A Short History - Wild Wild Women
The infant Colony of New South Wales being a dumping ground for female as well as male convicts, the slums and bordellos of England's great cities contributed women to fill the transports bound for Botany Bay. And when, by ill-fortune, an unfortunate woman guilty of a petty misdemeanour, but still retaining some moral standards, found herself aboard one of the earlier convict ships, her chances of reaching her destination undebauched were exceedingly slim. Prostitutes, procuresses, female sneak-thieves and associates of criminals emerged from their eight months' trip more degraded even than when they embarked; a woman of virtue who managed to retain it under the conditions ruling in the early convict ships deserved canonization. With only one idea in mind: to rid England of as many as possible of its social outcasts, the Home Authorities took no steps to safeguard the moral welfare of the women they were casting out. The result was inevitable: both officers and crews of the transports saw no reason to sentence themselves to months of celibacy, and the female petition of their human cargo was unblushingly shared among them.
There were 191 convict women in the holds of four ships, the Lady Penrhyn, the Friendship, the Prince of Wales, and the Charlotte, when in May, 1787, the First Fleet left England for Botany Bay. Some of the women had been sentenced to life imprisonment and others were serving from seven to fourteen years' sentences. Most of these prisoners were what the authorities called 'the very dregs of society', but the contemporary ballad, botany Bay, more crudely described them as 'night-walking strumpets who swarmed in each street, ... whores, pimps and bastards, a large costly crew'. That many were unrepentant profligates in graphically revealed in the unpublished (and mostly unprintable) Journal of Lieutenant Ralph Clark, housed in the archives of the Mitchell Library. Clark, who was aboard the Friendship, and had penned his Journal solely for his wife's perusal, said: 'I never could have thought that there were so many abandoned wretches in England: they are ten thousand times worse than the men Convicts ... In all the course of my days I never heard such expression come from the mouths of human beings'.
The Journal of Surgeon Arthur Bowes of the Lady Penrhyn contains such passages as this: 'I believe, I may venture to say, there was never a more abandoned set of wretches collected in any one place at any one period than are now to be met with in this ship in particular, and I am credibly informed the comparison holds with respect to all the convicts in the Fleet'. Commencing on the tact that corporal punishment was no deterrent, he adds that neither did he 'conceive it possible to adopt any plan to induce them to behave like rational on even Human Beings'. Surgeon General John White, whose Journal of a Voyage to New South Wales was published in 1790, in giving evidence of the wanton behaviour of the women afloat, wrote: 'So predominant was the warmth of their constitutions, or the depravity of their hearts, that the hatches over the places where they were confined could not be suffered to lay off, during the night, without a promiscuous intercourse immediately taking place between them and the seamen ... In some of the ships, the desire of the women to be with the men was so uncontrollable that neither shame nor the fear of punishment could deter them from making their way through the bulkheads to the apartments assigned to the seamen'.
From the Reverend John West we have this eye-witness account of conditions under which some of the convicts came out: 'Both female and male prisoners were commonly forwarded together the officers and soldiers selected companions for the voyage, and a sentence of transportation included prostitution. It is not incredible that modest women rejected life on such terms, and preferred a public execution to the ignominy of a floating brothel. These practices were first tolerated, and afterwards justified as politic'. Captain Bertram spoke from experience when recording the depravity of these voyages. After stating that the officers had the right of selection of women convicts, he says: 'The unhappy male convicts are denied, save occasionally, these profligate liberties. Sometimes, however, they range into the quarters assigned to the women. The males, accustomed in London to indiscriminate licence, discover the greatest regret at the restraint of their passions, in the grossest oaths and in the coarsest language. The females, who rather resemble the brutes than rational creatures in their excesses, answer their reproaches and rage with equal effrontery and unbounded impudence. It is a scene like pandemonium - a second hell'.
Again, we have a writer referring to Sunday on shipboard: 'A surgeon gave the reading of the Church Service sometimes to a woman, who used to burlesque the whole'. Yet there were officials who defended these conditions. Wrote Surgeon Cunningham: 'Poor Jack is planted in a perfect garden of temptation when among, probably a hundred of these fair seducers'. He then suggested that this promiscuous intercourse on shipboard may help to reform the women by their being 'initiated in the moral principles of personal attachment'! Surgeon Arthur Bowes mentions the women's 'base ingratitude in plundering the sailors, who at every port sent the whole of their wages in providing wearing apparel and small luxuries for these abandoned women'. By the end of the voyage many of the women were half-naked having gambled away most of their clothing. Masters of transports carrying women convicts always had the difficulty of prostitution. The law did not permit ships' masters to punish their crews for this, and in any case they realised that any such restraint could lead to mutiny. Flagrant prostitution was the inevitable result.
Captain Phillip himself said of the women prisoners aboard the vessels of the First Fleet: 'I am very sorry to say that those we have are most of them very abandoned wretches'. Even before leaving England he foresaw the troubles and problems he would have with them on the long voyage, since he told Lord Sydney: 'I do not know but it may be best if the most abandoned are permitted to receive the visits of the convicts in the limits allotted to them at certain hours and under certain restrictions'. In later days, to help rectify the numerical disproportion of the sexes in the colony which was responsible for so much vice, some good people in England sent out some free but destitute young women. this was not altogether a success. Twelve of these young ladies, sent out by a religious society, were christened by the sailors 'the twelve apostles'. Apostles they may have been, but not of virtue, since Surgeon Cunningham noted 'a goodly proportion of that chosen band being found in a matronly way by the reverend inspector who visited them on arrival'.
In 1822, John Nicol, a mariner who served on the Lady Juliana when that vessel was reserved for women prisoners, published his reminiscences. His journal in illuminating: 'The Lady Juliana carried 245 female convicts. Amongst these was Mrs. Barnsley, a noted sharper and shop-lifter who openly boasted that for a century her family had been swindlers and highwaymen. Indeed, her brother, a highwayman, as well-dressed and genteel in his appearance as any gentleman, came to farewell her on board before we sailed from Portsmouth. Other notorious women in our company were Mrs. Davis, swindler and fence, and Mary Williams, receiver of stolen goods, who had spent a long time in Newgate prison'. Then there was Nelly Kerwin, 'a female of daring habits' who had specialised in impersonating the wives of various sailors and drawing their pay envelopes. Her sentence was transportation for the rest of her natural life. Nicol pens vivid impression of various other members of the convict cargo (the need for which he explains quite simply - 'the colony at that time being in great want of women'), including the 'pretty well-behaved girl who was rumoured to be the illegitimate daughter of a British Prime Minister. He records the tragedy surrounding the lives of some of the young women convicts. There were, for example, Sarah Dorset, Mary Rose, and a young Scots girl who moved him deeply. The latter, obviously cultured, kept to herself all the time the Lady Juliana lay in harbour. Nicol often saw her crying to herself but he never learned her story. 'The poor young Scots girl I have never yet got out of my mind', he wrote years later. 'She died, probably of a broken heart, before the transport sailed. She was young and beautiful even in convict dress, but pale as death, and her eyes red from weeping'.
Most of the women, in Nicol's opinion, were 'harmless, unfortunate creatures, the victims of the basest seduction'. Sarah Dorset was a young and pretty girl who left a decent home, attracted by the pleasure of London. Deserted after a few weeks of love-making by her 'protector' she had been forced by want upon the streets, and was taken up as a disorderly person. 'Mary Rose was a timid, modest girl, daughter of a wealthy farmer, seduced by an officer with whom she eloped to London. Ordered abroad, her lover left her in the care of his landlady, an infamous character who rapidly led the girl down the primrose way'. She was transported for perjury. 'On the voyage out, Mary Rose would not take up with any man, or join in the ribaldry'. On arrival in New South Wales she was lodged all the time in the Governor's house until she was sent back to England by the next ship. (The landlady had meanwhile confessed to the charge, and so exonerated Mary.)
John Nicol writes with an engaging frankness of all that happened on the voyage, including the love life of the crew and the convict women: 'Once we put to sea every man on board took a wife from among the convicts, they nothing loath. I must confess that I was as bad on this point as the others. The girl with whom I lived was Sarah Whitelam, a native of Lincoln, a girl of modest and reserved turn, as kind and true a creature as ever lived.' She was transported for seven years for stealing a lady's dress. 'I courted her for a week and upward and would have married her on the spot if there had been a clergyman on board. I fixed my fancy upon her from the moment I knocked the rivets out of her irons'. She bore Nicol a son on the voyage out. Some of the women formed a troublesome cargo. A few of the rougher characters got at a cask of port wine in the hold. One of these, Nancy Ferrel, after repeated warnings, had to be made an example of: 'The captain took a flour cask, cut a hole in the top for her head, two in the sides for here arms, and put it on her as a jacket'. For a while Nancy made light of it. She strutted about, smoking a pipe supplied by a companion, and danced a minuet; turning her head from side to side like a turtle, and making the others laugh. Alas, when Nancy found herself unable to sit or lie down, fatigue compelled her to bet to be let out. On promising to behave she was released from the barrel, 'but in a few days she was as bad as ever', says Nicol, adding 'there was no taming her by gentle means. We were forced to tie her up like a man and gave her 12 with the cat-of-nine tails. This alone reduced her to any kind of order'.
Nicol had a soft spot in his heart for the 'noted sharper and shop-lifter'. Mrs. Barnsley. 'She was very kind to her fellow convicts; she was a queen among them', he records, and then goes on to say that when the Lady Juliana arrived at Teneriffe Mrs. Barnsley bought a case of wine and shared it with her fellow prisoners. He tells a droll story about her spreading the tale among the pious islanders that all of the convicts were being transported for their religious convictions. the women took turns wearing the only crucifix aboard the ship, and so extracted much sympathy and a great many presents from the gullible inhabitants. The devastating Mrs. B. also took over the role of chief midwife for the numerous convicts who had borne children on this epic voyage. The Lady Juliana even had a visit from King Neptune as the vessel crossed the equator, but the ruler of the seven seas added a little spice to the traditional ceremonies by making all the crew confess their amours. 'I was really astounded at the number', Nicol records. A rather naive remark, all things considered. The only incident that slightly marred the jollity of Neptune's visit was when one of the women, alarmed at the sight of him (he was dressed in the skin of a recently captured porpoise), fainted and had a miscarriage.
Ports of call were highly profitable for the prisoners. At St. Jago they reaped considerable material advantages from co-operation with crews of ships in the harbour, and at Rio de Janeiro, where the ship stayed for several weeks taking in stores, Nicol records that 'the ladies had a constant run of visitors'. Throughout all this, John Nicol was devoted to his Sarah. On arrival in New South Wales he offered to forego his wages if allowed to stay with her in the colony, but the authorities were firm in their refusal. So, pledging here eternal faith, and leaving her his Bible with their names written in it, he sailed away in the Lady Juliana. He never again saw Sarah or his young son. John, but continued his voyagings in many parts of the world until he retired from the sea when an old man. Nicol concludes his autobiography with these words: 'I have been a wanderer and the child of chance all my days. I now only look for the time when I shall enter my last ship and be anchored with a green turf upon my heart. I care not how soon the command be given'.
Taken from the 'Proceedings of the Bench of Magistrates re prostitution on ship Janus are the following disclosures:
'The ship Janus, commanded by Captain Thomas J. Mowatt, arrived at Sydney on the 3rd of May, 1820, with 104 Female convicts from England and Ireland; Mr. George, royal Navy, having been the Surgeon Superintendent, but who died at Sea when off Van Diemen's Land. Some weeks after these females were landed, and either distributed amongst the respectable Married Settlers, or laced on the government Factory at Parramatta, it appear4ed that most of them were in a state of Pregnancy, through having lived in Prostitution with the Captain. Officers and Crew.
'It has transpired that two convict women, Lydia Esden and Mary Long, were sent to Nicholas Bayly, Esquire, of Bayly Park, but they pretended they were unable to work, and tried to return to Sydney, in order, as they said, to get some recompense from the Captain and First Mate, for their Prostitution while on board the Janus, Mary Long, who cannot write, and she lived with the Captain during the passage, while Lydia Esden lived with the First Mate John Hedges. both are pregnant ...'
'His Excellency the governor deemed it necessary that such circumstances should be duly investigat4ed by a full Bench of Magistrates, which was accordingly undertaken on the 24th of June, 1820, before Jno. Wyhlde, Esqr. the Honble the Judge Advocate; Will'm Minchin, Esqr. J.P.; John Thomas Campbell, Esqr., J.P.; Simeon Lord. Esq. J.P.l; John Piper, Esqr., J.P.
'The Reverend Philip Connolly and the Revd. Joseph Therry, Roman Catholic Chaplains, with the permission of the government had come out as passengers in the Janus, and gave evidence as follows:-
'Revd. Philip Connolly, being duly sworn stated: 'I took any passage on board the Ship Janus. About three weeks after I had been on board, I had reason to suspect some improper intercourse was going on between the female Convicts and the Sailors ... the intercourse appeared to me to be general; I have reason to believe there were two or three "Women often, indeed Constantly; in the Captain's Cabin - Lydia Esden was one, Mary Long was also one ... they were in the sleeping Births, both day and night.
'I felt it my Duty to have some conversation with the Captain in the course of a Month after we sailed. I did so frequently nearly the whole Voyage, but there was a time I ceased to do it. Convinced it was useless ... as to the Sailors, each took their partner from the Prison-room. The ship went into Rio, and a letter was sent to the Commodore Bowles, respecting the Mal-practices on board. The Captain and Surgeon in Consequence of this went on Shore, and some bolts and bars were sent onboard to keep the prison secure and to prevent Prostitution. They were shortly removed by the Sailors ... and I knew of two or three women who visited the Captain after the bolts were removed. Prostitution seemed to prevail more than before ... The Sailors seemed determined to have the women. The Hatches were removed as regularly as they were fastened, and the Captain's remonstrances had no effect, nor could it be expected they would, in consequence of his own example and Conduct. - I mean bad example ..."
'Revd. John Joseph Therry, duly sworn, gave similar evidence to that of the Revd. Connolly he stated: 'I did form an opinion as to what was going on in the Ship; - the utmost prevalence of Vice, in respect to illicit intercourse, prevailed. I mean with all the men it was general ... between them and the female Convicts. I expostulated with the Officers and Captain frequently, but fiindihng my expostulations of no use. I discontinued them."
"Mary Long, being duly sworn, stated: "When I have not been confined in the Prison during the night, I have passed my time in the Captain's Cabin. I believe I am at this time in a pregnant Condition. I charge Captain Mowatt with the cause of my being in this Condition. I washed and mended for Captain Mowatt..."
"Lydia Esden, duly sworn, stated: "I wrote a letter to Mr. Bayly, whose Government Servant I am. I was particularly urgent with him to come down to Sydney to see one of the Officers of the Ship. I complained to him that I was pregnant by the Chief Mate of the Ship, John Hedges. I passed much of my time in his Cabin during the voyage. The Surgeon knew of my going up and down, and of the other women, too, and did not peremptorily order us to our Prison, but only to be more Circumspect, and not to do it openly, lest the Priests should know of it; for that his living depended on his Character. He said he would have a women in his Cabin, if it was not for the Priests."
The Bench of Magistrates, after due consideration, found that Prostitution did prevail to a great degree on board the Janus throughout the voyage from England to this Territory, and that due exertions were not made on the part of the Captain and Officers to repress and prevent the same; and that the charges against Captain Mowatt and his Officers, individually were true and well founded in fact.'
The arrival of the First Fleet women convicts at Botany Bay was the prelude to a spectacle of utter degradation and licentiousness the like of which has no equal in the foundation of a British colony. 'surgeon Bowes has recorded in his unpublished Journal that 'The men got to them (the women) very soon after their landing, and the scene of debauchery and riot that ensued during the night may be better conceived than expressed, particularly when I say that within one hour of their landing - before they could adjust their tents in order for sleeping in them - there came on the most violent storm of lightning and rain I ever saw'. A more lurid description of the orgies and depravity of the convicts of both sexes which he witnessed on that same evening is contained in Lieutenant Ralph Clark's writings to his wife, Betty, in England.
So these deplorable excesses continued. governor Phillip was unable to cope with the problem and philosophically hoped such things would soon run their natural course, but even during the Governorship of Macquarie a contemporary official described the colony of New south Wales as being 'little better than an extensive brothel'.
The Female Factory
In England, Mrs. Elizabeth Fry and her excellent companions were labouring diligently with their admirable work among the female prisoners of Newgate. When any of these prisoners were shipped to New South Wales the pious band of reformers farewelled them with personal comforts and religious books together with their prayers and good wishes. What did the prisoners find when they disembarked? No means were available for them to continue their moral regeneration. There must have been many among them who dreamed of starting a new life in a land of peace. Any such vision would have been shattered as they neared the landing place. Reckless, swearing men, and wanton-looking., ragged, foul-mouthed women, were then saluting their approach. The reeking smell from rum shanties met them on their walk to the temporary shelter at the jail, where they were to be lodged for the night. No clergyman was there to receive them.
How the night was passed is told by a Dr. Reed: 'On visiting the gaol in Sydney, the morning after the women prisoners had been landed, I found that many of them spent the night in noise and indecent revelry, occasioned by beer and spirits which had been introduced, and that could not have been done without the knowledge of their keepers. he next day the women were conducted to the female factory at Parramatta. They were taken in small boats rowed by convict constables. The fifteen miles' journey often took eight to ten hours, and the helpless women were exposed to brutal treatment and licentiousness on the part of their warders, who made no bones about forcing their attentions on them. In his report tabled before the British House of Commons, Commissioner J. T. Bigge stated: 'In their passage from Sydney, great irregularities take place; the women frequently arrive at Parramatta in a state of intoxication, after being plundered of such property as they had brought from the ship with them'. Commenting on their arrival at the factory, he reported: 'The insufficient accommodation that is afforded to those females who might be well disposed, presented an early excitement, if not an excuse, for their resort to indiscriminate prostitution; and on the night of their arrival at Parramatta, those who were not deploring their state of abandonment were traversing the streets.' Describing the discomforts at the factory, the Commissioner wrote: 'The women have no other beds than what they can make from the wool in its dirty state. They sleep upon this at night in the midst of their spinning wheels'.
A Sydney Gazette of 1857 referred to the female factory as 'a hotbed of depravity'. Surgeon Reed, in describing the arrival fo women convicts there, says: 'On their arrival the preceding evening, they had not got within the factory before they were surrounded by hordes of idle fellows, convicts, where were provided with bottles of spirits and others with provisions, for the purpose of forming a banquet, according to custom, which they assured themselves of enjoying without interruption, as a prelude to excesses which decency forbids to mention ...' He goes on to say: 'One of the women, whose disposition had been particularly improved on the voyage, and who retained a strong sense of propriety, explained with tears of anguish: "O god! sir, we are all sent here to be destroyed"'.
So much for Elizabeth Fry's hopes that in their new land her charges would be able to forget the temptations and miseries of their old existence. Commissioner Bigge blamed those in authority, especially the resident magistrate, the Reverend Samuel Arsden, who was the senior chaplain of the colony, for allowing these evils to continue. He demanded why this clergyman-magistrate did nothing to protect these unfortunate women from licentious convicts. James Bonwick, in his writings of the early days, says: 'Even within the author's experience of the colony, the female factory, from which women were hired for service in private families, had some forbidding aspects. It was the seat of idleness, the resort of the vicious. The atmosphere was polluted with the fumes of tobacco smoked by the women and the walls echoed with the shrieks of passion, the peals of foolish laughter, and oaths of common converse. The beginners in the walks of vice associated with the abandoned veterans of crime'.
The first female factory at Parramatta was built over a prison housing male convicts. The filthy floorboards of the women's quarters in this plague spot were warped and open in large cracks through which the women could talk to the men prisoners below. A constable, himself a convict and whose only pay was an extra half-ration, was the night supervisor whose duty it was to keep; an eye on the stairway connecting the two floors. rather than dwell in the squalor of the surroundings allotted to him he shifted his abode to more agreeable quarters nearby, and out of range of his responsibilities. The new factory was a large three-storied building designed to house 300 women. There were dormitories with twenty double beds in each of them, weaving, spinning and carding rooms, and cells for solitary confinement. It cost about 6,000 pounds to build but so much loam had been mixed in the cement that the building was crumbling before its completion. It was to the female factory at Parramatta that many of the settlers went to select a wife. What was the procedure? We can do no better than read the evidence of a Mr. Mudie, a settler, who was examined before a committee of the British House of commons on the system of obtaining a wife from the factory:
'If,' said he, 'a master has convict that he is anxious to keep, and whom he believes to be well behaved, it is considered a great indulgence if he gives him permission to get a wife from the factory; but the master must enter into an agreement with the Government to feed and support the women and, in fact, the offspring, to prevent its being a burden on the Government. This being done, the man goes and he gets an order to the matron of the factory, and, of course, this is for a wife. The women are turned out, and they all stand up as you would place so many soldiers, or so many cattle, in fact, at a fair.
'It is requisite for me to state that the same sort of ceremony, and the same mode, occurs with a free-man; for there are free-men that go to the factory to select a wife. The man goes up and looks at the women; and if he sees a lady that takes his fancy he makes a motion to her, and she steps on one side. Some of them will not, but stand still and have no wish to be married; but this is very rare. Then they have, of course, some conversation together, and if the lady is not agreeable, or if the man does not fancy her from her conversation, she steps back, and the same ceremony goes on with two or three more. I have known of convicts going, and having the pick of one or two hundred without finding one to please them the lowest fellows you can fancy have said, it wouldn't do, they could not get one to suit. But he finds one to please him, they get married'.
'This arrangement of selecting a wife was a decided improvement on the treatment of convict women in earlier days. The Irish rebel, Joseph Holt, was an ye-witness of the occurrences of which he speaks - 'Governor King's proceeding respecting the poor convict women, on their arrival in the colony was abominable. They were disposed of by Potter, the bellman, as so much live stock. I have men, them afterwards sold - one of them for a gallon of rum, others for live pounds and so on; and thus they were transferred from one brutal fellow to another, without remedy or appeal'. Apart from housing convict women, those in service who were found pregnant were sent to the female factory, there to lie in. No attempt was ever made to discover the father. The children thus brought into the world were attended to by thirty convict nurses who reside there and who were engaged solely for that purpose. When the babies reached the age of three, should they survive in such a place and under such conditions, they were transferred to the orphan schools. Often the convict women got out of their place of detention by arranging with a male convict for a 'marriage'. The gentleman friend would apply to the authorities for permission to take the lady for a wife. As the Government was always anxious to have as many women off its hands as possible, a licence to marry was obtained with little difficulty. Nor were needless and perplexing questions asked or inquiries made as to how many times the lady had already 'married'. At any rate, the prison doors were easily opened under such arrangements.
In the negotiations secretly carried on between the two parties for a matrimonial release, a covenant was usually entered into. The man often made a hard bargain for undergoing the risk and trouble of the woman's release, and insisted on her consent to certain terms of redemption. Surgeon Reed, in 1822, thus referred to these sham marriages. 'Making a contract beforehand that the woman (wife so called) should appropriate a certain quantity of the wages of sin for the support of the man who thus espouses her. In this state the degraded victim of sensuality is often transferred from one master to another, banding about in this shocking and unnatural way until the mere figure is all that remains of the human being'.
Looking back on such pictures, and judging by the standards of today, one can only restrain one's abhorrence by reflecting that there must have been in the colony women of a moral calibre higher than that of the unhappy wretches recorded by observers such as Surgeon Reed, Commissioner Bigge and James Bonwick. But Diogenes setting out with his lantern on a search for one honest man could scarcely have faced a harder task than a nineteenth century philosopher setting out in the very early eighteen hundreds to discover in New South Wales a virtuous woman.
The Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge favoured the young parson with bibles, prayer-books and catechists, and a formidable library of no less than 4,200 edifying books calculated to console and uplift their fallen readers. Of these books which they presumably expected would be in heaviest demand they obligingly supplied in bulk lots. Thus there were 200 copies of Exercises Against Lying, 100 of White's Dissuasions from Stealing, 100 copies of Exhortations to Chastity, and 50 of Woodward's Caution to Swearers. If the Rev. Richard Johnson refrained from visiting the prison holds on the long voyage to this country he at least saws to it that Divine Service was held every Sunday on two of the vessels of the fleet, and he baptised a member of children. However, when the Supply reached Port Jackson and made a landing on Saturday, January 26, 1788,he was unable to hold a religious service the following day because the chaotic unloading of the goods and prisoners was still in progress. The first church service in Australia was held, therefore, the succeeding Sunday, with a congregation of officers, marines and convicts assembled, according to the chaplain's Register 'under some trees'. Lieutenant Ralph Clark (who wrote so bluntly of the behaviour of the profligate convicts) in his Journal said of this memorable service: 'We had a very good sermon, the text being taken from the 116th Psalm, and the 12th verse. "What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits towards me?"
Within a few days Johnson was kept busy with his religious duties, attending the sick, marrying convicts (although it appeared that some of the parties already had spouses and children in England), and attending public executions. that he did much good work has long been recognized, but while he was doing it he received little or no encouragement from governor Phillip and his immediate superiors, and he seems to have been regarded in the light of a nuisance and of little importance in the arduous job of establishing a new colony. Why he found so little favour with the Governor is rather puzzling - even before leaving Portsmouth Phillip complained about the quality of Johnson's sermons. As neither Phillip nor anyone else had made a move to provide him with a church after five years of waiting for it, Johnson resolved to build one for himself. The result was a quaint structure of wattle-and-daub and thatch from Rushcutter Bay, which was erected at a total cost of 67 pounds. 12s. 11.1/2d. The poor parson's difficulty was now to get reimbursement for his zealous undertaking, but he found this officialdom paid no heed to his pleas for payment of the account. this is a copy of one of his pleadings addressed to governor Hunter in December, 1795:
'Sir, I beg leave to state to you the following circumstances, viz.: That, after having made repeated applications, first to governor Phillip and afterwards to Major Grose, the late Lieutenant governor, for a place of worship to be erected, and there being no prospect of my application being complied with, I was a t length (after being in the Colony for about five years and half) induced and resolved to erect a temporary place for the purpose. That when I had completed this undertaking I laid before the Lieutenant governor an estimate of the expenses, requesting that he would transmit the same to the Honorable Mr. Donadas, not doubling but that these expenses would be refunded. but from letters which I have lately received from some respectable friends, some doubts have arisen in my mind whether the application and request which I have made will be compiled with. After having declared that my sole intention in undertaking and accomplishing this business was for the good of the service, I submit to you, sir, whether there could be anything unreasonable or improper in my making such request and application.
Should my conduct in what I have done meet with your approbation, I humbly request, sir, that you make such a representation of the affair to his Majesty's Ministers that those obstacles which have unexpectedly arisen may be removed. I have taken the liberty of enclosing to you, in brief, an estimate of the expenses that I have been at in the above affair'.
Also, before Reverend Richard Johnson got paid the 67 pounds. 12s. 11.l/2d the little church was burnt down, supposedly by convicts who objected to compulsory attendance at the Sunday services. worn out by hard work, privations, and lack of co-operation from officials, the chaplain left the colony in 1799 and returned to England. He was curate of Ingham, in Norfolk, when he died in 1827. governor Hunter had paid honour to him when he described him as 'a mmost dutiful son of the church of England ... a very good, pious, inoffensive man', but better still was the tribute paid by a young convict in 1790, when in a letter to his home he wrote: 'On the same account I believe few of the sick would recover if it were not for the kindness of the Rev. Mr. Johnson, whose assistance out of his own stores make him the physician both of soul and body'.
* * * * * * * * *
Here is a letter signed by Joseph Smith from among the 'Voluntary Statements of the People of New South Wales', collected by Caroline Chisholm (1808-77) philanthropist, and possibly 'the greatest of woman pioneers in the history of Australia', as she has been described.
'I arrived in the colony fifty-six years since; it was Governor Phillip's time, and I was fourteen years old, there were only eight houses in the colony then. I know that myself and eighteen others laid in a hollow tree for seventeen weeks, and cooked out of a kettle with a wooden bottom; we used to stick it in a hole in the ground, and make a fire around it. I was seven years in bondage, and then started working for a living wherever I could get it.
'There was plenty of hardship then. I have often taken grass, pounded it, and made soup from a native dog. I would eat anything then. For seventeen weeks I had only a few ounces of flour a day. We never got a full ration except when the ship was in harbour. The motto was "Kill them, or work them, their provision will be in more." Many a time have I been yoked like a bullock with twenty or thirty others to drag along timber. About eight hundred died in six months at a place called Toogabbie, or Constitution hill.
'I knew a man so weak, he was thrown into the grave, when he said, "don't cover me up; I'm not dead; for God's sake don't cover me up!" The overseer answered, "Damn yo9ur eyes, you'll die to-night, and we shall have the trouble to come back again!" The man recovered; his name is James Glasshouse, and he is now alive in Richmond. They used to have a large hole for the dead; once a day men were sent down to collect the corpses of prisoners, and throw them in without any ceremony in service. The native dogs used to come down at night and fight and howl in parks, gnawing the poor dead bodies.
'The governor would order the lash at the rate of five hundred, six hundred or eight hundred; and if the men could have stood it they would have had more. I knew a man hung there and then for stealing a few biscuits, and another for stealing a duck frock. A man was condemned - no time - take him to the tree, and hang him. the overseers were allowed to flog the men in the fields. Often have men been taken from the gang, had fifty, and sent back to work. Any man would have committed murder for a month's provisions: I would have committed three murders for a week's provisions! I was chained seven weeks on my back for being out getting greens, wild herbs. The Rev. Marsden used to come it tightly to force some confession. Men were obliged to tell lies to prevent their bowels from being cut out by the lash. The laws were bad then. If an officer wanted a man's wife, he would send the husband to Norfolk Island.
'Old Jones killed three men in a fortnight at the saw by overwork. We used to be taken in large parties to raise a tree, when the body of the tree was raised, Old Jones would call some men away - then more; the men were bent double - they could not bear it - they fell - the tree on one or two, killed on the spot. "Take him away; put him in the ground." there was no more about it. After seven years I got my liberty, and then started working about for a living where I could get it ...'
The letter concludes with Joseph smith's rise to prosperity as a well to do farmer in the Hawkesbury district. Caroline Chisholm described Smith in the following terms:
'He was an old man, with a large-featured, handsome, military sort of face, of a red-brown complexion, shaved clean. His dress consisted of a red flannel shirt, with a black bandana, tied sailor fashion, exposing his strong neck, and a pair of fustian trousers. Out of compliment to the lady he once put on a blue coast with gilt buttons, but, being evidently uncomfortable, consented to take it off again.'
A major problem for Governor Phillip was the feeding of his subjects. The Home Government apparently thought it no problem at all, for, after giving the opinion that the settlement would, in a short time, 'be simply supplied with vegetables and most likely with fish', it laid down the following instructions: 'It is our will and pleasure that you proceed to the cultivation of the land, distributing the convicts for that purpose in such manner and under and under such inspectors or overseers, and under such regulations as may appear to be necessary and best calculated for securing supplies of grain and ground provisions'.
All this sounded feasible enough on paper, but the Home government did nothing to help Phillip do its 'will and pleasure'. He was sent to a country of the resources of which neither he nor his government knew anything. Few tools were supplied for the cultivation of the land, and of inspectors or overseers there were none. 'I am without one botanist, or even an intelligent gardener in the colony'. Phillip wrote under date September 28, 1788. The precious cargo of salt pork, flour, rice and peas landed from the store-ships were sufficient only to last for a comparatively brief period. Captain Watkin Tench, writing in that time: 'When the age of the provisions is recollected is inadequacy will more strikingly appear. the pork and rive were brought with us from England: the pork had been salted between three and four years, and every grain of rice was a moving body from inhabitants lodged within it. We soon left off boiling the pork as it had become so old and dry that it shrank one-half in its dimensions when so treated. Our usual method of cooking it was to cut off the daily morsel and toast it on a fork before the fire, catching the drips which fell on a slice of bread, or on a saucer of rice ... nor was another part of our domestic economy less whimsical. If a lucky man who had knocked down a dinner with his gun, or caught a fish by angling from the rocks, invited a neighbour to dine with him, the invitation always ran "bring your own bread". Even at the Governor's table this custom was strictly observed. Every man when he sat down pulled his bread out of his pocket and laid it y his plate'.
Phillip made every effort to provide a supply of green foodstuffs for his flock. On the voyage out he had procured at Rio de Janeiro and the Cape seeds and plants of many varieties of vegetables and fruit trees. those that survived the voyage were planted in the garden near the tent, on the present site of the Customs House at Circular Quay. To grow wheat he selected an area next to Sydney Cove, which was given the name of Farm Cove, and is now part of the Botanic Gardens. Writing under date September 28, 1788, Phillip says 'we have about six acres of wheat, eight of barley and six acres of other grain', and in the following month he writes that he had '16 acres under cultivation at a small farm on the public account'. Lack of agricultural knowledge, however, resulted in insufficient guard against disease, and it was not long before rust attacked the cereal crops at Farm Cove and the farm had to be abandoned. Many years later when the Sydney botanic Gardens were laid out plants were placed in the original ploughed furrows, and thus it is that the long oblong beds in the middle gardens came by their shape which has been preserved to this day.
Phillip anticipated the meaning of the impending shortage of food, and apprehended this scarcity as a matter of the utmost seriousness to the settlement. In a letter he wrote to Lord Sydney as early as the 9th of July, 1788, he begged for a regular supply of provisions to be sent out from England 'as the crops for two years to come cannot be depended on for more than what will be necessary for seed'. He also stressed the necessity of sending clothing, especially shoes. The exhaustion of the supplies brought out in the First Fleet, in addition to rendering the people hungry, had its effect on their clothing. To quote again Tench: 'The distress of the lower classes for clothes was almost equal to their other wants. The stores had been long exhausted and winter was on hand. Nothing more ludicrous can be conceived than the expediency of substituting, shifting, and patching; much ingenuity was devised to eke out the wretchedness and preserve the remains of decency. The superior dexterity of the women was particularly conspicuous. Many a guard have I seen mount in which the number of soldiers without shoes exceeded that which had preserved remnants of leather.'
In spite of the very serious difficulties the settlement was facing, Phillip was optimistic,' ... I hope a very few years will put this country in a situation to support itself', he wrote in a letter to England. Unfortunately the hoped for progress was hampered by drought and the lack of speedy relief from England. In consequence, semi-starvation conditions more severe than anything experienced earlier threatened the struggling settlement. The approaching famine made further reductions in ration supplies necessary, resulting in the already stringent food supplies being cut by one-third. It is to the credit of the governor that in connection with this he proclaimed that 'no reduction of the necessaries of life was to extend to women'. there were occasions when a good haul of fish was obtained, and sometimes a few kangaroos killed, but a plentiful supply of either was not the usual state of affairs. One hunting party that was out for three weeks returned with three kangaroos. A disastrous blow at this period was the wreck of the Sirius, one of the two vessels upon which the settlement depended to procure food from distant lands. At the time of the fatality the Sirius was on a voyage to Norfolk island carrying marines and convicts there to relieve the mainland of some of its population and because of the good reports of the fertility of the island. The Sirius was to have gone in quest of food supplies after landing the passengers on Norfolk Island. though no lives were lost in the wreck, the news of the disaster cast a general gloom over the hungry community.
Phillip immediately convened a meeting of his officers to discuss the exigencies of the situation. It was then proclaimed that for the future the weekly supply would be reduced to 'no more than two pounds and a half of flour, two pounds of pork, one pint of pease, and one pound of rice to each person'. This allowance applied to every adult and child with the exception of children under the age of eighteen months who were 'to have only one pound of salt meat'. A curious diet for a child of so tender an age. All privately owned fishing boats were confiscated for the purpose of establishing a fishing industry, and officers volunteered to take their turns in the boats to see that the fish caught reached their lawful destination and were distributed among the settlers proportionally. The meagre rations had its effect on the fitness of the soldiers and convicts, with the result that both pleaded such loss of strength that they were unable to perform their customary tasks. the governor recognised the justice of the claim and the hours of public work were shortened accordingly.
After the failure of the farming venture at Farm cove, land in the Parramatta district was put under cultivation, but it was nearly two years after the settlement had been established on Port Jackson that the first harvest reaped in New South Wales was garnered. this was close to the district now called Wentworthville, but at that time part of the country known under its native name of Toongabbie. The Toongabbie farm covered an area of 1,000 acres under cultivation - 800 in maize and the rest in wheat and barley. but it was the most shocking farm that even existed in this country. George Thompson, who came out in the Royal Admiral in May, 1792, and who has left one of the most valuable r4ecords extant of the infant colony at that time, wrote this of the Toongabbie farm and its wretched labourers:
'They are allowed no breakfast hour, because they seldom have anything to eat. Their labor is felling trees, digging up the stumps, rooting up the shrubs and grass, turning up the ground with spades or hoes, and carrying the timber to convenient places. From the heat of the sun, the short allowance of provisions and the ill-treatment they receive from a set of merciless wretches (most of their own descriptions) who are the superintendents, their lives are truly miserable. At night they are placed in a hut, fourteen, sixteen or eighteen together (with a woman, whose duty it is to keep it clean, and to provide victuals for the men when at work), without the comfort of either beds or blankets, unless they take them from the ship they came out in, or are rich enough to purchase them when they come on shore. They have neither bowl, plate, spoon nor knife, but what they can make of the green wood of the country, only one small iron pot being allowed to dress their poor allowance of meat, rice, etc.; in short, all the necessary conveniences of life they are strangers to, and suffer everything they could dread in their sentence of transportation. some time ago it was not uncommon for seven or eight to die in one day, and very often while at work, they being kept in the field till the last moment, and frequently, while being carried to the hospital. Many a one has died standing at the door of the storehouse, while waiting for his allowance of provisions, merely for want of sustenance and necessary food.'
Joseph Holt in 1800 gives a description of Toongabbie farm almost identical with Thompson's, while a letter written by an ex-convict recalling his bitter experiences of the infamous farm contains these passages:
'We were yoked to draw timber in a gang. We held a stake between us six feet long and six men abreast, and dragged with our hands. Only occasionally were we given scraps of food. 800 convicts died in six months. We cleared the scrub and timber. Each man was expected to clear an acre of ground a week, but the ground was as hard as iron, the timber tough, and the few tools we had were useless. We were dreadfully weak for want of food.
'I have seen 70 men flogged in a day, 25 lashes each was the usual flogging, but I saw Maurice Fitzgerald, an Irish political prisoner, receive 300 lashes. The unfortunate man had his arms extended round a tree, his wrists tied tightly with cords, and his breast pressed close to the tree so that flinching was out of the question. It was impossible fo t him to stir. He was flogged by two men - a left-hand man and a right-handed one, so that every one of the 300 blows were given the maximum force. Blood spouted from Fitzgerald's shoulders, and I turned my head away from the sickening sight. Though he was cut to the bone, Fitzgerald never even whimpered'.
Joseph Hold, also an eye-witness to the scourging of Fitzgerald, has left on record that 'fifteen yards from the sufferer's blood, skin and flesh blew in my face as the executioners shook it from their cats - the day being windy. After feeling the convict's pulse during the punishment, Dr. Mason's (the official medico in attendance) only remark was: "Go on, this man will tire you both before he fails".
The shocking death-roll makes it difficult to compute the average number of convicts employed at the farm. However, by 1792, despite outbreaks of fever and chest complaints worsened by exposure and the burden of carrying iron chains, governor Phillip recorded a maize crop of nearly 5,000 bushels for that year. by then the harsh conditions of labour had sorted the weak from the strong among the convicts, and yielded some remarkably robust characters who were eventually to win their freedom and become the progenitors of some of the colony's most industrious and worthy families. by 1880, this most terrible of all agricultural projects in Australia was less important and Toongabbie farm was by degrees abandoned. In much later years it was subdivided and sold; part of it now belongs to the Westmead Boys' Home, and part to the Parramatta Mental Asylum.
Governor Phillip returned to England aboard the Atlantic on December 11, 1792, to be succeeded by Governor Hunter. The 'pioneer of pioneers' left the settlement with the spectre of famine still haunting the memory, if somewhat less feared. Establishing a new settlement on the shores of an unknown continent 12,000 miles from the mother country was in itself a most arduous undertaking, but Phillip's difficulties and problems were considerably increased by the unpromising raw material in the shape of colony builders he was given to work with to lay the foundations. Nor was his load lightened by his pessimistic assistant, Lieutenant Governor Major Ross, who gave him little help and less encouragement. This gloomy Jeremiah spent much of his sojourn in the colony penning mournful predictions in the Home Office that the country was not worth settling and that it was hopeless to continue with the project. 'I will, in confidence, venture to assure you', he wrote in a letter to Under-Secretary Nepean on July 10, 1788, 'that this country will never answer to settle in, for altho' I think corn would grow here, yes I am convinced that if ever it is able to maintain people here, it cannot be in less than probably 100 years hence. I therefore think it will be better to feed the convicts on turtle and venison at the London Tavern than be at the expense of sending them here'.
From the Gallows
One of the permanent government structures erected in Australia was a gallows. An example of the grim injustice and the swiftness of its operation in those days is shown with the ease of James Barrett, a youth of seventeen years who stole some food because he was hungry. On February 8, 1788, he was charged, convicted, sentenced and hanged on the gallows within sixty minutes. Curiously enough, one of the persons recorded as having eulogised the beauty of Sydney Harbour was a condemned man at the foot of the gallows. He did so on Fort Denison, better known as Pinchgut Island. The island has suffered a tremendous change in outline since the First Fleet entered the harbour. It was at that time a conical-shaped rock islet, about eighty feet in height, covered with bushes and stunted trees. Governor Phillip christened it Rock Island, a literal translation of its aboriginal name, 'Mattenwaya'. Soon after the inception of the colony it was recognised that the shark infested waters would make Rock Island an ideal spot for the safe-guarding of perverse convicts, so accommodation was made there for them. For a short while it was used to house them, and as these unfortunate gentry were fed on a small weekly ration of bread and water they soon coined for it the not inappropriate title of Pinchgut.