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1-171 (Raw)

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addressee,female author,male,Slater, John,un
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Private Written
Private Correspondence
Ingleton, 1988
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1-171-raw.txt — 9 KB

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My Dear Wife,
No distance, no length of absence, nor yet any pleasures or amusements can so far attract my attention as to cause me to neglect writing according to my promise, to ameliorate the sufferings of my unhappy family, and to satisfy the curiosity of my friends. On the 11th day of July, 1817, we were aroused by break of day to enter upon a fresh scene to the one we had lately been used to; myself and many others of my Hulk-mates were ordered to prepare immediately for our departure from the Captivity Hulk, to proceed on board the ship Larkers, for our destination at New South Wales, where we found ourselves guarded safely by soldiers who were placed at the hatchways of the vessel, and, two hundred and fifty in number of us, confined to the main deck, couped up as close as sheep in a fair.
Captain Wilkinson allowed us every comfort we could reasonably expect, and indulged a certain number of us with the liberty of the deck, as far as seemed to him consistent with his safety, and when he got better acquainted with the men, took off their irons and shewed favour to the deserving. Shortly after we got on board the Larkers, we weighed anchor, and set sail, and again cast anchor at Torbay, from which place we finally bade adieu to Old England, on the 1st of August, 1817, and with a flying top sail sighed our last farewell to our sweethearts, wives, families, friends and relations. But so hardened in infamy are most men in a similar capacity to that in which I am unhappily placed, and so abandoned to all sense of fine feeling or affection, that instead of serious gloom prevailing, nothing but curses and blasphemy was apparent in every eye and countenance. Our ship was very healthy, for we lost but three men from our number. 
We had a very pleasant passage of exactly sixteen weeks, excepting two nights and one day, which were something alarming to a landsman, but seamen fear no danger, and only view such matters with indifference. We arrived here on the 21st of November, 1817, and in the midst of anxiety, every heart was elate with the news, anxious once more to set foot on shore, and to learn in what manner the prisoners were likely to be disposed of, each man sedulous for his own welfare.
Before I proceed too far, I shall think proper to inform you of a robbery which took place; on my coming on board the ship I consigned my box and property into the hand of the chief mate, who likewise received property of other persons on board, and put the whole down in the hold, which from some inattention of the said chief mate, was gotten at by the prisoners, and plundered in toto, and not found out till we arrived at Sydney, when it was too late to discover the offenders. Desperate robberies are committed constantly on board such ships bringing convicts to this country - for instead of conviction softening their conduct, and leading them to reformation, as might be supposed, they are hardened thereby, and will thieve from a piece of biscuit to the main mast if it were possible they could secret it. Honor they have none, they would as soon rob their messmates as a stranger.
On the arrival of a ship of prisoners, the Governor's Secretary goes on board, accompanied by the principal Superintendants of convicts, and the tradesmen in the service of government, for instance, carpenters, bricklayers, &c. are selected for the several branches they pretend to. Servants also, of certain descriptions, are appropriated to such gentlemen as may want them, and what remain engaged, are then sent to the different outposts to supply the settlers who may seek for their aid. It is no uncommon matter to see a jeweller, a clerk, or a tailor, with a reaping-hook in his hand cutting grain, or with an axe falling a tree. Hard work and hard fare is generally the lot of a settler's man, but I am fortunate and remain at Sydney.
Government men work from daylight until three o'clock, excepting an hour for breakfast, and the rest of the day is for the prisoner to employ himself as he may think proper, but on Saturdays from daybreak until ten o'clock without a breakfast hour. A man offending those in authority over him, is marked, and as men are constantly sent to the out-stations, he may expect to be sent the first opportunity - thus men are punished. Some offences, such as stowing away in a ship to desert from the colony, and insolence, &c. are punishable with the Jail Gang, which gang is employed emptying necessaries, and at all dirty and hard work, and sleep in the jail, and are compelled to wear a dress half brown and half white, exposed to public view. [82] 
Industrious attentive people, steady to their duty, will gain a living before idle and disorderly persons; but truth I must tell, that a man must be well known before he is entrusted, or can do so comfortably as he might wish, as so many fall short of their promises, and so much artifice and dishonesty prevails. No prisoner can travel from one town to another, without a pass signed by a Magistrate, on pain of being sent to Newcastle.
Newcastle is the place for sending convicts and prisoners to, from our Courts of Criminal Jurisdiction. I shall endeavour to explain in what manner the misery is extended to them. On their landing at Newcastle both legs are put in irons, they are set to work in the coal-mines and about the lime-kilns, and are looked after with the strictest scrutiny. A man at this place cannot earn any thing by labor, as all the work is on account of Government, and he is reduced to the lowest state of indigence and poverty which man can possibly bear. All persons at Newcastle are prisoners, with the exception of the Commandant, the Surgeon, the Storekeeper, and the Soldiery, which makes the misery still further.
A constable obtains half a ration more than the common man; so does an overseer and all petty officers, therefore in the midst of poverty, such an indulgence and an exemption from the labor of the place, makes them vigilant and dutiful, even sometimes to more than strict propriety, for they are very often found in malicious lies and enmity against their fellow prisoners with the view of favor, and when such case is exposed, the punishment they intended to administer to another is very deservedly extended to themselves.
The Commandant is a humane good man, but the people are such a set of rascals, punishment is actually necessary to be frequent for example sake. The punishment generally inflicted at this place is corporeal, and that over the breech, by the beat of the drum, two floggers alternately administering twenty-five lashes until the quantum sufficit be given. Men at this settlement reduced to the last stage of despair, frequently run into the woods and live upon what nature in her uncultivated state affords among the wild productions of the forest. But soon the delusion vanishes, starvation threatens them close, and afraid to return to their duty, they make the best route they can, crossing rivers and lakes and sleeping in the open air, enduring every privation of comfort, until, if they should survive the fatigue, they arrive at some settlement. A man of the name of Creig, actually asserts, that when he made a similar effort to extricate himself from this state of bondage, he came to a spot where he beheld, leaning against a tree, the skeleton of a man, with a musket by his side, also against the tree, and which he supposes to be a bush ranger, like himself. Many are compelled from hunger to give themselves up, and very frequently so starved that they can scarce crawl upon their hands and knees to the happy spot of a dungeon. The head clergyman of the colony is Mr. Marsden, and there are several assistant divines; there are also a good many methodists, who meet with poor encouragement from the lower orders. The several jailers of the colony have more followers than the clergy have, yet I must acknowledge religion gains fast in the colony. Formerly marriage was not known, but latterly under the influence of Governor Macquarie, to his credit be it known, that ceremony is very frequently solemnized, and people do not depend on each other's word, quite so much as usual. However such matters are too common, and scores of women I know who have cohabited regularly with different men and lived as happy as man and wife, happy with each, and with unconcern about it.
Happy! I say wrong! for very little happiness such a man or woman has, but I mean without killing each other, a few blows, and when they can't do, why part and no more about it. Women are generally of a very drunken cast, and a glass of rum will purchase favors even from married people, so very ill habits have they contracted either on board a ship or at home. It is no uncommon matter for women following their husbands to this colony to lose their characters on board the ship coming out - by drunkeness, whoredom, and the like, and the consequence is, they have to provide for themselves on landing, as their husbands are not compelled to take them under such circumstances.
On the arrival of a ship from England, a list of the letters is immediately exposed for view, and I have often already looked this over very anxiously, but never yet obtained one for me. Remember me most sincerely and affectionately to my brothers Sam and Joe, and my father and mother. Tell the children I have not forgot them, and tell Jane I hope she is a good girl. Hoping to see you and my dear children, I conclude, in good will and sincerity to all inquiring friends, and in love to you and my family, believe me,
Your very affectionate, though unfortunate husband,