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Source.—Historical Records of Australia. Vol. II, p. 128

In 1795, while Great Britain was at war with France, a great rebellion broke out in Ireland. During its suppression many of the Irish were transported to Port Jackson, and caused much trouble and disaffection among the convicts there.

The Irish Political Prisoners TOPICS SPECIFICALLY FOR YOU

Governor Hunter To The Duke Of Portland

Sydney, New South Wales,
15 Feb. 1798.

My Lord Duke,

I have for some time been in doubt whether the representation I am about to make to your Grace should be private or public, but on considering that it might occasion the adoption of some measure interesting to the concerns of this colony, I have preferred the latter mode.

In order that your Grace should have the earliest opportunity of taking into consideration the subject I am about to introduce, I could have wished to have been enabled to communicate it immediately.

To come without further preface to the point in question, I have to inform your Grace that the Irish convicts are become so turbulent, so dissatisfied with their situation here, so extremely insolent, refractory, and troublesome, that, without the most rigid and severe treatment it is impossible for us to receive any labor whatever from them. Your Grace will see the inconvenience which so large a proportion of that ignorant, obstinate, and depraved set of transports occasion in this country by what I now state, and which has taken place since I wrote my letter No. 30, herewith forwarded.

In addition to their natural vicious propensities they have conceived an opinion that there is a colony of white people in some part of this country in which they will receive all the comforts of life without the necessity of labor. They have lately taken away two of our breeding mares to carry them towards that part of the country and have made several attempts to possess themselves of others. This, my Lord, is a serious inconvenience to the colony. The loss of any part of our small stock of these useful animals is a matter of peculiar concern.

A correspondence, it seems, has been carried on by these people from one district to another, and plans have been projected for their escaping from the colony, and a few have attempted by land, as well as by water, and for the want of our having earlier information they have succeeded. I have found it necessary to divide them as much as possible, to prevent such schemes being formed; but by this separation they have a better opportunity of irritating and inflaming the minds of those convicts who before such acquaintance have been found of better disposition.

Having already mentioned in my letter, No. 30, the escape of those who had taken away two of our boats, and the disappointment of another gang, and similar attempt, I have now to inform your Grace of a far more numerous gang, who had provided what they thought necessary for their expedition, had fixed upon the place of general rendezvous, and were furnished with a paper of written instructions how they were to travel in point of direction from hence to this fancied paradise, or to China.

This paper of directions will warrant my suspicion that some wicked and disaffected person or persons lurk somewhere in this colony, and I have done all in my power to discover them, but hitherto without success. Having received early information of the intention of this party, who were said to have increased to about sixty, I planted a party of armed constables, on whose vigilance I could depend, and they secured a gang of these Defenders of about twenty and brought them to prison.

The next day I spoke to them, but observing a considerable degree of obstinacy and ignorance about them, I conceived there could be no better argument used to convince them of their misconduct than a severe corporal punishment, which was inflicted, and they have since been strictly looked after at their work. Some of those fellows had been provided with a figure of a compass drawn upon paper which, with written instructions, was to have assisted them as their guide. The ignorance of these deluded people, my Lord, would scarcely be credited if such positive proof of it were not before us, and yet (which seems to imply a kind of contradiction) it is extraordinary with what art and cunning they form their horrible plans of wickedness and villainy.

In their schemes of desertion from the colony, their own death, if they succeed in getting away, is inevitable; but their minds have been worked up to such a pitch of folly, rashness, and absurdity, that nothing but experience will convince them; if we suffer them to escape into the country they are lost, not only to us but to the world, for perish they must.

For the sake, therefore, of humanity, and a strong desire to save these men, worthless as they are, from impending death, I ordered four of the strongest and hardiest of their numbers to be selected by the people themselves, and to prepare for a journey of discovery for the satisfaction of their associates, in order that they might have an opportunity of relating upon their return whatever they saw and met with.

I had, farther, for the safety and preservation of those four, directed three people, long accustomed to the woods, and acquainted with some of the mountain savages, to accompany them; these men had also a little knowledge of the language of the savages, from having lived some months amongst them, and they were instructed to lead them back when, fatigued and exhausted with their journey over steep and rocky mountains, through thick and extensive woods, and fording deep and rapid rivers, they should feel disposed to abandon their journey.

This plan was no sooner settled than I received information that a party of these miscreants had agreed with the four above-mentioned to meet them at a certain place absolutely to murder the very persons intended to be their guides, and to possess themselves of their arms and munitions and provisions, in addition to what each was supplied with, and to take their own route. These circumstances will, no doubt, appear to your Grace wild and extravagant; but after having mentioned their ignorance in the manner I have it may serve to convince your Grace that there are improper persons in this colony who work upon that ignorance to a dangerous degree. In consequence of the information of this design against their guides, I ordered four soldiers to attend them to the foot of the first mountain with orders how to act if any others attempted to join them; none appeared, and the whole of them returned with the soldiers, most completely sick of their journey.

Our flocks and our crops, my Lord, are all I feel any concern about; strict, rigid, and just punishment shall constantly hang over these delinquents, and this, I trust, they are already convinced of. I hope the return of the above three, and the story they can tell, will serve to make them more contented with their present lot, and open their eyes to the comforts which in this country they may derive and enjoy, and which are certainly superior to any they ever possessed in their own.

Strange as such instances of human ignorance and depravity are, I have to inform your Grace that a small party of those very people, some short time after, actually contrived to make their escape, and after traveling for many weeks through the country, made shift to reach the sea-coast, near Botany Bay, but in a part where no boat has ever been seen. Providentially, however, a boat had lost her way in going to George’s River and found those unhappy deluded wretches, on a place where they had been nine days, and where they must soon have perished but for this miraculous event. They were brought back almost exhausted from want of food, and from sad and powerful conviction have promised to warn their countrymen against such wild excursions in future.

I will here take an opportunity of mentioning that those men who had left a part of their crew upon an island to the southward, and had returned and taken a larger boat at Broken Bay, and had been wrecked upon the coast to the northward, built out of the ruins of their vessel a small boat in which they reached the above Bay; but not being able to possess themselves of another, fit for their purpose, were, for want of food, driven to the necessity of traveling across the country; they wrote to me, but it was impossible to listen to their feigned story; they were armed and carried some appearance of an intention to defend themselves; they, however, surrendered themselves up, and were tried and severally pleaded guilty of the robberies wherewith they were charged, and two out of the six suffered death—an awful example, which, I hope, will have a proper effect and prevent such attempts in future. Several of them assured me that they had seen the wreck of the first boat—which I mentioned in my letter No. 30—and it is very probable the crew have perished.

I have, etc.,
Jno. Hunter

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