Friends or foes?
Regrets and floggings
Very odd laws
Myall Creek Massacre
How to use history?
Dying for liberty
Rasputin meets Ned Kelly
Mary Anne Bugg
Our Ned Kelly
A story heard and considered
Not a good fence builder
Descriptions of Convict life
Convict transportation lasted for about 80 years. Because this was the founding third of Australia's urban existence, it is worthwhile considering the type of cultural values such people would have left for subsequent generations. Because most Convicts were illiterate, it is difficult to know what most of them thought of their society; however, their songs reveal some attempt to humanise themselves as well as their fellow Convicts.
The writings of the free citizens also show the beginnings of some humane sentiments. One writer was "disturbed" to see women being selected as wives or workers as if they were cattle. Another writer recorded that humane members of the colony wanted an end to the practice of Convicts being flogged until they confessed to alleged crimes.
Perhaps seeing the worst in humanity caused a rebellion that encouraged Australians to seek the best in it; Australia’s weaknesses thus became its strengths. There is no doubt that colonial society was as close to hell as has ever existed on earth. Modern society is getting closer to heaven.
Riotous scenes as women are landed
Port Jackson, Feb 6 1790. Scenes of riot and debauchery after the disembarkation of the women convicts tonight transformed Sydney cove into something resembling a gin palace attached to a brothel.
All this took place at night during a violent storm with lightening bolts which, at one place, split a tree in half, killing five sheep and a pig that were penned below it.
The licentious merriment began when some merchant seamen requested some grog from their captain. No doubt the man had good reason to comply, in the relief at getting rid of the last of his convicts, as he had faced a penalty of £40 for every convict missing.
Soon the sailors and convicts were in and around the women's tents, some queuing for sex, others making love with women they had forged attachments on the voyage. Others were swearing, fighting or singing.
While the scene was deplorable no action by the Governor nor his officers. Presumably they thought that intervention would have provoked a serious riot, and that it was best to wait for the morning to re-establish order.
The women, cooped up on the voyage and for another 10 hot and intolerable days outside Sydney Cove, had not too many chaste figures among them.
Reports on trading convict women
London, Sept 28, 1798. Disturbing reports have been arriving of the degrading treatment of female convicts sent to New South Wales.
There have been descriptions of dreadful scenes upon convict vessels arriving in port.
The decks have been crowded with both settlers and male convicts alike, picking and choosing the women them as though they are no more sheep or cattle.
Some settlers want women for servants or wives, while the convicts are looking for wives.
Some women not chosen on the spot are then taken in open boats up the river to the settlement of Parramatta, where another selection process takes place. Those not chosen for particular purposes are then given the free will to go with whom ever they prefer.
Those who do not go with one man are assigned to take care of huts in which there are from two to ten men.
Considering what they endured, it is understandable that Convict women didn't always appreciate being judged as having loose morals. At the Cascades Female Factory in 1838, the moralising became too much for the women and they decided to make a point. The governor of Van Diemens Land visited the factory and attended a service in the chapel. Entertaining the governor was the Reverend William Bedford; a morals campaigner whose hypocrisy had elicited the lady's scorn. Keen to impress the governor with a fine speech, the Bedford addressed the women from an elevated dais, then 300 women turned around and mooned him.
A gallows lament by young convict
Sydney cove, June 24. Samuel Payton, a 20-year-old convict, who will die on the gallows tomorrow for attempted robbery, has sent a most moving letter to his mother.
"My dear mother! With what agony of soul do I dedicate the last few moments of my life, to bid you an eternal adieu! My doom being irrevocably fixed, and ere this hour tomorrow I shall have quitted this vale of wretchedness. I have at last fallen an unhappy, though just, victim of my follies.
Banish from your memory all my former indiscretions and let the cheering hope of a happy meeting hereafter console you."
A woman convict is hanged for robbery
Sydney Cove, Nov 23 Ann Davis has been hanged, the first women in the colony to be "turned off" by the executioner.
She was found guilty of stealing clothing and goods from the house of convict Robert Sidaway, who co-habituated there with Mary Marshal. Davis was in the habit of calling by and smoking a pipe with them.
When they were away on November 14 she gained access through a window. After upsetting a tub of water in the house, she made off with her booty. It was later found in her possession.
Convict woman writes of life in 'this solitary waste of creation'
Norfolk Island, Nov 19 The plight of convict women has been describe in a letter which has been privately sent in a ship today.
A convict women writes of "our disconsolate situation in this solitary waste of creation."
" The inconveniencies.. suffered for want of shelter, bedding etc are not to be imagined by any stranger. However, we have now two streets in four rows of the most miserable huts you can possibly conceive of deserve that name."
The women are "deprived of tea and other things.... and as they are all totally unprovided with cloths, those who have young children are quite wretched."
"Several women, who became pregnant on the voyage, and are since left by their partners, who have returned to England , are not likely to form any fresh connections."
"We are comforted with the hopes of a supply of tea from China , and flattered with getting riches when our settlement is complete."
"Our Kangaroo rats are like mutton, but much leaner; and there is a kind of chickweed so much in taste like our spinach. Something like ground ivy is used for tea; but a scarcity of salt and sugar makes our best meals insipid."
"The separation of several of us to an uninhabited island was like a second transportation. In short, every one is so taken up with their own misfortunes that they have no pity to bestow on others."
Deaths and Mutiny on convict vessels provoke a scandal
Sydney, August 9. Despite the past disgraces of convict ships, and the regulations and warnings designed to improve their condition, two more vessels have arrived at Sydney in deplorable state, and with awful death rates.
The Hercules arrived on June 26 with the news that 30 convicts had died on the voyage and another 11 had been killed during a mutiny, with two dying later of their wounds and a third being summary executed by the captain.
The Atlas arrived on July 6, having lost 68 people through scurvy and dysentery.
Governor King described the ships as being "filthy beyond description. Some convicts were lying dead with heavy irons on, while many more died as they were coming to the hospital."
There has been an inquiry as to whether the masters had contravened their charters as convict carriers. The Governor noted that the Atlas was carrying liquor.
Description of an old crawler
Tasmania 1872 He had always been escaping, always rebelling, always fighting against authority and always being flogged. There had been a whole life of torment such as this, forty two years of it, and there he stood, speaking softly, arguing his case well and pleading while the tears ran down his face for some kindness, for some mercy in his old age. 'I have tried to escape, always to escape', he said, 'as a bird does out of a cage. Is that unnatural? Is that a great crime?'
Escape foiled in Timor
Koepang, Oct 5. Captain Edward Edwards has made a remarkable catch. He has captured a party of 11 convicts, led by William and Mary Bryant, which escaped from Sydney Cove on march 28.
These escapees, despite having navigational skills, suffered incredible hardships before arriving in Timor.
The story they told of their 3,254 mile journey over 69 days, was equally memorable.
It appears that they first got the idea of heading so far north after hearing about the success of Captain William Bligh who sailed across the pacific in a longboat after the Bounty mutiny.
Ironically, Captain Edwards, aboard the Pandora, had been commissioned to hunt the mutineers. After his vessel was wrecked he took longboats to Timor, putting him on the scene to take custody of the convict group.
On the way north up the coast, the convicts met hostility from local aborigines, and were caught in a great gale, which whipped up the oceans "mountains high".At times, though, they were able to land safely to rest, eat fresh food and replenish their fresh water.
The exact points of their landings are uncertain, but it is believed they sailed to the mouth of a fine river, and discovered deposits of coal.
They eventually crossed the Arafura sea, passed the southern part of Timor to Koepang.
They told the local authorities that they were survivors of a shipwreck and were given fine hospitality by the Dutch Governor.
But one talked to much and the Governor arrested them. They are in chains awaiting their return to England.
One convict describes the aftermath of a flogging:
unless it were at the meal Hours or at Night he was immediately sent to work, his back like Bullocks Liver and most likely his shoes full of Blood, and not permitted to go to the Hospital until next morning when his back would be washed by the Doctor's Mate and a little Hog's Lard spread on with a piece of Tow, and so off to work...and it often happened that the same man would be flogged the following day for Neglect of Work.
Floggings deplored by Aborigines
May 30 1791 The ferocity of British justice has shocked the Aborigines. The Governor wants to prove to them that there possessions are to be respected, and that any convict stealing from them can expect a harsh penalty.
Only this month a convict who stole fishing tackle from Daringa, wife of Colbee, was severely flogged in the presence of as many Aborigines of both sexes as could be assembled. The reason for the punishment was explained to them.
The Aborigines expressed abhorrence of the punishment, and sympathy for the sufferer.
Humanists deplore floggings
March 31 1823 The more humane members of the colony are horrified by the continuing practice of Convicts being flogged until they confess to alleged crimes. The latest among a large number of prisoners known to be treated thus is Henry Bayne, who has been sentenced to receive 25 lashed every morning until he tells "where the money and property is, stolen from the house of William Jaynes". Bayne insists he is innocent.
Concerned people are planning to report the practice to the authorities in Britain, in the hope it will be investigated.
Unique class system keeps the colony divided against itself
Jan 31 Deep divisions exist within New South Wales, greatly adding to the burden of being a people isolated at the bottom of the world, and therefore needing more than ever to live together in harmony.
Historically, the greatest rift has been between the "exclusives" and the "emancipists". The first group believe that anyone who has come to the colony in penal servitude is never capable of complete redemption. These people, who tend to be among the wealthy landowners, thus see themselves as a superior class. For their part, the emancipists, who are all ex-convicts, are concerned with equality of human rights.
Governor Macquaire, much to his peril, supported the emancipist cause, despite opposition from the forces which believed it would end respect for the law by allowing ex-convicts the normal rights of British citizens.
Since the Bigge inquiry, though, the colony has been re-established much more firmly as a prison rather than for reform, which has only worsened the tension.
As well, the emancipists are divided, between those who committed crimes at home, and in Australia .
This reflects a third division, being "Sterling", a name for the British-born, and the "Currency", the home-grown population.
The beginnings of a self-effacing personality? Strict convention of the time was a dead pan expression, especially is teeth were missing. The above portrait is probably of a Convict who was happy to subvert convention and show his missing teeth.
Convict describes flogging of another Convict
"There was two floggers, Richard Rice and John Jonson, the Hangman from Sidney. Rice was a left handed man, and Jonson was right-handed, so they stood at each side and I never saw two trashers in a barn moove their stroakes more handeyer than those two man killers did .... as it happened I was to leew'rd of the floggers and I protest ........ Next was tyed up paddy galvin, a young boy about twenty years. He was ordered to get 300 lashes. He got one hundred on the back and you cud see his back bone between his shoulder blades, then the doctor order him to get another hundred on his bottom. He got it, then the doctor order him to be flog on the calves of his legs. He never gave so much as whimper. They asked him where the pikes were hid, he said he did not know, and if he did he would not tell. "You may as well hang me now," he says for you will never get any musick from me". So they put him in the cart and sent him to the hospital."
Authorities viewed Convict mateship as a threat and often tried to remove the theat by having a Convict flog his mate. In a sense, mateship was a form of defiance.
Journalist describes flogging
The floggings are hideously frequent. On flogging mornings I have seen the ground where the men stood at the triangles saturated with blood, as if a bucket of blood had been spilled on it, covering a space three feet in diameter, and running out in various directions, in little streams two or three feet long....
Frere gave him fifty more lashes, and sent him the next day to grind cayenne pepper. This was a punishment more dreaded by the convicts than any other. The pungent dust filled their eyes and lungs, causing them the most excruciating torments. For a man with a raw back the work is one of continued agony. In four days Rufus Dawes, emaciated, blistered, blinded, broke down "For God's sake, Captain Frere, kill me at once!", he said. For the Term of His Natural Life, 1867
Activity 1 – The problematic nature of morality
Activity purpose – To understand that in any group of people, there is a diversity of morality and his morality influences judges about right and wrong
Australia’s Convict history will always divide mature thinkers who try to have a discussion about right and wrong. This characteristic can be exploited in the classroom to stimulate positive discussions that in turn provide opportunities for learning history and applying the lessons of history to life.
Write a moral dilemma on the board that illustrates some of the difficult situations that led to people in England committing crimes. For example, to consider why some women turned to prostitution:
“John and Kate worked as farm labourers in the 1830s. They married and had a child. Unfortunately, their employer, a Mr Jones, bought a new threshing machine which meant he no longer needed to employ either Kate or John.
To earn a living, John joined the army and was sent around the world to help England conquer new lands. By doing his duty, he helped his country become rich and powerful.
Because John’s salary was not sufficient to support his wife and child at home, Kate also tried to find a job, but initially she couldn’t. To help her, a rich man named Lord Smith offered her money in exchange for sex. She was ashamed so she only agreed on condition that he gave her a cleaning job as well that would explain where she got her money. Lord Smith agreed.
One man, Bret, didn’t like how the threshing machines had broken up families and left people homeless so during the night he broke them. He was never caught, but Mrs Windsor, who worked for Mr Jones, found out about Bret’s crime. She kept it a secret. She also discovered that Kate had slept with Lord Smith. When Kate’s husband returned from the war, she told him about what Kate did. He was furious and divorced her.”
1) Individually, students rank in order of best to worst
2) In pairs, students discuss their own lists, and try to agree on a new combined list.
3) Two pairs try to combine into a new combined list.
4) In class, teacher has a discussion in which the various viewpoints are considered and historical facts introduced. It is unlikely there will be agreement about right and wrong.
Activity 2 – Morality of the Penal System
Activity purpose – To provide food for thought on the intended role of the justice system
The following quotations come from J.F Mortlock, Experiences of a Convict. Sydney University Press 1965. (First published 1864-5.)
Give the quotes to students and ask them to select one which they will either discuss or write an essay on.
" Whether the difficulty in disposing of criminals, and whether the production of so many denote an unsound condition in the mother country, must now be determined by the wiser heads now occupied with the subject. Nevertheless, one cannot help fancying that the necessity for cure, in a certain measure, be economically superseded by prevention."
- Would preventing crime be cheaper than dealing with it?
- Does the production of large numbers of criminals represent something wrong with the society that they come from?
"All the evil in his nature (and who is without any) had been developed and nourished by harsh and cruel treatment, kindling, perhaps, a revengeful feeling against all mankind - a feeling, often the cause, in Australia at a future period, of the barbarous murder of innocent individuals."
- Should the justice system strive for punishment, justice for victims or rehabilitation of criminals?
"What is the measure of the guilt of those transported for killing game, or goaded to robbery by famine and destitution? Then, there are innocent men in the position of criminals, who have been erroneously found guilty upon obscure or implausible evidence or misdirection, or who have been made to appear guilty by the false oaths and artful devices of wicked persons interested in effecting their ruin or destruction."
- Are there ever justifications to break the law?
- What can be inferred about a society if starving people are made into criminals and innoncent people found guilty on implausible evidence?
"In what way does the moral guilt of such banditti differ from that of our present armies in the East, who are shooting, robbing and stabbing the natives of Asia, because they resist invaders taking their country from them- because they are so blind as not to perceive the blessing of being ruled by foreign white Christians - in their eyes, infidels! Will some pious, intellectual person point out the difference?"
- Is there a difference between a country taking what doesn't belong to it and an individual taking what doesn't belong to him or her?
- Why might a Convict have more sympathy to a conquered people that the conquerers?
- Compared to politicians from New Zealand, South Africa and the USA,
Australian politicians have been reluctant to declare that god is on their side. Does the above quote provide any ideas about why Australia may be different?
Activity 3 – The dehumanising effects of the criminal label
The Stanford Prison Experiment (1971) was a study of the psychological effects of becoming a prisoner or prison guard. 24 undergraduates were randomly divided into the categories of guards and prisoners and proceeded to act out their roles. Although it had been planned to last for 14 days, the experiment had to be cancelled after 6 days because one third of the guards exhibited genuine sadistic tendencies that had caused extreme emotional distress in the prisoners.
- Research the Stanford Prison Experinment and predict the behaviour in the Australian colony if the same dynamic had been in operation.
- The Stanford Prison Experinment only went for 6 days because the guards became too sadistic. Do you think if the same dynamic had been established in colonial Australia and allowed to go on for decades, the behaviour of guards and prisoners would have been even more extreme?
- In the Stanford Prison experiment, many of the prisoners became passive and accepted their inferiority. In Australia's colonial prison, it seems many Convicts were not passive and were instead defiant. Can you suggest any explanations why the reality may have been different from the experinmental conditions?
Activity 4 - Learn from history to design an open-air prison to rehabilitate
Design a prison and a system of governance of the prison that would encourage a more social outlook amongst inmates and increase the chance of the inmate making a positive contribution to society after being released. For ideas, read below.
The penal system in colonial Australia had its horrors, but it also had some achievements. One of these achievements was to rehabilitate some Convicts and allow them to become respectable members of society. Some examples included James Squire, Mary Rigby, Molly Morgan, Francis Greenway, Billy Blue, William Redfern and James Grant. Many of these Convicts showed great compassion and consideration to others, which is a character trait not typically associated with criminals who have been through the justice system.
Aside from producing role models, the colonial penal system also created a sense of pride and contribution. Some of the pride was seen in the celebration of Australia Day on January 26, which was an initiative by emancipists. Some of it was also picked up by subsequent generations. For example, poet Dame Mary Gilmour wrote:
I split the rock
I felled the tree
The nation was
Because of me
Perhaps one of the positive things about the penal system was that it encouraged Convicts to think of others by making them dependent upon others for their survival. If they didn’t contribute, the Colony would struggle and potentially they would die. A second positive thing was to give them an opportunity to do something worthwhile with their time and leave a legacy to look back on. Although they were forced labourers, the bridges, roads, and houses that they built was a more worthwhile use of their time than sitting in a hulk rotting away. In freedom, the emancipist could look at what they had done with a feeling of achievement.
Whereas the colonial penal system encouraged a social outlook, arguably the penal system today encourages individualism and self-centeredness. It says to inmates that they can improve the quality of their lives by obeying rules. The reward for compliance might be the chance to lay in a room all day watching TV. There is no contribution to others, and nothing to look back on with pride. In terms of making the most of their time, the best they can hope for is a qualification, which is about helping themselves, not helping others. Arguably, it is self-centeredness that leads inmates to crime in the first place, and the prison system does little to address it.
The incentive system seems to exert compliance for some, but for others the defiance continues. Extreme examples include inmates “bronzing” up to stop being pulled out of a cell. This involves inmates covering themselves in their own shit so the guards wont touch them. One day these inmates will be released back into society and their prospects and those of anyone who encounters them don't look very good. Prisons today try to be more humane, and while they don't have the same sadism being inflicted by guards, perhaps they don't rehabilitate either.
White Australia Policy
From Convicts to Chinese
What to celebrate?
Science and survival
The father of the blitzkrieg
He died so others may live
Desert Rats defy Hitler
The White Mouse
Never giving up
Which side would Convicts choose?
A history of "no"
Skeletons in the closet
Australia's engagement with Asia