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Of the Convicts.

The prisoners who had hitherto formed the bulk of all the exploring parties previously led by me into the interior of New South Wales, were chosen chiefly from amongst men employed on the roads, who had acquired good recommendations from their immediate overseers; but, on this last occasion, the men forming the party were for the most part chosen from amongst those still remaining in Cockatoo Island, the worst and most irreclaimable of their class.

The concentration of convicts in that island was intended, I believe, to follow out the Norfolk Island system, keeping the men under rigorous surveillance, and making them work at their respective trades, or as labourers. Even there, so near to Sydney, that labour, so available to lay the foundations of a colony, might have been employed with great advantage, in constructing a naval arsenal and hospital for our


  ― 418 ―
seamen on the Indian station, with a dry dock attached to it for the repair of war-steamers. Such a dock has been long a desideratum at Sydney, and private enterprize might, ere this time, have embarked in a work so essential to an important harbour, had not the Government always possessed the means of cheaply constructing such a work by convict labour, and been thus able at any time to have entered into such competition as might have been very injurious to a private speculator. At Cockatoo Island, blacksmiths, shoemakers, wheelwrights, were at work in their various avocations; all the shoes, for both the men and horses of the expedition, were made there; also one half of the carts, which proved equally good as the other portion, although that was made by the best maker in the colony, a celebrated man.

The eagerness evinced by all these men, so confined in irons on Cockatoo Island, to be employed in an exploring expedition, was such that even the most reckless endeavoured to smooth their rugged fronts, and seemed to wish they had better deserved the recommendation of the superintendent. The prospect of achieving their freedom, by one year of good behaviour in the interior, was cheering to the most depressed soul amongst these prisoners. All pressed eagerly forward with their claims and pretensions, which, unfortunately for the knowing ones, were strictly investigated by Mr. Ormsby the superintendent, and Captain Innes, the visiting magistrate. The selection of such as seemed most eligible was at length made, after careful examination of the phrenological developments and police history of each; and it was not easy to find one without a catalogue of offences, filling a whole page of police-office annals.


  ― 419 ―
Still there were redeeming circumstances, corroborated by physical developments, sufficient to guide me in the selection of a party from amongst these prisoners. With them, I mixed one or two faithful Irishmen, on whom I knew I could depend, and two or three of my old followers on former journeys, who had become free.

This party of convicts, so organized, with such strong inducements to behave well, and so few temptations to lead them astray, may be supposed to have afforded a favourable opportunity for studying the convict character. It may be asked by some, how such a party could have been made to yield submissive obedience for so long a period as a year, away from all other authority, than mere moral controul. This was chiefly because these men were placed in a position where it was so very clearly for their own interest to conduct themselves properly. Accordingly, the greater number, as on all former expeditions, gave the highest satisfaction, submitting cheerfully to privations, enduring hardships, and encountering dangers, apparently willing and resolved to do anything to escape from the degraded condition of a convict. But still there were a few, amounting in all to six, who, even in such a party, animated by such hopes, could not divest themselves of their true character, nor even disguise it for a time, as an expedient for the achievement of their liberty. These men were known amongst the rest as the “flash mob.” They spoke the secret language of thieves; were ever intent on robbing the stores, with false keys (called by them screws). They held it to be wrong to exert themselves at any work, if it could be avoided; and would not be seen to endeavour


  ― 420 ―
to please, by willing co-operation. They kept themselves out of sight as much as possible; neglected their arms; shot away their ammunition contrary to orders; and ate in secret, whatever they did kill, or whatever fish they caught. Professing to be men of “the Fancy,” they made converts of two promising men, who, at first, were highly thought of, and although one of them was finally reclaimed, a hero of the prize ring, it was too obvious that the men, who glory in breaking the laws, and all of whose songs even, express sentiments of dishonesty, can easily lead the unwary and still susceptible of the unfortunate class, into snares from which they cannot afterwards escape if they would. Once made parties to an offence against the law, they are bound as by a spell, to the order of flash-boys, with whom it is held to be base and cowardly to act “upon the square,” or honestly in any sense of the word; their order professing to act ever “upon the cross.” These men were so well-known to the better disposed and more numerous portion of the party, that the night-guards had to be so arranged, as that the stores or the camp should never be entirely in their hands. Thus a watch was required to be set as regularly over the stores, when the party was close to Sydney, as when it was surrounded by savage tribes in the interior.

Between the “flash men” and the other men of the party, there was a wide difference: An old man to whom they once offered some stolen flour, refused it, saying, “I have been led into enough of trouble in my younger days, by flash friends, and now I wish to lead a quiet life.” Convicts, in fact, consist of two distinctly different classes: the


  ― 421 ―
one, fortunately by far the most numerous, comprising those whose crime was the result of impulse; the other class consisting of those whose principle of action is dishonesty; whose trade is crime, and of whose reformation, there is much less hope. The offenders of the one class, repented of their crime from the moment of conviction; those of the other, know no such word in their vocabulary. The one, is still “a thing of hope and change;” and would eagerly avail himself of every means afforded him to regain the position he had lost; the other, true to his “order,” will “die game.”

For the separation of the wheat from the chaff, a process by no means difficult, the colony of New South Wales was formerly well adapted. The ticket of leave granted to the deserving convict was one of the most perfect of reformatory indulgences; each individual being known to the authorities, and liable, on the least misconduct, to be sent to work on the public roads. The colony of New South Wales has been the means of restoring many of our unfortunate countrymen to positions in which they have shown that loyalty, industry, public spirit, and patriotism, are not always to be extinguished in the breasts of Englishmen, even by fetters and degradation. It is to be regretted that a more vigilant discrimination had not interposed a more marked line between those convicts deserving emancipation, and those whose services are still wanted on the roads and bridges of the colony.

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