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Captain Maconochie's “Bounty for Crime.”


THE most remarkable experiment, all things considered, ever made with the noble purpose of reforming criminals was Captain Maconochie's attempt to adapt his “mark” system to the monstrous conditions of penal life at Norfolk Island. And being in principle humane, and in method an arraignment of all notions current in British and Colonial officialdom, it met with precisely that degree of success which was prophesied for it by Mr.—not then “Sir”—E. Deas-Thomson, Colonial Secretary of New South Wales.

“Speaking, your Excellency,” said that venerable if somewhat pragmatical gentleman to Governor Sir George Gipps, “from a lengthened experience of—

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h'm!—convict disciplinary methods, I have—ah!— no hope that Captain Maconochie's system will achieve the least good. It must fail, sir!”

And fail it did. To the undisguised delight of the Colonial Secretary's Office, Sydney, and the Deputy Commissariat-General's Departments of Sydney and Norfolk Island, it failed. You see, the first maxim of the Captain was the reformation of the criminal, while almost every other person connected with the System, from Lord John Russell to the meanest scourger on the Island or at Port Arthur, thought the criminal was a mere thing to be locked up, and fettered, and flogged into purity of life and integrity of conduct.

Now, Maconochie's success would have meant the System's condemnation. And his failure meant that the System was right and its administrators were wise. Therefore the failure was only to be expected. Men do not care about being proved wrong, even if it could be shown that a few dozen souls were saved in the process of correction.

For instance, Mr. Assistant-Deputy-Commissary-General Shanks would have had to confess himself egregiously in error had Convict Tobias Tracey, per ship John, third trip, kept continuously on the path of rectitude which Captain Maconochie marked out

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for him. And that was not to be thought of. Convict Tracey had to fall once more in the slough of ill-doing in order to prove A. D. C. G. Shanks right.

To enable you to understand how terrible was that fall we must measure the height which he had attained. Step by step, climbing upwards, now taking firm foothold on a dead sin, now clutching such aid as came from the opportunity to do a kindly service to a brother-felon; again slipping back into the pit of corruption because a mess-mate jeered at him; yet again striving against the tremendous alliance of the forces of evil, till he gained a new standing-place on the up-track—this was the history of Tracey during 1840, and the early part of 1841. In the later part of '41 he fell—thanks to A. D. C. G. Shanks—irretrievably. In the early months of '41, he had first come under the notice of the Captain-Superintendent, and had begun to aspire towards a manlier existence. During the interval between those first tentative strugglings to mount, and that last dreadful fall, his life was epic in its storms and its battles, its victories and its defeats.


Look at his record.

His original conviction was on the 8th September,

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1831, at a London gaol delivery. His crime was burglary, and his sentence, transportation for life.

His sojourn in the hulk obtained for him the distinction of “a bad report,” and the voyage out to Sydney gave him still higher rank in the aristocracy of vice. “He was doomed,” the Surgeon-Superintendent of the John (third trip) told him one day in mid-ocean, “to become a Black Norfolker as sure as Fate.”

And Fate is unerring, as every one knows. Two years after landing in Sydney, he was sentenced by the Supreme Court for highway robbery and housebreaking. Once more his time was life, with the added distinction of irons—irons always—sleeping, waking, at work and at his meals—irons to be knocked off only if he mounted the scaffold, or on freedom coming to him otherway—say, through some kindly shot or kindlier blow. Freedom by process of servitude would never come to him. He was destined by Nature as a Retrograde.

Chaplain Taylor spoke of his “Retrogrades” to Governor Gipps.

“Your ‘Retrogrades’? What are they?”

“Men who are further away from freedom each succeeding day they are on the Island—who are never nearer freedom than when they set foot here!”

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“But, Mr. Taylor, in the nature of the case such characters must be few?” rejoined his Excellency.

“Few, your Excellency? Sixty out of each hundred!”

Now, at the precise moment the Superintendent's clerk at the Island gave a receipt to the master of the Governor Phillip, from Sydney, for the body of Tobias Tracey, No. 33-149, per John (3), that hardened villain might have expected release in twenty-five years, if the devil and the System would only allow him to keep his hands from picking and stealing, and breaking-in stores and warders' heads. Being predestined, however, to the ranks of the Retrogrades, within twenty-four hours of his arrival he was no nearer than thirty years to his freedom. He had knocked a gaol-turnkey down.

In 1835 his “police history” was extended by five offences of the serious order. “Light offences” were invariably at this period, and till the arrival of Maconochie, sentenced “on view.” “On view” punishments—that is, without trial—are supposed to have numbered, during 1833-4-5-6-7-8, between 8000 and 9000. They were never recorded; formal trials only were recorded; and these last during the years specified totalled 2483, and the awful mutiny year

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calendar was embraced in this sum. Of these trials Tracey was responsible, in 1835, for five.

In 1836 he was credited with four. The circumstance that he was ironed in gaol for the major part of this year accounted for the diminution of 20 per cent. in the number of his heavy offences. When a felon was double-ironed in a 6 × 4 cell, when his right hand was manacled to a staple in the wall, when he saw a human face four times daily for ten seconds each time, it cannot be said that his opportunities for outraging the peace of the realm were numerous. Still, he enlarged his record by four entries.

In 1837 they varied his gaol privileges by flogging him, and the scourging-ground was the best place possible for adorning a man's record. He had only to swear at the superintending officer to be credited with another crime; and if, also, he struck the honourable scourger with his fist or head, or bestowed upon that official a sadly-needed kick, well, there was a second offence on the same day. Consequently, Mr. Tracey, who was in gaol from January to 7th March, was in gaol again from 3rd April “till further orders.” In June and July he was in gaol, but in September he must have been out of gaol, for he absconded. He was arrested three-quarters of an hour afterwards at the gate of the Superintendent's

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quarters—said he had never been out of the gaol precincts—nevertheless, was presented with 300 lashes in one dose. And from 14th October onwards to the end of the year he was in gaol again, his record for the year being seven crimes.

In 1838 a variation in policy took place once more. He added no more than five offences to his history, but one of these earned him 100 lashes, and another four months in the sweet seclusion of his iron-cells— and the others? Each won for him a long term of “solitary.”

The second Earl of Limerick, then plain Mr. Pery, and a humble “Superintendent of Agriculture” on the Island, spent a brief space in one of the same solitary cells. He stayed till it was a question of his going mad, or going out. He went out, and found that he had been secluded 17 minutes! Tracey had three terms—14, 14, and 20. Minutes? No—days!


As for Tracey's 1839 record, here it is as full as the books give it. There are no “sentences on view” included, and he must have had his full share of them. You will not fail to notice the dreadfully heinous character of the recorded crimes.

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Jan. 8.  Loitering on the road to and from his work.  To sleep in gaol one night. 
Feb. 13.  Going to the hospital twice this day under false pretences, and incorrigible.  To gaol until further orders. 
March 18.  Absent without leave and present at a fight.  To sleep in gaol one night. 
March 22.  Assaulting and striking a fellow-prisoner.  Handcuffs all day. 
March 23.  Refusing to join his gang when ordered by overseer.  Two days in gaol. 
March 25.  Going to hospital without sufficient cause.  One month in gaol. 
April 10.  Attending hospital on false pretences.  25 lashes. 
April 13.  Attending hospital and subsequently refusing to work.  Gaol, on bread and water, till he goes to work. 
May 4.  Refusing to work.  14 days' gaol, bread and water. 
May 21.  Neglect of work.  Reprimanded conditionally. 
May 27.  Absconding with three others, breaking open and entering the dwelling of Coxswain Segsworth, putting the inmates in fear, and resisting and wounding several constables and others to apprehend him.  300 lashes. 
June 10.  Refusing to work.  50 lashes and bread and water till he goes to work. 
June 14.  Refusing to work.  Gaol, on bread and water, as before stated. 
June 26.  Refusing to work.  To receive only half ration of animal food. 
Aug. 8.  Refusing to work.  50 lashes and bread and water till he goes to work. 

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Sept. 4. 
Going to hospital on false pretences.  25 lashes and bread and water till he goes to work. 
Oct. 9.  Refusing to work.  Reprimanded conditionally. 
Nov. 9.  Making noise in gaol.  Three days' solitary confinement on bread and water. 
Nov. 29.  Refusing to go to work, stating he was not able.  Bread and water till he is able. 

At the end of 1839, with a double-life conviction over him, Tobias was exactly 53 years distant from freedom. But in February of the succeeding year Captain Maconochie arrived, and, to the amazement of the well-informed officers of the System as before established, almost immediately chose that prime rascal by the John (3) for special experiment. As soon as the new Super. was possessed of Tobias Tracey's police record, he ordered the man's irons to be struck off. Now, Major Bunbury, the previous commandant, had never dared approach Tobias except under the escort of two soldiers.

But the amazement of the staff was nothing to the surprise of the notorious fellow himself.

“Lord! what a fool the new 'un is if he thinks as he's got a softy to deal wi'.” Thus he laughed

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with a coarse mockery, as he passed into the Super.'s presence.

The Superintendent's tall and erect form filled the doorway of the Grass Hut where he was holding a preliminary inspection. In a few weeks he would turn the hut into a school and a Catholic chapel, but at present he proposed to use it as a court-house. “Why?” The old officials asked the question—and cackled hilariously when they received the answer. So that prisoners for trial, who might have been in the local court before, might not be unpleasantly reminded of their past misdeeds! “I want to start every man with a clean sheet as far as possible.” Laugh! Of course they laughed.

The Overseer in temporary charge of Convict Tracey saluted, and presented that ruffian. “Transport Tracey, Tobias. No. 33-149, y'r Honour—bad k'racter—3 B's,note sir—suspected——”

“Of unnatural crimes—one murder—three burglaries—an' a heap t'other things, Super.—same ol' list,” concluded the convict himself. “One o' th' worst men on th' Island, y'r Honour, now they've turned orf Westwood. There ain't a —— crime on the list, Super., that I ain't committed, 'cept those I'm goin' to commit. An' now yer know all, ol' cove! Give

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us my five hunderd quick an' 'a done wi' it. Look slippy now, Ol' King-o'-th'-lags!”

Accustomed as the penal officials comprising Captain Maconochie's little suite were to outbursts of reckless speech from the more hardened “old hands,”note they scarcely expected Tracey to uncoil himself in this fashion, and they gazed curiously at Maconochie to note the effect of the speech upon him.

Two—three minutes elapsed before the Superintendent spoke. Tracey himself had expected an instant order for his removal to the triangles, and stood doggedly waiting for the command—which did not come.

All they saw was that Maconochie drew his handkerchief from his tail-pocket and blew his nose. Then—

“Let it be understood, Overseer—are you Overseer or Warder?”

“Overseer, sir—of the gaol-gang—Tuff, sir.”

“Very well, Overseer Tuff—let it be understood, if you please, that you are never to report a man's police-history till it is asked for by me directly.”

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“Yes, sir!” answered the sub-official, with a sullen respectfulness. “But 'twas the Majors reg'lashun, sir, wi' all transports, 'specially desp'rate ones!”

“Ho, ho! I be a desp'rate one, be I, Mr. Tuff?” grinned the transport. “Well, I know I be—an' 'ere's to keep up th' k'racter.” With a mighty cuff he struck Tuff to the ground. “There, Super. Macwot's-yer-name, give me my five hunderd lashes, an' 'a done wi' it, as I said afore!”

The ex-private secretary to noble Sir John Franklin answered the appeal. He stepped into the school-room, and called to the transport to follow him. Some of the officials who had looked on the incident just described would have entered likewise, but the Captain quietly waved them back.

“I would prefer to be alone with this poor fellow, gentlemen. Excuse me for a few minutes,” he said.

“But, sir—the danger!” remonstrated A. D. C. G. Shanks.

The Captain smiled—not as, a few years later, John Price was wont to smile, with a lofty affectation of indifference to any possible danger that could threaten him—but pleasantly, as though he held an amulet bestowed by some good genius against evil.

Captain Maconochie might be a “crank”; but, certainly, he was no coward.

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As he walked in, Tracey had, obeying the mechanical instinct which, in spite of himself, the System had implanted in his nature, took his cap off. Then he recalled the act. He was not going to submit as “a softy” to the new Super. Not he. He replaced the cap defiantly as he faced the Captain. However, the Superintendent gave no indication that he was aware of the insult. Bunbury would have chained Tracey down for the same deed.

“My man!” said Maconochie, “I wish to have a talk with you!”

“I don't want to talk to yer! Come on an' flog me—or p'r'aps ye'd like to do th' nubbling cheatnote trick at once? Better now than later. I'm boun' to come to it!” responded the callous wretch.

“Look, sir—” Maconochie paused. Till harassed by the incessant opposition of the old-time officials, Maconochie measured almost every word he uttered in a transport's presence. “Constant dropping of water wears away a stone. The habitual use of forms of respect to any—even the most hardened— prisoner will insensibly, by wearing away the indurated surface, give his better nature room for play.” That was what he used to say.

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“Look, sir——”

What!” Lifer Tracey could not believe his ears. “Sir! Wot a joke! Me with an ‘incorrigible’ record—sir!”

“Look, sir—” Maconochie began again.

“None o' that foolin'. Yer not a-goin' to make a softy o' me, I tell yer!” Tracey raised his hand threateningly, as though in defence of that precious possession, his reputation for eminence in evil. “I be'n't no parson's or Super.'s pet!”

“I am sure of it,” rejoined the Captain. “But you are a man, and not a devil—I am sure of that as well!”

A second of wits-gathering silence. Then—

“No, I be'n't no man—a devil I am, or th' —— Systum hasn't done its work!” He laughed, with the reckless, sardonic laughter of the hopeless.

“No, you are a man, and no devil! And because you are a man, obey one of the first instincts of manhood, and that is to behave with respect to your just and legal superiors.”

“Just—legal!” Again the laugh—and then a storm of mad, tumultuous speech. “Just is them wot justice do—legal is as legal act! Be'n't truth 'bove all things? Can a man be a man if he's a liar? Be'n't a liar allus a coward? An' no coward's a

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man? An' 'udn't I lie ef I paid respec' w'ere respec' be'n't doo? An' is respec' doo to unybody unner th' Systum, for wot cove is there unner th' Systum as acts justly, as acts legally? Answer me that, Ol' King-o'-th'-lags!”

“Poor man, poor man!” exclaimed Maconochie, and, pacing forward, he held out his hand. Tracey struck it aside passionately.

“Yer've left me nothin' but—oh, nothin', nothin' but hate—an' now yer give me your pity. To the devil who made yer an' th' Systum!” He leapt tigerishly on the Superintendent—and was felled by a blow. There was nothing effeminate about Maconochie's muscles or his nerves, if there was just a suspicion of that quality attached to his judgment. No. 33-149 went down, and for a minute stayed down, dazed.

No word was spoken till Tracey, with eyeballs glaring redly instead of whitely, drew himself up to a sitting posture.

“Didn't I—say as the nubblin' cheat 'ud end it soon? By th' Lord, sir, I thank yer!”

Maconochie had faced a mutiny from a quarter-deck; had, as a lad, confronted, with only a toy-dirk in hand, a howling circle of barbaric mountain tribesmen thirsty for his blood; and yet, he was wont to

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say, never did human look appal him as that transport's glare of—gratitude.

“It's death—this—you know, my man?”

“Death—'tis—an' welcome!” It was a hyena shriek made articulate.

“My friend, let me help you up!” Again Captain Maconochie stretched forth his hand.

Tracey looked up. “D'yer mean it?” The softening of the words passed in the next instant from his face and tone. “Mean it!” he continued, “o' course yer mean it! Be'n't it yer dooty to 'and me to th' gallows!”

Maconochie pressed down his hand—lower—lower still—till it touched Tracey's shoulder.

“Tracey!” he whispered, “Tracey! it is my duty to save you from—the gallows. That is why I am here. Tracey—let us be friends!”

No. 33-149—his agony wried his mouth as he spoke—simply repeated “Friends!” and then bent his head upon his scarred hands. The upheaval of his universe had come, for, from the vortex of hell had sprung a voice—an official voice—that had uttered a kindly word. Kind words he had sometimes had before, but they were from clergymen; and the gospellers were bound to say something kind sometimes to earn their stipends.

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While a man might draw twenty breaths he sat so, challenging his consciousness whether or no his world was altered. And then, from the core of the beast-nature with which the System had superseded that granted unto him by his Creator—John Price said once “there were doubts as to the Creator, but there were none as to the System”—he spumed once more a torrent of volcanic hatred and suspicion.

“It's all a—trap; yer think I be a double softy to be taken in so? Yer playin' the forgivin' to get time to call the guards, 'cos yer afraid I was a-goin' to kill yer! Oh, yer devil!”

He stood with parching lips and clenched hands, and the knots bulged on his temples as when a gymnast braces himself for a feat that will cause the heavens to resound either with Homeric plaudits or with his death-scream. Had he sprung, the help of soldier-guard would have come too late for the Super. But—

“Stay!” cried Maconochie. “What proof do you demand that I am not the monster you fancy me? How can I show you my truth—that I mean to be as true a friend to every man here who will allow me as I can with God's help be—how can I do this?”

The appeal held Tracey in spite of himself. Scarcely knowing what he did, he gazed through the

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one window-space (unglazed) of the hut. Crossing the parade-ground leisurely were a lady and a maid-servant. A soldier followed them ten paces away. He pointed to them, and cried, hoarsely—

“Is that your wife?”

Maconochie's look followed the pointing-finger. “Yes!” he replied.

“Then, I'll believe yer if—you—trust—her—your wife, I mean—in this room alone wi' me for five minutes by your watch.”

The Superintendent's face grew haggard in the tremendousness of the ordeal. But his soul answered to the test.

He went out—and said a few words to his wife. She went into the room, all unknowing, but believing utterly in her husband's wisdom.


Maconochie lost, in the next moment, his composure. He thrust his watch into the hand of the soldier escorting the lady, and in the same action seized the man's musket.

“In four minutes—four minutes and a half—call ‘Time!’” he exclaimed, while he himself cocked the musket—and waited. So strained was his hearing to catch any sound from the room, that though but

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five yards distant from the group of officers, he did not hear Mr. Commissary Shanks say—

“Well—I'm damned! Maconochie's just offering a bounty for crime!”

He did not hear that, or indeed aught else, till the soldier cried, “Time!” loudly. Then he started forward, but the appearance of his wife on the step momentarily arrested his rush. With the musket still in his hand, he ran to meet her. She motioned with her head. Through the doorway he saw—and heard—Tracey. The transport lay huddled, his head on the floor, his arms outstretched in the abandon of despair—or, remorse. And he was sobbing tearless sobs.

Not all at once did Tracey, after that supreme instance of trust, come back to the path of well-doing. His fight, however, against his past was strenuous.

It was in February that Captain Maconochie trusted him. And till the 23rd October of the year following, he kept almost a clear record. “View” sentences had ceased entirely, and to the extreme disgust of the gentlemen possessing a more extensive acquaintance with the System than Captain Maconochie, Mr. Tobias Tracey declined to preserve by frequent attendances

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at court his average of “offences needing formal trial.”

Mr. D. A. C. G. Shanks, on 23rd October, applied to the Superintendent for a trusty man to handle some stores.

And Mr. D. A. C. G. Shanks, being in an unbending, not to say affable mood, condescended to pass a pleasant word with the trusty man commissioned by the Super. to wait upon his Commissaryship.

“You're Tracey?”

“Yes, sir!” with a salute.

Mr. Shanks laughed. “You're the man the Super. trusted the day after he took charge—trusted his wife with?”

There was a conscious pride in Tracey's voice as he replied, “He did, sir!”

“Why, you donkey, he held a cocked musket in his hands all the time! Fine lot of trust in that, wasn't there?”

Convict Tracey was stunned. “Are yer a-speakin' o' th' truth, sir?”

With a brutal oath, Mr. Deputy-Assistant-Commissary-General Shanks affirmed he was.

That same evening Tracey broke into Mrs. Whologhan's store with a crowbar.