Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Story of John Best - Part 3

[I've taken some small liberties in compiling this reconstruction of events. I felt it was necessary in order to paint a clear word picture of what might have occurred - but it's all based closely on fact. I'll progressivley update John's story if I become aware of more detail. Submit a comment if you want to ask me about any particular matter - fact or fiction. Regards, J1A]

Sunday, 7 June 1818.
Although Minerva had reached Hobart, the convicts were kept on board for almost a week. Two convicts had departed Ireland under execution warrants - George Grey (murder) and William Trimm (sheep stealing). A sombre mood among the convicts must have deepened as guards arrived to escort Grey and Trimm from their Minerva holding cell and out onto the long boat lying alongside.



Once ashore, they were marched a short distance to the Hobart Town Prisoner’s Barracks (which evolved into Hobart Gaol two or three years later). For these two convicts, the “attention and offices” of the Reverend Robert (Bobbie) Knopwood were “constant”. Knopwood’s efforts were later recognised by the press as helping to ease the state of mind of each man “... which enabled them to meet their fate with decency and resignation.”
 
Thursday 11 June 1818
At 11.00am, Grey and Trimm were hanged on the gallows in the grounds of the Barracks. The quick execution sent a loud message to the rest of the Minerva convicts – welcome to Van Diemen’s Land, you are here to serve out your sentence ... better behave chaps or this could be your fate.

Also on the 11th of June 1818, the convict ship Lady Castlereagh arrived in Hobart from Port Jackson. Then there were two ships full of convict labour in a small town in urgent need of all forms of skilled and unskilled labour. Hobart was a town growing quickly and settlers were taking up land beyond the township.  Lieutenant-Governor of Van Diemen’s Land, Col. William Sorell, recognised that manual labour was an urgent requirement for the settlers if the tiny population was to survive and prosper.

Friday 12 June 1818
On this day, the commander of the 48th Regiment, Major William Nairn, brought several guards and officials aboard the Minerva. The officials were probably:
  • Lieutenant-Governor Sorell’s secretary - Samuel Hood,
  • Chief of Police - Adolarius William Henry Humphrey,
  • Thomas Edward Wells - Sorell’s Chief Clerk; and
  • William Adams Brodribb - also a member of Sorell's Secretarial suite.
(Both Wells and Brodribb were convicts from England who had arrived about 2 years earlier at Port Jackson. By virtue of their administrative skills (clerk and lawyer, respectively) they found favour with the powers that be and became part of Col. Sorell’s team when he travelled to Van Diemen’s Land in 1817 to take up his post as Lieutenant Governor).
 
The guards brought with them an issue of new clothes and the convicts were instructed to change into them (having been washed in the ship's bath in the preceding days). It was mid-winter, so the new clothing was well received. They were issued:
  • 1 cloth jacket,
  • 1 cap,
  • 1 pair of cloth trousers, 
  • 1 pair of shoes; and
  • 1 cotton shirt.
 
Major Nairn had a muster of the convicts.  The group - Nairn, Hood, Humphrey, Wells and Brodbribb - walked through the decks of the Minerva.  As they went, Hood interviewed each convict and recorded their trade or calling and marked those that he ‘considered fit for government employ’. He might have asked “What was your occupation before you were convicted? What skills do you have, fellow?”  Mr Humphrey recorded all the details on the muster. A guard directed each convict to strip to the waist. The physical description of each man and any identifying marks were recorded. This would help the authorities and the free population to identify any convict should he abscond. They recorded the description of each convict on the muster as they made their way through the ship. Thomas Wells assigned to settlers any convicts who had not been earmarked for government employ.  On the muster, Brodribb pencilled in the settler's name against each convict. Despite his arrival as a convict in Sydney only two years earlier, Wells enjoyed such confidence as to have custody of the convict indents and to make out occupation licences.
 
As an example of how things went, some of the determinations went as follows:
 
John Traynor:  after stating he was a labourer, Wells checked his behaviour record. Well behaved. At 22 years of age, Wells decided he would most useful as an assigned convict and allocated him to a settler by the name of William Raynor.

Patrick McGarrell:  a 27 year old cooper by trade, McGarrell had been allocated to a work gang.

John Bell: a 35 year old labourer from County Antrim. According to the record, Wells allocated him to “W & B”. This was an abbreviation for Wells and Brodribb. Wells had begun the process of selecting workers for the farms that he owned and jointly operated with William Brodribb.

Leslie Ferguson: a 17 year old who had been a servant back in Ireland. Ferguson’s record showed ‘Very well behaved”. Wells allocated Ferguson to “W & B”. He probably thought he was getting a great long term worker in Ferguson, but little did he know that this young man would be trouble!

And so the process went.

When they arrived at John Best, his physical features were recorded thus:
  • Age: 35
  • Height: 5' 4½"
  • Colour of eyes: hazel
  • Colour of hair: black
  • Complexion: sallow
  • General remarks: well behaved
John explained to the officials that he had been a labourer and a herdsman. This appealed to Wells. He harboured plans to make his personal fortune by growing fine quality wool and exporting it back to England, probably inspired by the success of John MacArthur in NSW. John Best’s experience with herding animals was ideal. Wells might have said: “Best, my name is Thomas Wells and next to me is Mr Brodribb with whom I jointly operate a farm. You’ll be working for me. A Mr John Johnston will be your overseer, under my direction. Mr Johnston will remove you to Friendly Farms within a day or so; he is busy readying accommodation for my new servants right now. Do exactly as Mr Johnston tells you at all times and you’ll be alright”.

"W & B" notation against John Best's name on the indent list.

Wells assigned Brian Bennett to Mr Richard Barker, a free settler resident in Hobart but with land at Macquarie Plains, in the middle reaches of the Derwent River valley, upstream from New Norfolk.
At the end of the process, Wells had assigned the following men to work for himself and Brodribb:
  • John Bell (to Wells),
  • Leslie Ferguson (to Wells),
  • John Best (to Wells),
  • George White (to Wells); and
  • James Forsyth (to Brodribb).
 
Saturday 13 June 1818
The relief column of 48th Regiment soldiers that had arrived on Minerva and Lady Castlereagh and the Minerva convicts disembarked and went ashore, the convicts under the watchful eyes of the soldiers. They came ashore on Hunter Island (present day Hunter Street wharf) near the Government Stores building.
 
The soldiers then marched the Minerva convicts up Campbell Street to the Prisoner’s Barracks (between present day Melville and Brisbane Streets). Although not a long walk, the convicts were shackled in leg irons. With little fitness remaining after 6 months aboard a ship, this exertion must have tested them, especially the older men.

John Best must have wondered what was about to happen to him. How was his life of hell in Van Diemen’s Land going to pan out?

Once inside the walls of the Barracks, the gates were locked.  The Minerva men were taken to the courtyard.  There was a gathering awaiting their arrival. Those present included:
  • Lieutenant-Governor of Van Diemen’s Land - Col. William Sorell (the head honcho in V.D.L.),
  • the Chief of Police - Adolarius Humphrey; and
  • Col. Sorell’s secretarial suite (or administrative officers), comprising Sorell’s secretary, Samuel Hood, Thomas Wells and William Adams Brodribb.
With the convicts assembled, Lt. Governor Sorell inspected the convicts and then delivered a brief address. Sorell commenced with his approval of their clean appearance and their correct conduct whilst on board. They were told that good behaviour would be to their advantage, and they would be treated kindly. Sorell warned those who had been reported as disorderly by the Surgeon-Superintendent, that they should be more circumspect and they would be watched by the police.

Convicts intended for public works were then inspected by Sorell for his approval for such public employment and then put to labour in the public works. Convicts that had been assigned to settlers were then collected by their respective new 'masters'. John Johnston had arrived at the Barracks with a bullock and cart (in 1818, there were very few horses in Van Diemen's Land).  Those convicts assigned to Wells and Brodribb, to their surprise and great relief, had their shackles removed. Johnston advised them there was no escaping Van Diemen’s Land; quite simply there was nowhere to go, no way to leave the island. Restraints were thus unnecessary. But he also left them in no doubt they remained prisoners and subject to further punishment for any misdemeanour.

Johnston led the five W & B men out of the Barracks to his bullock-drawn cart waiting nearby. Johnstone climbed into the driver’s seat.  One convict climbed up and sat beside him while the others, perhaps, sat on a hay bale in the tray.  They left the Barracks and made their way slowly northward up Campbell Street.  They headed out past the town boundary and then along a rough but well used track towards Wells and Brodribbs' Friendly Farms, where the Hobart suburb of Newtown sits today, a trek of about 10 kilometres.
 
John Best and his fellow convicts George White, Leslie Ferguson and John Bell are driven to Friendly Farms at Newtown. June 1818





The forced removal of John Best from his Irish homeland by the British government was now complete.

Go forward to read The Story of John Best - Part 4

Go back to read The Story of John Best - Part 2.

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