Lloyds Weekly April 2nd 1843
The horrors of transportation
At the Liverpool Assizes on Tuesday last George ROBINSON, alias SAXON, pleaded guilty to the charge of having illegally returned from transportation. The prisoner, who had the appearance of a man worn down by hardship and anxiety on being called up for judgement, addressed the court at considerable length and with a propriety of language and deportment rather above his station.
He said the occasion of his being then placed at the bar was the love of his native land and a desire once more that he could see it that he could not resist.
He had he said in the August of 1820, being then but 18 years of age, been convicted at Lancaster assizes of a highway robbery at Pendleton. He was left for execution, but his punishment was commuted to transportation for life. He acknowledged the justice of his sentence, but alleged it was his first and only offence and that on his arrival in the colony he had most resolutely determined to lead a new life, and to merit, if possible, the mercy of the Crown. He had been punished more than once in the colony, but never for a dishonest action, of that he had never been suspected.
His sole offence was that of having at last returned to his native land. So irresistible did his desire become, that he took an opportunity of swimming off in the night to a brig called the Perseverance, then lying off Sydney and succeeded in concealing himself among the cargo. The vessel put to sea and he remained seven days in his hiding place. The vessel was driven back by stress of the weather, and again put into the port of Sydney. He was delivered up to the authorities, tried for endeavouring to escape, and sentenced to receive 100 lashes and undergo the remaining period of his transportation in a penal settlement.
He was sent to Hunter’s River. He there, he said, suffered unutterable hardships. Orders were finally received to transfer the convicts to Macquarrie harbour. On arrival there, he, for the first time for twelve months had the irons taken off his legs. He was, however, shut out from all communication with the world. He had no means or opportunity of writing to his friends. Pen and ink were forbidden, and their possession exposed the party to punishment. He bore his situation there for a long time, but he at last resolved to attempt his escape.
On the 27th December 1822 he left the settlement with eight others. On the third day of their journey they were attacked by a party of natives, whose spears, he said, were as powerful weapons in their hands as a musket in the hands of a white man, and after a contest in which he was severely wounded, they were robbed of their provisions, clothes and everything they possessed. They had then the choice of going on naked as they were, or of returning to the settlement, where they would receive 100 lashes each, and be condemned to work in chains in the lowest gang. He, for his part, was resolved at all hazards to proceed, and the rest agreed to venture with him. They took a wrong course and lost themselves among the Blue Mountains. For sixteen days they wandered on, exposed to all the inclemencies of the weather, and with no other food than the garbage they picked up in the bush.
They then met another party of natives, who were out hunting and offered to conduct them to the coast. They were six days in the bush, perfectly naked, and during the latter part of the time living on what they could pick up along the shore. They were then about ten miles northward of Port Philip at that time a new settlement, when they fell in with a group of natives employed by the government to look after fugitives, and were by then taken into custody.
They were removed to Coal river, and landed in the open day, naked as they had been taken from the bush. A government blanket was there issued to each, and they were removed to Hunter’s river, where they remained for 14 days, upon rations of 1lb of salt meat and 1lb of bread.
They were then put on a government vessel called the Sally, proceeding to Sydney with coals. They were obliged to leave their blankets behind, and but for the kindness of the commander, who supplied them with canvas on which to sleep, they would have had no resting place, but the coals in the hold of the vessel. They were landed at the quay at Sydney, among a crowded population – naked. The people of Sydney kindly supplied them with some clothes, but one man of the party was for six weeks without any covering whatever except a pair of canvas trousers.
They were tried for the attempt to escape, sentenced to receive 100 lashes, and to be sent to Van Diemen’s Land, and hence back again to Macquarrie Harbour. The 100 lashes were commuted on the recommendation of the surgeon, their haggard and emaciated condition being such as to render the infliction of that part of the punishment unsafe. They were 13 weeks in Hobart Town, Van Diemen’s Land, and there, for the first time a suit of government clothes was served out to each man. From hence they were sent to Macquarrie Harbour. He remained there for a considerable time, but he could not resist the temptation of endeavouring again to see England, and he with 12 others succeeded in getting possession of a whale-boat in which they put to sea, without sails and almost without provisions. They made a sail of several of their shirts fastened together and ran along the coast for 9 days when they were finally obliged to put into Hobart Town for want of food.
They were tried for stealing the boat, and again sent back to Macquarrie Harbour. They were then placed on what was called the Big Island, and the horrors of their sojourn there, were, he said, perfectly indescribable. So intolerable was it that more than one convict was known to have committed murder, that he might escape, tough but for a short time, from his intolerable sufferings, though that short respite was to be followed by death. One of the name of PEARCE, absconded from Macquarrie with several others. They soon began to suffer from the want of provisions, and were at last driven to the dreadful alternative of sacrificing one to save the rest. One by one fell victim, until PEARCE and one MACFARLANE alone remained. They watched one another for 48 hours, until PEARCE got an opportunity of killing his companion. He was finally under the necessity of surrendering himself, and was tried for this murder. It was held to have been done in the last emergency, and for self-preservation, and he was again sent down to Macquarrie Harbour. He again absconded with one COX. This person he also killed shortly after they had taken to the bush and for this murder he was finally executed.
After being 7yrs and 4mths, at Macquarrie Harbour, the prisoner was sent to Hobart Town and was allowed a greater portion of liberty than he had enjoyed before. He was rendered assignable and was employed in laying out one of the new roads in the neighbourhood of the settlement. When this was completed he was about to return to government when he resolved to make another attempt to escape.
He swam on board a vessel lying off the harbour and succeeded in concealing himself among the cargo. He remained there for 21 days, until the vessel was fairly at sea, and during this time he suffered dreadfully from hunger and thirst. He was at last obliged to come on deck. The captain said he would give him up at the first port which they touched, and he did so accordingly on their arrival at St Helena. He was sent back to the Cape of Good Hope, and thence to Robins Island. His head was shaved and 25lbs weight of iron was put on him. He worked there for 7 months in a gang of coloured men, and was then sent back to Van Diemens Land.
On the way the vessel encountered a gale of wind, on which occasion he rendered himself so useful that he was strongly recommended to government for a commutation of his sentence. He was sent to Macquarrie Harbour for three years, and was then brought back to Hobart Town, where he remained until 1840, when his good conduct enabled him to obtain a ticket of leave.
He was now comparatively comfortable, but he still longed for his native land. He succeeded once more in concealing himself on board an American whaling vessel, and remained 14 days below. He was obliged to come on deck when the captain accused him of being an escaped convict, and said he would give him up on the first opportunity. The vessel cruised for about four months in the Pacific, and touching at New Zealand he took the opportunity of swimming ashore and going up the country among the natives. By them he was well treated, and he at last got an opportunity of getting as a freeman, on board an American ship bound for Boston. From thence he got a passage as a sailor to Quebec, from whence he sailed for Liverpool. He had gone to Manchester, and had since endeavoured to get an honest living. He hoped his case would receive a merciful consideration, and that the sufferings hew had undergone for the past one and twenty years might be some expiation for the crime of his youth.
Mr Baron PARKE said that the tale he had related, would, he trusted, help to dissipate any idea that might be lurking in the minds of anyone who might hear it, that transportation was a light punishment. It was his duty simply to pass on him the sentence that he should be transported again for the term of his natural life.
The prisoner bowed respectfully and was removed from the bar.
The appearance of the man was calculated to procure credence for the history he related. There was a remarkable expression of suffering and hardship in his countenance and there was something very moving in the manner in which he received the sentence that was to consign him again to the horrors he had been describing.