Printer Friendly
The Free Library
23,383,293 articles and books

Monitoring the situation: the `convict journal', convict protest and convicts' rights.

In 1979, Alan Atkinson published an article entitled `Four Patterns of Convict Protest'. In it he showed that convicts were capable of confronting authority where points of general principle were involved. Four categories of protest were identified. The first, and most straightforward, was attack, whereby a convict would assault his master or some authority figure. The other three categories, according to Atkinson, `implied some acceptance ... of some rights, either as servants, on the English pattern, or as prisoners'. They were, an appeal to authority if a convict believed his rights had been invaded; a withdrawal of labour, which could be `a means of bargaining, but which often involved protest, with or without a bargaining element'; and compensatory retribution, where convicts punished their masters for an injustice according to their own code of punishment. These three types of protest were, believed Atkinson, `within a ... clearly limited moral economy'.(1)

Atkinson used the surviving magistrates' bench books as the main source for his article, concentrating on those from the country.(2) This paper utilises quite a different source to explore the last three categories of protest, and in particular the extent to which the author of that source, although not a convict himself, to a surprising degree agreed with and supported the convicts in their fight for their rights. The source is a Sydney newspaper, the Monitor (later the Sydney Monitor), which ran from 1826 until 1841. Its editor, publisher and principal writer until 1839 was Edward Smith Hall, a man whom Sir Henry Parkes described in 1891 as a `singular pioneer in the cause of civil liberty'.(3)


E. S. Hall was born in London in 1786, the son of a bank manager, and emigrated to New South Wales in 1811. Despite receiving several grants of land, he was not a successful farmer and led a somewhat chequered career until founding the Monitor. A letter to the Sydney Gazette in 1824 described him as a `preacher, bank cashier, merchant's clerk, coroner, dairy-man, farmer, shopkeeper, ... an attorney's underling, and preacher in the Market-house Rotunda'.(4) But while his career may have been erratic, he was consistently focussed on fighting for civil rights and undertaking religious and charitable work. Several times he addressed meetings and was involved in petitions calling for trial by jury and a House of Assembly.(5) In 1813 he was a founder of the New South Wales Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge and Benevolence, and when it transmogrified into the Benevolent Society of New South Wales, he was made Honorary Secretary. He was also involved with the New South Wales Philanthropic Society, the Auxiliary Bible Society of New South Wales and the Wesleyan Auxiliary Missionary Society.(6)

Concern for the distressed was an important theme in Hall's writings in the Monitor, and it seems likely that his social work gave him an insight into the oppressed nature of much of colonial society. Interestingly, Hall has lately come to the attention of Atkinson, who in 1994 wrote that he `was devoted, among other things, to vindicating the rights of convicts' which were `tied to common tradition and circumstances'.(7) More recently, Atkinson declared that Hall was a man who has `fruitful things to say to the 1990s' because of his enlightened attitude to many colonial issues. Hall was, says Atkinson, a man with a set of moral attitudes and a moral logic which he followed through `with a zeal worthy of an Old Testament prophet': he was one of the few men in colonial society who had `struggling consciences ... unelected consciences'.(8) It seems only fitting then that Hall was a champion of those rights for which Atkinson's convicts fought.

From the first issue of his newspaper, on 19 May 1826, Hall outlined his support for convict rights. `The injured and oppressed', he said, `high or low, bond or free, [would], in the conductors of the Monitor, meet with firm, consistent, persevering and prudent friends.'(9) The Law of the Land was the foundation of all rights, and the convicts should have all that the laws of England allowed inflicted on them. But, warned Hall, `let no "vigour beyond the law" be introduced in the infliction'. He was a firm believer in fair treatment. Depriving convicts of the right to earn wages, whether of money or clothes, appeared to be `a very palpable deviation from common honesty, and a devoting [sic] the industrious prisoner to the caprice and tyranny of every settler who chooses to cheat him of his hire'.(10)

To Hall the convicts were still human beings, and more than that, English human beings. Even when cooped up in gaol with irons on his legs, an Englishman was an Englishman still. And the English were `a bold daring impudent dread-nought kind of people. A people who would much sooner be hanged than suffer oppression or succumb to injustice'. They must be treated justly and generously. A convict for life, though, had nothing to look forward to but perpetual slavery without mitigation or hope. So, observed Hall, showing his understanding of the convicts' plight and providing what many of Atkinson's convicts would have considered ample justification of their actions, `[was] it to be wondered at then that the hearts of brave Englishmen, brave though in ignominious bondage, should rebel?'(11)

The solution, according to Hall, was to treat the convicts (in the language of his time) as men. By all means, they should lose those rights which their crimes had made them unworthy of, such as participating in juries or being involved in government. But those few civil rights which they were allowed should never be abused. Well treated convicts would always be better behaved and more appreciative of their masters than those who were not. To this end, Hall was ready to expose any injustices. An editor should, he believed, follow his conscience in what he believed was right: it was to him a matter of integrity. The Monitor, then, would always `be the apologist, protector, and advocate' of the convicts, espousing the cause of any who were `punished contrary to law'. His paper became known as `the Convict Journal', a name which Hall was proud to acknowledge.(12) Atkinson noted one convict who tried to send a letter to the Monitor, and there are numerous examples in the paper of letters reporting injustices and ill-treatment.(13) Hall claimed that his paper was of immense benefit to the convicts and the colony as a whole. By exposing instances of corruption and unfair treatment of convicts, magistrates and masters were more wary of treating them badly lest their actions be reported in the Monitor. As the convicts began to be treated more fairly, they in turn ceased acting badly, and became more content and subordinate. Thus Hall answered those critics who believed that by highlighting the convicts' cause he was encouraging insurrection. If the convicts were turbulent, he said, the reasons why had to be addressed, and it was his duty to address them. The better understanding between master and convict that resulted from his animadversions was enough to justify his stand.(14) Certainly the extent to which Hall influenced the actions of convicts, magistrates and masters is open to debate, but as discussed below, it seems likely that there was more than a grain of truth to his claim. As also shown later, when Governor Darling introduced new rations regulations in 1830 and 1831, Hall claimed victory, saying that Darling was only acting on what Hall had been calling for since his paper began.(15) And at least one man felt as Hall did about the convicts' status. William Potts appeared before a court to give evidence. When a member of the bench asked, `What is the prisoner?' meaning was he bond or free, Ports replied, `I am a man.'(16)


Given that this article is based almost exclusively on a newspaper and the views of the man who ran it, it is important to clarify the role of newspapers in colonial Australia, and particularly Hall's understanding of that role. Hall recognised that the newspaper had all but replaced the pulpit as the primary method of information dissemination for the general population, and that recognition included an understanding of the ability of the newspaper to instruct (for good and for bad) and the ways in which newspapers were distributed and shared.(17) In Australia as in England, the practice of newspapers being read aloud in taverns or even in the street, thus greatly increasing their actual audience as opposed to their actual sales, was commonplace. Indeed, at the trial of two brothers, Joseph and Robert Mason, transported for their part in the Swing Riots, much was made of the fact that they had regularly read Cobbett's Political Register to their fellow villagers.(18) Hall well knew how the process worked, writing of `men who can read, or who like to hear a newspaper read to them'.(19) `Every week', he wrote in 1834, `thousands of newspapers find their way to the extremities of the Colony, and by the domestic servants are read with avidity and by them are carded to the huts of the farm servants.' In this instance Hall was actually blaming the newspapers for spreading unrest amongst the convicts by bringing them news of supposedly lenient new laws enacted by Governor Bourke, but the papers' role was specifically acknowledged: the prison population had learnt the news `through the Press'.(20) In this regard, Hall felt strongly about who should be allowed to write in newspapers. The reader must be able to trust the veracity of the author, for many people could not judge between good and bad (ie. biased or untrue) writing, but must necessarily `depend a great deal, a vast deal, almost totally in most respects, on the accuracy of the data laid before [them]'.(21)

There is no doubt that Hall saw the newspaper as an instrument of learning. In 1827 he wrote that a newspaper editor `instructs the great body of society', while to the farmers of New South Wales papers were the history of the present state of their adopted country'.(22) Demonstrating his awareness of the declining role of churches and their replacement by newspapers, he stated that the lower orders `seldom go into a chapel or read a religious tract, or hear them read. But they read newspapers (or hear them read)'.(23) So, Hall saw himself as fulfilling his role as an instructor of the public when he wrote with pride that he had:
 brought to light through the medium of [his] Journal The Sydney Monitor, a
 great many public peculations in this Colony and its Dependencies, and a
 great many public improprieties and immoralities. Among these are; murder,
 adultery, fornication, peculations innumerable, torture to extort
 confession, and the starvation of the prison population through bad and
 insufficient provisions.(24)

Hall was, therefore, turning private issues into public ones, and in the case of his campaign on behalf of the convicts, was highlighting common issues of moral economy and elevating them in the public awareness far more than the records of the bench books ever could have.

But how influential was Hall? A detailed study is beyond the scope of this paper, but certainly, in one instance examined below, Hall believed himself to have directly induced Governor Darling to change government policy. In 1834 he quoted his circulation as about nine hundred and ten per issue, equal to that of the Sydney Herald and more than double that of the Sydney Gazette and the Australian, both of which he estimated at about four hundred.(25) As just mentioned, the number of actual readers was probably far greater than this so the figures do not provide an accurate representation, but if he was correct he was certainly one of the most widely read people in the colony, and so must have had some degree of impact. Darling himself referred to Hall as a `revolutionary Scribbler', while his brother-in-law, Colonel Dumaresq, stated that assigned servants were prepared to travel up to five miles in the evening to read the Monitor.(26) It seems reasonable to assume, then, that Hall did exert influence on the colony, and was striking a chord with many inhabitants. His newspaper can therefore be seen as a partial reflection of prevailing attitudes.


Reports in the Monitor provide more instances of those types of protest described by Atkinson, particularly cases of appeals to authority and withdrawal of labour. Atkinson noted that complaints to the bench regarding rations were rare, but they occur in the Monitor on a not infrequent basis. It was more usual, as Atkinson observed, for convicts to use the plea of insufficient rations as a defence if they had been brought up on a charge such as insolence. Thus Patrick Byrne, charged with insolence and refusing to work, claimed that he had been given no meat for five weeks. Interestingly, his master confessed that Byrne had been without meat for three weeks, but the magistrate still ordered that Byrne be returned to him. Hall, in typical manner, asked in his paper why the master was not reported to the Governor as someone `unfit to have the care of servants of the Crown'.(27) Four other men, though, achieved a better result. Charged with insolence, absconding and refusing to work, they claimed that their food rations were bad, they could not get clothes or soap, and that one man had been ill for six months but was refused leave to visit the hospital. The evidence appearing to support them, the magistrate said that the men must be given what they were entitled to, and that even though they might have acted improperly the evidence would not allow them to be punished.(28)

Other cases, though, are obvious examples of convicts appealing (with mixed success) to authority to have their rights upheld. They also frequently demonstrate Hall's sense of justice, to which they no doubt appealed. Thomas Monaghan showed that he was prepared to fight for any right he was aware of. After being informed that he could demand a bed, he promptly did so and complained to the bench when it was not supplied. However, his master claimed that he had agreed to supply the bedding shortly and that Monaghan had become insubordinate and refused to work: Monaghan received twenty-five lashes for his trouble.(29) One of the assigned servants of William Gore, the provost-marshal, complained that his supplies were inadequate; Gore blamed supply problems and the bench ordered him to attend to them. The servant had seemingly won, but Gore in turn accused him of insolence and insubordination and he was sentenced to three months on an iron gang. The Monitor suggested that the servant's attitude could be attributed to `a hungry belly and hard work', and that `the Larder and not the Police office, was the properest [sic] place for applying a remedy'. At least on an iron gang, said the paper sarcastically, `the little he may be allowed, will, at all events, be given to him regularly'.(30) At Maitland, two assigned servants complained that they were not supplied with `slops, shoes and necessaries'. Upon the magistrate ordering them to be supplied forthwith, the men's master protested about his loss of time and that the men were insolent to which the magistrate replied, `Fifty lashes to each of them, which will equalise it!' Hall maintained that such a story must be either impossible or meant as a joke. He inserted a comment after the piece saying that his reporter `ought to produce names to make horrid tales of this kind either credible or entertaining'.(31)

Other convicts who appealed to authority had better results. William Shortell and Joseph Curtis complained that their master, Richard Kelly, did not supply them with sufficient clothing and frequently horsewhipped one of them. In this instance the man had attempted to complain to the court on a previous occasion. Kelly, though, had promised that things would be better and the man had returned to the farm, only to have the ill-treatment resume. The man, however, had the fortitude to complain a second time, showing that he was not prepared to have his rights so flagrantly violated. The evidence supported the two men and they were removed from Kelly's service. The Monitor once again showed its sense of justice: as the court invariably defended masters against servants' insubordination, neglect and the like, it said, so `the poor devil of a government man must in like manner be defended'.(32) Thomas Flanagan also successfully complained, in this case about his meat rations. Once more, assigned servants showed they were prepared to seek redress by appealing to authority until their rights were upheld: this was `the third or fourth complaint of the same nature', and the bench decided to report the case to the governor.(33) Robert And (Aul?) was charged with breaking an agreement with his government servant over the servant's use of some land. The servant `complained to the Bench for redress', the master stated that `he had merely decoyed the man to induce him to work the harder', and `the Bench deemed this highly improper conduct of a master, took the man away, and ordered that he be returned to government'.(34)

Cases of withdrawal of labour reported in the Monitor also appear to follow Atkinson's pattern. John Lawler refused to work for his master `unless certain stipulations of his own fixing, should first be complied with'. In addition, he told the district constable that `he would never do a settler any good'.(35) Robert Fox had a definite sense of what was right. Charged with refusing to obey orders, he claimed that he was working for a man who was not his master, and who abused him. Fox said that `he would gladly obey his master and do his work but, that when working for one who had no claim to his services, he thought it hard to be abused and threatened with a severe flogging, especially as he had no right to controul [sic] over him'. He was returned to the government.(36) Three Sydney stone-cutters refused to work when they could no longer do so on Saturdays for their own benefit. Doing so had allowed them to supplement their rations from the store and so `enabled them to do the work allotted them, to the satisfaction of the Overseer as well as of the Engineer; but now they were unable to do as much work as formerly'. The men obviously believed strongly in their cause: they were sentenced to fifty lashes each but still refused to work; on the renewal of the complaint they were sentenced to seventy-five lashes. After these were inflicted, the men were `to be immediately set to work'.(370 And four lads, arriving at their new workplace at nine o'clock one Saturday morning, refused to work unless they were given `grub first, without which they would not budge an inch'.(38)

The Monitor also provides examples of those rare instances which Atkinson noted where prisoners refused their food without refusing to work.(39) Three hundred men attached to the Parramatta Barracks found their bread to be `as black as if it had come down the chimney, besides being sour and not half baked'. The paper reported that `every man turned out to work without eating one single ounce of it'.(40) All of the prisoners at the Hyde Park Barracks refused to eat bad beef, `and turned out to their work dinner-less'. The bad meat was replaced with good, and Hall once again highlighted the convicts' rights. He called the move `a just and humane concession to the poor prisoners', while at the same time labelling the supplying of bad meat `unjust and inhumane'. The men, he pointed out, were `by law ... allowed good and wholesome meat ... the attempt to foist stinking bone broth upon them, [was] unpardonable'.(41) On another occasion, gaol inmates `refused their bread for two days', throwing it into a heap of dirt. Others at Parramatta sold theirs as pig food, and loaves were `seen stuck about in all quarters in derision'. These protests were obviously, as Atkinson says, `formed from some general idea about standard of living'.(42)


While the reports of court cases and other incidents that appear in the Monitor provide examples of convicts fighting for their rights, it is Hall's own writing that brings the concept to life. In so doing, Hall elevated these forms of protest to the level required to show that they reflected on official standards of humanity. Apart from his interjections on various specific reports, Hall also composed leading articles which were often sermons on any issue he believed needed addressing, whether it be the fight for trial by jury, the religious character of the colony, or one of numerous other causes he pursued with a dogged intensity. The treatment of convicts was one such cause, and over the years he frequently reiterated the sentiments he had expressed in his first issue. He by no means sought to make the convicts' life as easy as possible, but sought to ensure that both master and prisoner acted properly (and notions of propriety underpin any concept of moral economy). Indeed, he believed it to be improper if convicts were treated too leniently. In 1834, amid growing concern about a perceived deterioration of convict discipline, Hall wrote that it was because Governor Bourke appeared to have shown sympathy for the convicts' situation that they had returned to `insolence and idleness'.(43) Hall was in fact an ardent advocate of transportation and convict labour, and argued passionately in favour of the reintroduction of transportation in the late 1840s.(44) Yet his sense of justice and fairplay shine through in all his tracts.

Rations and discipline, Hall maintained, were the two main concerns that needed to be addressed as far as the treatment of convicts was concerned. A passage written in 1827 demonstrates his belief in making them work, but only if fairly dealt with. `A good allowance of work should be exacted by force from the Convicts', he said, but it could be justified only if `they in return be liberally fed with plain wholesome food, and comfortably clothed with coarse but strong useful habiliments'. Hall, though, took this one step further. It was no use merely fixing the quantity of supplies, but the quality must also be regulated. The clothing supplied should be well-made so that it did not wear out after a month or two. Wheat should be supplied by weight, not measure, so that weevil-eaten grain was not substituted for wholesome stock. Beef and mutton should be well cured to avoid the men being obliged to eat putrid meat, as should tobacco for uncured tobacco would take the skin from their mouths and, being a luxury, to receive it uncured would be an insult and a mockery--it would be akin to offering `a stone instead of bread, or a scorpion in lieu of a fish'. What it all boiled down to, said Hall, was this: `If you feed a man you may insist upon him working--but how can you flog him for not working who is ill-fed and ill-clothed?'(45)

The issuing of supplies was also critical. Many masters (`roguish Settlers', Hall called them) returned their men to government just before they were due to be issued with new supplies, thus saving themselves the expense. Hall at first suggested monthly issues, but when an arrangement was made at Newcastle whereby slops would be issued on the first of May and November, Hall described it as `judicious and considerate'. `Such a step', he added a few weeks later, `unite[d] both justice and humanity.'(46)

Hall's strictures over rations continued to be an ongoing feature of his paper, until in 1830 and again in 1831 he believed his stance to be totally vindicated. In October 1830 a Government Order issued new regulations concerning rations for prisoners in road-gangs and penal settlements, two groups whom Hall had repeatedly claimed were ill-treated in this regard. He wrote a leading article headed `Justification of the Sydney Monitor by the General' (the `General' being Darling), in which he stated that he had `made continual statements during the last three years, of the bad and insufficient food of the prisoners, as well as those worked on the roads, [and as well] as those at the penal settlements'. Part of the Order acknowledged that road gangs had been supplied with improper flour, maize meal and meat. To this Hall replied, `We want no more. Our triumph is complete.'(47) Then, at the end of June 1831 a further Government Order established new regulations for the food and clothing of assigned servants. Hall made sure his role was not overlooked, heading his article `Second Important Justification of this Journal by Governor Darling'. His exposition of 1827, he claimed, had finally been attended to by the government, and to ensure the point was made he reprinted most of it in full.

In two other passages Hall again stressed the issues of Englishness and rights, providing more confirmation of Atkinson's premise:
 If men [are] to be urged by punishment to labour hard [he wrote], it is
 needful according to English law, and the customs of English society, to
 see to it, that such persons are adequately fed, clothed, and lodged.

But if such was not the case, he continued:
 The brave and the enterprising among the convicts, determined that as the
 rights of human nature were not allowed them, they would retaliate on that
 government and that public who deprived them of those rights. They felt,
 that they were transported from their homes, and from their families,
 according to their respective sentences, but they also felt, that it was no
 part of those sentences, nor was it found in any English statute, nor in
 any Colonial bye-law, or custom, or usage, that they should be urged to
 labour by the lash, and yet left without food, without clothes, and without

The issue of `labour by the lash' and of all forms of convict discipline, went hand-in-hand with that of proper supplies for the prisoners. Hall was just as loquacious on flogging and other punishments as he was on rations. Once again, he was not against punishing prisoners, but insisted that punishment be just and according to law. The aim, he said in a long article in 1832, was `to produce a system of discipline.., which shall enforce justice without inhumanity, kindness without insubordination, [and] discipline without cruelty'. Hall believed the best form of punishment to be solitary confinement. If in an iron-gang, the prisoners' rations should be of the best quality to prevent discontent.(49) The third method of punishment, scourging, was a complex issue for Hall. In 1831 he said that flogging might have to be used for hardened cases but should be avoided if possible: `the torture of the scourge [is] a brutalizing disgusting punishment', he wrote.(50) But, he observed in 1832:
 we approve of scourging being divided into two weekly portions of 25 or 50
 lashes for the greater offences. It does the health and constitution less
 harm; while the interval of seven days, causes an agony of anticipation,
 highly salutary to the culprit.

Such punishment he did not define as torture, but fifty or a hundred lashes all at once he did think unjustifiable. If it must be inflicted, he called for the government to regulate the size and weight of the scourge so that the punishment was standard throughout the colony. And finally, Hall gave his opinion of penal settlements as forms of secondary punishment. Men should not be sent to penal settlements except by sentence of the Supreme Court. Periods in such places removed any chance of the prisoner's rehabilitation, whereas punishment by a country bench hopefully led to them being reformed and of service to the community.(51)

Throughout all this punishment though, Hall insisted that the voice of the convict should not be lost. The prisoner must be heard in his defence. He must not be bullied before the Bench, or hurried. He must be allowed to call his witnesses, and if not immediately available, they must be waited for. Only then, if the prisoner had been patiently heard, and was then found guilty, should he be punished. But he should also be punished instantly, with no forgiveness or mercy. The settler was entitled to his servant being punished as much as the prisoner himself was entitled to be heard.(52)

But the settler too must be held accountable. If a master ill-treated his servant he should be punished, and the convict not blamed for retaliating in kind. For, said Hall:
 If a man think he is at liberty to swear at and bully his convict servant,
 we should detest that Magistrate who would flog the servant of such a
 master for being insolent in return; just as much as we should detest him
 for flogging him for striking a master when the latter conducted himself so
 disgracefully as to strike his servant first; or as we should detest him
 for flogging a man for not doing a day's work, who was ill-fed or
 ill-clothed ... To establish this basis, masters must be punished when they
 do wrong, as well as their servants.

For a first offence, the master should have his servant taken from him and returned to government service, and for a second he should be reported to the governor.(53)


The result of convicts being ill-treated, believed Hall (and he was not alone in this belief) was that they often absconded and turned to bushranging. Atkinson did not include absconding in his article as the Bench books did not investigate the convicts' motives when they ran away.(54) But the Monitor regularly did so. To Hall the matter was clear-cut. `The only way and the cheapest way to prevent bushranging', he declared, was `to give the iron-gangs better food and more of it, and to cover their nakedness, and to treat them with humanity'.(55) Noting a report that bushranging was on the increase in the vicinity of Penrith, Hall commented, `And will be, so long as ... the oppressive starving flogging iron-gangs, are continued under the present system of management.' In 1830 he headed a series of articles with titles such as `Bad provisions, and highway robberies, and Bush-ranging',(56) `Bad food and its attendant bushranging' and `Bad provisions and bushranging'. Certainly other reports in the paper tend to support him. One group who robbed a house returned the money they found, saying they merely wanted food. Another item stated that runaways from gangs always cited `as a reason for their so doing, the shortness of their ration, and the bad usage they receive from their overseers, but never the quantity of work'. Thomas Murray, sentenced to fifty lashes for absconding, `swore that no power on earth should detain him in a place where he was half starved, and that stop with his road party he would not'. Four men, obviously escapees from a road gang, robbed Mrs Rowley as she travelled from Liverpool to Sydney. As they left they said, `Good night---don't blame us, we can't help it--we are starved, and we do this to fill our bellies.'(57) Hall told of `a Gentleman of wealth and intelligence' who assured him that road gang absences were innumerable and that the runaways were committing highway robberies, `the gangs being driven to desperation ... by insufficient food'. Hall, displaying his ability to see a problem from all perspectives, turned the issue around. `If Gentlemen themselves were prisoners, and starved', he said, `and could by bush-ranging procure a full belly, they would do it.' And he was not afraid to include himself as a likely candidate, adding `At all events we have humility enough to confess that our morals, under such circumstances, we are afraid would give way to hunger.'(58)

Some of the incidents of bushranging themselves display the convicts' sense of justice and moral economy. Mrs Rowley's robbers returned the small amount of money they found, saying she might need it to pay the turnpike, and also left a pound of butter at her request.(59) How settlers were treated by bushrangers seems to have depended on occasion on their reputation for treating their assigned servants. An Illawarra settler described how a gang ordered the Government men at the house of Mr Geraughty `to come forward, and say whether their master treated them well, or not?' Upon the servants saying that they had no reason to complain, `the villains left the farm'.(60) In another incident, Mr Scott and the Reverend Mr Erskine were accosted while travelling to Parramatta. One man recognised Scott as his former master and `shook hands with him in a friendly manner, declaring he would never hurt a hair of his head; they then took to the bush'.(61) Hall, in his usual perceptive manner, understood the implications of these actions. He wrote that bushrangers would often `single out those persons for plunder, who have the character of not feeding their convicts well'.(62)

The final category of protest identified by Atkinson was compensatory retribution. Once again, the Monitor provides more evidence of such protest, and Hall shows his understanding with comments such as that quoted earlier where he observed that convicts would retaliate against the government and public when deprived of their rights. One example is given at the end of this article, and the Illawarra settler just mentioned supplies another. When some of Mr O'Brien's men were seen talking to some bushrangers, they were returned to Government. A few days later his barn, full of wheat, and his twelve ton boat were burnt.(63) Two other government servants, `who were not over and above partial to their master', refused to remove dry grass from around a wheat stack and it was consequently destroyed by fire. Hall was obviously well aware of servants' tricks. He commented that opportunities for revenge in the country were `ruinous in their consequences, and ... too frequently resorted to'. A trick used by `sulky' servants in Sydney to vex their mistresses, he said, was to purchase stale bread instead of fresh.(64) Later he published a list of ways in which country servants could annoy their masters. These included ploughing slowly or breaking the plough against a stump, leaving fence rails down so stock escaped, setting fire to grass near fences so they burnt down, not hearing thieves at night, and stealing fruit, eggs, and poultry. All of these, he observed, were impossible to sheet home to the perpetrator.


Most of the incidents described in this article have as their backdrop the court where the cases were being heard, and so the opinions of the magistrates and judges need also to be sought. Some indeed displayed sentiments which echoed Hall's and provided justification for the convicts. Justice Stephen caused quite a stir in 1827 when he was reported in the Monitor as declaring `that the rights of prisoners were as sacred in the eye of the law as those of free men, and ... he would never allow them to be impugned and treated carelessly'. When asked by Governor Darling to clarify the statement, Stephen claimed they it had not been reported correctly, but blasted Darling for presuming to interfere with the Justices in the exercise of their duty. Hall, of course, in the initial report said that when making the statement, the Judge did so with `honour to himself'.(65) Other magistrates took the trouble to ascertain how prisoners brought before them were treated. Major Druitt, presiding on the Parramatta Bench, asked every master what rations the prisoner received. This was the point, he said, on which he would be guided in his decisions. His motto, according to the Monitor (and one which Hall would have heartily agreed with), was `full bellies and hard work, but full bellies first'.(66) Mary Meehan, charged with robbing her mistress, was asked by the Bench whether `she had any complaint to make against her mistress for ill usage, insufficiency of diet, or the like?' Interestingly, she did not attempt to facilitate her case by inventing a tale of woe, but `replied in the negative'.(67) Hall believed that magistrates should go further. To ensure that supplies were adequate, he said, it should be made `the imperative duty of the Magistrates to inspect the provisions of the convicts all through the Colony ... once a month'.(68) Major Druitt finally appealed to the Governor, claiming (in Hall's words, invoking images of dire misery and trauma):
 that the road-gangs were insufficiently fed, and that the Justices could
 not find in their hearts to continue flogging the run-a-ways much longer,
 for that the silent pleadings of their emaciated countenances and
 flesh-less bones, caused the scourge unwittingly to drop from their hands.

In spite of the appeal, continued Hall, he believed that scarcity continued, so that `many of the Gangs [were] still half-starved'.(69) But once again, it must be remembered that Hall desired justice on both sides. A report of magistrates at Windsor being too lenient towards prisoners led him to observe that insolence and disobedience to a master who fed and clothed his servants justly and liberally was a great evil, and imagined `that the humane bench at Windsor will allow no ruffian guilty of such conduct to escape their just severity'.(70) Note however the proviso that the servant should be fed and clothed properly.

Edward Smith Hall, then, was a man who embodied many attitudes which the protesting convicts who came to life in the pages of Atkinson's article would have understood and agreed with, just as he understood the individuals themselves. Indeed, space precludes examining many other aspects of convict life about which Hall held significant views. These include, among others, female convicts, convict assignment, tickets of leave, convicts' money and the penal settlements at Moreton Bay and Norfolk Island. The extent to which other members of colonial society shared or disagreed with his views and were influenced by his newspaper would also bear closer investigation. Nevertheless, this paper provides more evidence of the convicts' awareness of, and fight for, their rights which Atkinson highlighted, and Hall himself emerges as an intriguing champion of them. The last word can go to him, in a passage which encapsulates not only many of those aspects of protest, but also Hall's attitude to them:
 We are surprised not to find in the parliamentary list of tortures, the
 case of a convict-shepherd, who received FIVE HUNDRED LASHES, at Liverpool,
 for the following offence, or rather alleged offence. He was one of the
 oldest and best shepherds in Mr. Hannibal M'Arthur's service. Mr. H.
 M'Arthur had a brother in Argyle, who acted for him as overseer, and who
 was an extremely severe master - his men were continually running away on
 complaint of being starved - we ourselves saw the hair taken from a man's
 skull, which was found near to Mr. M'Arthur's sheep-run, who had fled away
 on complaint of insufficient rations. The best of his shepherds, namely,
 the man alluded to, at length joined the less-deserving, and refused to
 take his rations, unless they were increased; and growing warm in dispute
 with Mr. Charles M'Arthur, (who made no scruple on such occasions to beat
 and use the most horrid oaths to his men) - threw his rations on the
 ground, and also used a kind of threat, that it was in the power of such
 men as him, in lambing time, to revenge themselves for the ill-usage they
 received. For these two pieces of talk, which were no offences in English
 law, the man, though thin and sickly from starvation, on the said evidence
 of Mr. Charles M'Arthur, was, by his brother, Mr. H. M'Arthur, and other
 magistrates, sentenced to receive 500 lashes, and which sentence he
 received to the amount of 200 lashes; at which time our informant left the
 victim, with the scourger flogging away! The sentence was further increased
 to transportation to a penal settlement for the remainder of his original
 sentence, and which we understand was for life!!! Five hundred lashes and
 transportation for life, for a little talk!!!(71)

School of Classics and History University of New England


(1) A. Atkinson, `Four Patterns of Convict Protest', Labour History, no. 37, 1979, pp. 30, 32. This article is based upon research undertaken for my doctoral dissertation. I am very grateful to my supervisors, Professor Alan Atkinson and Associate Professor David Kent for their advice and helpful criticisms on earlier drafts.

(2) Atkinson, `Four Patterns', pp. 29, 50-51.

(3) Sydney Morning Herald, 11 August 1891, quoted by J.A. Ferguson in `Edward Smith Hall and the "Monitor"', Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, vol. 17, 1931, p. 200.

(4) Sydney Gazette (SG), 29 April 1824, p. 3; Ferguson, pp. 165-167.

(5) SG, 23 January 1819, p. 3; 24 October 1825, p. 3; 10 November 1825, p. 3; 16 January 1826, pp. 2-3.

(6) Ferguson, pp. 169-170; C.H. Currey, `The Foundation of the Benevolent Society of New South Wales on May 6, 1818', Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, vol. 48, 1962, pp. 2-3, 6-12; SG, 22 January 1814, p. 1; 15 March 1817, p. 2; 20 January 1821, p. 2; 4 October 1822, p. 2; 1 July 1826, p. 2; 9 August 1826, p. 1.

(7) A. Atkinson, `The Free-Born Englishman Transported: Convict Rights as a Measure of Eighteenth-Century Empire', Past and Present, no. 144, 1994, pp. 88, 90; Ferguson, p. 170.

(8) A. Atkinson, `The Unelected Conscience', Quadrant, June 1997, pp. 18, 22.

(9) Sydney Monitor (SM), 19 May 1826, p. 2.

(10) SM, 19 May 1826, p. 2.

(11) SM, 20 October 1826, p. 180.

(12) SM, 10 February 1827, p. 307; 20 April 1827, p. 388; 1 June 1827, p. 420; 5 July 1827, p. 493; 3 September 1827, p. 630; 17 May 1828, p. 1172; 5 June 1830, p. 2; 8 August 1832, p. 2.

(13) Atkinson, `Four Patterns', p. 31.

(14) SM, 1 June 1827, p. 420; 17 May 1828, p. 1172.

(15) SM, 30 October 1830, p. 2; 9 July 1831, p. 2.

(16) SM, 10 December 1827, p. 823. Potts' impertinence earned him seven days solitary confinement.

(17) E. L. Eisenstein, The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1983, pp. 94-95.

(18) D. Kent, `Popular Radicalism and the Swing Riots in Central Hampshire', Hampshire Papers, 11, Hampshire County Council, 1997, pp. 5, 16-17; W. Cobbett, Two-Penny Trash, July 1832, p. 276.

(19) SM, 2 July 1834, p. 2.

(20) SM, 4 March 1834, p. 2.

(21) SM, 2 July 1834, p. 2.

(22) SM, 11 May 1827, p. 410.

(23) SM, 24 May 1834, p. 2.

(24) SM, 5 September 1829, p. 2.

(25) SM, 18 March 1834, p. 2.

(26) Darling to Twiss, 4 July 1829, Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vol. 15, p. 51; R. B. Walker, The Newspaper Press in New South Wales, 1803-1820, Sydney, 1976, pp. 14--15.

(27) Atkinson, `Four Patterns', p. 35; SM, 15 December 1830, p. 2. I am not attempting to provide any detailed statistics in this article. By concentrating only on the Monitor, which of course reported cases it felt were of interest and not every case, I cannot claim to establish any reliable pattern.

(28) SM, 2 May 1832, p. 2.

(29) SM, 24 September 1827, p. 664.

(30) SM, 8 November 1827, p. 751.

(31) SM, 18 May 1831, p. 3.

(32) SM, 10 January 1828, p. 896.

(33) SM, 2 May 1832, p. 2.

(34) SM, 28 January 1828, p. 933.

(35) SM, 22 December 1826, p. 250.

(36) SM, 27 August 1827, p. 611.

(37) SM, 1 November 1828, p. 1381.

(38) SM, 13 November 1830, p. 2.

(39) Atkinson, `Four Patterns', p. 39.

(40) SM, 6 April 1827, p. 372.

(41) SM, 27 August 1827, p. 611.

(42) SM, 3 April 1830, pp. 2-3; Atkinson, `Four Patterns', p. 39.

(43) SM, 4 March 1834, p. 2.

(44) Copy of a Letter from E. S. Hall, dated Sydney, 1st August 1849, and the Reply thereto, on the Subject of Transportation and Convict Discipline, British Parliamentary Papers: Crime and Punishment, Transportation, vol. 8, Sessions 1847-50, Shannon, 1969, pp. 707-27.

(45) SM, 6 January 1827, p. 268.

(46) SM, 6 January 1827, p. 268; 9 April 1828, p. 1088; 3 May 1828, p. 1142.

(47) SM, 30 October 1830, p. 2.

(48) SM, 9 July 1831, p. 2.

(49) SM, 18 August 1832, p. 2.

(50) SM, 9 July 1831, p. 2.

(51) SM, 18 August 1832, pp. 2, 4.

(52) SM, p. 4.

(53) SM, p. 2.

(54) Atkinson, `Four Patterns', p. 36.

(55) SM, 24 October 1829, p. 4.

(56) SM, 24 October 1829, p. 3; 31 March 1830, p. 2; 3 April 1830, p. 2; 21 April 1830, p. 4.

(57) SM, 20 December 1828, p. 1437; 15 August 1829, p. 3; 24 October 1829, p. 3; 19 June 1830, p. 3.

(58) SM, 19 April 1828, p. 1109.

(59) SM, 19 June 1830, p. 3.

(60) SM, 5 July 1828, p. 1246.

(61) SM, 11 September 1830, p. 4.

(62) SM, 8 January 1831, p. 2.

(63) SM, 5 July 1828, p. 3.

(64) SM, 26 March 1828, p. 1062.

(65) SM, 9 March 1827, p. 338; C.H. Currey, Sir Francis Forbes: First Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of New South Wales, Sydney, 1968, pp. 241-243.

(66) SM, 23 April 1828, p. 1117.

(67) SM, 16 August 1828, p. 1293.

(68) SM, 17 November 1830, p. 2.

(69) SM, 20 December 1828, p. 1437.

(70) SM, 22 December 1826, p. 250.

(71) SM, 22 September 1826, p. 149.3
COPYRIGHT 1999 Royal Australian Historical Society
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1999 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

 Reader Opinion




Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Publication:Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Jun 1, 1999
Previous Article:Cardinal Gilroy's Anzac Day problem.
Next Article:Surviving the Peninsular War in Australia: Juan De Arrieta--Spanish free settler and colonial gentleman.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2014 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters