THE William Metcalf with her contingent of two hundred and forty convicts set sail for Botany Bay on May 17th, 1834. She weighed anchor in the afternoon, and next evening bade farewell to England as she passed Land’s End. Each of the two hundred and forty convicts had served out to him a small bed, a pillow, and a blanket, which would have contributed greatly to their comfort had there been sufficient room to lie on them. Their berths were about five feet six inches square for every six men, to occupy day and night, with the exception of four hours allowed on deck, two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon for air. For nearly ten weeks of the fourteen, George Loveless was not able to lie at length to take a rest. Complaints, of course, were made, but little satisfaction came as a result. ‘You have no business here, so you must take it as it comes, for better, for worse,’ is about all the officers could say. They could not make room which did not exist. They were carrying criminals at the dictation of their Government. It was not their business to question what the authorities allowed.
How men of this type would have enjoyed that voyage in better circumstances! The immensities would have appealed to a man like James Hammett, and the wonderfully changing scenes would have taken hold of George Loveless. His passion for freedom might have been shocked by some of the evidences of slavery that met his view, but it would have been stimulated in the freedom of the bird and animal life. Young Brine would have seen the adventurous side of it and so would his friend John Standfield, whilst even the older Standfield would have felt the power of illustration as he looked at the mighty sea, and perhaps saw the great whales. Interest was everywhere around them, but the voyage remains in the memory of all, just one long fourteen weeks’ grind, with companionship of the vilest and the oversight of English officers, always on the look-out for attempts on the part of the convicts to escape their vigilance. The key to their attitude is supplied by George Loveless’s answer to an enquiry from several of the crew as, on September 4th, they cast anchor in Hobart Town, Van Dieman’s Land. Was it not a delightful land? he was asked, and replied with very little grace, ‘I think we are come to the wrong end of the world’.
They were kept there for a week, but then, on September 9th, magistrates came on board to take measurements and other particulars of the prisoners. One by one they were called into the cabin, in the alphabetical order of the towns in which they had been convicted. It therefore happened that most of the Tolpuddle company came together. Brine and Hammett preceded Loveless, but at an early turn he was called in. Who was his father? and his mother? how many brothers and sisters had he? were they living and where? had he a wife and any children? and where were they? and so on, were the questions he answered. Then one of the magistrates, evidently not particularly well informed about things, said to him:
‘What is all this about these Trade Unions? You think of doing great things, I suppose. Now tell me what you mean.”
‘We meant nothing more, sir,’ answered Loveless, ‘than uniting together to keep up the price of labour, and to support each other in time of need.’
‘Now I know this is false,’ angrily retorted the magistrate. ‘There is some secret design of conspiracy at the bottom, is there not?’
‘No, sir, quite the reverse of that, for every man that is a member of the Union is under an obligation not to violate the laws.’
‘Yes, surely, I know you mean they are bound not to break any of their laws.’
‘I mean they are bound not to violate the laws of their country,’ said Loveless firmly and sincerely.
‘I do not believe anything you say about it,’ said this very judicial magistrate, ‘for there is so much secrecy belonging to it. Now what is that secret sign or signal by which the Unions know when to meet all over England at the same time?’
‘I do not know of what you are talking, sir.’
‘You daring fellow, will you tell me so again,” blustered his questioner. ‘Do not you know that they did meet all over the Kingdom at once?’
‘I know of no such things as their having secret signs or signals to know when to meet. I have never heard of such a thing before.’
‘Where were you when they made such a noise then? Will you be so false as to tell me you know nothing about it? Now I am certain you know all about it. Be careful in what you say.’
George Loveless had somehow heard rumours of the agitation in England about their case. Some of the convicts who had come on the ship after them had heard things and told him, so he was able to say: ‘I understand the Union had public meetings at different places, but I was at the York hulk, Portsmouth, all the time.’
‘It is no matter where you were; you are one of them, and you know all about it; and if you do not tell me, here and now, all and everything about them, I will report you to the Governor. You shall be taken on shore, and we will give you a second trial and you shall be severely punished. Now, what are those secrets you are so backward in telling.’
And so it went on, at cross purposes. The authorities at home evidently suspected that the whole spontaneous movement of indignation their action had called out, had been fomented as a revolutionary aim by the Trades Unions. Like all tyrants, they failed to understand that there was a large body of people who were prepared to agitate against their tyranny on the abstract principle of freedom. It meant nothing to them, and how could it mean anything to the people of England—they argued?
The examination of the prisoners went on, and it was three days later before they were landed at daybreak and conducted to the prisoners’ barracks. Later on they were marshalled in the yard for the inspection of the Governor. The magistrate who had been so persistent in his questioning of Loveless was there with the Governor, and pointed him out as being a member of the Trades Unions, and very backward in saying anything about them. He urged on the Governor another examination. The latter came across to Loveless and spoke to him not altogether unkindly.
‘What a fool you must have been,’ he said, ‘to have anything to do with such things. What object had you in view for doing so?’
‘The motives by which we were influenced;’ replied the prisoner, ‘were to prevent our wives and families from being starved and utterly degraded.’
‘Pooh, pooh, no such thing,’ said the Governor. ‘What? Cannot labouring men live by their labour?’
‘Not always now, sir.’
‘I mean good labouring men. Surely they can live comfortable.’
‘No, sir; times have been in England when labour was well rewarded, but it is not so now. There is many a good and willing workman that cannot get employed at all, and others get so little for their labour that it is impossible for them to live and have families.’
‘But you know you did very wrong, do you not?’
‘I had no idea whatever that I was violating the law.’
‘But you must know that you have broken the laws, or how came you here?’ asked the puzzled Governor, who could see honesty and sincerity written all over the man he was examining.
‘By some means or other I was sent here,’ was the reply; ‘but I cannot see how a man can break a law before he knows that such a law is in existence.’
‘You might as well say, “I have done very wrong. I acknowledge it and I am sorry for it “,’ was the gentle and kindly advice of the Governor, but Loveless was a man who could not depart from truth and honesty though the heavens fell.
‘I cannot do this until I see it,’ he said, and with those words the conversation concluded. Obviously he had made an impression on the Governor.
On September 13th a constable came for him to go to the police office. Mr. Mason, who had examined him before, was there in a private room. He called a young fellow who was acting for him and asked Loveless if he could remember the conversation of a few days ago. When he said that he could remember, the magistrate asked him to repeat it. The young fellow had a paper in his hand with a report of the conversation on it, and scanned it carefully to see if it deviated from the statement now being made. At the end of the conversation previously reported were added these words.
Loveless: ‘ I have none to tell, sir.’
Magistrate: ‘Now you pretend from a scrupulous conscience you cannot reveal the secret to me. If you have taken an oath not to reveal it, you are sinning against God and man until you break that oath, and if you still refuse to tell me you shall be severely punished.’
Loveless: ‘I am in your hands, and am ready and willing to undergo any suffering you may think proper to inflict upon me, rather than say I know anything, when in reality I do not.’
Magistrate: ‘That will do. I will report you to the Governor and you shall be punished.’
In this room at the police office, Mr. Mason again appealed to him to reveal the secret. Loveless told him that he had already told all he knew.
‘But,’ said the magistrate, ‘think now, is there not something you have not told yet?’
‘I have told you all that I can, sir. It appears that you know more about the matter than I do.’
‘Well,’ he said, ‘ I have to tell you that you were recommended for severer punishment: you were to work in irons on the road; but in consequence of the conversation you had with the Governor yesterday, his mind is disposed in your favour; he won’t allow you to go where you were assigned to; he intends to take you to work on his farm.’