ROBERT EMMET. The Centenary of His Execution His Companions Exiled to New South Wales.
Michael Dwyer, John Mernagh, Hugh Byrne, Martin Bourke, Arthur Develin, John Fitzpatrick, and Lawrence Fenton. Their Persecutions under Bligh. (No.V.)
(By 'Old Chum')
Among the papers of Governor King which have been published in the "His-torical Records," is one of interest now in connection with Emmet's Insurrec-tion. It is from Secretary A. Marsden to Governor King, and dated from Dublin Castle, August 17, 1805, nearly two years after the execution of Emmet :
Sir,— The Lord Lieutenant of Ire-land has this day signed a warrant for transmitting one hundred and thir-ty men and thirty-six women, now embarked on board the Tellichery in Cork Harbor, for New South Wales. Among the number are five men, Michael Dwyer, John Mernagh, Hugh Byrne, Martin Burke and Arthur Develin, who were engaged in treasonable practices here, and who have requested to be allowed to banish themselves for life to New South Wales to avoid being brought to trial; and as it has been deemed expedient to make such a compromise with them, they are sent there. Not having been convicted, they claimed the advantage of this distinction; the effect of which is not, however, to prevent their being subjected to all the laws and discipline of the settlement and that any further indulgence is to be earned by their behavior, of which there has been no reason to complain during The term of their confinement here. I have, etc., A. MARSDEN.
John Fitzpatrick and Lawrence Fenton came to New South Wales under the terms contained in Mr. Marsden's letter. Here there is an alleged breach of faith on the part of the Earl of Hardwicke, the then Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and his immediate advisers. Dwyer sent a message to Mr. William Hoare Hume, of Humewood, that he would accept the terms offered, by the Government, which were some cash and permission to go to America. Mr. Hume had waited upon the Lord Lieutenant, of Ireland and the Castle authorities were so pleased to be rid of such a troublesome fellow that they agreed to give him £500 and his passport to America.
Dwyer refused the terms unless his friends Burke and Byrne were similarly dealt with. Eventually it was settled that Dwyer should have £500, and his two companions £200 each. This being settled, Dwyer met Hume, each unarmed and alone at a spot fixed upon, and went to Humewood, where Dwyer remained ten days. Hugh Byrne and Martin Burke soon after took up their abode in the same hospitable dwelling. It must not be supposed that Mr. Hume was entirely disinterested in desiring the surrender of Michael Dwyer.
The tenants on the Humewood Estate, though sympathisers to a man with the Irish insurgents, were complaining of the raids of the Yeomanry and the "regulars," who, while professing to search for rebels, were really raiding the pea-santry. Mr. Hume wrote to Dublin Castle that Dwyer and his two lieuten-ants had surrendered. In ten days Hume, Dwyer, Byrne and Burke set out for Dublin, and at the Castle the terms of surrender were repeated and ratified. Quarters were to be provided for the trio that night in the Castle. Next day Mr. Hume called to see how the ex-rebels were getting on, and to his amazement, found that the three had been removed to Kilmainham Gaol, prior to their transportation to Botany Bay. Annoyed at this breach of faith, Mr. Hume waited upon Earl Hardwicke to remonstrate, when that "noble-man" told him that the Executive did not feel bound by any promises made to rebels, and that Mr. Hume need not feel any way squeamish about them. Hume fiercely retorted that he wished he had left the men in their native hills, where Lord Hardwicke did not dare to look for them.
"They shall have their lives and nothing else," observed the Lord Lieutenant, and with that the interview closed. Hume went to Kilmainham to explain himself, and on leaving gave Dwyer £10 and Burke and Byrne £5 each, all the cash he had about him. Through this breach of faith the men whose names head this article came to New South Wales, and each one made a good colonist, though Governors King and Bligh threw every obstacle in the way of their success in the new land, and in their efforts to start a new life. Governor King made his complaint before he had any experience of the men by the Tellicherry.
That vessel arrived on February 15, 1806 and Governor King writing to Secretary Marsden, seven days after, penned this :—
However great the necessity must be of sending such characters as Dwyer and four other persons from Ireland to this settlement, yet I cannot but regret that they were sent without convictions, which I am apprehensive may not be attended with the most pleasant consequences to this colony, where more than half the present inhabitants are subordinate characters of the same description, and who perhaps only want the assistance and abilities of leaders to renew what has been so lately got under. As Dwyer and his companions are not liable to the restraint placed on prisoners sent here under the sentence of the law, they very justly consider themselves en-titled to all the rights and immunities of free subjects, but how far they may prove legal ones remains to be discovered by their future conduct. That no plea may be made by them of wanting the means to obtain their living by industry, and well knowing the capricious disposition of the Irish character, I have very clearly explain-ed to them the footing they are on, and on their promises of being circumspect in their conduct, and not giving any cause of complaint, I have allow-ed them to become settlers, with the encouragement generally given to free settlers sent from England. How far these indulgences will operate on their turbulent dispositions time will show. King does not enlighten us as to what the "encouragement" and "indulgences" were, as the grants of land were not for some time after King left, perhaps he gave them permission to sell rum.
Governor Bligh was, like King, very apprehensive of rebellion; and his apprehensions were not of the Irish alone though that nationality had to bear the brunt of his suspicions and irritability. In writing to the Right Hon. W. Windham under date Government House, Sydney, March 19, 1807 :
-In general we are improving, and have every hope we shall do well, notwithstanding a late attempt to insurrection, which has been preparing for 18 months past, and was to have, been put into execution the day before I arrived, but was prevented by my appearance off the coast, and of which Governor King had an alarm. No arms have been found, or any positive overt act been committed, our information only leading to declared plans which were to be put into execution by the Irish convicts, headed by O'Dwyer (sic) and some of the Irish State prisoners, as they are here called. It appears that, in order to avoid detection, they determined to rest their success on seizing the arms of the loyal inhabitants; and in order to effect this, the Irish servants of the inhabitants were, on a certain time fixed, to massacre their respective masters and the principal persons of the colony, and then to possess them-selves of their arms. Of this determination I continued to have proofs, more or less, when I at once determined on seizing the persons represented as ringleaders, and effected my purpose. O'Dwyer I have put on board the Porpoise : Byrne, Burke, and some others are in jail for trial, and will be brought forward as soon as our evidences are all arranged and prepared.
Governor King's statement that "more than half the present inhabitants of the colony" were of the same insurrectionary stamp as Michael Dwyer is sheer non-sense, as the records show the number of prisoners then in New South Wales, and generally indicates their nationality. But Governor Bligh "takes the cake" for reckless statements, and seeing the style in which he took in hand these "Irish rebels," we can scarcely wonder that when he placed "irreverent hands" upon the English loyalists in the colony the latter very soon became rebels in fact, their rebellion overshadowing anything that had occurred of that description in New South Wales previously or since.
Bligh, on March 19, 1807, said that the intended insurrection had been "preparing for 18 months" yet from Kings note we find that Dwyer and his friends "per Tellichery" arrived just 13 months before. But what an opinion Bligh must have formed of himself and his prowess when he tells us that his arrival off the coast had prevented the insurrection taking place!
"No arms were found, and no overt act committed," yet Bligh cast his net and made a haul on mere suspicion. Worthy, indeed, of the best days of "Buckshot" Forster. From an account given in the "Sydney Gazette" of August 10, 1806, it ap-pears that when the suspicion of the existence of the alleged plot was first formed, the rumor found no credence, Governor King, with all his nervous-ness, did not believe it. (King retired from the government on August 12, 1806, Bligh assuming the government next day.)
It will be remembered that the "Sydney Gazette" in those days was the Government organ and under the censorship of Government House : consequently Bligh must have fathered the paragraph which appeared in the news-paper of February 22, 1807 :-
They were to have destroyed the Governor, who they supposed would be going into the country as soon as the Buffalo had sailed, on his way to the Hawkesbury, and which was to have been the commencement of the general insurrection. The New South Wales Corps were to have been surprised, the leading gentlemen of the colony were to have been killed at the same time, the Porpoise and shipping were to have been seized, and a general massacre was to have taken place. We may rest assured that George Howe, editor and Government Printer, never wrote a line of that. Bligh's malignant spirit is shown in every word and letter.
Surgeon John Harris, in a long letter to ex-Governor King, dated October 25, 1807, writes thus :—
Know, then, that shortly after your departure the Governor seemed to think that he had suffi-cient information against the crop-pies to annihilate the whole of the supposed leaders. He consequently had O'Dwyer (sic), Burn (sic), Burke and Merney (sic) taken up and tried, but nothing appearing against them they were acquitted but not without their total ruin, as they were sent from their farms to different outposts. Two of the men who swore against them being for life, one of them a servant, of that scoundrel Ramsay, and a notorious character, his Excellency thought proper to give them free pardons, and which will be all of the kind he will ever do as he does not seem to have much of the milk of human kindness in him. He has executed more men in the time he has been here than you did the whole of the time you were with us, nor has he ever given any reprieve, except to a man condemned the day his friend Gore was acquitted.
At the date of the letter Bligh had been 14 months in the colony. King had been over six years. In a progress report from Bligh to Windham, dated October 31, 1807, occurs this passage :—
Referring to my letter of March 19, stating that an insurrection was on the eve of breaking out, and that the leading persons were taken up, I have to inform you, sir, that, they have since been tried, and the fact, in my opinion, proved, yet they were acquitted, except two, who were sentenced to corporeal punishment. The whole being prisoners for life, I immediately divided the gang, and sent two to each of the settlements of Norfolk Island, the Derwent, and Port Dalrymple, and kept two here. The two men who informed me of this conspiracy gave their evidence so steadily as to induce me to give them free pardons, and they remain here without any apprehension of being molested by the disaffected Irishmen. Bligh appears to have been a persistent perverter of the truth.
The men Dwyer, etc., were not convicts for life ; they were to all intents and purposes settlers, according to the letters of Marsden and of King, quoted above. Lieutenant Minchin, who was one of the Court trying Dwyer and his comrades, spoke very highly of Michael Dwyer. The evidence at the trial of these eight suspects was not published. The "Sydney Gazette" of June 7, 1807, gives a short account of the trial, which took place in May. Bligh taking ample time to eliminate such portions as did not suit his purpose. The men were charged with "contriving and intending to disturb the peace of this colony by instigating many persons to revolt from their allegiance, and to rise in open re-bellion, with intent to overthrow his Majesty's Government herein, as well as upon the 27th day of August last, as at other subsequent periods prior to the prisoners being taken into custody." The two principal witnesses were the two convict informers to whom Bligh granted free pardons, and who, strange to say, again, according to Bligh, were not afraid to remain in the colony amongst the disaffected Irish.
The writer in the "Sydney Gazette," inspired, or censored by Bligh, writes :—
''It appealed upon the most respectable testimony (two convicts!) that the conduct of many of that description of prisoners, who had been exiled for treasonable and seditious practices, had been untoward and highly disrespectful to their masters, at and about the abovestated periods, and that from this sudden change of con-duct, in addition to the various informations that were communicated by persons whose veracity was to be depended upon, no other inference was deducible than that the insurrection was on the very point of bursting forth, and that the devoted victims of delusion and artifice were confident of a successful issue.
Notwithstanding the "respectable" evidence, six of the eight were acquitted, not by juries such as to-day are summoned, but by jury of military and officials all in the pay of the Crown, and interested in maintaining the supremacy of the Crown in this colony. The writer in the "Gazette" thus winds up his report :
The odious project which has, thus happily been laid open, had been in agitation for upwards of a twelve-month. The secret information received by the Government (two convicts) rendered vigilance necessary, and every precaution that had been adopted was immediately succeeded by a change of measures among the principal agents in the work of the intended massacre, and had their plots succeeded to their wish, dreadful indeed had been the fate of all whom reason, loyalty and humanity must inspire with sentiments of abhorrence and disgust at their in-tended plan of operations.
No one to-day will accuse the editor of the "Gazette," himself an exile, with having composed the above. The indictment was, without doubt, drawn by George Crossley, the convict attorney transported for forgery, whom Bligh employed as his legal adviser; and it is also apparent that the report in the 'Gazette' was the product of the same fertile brain. Two of the eight, were convicted and sentenced to receive one thousand lashes each!
On May 27, 1807, Bligh sent — aboard the Porpoise - to Norfolk Island two of the suspects. Michael O'Dwyer and William Morris, with the following order to Captain John Piper, the Commandant :-
Michael O'Dwyer and William Morris, two convicts for life (the lie repented) being removed from this settlement, you are hereby required and directed to receive the said two men, and victual them accordingly. Taking care that they are not suffered to quit Norfolk Island unless by authority under my hand. And the said William Morris, having received five hundred and twenty-five lashes pursuant to his sentence of one thousand, you are hereby required to direct the remaining part of four hundred and seventy-five lashes, to be inflicted according to the warrant sent herewith by the Judge Advocate. Could anything be more ferocious than the instructions conveyed in this order?
Presumably the unfortunate "suspect," Morris, succumbed at 525, and the tyrant was compelled to postpone the remainder until the culprit's back had healed. Agreeably to Bligh's order, the others were sent, two to Port Dalrymple and two to Hobart Town. Dwyer was recalled from Norfolk Island during Colonel Johnstone's Governorship; the others were also recalled, and Colonel Patterson, during his government (in 1809) gave Dwyer, Develin, Byrne, Burke and Mernagh grants of 100 acres each in the district of Cabramatta.
(To be concluded.)
ROBERT EMMET. (1903, September 27). Truth (Sydney, NSW : 1894 - 1954), p. 3. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article167899421