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Past and Present, and Men of the Times.

Chapter II

page 12

Chapter II.

Sydney Society—Felons—Refractory Women—Incorrigibles—A Perfect Virago—Stabbing and Hanging—A "Reign of Terror"—School-days — Swimming — Boating — Up-country Stations—Hospitality in the Bush—Shooting the Blacks—A Battle in the Bush.

My fellow-passengers by the "Red Rover" had excellent opportunities for making money. The Government were selling land for a nominal sum per acre, and many of them purchased sections in the country, settled down, and got convict labour, both male, and female servants assigned to them, and laid the foundations of the fortunes of many wealthy families now resident in New South Wales. In 1829, land was purchased from freed prisoners in the heart of Sydney of the present day, for a few dollars or a gallon of rum. The coin current in those days consisted of king dollars and "dumps," the "dump" being the centre of the dollar punched out to represent a smaller currency. The aspect of society in Sydney at this time was of a very mixed character; the preponderance of the convict element rendering it anything but a paradise to live in. Colonists could only get convict labour then and for many years after. An order from the comptroller-general procured them as many as they wanted. Men were assigned to them from the barracks, who only got their food in return for their labour, and if any of them misbehaved themselves, they were sent to the stockade and flogged by the authorities and then returned to their employers. I have seen prisoners working in very heavy iron fetters, some chained together driving trucks like horses, and grubbing up trees in the streets of Sydney with a guard of soldiers in attendance. It was page 13quite a common occurrence to see the men sent from their work for some misdemeanor, flogged, and return with their backs streaming with blood.

Mr. Smith, according to promise, now sent me to school. It was a dame school, at a place called Parramatta, and I may here remark that I have since bitterly regretted not having made a better use of my opportunities then. Close to the school was a factory, or reformatory, where female convicts were employed by the Government, making clothes and washing blankets, etc., for the male prisoners. There were three departments in this factory: in No. 1 was a place where refractory females had their hair cut off close, and had to live on bread and water for tbeir misbehaviour; in No. 2 were a lot of dark cells, in which the incorrigibles were punished by being immured closely; No. 3 contained the women of fair character, who were assigned as servants upon application from employers. These women, after working for one year and receiving a good character from their employers, were entitled to a "ticket-of-leave" from the Government, and then they could demand payment for their services. If, after working-three years on the "ticket-of-leave," there was no charge brought against them of bad behaviour, the Government generally granted them a pardon. The same rule applied to the male prisoners, and generally worked well. One day in No. 1 yard, one of the women from the dark cells was having her hair cut by one of her sisters in crime. I suppose the operation put a barbarous notion into her mind, for she snatched the scissors and stabbed the operator. This virago was sent to Sydney, and hanged, and fifty of her mates of the worst character, were sent to view the spectacle as a wholesome warning. Whether it produced the desired effect I cannot say, but if ever a pandemonium existed, it was then, at that place.

Parramatta, now a splendid suburban town, was then a very small place indeed, inhabited mostly by ex-convicts who had "served their time." It contained, among other buildings, a large stockade where male prisoners were housed. These men were manacled, and made to work on the roads, etc., as before described, in Sydney. One day, in 1830, I saw four convicts shot by their soldier guards on the road close to my school. These men succeeded in freeing themselves from their fetters, and were running away and trying to escape to the bush, page 14when the guards fired and killed the four. I afterwards learned that these unfortunate wretches were exceptionally criminal; but when one thinks of the hopelessness of their lives, and the cruelty and tyranny which were undoubtedly practised at this time, I look upon it as a happy release for them. The laws were fearfully strict as regarded the convicts. If one was found in the bush, or elsewhere, with arms, he was immediately hanged; although I must in justice remark that any prisoner who conducted himself well and submitted to his punishment cheerfully, generally got good opportunities from the Government of redeeming his position. Governor Burke was in charge of the colony at this date (1831). He was said to be a just man, although very strict in all matters relating to the penal department. In 1829 Governor Darling had charge of the colony. Darling's was a "reign of terror." No quarter was given to the convicts; they were hanged wholesale upon very slight provocation. If any "ticket-of-leave" man or assigned servant was found at large after 9 p.m. without a pass or warrant from his employer, he was sent to the stockade, his ticket taken from him, and was compelled to resume the old round of convict life, with all its horrors. I shall speak more of Governors Darling and Durke further on. In 1831 Mr. John Herbert Plunkett was then attorney-general and Crown prosecutor, and an able coadjutor of his chief, the Governor.

I left school this year, 1831, and as I before remarked, had made but little use of my opportunities, and was almost as ignorant as when I began. Mr. Smith took me to work and live with him for one year. I was principally engaged riding round serving customers and such like. I was not allowed to ramble about at night, but had to improve myself in reading and writing instead, and I may thank this care on the part of Mr. Smith for the little education I possess. It has enabled me to pen the story of my life. I had Sunday to myself, and being a great lover of the water, generally spent that day boating or learning to swim, and in this art I became an adept, and thought very little of swimming three or four miles at a stretch. I mention this fact as I shall hereafter have some startling anecdotes to relate of my prowess in this particular.

Mr. Smith had several stock stations up-country, and as he was about to visit them, he decided on taking me with him. We started, and this was my first experience in travelling in the page 15New South Wales country. The station we were making for was about 140 miles from Sydney at a place called Blackman's Swamp. It was a very extensive cattle station; there were about 2000 cattle and 500 horses running on it. He had also two other stations at the time, There were twenty assigned servants on this station. We stayed there a fortnight and put matters straight generally. We then went on to another station about ten miles to the westward, at the head of the Fish River, carrying 120,000 sheep. It was called "Bit Bit." Mr. Smith had here thirty assigned servants and ticket-of-leave men. The blacks, as the natives are called, were very numerous about here, and very troublesome. The roads also were very rough, but tracks had been cut to admit of bullock teams carting the wood from the station to Sydney. There were very few settlers to be met with, and you might travel a long way without seeing a human face. On coming near a hut the stockman cracked his whip, and the proprietor immediately "slung the billy," and you were made welcome to "damper," mutton, and tea, for it was not often that the hut-keeper saw company. Hospitality was the leading characteristic of the bushman in those days. While Mr. Smith and I were on "Bit Bit," the blacks speared two of his shepherds one night; the rest of the men on the station took their arms and went after the natives. They were away all that day, and shot several of the blackskins. While they were away from the station about fifty natives reappeared and killed the two wounded men in the hut, and carried off a lot of tea and flour, etc. There were only Mr. Smith and myself with the wounded men, and, finding we could do nothing against so many black devils, we each seized a bridle and went to the stockyard where tne horses were, slipped the bridles over their heads, mounted, and made our escape. We rode back to the cattle station barebacked, not having had time to get our saddles, over a particularly rough piece of country, about ten or twelve miles. Mr. Smith immediately mustered the men and told off fifteen to accompany him, taking all the arms he could find, and we started for Bit Bit station. We rode there in about two hours, and found that three of the party who had gone after the blacks had been killed, making, with the two poor wounded fellows, five in all. We buried our dead and mustered all hands. There were twenty-six mounted men, having fourteen double-barrelled shotguns. These were all the firearms available on page 16the station. I was a very good horseman at this time, and accompanied the party, leading a packhorse loaded with provisions; I had no arms. We left eight men hehind and started. We had only ridden six miles when we came across about seventy black men, women, and children camped by the side of a creek called Wilson's Creek, who were busily engaged in cooking part of a horse. All the men who had arms made a rush, firing in upon the blacks, Mr. Smith himself leading, some of the men remaining with me. The firing party must have killed about forty of the black fellows. Mr. Smith was speared in the leg, and two of the men very much bruised with "boomerangs," and one horse was killed. This tribe of natives was very numerous and vicious, and a source of great trouble and annoyance to the settlers. Although, as a rule, not naturally timid, I must confess I had a desire to be safe back in Sydney after seeing this battle in the bush.

Before starting on our return to the station, we camped and had something to eat, and attended to our wounded. We reached Bit Bit that afternoon, where we remained for a few days until Mr. Smith got well, and then commenced our return journey to Sydney. There was nothing particular to chronicle on this trip, except that in swimming the Fish River I was washed from my horse, and had to swim for it. The horse came out on the wrong side, and I had to walk five miles until we came to a station, where I obtained a fresh steed. And we made Sydney two days afterwards, for which I was truly thankful, I resumed my trade and soon fell into the ordinary groove.