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  ― 226 ―

II.

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


  ― 227 ―
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.




  ― 228 ―

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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