Sudds and Thompson were two private soldiers in the 57th Regiment stationed in 1825 in Sydney. The character of the former was not above suspicion, but the other was a well behaved man who had saved some money. Having seen convicts settled on farms, established in shops, or become even wealthy merchants or stock-owners, they both wished to remain in the colony; but as the purchase of their discharge by the ordinary process was out of the question, Sudds suggested that they should obtain it by becoming felons. With this object in view they went in open daylight to a store, purloined a piece of cloth, were caught, tried, convicted, and sentenced to transportation to Moreton Bay.
Unfortunately for the men the object of the crime was elicited at the trial, and to mark his sense of displeasure, Sir Ralph issued an order under which the two soldiers were taken from the hand of civil power and condemned to work in chains on the road for the full term of their sentence, after which they were to return to the ranks.
On the day appointed the garrison were assembled and formed in a hollow square. The culprits were brought out, their uniforms stripped off and replaced by the convict garb; iron-spiked collars and heavy chains made expressly for the purpose were riveted to their necks and legs, and then they were drummed out of the regiment and marched back to gaol to the tune of "The Rogues March."
Sudds, who suffered from an affection of the liver, overcome by shame, grief, and disappointment, died in a few days, while poor Thompson became insane. A great outcry was of course raised, and until the end of his administration the Governor, whose whole system (according to an early writer) "was a compound of military despotism and bureaucracy," was pertinaciously worried by a considerable portion of the community.
It may be urged by some that in going into these particulars concerning Governor Darling a departure has been made from the theme of those articles, but the writer would claim as his excuse a wish to refrain from appearing to in any way overdraw the picture. In further justification it is also urged that the example set at headquarters may to some extent defend the charges of overbearing manner on the part of Logan and others.
But to return to the old story as related and commented upon by Mr. Henry Stuart Russell, who gleaned his information from the early issues of the "Gazette." If anything were needed to corroborate the remarks made about the excessive punishment of convicts and its evil effects the following should suffice :- The 18th April, 1829, was the last day of the lives of two wretched men hanged for the murder of their mate at Moreton Bay. Their names wore Thomas Matthews and Thomas Allen. The former knocked down John Carroll of the same gang, while the other cleft his head asunder on his mattock. The old story told on the gallows!
Again this month figured the hangman. James Sullivan had killed his companion, Patrick McConderan, at Moreton Bay that he might by this method "be himself freed from suffering worse than death." This was the old story. The frequent executions for murder, the declarations, on more than one occasion, made by the wretched culprit before the fatal drop had stirred up men's minds to a general condemnation of the system of extreme punishment which was exposed by, such reiterated "last words" on the gallows.
The 12th of July, 1831, added another item to the list of executions: that of McManus, convicted on the previous Thursday of "an attempt to murder a fellow prisoner with a hoe at Moreton Bay with the avowed object of getting sent to Sydney, there to forfeit his own life"; and on the 16th of August another mass of misery stares us in the face in the reception into Sydney Goal of three runaways from Moreton Bay, "who had reached the vicinity of Port Macquarie; had been brought in and delivered over to Captain Smyth by the blacks of that settlement; escaped again thence and reached Port Stephens, where they were seized and sent on here for disposal."
This is how such attempts were alluded to:-
"Although many of those who are escaping from the gaol to the gaol yard - for to fly from Moreton Bay to Sydney is nothing better - are continually falling victims to the spears of the savages around them, yet no example will deter them from unavailing and desperate efforts to obtain their liberty - a liberty which is only temporary, and entails upon them accumulated misery."
As a concluding specimen the following extract from the " Gazette" may not prove uninteresting:
"It appears that the severe example made of McManus has not deterred men from committing acts of violence against their fellows. Two prisoners are in gaol for trial, one for attempting the life of Chief-constable Mcintosh, and the other named McGuire for the murder of his comrade. McGuire, it appears, had absconded, and being soon apprehended was placed in the gaol gang, a life which became irksome(!) to him, and in a fit of despair he resolved to increase those miseries by cleaving the head of another prisoner with a pickaxe."
So much for excessive punishment and its evil consequences for the present.
The mention of Chief-constable McIntosh's name reminds the writer a few of incidents related to him by an "old hand." This is what he said :-"What did I think of Dunwich ? Well, we used to think we were well off if we could get down there, for as a rule we got better treatment and easier times. Then the blacks were a very civil lot on Stradbroke, and would do lots of things for us for a few rations.
There were two kings there - one at each end of the island - the one at our end, Amity, being a bit independent, but one who would do no one harm. Somehow - I think it must have been because he would not receive food or gifts from them - the soldiers got frightened of him.
One day some of the soldiers made it up to go fishing on Moreton Island, and persuaded the king to go with them. After some difficulty they got him in the boat, and had gone some little distance out when one of the soldiers drew out a pistol and shot the blackfellow. The hutkeeper, who was with the soldiers, cut off the poor fellow's head, and this was sent on to Brisbane to show the Commandant that they had been successful in 'shooting a desperate blackfellow.'
Well, the blacks weren't long before they heard all about it, and they watched the hutkeeper. They seized the first opportunity that presented itself to attack this man and decapitated him. The soldiers of course were mad, and searched for the blackfellows, but finding none they set out one night for Moreton Island and shot every blackfellow they came across. How many did they come across ? As near as I can remember there were between fifteen and twenty.
Nothing further was heard for awhile, but the blacks vowed they would kill every 'diamond' - that was the name we gave the soldiers, you know. Some time afterwards Chief-constable McIntosh - oh! ho was a regular caution, I can tell you - and two men were sent out to hunt for runaway prisoners. They were unsuccessful in their search, however, and were returning along the beach when a mob of blackfellows attacked the chief constable and his men, killing the three. By Jove ! there were ructions over this.
A detachment of military was sent out to Point Lookout, which was the great fishing ground of the aboriginals, with instructions to shoot every black that was met with. Well, the blacks somehow got wind of this, and one night some of them came to us at the Pilot Station and told us not to go with the "diamonds" in the pilot boat, because they intended fighting, and did not want to hunt the 'croppies' - that was our name. But you know some of us had to go, and I'm glad to say I wasn’t one of those chosen for the job, for it was a terrible fight, in which the soldiers got the worst, and three of our men were among those killed.
After things had quietened down a bit the blacks came about again, and I can't tell you how sorrowful they were when they were told they had killed some of the 'croppies.' It's all rot to say the blacks were of a treacherous nature. It was the other way about; if the soldiers had done the right thing by them, as the majority of the convicts did, there wouldn't have been any trouble at all."
There is no doubt that with the death of Logan there also died much of that tyrannical oppression which had characterized that Commandant's rule, although life at all times was hard to bear. The ordinary amount of labour required of a convict in the 'gaol gang' was to break up thirteen rods of new ground or twenty one rods of land which had previously been worked and cultivated; or he might have to chip and hill forty rods of corn.
Failure to do this led to the offender being taken "to court," which could be held on the spot of in the building now known as the Chief Secretary's old office in William Street, and awarded instead of his tea, five-and-twenty or fifty lashes, according to the deficiency in the task and the mood of the Commandant.
It is perhaps needless to say that some of the overseers had queer ideas of the capabilities of the average human being, or that the measures adopted to force energy out of the unfortunate men were as senseless as they were cruel. As an instance of this let us relate an incident which came under the notice of a person interviewed by the writer. Six men were sent to lift a log, but lacking the strength to perform the task they incurred the displeasure of the overseer.
Instead of calling others to assist, this madman took two of the prisoners away and then commanded the four to perform what six had been unable to do! Of course this was a moral impossibility, but physical incapacity furnished no excuse for this model master, who hauled the six prisoners before the Commandant and obtained for them fifty lashes each !
" Wigging"- or, as we call it, "slumming" - work involved a penalty of either a whipping of twenty-five lashes or a position in the " lumber gang," whose duty it was to give the necessary motion to the corn-mill in what is now the Observatory by means of the treads.
This mill was generally worked by twenty-five prisoners at a time, but when used as a special punishment sixteen were kept upon it for fourteen hours, with only the interval of release afforded by four being off at a time in succession! As may be imagined, the work was terribly hard, and especially so in hot weather, when men often fell off through sheer exhaustion.
In his evidence given before a Select Committee of the House of Commons in February of 1832, Allan Cunningham said that the punishment at Moreton Bay was much more severe and the labour heavier than at Norfolk Island, a fact due principally to the strictness of the Commandant (Logan).
The prisoners' barracks, which were, as before stated, on the site of Messrs. Edwards and Chapman's warehouse, had a gable roof running parallel with Queen-street, but intersected in the centre by another gable slightly elevated with its front to the thoroughfare. Entrance to the building was gained by an archway, at each side of which was a staircase leading to the rooms above.
It was under this arch that the triangle was to be found, where, when most convenient, the convicts were flogged. We say convenient because it was not always handy, neither was it by law necessary, to wield the "cat" within the circumscribed limits of the archway. Once let a prisoner offend and invariably he met retribution at the nearest tree suitable for the purpose.
It should have been stated that some few years after Brisbane had been approved of as a penal establishment it was decided also to make it the abiding place of the Southern viragos. A "home" for these was found in the penal factory on the Green Hill, as it was afterwards called. Here they were employed husking corn, etc.
They were kept within the prescribed limits first by a high close paling fence and afterwards by an 18ft. brick wall. Like their "brothers," many of these women were of the very lowest type, and had, also like the men, been transported first to Sydney and re-transported here for new offences. They were divided into sections, the best acting as domestic servants in official quarters, the "dregs" earning their "tucker" by tilling the land, and even felling trees.
The general method adopted for punishing refractory women appears to have differed somewhat from that practised for the men. Solitary confinement in heavy irons was, we believe, the maximum penalty. Having committed some offence against the regulations the unfortunate was taken into the punishment cell, and there, if the offence warranted it, chained up in much the same way as a dog would be attached to its kennel.
Embedded in a stone in the floor was an iron ring with a chain, to the end of which was fastened a "collar." This uncomfortable appendage having been placed round the neck or wrists of the woman it was locked, and she was left to amuse herself and sustain herself on bread and water during the pleasure of the Commandant. Yet cruel as this may seem in these days of enlightenment, the punishment had little or no effect on offenders unless it was to make them worse than over.
Of the sexes indeed the women seemed to be the worse, encouraged as they were to a very great extent by the immoral conduct of the soldiers. Even the high fence surrounding the factory was no safeguard against their intrusion, for this they succeeded in mounting by the aid of an extemporized ladder made of a plank with strips of timber nailed across.
Having reared this against the fence they mounted it, drew up the ladder, and descended by it on the other side. The women themselves actually got out by this means, and so frequent did these escapades become that once Captain Clunie himself watched, with the result that he saw the soldiers hide the ladder under a bridge then spanning the creek in Queen street, and confiscated it.
This practically stopped the carryings on for a time, but the inventive faculties of the " diamonds" (the convicts' name for soldiers) soon provided a substitute less dangerous and certainly not so conspicuous. Two of the palings were loosened, and being easily removed as occasion required, "red coat was himself again." All he had to do was to count twenty-six palings from the corner, give the twenty-seventh and twenty-eighth a slight push, and admission was gained.
On Sundays both men and women were mustered for religious service, but the ceremony was not always of the most impressive description ; indeed the convicts' conduct was occasionally such as to call forth a reprimand from the Commandant, if not actually a whipping scene. On one occasion certain remarks addressed by the Commandant to the women at religious service were received with derision, which did not fail to meet with its reward.
On the following Sunday, to prevent a repetition of this conduct, all the women were gagged, and in this condition marched between a guard to the prisoners’ barracks, there to be seen and admired. The remedy was good while applied; but even this did not improve them nor prevent them afterwards giving "crooked law" to Captain Clunie. The women did not long remain in the factory, it being required for other purposes.
The Sydney Gazette of the 17th November, 1835, contained the following:-"By the Government schooner Isabelle, which arrived from Moreton Bay on Friday last, Captain Clunie, of H.M. regiment 17th, has returned to headquarters, after having discharged the onerous duties at that settlement for five years. Captain Clunie unites in his own person those two rare qualities to be met with conjointly namely, that of a rigid disciplinarian and a mild-mannered gentleman.
The consequence has been that since the time he took command at Moreton Bay we have heard of none of those tumultuous risings and murderous doings among the prisoners there which distinguished his predecessor's reign of terror, and which have since occasionally marked the character of the sister settlement of Norfolk Island. This official recognition of Captain Clunie's worth will at least suggest the grounds for the proclamation issued by Governor Darling on the death of Logan, and will also substantiate what has been said concerning his tyrannical rule.
Captain Foster Fyans, of the 4th Regiment, who had been stationed at Norfolk Island, was appointed successor to Captain Clunie. The new Commandant followed very closely on the lines laid down by his predecessor and nothing of very, great importance appears to have occurred until the last year of his rule - 1837. As before stated the penal factory was required for other purposes than a home for incorrigible women, and as a result of his search for fresh fields and pastures new.
Captain Fyans hit on Eagle Farm Flats and brought them prominently into notice by establishing a female depot there. Quarters were speedily erected for the eighty-odd women. The stockade was formed in this fashion: Surrounding the quarters was an ordinary close fence, and this again was enclosed by a " wall" of 20ft. saplings, pointed at the top, and securely fastened. Although by this means herded together and directly under observation, the task of keeping such an unruly mob in anything like order was one of which the guardian could scarce be envied.
Eagle Farm afforded plenty of scope for the operations of the women, and in due course maize, vegetables, and other crops were flourishing in such a manner as has certainly never been known since. The better class who were not employed in the officers' quarters were kept busy washing and mending the loads of clothes which were conveyed to Eagle Farm weekly on an extremely ancient looking wagon drawn by a bullock.
It may not be regarded as out of place to give here an extract or two from a book which has just been placed at the disposal of the writer by Mr. John A. Hayes. The work referred to is the life of George Washington Walker, a Quaker, who with James Backhouse, in 1831, set out on a visit to all the penal settlements in Van Diemen's Land, Norfolk Island, and New South Wales.
The pair, made a brief trip to Moreton Bay in 1836, and thus Mr. Walker speaks of the event:- "25th March, 1830. On board the Isabella, I accompanied J. Backhouse in a visit to the prisoners, who are closely confined below. They present a very miserable spectacle. The mere heat and closeness of the place are quite sufficient to render them ill, independent of the motion ; and the smell is so offensive to persons coming out of the open air that it was with some difficulty we could support it.
26th. We had another interview with the prisoners, whose condition is simply deplorable. Forty-one human beings are here linked together by a long chain passed over that which each wears from ankle to ankle, and they are confined to a space in the hold measuring 18ft. one way and 16ft the other, in a nearly tropical climate without anything to recline upon beyond the bare boards; with no water or other convenience for washing; and, from the manner in which they are linked together, with very little room to change their position. Their emaciated pallid countenances bear sufficient evidence to their sufferings."
After speaking of the courteous welcome accorded them by the Commandant, Captain Foster Fyans, and remarking that the number of prisoners in the Settlement was 400, of whom eighty were women, Mr. Walker describes the treadmill as follows:-" . , . The chain gang, consisting of twenty-five men, were at work on the tread-wheel.
These are so employed because the power is wanted, not because it is a part of their sentence ; therefore they are not so hard worked as if they had subjected themselves to this species of discipline as an extra punishment. They work from sunrise to sunset, with a rest of three hours in the middle of the day in the hot weather, and two hours during the cooler months.
There is also a relief of four men, sixteen being constantly on the wheel, which of course affords each man an interval of periodical rest throughout the day of one-fifth of the whole time, or of one quarter of an hour's rest after each hour of labour. The exertion requisite to keep this up is excessive. I am told the steps of the wheel are sometimes literally wet with the perspiration that drops from the partially naked men; for they generally strip to the waist.
The constable who was superintending told me that the wheel performed 160 revolutions before each man's turn of rest came, which multiplied by twenty-four, the number of steps in the wheel, gives 3840 times each man must lift his feet in continued succession. Any one who has tried the effect of ascending 100 steps at a time may form some idea of the excessive exertion this kind of labour involves.