VERY brief is the account we have of the other five members of this group of Dorchester labourers. Their experiences were not quite on parallel lines to that of George Loveless. John Standfield tells of his experiences before sailing. The whole five were in the hulks at Portsmouth on March 27th, 1834. They seem to have had various changes in irons. There were irons put on them when they were conveyed to the York hulk in Portsmouth. These were struck off, and then after dressing they were each of them provided with another pair of irons and taken on a lighter to the ship Surrey at Spithead, where another hundred convicts were added to the hundred already with them from the Leviathan. On March 31st they sailed for Plymouth, where they were transferred to the William Metcalf and on April 2nd they took in another sixty men from the Captivity. On May 25th sailed off to landed at Hobart, Tasmania where George Loveless disembarked the others arrived at Sydney on August 17th, 1834, and on September 4th they were marched four abreast to Hyde Park Barracks, where they joined three hundred ‘old hands’.
James Brine was the first to be sent to his master, Mr. Robert Salt, of Glendon, Hunter’s River. He went by steamboat to the green hills, and then had a fifty-mile tramp by road, to report to his master when he arrived. He was served out a bed, a blanket, a suit of clothes, and given a shilling for his sustenance on the journey. It was more than he could manage in the day, and when night came on, he lay down under a blue gum or eucalyptus tree and went to sleep. It is astonishing that the authorities should place such trust in men whom they considered as the off-scourings of humanity, but certaintly that was their method. No doubt, when men really were the off-scourings, they took advantage of the trust that was placed in them and ran off into the bush. Others who were put under harsh masters, escaped, and in turn went into the bush. The result was the large number of bushrangers that constituted such a menace to society in Australia the whole of the time that it was a penal settlement. Brine, in the night, suffered from a gang of them. They found him asleep, and robbed him of his bedding, his suit, his boots, and the shilling. He therefore had to continue his journey barefoot, and arrived at his destination with bleeding feet and in a state of collapse.
His master was a brute. Probably having to deal with brutal convicts before had hardened him. He asked Brine what he had done with his bedding, and would not believe his story. ‘I have a good mind to give you such a flogging as you will remember,’ he said. He evidently had a prejudice against him as one of the Dorset Unionists. He accused him of murdering, burning, and destroying in England, and called him a Dorset machine-breaker. After this treatment he tried to get him to betray his Union, but loyalty seems to have been the unfailing characteristic of every one of these men, and Brine was as loyal as any of them. The overseer was then called and told to put Brine to work digging postholes for fences. Brine pointed to the condition of his feet and said: I can’t put any pressure on the spade with my feet like this, and no boots.’
‘You’ll get no boots,’ said the overseer.
‘May I have something to eat? I haven’t bitten nor supped since I left Sydney,’ he pleaded.
‘You’ll get your food at the same time as the others,’ was the reply.
For six months he had to dig postholes in his bare feet. He found a poor substitute for boots in a piece of old hoop. iron, which he bent so that he could tie it on his foot to take some of the cut out of the spade. For six months this continued, and he had neither bed, blankets, nor clothing, except the convict rags in which he left England. He slept on the ground. James Brine endured hardness if ever any man did. He was a noble soldier in the army of the pioneers.
A day or two later than Brine, James Loveless and Thomas Standfleld were ordered to go away to their masters, John did not like parting from his father, and with tenderness and solicitude went to bid him farewell. Whilst he was doing this, some of his fellow convicts stole his bundle of necessaries, much to his dismay.
The next day James Hammett was taken away, and then on September 8th John Standfleld was called to the clerk’s office. He was given the name and address of his master, and expected to go at once. He, however, was determined to keep in touch with his father if he could, and asked for the address. At first they would not give it to him, but eventually he was told where his father was. John’s master was Mr. Jones, M.C. For five days he remained in Sydney, and then was sent aboard the Sophia Jane steamboat to proceed to one of his farms on Hunter’s River, below Boiwarra, one hundred and fifty miles from Sydney. He was sent to a farm three miles from the growing town of Maitland. He found that he was not far from the place where his father had been sent to work under a Mr. Nowland. Thomas Standfield was residing in bush country and tending a flock of sheep. The shepherd’s duty was to look after from five hundred to six hundred sheep, conducting them into the bush, several miles from the farm. The bush consisted of large trees with much brushwood, with here and there a clear spot of ground, upon which the sheep were driven. If after driving these sheep miles through the bush, in peril of beasts, or weather, or storm, he lost one, the result was generally a flogging.
John found his father in great distress, because of the sufferings he had gone through. He seemed almost in despair of his life, but somehow he managed to carry on. John did his best to comfort him and promised to come again as soon as he could get permission from his overseer, and undoubtedly this visit from his son did much to relieve the mental distresses he was enduring, though it could not lessen the physical exhaustion.
Three weeks later John again got leave to visit his father. This time the old man was a really dreadful spectacle. He had sores all over him from head to foot, and was as weak and helpless as a child. How he had got through his experiences he hardly knew. After being in the bush from sunrise to sunset with his sheep, he had to return, for what repose he could get, to a watchbox measuring six feet by eighteen inches, containing a small bed and one blanket. He could gaze at the stars as he lay in bed, and the wind blew right through. In addition to his other work he had to walk a distance of four miles for his rations, and that must be done after sunset.
John Standfield kept up these periodical visits to his father for nine months, and then came a blow, for his father was removed to Williams River, thirty miles away, and good as his overseer had been in letting him visit his father when he was so near, he would give no permission for a thirty-mile leave. For himself he seems to have been very well placed for this period.
Then on January 25th, 1836, he was ordered to go before the Maitland Bench. His father had had a similar summons and appeared at the same place next morning. They were sent to the lock-up where they had to stay for a day and a night. They asked for food, but they were told it was not due for two days after their arrival. He was guarded to the Court-house by two constables, and another constable took his father along. They got no information from the magistrate why they were brought there, but were ordered back into the lock-up for two more nights, and existed on bread and water. They had neither bed nor blanket.
Then they were taken to a steamboat bound for Newcastle, ten of them being chained together, two abreast. He asked his guards for victuals, but was told he would get them on arrival at the place to which he was going. They marched chained together to Morpeth where they were put on the steamboat. When they had embarked, the constable was requested to unlock the fetters from the chain, but he refused. The waves were high and broken over them, but they could not use their hands to protect themselves, and had great difficulty in balancing because of their bound state. In this condition they arrived at Newcastle, where they were marched to gaol. They again asked for provisions, but were told this time they ought to have had some food given them at the place from which they had come, for they were not due there until the next day. They were now almost exhausted. There they stayed for three days and nights, and five of them (including himself and father) were sent to Sydney.
In the gaoler’s office preliminary to their going, the constable came to John Standfield to put handcuffs on. He told him to stop, and asked that he might see the authorities. The clerk stopped and asked what he wanted. He said: ‘I want to know the reason my father and I have to be taken about in irons, not being aware that we have committed any crime, and we can conduct ourselves properly without being in irons.’ The clerk admitted that he saw no necessity for it, but they must carry out orders. So John was handcuffed between his father and a stranger. On the steamboat he again asked the constable to unlock the handcuffs, to meet with another refusal, the constable saying they might be bushrangers for all he knew. So on that hundred mile journey by boat they were handcuffed all the way. Everyone of them was seasick, but their hands even then, were not loosened.
When they arrived at Sydney they were taken to the common gaol in George Street. They were waiting for examination, and were starved with the cold and hunger, and for one day and two nights they lay on the hard flags with neither bed nor blanket. There were a hundred convicts there, and the magistrates decided to try twenty a day. On the second morning John and his father went with eighteen others, and were put in a dark room till called for. Ten of them were then tied together with a large chain, handcuffed to it, and marched through Sydney like a lot of wild beasts. At the Court-house, he and his father were released from the chain and sent to the Hyde Park Barracks where they had been on arrival in Australia. Again they suffered hunger, being refused food until it was due next morning. After two days and two nights John Standfield asked to see Mr. Foster, the Barrack Superintendent.
‘Sir,’ he said, ‘do you know the reason of our being confined in this miserable place, as we are not criminals? I am determined to go out, and if we are not released I shall seek for further redress.’
Next morning, after being kept eleven days in their clothes, with no bedding and very little food and being dragged from plate to place suffering all sorts of indignities, associated with and handcuffed to the most depraved and reckless portion of the wretched convicts, they came before the authorities. They were told that the Government had ordered that they should be employed on Government work only, and that was why they had been brought away from their masters.
After a few days they were sent to work with one of the chain-gangs, which was a relief in spite of its hardships, after what they had gone through.
Then James Brine came and joined them and, a day after, James Loveless; and they ceased going to work. They were informed by the Superintendent of the barracks that they had been granted a conditional pardon at the expiration of the three years since their arrival in the Colony, but an order had come from the Governor to send them on to Port Macquarrie for twelve months. They wanted James Loveless, as they had wanted his brother, to bring his wife and children into the Colony. Notwithstanding promises, threats, and entreaties, he refused to bring her there, and used much the same sort of language in his refusal as did George. Only James did not even write to England.
Port Macquarrie had a bad reputation. John Standfleld, like the others, did not want to go. He certainly didn’t want his father to be subject to any worse trouble than he had had. He therefore drew up a petition that they should all be sent to work for Mr. Nowland, his father’s former master, and this was allowed, the four of them going to a sheep farm thirty miles from Maitland. They had large flocks of sheep to tend night and day, and after getting the sheep into the pens John Standfield had six miles to walk to get their rations.
During this time, the inevitable happened. It is a wonder it hadn’t occurred before. Thomas Standfield was taken ill. An extra severe exposure in the bush on a very boisterous rainy day brought on an attack that kept him in bed for two months.
Soon after this, John Standfield heard that George Loveless was in Van Diemans Land, and sent him the letter to which reference has been made. He then immediately wrote to his other uncle, James Loveless, telling him of George’s letter, and requesting him to make application for the free passage for all of them. Mr. Brennen, the Barracks Superintendent, had told them nothing of this, and delayed the matter as much as he could. He wanted to keep them in the Colony. James Loveless, however, was as persistent as his brother had been, and his persistence triumphed.
On September 11th, 1837, these four prisoners, Thomas and John Standfield, James Loveless and James Brine, were given free passages on the John Burry bound for Plymouth. They found a Captain who was friendly, and arranged with him that they should do all they could to help in the vessel’s work, so that they might earn a little money to buy clothes when they should arrive in England. They were nine weeks in New Zealand on the way, loading the vessel with timber. On March 17th, 1838, they arrived in Plymouth Sound.
James Loveless had had similar experiences to his brother. He had been threatened with flogging and with working on the road. He had been offered bribes. He had had one or two terms of road-working. He was considered in Australia to be the ringleader. Possibly there was some confusion in the mind of the Governor between the two brothers. When James heard of the free pardon, he went to the Governor and complained that no notification had come to him and asked why he was detained. The Governor told him that, as he was one of the ringleaders, he would have to serve twelve months longer than the others.
‘Ringleaders of what?’ asked James Loveless.
‘Of your secret combination,’ replied the Governor.
Hammett’s method of receiving the news of his pardon was characteristic. He was one of several men who were sold at one pound each, the dealers or agents drawing lots for them. The name and address of his master was given to him, and he had to tramp four hundred miles up country to reach him. He was given rations for twenty-two days, and was told that he must get drink as best he could and find his sleeping-places where he might. He, in common with the others, was given a shilling by the agent. How he managed to reach his master at all must remain a mystery. Four hundred miles in an unknown country, meeting very few people from whom he could enquire the way! He had to walk twenty miles per day to do it, whatever the weather. But he got there.
It was, of course, far out of the way of news. He was put in charge of a large sheep-run, far away from his master’s house, and lived in a lonely hut all by himself. He heard nothing about his pardon which had arrived long ago, when his master rode out one day to give him some orders and accidentally dropped an old newspaper. Naturally, however stale the news in the paper might be, he eagerly picked it up to read it.
The state of his mind and spirit is revealed in a startling way by his description of what then happened. ‘By the Providence of God,’ he said, ‘my eyes caught sight of my own name, and I read that we had been pardoned and were to be sent home again.’ The next day he went to his master and demanded to be sent home. He sailed for home on August 17th, 1838, nearly a year after the Standfields, and nineteen months after George Loveless. He had served four and half years of his sentence. James Hammett was the only one to remain in his native village.
All of the men were given sufficient money to buy farms and work for themselves. Most of them went to Greenstead, Essex. Brine appears eventually to have been an innkeeper not far away. Subsequently, the two Lovelesses and the two Standfields and their respective families emigrated to Canada. Today you will find Lovelesses in the village, but they cannot trace any relationship to the Dorchester labourers, though curiously enough, by later marriages they are connected with James Hammett, who finished his days among them.
He was a silent man. The troubles he had gone through he never talked about, except just at the welcome meeting when he returned home. The village was still subject to the squire, and he had relatives. His brother and nephew both suffered in one way or another for their connexion with the Wesleyan chapel. He lived on in the village till he was an old man. When asked in after years about his experiences, his nephew’s widow, who lived in the same house for a good deal of the time, simply said: ‘He would never talk about it.’ And yet his silent presence was a witness to the ills he had suffered and to the great sacrifice he had made, when he went out rather than betray his brother in whose stead he was taken. His self-sacrifice did not end there. In his old age he lost his sight, and thus became helpless and dependent. He refused to be a burden on his people, and went into the Dorchester Workhouse where he was kindly and considerately treated. He died, and was buried in his native village.
Not yet had the Tolpuddle labourers been emancipated. Still the squire had a strangle-hold on them. He feared that in death James Hammett would be greater than in life, and to prevent any attempt at the Trade Union graveside oration, he was there watching during the service. He would have acted swiftly and promptly to stop it if any such demonstration had taken place. But it was almost a forgotten struggle.
The distinguished Wesleyan President of the Conference, who in his youth wrote a history of Dorsetshire Methodism, when appealed to about the things he must have heard on his journey five or six miles in company with a Mr. Loveless from Tolpuddle to Tincleton about thirty years after Hammett’s return, says that he heard nothing about it. It was a subject on which people did not like to talk. In other words, official Methodists of the time were ashamed of their hero convicts. The whole literature of the Wesleyan Church of those days would justify that attitude. A minister who was in the circuit at the time moved to the North of England, and was asked about these men. He agreed that they had been shamefully treated, and were exceedingly good men from his personal knowledge. But he added that his position and life would not be worth a day’s purchase if he dared to say anything.
So for half a century, the Church whose heroic founders and pioneers had set the example which the Lovelesses and Standfields followed so faithfully, forgot these minor heroes, or if it remembered them, it was with a feeling of shame. It needed Joseph Arch, a member of another Church, George Howell, the Hammonds and the Webbs to revive the memory of these men from the Trade Unionist point of view, before the Wesleyan Church became interested again.
And yet it is these heroes who must be considered the pioneers of the movement that brought a Wesleyan working man and local preacher to the position of His Majesty’s Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. And suitably enough it was Mr. Arthur Henderson, M.P., who unveiled the memorial arch, when at last Methodism woke up. Mr. George Burden, a Dorset County police official, had more vision than his fellows. He agitated and collected money until his neighbours realized that something big had been done for liberty in the village of Tolpuddle. It was he who carried this Memorial scheme through to its triumphant conclusion in 1912.