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2-130 (Original)

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author,male,Gates, William*,un addressee
Narrative Discourse
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Public Written
Ward, 1969
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Our 'WALK' extended a mile, and was difficult from the trouble we experienced in keeping upright. When arrived at the end, we were bade to take the tools and exercise somewhat. We had hardly expected this; but we were permitted to take it very leisurely that afternoon, and, in fact, for two or three days. In our weak condition, the travelling was about all we could do. Our implements were the shovel, pick-axe, and wheelbarrow. At sundown we were allowed to return, greatly fatigued. [119] The third day carts made their appearance, which were quite large to be propelled by human muscles - the bodies measuring six feet in length, two in depth, and four and a half in breadth, with the other parts to correspond. To each cart were attached four men. These men had leathern collars, passing over one shoulder and under the other, to which were fastened hooks, that might he attached to the tongue for the purpose of pulling. Near the extremity of the tongue were two cross-bars against which the 'team' could push.
When the carts made their appearance, I was taken from the shovel and placed in one of the 'teams'. Though the change was for harder work, yet I was heartily glad, for my hands were so sore, that I could scarcely use them. This was the case with all our men. They had been so long and so closely confined, and were so enfeebled, that their hands were almost as tender an those of an infant. The consequence was, that being compelled to labor with those rough, heavy tools - for convicts are ever furnished with the poorest kind - the hands blistered, and the skin peeled away, leaving in many instances a good share of the hand raw. [120] I remember particularly the case of Orrin W. Smith, who was a single man of considerable property in the States. He had never been bred to manual labor - was small of stature, and naturally of a delicate constitution. His hands were more tender than most of the others; and when he was forced to swing the heavy pick, it came sorely upon him. His hands blistered so that the skin peeled from the whole palm and inner surface of the fingers, and even between the fingers. And still he was compelled to work on without scarcely a cessation, leaving the very flesh upon she handle of his pick. The pick itself was too large for even a robust man of his size. Passing him one day with our cart and seeing him thus toiling, the blood trickling from his raw hands- - I said to him, 'Ah, Smith, you have a hard tune of it'. 'Oh, my God! Gates, I can never stand this!' he almost shrieked, as he sank exhausted on the ground.
As the days increased in number, so were our tasks increased in amount, till we were compelled to do what their tyranny demanded. The superintendent of the station frequently came round, and when there was not so much done as he fancied should be, he would spur up the overseer, and Hewitt, the overseer, would spur up the men most cruelly. The second or third day the superintendent Skeane thus came along. Says he, 'How is it, Hewitt, that you don't get along faster?' Hewitt replied, 'Some of the men are sick, and the others are not strong yet,' 'But,' says Skeane, 'I'll send up a doctor. He'll look into the matter. I believe that your company can add to a little' - meaning that more labor can be forced from them. Well, she doctor comes, feels of the pulse, looks into the mouth, asks a very few questions, turns on his heel wills a 'Humph! get along well enough - not much sick: take a-few pills and go to work again.' Such was almost universally the case.
So long as we could possibly crawl about, or could lift a finger, we were brutally compelled to the task. The fourth day the overseer began to lay the work to us in good earnest. He was anxious to hold his petty situation, and therefore strove to please his superior tyrants. So, almost the first greeting from him that morning, was - 'Come, we must have some work done to-day. The superintendent says we don't make much progress here, and the gentlemen are complaining too. The principal superintendent thinks you won't be prisoners long. He is coming out this way soon, and we must see how much we can get done. 'T wont do; I shall lose my place. The doctor says you can work; and work you must.'
And, accordingly, work we had to. We were put to labor without any regard to our several capabilities. Whatever was done seemed to be done by mere accident, or as caprice dictated, It mattered not how weak and enfeebled one was, he was compelled to work just as hard, if he did not do as much, an the most stalwart of the company. Though a number of our gang were really too unwell to labor, and might perhaps have succeeded in staying behind, yet they chose to follow us to the roads, rasher than to stay alone in the miserable huts, that always swarmed with fleas and lice--subject so the grossest and most insolent abuse of the lackeys and menials that infested every station. The company of friends and of old companions was sweet indeed, though those friends were toiling in pain and misery, and though to be with them, they too must toil in yet greater misery. It was thus that the pleasure of sympathy overcame the will; and he who in other circumstances would have been an invalid, confined to his room, if not to his bed, crawled to his daily work and reeled under the task, which was, if possible, more onerous, more grievous, than that wherewith Pharao tasked the poor children of Israel. [121]
It was on Friday afternoon, the fifth day, that Lysander Curtis, who had been sick for several weeks, gave out. He was engaged wheeling dirt with a barrow, when he remarked to some one near him that he felt himself failing fast - so fast indeed, that he could not stand it much longer. He was advised to speak for permission to stop, but answered it was of no use to ask such a brute. At length, feeling still worse, he ventured the request - which was replied to with the cold assurance that, as the doctor had declared him able to work, work he must, whether he lived or died by it. Some of his comrades expostulated with Hewitt, but with the only effect of calling down the choicest abuse of his overseer-ship, who ordered Curtis with an oath to wheel on. It was with the greatest difficulty the poor victim could move. He stood it but a short time; his sight grew dim - he reeled and fell on his barrow - unable again to rise. His comrades laid him on the grass, with his coat beneath him, and then asked permission to carry him to the station. The inhuman-brute denied them, saying with a great and an angry-oath, 'He will stand it well enough till the gang turns in. And there he had to lay, uncared for, till at dusk, when he was placed in the cart of which I was one of the 'team', and then taken with us to the station.
His bunk was in the same hut as my own - and there he had to lay on the hard boards in his misery, through the dark cold night, (the nights were cold, though the days were warm,) in that damp, unwholesome place, without a spark of fire or gleam of light; and though we importuned the superintendent and the clerk to send for the doctor, who lived at another station, the cold hearted wretches refused to stir a finger. We ministered to his comfort by all that was in our power, and yet that comfort was only our sympathy, and the effort to make his last moments cheerful, by mingling our compassions. Several times during the night we thought him dying. The morning came with its few first faint streaks. Soon after the bell was heard rousing us for our daily task. The sentry stood guard outside the huts unlocked the door, peeped in his head, and cried out, 'How is that sick one getting along?' Being told he was but just alive, 'Oh, never mind,' says he, 'one dead man is nothing. I suppose he'll have to stay behind today, but never mind; get ready for your skilly.'
There was but a short time before muster, and we all employed it in bidding the poor fellow farewell. He was too feeble to say much. Speaking of Canada, he said, 'How I wish she was free from England and her tyrants- - and I would to God that we were all out of their hands; but, thanks be tot he Lord,' he exclaimed, as he feebly grasped our hands to bid us goodbye, 'I soon shall - be beyond their power. [122] God bless you all! I shall never see you again this side of Heaven. Oh! how glad I am that I am going; and if you ever see my wife and children, oh! tell them I die happy - sweetly resting in the arms of Jesus. May God protect them!' These words and a few others were spoken in broken sentences, and before the last was finished, we were called away to muster. By this time the doctor had come, and seeing his case was indeed a desperate one, our 'team' were ordered to take him in the cart to Hobart town. To us it was a cheerful task. He grew weaker and fainter till we arrived at the hospital, within whose walls we bore him in our arms, and received his faintly whispered 'farewell'. We then had to return immediately. Some of us asked permission to visit him from the station, but were flatly refused. We learned soon after that he died the succeeding day. And we envied the poor fellow's fortune, for Death brought a reprieve for his woes, and snatched him from the iron hearted tyrants that were fattening on our toil and blood and our very heart's agony.