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4-303 (Text)

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author,male,Demarr, James,78 addressee
Narrative Discourse
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Public Written
Ward, 1969
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4-303-plain.txt — 12 KB

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Seeing a log fire by the roadside, where someone had encamped the night previous, I thought I would take up my quarters there for the night, and after making a shelter of boughs on the windward side to ward off the frosty night air, I sat down to my customary pot of tea and supper. Whilst thus engaged, a fellow-traveller walked up and came and stood by the fire, and after chatting some time with me, I asked him to have some refreshment of bread and cheese and tea. This he agreed to, and also proposed stopping the night with me. I was glad of that, as I wanted company, and I also thought he would be able to give me some information about Use part of the country through which t was about to travel.
But in the course of our conversation I asked him some questions respecting the police located in the township which lay on my route, and his answers convinced me that I should very probably meet with an overhauling there. But he proposed that we should start next morning to the hut where he lived, which was within half-a-mile of the township, where I might remain the night, free from all annoyance from the police, and proceed on my journey the following day by way of Liverpool Plains, which route he recommended as being a place where I was least likely to be troubled by them.
Being guided by his counsel, we arrived at his hut before the middle of the day, where I intended staying the night. 
There were three of us altogether, the old man, my companion, and another, an immigrant, a very agreeable fellow, and he and I sat up a considerable time chatting on various subjects, until we both went to bed. I had been but a very short time there, when there was a rap at the door, and the old man, getting up to see who it was, ushered in the chief constable, who asked; in a solemn, pompous manner: If any strangers were there? And on my telling him that I was one, he put the usual question to me. If I was a free man? But not having any document to show that I was free, the thing was settled at once, and after being ordered to dress, I had a pair of handcuffs put on me, and was told that I must go along with him.
Previous to my leaving for the lock-up, a strict search was made for firearms supposed to belong to me; my carbine I had with me, which I shewed to him, but he pretended to think there were more, and even the roof of the hut did not escape his scrutiny. Whilst this was taking place, the owner of the establishment came in. There were now five of us, He and the chief constable seemed particularly gracious to each other. The one congratulating the other on his good fortune in capturing me. Then the chief constable edified the company by telling them I was the very man he wanted, he having my description to a hair in the Government Gazette. Then it was the turn of the owner of the place to speechify. Addressing the old man who brought me there, he asked him what he could be thinking of, to pick up with such an acquaintance, because, said he, you might have known by his looks what he was, I should have liked to give him a dig in the eye for this speech, for his own looks would generate suspicion were he amongst strangers, for he was no beauty. The whole affair was rather a subject for merriment to me than anything else.
I knew I had nothing to fear, yet I could not imagine what there was so very auspicious in my looks. My appearance was certainly very different in dress and everything to what it is now. I was very much bronzed by the sun and exposure, and my beard and moustache had grown, but nothing extraordinary; I was too young for that. Bearded faces were not customary in those days, except with bushmen. But after all my appearance was only like that of hundreds of others in the interior.
The fussy officiousness of the chief constable disgusted me, and in answer to the questions he continually put to me, evidently for nothing else but to shew his authority, I told him I would answer no more. I would answer to the magistrate, not to him, and that a night in the lock-up was what I cared not a straw about, His opinion was that I might have a good many nights there, and with that we walked on together to the station house.
I had several interviews with this chief constable before I got my discharge. He was evidently puzzled to know what to make of me. I could tell by his manner that he was coming to the conclusion that he had made a mistake.
On arriving at the lock-up I was searched, and everything I had taken from me, with the exception of my pair of blankets, after which, I was shewn into a room strongly secured with bolts and bars, where I was to pass the night.  This was the place appropriated to prisoners, and was built very strongly of wood, with one grated window. In the nest room, between which and ours was a narrow passage, was the lock-up keeper's apartments. The door of the prison part only opening half way, owing to a chain which was fastened to it and the door jamb. As there was no light, I could not see how many were inside beside myself; but on groping about, I found the whole of one end occupied by the usual plank-bed, and two men occupying part of it, having leg-irons on them, and chained to a large iron ring at the foot of the bed. One of them had an old coat which he laid down beside him, telling me I might make use of it for the night, which I was very glad to do, as there was nothing but the bare boards to lie on.
There was no smoking allowed in these places, but 'old hands' like these, generally contrive to get both tobacco and a light, and I soon discovered that they had both, as one of them held up to my face a long coil of rag lighted at one end, which he blew into a brighter heat, to give light sufficient to enable him to make out who I was. (Let it be remembered there were no lucifer matches in those days.) This he was not able to do, but after filling a pipe with tobacco, he gave it to me to smoke, but I did not want it, I had had my usual allowance of smoking before coming there, and I had my own pipe with me. Then he asked:
'What the devil had brought me there?' After telling him the whole story he replied, that some one had been 'coming it on me' (informing on me). This I doubted, but he was positive, and that I should find what he said to be correct when before the magistrate. I then thought it was my turn to question him, and began by asking, what brought him there.
'Why, you must know,' said he, 'I and my mate are in for murder.' This somewhat startled me, and I began to wonder what would happen to me next. I had had to associate with very strange characters, but this was the climax of all.
After a little more conversation we both fell asleep, which on my part was sound enough, until about two hours before daylight, when I was awakened by the cold, it being the month of April, corresponding as it does with our October, the air was in the early morning clear and frosty, and our grated window allowed free access to it. Frosts, at this time of the year, were unknown on the low lands near the coast, but I was now near the Table Lands, where the winters are much more severe, not during the days, for those were bright and warm, like an English summer, but the nights were frosty.
About eight o'clock, the lock-up keeper put into our cell part of a damper (bushman's bread), and a bucket of water, our allowance for the day being one pound of bread, and water, of course as much as we wanted.
On this I was going to make my breakfast, when my two companions told me not to eat that stuff, as I should have a better breakfast if I would only wait, This I found to be correct, as shortly after, their friends outside sent them in a large supply of beef-steaks and tea, and I was invited to go shares with them.  This I did, not only then, but three times every day whilst I stayed there. My being a 'jimmigrant', one would have thought, would have prevented them from being so hospitably inclined towards me ('old hands' as a rule are not favourably inclined to 'jimmigrants'). But I was now one of themselves, the victim, as they considered, of the police, and owing to that had entitled myself to their sympathy.
The early morning being so cold, it was not until the sun had been risen two or three hours, and by continually walking up and down the room, that I got sufficiently warm. Our time was chiefly spent in smoking; occasionally amusing ourselves feeding some fowls with the ration bread out of the grated window.
The next day, my companions were unchained, and taken before the magistrates to undergo an examination, after which they were again returned to their confinement, but ordered to be at liberty whilst there, that is, without the leg-irons.
In the meantime, there were two others sent in to join us. One man could scarcely talk, only sufficiently to be understood. The account he had to give of himself, was, that he had had his tongue bitten off, and done by a woman. How any woman had managed to do that, was a puzzle to all of us, and caused some merriment. He certainly had lost his tongue by some means, for he shewed it to us, apparently about half of it gone.
On the third day I was taken out, and after being securely handcuffed, was marched off under a guard of two policemen to the magistrate's office, and placed at the bar. The chief constable being my accuser, stood up, and stated that, owing to information he had received, he had arrested me, suspecting me to be a bushranger. That I had a carbine with me, but no ammunition, and that he had been informed that I intended travelling through Liverpool Plains in order to avoid the police. I was then asked what I had to say in my defence. To which I replied that it was perfectly true what the chief constable had said respecting my wish to avoid the police, at the same time, I wished to know why that should cause me to be suspected. Would not anyone be justified in doing the same thing, to prevent being sent down to Sydney, handcuffed, in order to be identified, merely because he had not an authorized certificate of freedom, which the Government refuse to give to any immigrant. The answer of the magistrate was, that what I had said might be all very true, but they had only my bare word for it; that the case did look suspicious, and, under these circumstances, they had no other alternative than to send me down to Sydney. And with that I was marched hack to the lock-up.
This was really to me a disagreeable business. To be marched down to Sydney, instead of progressing in my journey. And the manner in which suspected persons were forwarded down, being the most humiliating to anyone who had any self-respect left in him. Each person being handcuffed to a chain, and then forwarded from one lock-up to another, till arrived in Sydney. And then, should the authorities not be able to identify them with any run-away convict, or other person illegally at large, they were set at liberty, without any recompense or compensation whatever, Such was the law in those days. 
The prospect of my journey to Sydney, the inconvenience and loss of time it would put me to, were occupying my whole thoughts, when I was interrupted by one of my old beef-steak-and-tea companions, who said, on hearing the result of my trial: 'I told you, I told you, some fellow had been "coming it" on you, and that old fellow who took you to his hut was the one who did it!' And I believe he was right. According to the evidence, it could be no other. And that man was a Scotsman: the only one of his nation in the colony who served me a treacherous trick, and I met with hundreds. There is that much to the credit of the nationality.
As our conversation was going on, the lock-up keeper put in his head through the doorway, and told me that the magistrates wanted to speak to me; the purport of their visit being: that they had reconsidered their verdict passed upon me, and had decided to set me at liberty,
This imprisonment had taught me a lesson which I did not fail to profit by. On thinking the matter over, and also from what one of the magistrates told me, I came to the conclusion that I had myself to blame for being imprisoned at all. Had I gone straight on my travels, without asking so many cautious questions about the police, a hundred to one if I should have been interfered with.
This advice I saw the wisdom of following, and in consequence this was my first imprisonment and the last. I was never troubled by the police again to cause me annoyance.