The difficulty of access and the barren nature of the surrounding country combined to render the spot inadequate to the growing necessities of the colony. Prisoners were arriving in shiploads, and it was necessary to find for them some more convenient place of settlement. Moreover, Governor Arthur seemed to have learnt that his officers were too far from his control. Rumours of gross abuse of power among the resident officers were current in Hobart Town, and public attention was particularly excited by the revelations incident upon the execution of two men for the murder of their companion, “in order to get a holiday.” The accounts of the conduct of the establishment were perhaps highly coloured, but sufficiently true in the main to cause Arthur’s resolutions to be universally applauded.
I have already given some description of the settlement itself; let me here add an account of the voyage to it. In 1832, James Backhouse, the good Quaker missionary, to whose simply-written narrative I have before referred, visited “Hell’s Gates” in the Government brig “Tamar.” “There were in the cabin,” he says—
|“John Burn, the captain for the voyage, Henry Herberg, the mate, David Hoy, a ship’s carpenter, Jno. A. Manton, George W. Walker, and myself. Ten private soldiers and a sergeant, as a guard, occupied a portion of the hold, in which there were also provisions for the penal settlement, and a flock of sheep. Two soldiers’ wives and five children were in the midships. Twelve seamen, several of whom were convicts, formed the crew; and eighteen prisoners under sentence to the penal settlement completed the ship’s company. The last occupied a gaol, separated from the hold by wooden bars, filled with nails, and accessible only from the deek by a small hatchway. One of the soldiers on guard stood constantly by this hatchway, which was secured by three bolts across the opening; two walked the deck, the one on one side returning with his face toward the prison at the time the other was going in the opposite direction; and two were in the hold, seated in view of the gaol. The prisoners wore chains, and only two of them were allowed to come on deck at a time for air; these were kept before the windlass, and not allowed to converse with the seamen. This was rigidly observed in consequence of two of these men having, at a former period, been parties in the seizure of a vessel named the ‘Cypress’ (sic) making the same voyage, which was carried off to the coast of China or Japan. . . . The gaol occupied by these men was not high enough for them to stand erect in, but they could stretch themselves on the floor, on which they slept, being each furnished with a blanket.”|
When the vessel, after a tedious voyage, had reached the entrance to the harbour, the main difficulty of the passage really commenced. The Doom-rock lay within the jaws of a sandy, barren bight, and the “league-long rollers” of the Southern Ocean broke unchecked upon the bar. For some time the “Tamar” stood on and off this dangerous channel, unwilling to risk an entrance. “At length,” says the missionary—
|“When about to run back for shelter to Port Davey we were descried, and a signal to enter was hoisted. We immediately stood in, and in a few minutes the opportunity to return was past. The pilot put off, knowing better than ourselves our danger; his boat could only be seen now and then above the billows; but he was soon alongside, and ordered all the sails to be squared, so that we might go right before the wind. On coming on board, he commanded the women and children below, and then came to me, and advised me to go below also. I replied, that if we were lost I should like to see the last of it, for the sight was awfully grand. Laying hold of a rope at the stern, he said, ‘Then put your arm round this rope, and don’t speak a word.’ To my companion he gave similar instructions, placing him at the opposite quarter. A man was sent into the chains on each side with the sounding lead. The pilot went to the bows, and nothing was now to be heard through the roar of the wind and waves but his voice calling to the helmsman, the helmsman’s answer, and the voices of the men in the chains, counting off the fathoms as the water became shallower. The vessel was cast alternately from one side to the other, to prevent her sticking on the sand, in which case the billows would have run over her, and have driven her upon a sandbank a mile from the shore, on which they were breaking with fury. The fathoms decreased, and the men counted off the feet, of which we drew seven and a half, and there were but seven in the hollow of the sea, until they called out eleven feet. At this moment a huge billow carried us forward on its raging head into deep water. The pilot’s countenance relaxed; he looked like a man reprieved from under the gallows, and coming up, shook hands with each individual, congratulating them on a safe arrival in Macquarie Harbour.”|
Such was the place that it was at last determined to abandon, and in 1834 orders came to break up the settlement.
The commandant, Major Baylee, 63rd Regiment, embarked the prisoners in a vessel sent specially for them, and accompanied them to Hobart Town, leaving behind him a man named Taw, who was the pilot at the settlement, to complete the work of demolition, and bring away such matters as might have been overlooked in the hurry of the departure of the main body.
Taw was in command of the “Frederick,” a brig that had been built at the settlement, and he had as a crew, Mr. Hoy, the shipwright, a man named Tate, and ten convicts, together with a guard of three soldiers and a corporal. The names of the ten—as given in their own narrative, written while under sentence of death in Hobart Town—were John Barker, Charles Lyons, James Lesly, James Porter, Benjamin Russen, John Dady, William Cheshire, William Shiers, John Fair, and John Jones. The narrative was printed in William Gore Elliston’s Hobart Town Almanack and Van Diemen’s Land Annual for 1838, and forms the basis of this twicetold tale.
On the 11th of January, 1834, everything of value had been placed on board the brig, and the prisoners received the intelligence that the next day they would weigh ancher, and leave Hell’s Gates for ever. One of the prisoners, however, was still “in confinement.” His name was Charles Lyons, and he had been imprisoned for insubordination. Two convicts and Taw released him and brought him aboard. That night, in the prisoner’s berth, Lyons gave vent to his wrath, and inveighed against the tyranny of Taw. He probably guessed what awaited him in Hobart Town.
The next day was spent in running to the bar and back, the heavy sea outside rendering dangerous any attempt to pass the gates. On the morning of the 12th, at daybreak, Taw ordered out the whaleboat and went to “sound the bar,” returning with the news that it was yet dangerous, but that if the tide abated towards evening he would risk it.
Now the evils of forced inaction began to show. The men grumbled. They should have been well on their way to Hobart Town and civilisation. Why keep them still in sight of their dismal prison-house? Doubtless with a view to employing them, Taw gave permission for the men to go ashore and wash their clothes. All went except Hoy’s servant, and while on shore a plot was concocted.
At half-past three p.m. the men returned, and the corporal, a soldier, and a prisoner took the whaleboat and went fishing, so that besides the nine convicts in the forecastle, were only Taw, Hoy, and his servant in the cabin, and Tate and two soldiers on deck. One of the convicts—Porter, the narrator of the story—began to sing, and a soldier came below to listen. While he listened, Lesly, Cheshire, Russen, Fair, and Barker stole up the hatchway.
The mate and soldier were noiselessly seized, and Cheshire going down the aft deck, passed up the muskets. The song still continued, and the soldier, with the disaffected Lyons on one side and Dady on the other, listened with increased attention. Suddenly, a prisoner came down the hatchway and trod upon the toe of Shiers. This was the signal. Shiers presented his fist in the astonished dilettante’s face, and Dady and Lyons seized him and “made him fast.” Shiers and Lyons then rushed upon deck, leaving the prisoner with Porter and Dady below.
Porter—who, by his own account, was unwilling to join the mutiny—endeavoured to force up the hatch, but presently it was opened from above, and the other soldier and Tate were sent down bound, and he, Dady, and Jones got upon deck. Fair, who seems to have assumed the command, ordered the hatch to be secured, and placed Porter over it as a guard, while Lesly and Russen, armed with the soldiers’ muskets, stationed themselves at the companion.
Though accomplished with as little noise as possible, the mutiny had roused Taw and Hoy, and they endeavoured to force their way on deck. Lesly and Russen, however, beat them back, but did not fire. All was silent for a while until Cheshire, creeping to the skylight, tore it up, crying—
“Here they are! Surrender! Surrender!”
Fair and Barker snatched up their arms, and four muskets were levelled down the skylight.
Crouched out of reach of the muskets, the captain and Hoy gave no reply, and then some one of the mutineers fired.
Shiers rushed to the skylight.
“Are you going to commit murder?” he cried.
“No, no,” replied they; “it can be done without.”
Shiers then called upon Taw and Hoy to surrender, promising to spare their lives.
“My life be the forfeit if we injure you,” said he; “we only want our liberty.”
Then the two came on deck.
Hoy asked who was to command the brig.
“I am,” says Barker, “and with the crew I’ll navigate her round the world!”
Hoy then, as did Carew before, promised to say nothing of the escapade if they would give up the brig.
“That isn’t likely,” said he. “We got her, and we’ll keep her—liberty is what we mean to have.”
Shiers and Barker then asked the prisoners if they wanted anything from out their boxes, as they were going to put them ashore, and allowed them to go down into the cabin and take what they thought proper, only refusing Hoy his pocket pistols. They were then put into the jolly-boat, together with the mate and the two soldiers; a bottle of rum was given to Taw, whose hands were tied, and two bottles of wine and a peajacket to Hoy, “as he had been indisposed.” Indeed the mutineers seem to have behaved with much consideration and even generosity, priding themselves on not abusing their newly-found liberty.
A musket fired over the stern brought the whaleboat alongside, and the soldiers and the prisoners were ordered out of her into the jolly-boat. The soldiers were then ordered to row the party ashore. Seven mutineers—two pulling, one steering, and four armed with muskets as a guard—accompanied them in the whaleboat. Having landed Taw and the others, the jolly-boat was towed back to the ship, and a watch was set all night to prevent surprise, so great was their dread of the resolute Taw.
Next morning a council of war was held as to the disposition of provisions. Shiers—referring to the seizure of the “Cyprus,” which would seem to have made a great impression on the minds of convictism—said, “Don’t let this affair be like that one. Do not let us leave them to starve, but share the provisions equally between us all. Then when they reach head-quarters they can’t say that we’d used them cruelly.”
The notion was deemed a good one; the meat was divided as nearly as possible, also tea, sugar, flour, and biscuit; and Shiers, taking with him another pair of shoes and bandages and plaister for Mr. Hoy, who seems to have been a favourite, got out of the whaleboat and rowed to the shore.
Hoy and two men received the stores, three of the mutineers standing armed in the sternsheets to prevent the dreaded Taw from rushing the boat.
Hoy then seems to have thanked them for the provisions, and, while commenting upon the difficulty of the task before them, to have wished them success in their enterprise. This at least is the statement of Porter’s narrative, but as that gentleman intersperses his story with frequent addresses to Providence and reflections on the bounty of Heaven unusual to convict minds, we may not unreasonably suppose that his reported conversations are not given verbatim, and that a great deal of rude language is omitted. Moreover, the poor devil was lying in Hobart Town Gaol under sentence of death, and had a chaplain for his amanuensis. Under such circumstances he was likely to restrain the natural vigour of his descriptive powers.
Having been blessed—if we believe our convict—by the pious Hoy, a touching adieu took place, and the mutineers returned to the brig. They passed the morning in throwing overboard the light cargo which was in the hold, and then ran out a small kedge anchor with about 100 fathoms of line. The tide being slack, they kedged along until they came to the Cap and Bonnet, and there observing an old whaleboat ashore they destroyed it, lest it should offer means of pursuit to the terrible Taw. It being calm they towed the “Frederick” in safety over the dangerous bar, and a light breeze springing up from the south-east took her gaily out to sea.
John Fair being “an experienced mariner,” was made mate; but Barker, in consideration of his superior sagacity and a smattering of navigation, received the rank of captain. He, “with what few instruments he had,” made preparation to take his departure from Birches Rock, and stating that the course should be E.S.E., ordered the whaleboat to be stove in and cast adrift, as there was no room on board for her. All sail was then made; Fair and Lyons divided the men in watches, pairing the seamen with the landsmen, and “at eight p.m.,” says Porter, “we set our first watch.”
At half-past nine that night came a heavy gale from the S.W., which compelled them to run under close-reefed topsails. Shiers, Cheshire, Russen, and Lesly were sea-sick, as was also John Barker, and the heavy sea requiring two men at the helm, the others had their work cut out for them.
The morning dawned upon a raging sea and a cloudy sky. Lesly sounded the well and found the hold threeparts full of water, and all hands were set to the pumps. The gale lasted for two nights and a day, and then moderated. But the convict-built vessel proved leaky, “occasioned principally,” says Porter, “by carrying such a press of canvas during the gale,” and only one pump could be got to work.
On the 16th, Barker, who still suffered from violent sea-sickness, took a meridian, and altered the course of the vessel to E. by S., desiring to “run to the southward of New Zealand, out of the track of shipping.” On the 20th a vast quantity of seaweed appeared, and the men grew frightened, thinking they were running on land. Fair begged Barker to come on deck and take an observation, urging the necessity of keeping the crew in good heart. At first the poor fellow refused, vowing—as many sea-sick mariners have done before and since—that the ship might go to the bottom for all he could stir a hand to save her. By dint of persuasion, however, he was got on deck, supported by two men, and assured his followers that all was well, adding, “I can take you safe to South America even though I had no quadrant aboard, by keeping a dead-reckoning.” At noon—still supported by his two assistants, like Moses between the two Israelites—he took an observation, and shortly afterwards sent up to inform the men that he would run to the south of New Zealand, and not sight it, as had been his first intention.
So far so good; but by-and-by—the brig running eleven knots an hour under closely-reefed topsails, and the pumps hard at work the whole time—murmurs arose, and Barker not appearing on deck for nine days, a deputation was sent to beg him to consider the position of the vessel.
Roused by this the “captain” came up, and though sick, made shift to attend to his navigation. The weather, however, prevented him from taking an observation until the 30th January, and on that day he altered the course of the vessel to N. by E., being anxious “to make a landfall between Chili and Valdivia.”
The crew were now well-nigh exhausted. The old sailors had to do duty for the raw hands, and to add to their distress it came on to blow harder than they had yet experienced it. A white squall threw the brig on her beam ends, and carried away the spanker boom; but notwithstanding the leaky condition of the craft, Fair persisted in carrying on sail. The more chicken-hearted began to despair of reaching land. They now sighted a French whaler, hull down to windward, and desperate Barker gave orders to get out the arms and make ready to defend the brig, in case the stranger should bear down upon them. His precaution, however, was not needed.
After nine days of rough weather the gale abated, and Fair, giving orders to cross the topgallant yards and make sail, on the 25th of February they made the South American coast, about an hour before dark.
Though all hands swore that there was land ahead, the impostor Barker laughed at them, saying that he had kept the reckoning, and they were at least “500 miles off the coast of Chili.” Fair, however, put no faith in his assertions, and gave orders to shorten sail. At daylight they found a rocky shore close under their lee, and hauled off. Now Barker condescended to be convinced, and at twelve o’clock informed the crew that they were between Chili and Valdivia. This was the 24th February, six weeks and a day from the time when the captured “Frederick” left Hell’s Gates.
Now arose a discussion as to the best course of action. Some advised landing at once in the launch, others to creep along shore, while the more prudent recommended that the brig should be abandoned, and that they should coast in their boat in search of a landing-place. This plan was at last adopted. The launch was a big, seaworthy boat; moreover, she had been raised a plank higher, had been decked after a fashion, and fitted with mast, boom, and a suit of sails, while the badweather cloth that Taw had used for the whaleboat would answer the purpose of bulwarks. Putting on board her the scanty remnant of provisions, together with firearms, ammunition, and—notable item—a Government cat that had unconsciously cast in its lot with theirs, four of them got aboard the launch, and the others commenced to batten down the hatches of the brig.
These amateur carpenters had indeed but little time to spare. The pumping being stopped, they found four feet of water in the hold, and hastily flinging over two breakers of water and such provisions as they could scrape together, called the launch alongside, and got into her without delay.
It was time, for as the sun went down in a lowering and angry sky, the ill-fated vessel that had brought them to freedom sank to her channel plates, and the exhausted and toil-worn mutineers, hoisting sail in the darkness, turned their backs upon her, and speeded towards the wished-for but unknown shore.
The next day the miserable boat crew, drenched with water and shivering with cold—they had been sitting by turns of four in the stern-sheets all night, with their backs to the sea, to prevent the water from swamping them—reached the coast. At three o’clock in the afternoon they entered a small bay, and at half-past four came to anchor under the lee of a barren reef. Some went ashore, but met with “no sign of human habitation.” They slept there that night, having set a watch of two men in case of attack by wild beasts, and in the morning set to work to gather shell-fish. Having made such a breakfast as this somewhat meagre fare afforded, they again set sail, determining to make for a distant point, in the hope of meeting with human beings. Reaching this point in the afternoon, they found two strange, pyramidal-shaped rocks, and running in between them, came upon a stream of fresh water. Near this was a deserted Indian hut, but no “Indian;” and so, securing the boat and setting a watch, the castaways passed the second night since the abandonment of the brig.
All the next day they sailed from bay to bay in search of inhabitants, and casting anchor in a little inlet at night, prepared to sup on a seal which they had killed ere they started in the morning; but a heavy swell arising carried their boat violently towards the rocks, and they were compelled to use all exertions to keep her afloat. The next day passed in the same fruitless quest. The wind blew hard, the boat leaked, the coast seemed ironbound, and they held on their dismal course with despairing hearts. Camping that night in a snug nook, the cat which they had brought from the brig, and which had shared with them their scanty provisions, made off into the woods. The next day was the 3rd March—about eight weeks since they had seized the “Frederick”—and they made sure that human habitations were close at hand. Running down the coast all that day with a fresh breeze, they weathered a point which John Barker said was “Tweedle-point,” and ran for a bluff far down the shore. Half-an-hour before dark they weathered the bluff, and made for the beach, but not finding boat-anchorage coasted along until the sun went down.
Their hearts began now to fail them. They had accomplished an almost unparalleled escape. They had seized a prison-ship under the very noses of the guards, and under all disadvantages had carried her out to sea, sailed her successfully through an unknown ocean, made land just as she could no longer be kept afloat, and were now about to perish when their hopes seemed nearest to their fulfilment. The shore was barren and rocky, night was closing in, they had no food, and they were miles from succour. “Suddenly,” says Porter, “we heard the bellowing of a bullock on the shore.” Did their ears deceive them? All held their breath to hear the sound again. No, it was no deception—they were saved!
With renewed vigour they tugged at the oars, and rounding a low-lying reef that projected into the black water, came in sight of large fires. Against the glare of these fires—which had the appearance of blazing rubbishheaps—gigantic shadows moved. These shadows were men and women. Out of the darkness the escaped convicts hailed the shore, but received for a reply only a confused murmur, which seemed to denote alarm. The full swell of the ocean rolled in upon the rocky shore, and it was impossible to land. So keeping out to sea, but still within sight of the cheering fires, they let go their anchor in nineteen fathoms of water, and lay outside the reefs waiting for the day.
All that night they kept awake, conversing on the chance of safety. Perhaps the people they had seen were cannibals, perhaps pirates. At any rate, they were human. When morning dawned they made all haste to land, and mooring the boat to some seaweed, called to the Indians. These came instantly, running down to the boat. They seem to have been Spanish Indians, and informed Shiers that Valdivia was but three leagues distant. The mutineers prudently refused to beach the boat, but Shiers and four men, taking with them needles and thread and a loaded pistol, jumped ashore, and followed the natives to their huts. In the meantime, the boat was pushed off four lengths from the shore, to guard against any attempt that might be made to seize her. By-and-by Shiers returned, and then the other five landed. They found the Indians very friendly and partly civilised. The chief wore a poncho—a square cloth, with hole for the head in the middle— and a pair of blue worsted trousers. The poncho was embroidered; the fellow carried a large hilted knife (probably a Spanish machete ), for defensive or offensive purposes. They gave this warrior a hatchet, “of which he well knew the use,” and he did the honours of the village to them. Porter says that the huts were clean and well built, and the people industrious. He observed a man and boy ploughing with four bullocks yoked by the horns. The ploughshare was of wood hardened in the fire. Both sexes wore their hair long, but the men—having no razors—plucked out their beards by the roots with two shells provided for the purpose. Porter made repeated requests for something to eat, but his conductor either could not or—as he thinks—would not understand him. Having bestowed upon him some buttons, pins, and needles, the rejoicing mutineers set sail for Valdivia. At three o’clock in the afternoon they reached a point of land to which their attention had been drawn, and perceived a flagstaff and twelve-gun battery. They had made their port at last.
Valdivia is the chief town of the most southern province of Chili, and is situated nine miles up the river which bears its name. It was founded in 1551, by Pedro de Valdivia—one of the gentlemen adventurers of that stormy time—who gave it his name, and grew rich by working the gold mines in the vicinity. In 1590 it was captured by the natives, but was afterwards rebuilt and strongly fortified by the Spaniards. The harbour, at the mouth of which our convicts were now resting, is one of the most spacious on the coast. Three years after the date of our story—in 1837—it was ruined by an earthquake.
Pulling in under the guns of the battery, Barker harangued his comrades, and enlarged upon his own abilities, which had brought them thus far in safety. It being believed that Spain was hostile to England, they resolved to tell their story, and throw themselves on the mercy of the Governor. Barker then gave each of the men half a sovereign, and divided all the clothing and valuables equally, with the exception of two watches, which he kept for himself. They then pulled for the shore.
The Spaniards received them with humanity, and they stayed that night at the fort. The next day it was agreed that Barker, Shiers, Lesley, Russen, and Cheshire should hire a canoe to go up to the town, and lay their case before the Governor. This was done, and on the next day (March 7th) a party of soldiers came down, and took the remaining five up to the city, where they were lodged in prison. Being taken before the judge, they told their story, giving the names they went by in Van Diemen’s Land, and he remanded them until the arrival of the Governor.
They remained in prison five days. The mate was allowed a dollar per day, the boatswain half-a-dollar, and the rest a quarter dollar, “and provisions being very cheap,” says our narrator, “this was amply sufficient for our support.” On the 13th the Governor arrived, and they were taken before him. He seemed inclined to look favourably upon them, but asked them why they came to that part of the coast. Whereupon Barker, with unblushing effrontery, replied—“Because we knew that you were patriots, and had long ago declared your independence; and we throw ourselves under the protection of your flag, relying on your clemency.” Upon this, the Governor—saying that he believed that they had spared life, and had committed no murder—promised to use his influence with the President, at San Jago, to procure them permission to live in Valdivia, but that they must in the meantime return to the prison, and remain there peaceably.
In the meantime, a Captain Lawson, their interpreter, “a gentleman,” says Porter, “of great respectability,” drew up a petition praying for their release, and got the principal inhabitants of the town to sign it. On the following day they were again brought before the Governor, who said that he would liberate them at once were he not fearful that some of the number would make their escape. Upon this the ever-ready Barker made a melodramatic speech, begging His Excellency to rather shoot them all dead in the Palace Square than deliver them up to the British Government. The Governor, who seems to have been a good-humoured fellow, and who had doubtless been regaled with a highly-coloured description of the horrors of Hell’s Gates—bad enough, in sober truth, Heaven knows—promised to protect them, vowing that out of respect to their heroic journey he would not give them up. “And,” said he, “if you will promise not to escape, should a vessel come tomorrow to demand you, you will find me as good as my word.” He then advised them to “beware of intemperance,” and to pay back to the Government as soon as possible the money expended in their subsistence while in prison. The ten then took lodgings in the town, and next day assisted in launching a vessel of 100 tons burden—a ceremony which was performed with the aid of a band of music, and in the presence of the Governor in person. The owner expressed himself much satisfied with the behaviour and talent of the Englishmen, and declaring—so says Porter—that “he would rather have them than thirty of his own countrymen,” engaged them to “fit her out” at 15 dols. a month and provisions.
The adventurous ten now seemed to have fallen on good days. They were well clothed, well fed, and well liked. Macquarie Harbour and its agonies were forgotten. They cast away recollections of their past dangers and crimes, and appear to have maintained themselves by honest industry. The Governor took great interest in their well-being, and when, on the 25th April, the “Blonde” frigate, Commodore Mason, arrived in port, sent for them and told them to be of good cheer, that he would not deliver them up to bondage; that the despatches from San Jago having arrived, he could officially receive them as Chilian subjects; and that, if they pleased, they might marry.
Spanish America is noted for the beauty of its women—the Chilian ladies are even now the belles of the seaboard—and our adventurers jumped at the offer. The attraction of the gossip by the fountains, the chatter of the quaint old market-place, the dances by night under the orange-trees, were too strong to be resisted. The fierce black eyes of the manolas; for in those days there were yet manolas in Spain and griselles in France; the more golden glory of the Malaguena, transplanted from the sultry seaport of Old Spain two generations back; the sparkling purity of the Andalusian granddaughter of some brilliant adventurer of Seville, conspired to capture the hearts of the escaped prisoners—all honest English sensualists, I have no doubt. Five of them were immediately married, and at the wedding of that lucky scoundrel, John Barker, the Governor and his lady attended in court costume.
But this felicity was not to last. Nine months after these auspicious events—on the 10th February, 1835—the ten were carried off in the night to the guard-house. In a terrible fright, they speculated on the cause of their arrest, when suddenly the ubiquitous Governor arriving, tells them not to be frightened. “There is an English frigate lying outside the harbour,” cries he, “and I was afraid that did you hear the news you would take to the forest, and have been all slain by the Indians. Here is a letter that I have just received.”
This letter proved to be from Commodore Mason, and stated that its writer, having learned that several Englishmen were in the town, who had come in some “clandestine” manner to the coast, desired them to come on board and give an account of themselves.
The ten upon this fell into great trepidation. “If we go,” cried one of them, “we shall never return.” “I thought so!” said the Governor (let us remember that this is the statement of a convict under sentence of death). “I will protect you. Should they force their way here, I will send you up the country under escort to an Indian chief of my acquaintance, who will protect you. If the captain of this vessel wishes to speak with you, he shall do so at my palace. You shall not go on board.”
This worthy man, Don Fernando Martelle, doubtless a Spaniard of mettle, who, having given his word, meant to keep it, proved a true friend; for a cutter from the frigate attempting to pass the battery, the Spaniards fired a 32 lb. shot over the heads of the crew, and presently the frigate departed, bearing up in the direction of Valparaiso.
So far, so good, but more evils were in store. On the 2nd May, 1835, the “Achilles,” a 21-gun brig of war, arrived with a new Governor. This gentleman was coolly received by the inhabitants, “who,” says poor Porter, “had heard but an indifferent account of him,” and the refugees began to dread lest a new Pharaoh had arisen who knew not Joseph. The old Governor, however, gave them an excellent character, and Governor Thompson, the novus homo, promised to protect them. They soon discovered, however, that his promises were of little value. Don Fernando left on the 20th of May, and as soon as he had gone hostilities were commenced.
The remaining seven (Jones, Fair, and Dady had wisely taken service in a brig, and had got away from the place) were ordered to present themselves at the guard-house every evening, and suffered other small indignities which the narrator does not particularise. It had been previously agreed that no attempt to escape should be made, as the Governor swore that, should any man succeed in getting away from the city, he would hang the others without mercy. This agreement had been hitherto strictly kept—the departure of the fortunate three was permitted by Don Fernando—but in this last extremity Barker broke it. The boat in which the mutineers had made their adventurous voyage had been long moored at the back of Government House; but the old Governor, tempted by an offer of 40 dols., had at last sold her, “mast, oars, sails, and all,” to one of the Spanish merchants. In the month of June, Barker, enlarging upon the excellent qualities of the old boat, offered to build one for the Governor. This proposition met with a ready approval, but when the boat was finished, Barker, pretending that she was too small, offered to build a larger one, if the Governor would permit him to get stores, &c., in his name. This was conceded, and, in three weeks. Barker, Lesley, and Russen completed a three-oared whaleboat, and fitted her with sails and provisions, on the Governor’s credit.
All was now ready, and on Saturday night, the 4th July, Barker, Lesley, Russen, and a man named Roberts, “formerly mate of a brig,” crept out under cover of the darkness, and, slipping down the river, got out to sea. On Monday morning, at ten o’clock, their flight was discovered, and the Governor, in a furious rage at being outwitted, despatched six soldiers and a crew, with orders “to bring back the Englishmen, dead or alive.” This was easier said than done, and in a week the soldiers returned, without having even seen the fugitives.
It is not improbable that the townspeople, among whom the Englishmen were liked and the Governor cordially detested, began to ridicule His Excellency with the proverbial Spanish freedom of popular speech, for he seems to have determined to revenge himself on the luckless four, Porter, Riley, Cheshire, and Shiers, who remained. In vain did the poor fellows plead their innocence and good conduct. In vain did their black-eyed wives weep, and their tawny kins-folk remonstrate with justice. The four were ironed together, and thrown in the prison of Valdivia, and the English consul at Valparaiso having been communicated with, a schooner was sent which brought them to Callao—a port not altogether unknown to several illustrious Victorians in the present day—and here the dreaded Mason got them at last. The “Blonde” took them to Valparaiso, when they were placed on board the “North Star,” 28 guns, and sent to England.
Arrived once more in London, they were placed in the Leviathian hulk, and then shipped (with a fresh batch of convicts) on board the “Sarah,” and sent back to Van Diemen’s Land, there to be tried for their lives. One can fancy the pleasant time these poor devils must have enjoyed, speculating on their fate, and imagination does not refuse to suggest the stories of the horrors of Hell’s Gates with which they would beguile the time and attention of the convict “new chums.” A “prison-ship” in those days was an excellent preparatory school for the gallows. Arrived in Hobart Town on 29th March, 1837, they were tried before the Chief Justice, “for piratically seizing the brig Frederick,” and were sentenced to be hanged. Their case, however, excited some interest, and they appealed to “the English judges.” These gentlemen were merciful, and commuted the death-penalty to “hard labour for life.”
Their perilous journey, their strange adventures, their three years of freedom in the old Spanish town, resulted only in a change of prisons. Port Arthur was substituted for Macquarie Harbour.
Barker, Lesley, and Russen, were never heard of again. Whether they were wrecked on that stormy coast, killed by Indians, picked up by a stray ship, and returned to civilisation, or striking on some savage island colonised another Pitcairn, no one can tell. Despite their treachery, their romantic story makes one hope that they got their longed-for liberty at last.