I.—The Preliminaries.


PHILIP FRANKE was his name, and his grade was Overseer of the Outer Domain Gang. Originally a drummer-boy in the 73rd Regiment, he, by much musical beating of the tattoo and reveille, and by a fine enthusiasm in the use of the cat when a comrade was lashed to the halberds in Barrack Square, had achieved promotion in the regiment. He had won the sergeant's stripes, and with them the commendation of his superiors, and the hearty, undisguised hatred of every one—“Government labour,” soldier, or lower class “free”—over whom at any time he exercised authority. A pleasant fellow to look at, save that he was rather undersized, he had a round chubbiness of feature which was suggestive of Primeval Innocence and Uncorrupted Virtue. No man could look more un-Systematic or more cherubic;

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and when Mr. Lewin, the distinguished botanist and artist, was searching for models for the group of angels he was painting for the lady of his Excellency Governor Macquarie—Mrs. Macquarie favoured Mr. Lewin with many commissions—it is not surprising to learn, firstly, that Lieutenant-Colonel O'Connell promised to send him some one from the Barracks who he thought would serve Mr. Lewin's purpose; and, secondly, that Sergeant Philip Franke was, in consequence, depicted by the artist as reposing on a remarkably neat arrangement of snowy cumuli.

The incident is mentioned here as demonstrating the regard in which his officers held Franke, and also as indicating the foundation for the widespread convict belief that Franke would never get any nearer heaven than those pictured clouds would carry him.

Truth to say, the qualities which were most generally manifested by Philip Franke were not such as to commend him to the loving appreciation of the “Government labour,” or of the rank-and-file. And when on the 19th day of March, 1814, it was known that Sergeant Franke had received his Excellency's special permission to remain behind when his regiment was relieved by the 46th under Colonel Molle,

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there was a wild break-out of hilarity in Barrack Square, and a corresponding depression of spirits among the out-labour passports. For in the same breath that it was made known that Franke had received Governor Macquarie's permission, it was announced that he retired on pension to the Overseership of the O. D. Gang.

His Excellency the Major-General's farewell proclamation to the 73rd was read out by the Brigade-Major at morning parade. When the paragraph—

In adverting to their Services in this Colony, although unhappily Events have occurred which must always occasion the deepest Regret, as well to the Corps as to the Major-General, it must be recollected that the Odium attending those ACTS OF DEPRAVITY ought in Justice only to extend to the Perpetrators of them,

was reached, a murmur rolled through the ranks—“Acts o' depravutty! Th' spyin o' Sargeant Franke, th' measley sot!” The files on parade had memories that at that particular moment were not to be appeased by rounded periods of glowing eulogy. His Excellency went on to express his opinion that—

This Station has not afforded the usual Field for Military Glory, but, in as far as the industrious Exertions of those Non-commissioned Officers and Privates who could be spared from Military Duty have been concerned, this Colony is much indebted for many useful Improvements, which, but for the soldiers of the 73rd Regiment, must have remained only in

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the Contemplation of those anxious for its Civilization for a Length of Time.

He might go even beyond that magnificent tribute—he might go to the length of averring that—

The Comforts enjoyed by the Colonists in Consequence of the zealous and laborious Exertions of the Soldiers of the 73rd Regiment will long be remembered with their grateful Recollections.

But even balm of that sort could not heal the wound Macquarie had inflicted when he had given Corporal Franke an extra stripe for playing the sneak and turning barrack-room and parade-ground into sub-divisions of hell.

Healing for that wound came only when it was known later the same day that Sergeant Franke was to stop behind, having obtained fifty acres of land and an overseership.

“But, O Lord, boys, what'll life be worth now for them convicts as he's over?”

This was the barrack-room sentiment. And it was not thought merely and kept in the thinker's own mind, but spoken openly without reserve as a soldier should speak. And it was applauded bravely when spoken.

For with the sergeant would pass away the chief spy of the regiment, and the lesser spies feared the rank-and-file more than they were regarded by the

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officers. None of the lesser spies were gifted like Phil Franke with sweet manners and a cherub's face, and consequently none could get the ear of the Colonel and the Major-General. With every disposition to emulate Franke's career as a reporter to the High Powers of barrack and guard-room discontent, two or three non-coms. and several privates had been unfortunately deprived by Nature of the qualities necessary for success. Which circumstance, if looked at in the proper light, will appear a matter for regret, inasmuch as in the barrack-room of the 73rd rebellion was always in an incipient stage, and the expenditure on a few military executions would have conduced greatly to the prosperity of the country.note At any time in our colonial history up to 1825 it would have been an easy thing for our Prætorian Guards to have wrested the control of the colony from the Constituted Powers, and more than one such plot had been in course of incubation within the quarters of the 73rd. That the eggs were addled was largely due to our hero, Franke.

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Overseer Franke was installed in office the day after the 73rd had marched down to the Cove and embarked for Calcutta. The Outer Domain Gang, as was the case with all low-class labour (as distinguished from the mechanics), were quartered on the west side of the town in the sheds that surrounded the Old Country Gaol. From their squalid living-place to the scene of their daily work was a good three-mile walk, and that distance suggested to the fertile brain of the Overseer an idea. It occurred to him the very day he assumed command, but he was too astute to play the new broom all at once, so he deferred promulgating it in the ears of the Authorities till he had been some weeks in office.

Then he enunciated it to the Superintendent of Convicts, and the Superintendent of Convicts passed it on approvingly to the Chief Engineer, and the Chief Engineer quietly appropriated it as his own, and strongly recommended it to Governor Macquarie, who was graciously pleased, in his capacity of Head of the State and Deputy-Providence, to adopt it.

Now, the idea, when we come to state it in cold-blooded print at this time of day, does not challenge

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admiration either by its daring audacity or sublime originality. The defect, however, is not in the idea, but in us. To appreciate an historic fact, you must weigh and estimate it in the light of the day on which it happened. And the day when Overseer Franke generated, and the Chief Engineer appropriated, and the Governor acted upon the Idea, was the Day of Small Economies. The genius of Old Sydney in Macquarie's early years of administration was the genius of lavish expenditure, but in his later epoch, the fine old ruler worshipped at the throne of another God. Things were so skimped that even the hangmen were compelled to be economical in the matter of hemp. They wished to hang twenty Condemned one day in '21 in Lower George Street, and the Sheriff could not succeed in getting together more rope than would suffice to “top off” nineteen. It would have detained the crowd and the Sheriff another hour from breakfast to have hanged No. 20 with the rope which had already despatched No. 1, and so, as the high functionary dare not anticipate his next quarter's advance by purchasing rope on credit, he put back No. 20 for a week.

It is from the circumstance, then, that the spirit of economy was abroad that Mr. Franke's idea derives its importance.

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Instead of marching his gang from quarters to the site of their work every morning, and marching them back every night, he proposed that he should camp out with them the week through, bringing them in for muster—and divine service—from Saturday to Monday.

This was his plan. In the light of the Administration, it was Splendid, Capital! For it promised to save the Government, time, sinew, boots, money. If, in the process of economy, it also lost a soul or two, well, that consideration could not be permitted access to the Authorities' judgment for one second's audience.

Mr. F. A. Hely, Principal Superintendent of Convicts, once remarked to Father Ullathorne, Vicar-General of Roman Catholics: “Absurd, my dear sir! You ask us to consider souls. That's your business! The Administration has to consider cash!

And Mr. Hely was right. He generally was. When, for instance, he sent seventy-three assigned servants—exactly fifty more than he was entitled to—to his estate of 5120 acres, an estate for which he had paid £16 13s. 4d., there can't be the least doubt he was right. Consequently, being never in error, his opinion as to the folly of giving heed to souls when cash was concerned, must be respected.

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Nevertheless, that heedlessness was the weak spot in Franke's plan, as the sequel proved. It precipitated his pegging-out.

When Franke took charge of the gang there was about five years' clearing work to do on the hilly land which ran from Windmill Ridge to the South Head Road. All the area now known as Darlinghurst was then wooded, sparsely in places, but for the most part the timber was thick. The task of clearing and burning-off with such appliances as were at command of the outer gang was heavy, and the allowance of five years' time was by no means excessive for the undertaking. The Chief Engineer, however, was able to report, two years after the new Overseer had originated his idea, that the marked-out work would be completed by the gang a good twelve months under the allotted period. For this satisfactory achievement the C. E. not unnaturally took the most considerable proportion of credit, but still he did not withhold some tribute of appreciation from Franke. The Overseer, indeed, should have had all, as it was by his plan that the gang had got through so much work.

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The only people dissatisfied were the gangers. The average number of men in the gang was twenty, and the official power which directly controlled them was made up by the Overseer, three soldiers, and a scourger. Notwithstanding this ample manifestation of care by the Authorities, the gang grew discontented, and had to be soothed back at sundry times into contentment and resignation by two hangings, about a dozen of imprisonments, and several score of floggings.

But even gentle remedies of that kind were not potent to keep always within bounds the turbulence of felon-spirits that feel themselves injured by three things which we shall enumerate in the order of their importance as they stood in the estimation of the genial Overseer's protégés.

Firstly, the gangers objected to the deprivation of their daily walk, or rather shuffle—men with single or double irons on could not walk—to and from the town barracks. They would not have minded so much had the time, ordinarily consumed by the out-gangs in passing from the barracks to the working-places and back again, been allowed them for rest. But that was not so; they had to work those two or three hours. Thus their hours of labour were literally from sunrise

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to sunset, though other gangs worked, say, three hours less.

Secondly, the camping-out system practically gave control of their ration and clothes allowances to Overseer Franke. And Overseer Franke, as became an intelligent officer of the System, was not slothful in the business of deriving a very substantial addition to his recognized emoluments from those same allowances.

And, thirdly, they lost the sweet solace of companionship with minds that ran in other grooves of duty, which they would have enjoyed had they been barracked nightly. “There is no apparent motive for the prisoner's murder of the deceased!” remarked C. J. Forbes, at a later day, in the preface to his summing-up on a capital charge. “Beg your Honour's parding!” interrupted the prisoner, with a courteous desire to set the judge—all things considered, the noblest man who ever sat on a N.S.W. Supreme Court Bench—right, “my motive's plain 'nuff. I wanted a change! I got so wery tired of gang-work—there was no wariety in it at all!” Well, that was just the matter with Franke's gangers. The nightly chat in barracks would have been a safety-valve for their natures, and conveyed some refreshment to their minds; but in camp

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their speech was dammed-up, and their lips, if they did move audibly after “lights out!” were in danger of being sealed with a leaden seal. “Fire into the tents, sentry, if yer hear as the men's a-talkin' together. They may be concoctin' mutiny!” Thus the seven men who, on the average, were the occupants of each tent (eight by eight its floor area) were dumb perforce.

There is no tyranny like that of the petty tyrant, and there is no torture like that suffered by his victims. The very littleness of the source of authority adds another and acuter pang to the pain. Had the thousand and one miserable restrictions imposed by ex-Sergeant Franke been directly ordered by a nominal gentleman, or by an officer of commissioned rank, they would have been borne the easier. Only a man with vermin-soul could have designed and put into force some of the methods adopted by Mr. Franke for the subjugation of his men, and being what he was, he was not restrained by any regard for the common humanity which the convict shared with himself, such as even a Foveaux or a Rossell affected (if he did not feel) at times. Intoxicate a creature of his low stamp with the absolutism of power, and you would develop a wretch that even Pluto, who, so far as is known of him, has one or

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two gentlemanly instincts, would surely be loth to employ. Foveaux, after hanging a man in the presence of his wife and child, patted the latter on its back kindly and told it to “Never mind! mammy'll get you a new daddy soon, p'r'aps!” Franke would not have done that—he would have shown the little one its father dangling at the rope's-end, and would have smiled as he did it.

For Franke was the most ingeniously devilish of the low-caste sons of the System that we have come across. To what degree of excellence he would have attained had the Outer Domain Gang not interrupted his official career it is impossible to say.

That thing they did: in the third year of his Overseership they shortened his official career—at least so far as the System was concerned, for there is no saying what use could be found for him other-where—by terminating his life.

Now that was unkind of the gang, it will be admitted. The amount of work done by it under Phil Franke's intelligent direction was so much larger, as we have said, than could have been expected, that the Chief Engineer had marked out for Franke in his mind's eye a wider and still more remunerative field of labour. And of these new

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emoluments and this deserved promotion, Franke's gangers robbed him.


There had come a new man to the gang. Occasionally, though rarely, it happened that a ganger would remain deaf to the wiles of the System, and would refuse to extend his seven years to fourteen, or his fourteen to “life.” The men of Old Sydney held out countless inducements to Government men to extend their term of “Gov'ment labour” indefinitely, or till it reached the foot of the gallows, but now and then it would occur that a transport resisted the temptation in the shape of scourgings and starvings to remain on the muster-rolls, and became free.

Such an event had just happened. One Saturday evening when the gang went into the town for Sunday Chapel and muster, one of the gangers dropped out an expiree, and Mr. Overseer Franke was consequently able to present no more than eighteen at the muster.

“Overseer Franke, how is it your gang is only eighteen?” demanded the Barrack-master; “your strength's twenty.”

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“Yes, sir, but your Honour has forgotten that one man got his certificate yesternight ——”

“That's nineteen!”

“And one is waitin' trial, your Honour, for assaultin' me.”

“Ah, that's the score, but you're still one short, then! There, go to No. 2 yard and pick out a likely fellow.”

“Yes, sir!”

And in a second, he had passed into the inner quadrangle of the Muster-yard—some of the stone wall is still standing—where one hundred and forty newly-landed transports were huddled, pending inspection.

Up and down the ranks of sickly wretches—they had been seven months on the voyage, and short of water and lime-juice for the last month—he passed, closely scrutinizing the cargo. It was a regulation that the Governor, or, if that was not convenient, the Colonial Secretary, should allot each new-comer to the work for which he was best suited. The regulation had been obeyed in the case of the Coromandel cargo. On the previous morning (Saturday) his Excellency had inspected the “indent,” and had selected every man who said he was, or seemed to be, a mechanic. Then he had ordered

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the rest to “gang-labour,” and thus left them to the tender mercies of the Overseer. There are more ways than one of carrying out a regulation.

“A crawling, scurvy lot!” commented Overseer Franke to the yard constable. “I want a strong, wiry 'un, an' there don't seem to be one in the batch.”

“Try this cove wots over here,” suggested the constable, and pointed as he spoke to where a man, under the medium height, but otherwise well-proportioned, stood, the centre of a ragged group. “This chap ain't much muscle to look at, but he's blooded—he's got sperrit, I should say, an' 'udn't prove a shiser. You try him, Mr. Franke, sir. Here, you feller, stand out!”

The “fellow” stood. The grime of confinement did not blur altogether the fine lines of his face, and the delicate nostrils of the long nose, the sweep of the eyelashes, and the chiselling of the mouth, indicated blood and gentle nurture, while the straightforward, lucid eyes spoke equally clearly of a disposition of integrity. It was a mystery how such a man came to be included in the ring of degraded scum, possibly only to be explained by a sudden lapse into a criminal deed, or, as an alternative (of which there are many instances in convict

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archives), that he was bearing the brunt of some rich or great man's crime.

“Your name, feller?”

“Edgar Allison Mann,” was the reply, respectful in tone.

“Edgar Man!” exclaimed the Overseer, aghast at the fancied affront to his dignity. “Man! Do you know as you're talking to a Hoverseer?”

“Mann, sir, I said—M-a-n-n! Edgar Allison are my Christian names.”

“Ah, that's it, is it! Now, jest look here, young feller, we ain't a-goin' to put up with your inserlence.”

“I meant no insolence! You misunderstood me, sir!”

“Misunderstood yer, did I! Now, wot's that but inserlence, I'd like to know? Ain't it inserlence, constable?”

“It must be, Mr. Franke, sir, if you say so; you have 'ad more experience than me, sir.”

“By my lights, my flash cove, I'll have to take your flashness out of yer. A-tellin' me that I misunderstood yer! Wot'll yer say next, I wonder!”


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The yard-constable held his breath; Overseer Franke let his tongue loll out in amazement; did he hear aright, or had his senses deceived him? Did the audacious transport really mean to call him all that? The only sound to be heard in that yard for some seconds was the half-suppressed chuckle from a transport who was out on his second voyage: “Lord, ain't the swell a-crackin' a whid in prime twig!”note

“Wot's that yer say?” Franke, when he had got over the shock, said. “Wot's that?”

Word for word, pausing between each as he had done before, the transport repeated his former speech.

The whole yard looked for a burst of anger, and an immediate presentment of the offender before the Barrack-master with a request for condign punishment. A genius like Franke, however, was above doing what common constables and newly-landed transports expected from him. He knew a trick worth two of immediate punishment.

“Yer'll do, my man! I likes a feller with pluck for my gang, for it gives me som'at to do to break him in! March to the outer yard there—yer are a-going to jine No. 3 Outer, d'ye hear that?”

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When Mr. Franke marched back on Monday morning to the heights beyond Windmill Ridge, there went with him Edgar Allison Mann, No. 14-736, as the twentieth man of his gang.


Mann adjusted himself with philosophic fortitude to the terrible conditions under which he was placed. Reticent as to his past, he strove by whispered word and the example of a manly bearing where the whole routine was carefully designed to stamp out even the physical type of manliness, to encourage his wretched fellow-gangers to look to the future, to bear up under the infinite degradations of the present by forcing their minds to anticipate a brighter and happier time. His influence at the end of three months was extraordinary. Even the Overseer could not but notice it, and should have rejoiced at it, as in the quietude of the gang they worked better. But their superior discipline provoked Franke, for it was none of his doing—caused, instead, by a spirit which he regarded as rebellious, and by methods he considered insubordinate, and Mann's conquest over the rude hearts of his fellow-gangers was the more galling as it was a proof that he, the Overseer, had failed to

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break Mann's spirit in the first week of the young transport's inclusion in the gang.

He had taken offence at the way Mann saluted him, and understanding clearly that nothing was more harassing to a convict of “superior position” than the necessity he was hourly under of “capping” to the penal officers, he put him through a course of instruction. He had permitted the soldier-guard to supervise the labour of the gang one forenoon while he devoted himself to “a-larnin' the gen'elman how to s'lute.”

For three mortal hours he kept Mann marching to and fro on a path six yards long in front of the tents. He sat on a stool in the opening of a tent, midway between the points at which the convict had to turn upon his heel, and every time of passing, he ordered the prisoner to salute.

“One, two, three, four—s'lute. Hand to your peak; higher, feller!” Mann would obey and proceed. Returning, it would be—

“One, two, three, four—s'lute. Left hand to left leg, right brought smartly up, an' held there till yer pass the orf'cer as yer payin' honour to—d'ye hear that, pris'ner, a-payin' honour to!”—he would laugh gaily here, as though to accentuate the stabbing insult; then “One, two, three, four.” And so to the end of the walk.

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After that exercise of three hours' duration, Mr. Franke turned to the transport, and said, with a heavenly smile lighting up his cherub's visage—

“And now, Mann, d'yer think yer'll know another day 'ow to salute properly?”

“I think so, sir!” responded Mann, with as sweet a smile. “I think so! I'll not forget this lesson.” And in the self-abasement which dare not groan aloud, he resolved he would not.

He dare not groan at that or countless other insults, because groaning would have provoked the application of the lash to his back. And Mann dare not, for his soul's sake, do that. Like the poor sinner at Macquarie Harbour, who told Surgeon Barnes that once he was flogged he did not care a brass farden what became of him—he'd as soon go to hell as not—for his thoughts were hell after the lash had bitten him (Charles Buller, to whom the Australias owe so much, wept as he heard Barnes' narrative)—Mann knew he was done for once the cat stung him. He would no longer be a man—a human being; he would be an animal that cringed before such a creature as Phil Franke, or he would be a desperate, blood-craving beast. No, he dare not be flogged. Always he held himself up with that hope

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that he would always keep to the weather-side of the Overseer's mad passion.

But there was no knowing what a day would bring forth in Old Sydney times, when the monarch of the hour was a cherub of the Franke variety. Mann was flogged—forty stripes save one. “That's Scriptooral, pris'ner,” grinned the Cherub—forty was Overseer's limit—“an' I'll take care the scourger don't give yer more. Peel!”

“Peel,” he, Mann, perforce did; and as he stripped for the punishment, he swore to his Maker that, before the next Saturday, the Cherub should have a chance of seeing what the earth looked like from another sphere.

The cause of the punishment was Mann's championship of another ganger.

The weekly ration of O.D. Gang consisted of four pounds of salt pork one week, and seven pounds of fresh beef the next, the flour-food being, week in and week out, ten pounds of wheat and six pounds of maize, ground by the prisoners themselves, in their own time, mixed with cold water.

But Overseer Franke, having been appointed, by reason of being in “detached camp,” a storekeeper, was entitled to make issues from store to himself, as Overseer. And he would not have attained to the

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eminence he possessed as an official if he had not contrived to turn this arrangement to account.

As Storekeeper, he was entitled to buy, at the rate fixed by the Governor, meat, wheat, and maize, giving an order on the Deputy-Commissary-General for the payment.

As Storekeeper, he would issue to the Overseer (himself) the scheduled allowance of rations, taking his own receipt for the quantity of produce.

And as Overseer, he would issue to his men what he pleased. And he pleased to issue very little. He, as a fact, robbed them of nearly half.

One Monday an elderly transport, a coarse, languid, brutish “First-fleeter,” working in the hot sun, fell ill. He was thrust into the shade of the gums till knock-off time, and then carried to the tent, one of the tent-party being Mann.

In the still watches of a moonlit night, the sick man became delirious for want of nourishment or from the sunstroke. Mann rose and, as noiselessly as possible, so as not to disturb the other poor fellows whom slumber mocked, asked him, “Could he do anything for him?” But the First-fleeter, in his delirium, made no coherent answer.

Mann went to the fly-opening, and called: “Sentry!”

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The one sentinel on night duty—twelve hours at a stretch—challenged him and ordered him to stand.

“Prisoner's dying!” Mann never would permit himself to fall into the use of the corrupt form “pris'ner,” though nearly everybody, from the Governor, Judges, and parsons, down to the children in the streets, made the word a dissyllable. “Prisoner's dying!”

The challenge had awoke the Overseer. He came to the mouth of his tent: “What's that?”

“Pris'ner sick in No. 1,” reported the sentry.

“Who's that talking?”

“I—Mann—No. 20.”

“Back to your bed, Mann! Wot d'yer mean, my fine swell, disturbin' the gang at this hour?”

“The man—Cummings—is dying!”

“Wot's that to yer if he is! The rule o' camp is no talkin' arter ‘lights out.’ Back ——”

“You are a murdering villain if you let this poor devil die!”

“Fire, sentry! Fire!” And by virtue of the authority which reposed in the bosom of the Overseer, the sentry obeyed. He fired point-blank—Mann had thrown himself down on his side of the

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tent—and First-fleeter Cummings' delirium merged into and ended with one deep, low groan.

In the flapping of a swallow's wing the young convict was out in the moonlight.

“Shoot me, you murderous scoundrel! Shoot me, if you dare, and all the soldiers in the colony will not save you from the dogs. Shoot me as you've shot that prisoner after starving him—he was ill because you robbed him of his rations. You've as much right to shoot me as that other, for you've robbed me, all of us, of our rations.”

A minute of silence. Then the Cherub spoke to some purpose.

“No, no, my fine feller—we don't waste powder an' shot on gentles. That's the death they like. It's the cat as yer don't like, an' it's the cat as yer a-goin' to have. Scourger!”

At two o'clock in the morning, on the height of Woolloomooloo, with the soft sea-breezes chanting plaintively through sassafrass and eucalyptus, Mann got his thirty-nine! Thirty-nine was scriptural.

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From that morning Mann changed bodily, mentally, morally. From that morning he lived only for revenge; he would not even wait to see what justice would come forth at the Sunday muster.

When the gang went out to day-labour, the camp was in charge of the soldier who had gone on duty at daybreak. This day the soldier, instead of taking his usual sleep, was obliged to continue his sentinelship, for he had to watch over the writhing body of Convict Mann and the stiff one of Convict Cummings.

What passed between Mann and the sentry can be inferred by the circumstance that the soldier threw in his fate with the gang when they made their bolt, as they did three nights later—on the Thursday.

On the Thursday night they bolted, under Mann's leadership, and seized a schooner which lay out in the main stream. Overseer Franke, of course, raised a remonstrance as to their going, but they treated it as unpolitely as they did his complaint that they were hurting him, when they pegged him out—alive—with tent-pegs and lines—on an ant-hill in the heavily-timbered gorge between two hills.

Alive—with food just outside of his reach—and a

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bullet-hole through his right hand, into which aperture the ants were directed by the ingenuity of one Mann, who made a sweet track of the Overseer's ration sugar from a hole in the hill to the hole in the hand.

About eight or nine years afterwards, Mr. Absalom West was clearing some ground in Bark 'Um Glen—now refined into Barcom—when he came upon a skeleton—pegged out.