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Observations on the LAMENTABLE MUTINY at NORFOLK ISLAND in 1834 together with the AWFUL DISCLOSURE at the TRIAL of the Mutineers before His Honour, MR JUSTICE BURTON, Judge of the Supreme Court, NEW SOUTH WALES.
Norfolk Island is admirably adapted to the purpose of a penal settlement, being remote from the Coast of New Holland, and from any of the Islands of the Pacific Ocean; almost inaccessible by boats ; it possesses all that natural beauty which renders the islands of the Pacific so attractive.
Nature has been profuse in her bountiful decorations, and thus the contrast is more striking between it and the use to which it is applied - between those beautiful works of the Creator which praise Him, and of Men who praise Him not!
But even in that use to which it is applied it might be expected that the soft beauty of the place should have its effect upon the hearts not wholly hardened by the searing effects of Vice. But so it is, that the wretched Mortals who are doomed, some of them for a term and some for life, to labour during that period upon its soil, under strict surveillance and control, and the hours of whose repose are passed in the Solitary Cell, or in the guarded Ward, associated with one another, Evil Men with Men more Evil - appear to gather no softening effect from the beauties of the Creation around them, but to make a Hell of that which else might be a Heaven.
Little has indeed been done, and until lately nothing, to render their captivity in that place of torment such as they have made it, productive of that moral improvement in them which should restore the Creator's image to their souls.
Norfolk Island became a penal settlement of New South Wales in the year 1826; it was not until after a lapse of more than ten years, that its wretched inmates received any such Reproof, Consolation, or Instruction as the Church gives to its Members; they were in the strongest sense of the term, souls "cut off from the Congregation of the Lord," and delivered over to Satan What wonder then if they became in temper, disposition, and habits, like to those whom he leads captive at his will, and their place of torment like his.
It became the duty of the Writer of these Observations to visit Norfolk Island in the year 1834 as one of the Judges of the Supreme Court The Court having been adjourned to that Settlement, in the execution of a power which the Judges possessed under an Act of the Imperial Parliament, for the purpose of trying some of the prisoners who stood charged with the Offence of rising upon their Guard, then consisting in Officers and Private Soldiers of about 120 men.
It was a deep laid, well concocted, and very generally extended Conspiracy, the object of which was to seize and disarm the Guard, to seize the Commandant, - with the weapons thus obtained, to render themselves Masters of the Island, and having done this, to entrap the next Government vessel which should visit them with supplies, and was then expected, and finally make their escape by its means.
This plan, well concerted, and secretly kept for more than three months, was at length attempted Several convenient posts were seized by the Conspirators, Prisoners in confinement were released, and the irons of those who were in irons at the time removed. The Hospital, which was adjacent to the front point of attack, was occupied by a large number of them, without detection, the Guard appointed to receive and conduct to their daily labour those Prisoners who, being of the most desperate sort, or being Respites in irons from Capital Sentences, were confined in the Gaol, were suddenly attacked in front and rear, and some of them thrown down, and their muskets forcibly wrested from them.
A simultaneous movement was made in other parts of the Settlement at the same instant - tool-houses were broken open, and large bodies of the Conspirators, armed with these weapons, made for the same point to support their leaders - and all the Prisoners on the Island, who were bad enough to be entrusted by the Conspirators with any knowledge of their plan, were ready at their posts to take their part in it.
The Guard, however, which had been attacked, owing to some wavering on the part of those Prisoners who attacked in front, extricated themselves, with the exception of two or three, who were grappled by the boldest and most determined of their assailants, escaped to a distance, and opened fire upon them, which dispersed the attacking party, killing some and wounding others. [153]
The firing alarmed the Commandant, and the Officers of the Establishment and the rest of the Military; and the affair ended in some being immediately captured, others taking to secret retreats in the Island, one of them armed with a musket which he had wrested from a Soldier, and in others being recognised, who were afterwards pursued and secured.
As many of the Conspirators as could he detected were lodged in Gaol, loaded with irons, and there awaited the result of the Commandant's report of the circumstances to the Governor at Sydney, the consequence of which was, an application to the Judges of the Supreme Court to make such arrangements for the trial of the offenders as might prevent the necessity of their being brought, with the witnesses on both sides, to Sydney for the purpose.
The Writer of these Observations accordingly proceeded on that melancholy duty in H.M.S. Alligator, and arrived at Norfolk Island in July 1834, and found 130 Prisoners in confinement on that charge.
For their share in this Offence, as Principals and Accessories before the fact, fifty-five Prisoners were selected for trial by the Crown officers, as being considered Ringleaders, and against whom also, evidence confirmatory of that of some of the accomplices, who were admitted as witnesses, could be obtained.
In the course of these trials, which occupied ten days, eighty-seven different witnesses were examined on the part of the Prosecution and for the Prisoners, many of the principal witnesses five or six times over, during which they underwent a course and mode of Crossexamination by the Prisoners, such as no Advocate in the World could conduct; and revealed to the Court a picture of depravity, which, it may be asserted, no human Judge ever had revealed to him before.
This will be fully understood, when it is explained that some of the principal witnesses against the Conspirators, were Prisoners who had been concerned in the affair as deeply as themselves that almost all of them were their fellow prisoners; that they had passed days and nights together in confinement, so many as 120 in a single ward, that they had been intimately associated in the commission of other crimes of deeper stain, that their occupation, and they had none of a Holier kind, during their hours of respite from labour, and those which should be given to repose, was the relation of crimes in which they had been engaged, or to which they were privy, no Conspirator could desire a better knowledge of the character of his companions than was thus obtained; they proved indeed by their searching questions on cross-examination, and abundantly proved to the mind of the hearer, by the faint and downcast denial of the Witness, that they were intimately acquainted with each other's thoughts and words and works; and each particular of these was appalling.
But beyond all this, the unhappy Prisoners themselves, when brought up, as they were in the order of their conviction, (and of the number tried, thirty were capitally convicted and received sentence of death,) completed the abominable revelation by communicating to the Judge, in earnest, deep, but calm expostulation, the crimes committed there, upon which, to be now particular would not be meet; and he can therefore no otherwise describe the State of the Island than figuratively, a mode of expression, however, which he does not believe to exceed the reality when he says that the picture presented of that place to his mind, upon that occasion, was a Cage full of Unclean Birds, full of Crimes against God and Man, Murders and Blasphemies, and all Uncleanness.
One of them, a man who displayed singular ability, and uncommon calmness and self-possession under circumstances so appalling to ordinary minds, represented it to be a "Hell upon Earth," and such assuredly it was, as far as the torment of that Region is made up of the company of Evil Spirits, glorying in Evil Deeds; "let a man's heart" he said, "be what it will, when he comes here, his Man's heart is taken away from him, and there is given to him the heart of a Beast." [154]
He represented, and others followed him in the same course, that the crimes which had brought them there, were not of the kind which should condemn them to such a state; that many of them had been decent men, possessed of means of support, and had wives and families in the world ; and they were condemned to the same place of helplessness and despair with those whose crimes were of the deepest kind.
Banished for life or fourteen years to a spot where the face of Woman is never seen - doomed to daily toil, fed upon the most common diet, salt beef and maize and water.
"Subject to the lash," said he, to use his own expression, "if a man looked at an Overseer or a Constable, or neglected his work, or committed any offence, however trivial, and often for no offence at all." 
"Sentence has been passed upon us before," one of them said, "and we thought we should be executed, and we prepared to die, and we wish we had been executed then. It was no mercy to send us to this place; I do not ask for life, I do not want to be spared, on condition of remaining here; life is not worth having on such terms."
"I pleaded guilty," said another, "to the charge against me, because I knew I was guilty, and as the only expiation I could make for my offence."
"I have been upbraided by my fellow prisoners for doing so," he continued, "because, they say that my pleading guilty, has been the cause of their being convicted. I was transported from Ireland for an offence of which I was not guilty, that of cattle stealing, and was again unjustly convicted before your Honour of a like offence, and I was innocent of that, and I committed the present offence to get clear of this accursed place."
Another took ingenious advantage of some discrepancy in the evidence, to make a powerful appeal to the Judge, founded upon his assertion of his own innocence, and that his person was mistaken And finding that Appeal ineffectual, and that he was sentenced to die, he broke out in the most moving and passionate exclamations and intreaties, that he might not die with out the benefit of Confession. 
"Oh, your Honour," he said, "as you hoped to be saved yourself, do not let me die without seeing my Priest. I have been a very wicked man indeed, I have committed many other crimes for which I ought to die, but do not send me out of the World without seeing my Priest"
Poor he was a Roman Catholic, and after this, he was taken away to his cell, and in miserable agony, employed his time embracing and beating himself upon a rudely constructed figure of the Cross, which a fellow Prisoner of the same persuasion made for him of wood, and incoherently and madly pronounced incessantly, those brief exclamations for Mercy, which such an one could teach him.
Others spoke in moving terms of the hopelessness of their lot, and their despair, and another spoke also, of what rendered the state they were in, one of utter hopelessness; and the statement which he made was perfectly true.
"What is done, your Honour," he said, "to make us better? Once a week we are drawn up in the Square opposite the Military Barrack, and the Military are drawn up in front of us with loaded muskets and fixed bayonets. A young Officer then comes to the fence, and reads part of the Prayers, and that takes, may be, about a quarter of an hour, and that is all the Religion we see."
To Expostulation such as was thus offered, to Appeals like these, the Human Heart could not be insensible. The wretched men were returned to their cells, and the Judge to his sad meditation The result of which was, that he asserted a Power not given him by the Local Laws of the Colony, but of which the Local Law could not deprive him, he reprieved the whole of the Prisoners, until he should have had an opportunity to lay their case before the Executive Government, and to obtain for those who should suffer the last penalty of the law, at least that Religious consolation and assistance, they so much needed.
Eleven of the whole number subsequently suffered, those who were Roman Catholics receiving the consolation of their Priest, The Rev Mr Ullathorne, the Vicar-General, and the Protestants, that of the Rev. Mr. Stiles, who, when the warrant for their execution was transmitted to the Island, were sent from Sydney to attend them.
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