Chapter 108358631

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Full Date1891-10-02
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Newspaper TitleKapunda Herald (SA : 1878 - 1951)
Trove TitleAlfred Whitten, The Human Vampire of Norfolk
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ALFRED WHITTEN,

The Human Tampirc ot Norfolk

Island

A Convict Incident of '49

By Ivan Dexter.

[copyright.]

The second convict settlement ot Norfolk

Island, embracing the period between 1S25 I end 1S53, holds beyond dispute the infamous j position of being the most awful example of the horrors of the transportation system which

blots the history of Great Britain or any other | country. That short epace of 28 years con tains more human suffering and debasement than might be found in the whole life time of many countries, and words fail to convey to the reader of to-day how all that was g od in humanity was crashed out, and the naturally beautiful island became, in fad, the abode of lost souls. It was a modern Edgn, bat its tenants were demons. In the

eyes of the System they were fal'en angels i for whom there was no hope, and strictly in ' accordance with that supposition those who administered the brutal and soulless regula tions which governed transportation took care to relentieeely stamp out the better qualities of the convicts when they showed themselves likely to germinate and bring forth good fruit. {

It was only natural to expect that constant association with the doubly convicted wretohes who formed the prisoners at Norfolk Inland should have a hardening and brutalis ing effect on the gaolers themselves. Even the best of men must have suffered some

what from the contamination if they re mained long on the island, and it cannot be wondered at when a gaoler of naturally evil tsndenaies was placed in a position of authority over the felons he should rapidly develop into an incarnate devil. Indeed, in such oases the expectation was Always realised, sometimes fully, and occasionally in a manner that would shock the most callous. It is of such a development that this narra tion treats, and the reader must understand f.o grasp the full meaning that the incidents mentioned are absolutely true. Here and there a slight ooloring may be given to bide the hideous reality, but the facts cannot be gainsaid, and those who are fonfl of search ing the convict archives of those times can

even in those official documents find ample

proof of their truth.

In the year 1839 a convict was transferred from Hobart Town to Norfolk Island as a colonially convicted felon. He bad been a year in the head settlement of Van Dieman's Xiand when this was done for an attack on one of the sub-overseers. His name waB Alfred Whitten, and the ofience, for which he received a sentence of fourteen years' trans portation at Leeds, was a murderous assault on his paramour. He would oertainly bave murdered her had it not been for timely as bistance. Then, even more than now, of fences againBt the person were not regarded as being nearly so heinous as thoBe against

property. Had he stolen a loaf of bread he would probably have received the same punishment as for trying to kick a woman to death. Of course the sentence was a terrible one as transportation went in those days, and the comparison is only made to show how many poor wretches were condemned to a living death that now would scarcely be re garded as criminals at all.

Whitten, as already mentioned, soon gravi tated into the nethermost hades of the penal system, .but instead of beooming more hardened and refractory, he suddenly de

veloped a spirit of meekness and subordina tion that won the hearts of his keepers. That this'required a mastermind can readily be understood, because if Whitten had not ex hibited the exact amount of humility and obedience, he wonld certainly have drawn up on himself the wrath—instead of the good will—of those over him. That was a pecu liarity of the System. The man who, hopeless and physically weak, sunk into s real spirit of submiesiveness, was goaded either into enicide or to attack his keepers, and that usually ended in his being hanged. But the felon who was cunning enough to deaeive those who guarded him, was treated in a far different manner. He had all the light work and the best rations given to him, and when the firet opportunity came he waB placed in a position above the ordinary felon, and an opportunity given him to rise to higher grades.

Whitten soon discovered this, and he was cot long in turning it to account. Within two years of his arrival on the island he was in the position of an under convict constable, and he made himself so useful in that posi tion that he got step after step on the ladder of promotion nntil in 1848 he was chief con stable on the island. It must not be thought that he reached this elevation withoot many obstacles having to be encountered and over come, but Whitten was not a man to be de terred, and he was successful in his onward marsh. The fall history of his life daring

period from 1842 to 1848 will never be fully known, but it was proved at his trial that he removed four men at different times from his path who were likely to baulk him in his ambition. In addition to that it is beyond donbt that he instigated two abortive outbreaks which through his vigilance and

acumen (so the authorities reported) were nipped in the bud. This vigilance, of course, led to a favorable consideration of his claims to offioial advancement. In removing the four men in question from his path he did so io no vnlgar or clumsy fashion. He invoked the willing arm of the law which worked through the hangman.

The first of these human obstacles which Whitten swept away was a man naTCed Ward, a eeaior constable. He had a dee p averetGn to his subordinate, and it was returned vith interest. Whitten regarded him es M*

natural enemy, and one or other had to go. Tae woman-heater had absolutely no moral conscience or scruples whatever, and he laid a plot for Ward. The latter was a morose m»n, sod not rpp&raed with much favor on the island. He was gloomy and secretive,

and surrounded himself vrith an air of mystery for which apparently thera was not the least reason. Of course he was frequently in contact with the convicts, and most of them bad little scruple, which was not to be

wondered at.

In the division which Ward was in there was one felon in particular named Michael Pearce or "One-eyed" Pearce, as he waB called by his companions in consequence of the loss of his right optic. Ollisially he was known as " 133 ." He was by nature a scoundrel, and residence on Norfolk Island had Dot improved his disposition. This man Whitten intuitively selected as his instru ment, and Pearce, who regarded Whitten as the " coming man," fell into the scheme which the under constable proposed. It was simply that Ward should be accused at the proper time of oinspiring a mutiny on the part of the prisoners in hiB division. It was never explained what the object of such a rising could be, if it was ever contemplated,

which, of course, it was not. The treatment of the convicts at that iirae was of the mildest and most salutary character, and throws oce bright gleam of light on the dark history of the settlement. Hi jor Childs was the com mandant, and many a convict long years

after blessed that name.

At any rate tbe ultimate aim of mutineers was a question that did not affect the authori ties. If it could be proved that any person bred or free was endeavoring to etribe a blow at constituted authority that was suffi cient, and the penalty was death. One even ing as the commandant was crossing from the office to his private q'ia.-!e:s at the chief prison, he was met by Whittsn, who " un folded to him a tale " which rather startled

the good msjor. The very leniency of his rnie made him treat with extra severity any one who rebelled aeaicet it, and that a trusted ofiic'al should be fomenting a san guinary outbreak came as a shock upon him. He knew euffidentof the island residtnts net to trust any of them, and he at once took the matter in hand. A secret wateh was kept upon Ward,and the usually tacitiurn man was observed to speak rather frequently to No, 1351. This, oJ courte, had been skilfully arranged between tbe two conspirators before hand. This went on for a few days, and then on a hint from Whitten to the com mandant convict 1331 was searched at work

in his gang, and a note with damning evidence against Ward, in his handwriting, was found on him. Oj being brought before Mijor Child, he admitted that Ward bad been plan ning a mutiny, bat that he (the felon) only appeared to fall in with tbe suggestion, and had given full information t) Wnitttn about it. The under constable had already toid the msjor that lie., se it was necessary that the one-eyed man should be rewarded and not punished.

The senior constable was at once plaoed under arrest, and his evident confusion added to the appearance cf bis guilt. Two other convicts, who had been tutoisd bj

also testified against the hapless constable, and all tbe defence be could &3<n was a simple denial. When the visiting judge came he was tried and found guilty, but ae it was net a usual thing to hang an official of any standing on the island, Ward was ordered to be sect to Hofoait Town, where sentence would be passed. Ge never reached there, as, either through the connivance or neglect of guards, he managed to jump overboard whilst on the voyBge. and thus Bold tbe authorities. He was as surely done to death by Whitten as if he had received a fatal blow direct from tbe under constable's hands. The three men who swore away the life of the senior, soon after get promotion, and, of coarse, Whitten was not long in benefitting by the vacancy, as he soon after filled the shoes of the senior constable.

Although Ward was a morose sort ol man he was not entirely without friends, and

amongst them were two convicts named Freely and Graham. These men were in debted to the dead official for once shielding them from a false oharge, and their gratitude was long lived. It had oome to their ears by some means that Ward was the victim of a foal plot, and, after gathering all the evidence that men in their position could, they got the chief overseer to listen to the story. This official did net care to take any action against the newly-made senior constable, but in an evil moment he told the tale to one of the prison doctors, and he in tarn whispered it to the commandant. That gentleman caused instant inquiry to b9 made, and, after full investigation, Whitten and his accom plices came triumphantly through the ordeal, whilst the two lucklesB convicts were punished and the ohicf overseer fell into

disgrace.

The chief overseer was a man ol great de termination, and he had a vindictive spirit, eo that it was not to be expected he would meekly bow to the affront he had met with, and for which he blamed Whitten. He so worked on the passion a of the two convicts —Freely and Graham—that they swore to slay the senior constable, and only waited for an opportunity to carry their vow into execution. That opportunity never came, for Whitten bad a full knowledge of what was going on, and he soon checkmated them. He went boldly to the commandant and told him there was a plot against his life, in stigated by the chief overseer, and when Childs wanted to have the two men whose names were given hita arrested Whitten pointed oat to him a more summary way of bringing the matter to a conclusion. He argued to the commandant that there wa3

j nothing like ocular demonstration to provt

gailt, and if the msjor would havj a few armed men secreted close to whera Freely and Graham were working ha (Whitten) would place himself in their way so to prove what their intentions were. This seemed a dangerous proceeding, but at length the commandant consented, and he ordered six trusty men to take up a position sufficiently close to No. 3 gang ta prevent mischief being done. He gave them strict instructions to shoot down anyone who should attack Whitten, and he himself went to a point where he had a good view of tbe gang. He saw the senior constable go close to ttie men at work and stand near them for about a minute, then two cf the felons broke ; from the gang and rushed towards him with

uplifted picks, and in an instant several puffs of smoke spnrted out «f a disused iimeBtone quarry some 50 yards from tbe gang, and almost before the sound of the muskets reached his ears he saw the running convicts stagger a few paces and then fall. A strong guard waB on the spot half a minute after, and when the commandant reached the spot he fonnd that both Freely and Graham were past all earthly judging. When the enquiry was held it was elicited that Whitten, when he reached the gang, had begun taunting the j two convicts in a most bitter and insulting

manner, and the commandant was con siderably angered thereat, but the senior constable was satisfied, for two more of his enemies were put oat of the way. The chief overseer was next charged with instigating the murder of Whitten, and the latter wound such a chain of evidence—some of it true more false—that &fajor Ohild had no option bat to recommend his dismissal, which was soon after carried into effect, and he was sent to Van Dieman's Land.

There was now another obstacle to Whit ten's progress, and that was the chief con stable of the island—a man named Whelan, He was an officer that was cordially hated by the prisoners, and in so far as that Whitten had an advantage. In spite of his past career he managed by various artful means to ingratiate himself with the convicts, and he determined to make them bis tools where with to remove Whelan. It mattered little how many perished so long as the senior constable survived, and in 1847 be com menced to lay hiB plans to oust the chief con stable. It was no light task, but nothing could deter Whitten. The chief constable v?as responsible lor the discipline of all the

constables under him, and he had to take frequent trips to both Cascade and Lingridge prieons to see that all was right at these stations. This gave the senior constable many opportunities o! working the con stables at th9 ohief prison to suit his own ends. Mo.°t cf them were brutal and ignorant tellows who had been convicts previously. In laot, the majority were always convicts, but, despite that Iaotf Whitten must have been a man of great persuasive powers and force of character to sway the men in the manner he did. He insiduously bssan his work by fomenting dissatisfaction amongst the men. He did not do this direotly, but through an ignorant constable named Mul IinB. He insured t),e idea into this man's head that, holding the position they did, the

constables should be far better treated than they were. They might almost as well be in irons working in ganger, was the way he put it, and ones a thing of this sort is dinned continually into one's ears it becomes a be lief. So Mullins worked, and each day Whitten noticed with secret glee that the men were becoming sullen, and that is the precursor of insubordination. It was whispered around that Whelan was re sponsible for the alleged bad treatment of the constibles, as he was their supetior No one coold eay who started that idea, but it gradually took a hold on the men, and, like

the other, became a conviction.

It was on the evening of the 7th December, 184 , that the crisis came. The day had been terribly hot and oppressive, and when the gangs toiled back to the cheerless prison amidst the loud clanking of their fetters, the constables, in a listless manner, performed theirdutiee. Mullins and f is other constables were in No. 2 yard, when Whelan, who was a martinet, came up to one of the constables, and in a rough and brutal manner told him to be quicker about his work. The mar made a sullen reply, whereupon the chief pushed him, and as he did so Mullins rushed up and knocked him down. A soldier who was t tending by raised his musket, and, firing at Mullins, shot him dead. Constables and military were at once on the spot, and the utmost excitement prevailed. After some time quiet was restored, and next day an in vestigation was held. To the surprise of \Vhe;an the oonstables one and all refused to work under him, and those who were not yet free told the oommandant they would prefer going back ti their bondage than remaining as comparatively free men under the cbief constable. The earnestness displayed by the men convinced the chief official that it would be ageless to try to get good work from tbemen in their present mood, and he at once settled the question by placing Whelan on the leave cf absence list and putting his next in com mand (Whitten) In charge. Thus in the beginning ol 1848 the chief constable of the inland was practically Whitten, although Wneian was nominally supposed to be. The latter was a man not disposed to surrender at discretion, but be soon found that his former subordinate was more than a match for him, and after a brief straggle he gave up the contest and left Whitten in undisturbed possession of the field. Under a trifling pre text he resigned his untenable position and

went to Van Dieman's Land.

WfcUtsE was now in the highest position a man of his vould hope to attain, un less by some extraordinary chance. He ap peared to be satisfied with his ssscess, and as there was no further outlet for bis an scrupulous energy in that direction he turned his whole attention to the prisoners and his subordinates, and it was chiefly from that time out that he afterwards earned the soubriquet of " the vampire." The murderous nature which had asserted itself when he tried to kill his paramour, and which was afterwards seen in his intrigues to obtain advancement, now still more developed itself, and many a man was Bent to the scaffold by him—or through his machinations—during 1848 and 1S49. In nearly every capital case on the island he was engaged either as a witness or prosecutor, and at last even the authorities could not help noticing the coin cidence. Wherever murders, assaults, or in subordination occurred Whitten was in variably there, and though his evidence sent many of the felons to their end he was not disliked by the prisoners.

It was is December, 1849, thst the hideous and sanguinary career of the chief constable came to a close under censational ciroum scsnceg that will well bear narration. At that period the condition of the convicts was a terrible one. Kumors had reached them by some means from that outside world which they sighed in vain for that the crime-sodden settlement was about to be broken od. A wild longing had surged up in their hearts at i this news, and in the phrensy of their new bom hope they almost regarded themselves ! as free and regenerated men. To be removed i from that island would be to them almost as great bliss as the translation of a lost soul to

paradise. Some of the men gave way to j Blight excesses, and these were put down with terrible severity. Then came a revulsion.; Hope died out, and tne ecstatic feeling was ' succeeded by the sulleness o£ desDair. This

was Whitten's ohanoe. He had played for I high stakes before and won, and he decided now to hazard a greater cast. He had heard of the closing of the settlement, and the thought was gall to him. In a new sphere he might not have the Bame oppor tunities that he had at Norfolk. So cruel was the man's nature that he loved to shed human blood, directly or indirectly, and in case that the rumor cf removal should prove true he decided to gratify his desire in that

direction.

His sobeme, as was afterwards proved, was to foment a serious mutiny amongst the convicts, and when everything wss ripe ar range so that there should be a wholesale bfittue. It was a risky undertaking, but danger of that sort did not deter him. He knew the convicts well, and he knew those whom he could trust. On many occasions he had done good turns for some of the felons for he had an eye to the future, and it was to two of these man that he first went and got them in his service. One of them was a hutkeeper named March, a lifer, and the other—Stephens—was a " yard " man. These transportees were really attached to Whitten, in their own fashion, and the Jives they led were eo miserable that any change could not very well be for the worse. Whit ten told them lies, o! course. He led them to understand that if they could tamper with a certain section of the prisoners, he (Whitten) could manage the rest. As chief constable, of coarse, the men knew that he j had considerable power and latitude, and j the mere fact of such an official attempting to ! overturn authority convinced them that

great support must be accorded the revolu tionary movement. The tout of Marsh was .midway between the head station at Sydney Bay and Cascade prison, and as the chief constable had frequently to pass between the two places be bad many opportunities of speaking to the convict. The task allotted to the latter was to corrupt certain of the hut men, and Marsh went into the matter with a will. Stephen'a work lay inside the walls of the chief prison. Whitten saw him almost daily, and named to him men whom it would be advisabb to draw into the con spiracy. So far as the reef, quarry, and road gangs were concerned the chief con

stable had told his dupes that he was prepar ing them for the great blow that would make them free men. In point of fact he was doing nothing of the sort. The felons in these gangs were not no accessible as others of the convicts, and Whitten intended gratify ing his sanguinary instincts in the easiest possible manner. His chief desire was to gratify a morbid feeling cf revenge on real and imaginary foes, and to that end he

worked.

Through the state the island was in at the time it was not hard to work on the passions of the felons, and neither Marsh or Stephens had any difficulty in getting a number of the prisoners to pledge themselves to rise against their keepers when the time came to do so. The hutkeepers in particular were even more disposed to mutiny than those within the walla of the gaol. The alight amount o! freedom they enjoyed gave them

bat a taste for more. Actuated by the same devilish impulse that had prompted him throughout Whitten selected Christmas of 1S49 as the date lor the outbreak. The day of peace and goodwill to all was to be turned into one of strife and carnage, and all to gratify a demon in human shape.

It has already been said that even the authorities were beginning to get suspiciouB of Whitten. The commandant ia particular, who had been on the island two years, had , a strong belief that the chief constable only hatched plots to catch them. Captain Price j was himself a stern and severe man, but at

the same time he could not countenance the conaaat ot «,ny official who only tampered J with the prisoners to betray them. There : was nothing in the System which provided

for each being done, and, therefore, it could | not be right to do it, and he decided to keep j a watch on Whitten. The man he selected

for that difficult task was named Whitely. | He was a convict librarian at Langridge

? prison, and a fellow who was a born detec

tive . Ha insinuating manners were only equalled by his facility of facial expression, and his cool nerve was necessary for any emergencies that might arise. Whitely first ascertained Whitten's habits, and slenth-like he proceeded to follow him up. This was no easy matter, bat the civil commandant had I given bim inducements in the event of suc

cess which were worth winning. Had it been a less acute man than Whitely that was put on the track of the chief constable, it is probable that the Christmas of *849 would have been ;i bloody one in the history of Norfolk Island, for the astute Whitten was not to be easily caught. After some time Whitely found that on the rides between Cascade and the head station the chief con stable always met Marsh and had earnest conversations with him. Of course the amateur dctective was on these occasions concealed m the forest undergrowth and was

fj f"as not proper that the con stable should thus converse with a felon, and Whitely felt certain that there was some thing between the two men. It was a little more difficult to connect the constable and otephens, but that was also done through the disguised Whitely seeing a signal pass be tween them and afterwards detecting them in close conversation. He confided his sus picians to the civil oommandant, but as yet there was nothing to go on, and watch and

w*ut was the watchword*

It was on the 33rd of December, lSiO that the fourth great cyclonic storm, which had devastated Norfolk Island, swept over it. Oa the previous occasions widespread damage had been wrought, and on this the ruin was scarcely less so. The strong walls of the prisons had been sufficient to protect to a considerable extent the buildings and in mates, but whatever was exposed was carried away. The few boata in Sydney 13ay were thrown up hundreds rf yards on the dry land and smashed to pieces, whilst the ?tag ing and works of the reef gang had disap peared. The circling storm had swept over during the night, and though nearly all the convicts were within the prisons there were a good number of hutkeepers and others scattered over the island. For those out in the forest serious feara were entertained.

. ,P?ay 1506111 strange in a place where con vict life was regarded as so cheap, but the System intended that life should be taken by a certain judicial or summary process and no, by a cyclone. In fact, the System did not want Providence to interfere ia the matter. The men living in huts in the cleared gronnds were less liable to accident or death *ban those ia the forests, and at daylight on the morning of the 24th the civil commandant had three relief parties ready to start and see how it fared with the forest dwellers. ±he morn had scarcely broken when terror stricken fugitives were clamoring at the outer gates of the great prison for admittance. Ihey were few in number compared with those who lived outside, but the officiate well knew that others would make for Langridge | or Cascade stations and some would remain

at their posts. As the parties proceeded to wards the forest they could see how disastrous had been the storm. In places whole traoks had been cleared, and the timber was ciled up in vast heaps of fantastic shape. "The oommandant led one party—the centre-and the other two were under military officers. The route Price's party took 'ed them to the hut of Marsh. It had entirely disappeared, and only debris remained. There was no sign of the convict, and the leader told the men to disperse and search singly for any survivors. In the event of help being re quired a signal was agreed on. Whitely had accompanied this party, and, some time after tne dispersal, he was about a quarter ol a mile to the east of March's late hut when he was stopped by a feeble cry. As he stood for a moment it was repeated, and. guided by the sound, he found Marsh almost buried under a heap of piled undergrowth. He re moved it as rapidly as he could, and as he drew the convict out his experience told him that the felon waB injured beyond hope of re covery. He placed the flask of rum, which each man had been provided with, to his 1 lips and forced some of the liquid down his throat. Somewhat revived, the convict turned his dying eyes on Whitely, who had his head tenderly resting on his knee, and, mayhap, at that moment he thought of his innocent childhood on hb mother's lap, and ths merciful hand of God touched his heart. A softened expression came over his face, and, with a strength that was not of this* world, he poured into the eager ears of his listener the story of Whitten's diabolical plot that was to be carried out on Christmas i Day—and as he spoke it waB Christmas Eve. Let the scoSer say what he will, there must | be a divine watcher who acts when no man I knoweth. Marsh had scarce concluded his ! story when his lips became dumb forever.

| Soon after giving the signal agreed on the

party began to muster, and the oommandant decided to return with the body of Marsh. He was the only person who met his death by the storm. Oa the way baok Whitely told the commandant the confession he had | heard from the dead man, and as he was I doing so one of the party canght a part of it On reaching the prison this man at once sought out Whitten and told him what he had heard. The ruffian, either conscience stricken or appalled by the storm, felt that his villainous career was almost run, and he hastily made for his quarters. He had scarcely reached them when a file of soldiers marched toward the place, bat Whitten had slipped oat through one o! the weBtern gates. He bad a wild idea of getting into one of the boats and tr asting himself on the still troubled ocean. Life was sweet to him. Be fore he reached the shore he found that the boats were shattered, and before he could double round to the devastated woods the soldiers, having fonnd the way he had gone intercepted him. They had orders to at once arrest him. Calling upon him to surrender as he was running back to the beach he failed to do so, and the officer commanded the file of men to fire. They did things in a thorough fashion in these days. They at once obeyed, and as the small cloud of smoke cleared away they saw the late chief con stable lying on the beach in his last convul

sive struggle.

There was no rising on Christmas Day 1843, but soon fact followed fact regarding Whitten, and left not the slightest doabt that for years he had been a judioial mur derer—or rather by false evidence and treacherous plots he cauBed men to be

judicially slain.

Beds are quite an innovation in Euesia and many well-to-do houses are still unpro vided with them. Peasants Bleep on the tops of their ovens; middle-class people and ser. vants roll themselves up in sheepskins and lie down near stoves; soldiers rest npon wooden aots without bedding ; and it is only within the last few years that etadeote ia schools have been allowed bedB. 2S4 '