MUTINY AT DELORAINE
CONVICT BREAKOUT IN VAN DIEMEN'S LANDThe convict system in Australia fell into two types, assignment and probation, assignment was introduced in December 1804 and lasted until 1st July 1840. In basic terms the assignment system consisted of free labour for the free settlers, if as a convict you got a decent employer your time wouldn't be too bad, but if you got a bad one any complaint or even defending yourself against aggression could lead to an extension of your sentence, it was tantamount to slavery. The date when it was abolished coincided with the end of transportation to New South Wales and so when the probation system was introduced in 1839 it was Van Diemen's Land (VDL) that would be the focus of that experiment.
The probation system meant every able (and not so able) bodied convict now worked for the government. These convicts built roads, bridges, buildings (sometimes corruptly hired out to build private homes, pubs and shops), it was usually the worst type of convict who ended up doing these public works. If they worked hard and proved to be of good character they could finally get a ticket of leave which meant they could even command a wage! Again the spectre of slavery dogged the probation system as it had assignment.
|Probation station plan.|
Probation stations sprung up all over VDL as the road gangs made their progress out from Hobart towards Launceston and then over towards Burnie. They were seen in Darlington, Jericho, New Town, Fingal, Mersey and Westbury to name but a very few, there were as many as 85, but the one we will focus on was situated in Deloraine.
Built in 1843 the Deloraine probation station was a poorly ventilated place that leaked when it rained. When Charles Joseph La Trobe (government administrator of VDL) during his tour of probation stations visited in 1846 he was less than impressed and his report published in 1847 was damning. Local newspapers frequently complained of the riotous behaviour and law breaking among the convicts, but when in October 1845 a large part of the convicts' food ration was stolen even the convicts had had enough.
|Manacles in the Deloraine Folk Museum|
The theft of the food was reported to the overseer, the convicts even had suspicions as to where it had gone, but the overseer refused to do anything about it. Already half starved, tired and angry the convicts decided to go on strike and they would carry on striking until they received sufficient food. Their reward for this disobedience was an extension to their sentences and a cut in their rations, they would now only receive half.
As you can imagine the sense of injustice and smouldering resentment would have made the atmosphere a thick one indeed, rebellion was in the air.
8th October 1845.
On Friday twenty-one men were sentenced by the visiting magistrate at Deloraine, for mutiny, to various terms of imprisonment, in the whole amounting to twenty-two years addition to their original sentences.
This, being deemed by these gentlemen as derogatory to their happiness, they immediately knocked down a cow that was grazing quietly near the station, with their stone hammers, and being rather in a hurry, they cut some beef-steaks off one side, leaving the unfortunate beast to be relieved of the flesh on the opposite side when she was dead, as after that barbarous treatment she remained alive for some hours.
The district constable on the station was most active in giving assurance to the inhabitants of the township that they should not storm the place, as he should remain there to protect them, kindly leaving the gang of outlaws to range the district as they might please, which they availed themselves of without loss of time, having visited a poor man residing at Dunorlan, about seven miles from the station, on Saturday.
Soldiers from Westbury were sent to the station, where they arrived in time to hear that the gang had returned to the neighbourhood of the station, robbing the settlers on the Shoulder-of mutton Plain ; in the interim they had been joined by four others from the Mersey station, making the whole twenty-five.
On Sunday, when the inhabitants were in hopes, on the arrival of the military, that an active pursuit would take place, an order came to the military, ordering them to return to Westbury, where there is no doubt the public, more particularly the settlers exposed to the mercies of this gang of pests, will be highly delighted to hear the military reached in safety, and that both the police and visiting magistrate were, and are still, in perfect safety.
At Dunorlan they stripped the place of everything that could be moved, taking liberties with the man's wife, and would have proceeded to the greatest lengths had it not been for the conduct of a man servant, who, in defending his master, was nearly murdered by being struck with their stone hammers. From this place they took two muskets, and from the other places they collected eleven.
Of course the Inhabitants are in rhapsodies at the thought that within a space of little more than twenty miles there are nearly 1,000 convicts, with a police of about fifteen, including magistrates, overseers, &o., &c.
THE LAUNCESTON EXAMINER
11th October 1845
THE DELORAINE GANG
Sergeant Nicol and a party of the Launceston police, apprehended three men on the morning of the 6th Instant; three other constables, belonging to the Launceston police, apprehended three men on Tuesday morning, near Reibey's Ford bridge; constable Merchant apprehended three men at Carrick on the evening of the 5th instant; Mr. Kirkham and servants apprehended nine men.
The greatest praise is due to Mr. Kirkham for his management of this capture. One man surrendered to the overseer of Dr. Richardson; being nineteen out of the twenty-one who absconded from Deloraine. The other two have since been taken.
THE CORNISH CHRONICLE
11th October 1845
The Bolters from Deloraine Probation Station.
We are happy to inform our readers that the whole of the party (twenty five in number,) who absconded from the Deloraine Station have been apprehended through the united exertions of a detatchment of the 96th Regiment, and the constables, who went in pursuit ; information has been received of several daring outrages committed by them in the neighbourhood.
A number of the absconders, went in a party to the farm of Mr. Charles Robinson, 'Shoulder of Mutton,' Westbury and committed an extensive robbery; they helped themselves to a quantity of clothes, five pounds in gold, and three stand of' fire-arms.
On Monday nine of the men attacked Mr. Kirkham's premises, near Mr. Dry's farm; but here they met with an unwelcome reception, for a brave fellow in Mr. Kirkham's employ, loaded his piece with small shot, and going out to them ordered them to stand ; he fired, and one of the villains was grazed slightly on the ear, this alarmed the remainder, and they every one forthwith surrendered, and were marched off to Deloraine guarded by soldiers.
Another party went to the residence of Daniel Griffin at Dunorlan, 4 miles above Deloraine, and very much frightened the inmates, with a quantity of stone hammers they carried with them ; here they helped themselves to a number of eggs, and such other eatables as they could lay their hands on.
Near to the same place, some other parties had met with a bullock which belonged to a drove that was coming to town, but being lamed, had laid down near the road : the fiends literally cut off one of the thighs of the poor beast while alive, and then made off, it was afterwards shot by the District Constable.
It was generally reported on Sunday, that Deloraine was to be taken by storm the same night, and the inhabitants were obliged to arm, and watch for the attack, but the timely interference of the military and constables, which is beyond all praise, prevented the intended outrage.
All the men have been removed to Deloraine, and remanded by the magistrates for further examination. Two of the delinquents have offered to turn approvers, and give full information of the prisoners movements.
And so ended the Deloraine mutiny, at the trial the judge agreed there had been "some ground of excuse", twenty one were tried, twelve were found guilty and sentenced to death. Nothing now remains of Deloraine probation station, however, before the site was made into a car park an archaeological excavation uncovered various items including nails, clay pipes, pottery and bricks marked with the broad arrow, these can be seen in the excellent Deloraine folk museum.
|Above three photos, the holding cell under Emu Bay Road.|