from Dark Convicts: Ex-Slaves on the First Fleet

 

George Worgan Writes Home 

 

1. An early encounter with the native inhabitants of New South Wales

 

An apocryphal tale    is it not?  Well suited to

         relaying in a publick house at least. That one of

                   our first meetings    nay first Intercourse obtained    with these

 

Children of Nature    should revolve around such a cheer-

         ful parley and joke    whose punchline would be crude    if timed

                   well enough    to result in an uproar of laughter

 

particularly when under advisement    that the

         Governor had not much earlier shewed the natives

                   his musket!    They did not believe we were men    you see  

 

because we did not wear facial hair long in beards as

         they did    and our assurances did not satisfy

                   their curiosity    even though most generous-

 

ly we tolerated them to presently open

         our Shirt-Bosoms (which they do very roughly and with-

                   out any Ceremony). And not perceiving the

 

distinguishing Characteristics of Women there-

         in    they lurched back with amazement somewhat bewildered 

                   gave a Hum! with a significant look implying

 

What kind of creatures are these?!    We could not satisfy

         them in any other way    so were forced to recourse

                   to the Evidence of Ocular Demonstration

 

which made them laugh    jump & Skip in an extravagant

         way.   And as for the man of ours called on to prove his

                   maleness    to represent us all    he possesses the

 

honour now of being    the first white Colonist to

         expose himself south of the equator   (so to speak)

                   in the infant settlement of New South Wales.   If it

 

had been the Governor so disposed to enlighten

         them    with the example of his own person    perhaps

                   there might be a plaque erected    to commemorate

 

the affair    though the wording for this memorial

               no matter how tactful    does presently elude me.

 

 

2.  On the Pleasures of Exploration

 

The Governor’s officers come out to play.  Leaving

         their supper and leaving their sleep    they come zealously

                   into  (as we do not yet have a street)  these brand new

 

woods in the colony    darkish and deep.    They come with

         a whoop and they come with a call. They come with good will  

                   or else no will at all. A bit of salt Beef and a

 

bite of salt Pork.  Some Bisket.  Plum pudding from home and

         I trust    a bottle or two of O be Joyful  thrust

                   into our snapsacks    and onto our backs.  Then it’s up

 

to our map-making necks in Occasion. The greed of

         the Crown for land exploration    Odyssean yet

                   it will not get us down.  We will scour the woods    North    South

 

East    and West.   That indefatigable badge stuck firm

         to our Empirish chests.  Brace of pistols    a hatchet

                   co-ordinates not yet confirmed.  Rest assured that our

 

keenness will leave not a single    stone-visaged native

         unturned.    Our sailors teach them to swear    by way of a

                   lark    and they offer us food.  But as is often a

 

mark    and a lack   in rude children of nature    they are

         apt to spear our fellows when they turn their backs.    But we

                   won’t get bogged deep in the challenges here.  Let’s instead

 

raise our mugs in some brave British cheer.  If night over-

         takes us    we’ll collect a few brambles    and then light a

                   fire.  We’ll build one of their Wig-Wams.  And sleepy    retire.

 

While I relish these rambles    and think    you might not mind

         them    perhaps it is not worth your while    to come all this

                   way    south of the refined world’ s equator    to find them.

 

 

3. John Martin’s Twenty Five Lashes

 

The Governor said    before we left England    there will

be no Slavery in New South Wales.   No terror through

 

violence.    No forced labour.    Stripped to the waist    on this cold

August day.    Tied to the tree at ankles and wrists.    With

 

the blood of others    who have come before me    soaked in-

to the bark    pushed against my cheek    I think of this.    The   

 

Governor said    before we left England      there’ll  be no

Slavery in New South Wales.    The drum beats.    I bite my

 

lip    hard.  The first lash tears open thin skin.  The flogger

clears the gore with his fingertips to make sure    the next

 

lash    will let those knots dig in.    The drum beats again    and

the cat chews in deep.    I slump at the pain and can’t help

 

but moan low.    The Governor said    before we left Eng-

land    that there will not be Slavery  in New South Wales.     

 

The flogger clears the gore with his fingertips    to make

sure    the next lash will let those knots dig in.    I’m a free

 

man by their law   but the papers have not come    so I’m

still enslaved.    But the Governor swore    before we left

 

England    There  will  be  no  Slavery  in  New  South  Wales.    

 

The drum beats.  The lash bites.  I feel the long-hot bitter

flow.  The flogger clears the gore with his fingertips    to 

 

ensure    the full hell of those knots    can dig all the way

in.    The Governor lied before we left England    there 

 

is no thing but Slavery in New South Wales.    The drum

 

beats.  The lash bites into muscle.  This time I cry out.

The flogger seems pleased    clearing the gore with his bloody

 

fingertips to make sure     the next lash    will let those knots  

make chopped meat of my back.    The drum beats.  My bowels loosen. 

 

The cat flays.  I cry out.    And the flogger seems pleased    clear-

ing the gore with his fingertips   to ensure    the lash

 

follows the score    in his much-pleasured head.  Like a fond

sweetheart he whispers:   ‘Cheer up you black bastard ... I’ve brought

 

your back    five red roses with thorns    and you’ve still    got some

twenty more pricks to go.    Pain’s how you know    you’re not dead.’