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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Lovely Banks

Sometime in June 1840, the rest of the group (minus the four escapees from Sandy Bay) made a three-day forced march into the interior, thirty-six miles from Hobart Town, to another road station called Lovely Banks, no doubt to prevent anyone else from escaping.  Here they would remain through the winter. This isolated valley, filled with oak forests, was one of the most beautiful spots on the island, yet here they were assigned some of the hardest labor they had experienced. The work site was located a mile and a half from the station, and frequently the prisoners had to return this distance to their huts “through the cold and rain after a hard day's toiling, and have to lay down for the night with our clothes drenched with water, and no fire allowed us to dry them.”  There was no fireplace in the huts.(1) James described the miserable daily routine:

We were…employed in digging trenches, breaking stone, sawing blocks for pavements, and dragging stone and timber like cattle, for we had neither horses nor oxen. At the Lovely Banks Station every four of us had a hand-cart, and our task was to haul a load of flint stone, nearly a cubic yard, a mile, through rain and sleet, and return fourteen times a-day. Thus we had fourteen heavy horse loads to draw daily, in all a distance of fourteen miles, and the cart to drag back the other fourteen, being 28 miles a day, I having fourteen lbs. of chains on while our fare was nearly two pounds of coarse brown bread, with a pint of water gruel to breakfast and another to supper, and about half or three quarters of a pound of meat and half a pound of vegetables at dinner. At night, after eleven hours of severe toil, we were locked up in miserable huts, and as it is rainy in winter, we were often dripping wet, but never allowed to go near a fire.(2)

James Gammell’s claim that he was chained in irons while working on the roads is not corroborated by the other accounts.  It is true that many of the British felons who tried to escape were flogged or forced to work in chains, but Samuel Snow records that “so far as our party were concerned, I never knew of a man’s being whipped or compelled to wear irons.”(3)  The overseers did threaten many of them with flogging, and even erected triangles for the purpose. The Patriot prisoners, however, made it clear that if any attempt were made to flog even one of them, the rest would “openly rebel.”  One of the Patriots dissembled the triangles on the night after they were erected, carried them on his back to a small lagoon, and dumped them in the water. Nothing more was heard about the triangles.(4)

The prisoners suffered under the abuse of cruel overseers, who were pardoned British felons. Overseers persecuted men who were sick, like Robert Marsh, and forced them to work beyond their strength, or compelled men, like Hiram Loop, to work barefoot when their shoes were completely worn through. In desperation, Marsh made a complaint to the magistrate, who ordered a medical examination. Marsh was declared to be an invalid, “incapable of performing any heavy labor,” and the overseer was severely reprimanded. This one rare instance of fair treatment was not the norm at the Lovely Banks station. Usually any complaints of abuse were either ignored, or resulted in further punishment to the victim.(5)

The winter months of June, July, and August (southern hemisphere) were especially miserable. No extra clothing was allotted as a protection against the rain, snow, and cold. In fact, at times the prisoners didn’t even receive their normal clothing allowance: one jacket, one pair of trousers made of coarse fabric (and no mention of underwear), one striped cotton shirt, and one leather cap every six months, and one pair of poor quality shoes (and no socks) every four months. The shoes fell apart well before new ones were issued, and uniforms for several of the men were usually too small.(6)  Hard labor on the roads from dawn till dark continued throughout the winter, even though many were without shoes, and most were half-starved. Miller wrote that “in the morning when the party went to their labor,” those who were barefooted left their bloody “footsteps in the frost.” At dark they returned to their huts, where there was no fire, and slept in their wet clothing until “another day called us to toil and slavery.”(7)  On Saturday afternoons and Sundays they were not required to labor on the roads:

One shirt at once was the royal allowance and we had Saturday afternoons, and a little soap, allowed us, on which to wash and mend our wretched garments. When we took off and washed our shirts on Saturdays we had to go without them till they dried on Sundays.(8)

At the end of August 1840, word reached Lovely Banks that an American whaler had been seen at port in Hobart Town. Linus Miller suggested that he might be able to persuade the captain to take them all on board. It was a wild idea, but any hope of survival under their present conditions was fast dwindling. They all agreed that only two would leave and try to make it to Hobart Town. Linus Miller and Joseph Stewart, carrying some blankets and a small supply of food, scaled the wall of the prison yard without being seen by the night watchman, and escaped into the bush. All of their comrades watched them go, and hoped and prayed for their success.(9)

Not long after the escape, Governor Franklin visited Lovely Banks, and in a fit of rage he delivered a severe reprimand to the rest of the group. He warned them that if any attempted to escape, his soldiers had orders to shoot them on the spot. He also said that even if they should make it to the United States, he would send his military to bring them back. (The captives realized that this last statement—and likely the rest of his speech—was totally irrational.) As further punishment for the escape of Miller and Stewart, the rest of the group was outfitted in magpie (black and yellow) prison garb, making them easier to spot if they tried to escape:

Sir John was incensed, mustered us, called us mutineers, ordered us to be dressed in magpie clothing - one leg and arm black, the other yellow - with a military guard to shoot us down if disobedient. We were then sent to the worst station on the island, at Green Pond.(10)

In addition to the escape, Franklin was furious about another incident. James and his fellow Patriots, even while enduring experiences designed to break their will, still found opportunities to assert themselves and to appeal for more humane treatment. Seven months after their arrival in Van Diemen’s Land, Elijah Woodman had initiated a petition addressed to the governor:

Elijah Woodman, of Maine, drew up a memorial, in the shape of a round robin,(11) addressed to Sir John Franklin, in July, 1840, setting forth that fellows guilty of the foulest and most revolting crimes, were our overseers - that many of us had to work long and hard barefooted, with wretched food and worn out garments, toiling whether it rained or whether we were in a burning sun, with no place to dry ourselves when wet and weary, till the bell called us to be locked up in our prisons at night.(12)

Franklin strictly forbade any such petitions to be written. Later at Port Arthur he bitterly reviled the young lawyer, Linus Miller, who he assumed had written the document.(13)
  1. Miller, p. 299; Snow, part II; Pybus, American Citizens, British Slaves, p. 116.
  2. Gemmell, NY Plebeian, p. 2-3. Twenty-eight miles per day is surely an exaggeration, although it must have felt like that far. (See Pybus, American Citizens, British Slaves, pp. 102-3.)
  3. Snow, part II.
  4. Miller, p. 301.
  5. Gemmell, NY Plebeian, transcription, p. 3; Miller, pp. 301-302.
  6. The average height of the Patriot prisoners was 5 feet 6 inches (compared to 5 feet 4 inches for the average British convict,) and four of the men were at least six feet tall. (See Pybus, American Citizens, British Slaves, p. 97.)
  7. Miller, pp. 302-303; Snow, part II.
  8. Gemmell, NY Plebeian, transcription, p. 3.
  9. Miller, p. 304-305; Snow, part II.
  10. Gemmell, NY Plebeian, transcription, p. 9. (Miller, p.349; Snow, part II.)
  11. “An instrument with signatures attached to it in a circular form, so that the first or last signer’s name cannot be distinguished.” (Snow, part II.)
  12. Gemmell, NY Plebeian, transcription, p. 9.
  13. Miller, p. 340.

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