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
The next morning we were sent out to the different road stations to work out our enormous TAXES. Here, too, we were put upon a rigid course of DIETETICS. Were you to have seen us taking our daily rations, you would taken us for the tenants of a hospital for the cure of dyspepsia. Our food was uniformly of the lightest kindnot in the least hard of digestion. Sir John, in the plenitude of his benevolence, wished us to expend all our energies in McAdamizing our WAYS, not in digesting English luxuries. The following RECIPES will show the compounds made use of to appease our appetites, but it did not always have the desired effect:
Morning 1+half lbs. coarse bread,
2 oz. flour,
1 pint water.
The flour and water were made into gruel, and taken with the bread.
Noon 1lb. mutton,
Half lb potatoes.
The mutton was not considered suitable for us, till the clerks and overseers had appropriated to themselves the pieces which suited their cases; and they were by no means so disinterested, as to make choice of a poor article, while a better one was to be found.
Evening 2 oz. flour
1 pint water.
This last prescription was again put up in the shape of SKILLY, or gruel, and taken at leisure before going to bed. If we had anything in addition to this pint of gruel at night, it would be a slice of bread saved from our morning repast. Two ounces of salt to a man per week, was allowed as a condiment, or for SAUCE to make the foregoing catalogue of eatables more palatable. Our gruel was manufactured like patent medicines, in large quantities at a time, and measured out into pint skids for individual use. I have seen men driven to the necessity of picking up potatoe skins and cabbage leaves, which they would boil and eat to quiet their hunger. Sugar, tea, coffee, and such articles were unknown to us while we were prisoners on the island. The majority of our party had imbibed the habit of using tobacco, but now we were compelled to make a virtue of necessity, and give it up.17
The articles of clothing allowed us every six months, were one gray jacket or roundabout, one pair trousers, one striped cotton shirt, and one leather cap. We were entitled to one pair of shoes every four months. A canvas tick, a blanket and a cotton rug constituted our bedding for two years. Two ounces of soap was given us every week, with the injunction for every man to wash his own shirt Saturday afternoon.
Our employment consisted of leveling DOWN hills, and levelling UP valleys, breaking stone and drawing them in hand carts to where they were wanted, for making and mending McAdamized roads. After we had been on the roads about four months, four of our party bolted and left us, with the determination of escaping from the island, but in this they were unsuccessful. They were retaken, tried for absconding, and sent to Port Arthur, to spend the remainder of their time.18
Port Arthur is situated on a point of land which projects into the sea, some sixty or seventy-five miles S.E. from Hobart Town, and was named in honor of Sir George, that prince of land pirates, whom we have before mentioned, and is known as being the place where some of the forms of cruelty instituted by him are perpetuated. As "doubly convicted offenders" were banished from Sidney to Hobart Town, so those who are guilty of a second offence at Hobart Town are sent to Port Arthur. Where they are sent to from this place, I have never been informed. Perhaps information on this subject could be given, on application to the hangman. The town is situated on a point, which is connected to the main land by a narrow neck, and the escape of prisoners is prevented by chaining large savage dogs so close to each other across the neck, that a man cannot pass between them without being seized and torn in pieces. These dogs are provoked daily to aggravate their ferocious dispositions. The buildings at Port Arthur, are principally massive stone prisons, but I think the prisoners who escaped from us, were not confined in these, but were put to work in the Government garden.19
In consequence of these men leaving so abruptly, the remainder of us were sent farther back into the country, to another road station called Lovelybanks. Here we received the hardest fare we experienced on the island. We remained at this place through the winter; our work was a mile and a half from the station, and frequently was it our lot, to return to our huts this distance, through the cold and rain after a hard day's toiling, and have to lay down for the night with our clothes drenched with water, and no fire allowed us to dry them.
Some persons may be of the opinion that we might have escaped from the island, had we possessed an ordinary amount of courage and cunning. But this is an undertaking not often accomplished by the most resolute and undaunted. American vessels frequently stop at Hobart Town, but before they drop anchor they are boarded by a brace of police constables, who remain on board till they sail again. In a few instances sailors have furnished prisoners with a suit of their own clothing, and conveyed them on board unobserved by these officers, and stowed them away in the hold of a ship, and kept them in safety; but it is a common practice where suspicion rests upon a vessel, that she has such BALLAST to fasten down the hatches, and smoke the ship with brimstone, and thus suffocate the prisoner, if on board.20
At Lovelybanks, we petitioned the Lieutenant Governor for tickets of leave, for which we were severely reprimanded by the magistrate. A ticket of leave, is a permit to work for wages, and to muster every Sunday, that the district Constable may know we have not absconded. The magistrate informed us, if we wished to offer a petition to his Excellency, we must do it individually, but the better way was not to do it at all, jointly or severally.
At this place, two more of our party bolted: they left the hut in the night, unobserved by the watchman, but not by us. They took blankets and a small quantity of provisions with them, and went to the bush. They succeeded in getting into the vicinity of Hobart Town, intending to escape from the island, if possible; but no opportunity presenting itself, they were forced by their sufferings to deliver themselves up to the authorities, and asked permission to return to their work with the party. Their prayer was not granted, however; the Government having greater need of their services at Port Arthur. After being introduced to the severest kind of labor at Port Arthur, one of these men became parson's clerk, and the other one was sent to a signal station, to tend the telegraph, so that they were finally better off than some of us that remained.21
If a convict, sent out from England, or any of her colonies is re-taken after bolting, he is sure to have an addition made to his sentence, and be flogged, and obliged to work in irons. But so far as our party were concerned, I never knew of a man's being whipped or compelled to wear irons.22 One of our party had his shoulder dislocated, and it could not be made to remain in place afterwards, if he had to work. It was so injured that the patient could dislocate or replace it at his option. Whenever the work assigned him was too hard, his shoulder was sure to be out of place. In the spring we were removed from Lovelybanks to a place called Green Ponds, in the Brighton district, about twenty miles only, from Hobart Town
At Green Ponds, we were placed under the Superintendence of a man by the name of Robert Nutman, a Scotchman. He was familiarly known by that of OLD BOBBY NUTMAN,23 and his cruelty to the prisoners placed under him, was known throughout the island. We had heard of his whipping men nearly to death, and the old prisoners feared him as they would a tiger; but to us he was the most humane and indulgent overseer we found during our residence on the island. He told us that murderers, thieves and robbers who had been placed under him heretofore, could not be governed without being flogged, but he thought none the less of us, for being sent there for political offences. He allowed some of our party to be overseers of the rest of us. We did not remain under his administration long, as he returned home and another took his place. Capt. Askins, the magistrate of that district, was favorably disposed towards us, and allowed our party all the immunities which the nature of his office would permit. He gave us the privilege to work for ourselves every Saturday afternoon, and as it was now harvest time, we could readily get a half dollar each, for our half day's labor. With this we would purchase tobacco, coffee, sugar, tea, &c. But the old prisoners who had tickets of leave, and those who had obtained their freedom, complained to the Chief Police Magistrate, that our party were getting all the work from them, and this privilege was taken from us by his request after a few weeks
While we were here, Governor Franklin, in passing by, called to see us, and from the stormy appearance of his old care-worn countenance, we were convinced that he had not come to pardon us. We soon found that some one had taken the dangerous liberty to petition his Excellency for tickets of leavewhom he knew not, or we either. He called the petition the round robin, which is an instrument with signatures attached to it in a circular form, so that the first or last signer's name cannot be distinguished. He reprimanded us severely on account of the escape of the two prisoners at Lovely bankstold us we could not get off the islandif we attempted it, and fled to the bush, he should order the military force to pursue and take us, and if we offered resistance we would be shot downif by any means we should be so lucky as to escape from the island and get home to America, he would send there for us, and have us brought back, &c., &c. When he made this last declaration, it completely upset the confidence we had in the rest of his harangue; and satisfied us that his address was manufactured for the "Buncome" market. After listening to this "war speech" from his Excellency, we, one and all, just wished ourselves in America, for the sport of the thing, if nothing else.
In March, 1841, Sir John came again to see us at the Green Ponds, accompanied by his private Secretary and some other officers, and had us arraigned again to listen to another speech. He informed us, that in accordance with the promise made us, when we first arrived at the island, that he had written to Lord John Russell, Her Majesty's Secretary for Foreign Affairs, concerning us, and had now received an answer from his Lordship. He then ordered his Secretary to read Lord John's letter to us, and in this letter his Excellency was instructed to "give those political prisoners any indulgence you may think proper, with the exception of allowing them to return home, to endanger the safety and well being of the North American colonies. By this despatch we saw that Sir John might, if he was so disposed, give us the liberty of the island, but instead of so doing, he informed us that at the expiration of two years from the time of our landing, we should have tickets of leave for any part of the island, or that we might make choice of any district on the island, and have a ticket for the same. He accordingly kept us ten and a half months longer on the roads, and then granted us the tickets under very arbitrary restrictions.24 Capt. Wright, our superintendent, who succeeded old Bobby Nutman, was an inhuman, overbearing, unprincipled, incarnate devil, he worked us incessantly, would not grant us the least favor if he could avoid it, and made his boast that "he would subdue that dd independent Yankee spirit of ours if possible." If he succeeded in so doing, we have not yet learned the fact. For some trivial offence, he several times reported some of our men to Capt. Askins, the Magistrate; but of his complaint the captain took no notice. We soon after entered complaint against him, for with-holding from us a part of our rations, which charge Capt. A. investigated, and found true, and reprimanded the superintendent, and had our allowance restored.
Wright caused every nook and corner of our huts to be searched, for the purpose of finding a journal which one of our party was keeping, in which he was fearful the journalists would not do him justice. He did not, however, succeed in finding it, and most probably remains ignorant to this day of our actual opinion of his contemptible meanness. Not long after this affair with our overseer, our party was removed to another road station, at Bridgewater, twelve miles above Hobart Town, on the Derwent.25 Here we were separated for the first time since landing on the island, into smaller companies of from ten to twenty men each, and sent to different stations to labor, and obliged to work with the old convicts. This we did not like, as we had been cautioned against associating with bad company by the Governor, and now were compelled to disobey orders. The company of twenty to which I belonged, was sent to a station called Brown's river, to work on a new stone prison, which was being built on a high hill, about three fourths of a mile from the Bay.26 This prison was to have a cell for each of its occupants. From this place we had a delightful view of all the shipping that sailed to and from Hobart Town. It seemed impossible for our new associates to live without stealing. They were locked into their huts at nights, and a watchman placed outside. They would frequently climb out at the top of the chimney, and get to the ground unnoticed by the watchmango to a neighboring potato patchtake what poatoes they could fetch awayreturn down the chimney, and roats and eat their plunder. If taken in one of these excursions, they were sure to get a flogging, and be put to hard service in irons. I have known prisoners receive the same sentence of "three months hard labor in irons," for the unjustifiable offence of stealing a few potatoes from a patch, to get rid of starvation.
BOLTING was of frequent occurrence at this station. I recollect seven that left in one day. These were taken and brought back in a short time, and some of them received as many as seventy-five lashes, and were sent to the coal mines for twelve months.27 Three men at one time left the station, one of whom had been a regular in the British service in Canada. They stole some meat; then went to a mill in the vicinity, and took a quantity of flour; and then KIDNAPPED a donkey to carry their plunder. The Constables captured them in the night, as they were busy in the woods cooking their provisions, and upon examination, it was found that the flour, meat, donkey and all belonged to the magistrate before whom they were arraigned. They were, of course, "dealt with as the law directs."
It was a common thing, on Saturday afternoon, when we went to the beach to do our washing, to catch a few craw and other kinds of fish, which we would cook and eat after our return. When this was found out, it was strictly forbidden; we were told to eat nothing that Providence should offer us, unless it was first sanctioned by the British government.
On the 13th of February, 1842, Mr. Skein, the superintendent, told us to make choice of any one of six districts which he might mention, and the Governor would give us a ticket of leave for the same. This was not in accordance with the promise made us by the Governor at Green Ponds, that we should have tickets for any part of the island. The six districts given us to choose from were all situated back in the country, that we might not get to Hobart Town, or any other seaport, and escape from the island. Oatland, Campbelltown, Bothwell, Hamilton, Fingal and Swanport were the districts assigned us to select from. Some of us preferred one, and some another; and on the 15th, we went to the chief police magistrate in Hobart Town and took our tickets.
Edited by Cassandra Pybus, International Centre for Convict Studies, Tasmania, Australia. This narrative has been broken into 3 sections. You have just completed Section II. Continue with section III. Or return to section I. See also the introduction to Snow's narrative by Cassandra Pybus.
17 Convict mechanics, and others who occupied skilled positions, generally fared better than those who toiled on the roads. It was common place for convicts with valued skills to given small quantities of tea, sugar, rum and tobacco as incentives. By contrast ganged convicts were instead driven to work by the barking commands of their overseer.
18 The Patriot Exiles were amongst the first convicts to experience the rigours of the probation system introduced by a reluctant Franklin in 1839 in answer to the criticisms that had been leveled at the transportation system in 1837 by a British Parliamentary Inquiry. Under the probation system all newly arrived convicts had to undergo a probationary period of hard labour on the roads. This was fixed according to the length of the convicts sentence to transportation. Good conduct could earn an early promotion to less demanding work. Bad conduct was rewarded with sentence extensions, floggings, solitary confinement and demotion to a chain gang or to the penal settlements at Port Arthur and Norfolk Island.19 Ironically those sent to the dreaded Port Arthur had an easier time, in the long run than their fellows at the probation station carting rocks like beasts of burden.
20 In fact the Patriot Exiles were sent to Lovely Banks probation station because its remote location in the centre of the colony made escape by sea all the more difficult.
21 These were Linus Miller and Joseph Stewart. They did fare well but their Ticket-of-leave was held up as a result of absconding. Miller was appointed clerk to the Commissariat Officer, Thomas Lempriere rather than the parson. He also tutored Thomas Lemprieres children.22 The patriots viewed the degradation of the lash with total horror and resolved they would never allow themselves to be flogged. At one probation station they consistently dismantled the triangles. In one narrative, by escaped patriot James Gemmell, "Two years in Van Diemen's Land", Jeffersonian, Watertown, New York 4 July, 1842; it is claimed that several were flogged. This seems to have been written to stir up public feeling. No mention of flogging is to be found on the individual convict records and several narratives, like Snow, expressly say they were not flogged. it is not clear whether this was on a directive from HM government or from Franklin. The narratives suggest individual magistrates chose not to have the politicals flogged.
23 Robert Notman who was superintendent of Notmans Road Party for many years.
24 It is true that the colonial authorities do seem to have exercised their own prejudice against the patriots however, Lord John Russells directive was clear that they be given tickets only after two years in probation stations.
25 The site of the Bridgewater chain gang first established in 1830 to construct a causeway across the River Derwent.
26 Browns River was one of several probation stations which was planned to accommodate the Petonville system of separate treatment. Two tiers of single celled separate apartments were constructed radiating out from the rear of the Superintendents Quarters. Thus placed the Superintendent had a commanding view of the station which was designed like a mini-panopticon. See I. Brand, The Convict Probation System: Van Diemens Land 1839-1854 (Blubberhead Press, Hobart, 1990), pp.197-8.
27 The coal mines were located at Plunkett Point on the Tasman Peninsula. Rather than hew coal, a task that was performed by skilled colliers who had been detailed to the site, the punishment labour undertaken by these prisoners consisted of pushing coal cars and manning pumps.
28 Not so. A number of the American lost their tickets. As late as 1850 there were still four in the penal system having had their tickets revoked for attempted escapee.
This narrative has been broken into 3 sections. You have just completed Section II. Continue with section III. Or return to section I. See also the introduction to Snow's narrative by Cassandra Pybus.