Tuesday, 1 October 2019


Mount Alexander Mail (Vic. : 1854 - 1917), Friday 17 December 1858, page 7
National Library of Australia  http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article199049566

A correspondent has sent to the Times a graphic account of the outbreak of convicts at the Portland Breakwater. Having stated that the force at the disposal of the authorities was 15 wardens and 200 Wexford Militia, and that the convicts numbered 1500, he goes on to say : — The morning was lovely, sunny, and warm, and the work had proceeded for some time as usual, when suddenly a loud yell was raised, and thirty or forty convicts rushed from their work, and, as was preconcerted, jumped on a raised tramway, shouting to their comrades to join them, and pressing forward to the point of concentration. Not an extra guard appeared upon the ground, and to all it seemed as if the authorities were taken completely by surprise ; but at the first rush the pre-arranged signal passed from sentry to sentry, a picket of twelve Wexfords sprang down the side of the quarry, charged in close order with fixed bayonet along the tramway in shorter time than I can describe it, and met the band of conspirators, to their utter astonishment and dismay. They halted, hesitated, and then fled, evidently not relishing the cold gleaming bayonet and the loaded Enfield, and were then driven into corrugated iron sheds erected for shelter in case of rain, where the warders chained them under protection of the guard. But in the meantime the bugle sounded, and armed men sprang from behind the rocks and out of places of concealment, and before the main body of convicts had recovered from their first surprise, every salient point was occupied. The communication between the quarries was cut off, a crossfire established from every side, and reserves held in readiness to assist in case of violence on any part of the works, The effect was instantaneous ; thrown down picks an shovels were resumed with deep and sullen curses, and the captured prisoners marched off to confinement. As the day passed on small spasmodic rushes of desperate men took place, but the swords of the warders and the front of the Wexfords repressed any tendency to violence, and they were easily captured. Some of the convicts admit their plan to have been to rush from all outlying parts of the quarries, to concentrate in the centre, and arm themselves with the tools, such as hammers, picks, &c., then overpower and murder the guards, burn the prison, plunder the villages, and make their escape to the mainland before assistance could arrive. On Tuesday all the convicts appeared sulkily quiet, and proceeded to work as usual, but without any appearance of alacrity, v/hen suddenly the same shouting was heard, and a body of between 20 and 30 were seen rushing from the western quarry towards the centre. These were promptly met by a body of Wexfords on the raised road between the quarries, and the same scene occurred as on the previous day. The conspiracy then assumed the dogged, sullen form of small numbers at a time, or individuals throwing down their tools and Walking quietly into the sheds and surrendering themselves. This continued throughout the day, and partially so on Wednesday, when, the convicts apparently no longer being able to resist the conclusion that they were overpowered, it subsided. 

Sometimes, fate deals you an interesting hand... while looking for a bit more detail on the story above, I came across this article on the ABC site..

I've borrowed a photo but will let you go to the site for more on the story.

List of convicts who are supposed to have escaped from the Colony PR 10587


Williamstown Chronicle (Vic. : 1856 - 1954), Saturday 26 May 1888, page 3 
National Library of Australia  http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article68599799

The names of some of the convicts mentioned are also links to further information about them.

The first page of An Ordinance to provide for the due custody and discipline of Offenders transported to Western Australia; and of certain classes of Offenders sentenced therein to Transportation, 13 Vic No. 1

By " ASYMPTOTE" Williamstown. X.
A peculiar service was once proffered by an old hand to his employer. A man remarkable for shrewdness in discerning the secret intentions of others was this old hand. It was a pitch dark
night, and raining steadily, when this man groped his way through the bush to the manager's house. The object of the visit was to inform the manager that one who was his guest was also his enemy, saying "He (the visitor) means you no good. He is working up a bogus charge against you. Now before it's too late, if you tip me the wink you needn't say do it--all you've got to do is don't say no. Close handy there is a narrow slit in the ground that will, with a pinch, just take him in edgeways,
filled in, and the log of wondo at the side rolled on the top, and set fire to, will burn for a month, and the coppers (police) will never think of looking beneath, for there will be no fresh dug ground to put them on the scent." The manager said: "That gentlemen has come to perform a duty, and must not
be molested. You can have no means of judging whether his intentions are favourable or unfavourable to me."       
"Can't I," rejoined the other, who had a narrow escape from hanging in England, but was willing to risk his life again in return for an almost forgotten service rendered to him by his employer.
"I'am not going to tell you all I know, but I'll just tell a little bit. I twigged the bloke pattering to one of your b--- free men, that you pay such big screws to I knowed it was crooked by their looks, so I watched them go into the  hay-house, and close the door after them. In a little less than no time I
had my eye at a knot hole in the side close to the chaff-cutter. I seed the Victorian that you imported, because you thought you could trust him better then you could my class, he took off the cover of the chaff-cutter, and showed the knives was in bad order. He didn't say as the cutter was left in his charge. The trusses of hay was bound with wire, and a piece had notched one of the knives at the inner end. The hay dragged where the notch was, but was cut by the other knife, and formed a little heap of chaff in the centre twice as long as the rest. 'Just make me up a small parcel of that long
stuff, and I'll take it round and show the directors how the chaff is cut. That will show them how things are managed.' Your trusty Victorian made up the parcel half of the long stuff and half from the heap of sweepings in the corner. I had an axe in my hand, and was very near cracking their cocoa
nuts, but I was disturbed. Now, boss, am I right I" "You may be right in your conjectures as to their intentions, but what a fearful crime you were by an accident prevented from committing."
The only answer given to this was, "Well, boss, I've done worse for less. I'm sorry you won't let me help on, and so you will be before long."
[The gentleman thus coolly proposed to be "put away" is a well-known business man, long connected with Fitzroy.]
Some of the "lifers" are reckless of life, not only the lives of others, but of their own also. One of these men, an excellent worker, and, under ordinary circumstances, a remarkably meek and
inoffensive fellow, was, when provoked a madman. His mates used to insinuate that he had been the death of more than one. Rather than take a circuit of a few yards, he would walk among machinery in motion with the greatest unconcern. He worked at a small circular saw, driven by a long
belt. This belt would sometimes come off the pulley. Hacker had often replaced the belt without taking the trouble to have the engine stopped.
His method was the more expeditious, but it was at the imminent risk of his life. He had been cautioned several times, and. at length threatened dismissal if he persisted in the dangerous
practice. One day the manager was standing, close, to Hacker's saw, when the belt came off." The order was given to stop the engine, but before it could be executed, Hacker had replaced the
belt on the drum. Two or three heavy thuds in rapid succession were heard, and large objects were hurled with the velocity of cannon balls past the bystander's head. Hacker had been caught in the belt, and literally torn to pieces. Within on hour of his death his hub was robbed by his mates, who
seemed to think it the correct thing to do; for they said that money belonging to a dead convict with no relatives was claimed by the Government, and that every old hand, dead, or alive, would rather his mates get the money than the "coppers."
Those who never have had dealings with convicts would scarcely credit the cunning practised by these men. In a workshop, where the foremen spent a considerable portion of the day, and
through which the manager frequently passed, a ticket-of-leave carpenter managed to make all the parts of a cart, including the wheels and shafts, and unobserved to get those parts from the shop to a shed at the rear of his hut. This man was quite indignant when he found by his store and wage
book that he had been charged £10 for labour and material for a cart. He was such an expert burglar that when he was let out on a ticket-of-leave the Comptroller would not let him hire to anyone in the town. He had to go at least thirty miles in the bush. He excelled both in the use and the fabrication of burglars' implements.
The convicts are notoriously improvident, spending the bulk of their earnings in drink. Occasionally they will be exceedingly economical for a few weeks or even months, but these seasons of abstinence are almost invariably for the purpose of having a drunken spree with the money thus accumulated.
They are at once suspicious and trustful. They strongly object to their wages remaining in the hands of a wealthy company, but directly they get their cheques give them to the manager to mind for them, these savings amounting to the aggregate to several hundred pounds. The men contend
that it is useless for them to lay by either for sickness or old age, since for these the Government has provided asylums. And it is a fact that in W.A. he who has been a convict can obtain such relief much more readily than one who has never been convicted, since the Imperial Government provides well for the former, while the Colonial Government makes but inadequate provision for the latter.
As a general rule very good hours were kept in Fremantle and Perth ; for all ticket-of-leave men had to be at home at 10 p.m. Any man seen in the street after that hour was challenged by the police, the first question being "Bond or Free?" The second, "Number?' or "Name?" as the case might be. 
On one occasion the answer to the second question on a constable recently arrived was "Snooks." The constable said. Don't you try on your jokes with me. Again I ask what is your name." Again he was answered "Snooks." 
Whereupon the constable marched him off to the lock up. There the officer in charge exclaimed, "Ah, Mr Snooks, how are you this evening ? What brings you here?" "This constable." Then the officer changed his tone from lively to severe, and turning to the constable asked what explanation he had to give. The constable, thoroughly taken aback was not in fit state of mind to give a lucid ex
planation, but stammered out, 'I-I -brought him here because he said his name was Snooks." 
"And what name should he give but his own?" enquired the officer. To this question the con
stable seemed unable to frame a suitable reply; so he was dismissed with instructions to look after the ticket-of leaves and not run-in gentlemen. 
Some who never were convicts are not infrequently suspected of being sent out at Government expense, and many who were thus sent out take immense trouble to impress a new chum with the notion that they paid their own travelling expenses.
In England, a domestic servant, on leaving a situation, generally receives a written character, which is presented on applying for a fresh place. The English mechanic would scorn either to receive or to present a written character.
He has no objections to a fellow work men verbally giving an employer his character, but he scouts the idea of a written character from one employer to another, deeming the proceeding too much like the custom of a servant of all work. 
In W. A., however, where so many are known to have lost their character, they set great value on a
written one, even when the contained commendation is next to imperceptible. It is not everywhere that characters like the following would be valued highly by those to whom they refer.
"William Sykes was in my employ for a week. He is 5ft. 11in. high, and is 33 years of age. His regulation (prison) number is 1254." 
Or  *"Johnny Donnavon  (Donavon)sold me a load of fire-wood. He finished his time-fourteen years eleven months since. Since then he has been 'run in' (locked up) four times-three -'drunks,' and one disturbance in a mail cart.
(Signed) J. C- , Constable."
Or, "I have known John Hatherson for some years. He never worked for me, nor do I know anyone he has worked for. I believe he is a good locksmith. It was for opening a Chubb's lock without a key that he was sent out in the first vessel that brought out passengers against their will to this colony.
George D -"
But undoubtedly the choicest thing in characters was one sent with a application for the post of book-keeper and storeman. It was written by no less a personage than the Governor of Newgate. The individual for whom it was written was sent out for forgery. It was on a printed form, and was little else than a record that John Calligrapht had resided for a certain period in Newgate. At the time the whole thing was thought to be a joke, and both application and character were thrown into the waste paper basket, and nothing more thought about the matter till the unsuccessful applicant, with the Newgate recommendation, wrote for the return of his"testimonials," and could only be pacified by the manager giving him the following:--"This is to certify that John Calligrapht, formerly of Newgate, forwarded to me, by post, a printed form, on which were entered certain particulars of his stay in that Institution, and signed by the Governor.- This document has been unfortunately mislaid, a circumstance the more to be regretted as the document is highly prized by the owner, and was
undoubtedly genuine, for it bore the Newgate stamp.
(Signed) S. C-, Manager."

*John (Johnny) Donavon... Donovan John 2968 15y 27 Central Criminal Court 23 10 1848 Embezzlement aka [LEARY, James]

Western Australia, Australia, Convict Records, 1846-1930  

Convict Era of Western Australia


The Register News-Pictorial  Adelaide  Letter to Editor  4 Oct 1929

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