Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales
Robert Jones - 'Recollections of 13 years Residence in Norfolk Island and Van Diemans land', dated 1823 [?], and associated papers to 1938
Safe 1 / 2d
Something to be proud of. The miseries of a lot of poor and unfortunate wretches, better that they were dead. A grand record to be sure
A more correct end of this work could not be written. Given as [?] realistic and faithful picture of the early convict system at Norfolk Island.
Written in a style which most assuredly guarantees its genuineness.
Sydney 18 v 91
Drawing from a sketch with descriptions by Robert Jones 1823
Recollections of 13 years Residence in Norfolk Island and Van Diemans Land
Robert Jones Buckey late cheif gaoler at Norfolk Island
Sydney, June 15, 1823
Although my memory is at times rather inclined to be uncertain I can faithfully remember incidents that occured during my appointment as chief Gaoler in Norfolk Island, in 1803 to 1805 (During 1805 ended ended my services on that Island on account of the giving up of that place as a penal settlement). In 1803 the number of Persons numbered about 1200. Captain Foveaux [Wilson inserted in margin] was the commandment. The convicts were usually worked in ganges under an overseer they were allowed rations of ten
of flour and three pounds of salted pork they were at liberty to work for the free settlers after their work was done And for which they were paid by an increase of rations the men on such occasions were kept out in the open untill my arrival which did not often happen till ten oclock at night.
Major Foveaux was on of them hard and determined men who believed in the lash more than in the Bible his treatment of the woman Convicts was most brutal they were looked upon
as slaves, and sold openely to the free settlers and convicts alike. The prices being often as high as ten pounds for young and good looking girls. This state of affairs and the results of Governer King's treatment in regard to the method and control during transportation from Sydney. They were in most cases consigned and shipped as beasts of burden. Potter the bellman was acting as salesman and in most cases reselling them for a gallon or so of rum untill they were in such a condition to be of little or no further use.
These statements I make from my own personal observation. Much can be said of the abuses of convict woman at Norfolk Island.
The governer himself did not consider these practices at all immoral, and was not above temtation. The state and moral condition on the island is beyond human imagination. The general work for male convicts consisted of stone cutting and farm work. The productions of the latter consisted chiefly maize growing with little [other?] attempt
at stock raising.
They were often hard pressed for the necisities of life. We were often put on short rations. The usual punishments extended to male offenders for small defaultations consisted of twenty five lashes on the triangle and ? ? after received their punishment were sent to work in the quarries
The women were simularaly treated only that their bodies were exposed to the male convicts they being compelled to walk naked before
them. It was usual for the men to be placed in a circle around the flogger and his victim with the commandent as an eye witness.
They were (the women) then sent to their homes and allowed two hours upon which to recover the effects of their punishment. It has often been said that the prisoners were starved in to submission and also that a more barbarious punishment such as cutting of their hands and removing their eyes But I can truthfully deny all such statements.
Major Foveaux had a passion for witnessing
punishments of that description he would often order some poor unfortunate wrecth to the triangle and laugh at his cries for mercy. They were all genuinly pleased at his retirement.
The appointment of Captain Piper was looked upon with much hope for improvements nor were they mistaken. The commencement of his governership began a new era for the welfare and treatment of the prisoners. My first instructions were to report personally any infringement or disobedience of the new rules made for the benefit of all prisoners.
They consisted of no flogging for women, extra two pounds of flour two pounds of salted Pork and one measure of ground corn. All prisoners to be in their cells at sundown and no work during wet weather. The women were to receive an extra allowance of clothing with extra blankets and other minor necessities. The general appearance of the Island at that date would lead one to believe that we were of a progressive and industrious inclination. To the general mind and reports appearing
in the government dispatches Norfolk Island as a penal settlement was in every way satisfactory.
Transportation from Sydney of the worst type of criminals did not occur to the general Public as to their future treatment for improvement.
During my appointment as overseer I had the oppertunity of meeting various classes and types of prisoners many were sent here for offences for which a different method of improvement and punishment would be more comendable.
Politacil prisoners were treated with the same severety as the most dangerous class of vagabonds.
In respect to the early or past positions of many convicts I need not dwell here. Their offences committed and sentinced received could be more accurately acertained from the various official records. Their condition and impression of this place were in no way respected.
It was usual upon arrival of each gang of prisoners to instruct and inform them that their position became
once and for all porposes dead to the out side world that they would be known hereafter by numbers only.
The general rule was in case of prisoners who were fortunate enough to possess an education above the average also some outside means received some slight consideration from the Comandent.
He was (the Governer) at all times open to receive some regonition in return for favours extended. In Fact most of them holding such minor positions as overseer
Constables. Doctors were at all times willing to extend leinancy should there be sufficient compensation So you will understand that Norfolk Island is not so bad as represented. Doctor Redfern was one of those blunt and outspoken of men he at all times listened attentatively to prisoners and others who may be unfortunate enough to require his services. He was well liked for his many kindnesses and liberal ways.
We were always in a state of excitement during the appearance of any
vessels. There was a fear that the french were coming to take possession of Norfolk Island.
Upon one occasion we [were] alarmed at the appearance of several
vessels passing the Island. Notice was at once given to the Chief
Constable Edward or Ted Kimberley to have all prisoners placed in their
cells and scaffolding erected covered with brushwood The soldiers
were to set fire to the prisons upon the signal from me.
There were about sixty prisoners in the cells. The alarm quickly spread throughout the settlement and the
whole population numbering about two hundred advanced to the cascade to offer a strong resistance to the enemy which proved to be some passing friendly vessels bound for Sydney. These arrangements was the work of Kimberley and myself the Governor Captain Piper being ignorant of our doings.
I would like to say more conserning Major Foveaux and of this Governship of the Island. Shortly before his recall to England for the murder (the correct word) of two men named McLean
The history of that case and trial is too well known to mention here.
The treatment showed to Sergeint Sherwin and his convinement in goal also the seduction of his wife by Major Foveaux leaves an unfavourable impression of that gentleman's character. It is well to mention that the influence and mercy given to prisoners will be remembered by many fortunate enough to have been noticed by her Her word of good will and kindly benevolence secured by her many friends.
[marginal note] [?] Sherwin
What power she excised over the Major it is well to mention was in all cases for some kindly action. Serjeint Sherwin I believe shortly afterwards left the Island and became a grocer in Parramatta.
Doctor Wentworth although holding such a high position as Chief Surgeon was a most generous kind hearted and considerate man he would at all times pay attention to the poorest of prisoners. His duties were mostly confined to the [admission?] of giving relief to Prisoners
[marginal note] Sergeant Sherwin remarried and had 4 or 5 children
after recieving their flogging which were very frequent on man named Joe Mansbury having received two thousand strokes of the Cat o Nine tails during his term of three years confinement here his back being quite bare of flesh and his collares bones were exposed looking very much like two Ivory Polished horns. It was with some difficulty we could find another place to flog him. [Tony?] suggested to me that we had better try the soles of his feet next time.
I will now give a description of the prison and its surroundings the appearance resembled a square with stone walls about ten feet high. Along the outside of the wall were the cells they numbered about eighty and about twelve feet by eighty feet with walls eighteen inches thick. The approach to the Cells was a narrow passage five feet wide with no roof and paved with stone flags the Cells were damp.
and badly lighted and very cold.
No restriction was placed upon prisoners should they return late from working on the farms of the Governer's but all prisoners had to rise one hour before sunrise and roll up their Bedding which was placed outside of their Cells during all weathers. The prisoners returning in wet weather from their work were hurried into their Cells in their wet state with no means of drying their clothes such were my orders from the Governer and should
any one of them make a complaint they were immediately sent to the triangle and ordered twenty five lashes. Any further complaint was an addittional fifty such punishment usually had its effect in subduing any further disturbance or complaints. The method of placing them on the triangle was very simple and quickly performed it consisted of a tripod with the top joined and legs spread out about three feet with straps for holding the prisoners. The flogger was a
County of Clare man and very powerful man and took great pleasure in inflicting as much bodily punishment as possible using such expressions another haff a pound mate off the beggar's ribs. His face and clothes usually presented an appearance of a mince meat chopper being covered with flesh from the victims body. Major Foveaux delighted in such an exhibition and would show his satisfaction by smiling as an encouragement to the flogger he would
sometimes order the victim to be brought before him with these words [hulloa?] you dammed scoundrel how do you like it and order him to put on his coat and immediately go to his work. William Redfern (Surgeon Wentworth assistant) would then ask the Governer's permission to administer some comfort to the Victim which consisted of throwing a bucket or two of salt water upon his back. The prisoners were so hardened to such treatment
that it became a saying, "You will get salted back for that" among the prisoners was one named Holt - a fiery tempered and plain spoken man he gave me more trouble than the worst class of Criminals I believe he was a Irish rebel He was the only man among the gang who would dare answer the Major or Murderer as many called him during his imprisonment here he did not believe any floggings. I believe as near as I can remember he left in the ship Sydney under the
Command of Captain Forrest for Van Dieman's Land to open a prison settlement there under the Governership of Lieutenant Collins who were to form a settlement on the River Derwent afterward called Newtown.
Drummond the beach overseer Tony Chandler and Peter Walsh were [daily?] in trouble concerning this man who would do no work he being a favorite of Mrs Sherwin he was well liked among the Female prisoners and during his stay here would suffer none to be placed
on the triangle he was the only man feared by the Major. Ted Kimberley chief constable considered the convicts of Norfolk Island no better than heathens unfit to grace this earth. Women were in his estimation born for the convienance of man - he was a bright and intelligent Irishman I can well remember the time he fell in love with Mary Ginders a married Convict woman. He ran along the road in front of the gaol with Ginders following
with a axe in his hand he told her that if she did not come and live with him he would report her to the Major and have her placed into the Cells. That woman gave us more trouble than any one on the Island She was the leader of the dances in the barrack Room and was well liked among the soilders???
The amusements consisted mainly of dancing in the Barrack Room on Thursday evenengs when all the women would join in the dances
of the mermaids Each one being naked with numbers painted on their backs so as to be regonised by their admirers who would clap their hands upon seeing their favorite perform som grotesque action. And with the assistance of a Gallon or two of Rum would end their nights amusements in a drunken state, such amusements were the talk of the Soilders for days before and after the performance Potter the bellman would arrange for the appearances
of the women.
I can well remember the fight between Mary Ginders and Bridget Chandler in respect to their position as favourites among the Soilders which ended in Bridget recieving a broken arm.
Mr Mitchell a store keeper and trader (who afterward retired and went to Sydney) would exchange his stores for rum, his flour was bad and his pork was soft. I believe he came out here as a missioner but gave up that proffesion as there was more money in trading
he had a beautiful young woman name [Lirya?] McCann who was as cunning as himself who could drink more rum than most of the Hardened Soilders and took every opportunity to make herself disagreeable to the other Females who would dare venture within her store her greatest Pride was to be clothes in Silks and a bonnet with feathers on them. Mr Mitchell usually wore a dark Coat white trousers and Vest of a Bright red Color with a large black Hat brought out from England to order for him by Captain McIntosh.
The food as supplied to prisoners being of a poor quality did not sustain them sufficiently long enough for the class of work required of them under such conditions the prisoners were compelled to resort to other means of obtaining sufficient to keep themselves alive many were the devices carried out to obtain it the usual manner of distributing rations left many opportunities open for unfair dealings. Of course it must be remembered that there were favorites among the Male and Female Prisoners
and that every opportunity was taken by them where with to increase their own larder. The flour was served out in Mess tins by Serjient Sherwin who handed them to Peter Walsh and upon the receiving of which he would take a handfull from each tin for his own use generally with the remark, is it one or two handsfull for my share and should any of them refuse him he would look at them with a meaning well known to themselves, possibly a little extra work or punishment for their
refusal. The Pork supplied to the prisoners was so soft that you could put your finger through it and always rotten - the appearance of any vermin among the food supplied was always excused to the nature and quality supplied, it being said that the best of flour and Meal always contained them .
Upon receiving his allowance each prisoner was required to place his food in the Cell and was compelled to do his own cooking when time could be spared for such work
Residence of William Wentworth, Surgeon
Residence of Dr Wentworth, N.I.
There were several attemps at escape from the Island but none were successful. many murders most of them were commited for the purpose of getting to Sydney, it being their only way of seeing “heaven’ again. Many were never to see the 'old hell' as Norfolk Island was called, again. Thomas Carpenter did not survive the last punishment, or corporal as it was called, his 250 killed him, died of
heart failure they said. God forgive them, and him too. For he was well liked on the Island, but feeling that he was ill, and thinking that his end was near, he struck his Officer with the hope that he would see his friends once more, he did so but it was his last time. Considering the purpose for which these poor devils obtain justice their lot is all the worse for the manner in
which they chose to obtain it. Two men were sent to Sydney, they have each received 800 lashes during their stay here and it was decided by the doctors that more flogging would be injurous, their backs were quite bare of flesh and one mass of sores. It is a strange thing that the home government did not send out some missionarys out here, we were badly in want of one out here.
The state of the settlement and the amount of work done, compares favourably with any other. And I feel sure that our farmers and agricultural work was far advanced of any other colony we were at some time or other in a state of semi-starvation, but that was when we [were] in trouble over the dry and wet seasons, 10 bushels of Maize to the ace is a good crop.
Cannot, seeing why you advise me to forward reports in reference to the work performed under my direction. Upon receiving this notice I went to the Major, his answer was Tell them they must come and make a report for themselves, no person was allowed to write any information about the place or the work done here, they were only to write in reference to the state of our good conduct and friends.
Many were the unspoken regrets, at the return of the Major, how the must have wished that they could have been a t home and told the truth. For without a doubt he was guilty, yes and it is who could [tell] them so. Murder simply murder is what I call it, god forgets and forgives, but I never can. His was a life never to repay for his brutal conduct towards prisoners.
Good night and be dam´d to you I say. Chandler 25 tomorrow and mark him. Such were common expressions of the Major.
Carefull were we that his instructions were carried out. Prisoners were not informed of their punishment untill the morning. No food was to be taken by the victim before receiving his punishment, such cruel treatment had
The Flogging of Charles Maher
The Flogging of Charles Maher, 250 lashes, (single flogger)
little effect in subduing the most hardened criminal. Thursday April 11 I well remember the date, began the most stormy weather on record here. The cascade was partly destroyed.
The flogging of Charles Maher allmost brought about a mutiny. his back was quite bare of skin and flesh. Poor wretch he received 250 lashes and upon receiving 200 Kimberly refused to count, meaning thereby that his punishment was enough
Trader Mitchell lost Bag of flour and more trouble over it than a ton of gold September 1804 there was loss of grain through want of carefull storing. Rain flooded out the stores.
The lady of the Lake, Ship paid you us a visit from London. She
brought large quanties of food. The maize was shipped at Batavia
and was wormy - dry and powderly Most of the pork shipped was good
and known as Bat
Annie Kelly received 25 lashes and well deserved it, her conduct was very bad. She was a theif and spy. the last named being sufficient to condem her to all. All ships from Sydney for Norfolk Island, bearing prisoners or govrs despatches had to use a private signal before droping anchor. all prisoners were removed to the cells and upon arrival of a new batch or gang they were taken
before the other prisoners possibly as a lesson to them, they were informed of the rules and regulations and then assigned to me for there future work. The new arrivals were then placed in irons for one week
It was considered good policy and to shew them our authority to administer as early as possible whether wanted or not corporal punishment to the extent of twenty five lashes. It was an easy matter to make him commit an offence for which to make him Liable.
all three women were under sentence for child murder. One of the worst methods of punishment for such an offence. England for white slaves. why were they sent here. for crimes that required pity more than punishment. Heaven forbid England if that is her way of populating her hell holes.
What would our noble persons think of our virgin settlements and their white slaves
In every case the women treated as slaves, good stock to trade with and a convict having the good chance to possess one did not want much encouragement to do so.
January 1804 began with a new crime among prisoners that of stealing stores from ships visiting the Island, many complaints having been received by the Governor. Also a very painfull way of returning to Sydney, by the way of cutting off some other prisoners hand or foot.
During the first punishment, prisoners were given a lashes. It being considered out of Notice not to have received "corporal". 200 lashes is considered a feeler. 500 - Black box - meaning death to those who receive them.
Many were releived at death from such treatment.
It would be impossible to describe the torture received in regard to the many methods employed by the commandant, his servants and overseers, one of the favourite
and most frequent punishment was to make the leg irons more small every months so that they would pinch the flesh. The water pit was a favourite method to ensure good conduct and quietness.
The pit was a sort of cell, sunk below the ground, and filled with salt water till it was 18 or 20 inches high. The prisoner was then striped and placed in it and left for 2 or more days.
Could we but live over again that which is past, what a lot of good we would do. It is to late now. The last day is too late. Report of Commandant for half year, ending June 1804.
Prisoners on Island: 1180.
Corporal punishment inflicted upon prisoners: 267 cases.
2 prisoners receive 500 lashes each.
Ten male and 7 female prisoners die
Prisoners sent to Sydney for trial, 62. cost of same
On Saturday June 16th 1804 2 prisoners made an attempt to escape, were two days on a raft, but had to return on account of Bad weather.
One man made an attempt to get away on a door, after having bored 2 holes for his legs to pass through, but did not get more than 10 miles of the land - 1 of his toes was bitten. 2 days in the water pit with 250 lashes put a stop to further
escapes. I[t] is strange that the women prisoners did not attemp to escape. Their lot surely must have been greater than the male convicts. Several have not recovered yet from their treatment at the hands of the major. Sixteen of them were hanged for minor offences such as using too personal remarks to the Commandent's fancy woman a Mrs Sherwin wife of Serjeant Sherwin, a good but badly judged woman.
Good bye to the other women. There was some hope that she would survive the 250 lashes, upon being brought to the Tryangle. Richards complained of sickness and could not be able to perform the flogging. Kimberly was requested to act as flogger. when the time came for him to begin, Lieutenant Laycock commanded him to begin upon which Kimberly cried out that he did not flog women, This reply made the Major
furious. He then asked on of the soldiers Mick Kelly by name to take the tails and go on with the punishment which he immediately proceeded to perform in such a manner that not one mark was left on her back, this made the Major so wild that he ordered the woman to be placed in a dark Cells for a forghtnigh upon hearing which Surgeon Redfern objected that the woman had recieved sufficient punishment as directed by the Governer himself
This was the last time that women were flogged on Norfolk Island. On the 27th May his Majesty Ship Calcutta (I think was the name) came from Sydney for the purpose of inspection and to make a general report as to the settlement and condition of prisoners on he island.
But I believe it was for taking more prisoners to the newly formed settlements in Van Diemans Land. We had heard such bad reports from that place and in Consequence
prisoners were very much against going there. Many of the old hands would injure themselves in order that they may be not taken
Some were in the habit of eating sand in hope of being ill others would drink large quantities of salt water such was the impression of Van Diemans Land The surgeons were always in trouble over such cases five prisoners died from the effect of sand eating. Work was suspended for one month on
account of fever commonly called Sun fever which was really a severe form of dysentery caused through eating bad pork. We had several herds of swine on the islands but the settlers demanded too high price.
They were brought from Sydney by Governor King and given to settlers of ten acres or more. The general price of food as supplied by Mitchell was too much for the convicts The money in use was mostly the Spanish dollar and English guinea.
His Majesty King George has been pleased to grant to all his subjects complete protection, in out of the way places and trusts that they will be loyal and faitfull.
What a mockery to issue such a peice of information to chained convicts.
Protection when we were the greatest enemy as my orders were to murder all the prisoners under my care. Should any forien nation bear down up us Protection be damed
Fish were plentifull and of a good quality, some fine large els were caught by the prisoners. were were very thankfull for our supply of game consisting of Birds of providence, a small and salty flesh trib. Hundreds were killed in a day, at other times they would leave us for weeks, other small birds were in abundance but too small and unfit to eat. Some were covered with feathers of a bright Colour, most of them were unknown to us
The last of the female convicts left for Van Diemans Land in June 1806, they we some good conduct women employed as servants to free settlers All the inhabitants left in 1807, they having been granted free farms in that place, many lost their lives in conflict with the blacks, the murders and fighting became a general waste
in every days life, the were very cunning and needed much watching
The 9th June we received a visit from a London Missionary Ship on her round trip of visiting the islands. Two french Merchantmen came here after visiting the Islands. I believe it was their intention of forming a new settlement in Holland and Van Diemans Land.
They stayed a month here and upon leaving, visited Batavia, two prisoners escaped in her, one was known as Ginger Ryan the other Paddy O'Keefe.
We did not know what had become of them till some years afterwards. Orders were recieved from Sydney about this time for the shipment of Convicts to Newtown the newly formed settlement in Van Diemans Land There was much excitement among the Free Settlers and they were informed by the Governer Captain Piper that all fierce persons must leave the Island, The Government having given up control of the Island for some years to come.
Our crop of maize failed. Lieutenant Davies and Laycock visits the Island.
Such arrivals and changes were so many, and one and another so much the same that the prisoners became hardened and indifferent to their person or calling. Each and every officer were obliged to continue the work as performed by his last officer.
Captain Piper an ever watchfull and care full man did his duty well, was liked, and respected
March 1804 three French ships paid us a visit one American ship, and several from Batavia. The Ship Lady Nelson bringing further suplies reached us from Sydney. She brought us some salted pork, unfit for eating, some live birds which did not live long On board two socoity women from Sydney sent out to be shut out from the world at large for a time till a perjury case blew over in which they both were a prominient figure
Convicts in chains at work
The kindness shewn by Mrs Sherwin to deserving female convicts every comfort is given to any who may be fortunate to come under her notice, the last time that I seen her she was looking very old and careworn.
May her bones rest in peace, for she was a good woman.
May 1804 is well remembered a month of corporal punishments and attempted murders old and hardened prisoners, being very troublesome.
The yards you must cover in a day, the breaking of five loads of stone being a fair days work. The tools supplied were of a very poor kind and the men were constantly breaking them, and bringing severe punishments through their supposed carelessness.
Van Diemans Land
The place of Murder and bloodshed where we had to live - work and fight for our own lives. The work of settlers was met with difficulties and opposition was the blacks and weather on my first arrival there we suffered greatly from want of provisions all grain becoming exhausted we were compelled to hunt Kangaroo's and other game Kangaroo's flesh was recieved into his majesty stores and sold at sixpence
per pound and reaching as high as one shilling and sixpence over fifteen thousand pounds weight of this flesh was consumed in six months. We had of [oftimes?] to eat sea weed as a vegetable.