Life on the Government Farm

SHORTLY after this Loveless was sent to the Government Domain Farm, New Town. For a long time he found the quarters no better than the barracks. There were eight men there, and only five beds between them. The last three therefore had to sleep on the floor. This continued until some of the older inhabitants got into trouble, and were sent away. Loveless said that they ‘unfortunately’ got into trouble, although he personally was the gainer by it, for now he got a bed. The hut was not weatherproof. In fine weather he could lie in bed and view the stars much to his delight, but when it rained it came through and spattered over them in bed, whilst the wind whistled through the hut. Rheumatic pains, induced first of all by cold irons round the legs and hard lying, were aggravated by the stormy weather.

The rations were none too good for men working as these convicts had to do. They had eight pounds of flour and seven pounds of meat each week. The flour was a mixture of four pounds of wheat to four pounds of maize or offal ground together. Twelve per cent, was allowed to be taken out as sharps by the storekeeper. The quality of the beef or mutton was very bad. Taking the sort of sheep that is killed in England as being sixty pounds, one realizes that sheep of the average of from twenty to twenty-five pounds must have been far from nutritious. As they held the meat to the light, they could see through it. Complaints were made by one of the men, but nobody else cared to do so afterwards. The commissary, to whom the complaint was made, asked the storekeeper about it. The latter received an allowance from the contractor for putting the contract through him. The storekeeper at once said that it was proper food and what he called storeable. The complaint was therefore declared to be unreasonable, and the man who complained had to be dealt with, to preserve discipline. The man began to see that he would be punished. There was a particularly horrible form of punishment in vogue at that time—what the colonials called being ‘married to the three sisters’. The man was tied to a triangle and his flesh was flogged to the bone for being discontented. Nobody after that ever made a complaint of the food. If it had been poison they would have taken it without a murmur.

But Loveless wrote the particulars to his wife, and the fact was published in England, and the Government were informed of it. They felt something must be done. Added to this fact, some of the men at the road parties actually died of starvation, and the medical men who examined them made inquiries about it. Then more men were found cooking and eating cats, so hungry were they, and the rations were increased in amount. Not much considering the arduous nature of their work! But perhaps it was enough for them to keep alive on—ten and a half pounds of flour, five and half pounds of meat, and three pounds of vegetables weekly.

At the farm, Loveless continued to work. He was, of course, an experienced man at farm work. Sometime in the month of November, his character was inquired into by the Governor, and this was repeated at intervals for two months. On the last occasion His Excellency said:

‘Is there no fault to be found whatever with Loveless? Does he never reply when you bid him do a thing? Does he never neglect any part of his work?

‘No, sir,’ said the overseer, ‘Loveless is a good workman and well skilled.’

At the beginning of December, however, he was taken to the police office and brought before another magistrate, Mr. W. Gunn.

‘Well,’ said the magistrate, ‘what have you brought this man here for?

For neglect of duty, sir,’ said the overseer.

In what manner has he neglected his duty? What is the man?’ asked the magistrate.

‘This man is shepherd and stock-keeper to the Governor on the Domain Farm, and all the cattle, tame and wild, are put into his care. He is expected to see them every day. Nine of the wild cattle were taken to the public pound yesterday, and he did not miss them until this morning.’

‘I have not heard a clearer charge of neglect of duty for a long time,’ said the magistrate. ‘What have you to say, my man, in answer to this charge?’

‘It is true,’ said Loveless. ‘I have the charge of all the cattle, and I am expected to see the wild cattle in the bush once every twenty-four hours. I rise in the morning at sunrise, or before, and take the sheep to the bush to feed. I then return to the farm and milk nine cows and suckle as many calves. I am requested to follow the sheep and not lose sight of them for fear of dogs, which often get among them and worry them. I am ordered to search for wild cattle to see that none of them are missing. I had just been weaning the lambs, and the ewes being very restless, I was afraid of leaving them; and this, sir, was the reason the cattle were taken to the pound and I did not miss them.’

‘Is this the truth the man has been telling me?’ said the magistrate.

‘Yes, sir,’ said the overseer.

‘How long have you known this man?’

‘Nine months.’

‘Did you ever know him neglect his duty before?’ ‘No, sir, never.’

‘Then you do not think that he went away from his duty now, but as he says, he was with the sheep in consequence of having weaned the lambs?’

‘Yes, sir, I think what he has told you is true; but then he has neglected his duty in losing the cattle.’

‘But do not you think that the man has more duty than he can perform? I really think that it is a great pity you should have brought the man here. I shall return you to your duty. Go to your duty, my man.’

‘I thank you, sir,’ said Loveless, glad enough to escape the punishment he had expected, which was fifty lashes. He had at last met a magistrate who was both just and merciful. It is a queer touch in his diary that whereas he speaks of all the other magistrates as Mr. Frampton, Mr. Woollaston, Mr. Mason, Mr. Spode, he calls this magistrate W. Gunn, Esq. That is evidently an index to the feeling of the man that there is some superior quality about this upright and considerate administrator of justice.