Logan's Yoke

[Text corrected by mark gregory 2011]


(We have received the following letter. It is substantially the same as the original, save that we have altered obscure sentences and varied the arrangement a good deal. The writer had put down his thoughts as they occurred, without regard to unity of subject. We return him thanks in the name of the wretches at Moreton Bay, whose sufferings he may rest assured will be ordered by the British Government to be mitigated, the moment these exposures come to their knowledge. Such deeds require only to be brought to the light, to be condemned, and the policy which caused their existence, to be censured and-changed) :—

Sydney, 8th August, 1830.

    I read your letter to Mr. Jephson with mournful, and, if I may use such an expression with bitter satisfaction. I am a relative of one of the Australian youths at Moreton Bay; and I now proceed to give you an account of further deeds of cruelty practised at that dreadful settlement. I can give you the names of men, both free and bond, who can vouch for every tittle I am about to relate; but I must do so privately, as my informants all dread the consequences of being found to have had any communication with your paper; the men who are still prisoners for obvious reasons; the freed men, who have returned thence, because they are generally poor and friendless, and find it difficult in the present depressed state of trade and farming, to get employment—how much more if they were known to the town and country magistracy to have been informers against the Government would it be difficult for them to earn their bread? Many of these men look to the Government for preferment. The overseers of the gangs at Moreton Bay are some of the most ferocious of the human race. Indeed, were they not men of singular rigour of mind, it is impossible they could impeach their gangs as they do. Yet these men, on their arrival in Sydney, are often promoted. if they bring a character from the Commandant, they are pretty certain of being promoted, either to be wardsmen, constables, overseers; sub-clerks, or to some other kind of humble situation. Numbers are thus promoted, whose characters if estimated by the rules which regulate character in other societies, would be found inferior to that of hundreds of their fellow freed men, who can get nothing done for them.

The Members of Parliament, Sir, whom you are in the habit of addressing, and the British public in general, may think it strange that the Government, in appointing men to be wardsmen, constables, or overseers, should prefer men who have been twice and thrice convicted, to others who have become free without being a second time transported. Yet this practice obtains largely under the present Administration. I could give you the names of many overseers, constables, and wardsmen, returned felons from the penal settlements, who are now in office, while hundreds of ticket-of-leave men and freed men of good character, cannot obtain such promotion.

But, Sir, to proceed more immediately to my subject. There is scarcely any condition of misery in which a multitude is involved, but the propensities of man will break out, however opposed in nature to the wide wasting terror which makes all tremble in turn. Thus the humour of some of the prisoners at Moreton Bay caused them to designate those days when the commandant set apart for punishing the men, "Logan's field days ;" and the place of punishment "the convincing ground."

    On one of those days, twelve men were selected from one gang, and fourteen from other gangs, for this new method of convincing. The punishment commenced at 9 o'clock on the [smudge] of April, and finished at sun-down About 3300 lashes were given on that day. Three or four floggers were usually in requisition on those days; with cats equal to a mano'-war's cat, and their orders are, to strike firmly but slowly. This is the reason that 3300 lashes take up so much time administering at Moreton-bay. The charge laid against these men, was the old hacknied fault of "neglect of work."

    When the punishment was going on, several of the soldiers fainted. The convicts believed they fell down from sickness at heart, in seeing the flesh torn in minute pieces from the backs of the culprits, and the blood trickling down into their trowsers. In the course of the day, a prisoner, who stood ready to receive his punishment in turn, was observed to fall. On examining him, it was found he had unbuttoned his trowsers and cut a large incision in a part which delicacy forbids me to name. He said he wished to bleed himself to death, to avoid the punishment. He was wheeled to the hospital in a band-barrow, first, however, being hand-cuffed.

    The Commandant once visited Sydney for about two months. On his return, the list of offences were handed to him, the Acting Commandant not having punished any one since the departure of his superior. A field day was ordered. All the prisoners, and troops attended on the "convincing ground" as usual, and the culprits were placed by themselves, in order to go to the triangles. The Commandant was on horse-back the field day before. This day he was on foot, attended by the superintendents, overseers, &c. All the prisoners and troops were present. He asked an overseer named ---- what he had to say against ----? Answer, that he had struck another man with a hoe. The culprit was tied up and received 300 lashes.
New cats were always made every field-day. The cords are about the thickness of a tobacco-pipe, and are whipped at the end with wax, three knots in each lash. Three floggers administered the punishment, giving twenty-five lashes each turn and turn about.

    Six more were then punished for attempting to run away. Their defence was, that a kangaroo ran by, and being very hungry they were desirous to knock it down, and for that purpose ran after it a short distance. Sentence 200 lashes each; which was accordingly administered. No other trial. No clerk in waiting with pen and ink to enter the complaint and defence in a book. This I suppose was done afterwards. This field-day happened on a Wednesday. One of the six died on the following Friday. No doubt of "an inward complaint." But at all events he was in apparent health (though rather lean like the rest) when he took his punishment. Indeed, unless the prisoners were half-starved, it is impossible in so hot a country they could bear the incredible scourgings they receive But they have no humours in their blood. The generality of convicts too, are men of sound constitution—very hardy. It is impossible their flesh should ever inflame. They are just like this respect. You may cut the men into pieces and join them again, and their wounds are sure to heal.

    There are two kind of "field-days." One an itinerant or missionary, field-day, when the Commandant goes round from gang to gang, and directs the overseers to pick out "the skulkers," who are then tied to a tree and flogged then and there, with fifty or a hundred a piece ; and parade field-days, when the convicts; and troops, and staff, all assemble on "the convincing ground." A man named ---- had very nearly died after his punishment. This man seemed to suffer dreadfully from his torture. He writhed his body about a great deal. On which the Commandant called out for the left-handed flogger, and ordered him to commence on the other shoulder, being, as he said, the only way to keep him upright. This, on the whole, was a good thing for the sufferer. For as the first flogger kept the usual time, the left-handed scourger, was obliged to plant his strokes alternately with those of the right-hand man, by which the culprit got through the punishment in half the time. When the left handed flogger commenced, the head of the sufferer gradually drooped till it fell rather backwards over one of his shoulders. He never cried out, and seemed in a state of insensibility; and some thought he was dead, while they were flogging him. He hung by his wrists. When taken down, he fell and did not move. But water being thrown over him, he recovered from his stupor, and on being supported by two men on each side of him who held him up, he dragged his legs after him to the hospital; which was close by.

    The indulgence of going to the hospital is seldom allowed men who are punished. They almost invariably go their work immediately afterwards, and no abatement is made from their task on that account. The man who was punished by two floggers at once, was in the hospital five weeks. He was very nearly gone once or twice. But it is said, he got wine, and that unusual care was taken of him. One of the other five being already dead, the Doctor began to think, I suppose. they might all die! The flogging on this last field-day, began at about 11 or 12 o'clock, and finished at sundown. Next morning, the remainder of the offenders were tried (on the "convincing ground") and punished. Their flogging began at daylight, and finished about ten o'clock. Four were punished with two hundred each, for attempting to get out of barracks when locked in. None of these men died.

    I forgot to mention, that the Commandant, previously to commencing the amusement on the first of these gala days, informed the prisoners and troops, that he had authority from the Governor to punish the former with as many as five hundred lashes, in case he considered they deserved it. I also omitted to notice, that the man who cut his lower extremities in order to avoid the punishment, by bleeding himself to death, was, for that offence against his own person, sentenced to seven years to the cells. After about three weeks solitary confinement, his labours were deemed too valuable to be lost, for he was let out; that is, to his work. But after his work was done he was handed regularly to his cell! There he is now, eking out his wretched existence. And there, I feel confident, Mr. Editor, he will continue to be, unless your publication of the dying testimony of the murderer Matthews, may induce the Commandant to reflect a little, and consider, that seven years solitary confinement, for attempting to put an end to his own life, is rather too severe. A prisoner named ---- was flogged at 11 o'clock, for neglect of work, and immediately set to his work again. At 3 o'clock of the same day, he was again reported as a skulker, and flogged a second time! This is the first instance perhaps, since the world began, that a man should have been scourged for two offences of the same kind in one day, whether Heathen or Christian history be consulted; the crime being of such a nature as to render its avoidance, after the first punishment, almost impossible.

    A prisoner named ----, transported from England direct to Moreton Bay, had received a hundred lashes for running away. He received a second hundred at a subsequent period for maiming himself to avoid the severe labour he was put to. He took up an axe and chopped the back of his left hand. And for a subsequent attempt at murder, he received 200 more. The man denied this last charge very earnestly. It was made by a man who was notorious for "splitting" on his fellow prisoners as it is called, in order to curry favour with the overseer. The informer swore, that the man had asked for a knife in order to go and "settle" another man. This last man had been away nine months, and had been I brought in by the native blacks out of the bush only ten days before. Nobody believed the charge. The same informer it was, who reported the men who had been charged with attempting to run away when they only ran after a kangaroo. This informer I expect to hear of being murdered some day or other, on account of his bringing so many men under punishment. A returned transport informed me, that he heard scores of the prisoners say, they were so miserable, they would certainly murder some one or other, in order to go up to Sydney to be hanged. They argued this way. They said, that for murder, they would not be flogged. That they would have a belly-full after they left the settlement. That going up to Sydney, and passing the ordeal of the trial, would be a solemn novelty, far preferable to their present misery. They would have the priest or the chaplain to help them to prepare for the other world, and that to die under such circumstances was far preferable to perpetual hunger, scourging, and the terror of mind they now endured.

    Three men at different times put their threats in force, namely, Thomas Matthews, whose dying letter Sir you published; Thomas Hallen or Allen, James Pringer, and ---- Sullivan. Two or three of these wretched men particularly wished to kill one ---- who, like the informer above-mentioned. was always lodging some complaint against the men, to curry favour with the authorities there. But the intended victim, was aware of them, and they could not get at hint when they had tools in their hands. For, to have a knife or other weapon in their possession after work-hours, is sure to be punished with fifty. So at last, at different times, they severally killed the first man they could cleave down at one blow; for which purpose, they generally selected the weakest man in the gang. I am informed, that many are much afraid of these murderers, that is, of others who still threaten to murder some one, from a like feeling, and that the men always kept a sharp look-out after such intending man slayers.

     The man who was hung last in Sydney, for a murder at Moreton Bay, had been beaten by one ---- an overseer (since rewarded with a wardsmanship in Sydney.) The overseer complained of this to the Commandant, and the latter ordered the man two hundred for his insubordinate behaviour. A fortnight afterwards, the very same overseer was broke, and put into a gang; and of course slept at night in the common barracks. The murderer in question, resolved to kill him; and he stole an axe for that purpose. But the ex-overseer happened that night, when the murderer was fully prepared, to sleep next the friend of the murderer, and it being dark, the latter could ot distinguish between them. Rather than murder his friend, and at the same time being determined not to miss so good an opportunity, as the stolen axe afforded him, he killed another man in his stead! This is what he explained after he was committed by the Commandant to take his trial at Sydney for the murder. The man he picked out as the next best victim, was one who had been the means of getting a man flogged a little time before.

The three murderers, Matthews, Allen, and Pringer, had special reasons to be tired of their lives. For a period of twelve months before, or thereabouts, they had been punished with a double allowance of irons about their legs, and had been put on short allowance of meat. Their small pittance of sugar and tobacco, had also been stopt from them.

    The punishment of the tread-mill was formerly dreadful, because the men were obliged to step in their irons. But after a man was killed through this plan, the irons were taken off. The practice in this punishment is, to place a couple of floggers with cats beneath the mill, The men work in a shirt or a pair of trowsers—some prefer to be quite naked, on account of the immense perspiration. When from weakness they miss the step, they have to hang by their hands. And the steps of the wheel rubbing against their feet, shins, knees, and thighs; gives them such pain that they drop off. When down, the floggers begin a their duty, until they get up, and run to the side of the wheel, to mount again. A man, on an occasion of this kind, in his hurry to escape from the lash, missed his footing, and his leg passing through the end of the wheel, it was broken. Another man who fell from the wheel, never rose more. He died. My informant could never learn the particulars. The authorities said, that he also died "of an inward complaint."

    The sentences to the mill vary from seven to twenty-eight days. The culprits only get half their allowance of meat. Their pittance of sugar and tobacco is also withdrawn during the time they are on the mill, though the extraordinary degree of perspiration they go through would require a double allowance of food. The stepping hours are in winter from six to twelve, and from one to six. In summer, from half-past four to twelve, and from one to seven. When the men stepped in irons, they had to lift, of course, every step, from seven to fourteen pounds weight. Consequently, from poor living, they were not quick enough; and so were continually falling off—when they were flogged up again. Weakness is invariably attributed at Morton Bay to skulking and obstinacy. The skulkers accordingly were tied to the bar above the mill with a cord. It was then extremely difficult for them to keep the step. Thus these men had to hang by their wrists, the steps all the time chafing their shins and thighs. This for half an hour was worse than a flogging. The custom is, to have two parties to the mill. One party step half an hour, and then rest half an hour, and the other party take their place. Thus they rest and step, every alternate half hour.

    The men at Moreton Bay are in their feeding, treated much the same as the wild beasts at Exeter Change, only that they are not half so full-fed. There was a time when they had utensils, knives and forks and spoons allowed them. But the Commandant has caused all these to disappear, particularly the knives. At four in the morning, winter and summer, the cook brings in a kid of ominy (made of maize meal and water boiled together). A man from each mess, rises, and takes his kid, places it by his fellows, and lies down for half an hour longer, They 'rise' just before day-light, and the kid is divided into six heaps. Some times these heaps are thrown on the plank floor, sometimes on a blanket, and sometimes on a frock, according to the taste of the parties. The stronger man always gets the best share, and the weaker of course dare not grumble. Some put it into their mouths with their fingers, and some with pieces of broad chip, or a marrow-bone flattened. But having no knives to make them, a spoon of this description is a valuable luxury. No fire—no light—not even a tobacco-pipe alight.. The men lie on the naked plank floor, and some have no blanket. None more than one, and that one, such as no decent free man in Sydney would. use—very thin. The men, from working in. a tropical sun, shiver at night, and are very wretched. Some cannot sleep even when their backs are not sore. And hence, they conceive the idea of escaping to Sydney by means of murder.

   This, Sir, is the situation of the poor native youths at Moreton Bay, who were brought up, not effeminately indeed, but with every real comfort. Their dinner is taken into the field. When boiled, their meat, very inferior, weighs (bone and all) about 8 or 10 ounces—it should be a pound before boiled. They gnaw their meat and bread, not being allowed knives. At one time, the Commandant did not allow them water enough to drink at their work, and they suffered much from thirst. This lately has been remedied. They are allowed water now, but sometimes they run short even of this necessary article, which is a hardship they have no right endure. But punishment being the object of the settlement, the sufferings of, the men are all accounted proper and official, let them be of whatever sort they may. For supper, the men sometimes make a rush to the swamp, and, pulling up the flags, the roots of which are eatable and are good for pigs, gnaw them greedily. No other supper is allowed them. They are liable to be punished for this sort of supper. Some have died of the dysentery through it.

    The tubs set in the sleeping barrack are emptied every morning but not cleansed. In consequence, the smell in summer is horrible. If a convict bring a bed with him to the settlement, it is taken from him. He is only allowed his blanket.

    In the corn harvest, the men are worked on Sundays as well as on week-days. Yet in the week-days the harvesting is not performed by all the men. If it were, there would be no occasion to work on Sundays. Thus three months in the year are these men, in a Christian land, where missionaries are sent to convert aborigines and the South-sea Islanders, do the Authorities, in order to add the labour of their victims beyond the law, violate the Sabbath day. That is to say, they flog and starve the convicts for their sins against God and man, and then they themselves commit one of the greatest sins, according to Judge Hale, that can be committed against that God, whom Jews and Christians believe in and worship. Three years ago the men were worked on Sundays all the year round, and instances are not wanting of their being flogged on Sundays!

    Putrid hawks, crows, and native dogs, are greedily devoured, when luckily found.

    A convict once called out "here," instead of "here, Sir." The Commandmant flew into one of his fits of rage, and swore he would flog every tenth man of them, unless they pointed out the "d----d scoundrel." The men being silent, the tenth was singled out, and twenty-five or fifty was given him then and there. But the punished man was not the criminal!

    The Rev. Mr. Vincent can tell his own tale. I will, however, relate one anecdote for him, in order to exhibit the singular disposition of the Commandant, not only towards the convicts, but also to commissioned officers, whom he would abuse and take by the collar without ceremony; that is to say, when they would allow him. There were those, however, whom he dared not even speak to improperly. Ensign •••• was one of the latter.

    Mr. Vincent made a complaint of having had stolen from him some tea and sugar. The suspected thieves, from strong circumstantial evidence, were sentenced to be flogged. Mr. Vincent, a very worthy gentleman, begged them off. The Commandant said, the Rev. Chaplain was not to trifle with him in that manner; accordingly, he not only ordered the men to be flogged, but he directed the triangles to be removed opposite to the house of the worthy and humane Clergyman, whose family accordingly were thus afflicted with the cries of the sufferers.

    The convict women refusing on one occasion to work at the hoe in the tropical sun of Moreton Bay, their heads were shaven, iron collars were put about their necks with chains attached, reaching from collar to collar; by which they became chained together; men's irons were put about their legs, and they were made to go to Church without their caps, so that their bald heads might be exhibited to the troops, and the Convicts. Thus the House of God was converted into a place of punishment. It wanted but the triangles erected in it to make the profanation complete, and to constitute it a second "convincing ground." Yet the Commandant belongs to a nation which affects great love for the souls of the convicts and aborigines, regard for the honour of the Saviour, and sends Missionaries of all sorts to convert them! And the Government which belauds and cherishes these missions, supports notwithstanding a Commandant in such sort of pranks for four years!

    After the exposures in your Journal Sir of the conduct of Commandants, it has been common for this Government to hasten to pass some high eulogium on such officers ; by which you have become the medium of making the fortunes of those gentlemen. Thus Captain Crotty was publicly eulogised soon after your exposure of the affairs of Port Macquarie; and after the trial of Captain Wright for the murder of Patrick Clynch, he was presented with a handsome salary as Police Magistrate, and the following panegyric appeared in the official Journal of May last on that auspicious and judicious appointment.

    "We were not aware at the time of our last publication, that the 'THOMAS WRIGHT, Esq.' appointed a Magistrate by the Government Notice of the 28t ult. was our old friend 'Captain Wright of the 39th Regiment': but such turns out to be the fact. He is about to proceed to Emu Plains, to fill the office of Police & Magistrate for that district; and we mention this with the greater pleasure, as it plainly shows that notwithstanding the many daring attempts which have been made to ruin his character, he stands as high as ever in the estimation of his General and Governor."—Sydney Gazette, May 1830.

    Now therefore Sir, after the late exposures of the conduct of the officers at Moreton Bay, I am fully prepared to see in the official Journal a handsome eulogium from His Excellency's pen on Captain Logan.

         I am, Sir, your humble Servant,


P.S. I had forgotten to mention another singular, but highly characteristic habit of the Commandant and Surgeon. Every morning, one of the Superintendents sings out to the Gangs before they go to their work, "who is for the Hospital this morning ?" The men who feel too ill, either from internal sickness or from severe flogging, to go their work, turn out. But woe betide them if the surgeon in feeling their pulse, differ from them in opinion ! In that case they are turned back. It is considered then to have been an attempt to skulk ; and such sickly skulkers, previously to falling to work, are regularly anointed with fifty each ! 

The Surgeon there may, for what I can prove to the contrary, deserve the complaints of the Convicts as little as the Commandant. Both he and Capt. Logan may be the wisest and most humane of men for what I know of my own knowledge ; and the Convicts on the Other hand. may all be incurable devils. But at all events, the latter display a greater aversion, if greater can possibly exist, from the Surgeon than from the Commandant. They all testify to a man, that the latter neither would nor could dare to use such rigour to them, if the Surgeon did not enter heartily into the severe policy of the Commandant, and take pleasure with him in keeping them under their present discipline. My informant tells me, that he never saw the Surgeon feel the mens' pulse while they were being flogged, at least when he was present, not even that man's pulse who died; nor yet his, who so nearly died (by means of the left handed flogger.) But the Surgeon stood chatting and laughing along with the Commandant during the execution, as though it were a real military field day, and not a solemn spectacle. If His Majesty's Ministers ever direct an investigation into the severities of Moreton Bay, the Surgeon will not, as in ordinary cases, be a proper witness to examine on the part of the Inquiry. If the Commandant be right; the Surgeon is right—if wrong, the Surgeon is wrong. The Surgeon must stand or fall with the Commandant. 

The rations vary at Moreton Bay. Formerly they had no supper. But when the last maize became ripe, a supper of ominy was given them equal to their breakfast. The men improved in flesh in a month. In the year 1828 the men were put on short allowance of bread for four or five months, namely, a pound of very bad wheaten meal bread. It was full of gravel by some means. The same labour is exacted by the overseers whether the ration be small or large. Last summer twelve- months, when ominy was given them to breakfast after a short allowance of bread food, a great number of the men died. They attributed this to the constitutions of many of them being unable to bear fuller feeding, after an over-worked half starved habit.
    A Gentleman called on us this week in our prison to say, that a friend of his, who considered it dangerous to have his name mentioned it the affair, had read to him (in order that he might convey it to us) an extract from a letter which he had just received from England, which stated, that "they could not gain from the Colonial newspapers all the information they wanted regarding the state of the country, its advantages and disadvantages as a place to emigrate to. They had seen The Sydney Gazette, but that seemed to be a ministerial paper. The Sydney Monitor also they had seen; that was better; as it gave more general information of the state of the country." 

    Thus it appears, that Messrs Mansfield and Rubio's gross exaggerations respecting the fertility of the Colony, and the popularity and liberality of General Darling, Mr. M'Leay, the two families, with all their extended ramifications, and with Mr. Hely at their head superintending the convict mechanics for them, does not take at home! Vile as The Sydney Monitor is held by these worthies to be, it appears to gain more credit at home than "the official," notwithstanding its superabundant TRUTH and LOGICAL REASONING ! 

    But why was the worthy receiver of the letter delicate in not wishing his name to be mentioned to us? We will state to our London readers why. The Colonists here know, that when Mr. John Stephen a year back or more received a letter from his lady (who then resided in London), she casually mentioned a rumour of Governor Darling being likely to be superseded. Mr. John Stephen happened to mention this, as a great secret, to some of his friends. But he became Gregsonised. The secret got to the voracious ears of Gregson's patron! And the latter posted off to His Excellency in double quick time, with the news. Poor Mr. John Stephen fell into disgrace! He lost all his Court Influence and honours! And General Darling, with magnanimous wrath, wrote home a formal complaint to Sir George Murray. And here we could "a tale unfold," which would make the office of the Under Secretary of State (Mr. Twiss) look very queer in the eyes of the world and of the opposition members of Parliament–but we must forbear.

Captain Logan
How closely this report in a Sydney newspaper fits with the ballads about Morton Bay Penal Settlement!

The description of the commandant Captain Patrick Logan and his regime of terror above was passed down in song to be collected from the Creswick ballad singer Simon McDonald in 1960, 130 years after this letter was published.

As in much of MacNamara's poetry a few short lines defiantly document the prisoners feelings about their situation and named those responsible.

Perhaps that is why they were not published in the poet's lifetime and only survived in oral tradition.

For three long years I was beastly treated
And heavy irons on my legs I wore
My back from flogging was lacerated
And oft-times painted with crimson gore

Like the Egyptians and ancient Hebrews
We were oppressed under Logan's yoke
But a native black there lay in ambush
Did give this tyrant a mortal stroke

Now fellow prisoners be exhilarated
That all such monsters such death may find
And when from bondage we are liberated
From our former sufferings shall fade from mind

See Morton Bay and The Convict's Arrival in this collection.