Norfolk Island (1844 - 1846)


Major Childs took over as Commandant in February 1844. There were only 33 New Hands left, and about 500 Old Hands. Lord Stanley had directed that he "should be a strict disciplinarian, allowing none of Maconochie's 'indulgences' to remain but adhering strictly to the Regulations laid down by Government for twice-convicted men". These regulations were:
1.  Each convict must perform compulsory labour not for himself but for the Government. Compulsory and unrequited toil must be the rule and steadfastly adhered to.
2.  No marks for good behaviour or good work, no private gardens where a man might work for himself.
3.  The lash was to be brought back, and used.
This was what was in store for the 500 convicts left on the Island and all the doubly convicted men soon to come. For the Old Hands it was back to the old style, and for those who had known Maconochie's rule but had not profited by it, the implacable regulations and unremitting toil was soon to teach them.
Informers were again the rule. A man could be brought into the Magistrate's court for the slightest breach whether intentional or not. There were to be grades of punishment for various crimes. Ministers of religion were to give reports on their church members. Prevention of 'moral evils' would be punished with inflexible vigour.
'Moral evils' or 'Unnatural crime' as it was sometimes called, plain homosexuality was regarded with utter horror by the authorities and even Maconochie meted out a lashing for such a crime. It was an inevitable result of so many men living so closely together, often 60 or more in one 'ward' and locked in from eight in the evening till dawn. Newcomers were usually the prime targets, especially those direct from England. Some were taken by force, others were 'courted' by proffering extra rations or other small favours. The crime was said to have increased during Maconochie's time, but he maintained it was not so.
"I rooted it out whenever 1 met it," he said, "and followed each case to a finish, requiring proof, then meting out punishment. In this way more cases were recorded during my time, whereas at other times evidence has been withheld, and no-one came forward except to deny the accusations."
Major Childs however, was not the strong character that Maconochie was. He also had the contumacious Magistrate Barrow to contend with.
At that time, the Agriculture Superintendent was a fiery Scot, Gilbert Robertson, who had come from Hobart town in semi-disgrace after speaking out against Governor Arthur's Convict System. Of Samuel Barrow's time on Norfolk Island he wrote "...Barrow's arrival on Norfolk was a most unfortunate event for Major Childs as well as the wretched convicts. Every effort was used to swell the record of crimes alleged to have been committed, new offences created, men of the worst character selected as constables to provoke convicts to commit crimes. Some of the men Barrow got from Hobart Town with tickets-of-leave as free or paid police, who were permitted to annoy many of the superior as well as all subordinate officers who did not agree with or become subservient to Barrow.
Childs had a horror of Barrow's police system but was unable to stand out against him and his autocratic powers...In 11 months he attended no religious services...He sent prisoners in chains to work on Saturday afternoons free time as part of punishment and one time an overseer was murdered."

A few of the prisoners sent to Norfolk Island just before Maconochie left had, of course remained. Among the 33 'New Hands' at that lime was John Frederick Mortlock, a highly educated man sentenced to 21 years' transportation for attacking one of his relatives, a Professor at Cambridge University, over a family financial matter of inheritance. On his release Mortlock wrote EXPERIENCES OF A CONVICT detailing his life in Van Dieman's Land, Norfolk Island and New South Wales. He was about 35 years old when he arrived on Norfolk Island, and was engaged as tutor to the young son of Mr Gilbert Robertson the Agricultural Superintendent and Deputy Commandant.
Robertson had gone to the Island ahead of his wife and four daughters and they arrived on Norfolk only months before Mortlock's term of two years was up. He greatly admired Elizabeth, the eldest daughter. Elizabeth was then 23, very delicate, high-principled and unmarried.
"The eldest guardian angel of the family became my favourite," he wrote, "Most deeply did I grieve at the tidings of her death some months after I had left the Island"
Elizabeth White Robertson died of consumption in January 1847 and is buried in the Old Cemetery on Norfolk Island. Writing of his period on the Island while Maconochic was still Commandant, Mortlock says,
"Swimming from point to point and climbing over cliffs at the risk of my neck . . . I scrambled round every foot of the coast. In the spring, whales were common, turtles rare. From acorns planted 50 years ago have sprung three oaks in the Governor's Garden at Orange Vale. Sweet potatoes grew to an enormous size. When boiled and mixed with maize meal it made palatable bread. By burning some in a shovel we made 'Scotch Coffee' a capital substitute for real Mocha."
Of his time under Major Childs he wrote,
"Many of my shipmates were flogged daily in the barrack yard under my window, on complaint made with a wicked purpose by their overseer. Although I could shut my eyes, the horrid sound of the 'cat' upon naked flesh, like the crack of a cart whip tortured my ears. It was reported to me that in former days a man having expired under the lash the flagellator continued to inflict stripes upon the corpse until he had completed the number awarded. Petty dogs-in-office would commonly threaten to see the back-bone!"

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Usual punishments during Child's time were 50 to 300 lashes for crimes ranging from insolence to 'unnatural offences', imprisonment in dark underground cells for 30 to 60 days or as long as 90. This was infinitely more dreaded than lashes, Mortlock says. Certain crimes brought two years in the gaol gang with heavy irons crossed from hand to leg, and work throughout the heat of the day in stone quarry or lime shed. Some men, held by who knows what strength had incredible powers of endurance, but many died. He wrote,
"Among the Old Hands a properly shaped head was a rarity, as was an agreeable well-formed mouth. Great numbers of men had long upper lips and most had large noses. In summer we wore duck frocks and trowsers, shirt, and straw hat, with a jacket for the cooler months. The sun burnt men's bodies almost black, and when they bathed these men had a curious piebald look. Shepherds and stock-keepers, better behaved convicts who had served some time with good behaviour, lived three in a but at various places romantically situated ... able to grow their own fruit and tobacco and go fishing also. Gardeners working for the Commandant and Military officers took eggs and poultry on the sly and carried on an underhand traffic among the soldiers and their wives, for sugar and tea money."
Mortlock was lucky in that he was isolated a good deal from the bitter, hardened 'Old Hands' in the gaol. These men had their leaders, known as 'The Ring' whose precinct was the lumberyard, a walled section of the prison where workshops lined two sides. When the Ring was gathered in the Lumber Yard and a wanted man had put himself among them as a kind of 'sanctuary' it was more than a constable's life was worth to go in and arrest him. The whole body of men would surround the culprit and draw their knives in defiance. This in turn led to constables trafficking with the 'Old Hands' from fear of reprisals. There was no 'moral persuasion' to do the right thing any more, no incentive for the men, even had they been inclined, to look upwards rather than into the slime of corruption everywhere around them.
In January1846 the men of the Ring refused work for five days. They said the food was so bad not even hogs would eat it. In February they did the same, going to work only when surrounded by soldiers armed and ready to fire. Goaded by hunger, constant punishments everlasting toil and rotten food, the withdrawal of all privileges such as gardens allowed in Maconochie's time, the men were ripe for mutiny. Flash-point came when in June 1846 an arbitrary order ostensibly from Childs but actually thought up by Magistrate Barrow, was issued to the overseers to remove all cooking pots and kettles from the convicts. These kettles and pannikins were often made by the men for their own use. They prepared their uncooked rations after the weighing and issuing of them by the cooks. Barrow, with Major Child's assent, decided that this custom led to the favouring of a few, notably the men of the 'Ring' and should be put an end to. All food would, in future, be cooked and served in the cookhouse.
That night after lock-up, the pots, kettles and pannikins were collected and put in the locker-room. The men discovered what had been done next morning and a couple of them broke open the locker-room and retrieved their cooking-pots. Breakfast was taken, and apart from mutterings and curses no violence took place.
Suddenly, as if his self-control had finally given way William Westwood yelled "Follow me! We will kill all the…" and seizing a hatchet he rushed from the yard, followed by a dozen or so others. "Follow me and you follow to the gallows!" he yelled. Some held back, but a press of others crowded out, grabbing billets of wood, axes, spades and hoes, anything that came to hand. A constable barred their way and Westwood struck him down. Stephen Smith, the overseer, hid behind the cookhouse door but Jacky-Jacky Westwood had seen him, rushed in and with a blow, splattered his brains over wall and floor. "On! On!" he shouted as he reached the gaol gates and sighted a constable's hut with door partially open. Crazy for blood, he split one man's skull, attacked the other still in bed and rained blow after blow, until he, too was dead in a pool of blood.
The outbreak lasted no more than half an hour before soldiers rounded up Westwood and the others. Every man with blood on his clothes was seized and put in cells. All the 'Ring' was rounded up and gaoled. Fifty-two men were ironed, and 26 committed for trial later, when a Judge was sent from Van Dieman's land to conduct the trial, which took place on 23rd September. Fourteen of the prisoners were tried first and the rest after the so-called 'ringleaders' had been sentenced.
Jacky-Jacky asserted from the start that only he had done all the killings, but of the 14, 12 were sentenced to hang. There was no defence counsel.
On 13th October all the convicts were paraded at the Gallows to watch as the 12 men were led out, wrists tied, and sent to their death by the hangman. Jacky-Jacky's death-struggles lasted longer than the others but when all was over the bodies were cut down, piled on three bullock-carts and taken to a disused sawpit outside the cemetery where they were unceremoniously buried in a communal grave.
Before he died, Jacky-Jacky had written his life-story, at the suggestion of the Anglican chaplain, Reverend T. Rogers. Jacky-Jacky was so restless and so desperate for just one day of freedom before he died that he tried impossible plans to escape, at one stage almost sawing through a great ceiling-beam. Had he succeeded in climbing to the roof he would have been shot or captured instantly, but for one moment of light and freedom he was willing to try. So to calm him, Rogers gave him paper and pen and set him to work.
"I was born and bred in Maunden, Essex, and had good parents who tried to give me a good education but at 16 was taken up for robbery and committed to Chelmsford gaol in 1835. I got off with 12 months through the intercession of parents and because of my youth, but soon forgot and on 3rd January 1837 was again tried for robbery and being an 'old' offender got 14 years' transportation."

- During 1844 & 1845, Edmund Woodward was on detachment to Norfolk Island. See Date-line.