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Biographical Introduction

In August 1934 there died in a mental hospital, at an advanced age, Mary Wise Savery Hawkins, penniless and without ascertainable relatives. She had spent, so it was reported, many years of her life and all her resources in trying to prove descent from Sir John Hawkins of Plymouth, the Elizabethan sea-dog.

Among her papers was a document, dated July 24th, 1809, by one John Savery, from whom Mary Hawkins was apparently descended. This manuscript, running to some 180 pages, is John Savery's history of his family from 1501 to 1809. Among the early pages occurs the following passage:

Stephen Savery, eldest Son, and Heir apparent, of the last named Christopher, in the year 1563, married Johanna de Servington; Daughter, and Coheiress of John de Servington, Esquire, of Tavistock, in the County of Devon.

The Family of Servington was of considerable Antiquity, and Consequence, for John de Servington's Ancestor, William de Servington, I find did Twice serve the Office of Sheriff for the County of Devon, in the time of Edward the third to wit in the year 1366 and 1367; being the 40th and 41st of his Reign.

He bore Arms — Erming — a Chevron Azure — charged with three Buck's Heads Cabossd Or — Crest Service Tree, growing out of a Tun. Note — These Arms have, ever since, been us'd with my Family Arms And also the Crest generally, See Antiquities of Exeter, by Isaac, Printed in 1724.

There was another Branch of the Family of De Servington or Servington, settled at Mageston, in the County of Dorset, and, by an Inquisition, taken the 14th of Henry the Eighth it was found that William Servington died seized of the Manor of Whatley, near Froom in the County of Somerset; which he held of the Abbot of Glastonbury and that Nicholas Servington was his Son; and then Nine years of Age.

In the South Aile in Whatley Church, on a rais'd Tomb; lies the Effigy of a Knight in Armour; Cross Legg'd, and Spurr'd — His Hands are in a suppliant posture; close to his Breast. — On the Arm is a Shield whereon is a Chevron, charged with three Bucks Heads caboss'd. — This Effigy was one of the Family of Servington. — I have been thus particular as my Family are descended from this Family; and have continued the Name as a Christian name prefixt to that of Savery; in every Generation to this time.

It is to this connection with the Servingtons that the title of this novel by Henry Savery is due — Quintus Servinton.




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More important is the fact that John Savery gives the dates of birth of his numerous offspring, among them Henry Savery.

The date of his birth formerly accepted was 1794. The evidence for this was probably a Register of Burials conducted by the Wesleyan Church, Port Arthur, which has an entry (February 8, 1842) for Henry Savery: “aged 48 years.” Different evidence appears in contemporary newspaper accounts of his trial (April 1825), which give thirty-three as his age at that time. This would make his year of birth 1792. His official description in the Tasmanian convict records also gives thirty-three. Such an official description derives from the English prison record, which normally preceded any prisoner transferred from prison to the hulks in the Thames, and which then accompanied him on the voyage out to Tasmania or New South Wales. By the 1820's this procedure, formerly theoretical but often not actual, had become the practice.

This means that in April 1825 Henry Savery was thirty-three years old. But the month remains significant; for if he was born in a later month then he would turn thirty-four in 1825, and this would indicate 1791 as his year of birth.

This is in fact the year given by John Savery in his list of children. Henry Savery is there stated to have been born August 4, 1791.

There remains, however, a point to be checked. Is this John Savery the father of Henry Savery the novelist, or of some other Henry? John Savery in his manuscript history states that he himself was the eldest son of John Savery and Sarah Prideaux, and was born April 21, 1747. Now it is well established that the father of Henry Savery the novelist was a noted Bristol banker of the firm of Savery, Towgood, Yerbury, and Towgood, Wine Street. Newspaper reports always call the father Mr. Savery, but do not give his Christian name. However, A History of Banking in Bristol by C. H. Cave gives this information:

John Savery, who remained in the Bank until business was given up in 1828, was a member of a very old Devonshire family. He was eldest son of John Savery, of Shilston House, near Modbury, Devon, by his wife Sarah, daughter of Walter Prideaux, of Dartmouth: was born in 1747 …

This seems conclusive. The John Savery who wrote the history of his family was the Bristol banker, and his son was Henry, the future novelist. And Henry Savery was born August 4, 1791. His place of birth was Butcombe Court, Butcombe, Somerset.

Henry was the sixth son. But as the second son, Servington, died three days after birth, Henry probably considered himself the fifth. Hence the Quintus in Quintus Servinton.

Not much is known of Savery's life until after 1824. Though we


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now know when he was born and where he was born, we still do not know where he spent his childhood years. As for his schooldays, Morris Miller, using hints from Quintus Servinton, very plausibly conjectures that he was educated at Oswestry Grammar School, where he received a classical and commercial training that showed itself both for better and for worse in his life and his writings.

It is possible that his early manhood was spent in London and that there, probably in 1815, he married Eliza Elliott Oliver, whose father, William Elliott Oliver, was a business man of Blackfriars, London. In this year or a little later Savery and his wife moved to the West of England, where for some years they lived at Stapleton, a few miles from Bristol. Their son, Henry Oliver, was born on June 30, 1816.

Savery engaged in business in Bristol, but even here there is uncertainty in dates and occupations. His father, John Savery, as mentioned earlier, was a prominent member of a Bristol banking firm, which continued in operation until 1828. It seems reasonable to suppose that Henry was helped initially, and probably on later occasions, by his father.

Records from contemporary newspapers and Matthews' Bristol Directory of the period indicate that from 1817 Savery, in conjunction with a partner named Bigg, carried on the business of sugar-refining — or, as it was called then, sugar-baking. This shortly ran into trouble, and in 1819 Savery became bankrupt. The Times of London in its issue of September 1, 1819, reports under its heading, Bankruptcies:

H. Savery, Bristol, sugar refiner, Sept. 13, 14, Oct. 12, at the Commercial-rooms, Bristol: solicitor, Mr. Bigg, Southampton-buildings, Chancery-lane.

Whether this Bigg was Savery's partner is not known; but if, as seems certain, the word solicitor in The Times report has the old meaning of petitioner, then he probably was.

Oddly enough, this mishap does not seem to have curbed Savery's activities. Gallop, in his Chapters in the History of the Provincial Press, states that in August, 1819, Henry Savery assumed the editorship of the Bristol Observer and Gloucester, Monmouth, Somerset and Wiltshire Courier from John Sharp, who had printed it for unnamed proprietors from the first number, August 7, 1817, until his death on August 29, 1819. (The Bristol Mercury for December 13, 1824, states that Savery had some family connection with a proprietor of the Observer.) While holding office as publisher, Savery took over the business of a “West India and General Broker” and marine insurance agent vacated by a Mr. West in Corn Street. On September 9, 1819, an even more imposing sub-title was added to the paper, and it was renamed the Bristol Observer and Gloucester,


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Somerset, Wiltshire, Monmouth, Brecon and Glamorgan Courier. Savery's last issue was for February 13, 1822: a week later the name of Henry Laurinson appeared in the imprint.

After this excursion Savery returned to his former business as sugar-refiner in partnership with a Mr. Saward.

So far, then, Savery has engaged in a sugar business, which in about two years becomes bankrupt. He next turns to publishing and insurance, and abandons this business, by choice or constraint, two and a half years later. This argues some innate instability or a notable incompetence. The novel he was later to write suggests that he had grandiose ideas, and over-extended the capacity of each firm that was unlucky enough to have him as its guiding spirit.

Many men, one might imagine, would be extinguished emotionally and financially by such reverses. But Savery is immediately back in business as usual. Either he is abnormally resilient or else he receives help each time. The latter possibility is suggested by a remark in The Times of December 20, 1824, in its report of Savery's arrest, which occurred a week or so before that date:

Mr. Savery, the banker, had, unfortunately, on other occasions before this, experienced the painful feelings which arose from filial misconduct.

Savery's third venture was to prove no less unfortunate financially than his first two. In its effects on Savery personally it was to prove immeasurably more calamitous. Once again he proceeded to bite off more than he could chew. He extended operations and entered into engagements that the firm could not meet; but this time money from his father was not to save him.

It was near the end of 1824 that the unstable man was to commit the crowning folly of his life. The full details are complicated and confused. Apparently he had, without the knowledge of his partner, committed the firm beyond its resources. His vanity, we must suppose, would not allow him to confess this indebtedness, so that he had for about two years been negotiating bills with fictitious names and addresses. These were commonly known as “kites,” and Savery was under the impression that they did not lay him open to the charge of forgery. The monies that he procured by such means amounted in the end to between £30,000 and £40,000, and the firm had assets covering about two-thirds of the sum. The charge, when it was finally laid, though very lengthy and elaborate in the legal fashion of the period, could be summed up in these terms: that he had feloniously and falsely made, forged, and counterfeited a certain note of hand, dated Birmingham, October 7, 1824, for the sum of £500, with intent to defraud George Smith and his co-partners, trading as


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John Freeman and Co., the Bristol Copper Company. His other creditors, or victims, refrained from preferring charges.

The discovery of his frauds was for him an unlucky accident. Savery, it is suggested, alarmed by the recent execution of the famous forger Henry Fauntleroy, had decided to decamp. He had already reached London when an irregularity in one of the fraudulent bills happened to be noted in Bristol. This caused his partner Saward to look into the affairs of the company, and to discover, for one thing, that a large stock of sugar invoiced to a creditor Protheroe had by some means been taken from the warehouse and sold to another merchant for a draft of £1500. This draft Savery had taken to London and exchanged for a credit on New York.

Saward set out forthwith in pursuit of his absconding partner. One rumour, true or not, is that (in the prim tones of The Times) Savery “had been accompanied from Bristol by a female of a certain description,” had been followed by his wife to Portsmouth, had explained his situation to her, and urged her to return, exclaiming, “Go back, go back! Your route will be traced, and my ruin will be effected.” The other account is that he wrote from London attributing his delay to illness. Whereupon his wife and her family left Bristol to attend him. He told them his position and they returned.

At all events Saward met Mrs. Savery at Bath, was told that Savery had already departed for America, but still hopefully continued the pursuit. In London he received information that led him to suspect Savery had not yet gone, but was a passenger on the Hudson, soon to sail from Cowes. The end of the chase was now in sight. Saward engaged a constable at Cowes, and they rowed out to the Hudson, now only thirty minutes from its hour of sailing. From its deck the fugitive, passing under the name of Serrington (so reported but possibly an error for Servington, the family related by marriage), watched their approach with trepidation. They boarded the vessel, and Savery threw himself into the sea. He was rescued, and in agony of mind dashed his head against the walls of the ship repeatedly. They restrained his violence and took him ashore to the Vine Inn. This occurred on December 9.

From then until his committal Savery was on the verge of insanity. Two peace-officers constantly attended him to prevent further acts of self-violence. He was taken back to Bristol by coach, at one time in the depths of despondency, at another singing light songs in an access of elation. They reached Bristol on December 15 and Savery was brought up before the Mayor and the Magistrates at the Guildhall. His incoherence was such that several postponements took place until he was at last, on December 23, committed for trial at the next Assizes.




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The account of the trial that Savery gives in the first chapter of the third volume of the novel sticks pretty closely to the facts. He appeared before the Recorder, Lord Gifford, on April 2—4, 1825. When asked by the Clerk of the Arraigns how he pleaded to the charge, Savery replied, “Guilty,” a plea that was apparently quite unexpected. The Recorder urged him to reconsider, but without effect. He even warned the prisoner that he should entertain no false hopes in giving such an answer. As if this were not sufficient, Savery was then taken from the courtroom for some minutes so that he might deliberate in quiet. On his return he appeared more collected than before and entered the same plea.

It seems evident that Gifford's warning not to hope that such a plea would gain mercy had passed Savery by. During the judge's comments on the evils of forgery Savery interjected to say that he was not aware that issuing fictitious signatures was subject to the same sentence as forgery. In fact, it seems certain that he had earlier been advised to plead guilty with the assurance that this would save his life. As it happened, it appeared likely to have the opposite effect: Gifford was simply obliged to pass the standard condemnation. He put on the black cap and uttered the customary phrases:

“.… my painful duty to pronounce that you, Henry Savery, be taken from hence to the place from whence you came, and thence to the place of execution, and there to be hanged by the neck until you are dead.”

Savery's self-possession, already shaken by the judge's remarks, now gave way, and in the words of a contemporary newspaper:

The prisoner, on hearing the latter words, seemed to lose all power of breathing, and dropped down his head.

The verdict took more than Savery by horrified surprise; and George Smith, one of the prosecutors, pressed forward through the crowd by the witness box and asked the judge for mercy — an unusual enough procedure for any prosecutor no matter how nominal. The judge, himself affected, leaned back but made no reply. Amid the dead silence of the crowded courtroom Savery was led away.

The day of execution was later appointed as Friday, April 22.

Matters, of course, did not rest there. Savery had powerful friends, and representations were speedily made to the Home Department. These alone might not have sufficed: personal influence could have been countered on the grounds that others better known than Savery had suffered death for the same offence. But the argument that Savery had been induced to plead guilty, with the certainty of imprisonment instead of a death sentence — this was the chief and, as it proved, the conclusive point in his favour. In a letter to Governor


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Arthur, over three years later, James Stephen, Counsel at the time to the Colonial Office, and later Under-Secretary for the Colonies, declared: “Mr. Peel, I apprehend, would certainly have left him to die, had it not been for the blunder of the magistrate before whom he was examined.” But the days dragged on with no definite news, and Savery must have resigned himself to death despite the reassurances of friends. At last, however, on Thursday, April 21, less than twenty-four hours before the time appointed for the execution, two letters were received at Bristol, one from Peel, Secretary of State for the Home Department, the other from Hobhouse, Under-Secretary of State: the sentence of death was commuted to transportation for life. The Bristol sheriffs, Gardiner and Walker, immediately went to the prison and told Savery the welcome news.

They found him in bed; but, on hearing the grateful intelligence that his life had been spared, he immediately rose, kneeled down, and in fervent accents returned thanks to the Almighty for his deliverance.

Well he might. We are left with the feeling that he was very lucky. His was the one reprieve from execution of a batch of such offenders. His case was closely preceded by that of Henry Fauntleroy, the most notorious forger of his generation. A rake, a bon vivant, a cultivated and witty man with a wide circle of friends, Fauntleroy is thought to have forged notes to the tune of a quarter of a million pounds in his startling career. He was a partner in the banking house of Marsh, Stracey and Co., whose consequent failure had very widespread effects. After an elaborate trial Fauntleroy was executed at Newgate on November 30, 1824, at the age of forty, in the presence, according to reports, of 100,000 spectators.

So there was good precedent for Savery's suffering the same fate. And, as it happened, there were executions for forgery a few years later. In 1828, for instance, the Quaker Joseph Hunton was executed for forging two bills to a total of about £250. The last such execution took place on the last day of 1829 — Thomas Maynard, hanged at Newgate. So there were executions before and after. And Savery had actually pleaded guilty.

He remained in prison for three months after his trial, and in the first week of July was transferred with nine or ten other convicts to the Justitia hulk at Woolwich. From the hulk he was embarked on the convict ship Medway, which left Woolwich on July 20 for Sheerness to take on the rest of her convict complement. There, three days later, John Dunmore Lang, the stormy petrel of Presbyterianism in Australia, came aboard. The remainder of the convicts were embarked before the end of the month; the Medway cast


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anchor about three weeks later; and at some time between August 22 and 25 Land's End sank from view. It was the last sight of England most of those on board were ever to have.

On this vessel of about 450 tons there were 172 male convicts. Its skipper was Borthwick Wight. Its Surgeon Superintendent was Gilbert King, who seven years afterwards was to write a testimonial to Savery's character, saying among other things that Savery had been under his superintendence during the voyage. Indeed, the prisoner seems to have been treated with some consideration during those sixteen weeks afloat. The Colonial Times, announcing the arrival of the Medway at Hobart, made special mention of Savery: “He was treated with the greatest kindness and attention during the voyage, having by order of Government separate accommodation.”

Whether he made acquaintance with John Dunmore Lang is uncertain, but likely enough. During the voyage Lang wrote some of the poems that later appeared as Aurora Australis (1826), and in the preface he talks of one prisoner: “I had a conversation with an old German Jew, a prisoner. He was a man of very general information, having received a tolerable education in his youth. He was rather fastidious in the choice of his associates on board ship and had very few acquaintances among his fellow prisoners.” There is no mention of Savery, but the two probably conversed. In Quintus Servinton (vol. iii, chapter 4) Savery writes of the “presbyterian divine of the Scotch kirk,” who mildly reproached him for laughing at those who were seasick, and who afterwards talked with him repeatedly. This is undoubtedly Lang.

The Medway arrived at Hobart on December 9 or 10 or 11, 1825. Three convicts had died on the voyage. The 169 were landed on December 15, and 125 of them were immediately assigned as servants to settlers.

Among those kept in Government service was Savery. In spite of what the indulgence shown him on the Medway seemed to promise, on arrival he was treated like any other convict. Col. George Arthur, the Lieutenant-Governor of Tasmania from 1824 to 1836, writing to Lord Bathurst on January 27, 1827, noted that

… Savary (sic) was subjected to the degradation of being landed in the Prisoners' dress, and, in this disgraceful garb, with his head close shorn, he was conducted to the Common Jail Yard for inspection and assignment with the other miserable outcasts from Newgate, who arrived by the same vessel, a punishment of itself sufficient to fill a mind of ordinary sensibility with horror and remorse for his crimes, and which there was every appearance at the time to believe Savary felt most acutely.

Savery's concern thereafter was to rehabilitate himself — if we understand


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by the term not merely resuming respectability but in the process gaining some kudos, being recognized as a man of some consequence. This desire to cut a figure, indulged in to the point of recklessness and even illegality (though Savery almost certainly never looked at it like that), was the cause of his arrest, trial, and transportation. The same desire, indulged in more cautiously, was still to bring a great deal of trouble upon him until the last few years of his life, when caution succumbed to desperation and trouble became catastrophe.

He was put into the Colonial Secretary's office, and later into that of the Colonial Treasurer. Such a disposal of an adept man of affairs did not meet with the approval of those colonists who would willingly have paid Savery a handsome salary for his services. Nor did it have the approval of those who were hostile to Lieutenant-Governor Arthur and the authority he exercised. Savery was widely thought of as a tool of the governing group and was very shortly used as a stick with which to beat Arthur. Letters were written to England complaining of the employment of a convict in confidential affairs. The English authorities were forced to take notice.

In a letter of August 2, 1826, Bathurst asked Arthur to explain. Arthur replied effectively on January 27, 1827, pointing out that the complaints were misrepresentations of the position and were concocted by those who wanted Savery as an assigned servant. Savery was under another prisoner in the Colonial Secretary's office and received £18 per annum. Then upon this prisoner being removed Savery received £30 p.a. plus a ration of one pound of bread and one pound of meat. His hours were from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. (or later if press of work demanded). The use of educated convicts in clerical work, Arthur pointed out, dated from the very inception of the colony and was absolutely unavoidable, since the cost of free labour in such positions would be prohibitive. All that Arthur could do in response to Bathurst's order that Savery be dismissed was to reduce him to his former yearly salary of £18!

This was not the end of the matter. Goderich (August 3, 1827) demanded an explanation of the means whereby Savery, only a month after arriving in the Colony, had managed to procure a certificate of his ability to support his wife and family, which would if approved ensure that they were to be brought out to Tasmania at the public expense. If Savery received only £18 per annum, then some contradiction existed.

Again, how had it come about that Savery was conducting the Government Gazette (i.e. the Hobart Town Gazette)?

Arthur, replying to the second question, denied the charge flatly, and shrewdly commented:




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It has been suggested to me, that, as it has been an anxious wish with “Savery” that his Wife and Child should follow him in his exile, and as her Friends have strongly objected to it from his condition, it has been his policy to put the best aspect on his affairs and situation, and therefore it is not improbable he may himself have sent Home a most exaggerated and unfaithful representation of the importance of his station in the Colony.

The question of the Certificate was not so easily disposed of. When Savery landed in the Colony, Captain John Montagu was the Colonial Secretary with H. J. Emmett as his Chief Clerk. Asked for an explanation, Emmett declared that Savery, shortly after his arrival, came one day from the Colonial Secretary's room and said that Montagu considered it proper for Savery to ask for his wife and child to come out. He was to tell Emmett to draw up the usual application. At Savery's request Emmett subjoined the Certificate. (Emmett knew Savery was skilled in accounts and could easily make money in his spare time; Rowland Walpole Lane, for instance, had just declared he would pay liberally for Savery's services.) But now, upon enquiry, Emmett found that Montagu recollected giving no such instruction to Savery. Emmett therefore concluded that it was an invention by Savery, “in part of a scheme to establish generally the idea of his being particularly favoured by the Government of this Colony, through which he might hope to receive a countenance from the Public, which in ordinary circumstances he could not expect.”

John Montagu, rather more tolerant in his assessment, emphasized the disappointment and anxiety that Savery was labouring under. He summoned Savery and Emmett, and got from the former his recollection of what had happened. Savery replied that he had asked if his wife could come out to the Colony and if he could then be assigned to her. Montagu informed him that a convict had to be in the Colony a year and the wife had to be of exceptional character. This, said Savery, would present no difficulty: his wife had money and he would send for her immediately. Montagu had replied that it was the best step for Savery to take, and he should have his wife sent out in the usual way. Emmett should be so informed.

Montagu in this report to Arthur denied the last statement, indicating the means by which, if necessary, he could support his denial. On the other hand he felt that Savery was not guilty of any deliberate deception: plagued by feelings of inferiority and worry, he had simply misconstrued Montagu's advice (to send for his wife) into an instruction to tell Emmett to arrange things in the usual way.

Reading these reports, so many years later, one is inclined to wonder if Montagu were not unduly generous. Taking stock of


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Savery's actions before and after this event, a reader tends to accept Emmett's conclusion. Savery must have been an extremely plausible man. He must have been pleasant to meet, persuasive to listen to. But if a listener had any knowledge of Savery's undertakings and the results that so frequently ensued, then that listener might be wise if he accepted with caution any statements and proposals he heard.

Even undertakings where Savery was apparently above suspicion could be unfortunate. He helped Captain B. B. Thomas in his financial accounts concerned with the Van Diemen's Land Establishment. Dissatisfaction arose among the English directors, and both Thomas and Savery were under suspicion for a time until both were at last cleared of any charges of inefficiency or malpractice.

Even simple personal happenings had their repercussions. Arthur, for instance, became aware early in February, 1828, that Savery had not been working for the Colonial Auditor for several months. Why? Lakeland, Principal Superintendent of Convicts, replied that Savery had his hand bound up and could not perform his usual duties. The Assistant Colonial Surgeon reported that a piece of wood had fallen on Savery's finger. He should not use his hand for months or he might lose the finger. Whereupon (too opportunely?) one George Cartwright in a letter to Lakeland requested that Savery, since he could not write, might be allowed to help his free overseer to superintend some building work. Who, asked Arthur, was this free overseer of Cartwright's? John Oxley by name. A little more information, please. He was formerly a convict, but now had a conditional pardon. Had been transported for housebreaking. Character from gaol — “bad”. Character from hulks — no record. How then had Oxley got a pardon? … And so on. It ostensibly concerns Savery very little, all this probing; but it all smacks of what happened so often. When almost any inquiry was made into almost any activity that Savery was engaged in, then explanations tended to be long, involved, and sometimes devious. One feels a sympathy, both illogical and yet very human, with Arthur when on several occasions he vents his doubts whether Savery will really reform.

However, except for official irritation and doubtful glances, Savery himself did not seem to suffer — until the event that his heart desired: the arrival of his wife.

Early in 1828 Mrs. Savery embarked on the Jessie Lawson, its skipper Captain Church. The season was stormy, and the ship was wrecked on the English coast near Plymouth or Falmouth. The passengers were saved. Even the cargo was salvaged and was disposed of, according to the Sydney Gazette of June 4, in Plymouth for the benefit of the underwriters.

For most women this might have been sufficient deterrent; but


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undaunted Mrs. Savery, after a few months with her parents, ventured again, this time on the Henry Wellesley. On board was Algernon Montagu, who was on his way to Tasmania to become Attorney General. To him, as a sort of guardian, her anxious parents and friends entrusted Mrs. Savery and her son Oliver. Whether the choice was a wise one is doubtful. Montagu seems to have been a headstrong and erratic man, with odd romantic notions. James Stephen, writing to Arthur from Downing Street on April 24, 1829, retails the impression that three or four meetings with Montagu produced on him.

He appeared to me a raw young man quite unaccustomed to business, and very likely to give himself up to various affectations of sentiment, romantic feeling, and literary taste. I say affectations, not because I have any right to distrust the genuineness of the tone in which he talked, but because there was in his manner something that looked artificial and made-up, and which conveyed the impression of borrowed manners.…

For about eighteen weeks Montagu was to be Mrs. Savery's constant companion.

Whether any attachment sprang up on either side is not known, but it seems that some people in the Colony later looked askance on the relationship. Sarah Benson Walker (1812—1893), dictating her reminiscences in 1884, ambiguously said of Mrs. Savery:

She came out in the vessel with Judge Montagu who afterwards lived at Kangaroo Point. She lived at the Macquarie and Montagu lived there. There was a book written about the affair, called “Quintus Servinton.”

What does seem most probable, however, is that a contrast was underlined for Mrs. Savery. She had been on shipboard for a number of months in the company of a young man of some attainments and of assured social position about to take up an elevated judicial post. When she arrived in Tasmania she was to find her husband still a convict, with not even a ticket of leave, and with a threat of imprisonment for debt hanging over his head. Her dissatisfaction and disappointment must have been extreme. And her reaction, one suspects, may have been resentment rather than pity — for she had been led to expect something quite different.

It seems beyond doubt that the accounts that Savery sent her of his position in the Colony and of his material conditions had been thoroughly misleading. This estimate is supported by a letter of August 1, 1829, from Arthur to Sir George Murray, in which, referring to Mrs. Savery, he writes:

This lady, it appears, is most respectably connected in England, and, allured by the gross misrepresentations of her Husband as to the comfort of his situation in this Colony, she, unfortunately, ventured


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to join him. Wounded by the shameful duplicity which had been practised upon her, some domestic misunderstanding took place immediately after her debarkation …

It is all of a piece. Acutely disappointed at his treatment, Savery took every opportunity of inflating his importance in the eyes of the colonists, whether bond or free. We may recall, for instance, in an earlier passage, Emmett's comments on Savery's motives and methods in getting his certificate a few weeks after he arrived in Tasmania.

The deception had results that were almost fatal. The Henry Wellesley reached Hobart on October 30 or 31, 1828. What quarrels or misunderstandings took place between Mrs. Savery and her husband can only be conjectured, but these must have been poignant. A week after her arrival, on the evening of Friday, November 7, Savery attempted suicide by cutting his throat. Luckily for him, help was at hand: Dr. William Crowther was summoned, and Savery's life was preserved.

His recovery was not the end of his troubles. The writ that was pending now seemed likely to involve his wife, who had brought out some property with her. She appealed to Algernon Montagu, who agreed to meet the demand provided that nothing was done that would prove distressing to Mrs. Savery. But the creditors nevertheless initiated action that threatened her possessions, and Henry Jennings requested Montagu to fulfil his verbal assurances. Montagu — quite reasonably, one feels — declared himself under the circumstances no longer bound by his former promise. The further development of this affair, which resolved itself into a series of bitter quarrels between Jennings and Montagu — intemperate letters, an abortive libel action, publication of correspondence in the newspapers, appeals to Arthur, and so forth — hardly concerns us. But the writ against Savery brought about his imprisonment on December 19.

Mrs. Savery was now in a sorry plight — her husband in prison for debt with no prospect of early release, herself dependent on monies from England (for Montagu, even if willing, could hardly provide for her financially) — and saw no solution in the Colony for her problems. She was advised to return to England. This she did. Some time between February 10 and 15, 1829, hardly more than three months after her arrival, she left with her son on the Sarah. Savery never saw her again. In September, 1832, a few months after he received his ticket of leave, he filled in an application at the Colonial Secretary's Office to have her brought out on a free passage. She did not respond.

Savery remained in prison until March, 1830, a period of fifteen months. He suffered no particular physical hardships during his imprisonment, but enforced leisure must have been irksome to a man


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so prone to activity of almost all kinds. He occupied the latter half of 1829, we may gratefully note, in writing; for it was in those six months that he produced his most engaging work, The Hermit of Van Diemen's Land. It consisted of a series of thirty sketches of Hobart life and characters, longer than Goldsmith's essays in The Citizen of the World, but with a general resemblance to them. They appeared in Andrew Bent's Colonial Times as by “Simon Stukeley.” The names given to the characters depicted were of course fictitious, but a contemporary key has been preserved. An advertisement of January 8, 1830, in the Colonial Times announced the publication of these sketches in a volume, but a week later this was modified to say that publication was suspended until an impending libel suit based on the Hermit articles should be disposed of.

The suit was brought on May 10, 1830 — Gamaliel Butler v. Andrew Bent. Butler was awarded £80 damages against the publisher. Savery's name was not mentioned in the case, for the authorship of the Hermit articles was a well-preserved secret. Indeed today, but for Henry Melville, the Hobart printer and publisher, we should not know that Savery wrote them. In the British Museum copy of The Hermit of Van Diemen's Land a sheet has been inserted on which Melville ascribes to Savery the authorship of the Hermit articles and also of Quintus Servinton. This notation by Melville, as reproduced below, is the only evidence that we possess that names Savery. But there is no reason to doubt Melville's ascription.

Henry Savery a merchant of Bristol was about the year 1825 transported for forgery and was a crown prisoner when in jail in 1829. In the same jail in Hobart Town was Thomas Wells incarcerated for common debt. Savery wrote all the Hermit and Wells copied for the printer. At that time if the authorities knew that a prisoner wrote for the press the punishment was transportation to the penal establishment of Macquarie Harbour. Hence arose the mystery about the authorship of the Hermit! I believe all the parties mentioned except myself are in spirit land. On obtaining his ticket of leave Savery became a great Agriculturalist and failed. He again committed forgery and was sent to the penal settlement of Port Arthur where he destroyed his life by cutting his own throat. He was the author of Quintus Servinton of which he is the hero. The undersigned printed the work and was at the time the editor, printer & proprietor of the Colonial Times newspaper. The writing page 141 is that of Andrew Bent from whom the undersigned bought the Colonial Times and printing establishment in 1829.

   Henry Melville

   Nov. 1869.

Early in 1830 Savery was released and was assigned to Major


  ― xxiii ―
Macintosh in the New Norfolk district. An annotation by Arthur of March 16 runs:

If Savory (sic) be discharged from Jail, I wish Him to be assigned to Major Macintosh, with the positive condition that He is to reside at his Farm in the neighbourhood of N. Norfolk — is not to be allowed to Trade or be employed on his own account in any way.

The stipulation is ominous — an indication of Arthur's exasperation, which Savery, often unwittingly, had aroused, and also of his distrust.

It must have been in the later months of his imprisonment and during his retirement, as we may put it, with Macintosh that he wrote Quintus Servinton, of which this volume is a reprint. Advertisements appeared in January, 1831, in the Hobart Town Courier and in the Tasmanian to say that the novel was in the press and would shortly be published in three volumes octavo; and that as it was printed expressly for transmission to England, only a few copies would be reserved for sale in the Colony. The first of these papers reviewed it on March 19:

We have read the new novel, Quintus Servinton, and though it cannot certainly claim the first rank among the many eminent works of a similar kind of the present day, it is very far from being discreditable to us as a first production of the kind in these remote regions … The story is written in an easy and in some parts elegant and affecting style, and with those who know and can identify the hero, will be read with considerable interest … we must add our regret that the language in some parts is not only loosely expressed, but in a few, not even grammatical, a fault which however venial in the hasty productions of the newspaper press, admits of no excuse in a work of this kind …

This comment reads a little odd to us today: the prose of the novel is grammatical enough, but few would call it “easy” or “elegant.”

In 1831 Savery, by his own account, did some writing for Henry Melville's Van Diemen's Land Almanack. What this was is uncertain, but he possibly contributed the historical section or, more probably, wrote or revised the gardening notes.

In January, 1832, he submitted a petition for some relaxation of severity, and this he accompanied with over seventy testimonials from all kinds of people. These comments fall into two groups — those that briefly and formally recommend Savery, and those of greater length that make mention of Savery's character and actions, and of the acquaintance of the writers with Savery's family in England. One from James Grant refers to Quintus Servinton:

… I think I know more of his principles from his writings than any other source, and will here quote the observation I made audibly


  ― xxiv ―
on closing the book after reading thro' — “If Mr. Savery wrote this Book he cannot be a bad man, and I think he had atoned for his offence against Public Justice.”

The Colonial Secretary replied favourably on May 31, and on June 5, between six and seven years after his arrival in Tasmania, Savery received his ticket of leave.

A year later he was deprived of it in a manner that may seem to us rather arbitrary. James Gordon, a police magistrate in the Richmond area, was suspended for “non-payment of fees and fines … for applying the public money to his own use.” Gordon apparently was engaged in the practice of lending money to his constables, receiving their salaries in return, and inducing them to buy food and clothing from him (or his agent). He protested against his suspension, received no redress, and published the correspondence in a pamphlet. This was reviewed in the Tasmanian of March 1, 1833, and certain comments were made on Gordon's motives and behaviour, among them this:

… although we are by no means inclined to accuse Mr. Gordon of any dishonesty in the business, his own letters convict him of a disreputable bias towards “filthy lucre.”

At the time this review appeared, Henry Melville, the printer of the Tasmanian, was absent. Savery, who had for some time been his assistant, was looking after the paper. This gave Gordon his opportunity. Bitterly resentful of Arthur and the authorities, he decided to use against them Order no. 41 of July 9, 1828, which forbade any convict to write for the newspapers. The Order, once used by Arthur in his campaign against Andrew Bent, was now to be used against Arthur himself. Gellibrand, Gordon's lawyer, was instructed to bring out the fact that the authorities now winked at the breaking of this Order. Gordon laid a complaint against Savery, who was charged at the Police Office on May 30 that, being a convict holding a ticket of leave, he had inserted in the Tasmanian an article tending to traduce the character of Gordon — all being contrary to the Order mentioned. The three magistrates, M. Forster, Josiah Spode and James England, ordered Savery to be deprived of his ticket of leave for twelve months.

The whole affair was a tissue of cross-purposes and miscalculations. The unfortunate Savery had not written the review. It was the product of one Thomas Richards, who had come out, a free man, not very long before. Richards wrote to admit his authorship, and absolved Savery of blame. But Savery, as it happened, had not been penalized for editing a newspaper or for writing the review. Both Forster and Spode, in letters to Arthur, declared that Savery was punished not because he had violated Order no. 41 but because he


  ― xxv ―
had spoken disrespectfully of Gordon, a Legislative Councillor and the oldest magistrate in the Colony. The Executive Council, reporting on the affair about a week later, stressed that this had not come out at the trial, that Savery had known nothing of it, and therefore had no reason to offer evidence in rebuttal. Consequently he ought to have his ticket of leave restored. We know that it was restored, but it apparently took a little time.

The worst sufferer was Gordon himself. By carelessness (or in treachery by Gellibrand) there was left in the Police Office the brief that contained Gordon's instructions to his lawyer, Gellibrand. This made clear, in Forster's words, that Gordon had brought suit “in order to establish a false accusation made against the government of its sanctioning convicts having the control of the Newspaper press.” The Executive Council condemned Gordon with some relish, and wrote to him saying that it had concluded he was no longer fit to be a member of the Legislative Council and a magistrate, and that all the documents in the case would be forwarded to the Secretary of State.

Aiming at Arthur, Gordon had temporarily crippled Savery and had severely wounded himself. There were no punches pulled in political squabbles in early Tasmania.

From this time until 1838, the year when the last phase of Savery's troubled career began, references and records are sporadic. It is interesting to note the considerable legal activity of which he had, directly or indirectly, already been the cause: his own trial, the Van Diemen's Land Establishment dispute, the Montagu and Jennings suits, the Butler v. Bent libel action, the Gordon v. Savery case. One might think that Savery would have had his fill of litigation. But in the next five years on occasion actions were not only brought against him but also initiated by him. All concerned money. William Lindsay, William Gibbins, and Maurice Smith were three of those with whom he had legal brushes.

All this time he continued his work in agriculture, and leased farms that he proceeded to develop. There survive, for instance, two letters in which he offers his advice to Arthur on the improvement of soil. Writing from The Lawn Farm (in the New Norfolk district) on November 24, 1834, he points out that Arthur's farm, directly opposite, is covered with water weeds. He suggests that his own methods, quite different from those normally employed, may serve. Arthur either wrote asking further advice or else granted him an interview, for in a second letter dated December 4, 1834, Savery says he has inspected Arthur's property and thinks the solution may be numerous deep drains dividing up the fields into small plots together with lime dressing on some fields. He concludes by insisting


  ― xxvi ―
that his only motive for thus intruding upon Arthur's attention is his own interest in agriculture, a profession which he feels has been neglected.

Savery's final troubles began in 1838, when in February Thomas Young, attorney for Reuben Joseph, petitioned that Savery be declared insolvent. The proceedings, repeatedly postponed month after month, must have weighed on Savery's mind, and it seems likely that in these last years he took to drink. From a report of a meeting of creditors after his death, for instance, there emerges news of a debt to William Montgomerie, licensed victualler. Though this may have been incurred for other needs than liquor, it appears significant enough.

Despite all this, there were a few bright patches. In March of the same year he received his conditional pardon. His interest in agriculture, marked throughout his years in the Colony, had its last manifestations. In May he took over a farm at Hestercombe from one Dunn, under an agreement that Savery was to be, as it were, on probation for a year. If the improvements he contracted to make were satisfactory, then he would be granted a six-year lease at a rental of £160 per annum for the first three years and of £190 for the next three.

But any hopes he had of rehabilitating himself were delusive, for this very project, so it seems, was among the causes of his ultimate fall. He sank deeper and deeper into debt, signed bills with little hope of meeting them, renewed them, and paid them by bills drawn on others. As if this were not enough, minor worries tormented him. Early in 1839 he had some trouble over a pass he had given his assigned servant, granting him permission to leave the farm and stay away overnight. Perhaps because of this, added to doubts of his suitability, near the end of the same year the Board of Assignment refused him an assigned servant in spite of his plea that it was essential for him to have one.

The burden grew heavier. Savery apparently became neglectful even of correspondence. The Hobart Town Gazette, for instance, listed him as one of those for whom unclaimed letters were being held at the General Post Office for the quarters ending March and June of 1839. At last the wretched man cracked. In desperation, we must suppose, he resorted to the device that had been the original cause of his downfall — he signed fictitious bills.

Detection came near the end of 1840. The Hobart Town Courier for September 4 announced:

During the week, forged bills to a considerable extent have been detected. The offender is the well known Mr. Savery. Report states that he has fled via Launceston, and shipped himself for Adelaide.




  ― xxvii ―

But report erred. On Tuesday, September 29, he was arrested in Hobart Town, was examined at the Police Office two days later, and was remanded.

On October 29 he was brought up for trial before the same Algernon Montagu who had acted as the protector of Mrs. Savery on her voyage out to Tasmania. The witnesses were Richard Cooke and Josiah Austin, and there was a jury of seven. Savery pleaded not guilty to the charge of uttering a forged acceptance with intent to defraud Richard Cooke. The jury brought in the expected verdict of guilty, and Montagu addressed the prisoner in terms of severe condemnation: “I will not, however, so far stultify myself as to suppose … reformation will be shown by you …” The sentence was: Transportation beyond the sea for life.

This generally meant, for Tasmanian offenders, imprisonment in the penitentiary at Port Arthur, the grim group of buildings on Tasman's Peninsula, controlled at that time by Captain Charles O'Hara Booth, an administrator capable, forceful, just, and inflexible. Thither Savery was transported.

Fifteen months later he was dead.

His death, unlike his birth, still presents a puzzle. The note by Henry Melville in the British Museum copy of The Hermit in Van Diemen's Land, reproduced in this volume, contains the laconic statement that Savery “was sent to the penal settlement of Port Arthur where he destroyed his life by cutting his own throat.” This seems definite enough; and we should now certainly believe this account but for David Burn, the first Australian dramatist.

On January 6, 1842, Burn embarked at Hobart with a few others on the schooner Eliza for a tour of Port Arthur. On Sunday, January 9, he saw Savery. Here are the relevant parts of Burn's story:

From the cells we went to the hospital, where we had a signal opportunity of drawing a wholesome moral from the sad — the miserable consequences of crime. There, upon a stretcher, lay Henry Savary (sic), the once celebrated Bristol sugar-baker — a man upon whose birth Fortune smiled propitious, whose family and kindred moved in the very first circles, and who himself occupied no inconsiderable place in his fellow-citizens' esteem.

Burn goes on to give an outline sketch of Savery's trial and his life in Van Diemen's Land, where eventually he was

… subjected to the ordeal of Port Arthur. There he experienced a shock of paralysis, and there ere long, in all human probability, the misguided man will terminate his wretched career.

It has been said by the slanderers of the Colony that vice makes converts. I would that my ancient antagonist, His Grace of Dublin, or even his ally of the Colonial Gazette, could have stood, as I did,


  ― xxviii ―
by Savary's pallet — could have witnessed the scarce-healed wound of his attenuated throat — the lack-lustre glare of his hollow eye: I think even they would have felt inclined to doubt the syren's blandishments. Knowing, as I once did at Bristol, some of Savary's wealthy, dashing, gay associates, I could not contemplate the miserable felon before me without sentiments of the deepest compassion mingled with horror and awe. There he lay, a sad — a solemn warning.

All this occurred only a month before Savery's death on February 6, 1842. He was buried two days later by the Wesleyan minister at Port Arthur, the Rev. John Allen Manton, whose notebook has the entry:

Tuesday February 8th. Today I have committed to the grave the remains of Henry Savery, a son of one of the first bankers in Bristol, but his end was without honour.

There are a few questions one would like answered. Was Savery still suffering the “shock of paralysis” when Burn saw him, and if so, did he recover from it and cut his throat? It seems unlikely. Again, what does Burn mean by “the scarce-healed wound of his attenuated throat”? Does he mean “lately-healed” or “badly-healed”? If the first, then Savery must have attempted suicide at Port Arthur; if the second, then Burn probably refers to the scar left by the attempt in 1828.

There remains the assertion by Henry Melville that Savery died by cutting his throat. But it should be remembered that in 1869 Melville was writing twenty-seven years after Savery's death. On the other hand Melville was usually accurate. And Dr. Crowther of Hobart has pointed out to me that suicide attempts are often repetitive. Savery made two early attempts — by drowning, by cutting his throat. A third attempt was likely enough.

We are left then with three possibilities: that the “shock of paralysis” was the symptom of a “stroke” that caused his death; that after Burn's visit Savery did cut his throat; that he cut his throat before Burn's visit and that this and some other malady produced his paralysis and later his death. I incline to the first explanation, and think that a lapse of Melville's memory (he was sixty-nine when he wrote the note on Savery) transferred the suicide attempt of 1828 to the Port Arthur period. But this is speculation, and it seems unlikely that we shall ever know for certain.

The events of Savery's life and the autobiographical novel he has left us give some insight into the man. He was, so far as can be


  ― xxix ―
learned, not striking in appearance. All we gain from the prison record is that he was five feet eight inches in height, and that he had brown hair and hazel eyes. But he was not commonplace in temperament.

His fraud discovered by chance, his escape frustrated by half-an-hour, his condemnation caused by a misunderstanding, his life preserved within twenty-four hours of execution, his wife saved from shipwreck only to wreck his marriage, lawsuits brought against him because of accidents of time and place, mishaps in business, bad luck or bad management in farming, and finally debt and forgery and his last condemnation — it all presents a multicoloured picture. Henry Savery was, we may think, accident-prone.

On the other hand he was not a mere pawn without control over his movements. His own estimates of his character, found at various points in the novel, seem fairly penetrating and objective, and they differ in this respect from his accounts of the events that happened. In such recountals he tidies up the truth, he prunes a trifle, adds a little here and there, and the result is not quite the actuality itself. He presents himself as more innocent than he was. And yet his self-portrayal, when in the form of an estimate, is very near the truth. He was a man — and he recognizes this — who depended on façade. He had to be doing things, and he liked to be recognized as responsible for these. This brashness never left him. He was subdued by his experiences as a convict in Tasmania, but up to the last few years before his final arrest he still sought recognition: his letters to Arthur offering advice in farming appear to me indications of this unextinguished thirst.

He was, I think, often devious and secretive in his dealings — but hopeful of outcome and not unmindful of the claims of others. He was also, I suspect, prone to assertiveness if not arrogance, and when he had power he used it — but he always felt sure that his enemy had attacked first or at any rate deserved what he got. He had the family pride of birth and he was proud in himself. He always overbid his hand, a practice which in his earlier years was forgiven for a time until the impersonal forces of law weighed acts and not motives. But experience did not teach him. After a time he was deceiving himself more than others. Lieutenant-Governor Arthur, perhaps in exasperation at the trouble that Savery had unwittingly caused him, wrote to Goderich on December 27, 1827: “Savery is a Man of whose real reformation, notwithstanding the strong testimonials of his conduct from Home and in this Colony, I have but a very faint hope.”

And yet he must have possessed considerable charm. He had, as David Burn put it, a circle of “dashing, gay associates” in Bristol; he could, it is reasonable to deduce from the evidence, persuade his


  ― xxx ―
father to forgive him a great deal; he was loved sincerely by his wife, who despite one shipwreck was willing to risk another and come out to Tasmania to join him; and he was able to extract glowing testimonials from friends and acquaintances even after conviction and further lawsuits. It is not too harsh to suggest that apart from successful ingenuity and a practised bravado he had many of the qualifications of the confidence-man.

The picture Savery gives in Quintus Servinton is then mostly true in analysis of what he was, less true in description and narration of what he did. There is not, we may be thankful, much tearful contrition or whining exculpation. It is a good human document.

As a work of literature, though it is not likely to occupy any high position, it has its claims on our attention. It is for instance the first Australian novel — the first story dealing in any measure with Australia written by an inhabitant. There are one or two earlier stories, for instance Alfred Dudley; or, the Australian Settlers (1830) by an unknown author in England, who claims to have drawn his information from “the kind communications of a gentleman who resided for some time in Australia,” but these can hardly be called Australian novels. As for Mary Grimstone's Woman's Love, a romantic tale set in England, it was, as Morris Miller points out, mostly written in Hobart during her three years there (March 1826 to February 1829), was revised in England 1830—1, and published in 1832, a year after Savery's novel appeared. Quintus Servinton holds its position by setting, date of publication, and residence of the author.

It is also valuable and interesting for its picture of convict life as experienced by the educated convict, and here it affords a contrast and a complement to such a narrative as Ralph Rashleigh, in which James Tucker paints a sombre picture of the brutality that can crush the convict of humble birth and little education who is put to manual tasks.

And last, simply as a novel, it still has power to tell a story. It has its obvious defects: it is often long-winded, and its general comments on life in general can become tiresome; and its style is to our ears intolerably orotund. It is interesting to note that, though written about ninety years after Fielding's earliest novel, it is more formal in diction and seems today more old-fashioned. And yet, in spite of these handicaps, it can persuade a reader to turn the pages and want to know what is coming next. The pictures it gives of English provincial life and even the accounts of business dealings in England are — for some readers at any rate — fascinating in their details. The narrative power is characteristic of a great deal of our fiction of last century; many greater novels of this century seem not to have it in the same degree.

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