29. Sep, 2016


It was while trawling through documents relevant to Charles Farman that I received the following photocopied information. It was sent to me by a descendant of one William Howe 1777-1855. First, some background.
WILLIAM HOWE. (See portrait opposite)
He was a settler, born in Scotland, who on 21 September 1802 married Mary Twentyman at Annandale, Dumfriesshire, Scotland. In 1813 he joined the 1st Royal Scots Regiment as an ensign and took part in the Napoleonic wars. He left the army in 1815 and in July 1816 arrived in New South Wales as a free settler in the Atlas with his wife and four children. In January 1818 Lachlan Macquarie granted Howe 3000 acres (1214 ha) at Minto which he named Glenlee.
Samuel Marsden recommended him to Commissioner John Thomas Bigge as a man of honour and practical experience in agriculture, and Bigge later recommended Howe for the magistracy to which he was appointed in January 1820. When he gave evidence before Bigge he argued that agricultural pursuits were likely to reform the prisoners and urged that agriculture be encouraged by a better selection of persons to receive land grants and convicts.
It was to Howe’s Upper Minto holding that Charles Farman was sent 28 July, 1820 and where he was to remain until at least 30 November 1825.
Howe took a genuine interest in his convicts and as a magistrate with an interest in penal reform, recorded several of their experiences of transportation and life in Australia. His account begins.
JANUARY 2nd 1821.
My subject today was one Charles Farman, 32, sentenced in Great Yarmouth Norfolk who was sent to my holding last July. I recorded his recollections of the voyage as unlike many of his kind, he was illiterate. What follows are my words, but his sentiments.

“I boarded the Neptune off Deal on the 23rd of March, 1820.
I took a last look at England before getting a musket butt in the ribs and forced to shuffle below in chains along with some 150 other convicts.
We were split into messes of six, and given our sleeping places- the whole space between decks was split into berths of four. Bedding had to be aired on deck each morning. Boys were separated from men for obvious reasons although some elders were trusted to provide checks on younger. We were issued with clothing…2 suits, one for the voyage, one on landing…easily distinguishable for police.
Food provision was better than I expected. Each man got 4lbs of bread per day and a gallon of beer or half a pint of spirits or a pint of wine. There was 8lbs of salt beef a week or flour, suet and raisins; there were 2 pints of split peas along with 4 pints of oatmeal. We also had small rations of butter and cheese.
We were allowed several hours exercise per day on deck, a third at a time. Always heavily guarded and in leg irons.
Then came the regulations…No swearing, spitting, fighting, stealing: total obedience to the guards, personal cleanliness, report to be made on each man’s conduct, punishments in proportion to offences.
However these were the rules of Authority in the light above. Even by the time we set sail, there was a completely different set of rules in the dark under the decks below. The Devil in the form of Silas Quirk was already finding work for idle hands.
Quirk was clever, but had not been clever enough to escape being indicted for large scale fraud. It was said only the people he knew and the money he allegedly had back in England and what was waiting for him in Australia enabled him to escape the rope.
He soon assembled a bodyguard and realised that the only currency worth having was the daily spirit ration. He soon discovered that there were those who did not drink, so in exchange for his “protection” they would pass it onto him. Only one man refused and he was found horribly beaten in a store hold below.
Fourteen days out and there was rumour of a mutiny. There was a rumour but no mutiny. Quirk had started and informed the Captain of it. Having increased his standing with Authority, he had a free rein below decks.
Thereafter Quirk was king. He controlled gambling with card, dice ratting and prize fighting; prostitution-both sexes having discovered a willingness among soldiers’ wives as well. He had half the soldiers in his pocket by threat or blackmail, he dined with the Lieutenant discretely after dark. Of course he flourished, what else was there for us to do except indulge in his offered vices and exchange criminal skills. From other convicts, I myself learnt how to pick both locks and pockets. One day simply ran into the next.
Forty days after leaving Deal we dropped anchor off the Cape of Good Hope for fresh water, supplies and to pick up a dozen prisoners who had been found stowed away on a vessel that had left Botany Bay bound for England.
Carpenters came aboard to build a bulkhead prison for them and somehow managed an unofficial cabin for Quirk, to which no one in authority objected.
By now grog was the only currency aboard. Quirk had it and so had everybody in his pocket…convicts, soldiers, seamen. Authority turned a blind eye to his activities.. he kept order in a way that not even armed soldiers could while living a life of ease surrounded by his escort of hardened men.
Even so, there were still spontaneous outbreaks of violence amongst us - suspected thefts, being looked at in the wrong way, alleged bad words, imagined insults. Anyone caught fighting was given 12 lashes. Worst off was the forger William Bamford for being drunk and refusing to say where he got the grog. He clearly thought it less painful to take the 36 lashes that laid his backbone bare than incur the wrath of Quirk.
Very few of us escaped a touch of scurvy or any number of other complaints…hardly surprising as we spent 12 out of every 24 hours below decks herded together.
Those guarding us were not much better. There were frequent quarrels among the soldiers. The sergeant constantly abused the young lieutenant, there was constant friction between wives who freely cohabited with other men, even prisoners. What sort of example was this to set to prisoners aware of everything happening aboard ship?
We landed at Botany Bay on as I later learned was the 28th of July 1820.”

“So what is there to say about crime and punishment in the experiences of Charles Farman and his fellows? Incarcerated for several months with other and often more skilled criminals; hopelessly overcrowded, denied adequate exercise, subject to brutality and corruption of those set in charge above them; punishment for quite petty offences; so bored they will indulge in any vice available just to break the monotony; subject to unchecked violence from their fellow convicts, their only escape was in alcohol. It is my contention that it can do nothing more than make a good man bad and a bad man worse.
It make take 200 years but by then, who knows, perhaps we will have decided what the penal system is actually for…to punish or to reform?
William Howe, January 2nd 1820

NOTE. Charles Farman and William Howe were historical figures, the rest were not. Their “account” was compounded from Reid’s book and from the records of the “Burrell” in a voyage of1830

So, nearly 200 years on, have we made the choice presented by William Howe? Punishment or Reform?