Pressure to Become Colonists

THE next phase of Loveless’s life was a surprise to him. At the end of December a note came to him from the police office, from the magistrate, through his overseer, to ask if his wife should be sent out to join him in the Colony. He went to the police office and there saw yet another magistrate, Mr. Spode.

‘I have sent for you, Loveless,’ said Mr. Spode, ‘to know if you wish your wife and family to be sent over to join you in this Colony, if the Government will grant them the facility.’

‘I hope you will allow me to ask a question,’ he replied, ‘before I say anything about my wife and children.’

‘What is that?’

‘Am I to obtain my liberty?’ he replied.

‘Liberty!’ said the astonished magistrate. ‘What do you mean?’

‘Is there a prospect of my obtaining my free pardon?’ ‘Not that I know; that depends on the Ministry at home.’ ‘Then, sir,’ answered Loveless, ‘I can have nothing to say on the subject while I am a prisoner.’

‘You audacious rascal,’ exclaimed the irascible magistrate. Will you come to insult me thus, after I have been at the pains of writing and sending for you, and all for your own advantage?’

‘I beg your pardon, sir, I did not mean to insult you.’ ‘You lie, you rascal, you did; and do you mean to continue that?

Loveless kept silent, feeling that the cruel system would have meant a flogging for him, if he had simply said ‘yes’, because that would have involved a charge of insolence, with its appropriate punishment.

‘Go to your work,’ angrily said the magistrate.

‘I will go, sir,’ answered Loveless.

‘Go instantly, or I will give you a b—y good flogging.’ Again on January 7th, 1836, Mr. Spode sent for Loveless, and as soon as he got to the office began:

‘Well, Loveless, I have sent for you once more.’

‘Yes, sir, and here I am.’

‘I want to know,’ said the magistrate, ‘if you have any objection that your wife and family should be sent over to you; and let me tell you before you answer that it will be to your advantage.’

‘Nothing could give me so much satisfaction,’ answered Loveless, ‘as to join my wife and family, but I do not want them here while I am a prisoner.’

‘You want to be above the Government and tell them what they must do,’ was the sneering retort.

‘No, sir, I do not want to be above the Government, nor tell what they must do; but, I tell you, rather than be the instrument of bringing my wife and children into the distress and misery of this Colony, such as I feel it, I will remain as I am as long as I live.’

Loveless was then ordered to go back.

About three weeks later the Governor of Tasmania went out to the farm where Loveless was working and, walking with him into the field, asked him whether he had any objection that the Government should send out his wife and family to him, as they had offered to do it free of expense. Loveless said he had objections.

‘I should like to know what they are,’ said the Governor. ‘I should be sorry to send for my wife and children to come into misery,’ said Loveless.

‘Misery! ‘ he replied. ‘What do you mean?’

‘Why, sir, I have seen nothing but misery since I came into the country seventeen months ago.’

‘How is it you have seen nothing but misery?’ asked the Governor.

‘Because the food and clothing allowed to Government men only renders them miserable. It is no better than slavery.’

‘Oh, there are no slaves under the British Dominions,’ was the grandiloquent reply. ‘You are only prisoners.’

‘You may call it by what name you please, sir. I call it slavery, and that of the worst description!’

‘But are you willing that your wife should come over? Don’t you think that you would do very well together here?’ ‘I do not know that I could.’

‘How is it you don’t know? You are a farming man, and you are a good shepherd, are you not?’

‘As to that, other people are the best judges. I know nothing of what the Colony can afford.’

‘You say you have been here seventeen months,’ said the Governor, ‘and you know nothing about it?’

‘Why, sir,’ replied Loveless, ‘I have, as it were, been shut up in a cloister. Since I came to this farm I have scarce ever put my feet from it; I know no person, and, comparatively speaking, no person knows me.’

‘Well, I think you could do well with your wife here. She would do very well here.’

‘Sir, I should be a monster to send for my wife to come over here and see no way of supporting her. What could I do with my wife, while I am a prisoner?’

‘I have no doubt,’ said the Governor, speaking very deliberately, ‘that you will have your liberty as soon as your wife arrives: I would gladly give you indulgence myself, but that I dare not, in consequence of an Act of Parliament that no seven years’ man is to obtain a ticket of leave till he has been four years in the Colony. Government has sent out to know how you have conducted yourself since you have been here, and I have sent home an excellent character of you to them. How would you support your wife and family in England?’

‘By my labour, sir.’

‘And why cannot you support them by your labour, here?’ ‘I consider whilst they are in England they are surrounded by friends: if they were here it might be otherwise.’

‘Ah, talk about friends,’ said the Governor. ‘Everybody has enough to do to mind himself now. Well, consider of it, and let me know in the course of a few days.’

Loveless thought it over. It seemed to strike him that this changed tone of the relations between him and the Colonial officials must be due to a changed atmosphere in England. He considered what he had been often told and indeed had good reason to believe that if a man opposes the authorities he soon becomes a marked man, and parties are on the lookout to get a case against him to entangle him. He had seen, in the Hobart Press, evidence enough of people who had fallen victims to revenge, and the utter deprivation of their reputation, property, and liberty. Considering these things, he wrote to his wife, requesting her to come to Van Dieman’s Land, and sent it to her, through the Governor, unsealed.

Loveless could never quite understand why this pressure was put to bear on him at this time. Nor could he understand why, when he had been recalled and pardoned, he was not told of it till many months after the statement had been made in the House of Commons. The Australian Records, however, reveal the reason. Pressure on the Government had become so great, that at last they felt bound to give way. Dr. Thomas Wakley, M.P., had been the chief instrument of this pressure. He had spoken for two hours and a half in the House of Commons, giving a reasoned statement of the case that would have made for ever the reputation of a lesser man. Wakley, however, had exposed so many abuses in the medical paper he edited, and had fought so many libel actions in connexion with it, that his name was already a household word before the Finsbury Parliamentary Division elected him.

Nobody, with a knowledge of what the Lancet has since become, would imagine its original days, when Wakley was exposing his inefficient medical brethren; calling a surgeon clumsy and guilty of neglect (even though he was the nephew of a very distinguished ornament of the profession) because he had taken about fifty minutes over an operation that should have been performed in less than half the time and so causing the death of the patient; losing his action before the Lord Chief Justice and paying the paltry fifty pounds fine; then proceeding next week to report the case and accuse the judge of violent partiality to his opponent. Such a man’s advocacy was naturally very clever. In this case it was supported by Joseph Hume and Daniel O’Connell, neither of whom was distinguished for a very conciliatory attitude. The division went against Wakley. Mostly, it was Radicals who supported him. There were about half a dozen Whigs and twenty Tories, and significantly enough one of these was the great Mr. Walter, of The Times, which had all along taken an attitude of criticism of the Government because of the severity of the punishment and because of the falsity of the proceedings in applying an Act of Parliament that applied only to naval and military men for the condemnation of civilians.

The Times also had pointed out, in the early days, that if men were to be condemned for swearing secret oaths, the Freemasons and other Societies were liable to the same judgement that had been passed on these miserable men. This Division and the influential and many-sided support that had come to Dr. Wakley when he spoke, and the fact that the whole of the speech was listened to by an exceptionally large House, convinced the Government of the falsity of their position.

The Minister responsible wrote to the Governor in Australia instructing him to release the prisoners, and gave it out that orders for their release had been dispatched. It took a letter six months to get there. The Governor replied that what they asked was impossible. The law which the Governor of Van Dieman’s Land had mentioned to Loveless was in force. They could not legally be released under a service of four years, as they were under a seven years’ conviction. That reply took another six months of time away. The Government in England decided in spite of the Act to release the prisoners at once, and a further dispatch is shown instructing the Governor accordingly. But the carriage of the dispatches before the final instruction came to hand in Australia occupied eighteen months of time. There were one or two interim delays, though not of long duration. The discrepancy between the time George Loveless was supposed to be released and the time he actually was released is entirely accounted for by the circumstance of those dispatches.

In view of this lapse of time, the alteration in the attitude of the Colonial officials towards these men is explicable. They have received instructions to release them and send them home. These instructions are illegal, and the Governor writes home pointing this out. But it will be twelve months before he can get a reply. In the meantime he is acting legally in detaining them, but against the definite instructions of his superior in England. When the men came, they were looked upon as men who had committed a heinous offence. It was inconceivable to the authorities in Australia that such a punishment as transportation for seven years could have been inflicted for anything less than a crime of violence. It was, therefore, at once assumed that they must be rick-burners or machine-smashers.

Then came this sudden order of release. Surely the Government would not give in to agitation if their crime were of this nature! Perhaps, after all, the statements they have taken from the men have been true, and there has been a miscarriage of justice. If so, considering the reports of good conduct and skilful farm working that have come to hand about all of them, what desirable colonists they would make! George Loveless, indeed, has almost accomplished the impossible in doing the whole of the work of a shepherd and cattle tender, besides looking after the wild cattle on a large Government farm. Then is conceived the idea of persuading him to stop, and trying to keep him by bringing his wife and family to him. The release could not be promised because the Governor had pointed out to England the breach of law involved in a ticket of leave release before four years have expired and it might be that the legal difficulty would convince the Government that the sentence must be carried out so far.

So Mr. Spode is given what to him is the distasteful task of trying to persuade Loveless by cajolery to make the request for his wife and family. They are at cross purposes, for the magistrate cannot reveal all he knows. The fact that release has been ordered from home and has not been carried out might make a well-conducted man into an intractable and sulky rebel. Mr. Spode is not a man of much tact, and perhaps the softer policy of the Government does not appeal to him. He soon loses his temper when he finds that the prisoner will not ask his wife to share a life of misery. Freedom, he asks for, and freedom has actually been granted by the Home Government, but it cannot be offered because of the technical difficulty. Mr. Spode fails, and fails with a burst of anger.

The Governor, however, who has had a liking for Loveless ever since he first saw him and noted the innate honesty and straightforwardness of the man, succeeds where the underling has failed. He has the advantage of carrying Out his own policy and of being free to alter it in details if necessary. He can, for instance, say that he cannot promise freedom, but has no doubt it will come about. His whole bearing to Loveless is conciliatory. He has the power almost of life and death over the man, but never so much as hints that force may do what persuasion won’t. With his real liking for the prisoner comes a sympathetic understanding of his position and the consequent ability to use the arguments that may persuade him. And so, partly because of his knowledge of the power of the Governor, partly because he is half-persuaded that, perhaps after all, a life in this Colony might be tolerable if he were only free, he writes to his wife suggesting she should come out to him.

In the next chapter we will follow the course of things in England, leaving Loveless in the state of doubt awaiting his wife’s answer, and the Governor anticipating that in a very short time now the new dispatch from London will come as to his way of dealing with the prisoner. Will the Government have decided to act in the way indicated and override their own law? Or will he be commended for his carefulness of detail and instructed to keep the prisoner until the four years have expired? Or will the one thing that can override all the law in regard to this matter come about the granting of a free pardon by the King? It was not the sort of thing William the Fourth was often asked to do, but if Lord Melbourne was in a difficulty he might even go to that extent.