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II.

The grass-cutting gang had, with their coxswains, duly reported themselves about 5.30 in the afternoon. They were rather later than usual, but the wind had been blowing strongly against the boats as they bore down heavily laden with grass for the Government live stock from the Parramatta River, and such of their crews as were not privileged to lodge in the town—that is to say, some twenty-one or two out of the forty who constituted the gang—were accordingly half-an-hour “beyond time” in reporting at “night muster.” But the System, surprising to say, had not endeavoured to control the tides and winds—had, indeed, made no provision for such an emergency as had now risen, and did not, therefore, punish the gang by stopping their rations. All it did was to give them their food cold when the mustering overseer had ended.

“Cox'n Nicholson—crew right?”

“Yes, sir! Arnold—Russell—Green—Dixon—Hawkins—King!”




  ― 207 ―

As he called his crew, the overseer ticked the names off and ordered them to pass to mess.

“Cox'n Wilmot—yours?”

“Yes, sir!” And the like routine was observed.

“Cox'n Tribe—yours?”

“Yes, sir! Hume—Evans—Grant, father—Grant, son—Dillon—Lee!”

“Right! Pass on!”

“Beg parding, sir—but I don't think as Grant, father, isn't well, sir!” The crew, shuffling off, paused to wait response to this reference to a fact they had all been made aware of that day.

“Ain't you well, Grant?” the overseer asked. The old man, who as yet was not so old, was of medium height, which appeared the less because of the stoop that spoke of his use of the sickle as a grass-cutting tool. His features were those of a weakling, the cheeks had tumbled in and the chin fell away to a point, in the fashion which, though the man were dumb, would convey an accent of servility. The fellow was a typical servant, without a mind or a tongue or a backbone of his own. When, in his free days, “Master” paid him his wages, “Master” owned him body and soul. And now the System owned him, and he was abjectly servile to it. When interrogated, he did not know whether he would please or


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offend the overseer by telling the truth, although it was patent he was ill. He was trembling; “Grant, son,” held him up, otherwise he would have fallen.

“Are you ill, Grant? Can't you answer?”

“Grant, father,” looked at his son. That was his way always. It was “Grant, son,” who ever answered for the old man—did some of his work for him—cared for him.

“Yes, he's very bad, Mr. Grove. I'm afraid he's had a stroke, sir.”

Grove, the Mustering Overseer, turned to the coxswain.

“Are you sure he ain't a-shammin', Tribe?”

“No, sir,—I mean, sir, as I am sure he isn't shamming. I thought as 'twas a kin' o' stroke, myself, sir!”

“Too ill to wait for mornin' doctor?”

“Yess'r, I'm afraid, sir!”

“What do you say, Grant, son?”

“I can't make him out at all, sir—I never saw him like this afore! I'll work double to-morrow, sir, if you'll let him go to the horspital to-night.”

“Was he much short to-day?”

The daily task of each man in a cutting-gang was forty bundles, say a hundredweight of grass per day.


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Barney Williams, Governor's coxswain, checked the quantity nightly.

Coxswain Tribe looked around at his men. Should he tell? Grove seemed in a pretty good temper tonight, but there was never any telling how long a subordinate officer's amiability would last. Perhaps if he told the truth it would be all right—perhaps all wrong. However, he risked it.

“He didn't do nothing at all to-day, sir. The coves all helped him, besides doin' their own whack.”

“Were any of them short?”

“No, sir; Mr. Williams passed the lot.”

“All right, then. But no more codgering o' that sort is to be allowed. If the man's sick, let him report sick afore he goes. An' if he goes, he's got to do his task. An' if there's time for the others to do his job besides their own, there's time to do more for Government. We'll see if the grass-cutters can't make up sixty bundles a day, instead of forty. An' you're sure Grant, father, isn't shammin' Abram, Tribe?”

“Yes, sir—quite.”

“Fall out Grant, father, for hospital—an' pass to mess the rest. March!”

The gangers saluted and passed to their messroom. This was a long room on the southern side of


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the enclosure, the kitchen separating it from a similar room where the “town gangs” messed. And “Grant, father” stood, or rather staggered, solitary, save for the overseer, in the mustering space by the gateway. He looked dazedly after the gangers, for with them went “Grant, son.” The younger man would have stayed had he dared, but there was never any certainty about the System's methods of interpretation. A reluctance to obey, which might have been prompted by a pure filial regard, might have been construed as insubordination. Had not a fellow been haled from that very yard to the neighbouring triangle—a statue of “Albert the Good” now ennobles the ensanguined spot!—for marching to the dormitory with his right foot first, when the order had been given by the ex-soldier overseer to lead off with the left? So “Grant, son”—not “Grant, second,” that would have meant a man of the same name, but no kinsman; nor “Grant, the younger,” for that would have signified a younger brother, whose elder was on the same muster-roll—“Grant, son,” moved to his food. But it choked him. For, almost for the first time since they had been hustled from the hulk at Plymouth to the convict-ship, father and son were separated. With the ship's indent had come a memorandum-order signed by a


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Very Great Personage indeed, requesting Governor Macquarie to, as far as possible, keep father and son together. And Mr. Secretary Campbell, who since 1810 had personally supervised every “muster on arrival,” had ordered that the two Grants should be placed in the same gang. And Mr. Campbell was, to the official intellect, a much greater man than the Personage, for he was present, and the Personage was twenty thousand miles away. Did Mr. Campbell know the precise relation to “Grant, father,” of the other Grant? We do not think he did; but the Personage did: of that we are convinced.

How, an impatient reader may here ask, could Mr. Campbell, who, as said above, personally mustered the convicts, upon landing, remain ignorant of the relationship if the Grants were respectively specified as father and son? Wait.

There were two parties made up for the hospital daily—one at 8 a.m., and one on night muster. If a man took seriously ill between 5.30 p.m. and 8 a.m., it was a highly irregular proceeding on his part, and one distinctly to be discountenanced. Therefore, the System would not provide for his removal between these hours. Old Grant, however, being wise, had made his illness manifest in time to be sent with the “night lot.” And accordingly, a freed constable


  ― 212 ―
dragged him, not unkindly, to the Rum Hospital next door. There we shall leave him. He concerns us no more—directly.

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