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I.

CAPTAIN MACONOCHIE, who, with Major Anderson, supplied the non-demoniac element in the reigns of Norfolk Island Commandants, in pursuance of his theory that the convict should be encouraged to hope not alone for an alleviation of his physical condition, but also for “a new moral nature,” hit upon an expedient for developing, even in hardened souls, those softening and refining tendencies which flow from a heart-felt solicitude for the welfare of others. By detaching transports into groups, or “sub-gangs,” of three or five members, and holding each man of the three or five responsible for the good behaviour of his comrades, an irresistible appeal was at once made to the curiously-confused notions that swayed the average convict mind. An argument which had regard only to their own comfort or freedom from


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punishment would, in the case of nine out of ten “old hands”—the doubly-convicted convicts transported from the mainland or Van Diemen's Land— be welcomed by an oath or a ribald jest. When callousness in infamy was deemed to be an honour— when irons were thought the insignia of chivalry— and “connoisseurs in murder” felt it a privilege to take the hand of a “locked-boot” victim—it was an insult to suggest an immunity from penalties as a reason for right action. Take another course, however, and appeal to the sense of fraternity, which seldom died out even in the “best” men, and that caution in conduct and that eternal obedience to the regulations which a “good” man would never think of exerting in his own interests, would be at once exercised for the benefit of his group-mates. Most of Maconochie's attempts at penal reform sprang from his heart, and were seldom based on a hard, logical apprehension of facts as they were. But, in respect to his grouping system, his heart and his head acted together. His judgment and his experience of the “old hands” taught him that it was literally and absolutely a point of honour with them never to procure punishment for another transport who manifested “spunk.” And his heart showed him how to take advantage of this characteristic.


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What “old hands” would not do for themselves they should do for others. They should respect regulations and official practices, because violation of them would cause the infliction of punishment upon their colleagues of the group.

Between the principal settlement (which was supposed to change its name according to the sex of the reigning sovereign, and, therefore, should have been called Queenstown in the present reign, but which, notwithstanding, was more often spoken of as Kingstown than Queenstown) and the outlying barracks at Longridge, the Commandant laid out, in March and April, 184–, a number of farms of six to ten acres each. On each farm a hut or cottage was erected, and a company of from three to five men was assigned to each hut and farm. For the first year, no rental was demanded by the Commandant. For succeeding years each group of tenants had to contribute a rental of twelve bushels of maize for each cleared acre, this quota being estimated to equal one-third of the average crop per acre raised by labour under direct taxation. And every group was constituted a “mutual responsibility” sub-gang. That is to say, for the misdeeds of any one member of a group, the other members would suffer.

The group tenanting the hut on Section 5 B was


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constituted by some “old hands” whose records were of the very “best.”note Tested by the official standards of the elder System, they would have been welcomed by Lucifer with a “Hail, fellows, well met!” And thereupon the soft-hearted Commandant resolved they should have a chance to reform. Very much to the amusement of the Commissariat and other officials did he announce this determination.

The sub-gangers were five in number. Osborne, of whom we dare say no more than that it was a daily wonder to his comrades how he escaped hanging; Peake, a small-skulled, thirty-year-old lump of a physical deformity that rivalled his moral nature; a gentlemanly ex-forger who was popularly known as “Barrington” from the circumstance that he knew off by heart the account of that immortal scoundrel's career; a “Swinger”note—Felix—less sullen than brutish in feature, and of gigantic physical strength; and Reynell, a former soldier of the “Fighting Half-Hundred,” who had been transported to Norfolk


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Island by a V.D.L. military court for desertion to Maori-land in a whaler.

A tall, strapping fellow, who carried himself with military erectness, was Reynell, and it was his boast that his parchment record was as long as himself. Of course, the assertion was a slight exaggeration, but Reynell was given to little whimsicalities. A devil when roused, he was, as a rule, a merry soul, who was pleasantly cynical. He entered into crime with the same zest as into a battle-square. “It was but putting the bayonet into the law instead of the enemy,” he said to Mr. Pery, Superintendent of Agriculture, one day when Pery asked him why he would persist in setting the authorities at defiance. “I have to let the devil out of me somehow, sir, and as her gracious Majesty—God bless her!—won't employ me against her enemies, I have to make enemies of my own. And the law's a grand enemy to fight, sir! It'll take such a lot of beating!”

Against a criminal of this temper the Law had used everything in its dread armoury, except “the spread-eagle,” the gallows, and—a kind word and good faith. These last two instruments of unusual punishment Captain Maconochie now determined to supply. He appointed Reynell leader of 5 B


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sub-gang at a Sunday morning “after chapel” muster at the Iron Room.

“Henry Reynell, per Coquette, colonial transport,” called the mustering-overseer.

“Reynell, how do you come to be included among ‘old hands’ when you're a ‘colonial’?” questioned the Commandant, with his pleasant resonance of voice, as soon as the man had replied with his “Here!”

“The honourable Court gave me fourteen years, y'r Honour, and as I didn't think it enough I got 'em to make it life.” There was a ripple of laughter in the ranks.

“How?” asked the Captain, who took no notice of the demonstration.

“I struck the corporal of the Court guard—and so the honourable Court gave me what I wanted.”

“Not the same Court? It could not act at once and without being formally convened by the Colonel-Commanding?”

“As to that, sir, I can't say. All I know is that same Court convicted me—and I came here with a double sentence. Therefore, Major Ryan thought me entitled, sir, to all the emoluments, rights, and privileges of an old hand. I've been in irons all the time I've been here.”




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“Will you take a word of advice from me, Reynell?” said the Commandant.

“Will—I—what, y'r Honour?” asked Reynell, with a choking breath in his voice that might have been amusement, or might have been sheer amazement at the autocrat of a penal settlement assuming so extraordinary a tone.

“Take my advice, my good fellow, just to drop that sneering manner of speech.” There was a genuine kindness in the words. Reynell drew himself up to his full height and clenched his fist. Those who stood by thought he was about to transform recklessness of tongue into madness of action. The line between a murderer and a hero is often but a hair's-breadth, and this man, who might easily become a hero, might as easily pass the line.

However, other answer than this he did not make. He flung out his closed hand and said—“So easy to preach, y'r Honour! With the iron in the soul, and the cat on the back, and the bayonet-point in the body, what wonder the sneer's on the lip? So easy for you gentlemen to deal with heartless numbers. You say, Numbers 37-189—that's me—and 39-204 —that's Felix—don't feel. God above—don't we! And what weapon ha' we to fight the System with


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if you won't allow us to use our tongues? Even at our peril we must use 'em!”

He stopped and gathered strength for a last phrase which quivered with the under-thrill of his bitterness. “It's fighting that's our last hope of keeping something of manhood to ourselves, sir! Fight!—I'd die if I did not fight—die or go mad!”

Outbursts of this sort were common enough among the more intelligent convicts, but Maconochie never ceased to be impressed by them. The receptive sympathy of the man—which proved his ruin as an administrator—was always stirred when the note of strength and sincerity ran through the transport's utterances. He listened now to Reynell with a patience that to his under-strappers and to the felons at muster seemed at once wonderful and childish.

With mutual nods and winks (in hearty enjoyment of the joke) the gentlemen of the Commissariat who accompanied him listened to his ludicrously feeble reception of Convict Reynell's attack on the System's amenities.

“Reynell,” he said, stepping a pace nearer to the ranks as he spoke, “I am going to trust you—I will give you a farm—you and any four others you may choose to pick out of the old hands!”

“You—are—not jollying—me, your Honour?”




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“No—you will find by and by that I never ‘jolly!’”

“Then, by G—, sir, I'll be true man to you!”

From the rank of men from which Reynell had been called out came in two or three distinct voices a shout of—

“The Ring'll see 'bout that! The Oath! The Oath!”

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