An Exile's Lamentation

[Extract from Thomas Cook, The Exile's Lamentation, North Sydney: Library of Australian History, 1978, pp. 43-44.]

[Report from a convict who spent time on the Phoenix Hulk in Sydney Harbour in 1836]

I was arraigned in the Quarter Sessions in May, 1836, and on of Guilty the plea of "Forgery" was sentenced to transportation to Norfolk Island for life.

I was accordingly removed to that floating Den of Infamy, the hulk Phoenix, until opportunity offered for the Shipment of a draft of re-convicted prisoners to that place.

During my stay on board, scenes of depravity which human nature shudders to contemplate were exhibited with apparent delight. Nor were the means as resorted to by the Keeper for the punishment of slight Offences, at all calculated to lessen the successful spread of so demoralizing a contagion. The men of the adjoining Cell to that in which I and 9 others were chained, had been smoking a Tobacco pipe one Evening, contrary to the Rules of the Establishment, when the Keeper came to our Cell and charged us as the Offenders.

He sent for 10 pairs of Handcuffs, took our shirts, Blankets and clothes away, and manacling each of our hands behind our backs, he reefed the legs, which were very heavily Ironed, to the upper part of the Iron Staunchions of the Cell by means of a Bar outside, with the whole weight of our chains and bodies pressing on our Shoulder blades for the night, in a state of perfect Nudity. By the following morning, and for two days afterwards, I could scarcely regain the use of my Arms.

I have also seen men in a similar position, with the additional torture of a gagging instrument to silence their Cries, and the throwing of Buckets of Water over them when in that state. Numerous complaints had been made to the Authorities, but the capabilities of the Keeper and his aidants were such, that no prisoner could withstand the case they would make out to render futile the complainants' assertions; and thus these Outrages upon humanity commissioned with impunity.

The Keeper's predecessor, Captain Murray, who had practised similar cruelties, died in a state of Mental derangement, and the one in question (Mr McKeig) laboured under a similar malady, brought on by the excessive use of Ardent Spirits and it is to be hoped the Almighty had received their Souls.