clearing party or clearing gang: a group of convicts who worked together under an overseer to clear land.
The new colony was heavily timbered and as such, unsuitable for grazing livestock, the planting of crops or building the style of English homes and gardens that were established. The native timbers and plants were not considered in any form of environmental sense by the English authorities so, rather than work with the environment, they went about destroying it. The convicts who were employed in clearing parties had back-breaking work to do from sun up to sun down.
In New SouthWales, where wheat is no cheaper, the settler may have his farm, however extensive, entirely cleared, and ploughed fit for the seed, at a more reasonable expense,with the indulgence of paying for the same in wheat, allowing him also two or three years in the payment of the same. It is however to be understood, that this work is all done by Clearing Parties, consisting of several hundred Crown prisoners, employed in that manner by Government,which I presume so wisely encourages the settlers, in this respect for the good of the Colony at large. (Hobart Town Gazette and Van Diemen’s Land Advertiser 16th April 1824)
The overseer rarely had to supply his clearing gang with anything as all provisions were tendered for by local settlers or fellow convicts who had gained their emancipation.
COMMISSARIAT OFFICE, SYDNEY, MARCH 17, 1824. ROAD AND CLEARING PARTIES.-The Advertisement from this Office, dated 19th Ultimo, requesting Tenders for the Victualling ofRoad and Clearing Parties, for the Period from 25th Current to 24th December next inclusive,free of all Expense to Government, on Account of Carriage, being in some Instances misunderstood by those Tendering for the Supply of these Parties employed in the Counties of Camden and Cumberland, the Term for receiving Tenders for the Victualling of the Road and ClearingParties employed in these Counties, is prolonged till Monday, the 5th Day of April next, at Noon, Intending Offerers are therefore requested to forward to this Office separate Tenders for eachParty, stating, in Words at Length, the Rate per112th they will deliver at the Huts of each of the Parties:
FLOUR, FRESH BEEF, SALT PORK and SALT BEEF, The Produce of this Colony, or of Ireland. WILLIAM WEMYSS, Deputy Commissary General. (The Sydney Gazette 25th March 1824)
This wonderful description of life in a clearing party gives a great insight into convict life.
Scene in New South Wales – A bark hut in a Government Camp, such as I have described, is a curious spectacle. Its construction, and that of every convenience within it, in rudeness of design and roughness of mechanism, may well vie with the habitations (such as travellers depicture them) of the Kamschatchians, or the Laplanders. Indebted to nature in her least improved condition, the whole is formed of materials unshaped and almost unprepared by art.
The length of the hut is usually 18 feet by 82, and just affords space for a bed place, or birth, to be erected for each of the five inmates. The bedding of the men in few instances consists of more than a single blanket, and that often a tattered one; the beds of the prisoners being taken from them on entering the Barracks, and not of late returned. A block, cut from the barrel of a small tree, and about eighteen inches high, is the easy armchair of the prisoners in the woods. A tin quart pot or pint panakin constitutes the amount of his culinary utensils. Three iron pots, two frying pans, twelve tin pots, twelve tin dishes, five kids, or wooden tubs for salting meat, five buckets, five knives and forks, a pair of scissors, a comb, and two razors, form the general stock of necessaries supplied by Government to a Gang.
For the field, every man is provided with an axe, a mattock, and a spade, which it is his duty to keep in good order. The fourth morning after their arrival (all things being ready) the party being awakened by the cock of the woods, a stupid-looking bird, with a large ugly bill, of a singular note, and which has procured for it the still more singular name of “the laughing Jackass,” were duly summoned. The “rod line” was quickly taken in hand, and to each man an acre and a half of standing timber was measured for the work of the coming week.
The echoing stroke of the axe, now resounded at the foot of sturdy trees, which had in all probability withstood the blasts of a century. Before the hour of breakfast, trees from eight to fourteen feet in circumference were laid prostrate on the ground, after falling with the noise of thunder. ” Slashers” was the honourable name given to good workmen. The ” Crawlers” told another tale; as a sample of their progress, the knight of the quill mentioned in the early part of our description; after knocking awkwardly at a tree for an hour or more, found it as near coming down as when he commenced his labour; from the height of four feet, from the ground, down to about one foot, he might have belaboured it with blows, but his hands, which he had by this timeworn raw, seemed to have lost nearly as much substance as the gigantic monarch of the forest, which he was in vain endeavouring to humble to the dust; at every stroke he was at length compelled to stop, and look with almost tearful eyes at his scoffing overseer, till unable to endure the torture, he cast down his axe in despair, and remained motionless.
At length the signal for breakfast was heard; the whole hastened towards the camp. Fires were soon kindled, and each prepared for himself his meal according to the stock and kind of food he possessed, as tea and sugar are only supplied monthly, when the work is done. The man who had possessed himself of these luxuries, was counted “well in” – those who were less fortunate scraped the burnt edges of their “dampers,” (wheaten meal cakes baked in the ashes) and putting the scrapings into boiling water, made a rich beverage, ‘yclept coffee, which, without either milk or sugar, was swallowed in due course. Bread is a kind of very thick pancake without fat. A slice of this, with a bit of salted beef fried in one of the frying pans, and which, when done, was almost as relishing as a salted bullock’s hide, was the breakfast of the majority. Dinner differed in nothing from breakfast, nor supper from dinner all the year round, unless a wind-fall come in their way, which in this district of wild cows and bulls was not unfrequent. Dependent upon their rations, they had to be economists who wished to eat meat after Wednesday; and two out of three would be without bread by Thursday night.
A wild cow would sometimes stray into the paddocks, and although to kill and eat it was felony, it was not to be supposed that so great a temptation as a fresh fat beef-steak would be resisted by hungry prisoners in the bush. The carcass divided, gave each a good share, and “a screech in the pan,” “a pot of soup” “a fat cake,” “a johnny-cake,”or “fritters,” alias “pancakes,” were the delicacies which such a God-send would plentifully afford. Occasionally, other aids of this description offered themselves; the “fallers” (fellers) would finish their acre and-a-half in three days or more, according to the thickness of the timber ; and a neighbouring farm, or perhaps the owner of the estate on which they were employed, would give them a job to fill up the week; payment for which would be gladly received in wheat, pork, tea,sugar, &c. When this kind of voluntary work offered itself, the real disposition to industry manifested itself. Scarcely would the diligent part of the gang allow themselves time for refreshment. It would be a matter of astonishment for strangers to be told, that the wheat given in grain, should be ground and sifted by manual labour. To grind the wheat, sift it, knead it, make a fire, bake the cake, and eat it when baked, was the business of an hour.
But to return to the progress of “clearing.” At the end of the month, nearly one hundred acres of trees would have been felled. This being equivalent to about twenty acres totally clear’d, (that is, with the fallen trees burnt off the land) the proprietor of the farm would sign a certificate to that effect, and the messenger was despatched to Liverpool, to draw the proportion of ” indulgences;” viz. tea, sugar, &c. which would arrive by the ” mess-cart” on the ensuing Saturday. As this was a joyful event, and always a source of festivity, the approach of the day was anxiously looked for; an invitation was sent to the neighbouring gang or Clearing Party; also to a few choice spirits on the adjacent farms, to come and make merry on the Saturday night. This was a custom throughout the country on such occasions, and engendered a feeling of good fellowship and harmony amongst these poor fellows, which might be considered a substitute for the charities of kindred.
The mess-cart at length arrived, and the schemes adopted in the “whacking it out,” to keep “all square and above board,” were farcical enough; they however answered the purpose. The “RoyalGeorge,” (an iron pot holding four gallons of water) was then placed on the fire; tea and sugar were thrown in by the handful, till its colour betokened a sufficiency of strength. The “jago” being thus prepared, pans were next in requisition to fry steaks, cakes, and fritters; and on the grass by moon-light, or by the light given out by two thick branches of trees laid near to each other, down the party sat, visitors and all, to partake of the fare prepared. The steaks and fritters being demolished, the tea remained as a substitute for beer or grog. The song would go round and the jest be circulated with much glee as the revellers sat round the wassail bowl of this Southern country.
The consequence of these merrymakings was, being early in the week “off the stores,” (a term commonly used to denote the total want of provisions.) A spirit of liberality, however. universally prevailed throughout these isolated detachments of prisoners, very different to the brutal selfish manners of the same men in the town Convict Barracks. It was an invariable rule never to allow a stranger to pass through the Camp, without refreshment, if he wished to partake; and the best bed was always given up to him if it was near sun-down. How often so ever their hospitality was thus put to the test, mattered not, it was a point of honour to exercise it, and the prospect of half-a-week’s deprivation of food seldom deterred the men from sharing their weekly store with the poor Convict-traveller. When no other supply was to be obtained, a boiled pumpkin, or a roasted “cob of corn,” was gladly and satisfactorily made available to fill an otherwise supperless belly, for in these parts there are no inns. (The Monitor, 12th July 1827)
But life was not always as it seems from the above description and many complaints were heard by local magistrates as to the cruelty of overseers. These complaints were usually disregarded.
To the Editor of the Sydney Gazette. SIR, I am in the habit of occasionally frequenting the courts of Justice in the Colony, particularly our Police Office, and I am rather surprised at the excessive trouble imposed on the Magistracy in having to listen to pretended complaints from the clearing parties, who may think proper, for the sake of idling away their employer’s time, to come to Sydney, probably ,at a distance of. 30 or 40 miles, if not more. I have also observed, that the charge has always been preferred against the overseer, who becomes impeached of partiality, theft, cruelty, or drunkenness ; but no single charge has yet been brought home to the overseer,to my knowledge. However, to prevent those disputes,which are likely ever to be recurring, especially if the overseer is faithful to the duties of his office, I would beg leave to recommend to the Government, through the medium of the Gazette, that an officer, under the designation of Inspector or Superintendent, be appointed to superintend or inspect the various clearing parties throughout the Colony. He would be able to see whether the men actually could perform the work required ; whether the ground was of that nature to enable the men to work it; and whether the overseer was a man fit to have the control of a gang. &c If the Superintendent could not rectify any differences,then, and then only, the authority of the Magistrates should be called forth ; and the latter, in the execution of their duty, would have the assistance of the Superintendent ; but now, they have to grope their way in the dark, and are not able to.come to a satisfactory conclusion in one case probably out of ten, because the overseer says one thing, and assuredly the men not only deny his allegations, but systematically impeach him. I am, yours, &c. A Friend, Warragombie, Feb. 20, 1823 (The Sydney Gazette 27th February 1823)
Certificate of Emancipation – term meaning a document which proved that a convict’s sentence had been served and was usually given to convicts with a 7, 10 or 14 year sentence. Convicts with a life sentence could not receive a Certificate but could receive a pardon.
variations: Certificate of Freedom, Certificate of Exemption, Certificate of Leave
It was ordered that every person in the colony needed to have some proof of identity, and being a penal settlement, it was obvious to choose to distinguish between those who were still under sentence, and those whose sentences had expired. It became an offence to hire for labour anyone who did not hold a variation of a certificate which was similar to a character reference, showing that the person who held it had been honest and industrious and therefore was entitled to their freedom.
As every Person under the sentence of the Law, whether at Government Labour, assigned to individuals, or allowed to get their own livelihood, as well as all those who have expiated the Sentence of the Law, or become Emancipated, are provided with Passes from the Superintendents, Magistrates or their Master; or hold Certificates from the Secretary’s Office, of the Permission or Freedom they enjoy ; — Every person whatever is strictly forbid employing or harbouring any person without seeing the Permission he is possessed of, on pain of forfeiting Five Pounds for each Offence, and Two shillings and Sixpence for each Day they were harboured or employed, to the Orphan Fund, on Conviction before two Magistrates, which Fine will in no instance be dispensed with in future; (Sydney Gazette 10th July 1803)
The certificate usually showed information about a convict such as their name, the name of the ship they arrived on and it’s master and date of arrival, where they originated from, their occupation, the date and place of their trial, how long their sentence was for and sometimes a physical description of the convict.
Certificates needed to be applied for.
Sydney, January 13, 1810. ALL Persons whose Term of Transportation to this Colony has expired, and who have not obtained a legal Certificate of Freedom, are directed to give into this Office in the course of next week a List of their Names, where tried, their Term of Transportation, by what Ship conveyed, and their time of Arrival here.- Those whose Applications may be found correct will get their Certificates of Freedom on the first Saturday in February.–For the future, all Applications for Certificates are to be made to the Secretary’sOffice on the first Saturday of every Month; and Certificates will be granted on the first Saturday of each ensuing Mouth, according to the former usage of this Colony. By Command of His Excellence, John Thomas Campbell, Secretary. (Sydney Gazette 14th January 1810)
When each yearly Muster of Convicts was taken, it was imperative that a convict show their version of certificate. No excuses were tolerated and if the certificate had been lost, the convict was considered a criminal and returned to service.
Persons whose Terms of Transportation are expired, will be required to produce their Certificates :-Those who have received Pardons or Emancipations will be required to produce them; and all those who are off the Stores, on Leave, will be required to produce theirTickets of Leave. No Excuse will be taken of Certificates of Freedom,Pardons, either Absolute or Conditional, or Tickets of Leave, being lost or mislaid ; and such Persons as are unable to produce these Documents will be considered as Prisoners, and as such will be recalled to Government Public Labour. (Sydney Gazette 20th September 1817)
Free settlers and emancipists alike were wary of hiring or associating with those who did not hold a certificate.
NOTICE. A GARDENER WANTED. ALSO, AN OVERSEER, who is capable of taking Charge of an extensive Stock of Horn Cattle and Sheep. As liberal Wages will be given, no Persons but those who are free and can produce Certificates of their honesty and conduct will be attended to. Apply to Mr. Campbell. Sydney, May 5. (Sydney Gazette 6th May 1804)
But it wasn’t easy to get a certificate. Those who worked in Government departments considered those who were applying for a certificate to be of a much lower class than themselves and treated them with disregard and disdain on their applications.
A few days ago, a clerk was complained of by a woman, for having behaved disgustingly to her while taking her height for the purpose of giving her a certificate of ticket-of-leave ; he was questioned about it by Mr. Breton, and explained by saying he did not behave immodest to the woman, he only poked her in the stomach to make her stand upright. Instead of Mr. Breton telling this young gentleman that he believed him to be incapable of behaving indecently to the woman, he should have turned him out of the office directly, and also all the other young gentlemen who were witnesses of his disgusting behaviour ; for although the magistrate disbelieves the woman, the public believe her, because the public are not strangers to the insolence of the clerks which perhaps Mr. Breton is. (The Cornwall Chronicle 9th November 1844)
As a matter of course, forgery of certificates became commonplace and a black market operated for the purpose.
Thomas White having received his certificate of freedom, and being in no personal want of it as he was in a fixed employment, obligingly lent it to a friend of his, one Thomas Black, for the purpose of enabling him to take French leave of his duty to the Public, and by simply changing his name from Black to White enjoying all the privileges to which the certificate would have entitled the real Mr. Black. In strolling through the country he offered himself accidentally to a Mr. Green who had formerly known both Black and White, and was readily induced to believe that the person who now offered himself was identically Black instead of White. After he had employed him sometime, however, a muster took place in the district, and Mr. Brown, a district constable, detected the imposture ; the result of which was that the real Mr. Black was ordered to labour for a certain period for his collusion ; Mr. White was returned to his former condition; and Mr. Green paid a pecuniary fine for his indiscretion in being so readily persuaded that White was Black, when he had a previous knowledge to the contrary. (Sydney Gazette 8th October 1814)
Very few original certificates survive today. On the deaths of convicts who had obtained their freedom, families would burn or otherwise destroy the certificates to ensure that the ‘stain of convictism’ was wiped from the family forever. … but sometimes, they were destroyed by other means …
William Smith, ship Lord Sidmouth, a runaway who had absconded from Moreton-bay, was last week brought before the Windsor Bench. He stated of himself that he had been convicted of fowl stealing, and had received a three years term of banishment. If it be proper to take the certificate of freedom from one under a Colonial conviction, neglect in that particular had arisen in some quarter, and having this appendage of freedom still in his possession, it was viewed, from time to time, with the eagerness of a miser eyeing his cash. In slavery the picture of liberty must necessarily augment the misery of a bondman.The prisoner, with others, decamped. On their passage they were intercepted by natives, some of whom could speak English ; one fancied a hat,another the trowsers, and so on, till foodless and naked, they were left in the desolate bush. One native, looking upon the certificate of freedom,said, ” What that ?” The prisoner conceiving that the natives were friendly with the Government at least, he said ” That a letter to Commandant , I am a constable.” “Letter no good; Commandant no good,” said the blackfellow, and burnt the certificate, in his presence. In this unprotected condition, the prisoner aforenamed travelled, using every subterfuge in his power to avoid being apprehended; to some he said ” I am free, and going to get my certificate renewed;” and strange to say, this story was sufficient for his purpose. (Sydney Gazette 22nd July 1826)
currency: a term used to distinguish those born locally, usually of convict parents, to those who were born in Great Britain known as “sterling”.
variations: the word currency was also used in it’s generic form which related to colonial money and the foreign coins which came into the colony as opposed to sterling which was purely money from Great Britain.
Australia’s first white population was a mixture of authoritarians and criminals, none of whom were born on Australian soil. The probable first birth of a European on Australian soil was William Nash, the son of a marine private and his wife. Records do not indicate with certainty that William was definitely born on Australian soil but he was the first recorded baptism in the colony. His registration was 1A/1788, which indicates the first entry for 1788. Unfortunately, William died the following year and so did not have the privilege of growing up to be Australia’s most senior Currency Lad; but all the children born after William did.
Currency Lads and Lasses were in a unique situation. They had the chance to create an identity for the country; to forge new languages and to create a new way of thinking that encompassed all that was around them. Their languages developed from the mix of Irish, Scottish, Canadian, Welsh, British, French, American etc accents. Their knowledge was based on the skills necessary to carve an existence in a hostile environment. Their character was built on looking out for each other and caring for your mates.
They became the first generation to move forward and to push the boundaries of exploration further.
The Spread of Settlement. In 25 years the ‘squatters’ and farmers spread no further than the Nepean, and the boldest explorers had penetrated only to the foot of the Blue Mountains. Bonwick considers this one of the most remarkable facts connected with the history of Australia, adding that it ‘illustrates the feebleness of enterprise among the inhabitants.’ A few statistics will show that the adult and growing Currency Lads and Lasses, as the native-born were called, were now becoming a numerous body, and the after-spread of settlement inland was largely owing, if not entirely due, to their better bushcraft and their influence on the old stagnant population. In 1791 there were in Port Jackson 218 children under two years old; two to ten years, 139. Between January 1 1795, and September 1, 1796, there were 152 births. By August, 1800, not less than 1800 children had been born in the settlements. Up to this date there had been 9870 arrivals. This proportion is sufficient to show the important part that was taken by the native-born in the early pioneering work of the country, for which the old immigrants have for generations received all the credit; and that worthy bushmen today can go further back than to native-born grandfathers. (The Catholic Press 1st September 1910)
Whilst the Australian population saw and knew the Currency Lads and Lasses to be strong and free-thinking, their British counterparts thought less of them.
…the industrious Colonists of New South Wales have much to he grateful for; on the one hand, with respect to the favours bestowed on them by our gracious Sovereign and the English nation; the latter, on the other hand we think, might learn to speak of and act towards us with a feeling of particular kindness and complacency, seeing that we are not only able to feed so many thousands of these out-casts, (the vomiting, as they are called, in order to degrade and insult the Colony, of English jails and stews,) but clothe them too, and reform them so far, as to make them earn their living voluntarily by their own skill and labour; many of them marrying and becoming fathers of families, and bringing up those,families in a way which would not disgrace the most moral community. If any doubt this, let the currency lads and lasses of the Colony be all assembled in one place; and pass under the review of the Governor, and let His Excellency say, if finer forms were ever seen in any land? (The Monitor, 16th June 1828)
The children of the colony who grew to be known by the term “currency” were treated with pride by their parents, but with sneering disregard by those who were known as “sterling”, that is, the perceived upper-class British emigrants.
Our Colonial-born brethren are best known here by the name of currency, in contradistinction to Sterling, or those born in the mother country. The name was originally given by a facetious paymaster of the 73rd regiment quartered here—the pound currency being at that time inferior to the pound sterling. Our Currency lads and lasses are a fine intelligent race. The name is a sufficient passport to esteem with all the well-informed and right-feeling portion of our population. But it is most laughable to see the capers some of our drunken old Sterling Madonnas will occasionally cut over their Currency adversaries in a quarrel. It is then: “You saucy baggage! How dare you set up your Currency crest at me? I am Sterling, and I’ll let you know it!” To all acquainted with the open manly simplicity of character displayed by this part of our population, its members are the theme of universal praise; and, indeed, what more need be said in, their favour than that they are little tainted with the vices so prominent among their parents. Nearly all the Currency criminals have indeed been furnished by three prolific families.
The Currencies grow up tall and slender like the Americans, and are generally remarkable for that Gothic peculiarity of fair hair and blue eyes. “The Currency lads” is now a popular standing toast, since it was given by Major Goulburn at the Agricultural dinner. And “The Currency Lassies” gives name to one of our most favourite tunes.
The Currency youths are warmly attached to their country, which they deem unsurpassable; and few ever visit England without hailing the day of their return as the most delightful in their lives. (Surgeon P. Cunningham, “Two Years in N.S.W.” (1827).)
The pride was soon endemic in the currency lads and lasses themselves and they formed their own social circles and their own culture.
These grounds are the resort of the “currency” lads and lasses,the former may generally be known by the swagger of their walk, the ‘flash’ nature of their conversation, the sack-like cut of the lower parts of their pants, and the length of their hair behind, often hanging in greasy ends tucked under. These gentry are usually termed the ‘ cabbage tree mob,” and from what I could observe, there appears to be a vast deal of clannishness amongst them. (Geelong Advertiser and Intelligencer 3rd May 1855)
By the 1830′s Currency Lads and Lasses was a burgeoning Australian idiom and it was adopted into forms of literature and entertainment. A newspaper was established titled The Currency Lad and although it only circulated for less than 40 issues, it paved the way for the currency lads and lasses to have their voices heard in the development of the colony.
“The Currency Lad!” What an apt title is here supplied for an Australian novel, or play, dealing with the manners and customs of the people of New South Wales in the thirties of the last century. With the colonist the phrase was at its readiest, if not best, acceptance at that period; and it grew into existence in order to differentiate the Australian native-born youth from his fellows who hailed from over the seas. The currency lads and lasses were, at the time referred to, a most ambitious and very important section of the young settlement. The “lads” bodied themselves together, and were always active, from a purely Australian point of view, in discussing the rights and wrongs of their country, in as far, of course, as the Governmental restrictions which were then put upon the people would allow. They were, in fact, the real pioneers of the party which to-day is known as the Australian Natives’ Association; and, with a view of making themselves a greater power in the small community, started a newspaper, “The Currency Lad” in which they could air their opinions and nurture a purely Australian patriotism. It was a four-page journal, published every Saturday afternoon, and the price per copy was 7d. It first saw the light on August 25,1832, the registration footnote informing the reader that it was “Edited, printed, and published by Horatio Wills, an Australian, joint proprietor (with the executors and executrix of the late R. Howe, at the ‘Gazette’ office, George-street, Sydney.”
‘”The Currency Lad” came out boldly at the time of day and in the manner it proclaimed itself to do instead of publishing in the afternoon and wearing an evening title-page. In the leading article of the first issue the editor, in starting his little paper on its perilous journey, says:— “It has been surmised that we intend to sow dissension in the body politic—that, we wish to promote that difference which exists between our country men and Europeans. That we wish to promote dissension, we positively deny, but that it is our intention to perpetuate, if possible, that emulation which is manifested in the actions of our country men we candidly admit. . . . and we take this opportunity to declare that our principal endeavour shall be to preserve our countrymen as a distinct body of the Commonwealth. It is to her sons alone that Australia will hereafter depend for that eminence by which other nations have been distinguished.” (The World’s News 21st November 1903)
From very humble beginnings the initial stigma of being the child of a convict was soon replaced with the honour of being known as “currency“.
DEATHS -On Friday morning, Mrs. Dunn, of Darling Harbour, at the very advanced age of 90, having been the mother of a numerous family of “Currency Lads and Lasses“. (The Australian 5th October 1832)
LINES ADDRESSED TO HIS “CURRENCY LAD” ON THE DAY OF HIS BIRTH.
BY AN EMIGRANT.
Sweet boy, may He who gave thee life,
That life in joy prolong,
May father, mother, sisters, wife,
Thee duly greet in song.
In adverse fortune thou art sent;
To bless thy parents dear,
And sisters too, and give content,
To each succeeding year.
To see thy blushing sisters grow
Like lilies sweet and fair;
While best affections constant flow,
Will smooth the brow of care.
Thy manly virtues, O my son,
Shall charm thy parent’s heart;
My own Australian boy is one ,
Shall every joy impart.
Thy fathers’ land shall welcome thee,
And Fortune on thee smile;
Whose eldest daughter is to me
A persecutrix vile.
But as the fickle dame hath frown’d,
Long on thy parents sad;.
Thou with thy sisters shalt be crown’d,
With luck and joy right glad.
(The Colonist 9th July 1835)
carters’ barracks: barracks specifically designed for convicts involved in transport (carting).
In the early days of the colony, before horses were shipped to New South Wales, convicts were treated as animals, doing the job of horses and oxen. One of the jobs was to pull carts of bricks to and from the building sites in Sydney Cove. Gradually, horses were introduced and convicts no longer were needed to do these menial but backbreaking jobs. They were then given the responsibility of becoming “carters” and transporting the bricks by horse and cart.
Governor Macquarie commissioned the building of the Carters Barracks in 1819. This building was to house “200 male convicts at the “Brick Fields”, and also stables for the whole of the Government working horses and bullocks, with a garden for the use of the convicts.“
He then added “another Barrack for 100 convict boys with mess rooms and kitchens, contiguous to the other aforementioned Barrack at the “Brick Fields”, but separated by a high party-wall with workshops for the employment of the boys inhabiting the latter Barracks, the whole range of these buildings being enclosed with a strong brick wall of twelve feet high.“
Due to the large number of young boys placed in the barracks, it became necessary to educate them further than just in manual labour and so a Sunday School was established on the site to reclaim the morals of the children.
In the Town of Sydney we have the following Institutions ; viz. two daily public schools ;a Church Sunday School ; and three Wesleyan Sunday Schools, one of which is held in Macquarie-street Chapel, another in Prince-street Chapel, and the third is to be held at the Carters’ barracks in the Brickfields : the latter is solely intended for the moral culture and reclamation of poor convict boys, who have (by early depravity) been exiled from friends and kindred in Europe to the distant shores of New South Wales, where the benign intention of our mild laws are, at length, evidently becoming blessed in their fullest completion. The last-mentioned exceedingly useful school has been some months established at Grose Farm, but is about to be removed for the mutual advantage of instructors and pupils:-150 boys, more or less, of the latter description, will thus be immediately benefitted by that course of instruction which will not only, it is hoped, restore them to society, but also fit them for hereafter. Independent of these already enumerated, there are other Institutions in this Colony that will travel through posterior centuries with unbounded and unlimited success, and as ages increase will claim new tributes of admiration, and generations unborn will involuntarily be induced to take a retrospection of that happy era, of that benign Administration, in which they were happily conceived, and providentially founded. (Sydney Gazette 1st September 1821)
Regardless of their apparent care for the morals of their charges, the Government still ensured that the boys were put to work as slaves for the free settlers or emancipists.
Government and General Order. Colonial Secretary’s Office June 29th 1825 - It being His Majesty’s Pleasure, that the Convict boys should be placed under the control of the Governor and Council, all Applications, for their Assignment from the Carters’ Barracks must be addressed, in Writing, to the Superintendent of that establishment stating the sort of servant wanted, and the Condition in Life of the Family requiring him ; which Application will be laid before the Council and replied to weekly. By His Excellency’s Command, F. Goulburn, Colonial Secretary (Sydney Gazette 30th June 1825)
During the years 1819-21, the convicts housed at the barracks were given periods of 3 successive days in which time they could mingle with the general public and do a bit of gambling on horse-racing. This was generally appreciated by the inmates.
A Superintendent was employed in 1822 and by 1823 and subsequently a treadmill was installed. Under the guise of punishment or deserved labour for past crimes convicts housed at the Carters Barracks were also put to work grinding corn on the treadmill. The conscience of a select few was pricked by this use of human labour and, after a few years, a committee was formed to investigate the effects of the treadmill on the inmates. The old days of being given time off for relaxation also was taken away.
Sundry sage personages were summoned to attend at the Carters’ Barracks on Monday, to take into consideration the Physical effects of treadmillizing. When the New Drops, i.e. the hanging machines, first came into vogue, we recollect a Reverend Divine offering a reward of five pounds to any person who would try the effects, of the one erected behind the County Gaol of York, -and ascertain by experiment whether the invention was perfectly harmless. Perhaps, it would be advisable to practise a similar expedient here, as then, for the information of the curious, not only the Physical effects of the treadmill might be ascertained with precision, but its moral influence calculated. to nicety. A Steam-ometer might be advantageous employed to regulate the quantity of Sin and Wickedness which might be allowed to escape at a time through the perspiring- pores of the up-hill adventurer! (Sydney Gazette 7th July 1825)
A Report on Tread-wheel Labour in the Carters’ Barracks, was summarised in the Sydney Gazette in 1825:
With regard to the organisation of the establishment at Carters’ Barracks, and the system of labour pursued, the Report states :—
” The means of discipline and punishment on this species of hard labour here afforded, consist of two mills for grinding and dressing grain ; a greater and a lesser, worked each by two tread-wheels ; the former admitting of 36 men being employed at a time, 18 on each wheel ; the latter of 20 men, or 10 to each wheel. The full compliment of men required to work the greater mill is 60; the lesser mill 30; which number admit of each man being on the greater mill 36 minutes, and off 24; and, on the lesser mill 40 minutes and off 20, in each hour of labour. Each of the wheels of the greater mill is 18 feet 8 inches in circumference, and performs a revolution, on an average, twice in a minute. Each man, therefore,works on the wheel till it performs 72 revolutions, or till he has stepped over a space equal to 1344 feet.
” The number of spells on the wheel is greater in summer, when the days are long, than in winter ; the hours of labour being from sun-rise to sun-set, allowing one hour for dinner,and the time lost while the men are adjusting themselves for the work, which seems to require from one-half to a full hour, according to circumstances. The average number of spells,however, on the tread-mill may he reckoned in winter 10,and in summer 11 : and as each man mounts 1344 feet at each spell or interval of labour, the whole space stepped over by each person in one day may be averaged in winter at 13,440 feet, or about 2 5-10 miles, and in summer at 14,784 feet, or 2 8-10 miles, of perpendicular ascent, respectively.
“The men are ordered on the wheel, promiscuously; no distinction being made between those who have been convicted of felonies, and those who have been convicted of misdemeanours.
“On Saturdays, the greater tread-mill is worked only till about 10 o’clock in the morning: and, as it does not grind on Sundays, it is, therefore, worked about 5 1-3 days in ,each week. The period of its constant operation, on each day of full labour, is, on an average, as may be inferred from what has been already stated, about 10 hour, in winter,and 11 in summer.”
In respect to food and diet, and the effect of tread-wheel labour upon the corporal system, and health generally, the Report continues :
” As connected with the subject of the health of the men, it may be proper here to state, that the established daily ration issued at Carters’ Barracks, in a period from the 30th August to 15th January, 1825, was as follows: -
” 1 lb of wheat-meal ground entirely down, including the bran, or its produce in bread;–
” 3-7 lbs of a pound of maize flour ;- 1 lb of beef, or 4-7ths of a pound of salt pork ;- 1 1-7 oz. of sugar, and 1 1-2 oz. of salt.
” The maize flour was made into homminy, or stir-about, for breakfast; the meat boiled with a proportion of vegetables from the garden of the Establishment, and served up,with soup, for dinner.
“On enquiry of the men as to the sufficiency of this allowance, they complained that the quantity of bread was much too little; but what will hereafter be stated, grounded on the Hospital and other returns, as well as on the certificate of Dr. Mitchell hereunto annexed, will, it is believed, be considered as satisfactorily shewing that the diet was, at best, adequate to their sustenance. (Sydney Gazette 12th December 1825)
This “obviously unharmful” bit of exercise the convicts were subjected to apparently didn’t sit well with those who had to take part in it and they began to break out of the barracks and run riot in the streets of Sydney whenever possible.
The indulgences hitherto extended to the Carters’ Barrack prisoners on Saturdays and Sundays have been withdrawn. They are now confined to their barracks; except during the time of church service on Sunday. This plan has been adopted with a view to the suppression of crime, which is found to be most frequently perpetrated by the younger delinquent. (Sydney Gazette 20th October 1825)
Public opinion was that the treatment of the convicts in the barracks was one of the main reasons for this discontent.
It is well known that for several years prior to the close of the late government, there were constantly from 7 to 1000 prisoners employed in the public works in and near Sydney. It will also be recollected that it was not until the latter part of that government that a place of suitable accommodation was provided for this large body of workmen; and that until the erection of the convict and carters barracks, the whole of them were daily let loose at 3 o’clock, to mix with the free inhabitants, for the purpose of procuring, by their labour after that hour, the means of paying for their lodging. Such an absence of restraint as this, one would have thought, would have inundated the Colony with crime from one end to the other and yet the public record’s will show how brief and mitigated was the catalogue of crime of that day, compared with the black calendar which is now under investigation. In those times such scenes as have lately been witnessed (and exempli gratia it will be only be necessary for us to call to mind what occurred in the midst of this very town, on last Christmas Day when sixty or seventy convicts broke out of the carters barracks, divided themselves into gangs of sixes and sevens, and knocked-down, ill-treated and robbed all who came in their way. Such scenes, we repeat, as far, as we have heard, were never known to occur. On the contrary after the completion of those very barracks, from which their lawless-banditti, issued on the above occasion. It will be fresh in the recollection of many of our readers, that during the years 1819, 20 and 21, when the inhabitants were permitted the gratification of horse-racing, it was the custom to throw open the barrack gates, and to allow the 9 or 1000 prisoners who lodged there, three successive holidays— during which period they were suffered to intermix with the public, and amuse themselves as they thought proper. And yet, notwithstanding the facilities which this indulgence opened them for the commission of outrage and crime, it will be seen, on reference to the police office reports of those times, that the gratitude of these people stifled whatever larcenous and disorderly propensities they may have possessed, and inspired them during these periods at least with more decorum and honesty than would at first view appear compatible with the temptation thus thrown in their way. (The Australian 27th January 1825)
Between 1830 – 1842, the barracks became a Debtors Prison.
By 1848 it changed it’s face completely when it became home to the Sisters of the Good Samaritan for the next 50 years.
Finally, in 1921, Central Railway Station was raised over it’s memory.
cat-o’-nine-tails: whip with nine knotted lashes used as a tool in flogging for punishment. a whip with nine knotted strands or cords, and the birch, a bundle of long birch twigs bound together by cord.
variations: the cat.
It is believed that the saying “no room to swing a cat” originated from the use of the cat-o’-nine-tails.
In Norfolk Island, Port Arthur and Moreton Bay, the outposts where the most incorrigible of convicts were sent, the cat had 9 leather thongs, each with a lead weight.
The use of the cat-o’-nine-tails as a means of punishment was out of control in the fledgling colony. No crime was too petty to escape the lashings. The number of lashes administered depended entirely on the whim of the judge, accuser or overseer.
These lashes were invariably administered according to the wish of the accuser, the flagellator, with a wink, enquiring if the flogging was to be given in “currency or sterling;” a denomination distinguishing the grades of severity. Upon many this torture was periodically inflicted at the rate of fifty or seventy-five per week, until desertions were induced, recaptures and subsequent repetitions of the “cat-o’-nine-tails” till many became moving masses of putrefaction, deprived of even the indulgence of water to cleanse their festering backs; (Sydney Gazette 6th March 1832)
Such systems were as unnecessary to the ends of public justice, as they were repulsive to the commonest feelings of humanity; and such acts can only be equalled by those monstrous cruelties which occurred during the Castle-hill rebellion, wherein many a poor wretch was shot in the act of stooping to slake his thirst, when their persons might have been secured without the waste of ammunition! Those who happened to escape shooting, and also the gallows for which purpose every gum tree presented itself, had to submit to the exertions of a blood-thirsty scourger, who at every stroke let the cat-o’-nine-tails drop into the sand, that his bloody work might be thereby more effectual! No Free Press was then in existence, and the Sydney Gazette is the first Journal that ever broached those hidden mysteries of those blood-stained crimes! The time is not yet come when the authors and inflictors of such monstrosities will be exposed, but with retributive exposition every cut invested shall be visited in due season. (Sydney Gazette 20th February 1828)
Convicts were not the only people to receive floggings by this means. The cat-o’-nine-tails had originated as a means of punishment in the Navy and extended to Armed Forces. Soldiers in Australia were not immune to this as a form of punishment. This was considered acceptable in the colony’s beginnings as many soldiers had once been prisoners themselves.
It is my opinion, Sir, that flogging in the army is an improper punishment, and that it ought to be abolished; it is improper, because the essence of a soldier being his honour, when that is tainted he becomes degraded in his own estimation, and consequently is incapable of heroic feelings ; and it rarely answers the end for which it is inflicted, that of improving the conduct of the offender ; it rather renders him desperate and callous, when he is sensible that his shame cannot be wiped away, but that he will carry an indelible mark of it on his person to the grave Sir, in all my experience I have never known a soldier’s morals to be mended by the infliction of the corporal punishment of the cat-o’-nine-tails. I say, Sir, the arguments of those who advocate this punishment are fallacious. Allowing, as every one must, that no one is worthy to be a soldier who knows what fear is, they endeavour to teach him this degrading feeling by holding over him the punishment of the whip to deter him from the commission of un-soldier-like conduct. Sir, if he does not do his duty but from the fear of the whip, he is unworthy of his post. In these enlightened days,it is not as it was in early times, the army is no longer recruited from the gaols—the acquitted felon is no longer received ; the recruit, who is considered fit for no respectable employment, the man who is looked upon but as an outcast from society, yet fit to recruit the ranks of the army, is no longer admitted, but in his stead is received the man who has no blot on his character. (Sydney Gazette 5th August 1826)
The punishment of flogging with a cat-o’-nine-tails was a barbaric torture that would have sickened any person to witness.
Far be it from us to advocate the punishment of the cat o-nine-tails, under any circumstance, in a civilised country, much less in a land of liberty, and in an age of boasted refinement. We never desire to hear of, far less to see, human beings stripped naked their limbs tied with ropes to a triangular machine, their backs torn to the bone with merciless cutting whipcord, whilst the ears tingle with the screams of the tortured wretch. We have no desire to behold the blood oozing from the rent flesh of such an one, whilst a surgeon, standing by, ever and anon presses the agonised victim’s pulse, and calmly calculates, to an odd blow, how far suffering may be extended, until in its extremity it encroach upon life. (Sydney Gazette 27th August 1828)
The dealing out of the punishment was usually given to fellow convicts to perform, but always under the watchful eye of the high and mighty authorities to ensure that no leniency was given. One of the most infamous of all who sentenced convicts to lashes of the cat-o’-nine-tails was the Reverend Samuel Marsden – The Flogging Parson. Marsden’s apparent justification for this extreme method of torture to sit beside his pious religious beliefs was summed up well in this poem by Kenneth Slessor.
VESPER-SONG OF THE REVEREND SAMUEL MARSDEN
My cure of souls, my cage of brutes,
Go lick and learn at these my boots!
When tainted highways tear a hole,
I bid my cobbler welt the sole.
0, ye that wear the boots of Hell,
Shall I not welt a soul as well?
0, souls that leak with holes of sin,
Shall I not let God’s leather in,
or hit with sacramental knout
Your twice-convicted vileness out?
Lord, I have sung with ceaseless lips
A tinker’s litany of whips,
Have graved another Testament
On backs bowed down and bodies bent.
My stripes of jewelled blood repeat
A scarlet Grace for holy meat.
Not mine, the Hand that writes the weal
On this, my vellum of puffed veal,
Not mine, the glory that endures,
But Yours, dear God, entirely Yours.
Are there not Saints in holier skies
Who have been scourged to Paradise?
0, Lord, when I have come to that,
Grant there may be a Heavenly Cat
With twice as many tails as here-
And make me, God, Your Overseer.
But if the veins of Saints be dead,
Grant me a whip in Hell instead,
Where blood is not so hard to fetch.
But I, Lord, am Your humble wretch.
After many years public outrage came to the fore and was expressed in various newspapers around the colony. The call for the end of the use of the cat-o’-nine-tails was heard from one end of the colony to the other.
With the Monitor we certainly are of opinion that prisoners of the crown, for attempting to escape the Colony, should not be punished with the horrid laceration of the lash. Flogging is only fit for an unruly and a stubborn beast. We would almost sooner see a man hanged at any time, than punished, by his fellow men, under the sentence of his fellow-men, with the cat-o’-nine-tails. It’s the disgrace of every ship in the navy that continues the abominable practice; and as for the army, enough has been said in the House of Commons against the bloody system, to render superfluous any animadversion from our humble pen. However, we are not much in love with the humanity of the Monitor who, instead of flogging, would bestow starvation and nakedness for a “couple of years”. This is not quite so sudden a death as suspension by the neck, until the body be dead. (Sydney Gazette 5th July 1826)
Punishment by cat-o’-nine-tails began for convicts even before they stepped foot in Australia. The masters of the ships that transported them to the colony freely flogged dissenters to act as examples to others on board. This report of a scene of the punishment on board the HMS Brittania would have been a familiar story to all who inhabited the colony.
At five bells, the gratings were rigged,the Mariners all under arms, and all over pipe clay; the officers in their cocked hats and swords; the midshipmen with their hands out of their pockets ; when the first Lieutenant went down in the cabin and made his report that all was ready for punishment and then returned on deck. In a few minutes the Captain made his appearance, stepping in all the majesty of uncontrolled power, and having received from the first Lieutenant the ” Report of Offence,” and from the obsequious clerk the “Articles of War”, went forward to the break of the gang-way, accompanied by the officers, and looked down into the waste, where the culprits were arranged in a line, under the surveillance of the Master-at-Arms,and ship’s corporal ; the Quarter-Masters stood ready with their seizings, and the boatswain and his mates with their jackets off, and shirt sleeves tucked up, exhibited the cats, which were soon to be called into service. As the Captain reached the gangway, the “attention” of the marine officer was answered by a simultaneous rap on the barrels of the muskets on the part of the marines, and by the doffing of the hats of the ship’s company, who were assembled below round the scene of action.
“My lads said the Captain, in a sonorous voice, holding out his right hand with the Report of Offences, I am very sorry to perceive that there appears to have been a degree of insubordination and neglect of duty, which it is impossible for me to passover. This is an unpleasant office – one that I perform with regret; but, my lads here are the articles of war.” The Captain extended his left hand, which contained them, being like Cato doubly armed – the bane and antidote were both before him. “My lads, they were made for us all, I and my officers, are equally amenable if we infringe them, and I am placed here to see that they are obeyed ; and so long as I have the honor to command this ship, they shall be obeyed by G __,”. Here one of the impertinent midshipmen remarked, in a whisper, that the Captain,by the above oath, had impugned the very first article; but, continued he, quoting Shakspeare,
“That’s in the Captain but a choleric word, Which in the soldier, is rank blasphemy “
Fortunately for him, he was not overheard, and the Captain proceeded.
“Here Sir,” replied one of the prisoners, and a young man with a small face, with long curling hair termed by sailors, “lovelocks” falling down on each side over the temples.
You are the first on this list, Sir, for mutinous expressions, and contempt to your superior officers, pray Mr. Althorp” said the Captain, turning round to the first Lieutenant, ” where does this man do his duty ? ” In the maintop, Sir” was the reply. ” Have you any thing to offer in your defence, Sirrah ?” “Please your Honor,” replied the man, whispering, “I never intended to be insolent : I am one of the most harmless people in the Ship. Mr. Althrop, I hope your honor will give me a character.”
“Have you any thing to say in favour of this man, Mr. Althorp?” inquired the Captain. “Really, Sir, I am sorry I cannot, you must ‘recollect that he is a deserter from the Whig Corvette. He is one of the most troublesome and useless fellows in the ship. You may recollect. Sir, when we were in India, the complaint made against him for teasing the Elephant; on duty he is of no use, he cannot have a woman without kicking up a row with her, in fact the only thing I can say in his favor is, that he is clean in his person,and keeps his clothes in good order.”
“Strip, Sir” said the Captain, who took off his hat and commenced the Article of War.”All persons in or belonging to His Majesty’s fleet and vessels of war,” &c. During the reading of which the prisoner had very unwillingly obeyed and being lashed up to the gratings by the quarter masters, the master at arms reported him, “seized up.”
“Mr. Broom,” said the Captain to the boatswain, “give him one dozen.”
The boatswain, who was considered the smartest in the service, and describing a tremendous sweep, without any apparent exertion of strength, but with a knack peculiarly his own, delivered the nine tails on the back of the prisoner, whose breath appeared to be suspended with the blow. It was not until he had received half-a-dozen lashes that he could find sufficient play of the lungs to cry out, which he at last did most lustily, and continued the exclamations until the dozen was complete.
“One dozen, Sir,” repeated the master-at-arms.
“Another boatswain’s mite, there,”cried the Captain.
“Mercy, your Honor, mercy indeed we’ll reform,” exclaimed the prisoner.
” We! Who the devil does he mean ?” enquired some of the larboard watch of the maintop men, to which the prisoner belonged.
“Ah ! a little water, corporal,” exclaimed the prisoner.
The assistant surgeon stepped forward,and felt his pulse.
“Well, Mr. Hume ?” enquired the Captain, ” He is a poor thing, Sir – no stamina”.
“Cast him loose, then,” said the Captain, ” I hope it will be a warning to you” (Sydney Gazette 23rd July 1833)
It was not until 1943 that the last person was flogged in Fremantle Prison, Perth.