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THE HOME-OFFICE YIELDS.

213

Grey's despatches. The captain of the flagship went on board the Neptune, accompanied by some naval officers. He took his stand on the quarter-deck. The prisoners were ordered up from below, to hear their fate. Mitchel was walking on the poop, and stopped at the rail, looking down on the scene.

. The men poured aft as far as the gangway, in gloomy masses, some scowling black, some pale as death.

When Captain Bance unfolded the paper, the boldest burglar held his breath.

“The Neptune to proceed forthwith to Van Diemen's Land. On arrival there, prisoners to receive,-in compensation for the hardships of their long voyage and detention, -Her Gracious Majesty's conditional pardon,-except the Prisoner John Mitchel, whose case being entirely different from all the others, is reserved for separate consideration; but special instructions respecting it are to be forwarded to the Governor of Van Diemen's Land.”

In a moment, all eyes of all on board, were

214

PUBLIC REJOICINGS.

directed to the face of the chief criminal, John Mitchel.

“If they read anything there but scorn,says Mitchel, “then my face belied my heart."

The Neptune sailed for Van Diemen's Land on the 19th of February, 1853. On the previous day there had been public rejoicings at Cape Town, accompanied by fireworks.

CHAPTER XVI.

TRANSPORTATION TO AUSTRALIA AND VAN DIEMEN's

LAND.

It was

THERE is no subject on which public opinion veers about more frequently or suddenly, than on the disposal and management of convicts. The wind is never in a fixed point. a good deal divided in former times on the respective merits of hanging and transportation. Transportation dates as far back as Elizabeth.

Eight hundred and forty-one persons were sentenced to transportation by Judge Jeffries, during what has been termed the Bloody Assizes of 1685.

216

THE ASSIGNMENT SYSTEM.

were

Lord Macaulay says that these men more wretched than their associates who suffered death ; for they were handed over as slaves to court favourites, who sent them to work on their plantations in the West Indies. The value of convict labour was understood at this

early period, before the dawn of modern social

science.

Botany Bay, near Sydney, was the great depôt for our convicts, from 1788 to 1810.

On the 20th of May of the latter year, transportation was abolished in New South Wales, by order of Council,—owing no doubt, to the Report of Sir William Molesworth's Committee of 1837-8.

The Act 5 Geo. IV. c. 84, gave the governor of a penal colony a property in the services of a transported convict, and authorized him to assign the prisoner to any other person. The assignment system differed very little from the sale of a slave in the public market; and as is the case with slaves, the condition of the convict was a

CONVICT MECHANICS.

217

lottery, depending altogether on the character of his employer.

The previous occupation, and not the character or conduct of a convict, generally determined his condition in New South Wales. Domestic servants, in respectable families, were generally well fed and clothed,* and received wages from £10 to £15 a year.

The condition of a convict mechanic was even better than that of a domestic servant, and great interest was made to obtain such; and when procured, a little bribing and coaxing were necessary to draw out his skilled handicraft, and a good deal of disorderly conduct, in the way of idleness and drunkenness, was overlooked, or winked at. This class of men were often paid by task work.

There was some diversity of opinion among the

* An assigned convict, in New South Wales, was entitled to 12lbs. of wheat, or an equivalent in flour ; 7lbs. of beef or mutton ; 4 lbs. of salt pork; 2oz. of salt; and 20z. of soap, weekly. And 2 frocks, 3 shirts, 2 pair of trousers, 3 pair of shoes, and one hat or cap, annually.

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