Bay we were divested of our thread-bare garments, and enrobed in nice suits of domestic manufacture, got up after the latest improved convict fashion. I should have mentioned that the French prisoners from Lower Canada, were not sent ashore at Van Dieman's Land, but were sent to serve out their probationship at Sidney, in New South Wales.13 In the afternoon of the day we landed, Governor Franklin paid us a visit in company with some of his officers. Capt. Wood, of the Buffalo, and Dr. Frazier, our surgeon, were present. The Governor made inquiry of our commander concerning our behaviorif we had caused him any trouble during our passage; to which the captain replied, not in the least instance. Dr. Frazier also gave the Governor a certificate of our unqualified good conduct.14
There were four prisoners sent from Canada for some offences, for which they had been tried by the civil authorites, and sentenced, some for a term of years, and some for life. These sentences were now again read to them.15 Sir John informed us, that we were sent out to the colony, under circumstances without a precedent; that he was not certain what was the pleasure of the home government of disposing of us, and should immediately write to Lord John Russell for instructions; and until he should hear from her Majesty's Secretary on the subject, we must work on the roads.16 He recommended to us to hold no conversation with the old prisoners, as they were a desperate and hardened class of individuals, and that the term of our servitude would be graduated by our good or bad behaviour.
Edited by Cassandra Pybus, International Centre for Convict Studies, Tasmania, Australia. The Snow narrative has been broken into 3 sections. You have just completed Section I. Continue with sections: II/III. See also the introduction to Snow's narrative by Cassandra Pybus.
1Snow is referring to Americans who invaded Canada in a series of raids at Short Hills, St Clair, Windsor and Prescott during 1838, following the abortive Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837. These men saw themselves as courageous political activists impelled by moral duty to liberate their borderland neighbours. The Upper Canadian Rebellion failed only because imperial government had sapped the moral will of the Canadians, they believed. As they read the situation, their intervention was necessary to sunder the chains which bound the hapless Canadians vassals of the British throne. Once the spark was lit by magnanimous republican neighbours, Canadians would rise against their imperial overlords just as the American had done in their glorious revolution. So they thought. Of course that is not what happened. Most were arrested and tried for piratanical invasion under a special act known as the Lawless Agressors Act.
2Like the present day militia movement, the Patriots congregated with the like-minded in clandestine militarised organisations which mushroomed along the border in 1838. The largest and most significant of these were the Hunter Lodges, hierarchical and highly ritualised quasi-military units whose members would communicate in rudimentary code which had its origins in the language of hunting. On initiation the Patriot Hunters took an oath: to promote republican institutions throughout the worldto cherish them, to defend them and especially to devote myself to the propagation, protection and defence of these institutions in North America
The membership of the Hunter Lodges was said to be as high as 100,000, although official US and Canadian reports put the number of members somewhere between 25,000 and 40,000 at the height of their activity in 1838, when the Patriots planned to spark an uprising in Canada, scheduled for July 4, 1839, in the fervent and foolish belief that tens of thousands of their oppressed neighbours would rally to their side. The code for the revolutionary enterprise was the hunt in the great north woods.
3.Just over two hundred and seventy Patriots were imprisoned on charges of invasion or treason. Of these, eighteen were executed, while most of the others found guilty were condemned to death. Concerns from the Colonial Office prompted Governor Arthur to override a Executive Council bent on exacting the strongest possible punishment and insist that there be no more executions. At various times between December 1838 and May 1839, sixty-four of the Patriots received conditional pardons and were deported to the US. Arthur intended to reserve about a quarter of the Patriots for transportation, as a stern warning to any future Patriots, while showing clemency to the rest. As the British Ambassador to Washington pointed out in a confidential letter: The penalty of transportation is regarded with extreme terror by the Americans. So when the conditional pardon which saved Snow and his companions from the gallows did eventuate it was not the banishment to the US as they had been led to expect, but a fate worse that death itself: condemned to toil as slaves in exile at the end of the earth.
In all, ninety-two Patriot exiles were sentenced to transportation to VDL. An earlier group of fourteen from the Short Hills Raid had been sent to England where radical reformers took out writs of Habeas corpus on their behalf. Eventually all but one of these Patriots were transported to VDL. Some of these were Upper Canadians or British by birth, but almost ninety percent of those transported were citizens of the United States.
4 One of the American transportees, Robert Marsh, was adamant that in being transported they were being treated dealt with illegally. While it is commonplace for convicts to proclaim the illegality of their treatment, in this instance the American political prisoners had a compelling argument. During 1839 eighteen of thirty-one political prisoners sent for transportation had been freed on legal technicalities in England and in Bermuda. Examination of the documentation around the voyage of the Buffalo reveals this highly dubious manoeuvre was almost certainly illegal and undertaken by the Colonial Office in concert with the Admiralty, without the intervention of the Superintendent of Convicts in the Home Office. As such it was designed to short-circuit legal challenges from radical reformers in England which would have seen these men set at liberty.
5 French Canadians convicted by hasty court martials for their part in the rebellion within Lower Canada.
6 Asa Priest was an American in his forties married with children. The Patriot narratives all suggest that he died of a broken heart.
7 Several of the Patriot narratives mention this incident and it is clear that no mutiny was every seriously considered.
8 Lieutenant William Gunn formerly of the Bourbon Regiment arrived in VDL in 1822 and was appointed Superintendent of Convicts in 1826, a position which he held until the cessation of transportation. Australian Dictionary of Biography Vol.1 1788-1850, A-H, pp.493-4.
9 When the men from the Buffalo arrived they found four others at Sandy Bay who had been transported via the hulks in England. Another seven, also transported via the hulks in England, had arrived before the probation system was put in place. One had died, six were working on assignment.
10 Although it is often asserted that early European colony in Van Diemens Land was used as a dumping ground for the refuse of Botany Bay there is little evidence to support this. See M. Fels, Culture Contact in the County of Buckingham ***
11 Colonel David Collins was an officer in the marines who had sailed with the First Fleet. He was appointed deputy judge advocate of the new colony just before departure. He returned to London in 1797 and in 1802 was chosen to command an expedition to form a new settlement in the Bass Strait. He sailed in April 1803 with a detachment of Marines and convicts, not from Sydney as claimed by Snow, but from the British Isles. His orders were to establish a colony in Port Phillip Bay but this attempt was scuttled when the party failed to locate sufficient quantities of water and timber. Collins departed for VDL reaching the Derwent on 16 February 1804. Australian Dictionary of Biography Vol.1 1788-1850, A-H, pp.236-9.
12 Arthur was Lieutenant Governor of VDL from 1824-36. While this claim appears exaggerated Arthur did indeed make heavy use of the gallows during his period of. In the years 1824-1834 of 123 apprehended bushrangers nearly 70 percent were executed. In the following decade this figure dropped to just 12 percent.
13 The warrants for the prisoners from Lower Canada made out by the colonial governor, specified they were to be sent to NSW despite a Home Office decision to send no more convicts to that colony.
14The documentation from the Buffalo has proved to be very elusive. There does not seem to be any of the documentation that would normally accompany a convict ship, such as an indent. It is not clear whether the surgeon on board had been delegated the powers of the controller of convicts. the warrants were written out by the governor of Upper Canada, rather than the Home Office, through the office of Mr Capper, Controller of Convicts, which was in direct contravention of a HM directive that all transported convicts be dispersed to the penal settlements from the hulk through the office of Mr Capper. It was also the case that the governor of a colony did not have the power to restrain prisoners beyond his colonial borders.
15 Three were sentenced for murder and one for desertion. In the history of Upper Canada only four civil prisoners were ever transported, including three on the Buffalo, which points to the extraordinary circumstances of the transportation of ninety-two political prisoners of whom seventy-nine were US citizens.
16 In their narratives, the patriot exiles uniformly blamed Franklin for their harsh treatment: the old reprobate was death to Yankees, according to Robert Marsh, who claimed Franklin said theyd be punished more severely than those rebels from Lower Canada going on to NSW. Whether Franklin made this distinction or not, history has borne it out. The predominantly American Patriots in VDL were much more harshly treated than the French Canadians in NSW, despite their status as politicals their brutal treatment was no different to that of felons. Fourteen died in as a direct result; either on the transport ships or in the work gangs.
The Patriot exiles are unkind to Franklin, who did try his ineffectual best for them. When the Marquis of Hastings arrived late with a group of politicals he was able to separate out the politicals for work assignment with settlers, but changes to the convict system in 1840 made such discrimination impossible for later arrivals. he wrote to Lord John Russell seeking direction to whether the politicals could be treated differently to common felons, Russell took a long time to consider the question ,during which time they were put into work gangs.
The Snow narrative has been broken into 3 sections. You have just completed Section I. Continue with sections: II/III. See also the introduction to Snow's narrative by Cassandra Pybus.