IN consequence of our directions for that purpose near two years ago, we have just received a file of newspapers from the far distant land to which our convicts for many years last past are transported, viz. New South Wales; first and still commonly called Botany Bay. This vehicle of news and advertisements[Note 1] is well printed, and tolerably edited, on half, and sometimes a quarter, of a sheet of paper. The printer and editor is George Howe, sent thither a transport, convicted of a highway robbery. This man was a journeyman printer in London, until he commenced highwayman, and from the number of his escapes both on the road, and at the bar of justice, he was called Lucky George. In the infant state of the colony, it was found necessary to print the different orders of the governor, and the regulations laid down by the government of England. George Howe was the lucky convict who was honoured with the situation of government printer, and which he still retains. His types and office were found by the governor; and in place of working with his brother and sister convicts on the roads, or in the fields, lucky George lived at his ease; and, had he been commonly assiduous and sober, might have accumulated wealth. His career of plunder was indeed of necessity stopped; but he retained his propensity to the bottle, and an incorrigible partiality for laziness.[Note 2]
During the government of Commodore Bligh there were several executions of convicts, for different crimes against the state; but his successors have been extremely reluctant in taking the lives forfeited to the laws, by generally commuting the sentence of death to that of transportation to smaller governments, at a distance from the large town of Sydney.[Note 3] Whilst Colonel Lachlan Macquarie was governor, he entirely dispensed with capital punishments, which was found more beneficial to the colony; such examples tending to harden, rather than terrify men from violent breaches of the law.
At the Court of Criminal Jurisdiction,[Note 4] held at the town of Sydney on Friday the 12th day of September 1809, (in the language of Lucky George the printer) John Gondreu (a convict) was indicted, for having, in company with one Thomas Dobson, burglariously broke and entered the dwelling house of Thomas Harley, a settler at a plantation called "There and nowhere else;" and forcibly taking from thence certain articles of plate, wearing apparel, &c. named in the indictment. Evidence for the prosecution being called—
Thomas Harley (convict, then a settler,) deposed, that on Friday the 17th of June last he went to bed about seven in the evening—that he heard a noise of dogs at a distance upon which a Daniel Fogherty, a stockman, said he overheard some people talking to Richard Broadbent, who inhabited a hut not more than thirty yards from Harley's dwelling—that he then heard some persons beating his dogs, and afterwards heard Fogherty attacked—that the latter begged of him to fire through his door, for he expected to be murdered—that the window of his own bedroom was broken open, and a pistol presented at him through it, by the prisoner at the bar, as he said he had much reason to believe—that Broadbent said they were constables come to search the place—that he called Broadbent to his assistance, but he did not come—that he at length opened the door of his house, on doing which he was knocked down and violently beaten—that the prisoner at the bar, to whose person and voice he now positively swore, made use of many threats to him, and compelled him to quit the house, which two of his accomplices remained in and ransacked—that the prisoner at the bar conducted him to the hut of Broadbent, in which the deponents Fogherty and Broadbent were confined about three quarters of an hour—that after the prisoner at the bar and his accomplices had entered into his, the deponent's, dwelling house, seven or eight minutes must have elapsed before he was ordered to leave it, during which interval he had an ample opportunity of identifying the person of the prisoner, as there was a large fire in the room, which gave a strong light—that the face of the prisoner was a little blackened, but not sufficiently to disguise him—that after they had plundered the house they went off with their booty, leaving him utterly distressed;—and that those who had rummaged the house had stripped his daughter of ten years of age stark naked, and obliged her to get under the bedstead out of the way, the villians having emptied the feathers of the bed itself, and taken away the tick.
The next evidence called was Richard Broadbent, (convict) upon whom suspicion having fallen of his having a connection in the robbery, he had been admitted king's evidence. This man had been a convict servant allowed by government to Harley the prosecutor; but being indulged with permission to go upon his own hands, was about to leave his master's premises, and, as already stated by Harley's testimony, occupied a hut, about thirty yards from his own dwelling. This evidence being sworn deposed, that on the evening mentioned he heard a noise which the dogs made about seven at night; and on his going to the door to enquire what occasioned it, he saw three men, one of whom was Thomas Dowling, another, to the best of his belief, was the prisoner at the bar, but that the third he could say nothing of—that one of those men was armed with a blunderbuss, or short gun, and the other with a horse pistol. In other parts of his evidence he merely corroborated that given by the first witness; but incurring the charge of intentional prevarication, he was ordered into custody.
Here the evidence on the part of the prosecution closed; and the prisoner being put on his defence, set up an alibi, in illustration of which, Martin Dogherty (convict) deposed to seeing him almost at sun down, and afterwards at seven o'clock on the evening of the robbery at his own house, which was at the Nepean river, a distance of more than twenty miles.
William Nye (convict) deposed also to his seeing the prisoner at the bar at the Nepean about sun down; but, from a comparison of this man's testimony with the foregoing, a strong contradiction of the evidence of one or the other appeared in point of time. Daniel Fogherty (convict) gave testimony in the prisoner's favour; but it was merely grounded upon opinion, and given in an incoherent manner.
Here terminated the prisoner's defence; and the Court being cleared of strangers;[Note 5] re-opened in about twenty minutes, when a verdict was pronounced—Guilty. The judge advocate addressed the unfortunate man in language suited to the melancholy situation in which, unhappily, his crimes had placed him. The judge expatiated at much length upon the enormity of the offence of which he had been convicted; and exhorted him to apply the remaining interval that might be allowed him in this world to the more essential duties of repentance, from which he could only hope for consolation in the latter moments of existence. As soon as the verdict was pronounced, the unfortunate culprit gave evident marks of an affliction not to be described. He repeatedly called for the protection of heaven to the wretched family he was now doomed to leave; and when the awful sentence of condemnation was passed, he shrieked aloud, and fell upon his knees, imploring pity. The scene was very affecting. An unfortunate fellow creature had by his crimes brought himself to the awful verge of eternity; but was not yet quite so callous to the natural feelings of humanity, as to hear, unmoved, a doom which was to separate him for ever from his unhappy offspring! Pity it is that this the strongest of sensations ever should be lulled by the unruly dictates of a vicious inclination, which in the end invariably draws vengeance on itself.
In the case of John Gondreu we have a variety of matters for contemplation. A crime, of the blackest description perpetrated by a man already a felon—transported from his injured country by offending the laws—a robbery on the spot of his banishment. Then we find him tried for his latter offence by a Military Court, which, sitting as judge and jury, convict, and sentence him to death. We see the workings of all powerful nature in a hardened sinner looking at death; and, last of all, we read the moralizing on his fate of his brother convict, the printer, George Howe, alias Lucky George.
We have observed that of late years the sentence of death had not been carried into execution in Botany Bay. Mercy was even extended to Gondreu, upon the condition named in the following
"The Lieutenant Governor has been pleased to extend the royal mercy to John Gondreu, condemned to death by the late Criminal Court, on condition of his serving for life as a convict within this territory.
"By command of his Honour,
"The Lieutenant Governor,
"JAMES FINUCANE; Secretary."
"Head Quarters, Sydney,
September 19th, 1809.
Note 1: Of advertisements, we observe many, and some extremely curious; but, generally upon subjects different to that of our work. One however, so forcibly struck us, that we do not hesitate giving it to our readers. It appeared in "The Sydney Gazette, and New South Wales Advertiser," Saturday April 28th 1810.
"Books. Any person or persons, who may have borrowed three volumes of the NEWGATE CALENDAR, from Mr. Nichols, is requested to return them. On the first leaf of each is a COAT of ARMS. If not restored, the person in whose possession either may hereafter be found will be prosecuted."
Note 2: Darcy Wentworth, once a famous highwayman on the roads leading to the metropolis, became a Botany Bay ESQUIRE—nay, by virtue of two offices under government. He was surgeon-general, a justice of the peace, and a trustee for the public roads.
Andrew Thompson, also a convict, was another ESQUIRE, at Hawkesbury.
Simeon Lord, a third convict, an ESQUIRE, Justice at Sydney. His worship, Lord, built the largest private house, stores, and warehouses, and was one of the first merchants under the government.
Isaac Nichols, transported for stealing a Jack-Ass, was a principal superintendent of convicts, and built himself a house and store-house, nearly equal to his fellow-convict, Lord.
Note 3: This town is above a mile in length, contains several streets, and about two thousand inhabitants. The whole colony can muster eight thousand white souls, all from the British dominions.
Note 4: This Court is held at the will of the governor, as occasion may require. It is composed of officers, one half military, and the other naval, who are both judges and jurors, under the direction of a judge advocate.
Note 5: This is the proceeding of all Courts Martial—the members deliberating, convicting, or acquitting, and pronouncing judgment, with closed doors. In Botany Bay, all are under martial law.