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  ― 181 ―

His Father

A TALE OF NORFOLK ISLANDnote

THE Special Commission was opened with due ceremony. His Honour the Commissioner passed through a double rank of military guards, preceded by a company of javelin men drawn from the Island Police, and followed by his retinue of military and civil officers. A step behind his Honour marched side by side the Civil Commandant and the legal gentleman who had arrived from Hobart Town with the Special Commissioner, to prosecute for the Crown. Unlike his Honour who was new to the colonies and to colonial institutions (though it was more than suspected by his intimates that he was Australian by birth), these gentlemen were conversant with the ins and outs of the system, and with all the involved


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eccentricities of justice as administered on the Island before-time. Consequently, they were quite prepared to make up for any deficiency in the experience of the Special Commissioner, by the amplitude of their own knowledge and acquaintance with the vagaries of the convict nature. They might safely be depended upon to give to his Honour the Judge just the aid he required to secure the conviction of the accused.

Needless to say, the chief portion of the calendar consisted of offences of one sort or another against the person. The occasion when crimes against property, by theft or fraud, could occur on the Island, were necessarily few and far between, while there was no prisoner, even if immured in the gaol cells, who had not the amplest opportunity for threatening or attacking the life of a warder, or of a soldier, or of a fellow-prisoner. It was no wonder, therefore, that the young Commissioner sickened as he glanced at the long list and read “Murder,” “Attempted murder,” “Assault with intent to murder,” “Assault,” “Cutting and wounding,” and nearly every other form of words that the ingenuity of legality and the System had devised, as descriptions for the various efforts whereby wretches of one kind had endangered the lives of wretches of another kind.


  ― 183 ―
It was, indeed, with something like relief that, half-way down in the calendar of forty cases, his Honour discerned a simple charge of theft— “The larceny of a key, the property of the Civil Commandant.”

It was well on to the afternoon of the first day before the case of larceny was called on. The preceding cases had taken but little time to dispose of, owing to the fact that most of the offenders had pleaded guilty, and the two or three cases where the accused had pleaded otherwise had not taken long to investigate and decide. The Jury was of course a military one, and as the regiment had had some years of colonial experience, the officers composing it were too familiar with their duty as jurors to waste much time in debate over the merits or demerits of the Crown case.

So all the circumstances conspired to bring Edgar Jameson, alias John Smith, alias Edgar Brown, alias Thomas Vaux, alias half-a-dozen other names, convict, charged with theft, as promptly as might be before the Special Commissioner. Whether it was well or ill that the prisoner's case should have been heard thus early,


  ― 184 ―
must be left to the fates to decide, but it is more than conceivable that had the charge against the many-aliased gentleman been heard later in the Sessions, he would not have been treated so singularly by the Judge-Commissioner, and would therefore not have had the opportunity of figuring so prominently as he did in the transactions of the Court.

The Clerk of Arraigns called up prisoner Jameson, and the man being presented, he was formally indicted. Diving into the midst of a turgid stream of legal tautology, the bare fact was grasped, that on Christmas Day in the preceding year, he, the accused, stole an article, the property of the Civil Commandant, “to wit, one key,” and, his plea being demanded, the prisoner asserted he was not guilty.

Let us look at him as he stands in the dock. A man approaching sixty years of age, of clean-cut features, with a curious, indefinable delicacy modifying the angles of the face, with blue-grey eyes, with scarcely perceptible eyebrows, with hair originally light-brown but now interwoven with white and grey, with a complexion no doubt fair at first, but now freckled to brick red, he stands tall and erect. He has a fearful record against him, and though only accused on the present


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occasion of a comparatively trifling offence, yet, scarred in record and in conscience with the countless indelibilities of far more heinous crimes, he is a very Ishmael. The Crown Prosecutor informs his Honour he is even against his fellow-prisoners on the Island; he makes war upon them as well as upon the System; he has no friend, and yet in some mysterious way he coerces other prisoners to the point of following him. Therefore it is that he is brought before his Honour—the offence being one of larceny only, could have been dealt with by the Commandant himself, but the prisoner is such a dangerous element in Island life, that if he is found guilty—and the Crown Prosecutor has no doubt in his own mind that he will convince his Honour and the military gentlemen on the Jury that the prisoner is guilty—a sentence of transportation to Moreton Bay will be pressed for.

“This man, your Honour, has education, and he is fertile in resource, and were he to take it into his head to conciliate his fellow-convicts instead of merely domineering over them, he would become a terrible power in a conspiracy.” The Crown Prosecutor explained in explanation of his singular explicitness that, though there was no direct proof that the accused had really engaged in a conspiracy,


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there were many indications which, pieced together, led to that impression upon the minds of the Island officials. Much more in this strain would the prosecuting lawyer no doubt have uttered, with the intention of prejudicing the Jury, if he had not, to his own surprise and to that of the Commandant, been suddenly stopped by his Honour the Commissioner.

Why the Commissioner should have interfered was also a surprise to himself. He said—“Mr. Attorney, I fail to see why, if you have no evidence to support your view as to the prisoner's origination of or participation in a conspiracy, you should thus refer to him. Proceed, please, with the evidence on the charge.”

Rebuffed in this fashion, Mr. Attorney, cursing his Honour beneath his breath and making resolves that he would show the young whipper-snapper that even if he were a pet of his Excellency's in Hobart Town he could not ride rough-shod over the old stagers of the System, proceeded with the charge, and called his witnesses.

First of all was called a fellow-ganger of the prisoner's, who proved that on Christmas Day the prisoner and himself had been deprived of the usual holiday for some act of insubordination, and were kept in one of the Longridge Quarries at


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work under the supervision of a constable of the Island Police. The Civil Commandant had come over in the afternoon to Longridge, and had visited the Quarry. He had stood looking down from the edge of the overhanging cliff, and the ganger had noticed that something that glittered for a moment in the sunlight fell on the ground just as the Commandant had withdrawn his handkerchief from the inner pocket of his uniform jacket—“just as though,” said the witness, “he had pulled out a key with the handkerchief.”

Here the Commissioner again surprised himself and the Court by interjecting—

“Witness, has not that last idea been suggested to you? Did it ever occur to you that the article which glittered as it dropped was a key, before any one mentioned that a key had been lost?”

The witness remained silent for half-a-minute, evidently deliberating with himself, in a confused and troubled way, as to whether he should play the cards of the Commandant or fall into the humour of his Honour the Commissioner. Then his Honour became impatient and pressed for an answer.

“I think as ’ow—I mean as I never knew about the key till arterwards. It was somethink bright, that's all I know.” So the man replied.




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“Proceed,” said his Honour, and the Crown Prosecutor, nettled, took up the examination again.

“Tell the Court what happened afterwards, that Christmas Day.”

“As we was agoin' to barracks, Jameson ’ere slipped on the top o' the cliff, an' as I turned to look at ’im I saw ’im lift from underneath ’is leg somethink, an' close ’is ’and tight on it.”

“And then——?”

“I watched ’im ’old ’is ’and tight shut all the way to barracks. An' when I asked ’im in the yard that night what was it he found, he laughed an' said: ‘What isn't lost isn't found,’ but the nex’ day when it was told everywhere that the Com'dant had lost a key while walkin' out on Christmas Day, I was standin' close by Jameson when the word was given us in the yard, and ’e looked at me and I at ’im, and I knew then that 'twas the key as ’e ’ad found.”

Again came a surprising interruption—as the old-time officials thought it—from the Bench. “You knew—how could you know? Did you see the key?”

“Utterly irregular,” sneered the Crown Prosecutor, in tones that were audible half through the building; “utterly irregular.”

But to his Honour the witness made no response,


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and he was ordered down. The accused, asked whether he would cross-examine the witness, laughed a derisive negative.

Then the Commandant entered the witness-stand. With as much glibness as was consistent with the dignity of his office, he told his story— how he had been taking his constitutional stroll on the Christmas Day, and how in the course of the stroll he had visited the Longridge Quarry, where were working the only two men on special punishment that day, the accused and the former witness. He was quite sure that he had the key in his pocket when he set out on his walk, and as he kept that particular key in his inner breast-pocket with his handkerchief, it was quite possible, indeed probable, that he had pulled it out in the manner described by the other witness.

“What did you do,” asked the Crown Prosecutor, “when you discovered the loss of the key?”

“I made known the loss and offered a reward of an allowance of tobacco for the discovery of the key.”

“And how did you come to connect the prisoner with the loss?”

“I heard through one of the warders that the last witness had seen Jameson pick up something


  ― 190 ―
on the cliff on Christmas afternoon. I interrogated the pris’ner, but he denied all knowledge of the key.”

“How,” pursued the Crown Prosecutor, “do you connect the key and the prisoner?”

“I had him searched, but unavailingly, and a search through the ward wherein he sleeps gave no better result. But we secured the evidence that he had had the key in his possession by finding its outline stamped as though forced in by some heavy substance in the leaves of the pris’ner's Prayer-book. I should say, your Honour, that on the Sunday afternoon there was church service, and the pris’ner and the last witness were in the yard in time to attend the service. When I heard that the pris’ner had picked the key up——”

“It has not been proved that the prisoner picked the key up.”

The sharp words came curiously from the seat of justice. Really, the Commandant felt that for some inexplicable reason, his Honour the Commissioner was actually defending the prisoner!

“Well, the article he picked up I thought he might have left in the church—pris’ners often hide things there, your Honour, if they get a chance, and that is how we came to examine the Prayer-book.


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On finding the impression of the key it was shown to the pris’ner, and asked if he could explain how it came there. He was insolent and refused to answer.”

“The key was an important one?”

“Very. But the pris’ner could not know of its importance, I must say that.”

His Honour now spoke.

“And you mean to say, Mr. Commandant, that the key was not found on the man?”

“No, your Honour.”

“Nor traced to his possession?”

“No, your Honour.”

His Commandantship was becoming irritated at this persistent interrogation, and was at no pains to hide his irritation. The thing was so clear that a child could see it. How could the impression have been made in the Prayer-book unless Jameson had found the key?

“You produce the Prayer-book?”

The Prayer-book was produced and handed to his Honour open at the place where the impression had been made. Indented clearly through several leaves was the outline of a small key, and on the cover of the book such a mark as would have been made by grinding it with the boot-heel of a heavy foot. The Commandant explained his


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theory of how and why the impression was made. The key had been slipped in the book, and then the man had kept his heel on it, while the impression was designed to permit a duplicate key to be made, should opportunity serve.

“How do you explain,” questioned his Honour, “your identification of this impression as being made by your key, Mr. Commandant?”

“I am sure that there was not another key like mine on the Island, and I am equally positive that the key has never been out of my possession till I lost it.”

Thus the Commandant concluded his examination-in-chief.

“Do you wish to cross-examine the witness, prisoner?” asked the Clerk of Arraigns.

“Yes, I wish to ask the Commandant how did he know that the Prayer-book stamped with the key-mark was the one I used on Christmas afternoon?”

Since his arraignment, the prisoner had not used so many words. The intonation was that of an educated man, and possibly it was that quality in the voice that made his Honour look up sharply, and gaze more steadily at Jameson than he had yet done.

“You were in C 3 seat, upper row,” replied the Commandant.




  ― 193 ―

“But how do you know that book was the one I used? The books were handed to the chapel-keeper as we went out of the gallery.”

“That is true,” answered the Commandant. “But your trick of turning down the corners of successive leaves of the book during the sermon is well known.”

Then, turning to his Honour, the witness said— “I forgot, your Honour, to say in my examination-in-chief that the pris’ner has a trick of turning down the points of the pages. He has been watched scores of times at it, but it is only lately that we have discovered that it was one way he had of sending a message.”

“What clever devils you are to be sure!” laughed the prisoner, “but you can't prove that I ever sent a message that way at all.”

The Commandant went on, still addressing the Commissioner: “But if your Honour will look at the book and turn down the corners in the folds already made, and connect the letters touched by the points, you will see, I think, sir, that the letters will form words or names.”

“Do it——I wish you joy, sir, of what you may make out of it.” So the prisoner jeered and gibed.

The Court waited breathlessly, while his


  ― 194 ―
Honour turned down carefully some twenty pages, and tracing with great care the letters touched by the points.

If his Honour had surprised every one by his conduct of the case so far, the sensation of astonishment was still deeper now. Again and again he went over the letters he had marked down on the paper before him; and again and again he looked first with wonderment, and then with wonderment and pain mingled, at the prisoner and at the Commandant. Before he spoke again nearly a quarter of an hour had elapsed, and in the intolerable hush that held the Court in suspense, a sardonic whisper from the Crown Prosecutor who, like the Commandant, did not take the trouble to disguise his impatience, and who apparently addressed himself to no one in particular, fell upon the ears of the prisoner in the dock.

“I wish his Honour Mr. Special Commissioner Pelling would hurry himself.” These were the words which the Crown Prosecutor had murmured half to himself. And as Jameson heard them he reeled as if he had been struck.

That was the first time, singularly enough, that he had heard the Commissioner's name mentioned, and without doubt it had some special significance for him.




  ― 195 ―

But the Court had no time to give to the prisoner—no thought for his astonishment or his suffering. It was sufficiently engaged with his Honour, and his Honour's declaration.

In a voice scarcely to be recognized, so remarkable a variation did it disclose from the amiable precision of all his previous speech, he said imperatively: “I shall adjourn the Commission till ten o'clock to-morrow morning, and require the prisoner to be brought to me privately in half-an-hour from now.”

The Crown Prosecutor rose. “Your Honour, with all respect I submit that the proceeding is utterly irregular.”

The Special Commissioner had already risen from his seat.

“Mr. Attorney,” he said, with a dignified harshness of tone, “the Commission which I have the honour to hold makes me master of my own procedure. Clerk of Arraigns, adjourn the Court.”

Within the half-hour, four of the warders, not less amazed than their superior officers who issued the instructions, brought the convict with the many aliases to the room to which the Special Commissioner had retired. The prisoner was manacled.




  ― 196 ―

The Commissioner, seated at a table, still wore his wig and gown. He was a young man, not more than twenty-five or six years of age, with a curious blending of weakness and strength revealed in his features. Before him on the table lay the Prayer-book. As the prisoner entered with his guards, the latter were ordered out by his Honour. “I wish to speak to the prisoner alone,” he said. And then he looked Jameson up and down with a penetrating glance in which there was something of fear. Fear of what? Scarcely of personal violence! Could it be of shame?

At last his Honour spoke. Pushing the book towards the other, he said: “The corners of those pages turned down touch letters which, linked together, make certain names.”

The other stood immovable, wondering—half-smitten with a fear himself.

“Do you remember those names?”

The prisoner smiled that cynical smile of his. “Yes,” he said, “it is one of the ways I have of punishing myself. I spell out the name that way of a woman and a boy.”

“Do you know that woman—and that boy?” Again that cruel huskiness of voice.

“First of all—sir—before I answer that question, will you let me ask you one?”




  ― 197 ―

“Yes,” said the Special Commissioner, “what is it?”

“Is it true that your name is Pelling?”

“It is.”

“And your Christian name?”

“The name of the man—or boy—indicated by the letters touched by these points.”

“Then,” the man bent forward eagerly, resting his manacled hands on the table, “I will answer your question. “The woman's name was Jessamine Pelling—and the boy's name—the name of the boy who is now a man—is Edgar Terence Pelling. And the woman was my wife—and the boy, or man, is my son!”

“Kind Heaven, be merciful unto me!” As he uttered this ejaculation, wrung from his very heart, the young Commissioner bowed his head.

The other looked on cynically. “Ah,” he said at last, “I have often pictured our meeting— father and son. It is twenty-two or three years since I saw you, Eddy—you were a tiny tot in petticoats when I was first convicted.”

“Mercy!”

“No, it is not for the son to cry mercy to the father,” jeered the other; “it is for the father to ask mercy from the son, and crave a light sentence; but tell me, boy, how do you come to be Special


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Commissioner? And was it some suspicion of the blood-taint in you that made you be just in Court and fight for me? There must have been something, for never yet did Special Commissioner in Norfolk Island battle for the accused as you did for me to-day.”

Then the son indeed knew why he had been prompted to take the stand he did in Court.

When will the analysts discern the spiritual relationship in blood molecules?

When the Court re-opened next day, to the surprise of every one (except the prisoner) the man named Jameson withdrew his plea of “Not guilty,” and substituted for it the plea of “Guilty.” Thereupon the Special Commissioner sentenced the larcenist to seven years’ transportation to Moreton Bay. Whence, shortly after his arrival, he escaped.

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