Chapter Twenty-Five


THE STORE SHIP Gorgon had arrived in the midst of all the questionable ships of the Third Fleet. “I will not say that we contemplated its approach with mingled sensations,” wrote Tench, by now a veteran of such arrivals. “We hailed it with rapture and exultation.” Gorgon contained six months' full provisions for about 900 people, with stores for His Majesty's armed tender the Supply and for the marine detachment as well. Lieutenant King, having returned to England to be married, arrived back on the Gorgon with the new rank of commander, accompanied by his wife, Anna Josepha Coombe, a generous-spirited woman who would look to the welfare of his children by the convict Ann Innett as well as to that of the child she herself was carrying. King had been frank about them before marrying Anna Josepha at St. Martin-in-the-Fields between successful conferences with Sir Joseph Banks, Grenville, and Nepean. He had returned with assurances about ongoing support for New South Wales. These verbal guarantees must have been crucial in convincing Phillip that the settlement was now, for all its hungry times and desperate internal pressures, assured, and fixed in the map of the Britannic world.

Indeed, an extraordinary validating device had arrived on the Gorgon and been delivered to Phillip's office at Government House. It was the Great Seal of New South Wales. On the obverse, the King's arms with the royal titles in the margin; on the reverse, an image of convicts landing at Botany Bay, greeted by the goddess Industry. Surrounded by her symbols, a bale of merchandise, a beehive, a pick-axe, and a shovel, she releases them from their fetters and points to oxen ploughing, and to a town rising on the summit of a hill with a fort for its protection. In the bay, the masts of a ship are to be seen. In the margin lie the words Sigillum Nov. Camb. Aust. ( “Seal of New South Wales”); and for a motto, Sic Fortis Etruria Crevit, “In this way Etruria grew strong”—a reference to Etruria having once received the criminals of other places.

King would go back to administering Norfolk Island, and took his young son Norfolk and the infant, Sydney (and perhaps even their mother), with him to raise them alongside the son borne by Anna Josepha, Phillip. He would ultimately have the three of them educated in England. Having made the dangerous island landfall in November 1791 and relieved Major Ross of his post, King received a group of convicts who brought a petition which claimed that they had been “forced into independent habits” they could not sustain, and that they would never meet the major's harvest targets. Though this petition was signed by less than half of the people in allotments, King would order the pigs returned to government ownership, and abandoned the socialist project, applying Phillip's style of governance from then on.

In his review of the island administration, he would find the superintendent of convicts at Queensborough, the little inland settlement, unsatisfactory, and would appoint the Irish surgeon D'Arcy Wentworth in his place. Wentworth, said Phillip, “had behaved with the greatest attention and propriety as assistant-surgeon, which duty he still continued to discharge.” The Irish tearaway had become a minor imperial official.

But enduring exile in his little house at Queensborough, Wentworth still felt uncertain about his situation. He had earlier written to Governor Phillip to seek a clarification of when his posts might become official. The governor replied through David Collins, saying that both Hunter and Jamison had praised him, and that he would finalise his future residence and employment as soon as he received directions from England. The frustration for Wentworth was that both his positions were described as “acting,” and carried no salary except as a prospect. He privately despaired of ever being a man of substance, and thought that the people at home on whom he had relied to advance his interests either had been lazy about arguing on his behalf or had been rebuffed by the government.

At least at Queensborough, Wentworth was some miles away from the centre of turbulence down at Kingston, the main settlement on the coast. His home was idyllically located. Ten acres of wheat and thirty of Indian corn grew there, and all those who occupied the place were concerned that it should ripen and come to harvest without ground grubs or caterpillars inflicting damage on it. The convict women of Queensborough were cutting reeds for thatching roofs; the men were widening the road between the inland and the coast. There must sometimes have been a not unpleasant atmosphere of combined endeavour, but if so, there were many discontents and much malice close to the Arcadian surface. Queensborough had its own gaol and stocks to accommodate the imperfections of its inhabitants, and Clark, so quick to detect fault in the convicts, was stationed now at nearby Phillipsburgh.

In narrow Norfolk, where Wentworth continued to cohabit with Catherine Crowley, there were rumours that he was already married in England, and doubts must have been muttered about her child's paternity, given that D'Arcy did not come aboard the Surprize until December 1789. Nonetheless, D'Arcy remained devoted to the boy, and his generous spirit extended to his relationships with others on the island. Authority had not made him a martinet, and he was well liked by gentlemen and convicts both, because of his democratic manner. Without being a philosopher, he had imbibed some of the spirit of democracy driving the American and French Revolutions and the coming transsectarian rebellion of United Irishmen, many of them of his class and higher, which would break out in Ireland in 1798. He had also had many lessons in the fragility of life, and of the thin filament that lay between respectable and criminal society. Norfolk Island was his purgatory, and during it, as superintendent at Queensborough, he developed a gift for supervising agricultural work and for breeding livestock.

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FROM THE MODEST BRIG Active, which arrived in Sydney Cove on 26 September 1791, came Sydney's first genuine celebrity criminal, an Irishman named George Barrington. D'Arcy Wentworth had been a considerable gentleman of the road, but Barrington was a brand name of crime, like Jesse James or Al Capone. His origins were, as people said then, mysterious. He was sent to Dublin Grammar School at the instigation of people in authority, and a rumour was spread that he was of royal descent. At Dublin Grammar he stabbed another school boy in a fight, was flogged, and in response stole money and a watch and ran away. He joined a band of strolling players, and was taught by an expert actor-pickpocket, who took him to London as his young protégé. In 1773, his senior partner was transported to America.

As his own operator, George Barrington achieved the status of prince of pickpockets, living splendidly despite having to spend a year in the hulks. The victims of his confidence tricks and lifting skills included the Russian Prince Orlov, from whose pocket he extracted at Covent Garden Theatre a snuff-box inlaid with diamonds and said to be worth £30,000. Various peers of the realm were caught out by Barrington, and some of “the brightest luminaries in the globe of London.” Tried at the Old Bailey in September 1790 for stealing a gold watch and chain at the Enfield racecourse, he was sentenced to transportation for the light term of seven years. The press reported that he had attempted to escape from Newgate in his wife's clothes, and that he had commiserated with other rogues in the general wards about the fact that they were all to be sent to a country where the natives had no pockets to pick.

After his transportation, his name still remained in use in British truecrime pamphlets and chapbooks. Having been the generic gentleman pickpocket, he now became the generic redeemed thief, and the idea of New South Wales as a place of redemption for deficient Britons gained great currency. In 1793 a small but popular tract named An Impartial and Circumstantial Narrative of the Present State of Botany Bay, and in 1802, The History of New South Wales, would be published under his name, but may or may not have come from his hand. In the second, more credible, book, he is quoted as saying that the appearance of the convicts at the time his ship arrived was truly deplorable, “the generality of them being emaciated by disease, foul air, etc., and those who laboured under no bodily disorder, from the scantiness of their allowance, were in a bitter plight.”

Phillip, meeting Barrington, found him sober-minded, as if transportation had had an impact on his legendary flamboyance. He was sent to work at Toongabbie, west of Sydney, where he began his convict life in a hut shared with lower-class criminals. They no doubt found sharing their table with him a great privilege and novelty, and pressed him for stories of his glittering, bold career. Though Barrington no doubt satisfied these demands, his seriousness, probably arising in part from depression, lasted, and on the basis of his changed demeanour and his “irreproachable conduct,” he was quickly appointed a superintendent of convicts and ultimately to the night watch. Barrington had found in Parramatta a life not utterly lacking in pleasure: “having had several young native dogs given to me, from time to time, I take great delight in kangaroo hunting, it is not only an agreeable exercise, but produces a dish for the table, nearly as good as mutton and in the present dearth of livestock is not an unacceptable present.”

BY THE THIRD FLEET, Governor Phillip received from Secretary of State Grenville an answer to his earlier petition for leave. Grenville said he was concerned that the situation of Phillip's private affairs would not be such as to intrude on his services in New South Wales, which “are so extremely important to the public. I cannot, therefore, refrain from expressing my earnest hope … that you may be able, without material inconvenience, to continue in your government for a short time longer.”

But it was intended that the bulk of the marine garrison, now relieved by the purpose-recruited New South Wales Corps, return to England on the Gorgon. In deciding what to do, Lieutenant Collins was caught between his dislike of Captain Nepean of the New South Wales Corps and his detestation of the departing Major Ross. Had Collins given up his task as judge-advocate and governor's secretary, for which he received only half-pay, and returned to a full-paid but purely military function, he would have been reduced to serving in New South Wales as junior to Nepean, and would have found that distasteful. “I have no prospect of getting on in the army, and I very much dislike the generality of the officers who compose the Corps.” But though he mentions his wife Maria's letters, and worries about her welfare, there is no hint of longing to be back with her via Gorgon in his remarks, even accounting for the reserve that was natural to him. Indeed, he was in an association with Ann Yeates, alias Nancy, the young milliner from Lady Penrhyn, who had borne him two sons.

As for returning on the Gorgon, Major Ross took his passage in that ship, “and with him I would not sail were wealth and honours to attend me when I landed.” In reality, however, Collins could not reconcile it to his mind to leave Governor Phillip, “with whom I have now lived so long, that I am blended in every concern of his.” Even so, the work he had to do for Phillip “is increased to more than double what it was at first, and my salary has decreased one-half of what it was at first.” But for the moment, stay he did, even though he felt he was spending the prime of his life at the furthest part of the world, “without credit, without, or with but very little, profit, secluded from my family, my connections, from the world, under constant apprehensions of being starved, and constantly living on a reduced ration of provisions.”

Collins was disgruntled that though the masters of the Third Fleet ships admitted they could have brought out a further thousand tons of provisions, instead they had loaded up with copper, iron, steel, and cordage for sale at Bombay “on account of their owners.” Dependent for his survival on this strange balance of beneficence and greed in shipping merchants, he decided ultimately that he would seek permission to go home and take “the first opportunity that offers of escaping from a country that is nothing better than a place of banishment for the outcasts of society.”

MEANWHILE, IN DISTANT KOEPANG, in Dutch Timor, some of Bryant's party of escapees had taken jobs. “We remained very happy at our work for two months,” said Martin, “till Wm Bryant had words with his wife, went and informed against himself, wife and children and all of us … we was immediately taken prisoners and was put in the castle.”

Tench, who would later investigate the case, wrote: “The Dutch received them with kindness, and treated them with hospitality; but their behaviour giving rise to suspicions, they were watched; and one of them at last, in a moment of intoxication, betrayed the secret. They were immediately secured, and committed to prison.”

Their imprisonment does not seem to have been severe and they were allowed out of the castle two at a time for whole days, and this continued until the arrival of another group of British, the worst group possible for Will and Mary Bryant. Captain Edward Edwards of HMS Pandora had been sent to Tahiti to round up the men who had mutinied on the Bounty. Fletcher Christian and a small group of others, knowing that such vengeance would be dispatched, had sailed away on the seized Bounty across the Pacific towards South America to remote Pitcairn Island, where they could continue to enjoy a form of freedom. The majority remained on the far more kindly islands of Tahiti. There Captain Edwards, “a cold, hard man devoid of sympathy and imagination,” arrived on Pandora on 23 March 1791, about the same time the Bryant party was escaping Sydney. He found fourteen mutineers and detained them on board the Pandora in a structure 11 feet long and 18 feet wide that he had built on the outer quarterdeck. This imprisonment shed would become known in infamy as “Pandora's box.” The only entry was by way of an iron hatch on top, and inside the box the mutineers were attached by leg irons to heavy ring bolts. Pandora headed across the Pacific towards the northern tip of the Australian east coast and through Torres Strait, intending to return its prisoners to England by way of Batavia and Cape Town. Instead she ran aground on an outcrop of the Great Barrier Reef. A few of the prisoners from Pandora's box were released immediately to work at the pumps, but the rest were left chained inside. As the ship sank, three more were let out, but the hatch was again slammed down, closed, and barred. The bosun's mate delayed taking to the sea himself to unbar the manhole to let the rest out, some of whom were picked up by the ship's boats.

On a little island where the survivors gathered and boats were prepared for the row to Timor, the mutineers were not allowed the use of tents, and they were put to the oars mercilessly by Edwards. They got more sympathy from the surgeon, Hamilton, who would also extend many clemencies to Mary Bryant, her children, and her colleagues when the whole group reached Timor in September.

If, as Martin said, it was Bryant who gave the group away while drunk, they were all to pay a massive price for it now that Edwards had appeared. In the castle at Koepang, without the help of the Dutch colonial police, Edwards interrogated the prisoners one by one. “We told him we was convicts and had made our escape from Botany Bay,” wrote Martin. “He told us we was his prisoners.” They were no longer allowed any freedom of movement. Edwards had already shown a tendency to care not so much for bringing his captives back to England for punishment as accounting for them. His behaviour during the wreck of the Pandora, even taking into account his many distractions, was not that of a man who wanted at all cost to save the lives of the Bounty mutineers and bring them to trial.

By early October 1791, Edwards had chartered a Dutch vessel, the Rembang, to take himself and his crew, his Bounty prisoners, and his “Botany Bay ten,” to Batavia. He put the Bryants and their party below decks clamped in bilboes, “irons attached to a long sliding iron bar to confine the prisoner, fastened at one end to the floor by a lock.”

On the way to Batavia, off the island of Flores, the Rembang ran into a cyclone. “In a few minutes,” wrote the surgeon of the lost Pandora, “every sail of the ship was shivered to pieces; the pumps all choked and useless, the leaks gaining fast upon us.” The Rembang was being driven towards a lee shore seven miles away, but the cyclone passed before she was smashed against it.

Batavia, near the northern end of Java, was the chief port of the Dutch East India Company in the Indonesian islands. A magnificent Dutch town square opened up from the harbour, just as in Cape Town. Here, where the jungle still pressed close, could be found the same enterprising Calvinist mind as existed in any other Dutch principality, and the Dutch themselves were said to thrive on the swampy exhalations of the place. But for everyone else it seemed to be, to quote Surgeon Hamilton, a “painted sepulchre, this Golgotha of Europe which buries the whole settlement every five years.”

The Botany Bay ten were put aboard a Dutch East India Company ship lying in the roads of Batavia. Smothering heat hung over them and an unhealthy damp filled their prison deck like mist. There are no accounts, either from the party itself or from observers, of bitter recriminations amongst the group, even though survival seemed unlikely. Mary knew, however, that if she could get her two children back to England alive, they would have the privilege of breathing softer air. For many others of the party, death seemed an intimate certainty.

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