|Newspaper Title||The Bendigo Independent (Vic. : 1891 - 1918)|
|Trove Title||A Samaritan of the Riverine|
A SAMARITAN O FTHE RIVERINE.
(BY RANDOLPH BEDFORD IN THE ARGUS.)
In that wild, burning sheep-walk of Central Eastern Australia, watered by the mighty Darling and sundry smaller and deceitful streams, where the winter
is a flood ; where the summer is a furnace, and the sun and the hiked dust and (he parched gums are of a uniform dull red; and where the early spring is ns delicate as its sister seasons are fierce, the Samari tan of the Riverine lived in the body. And there he lives in the memory even unto this day. But the people of the rivers did not generally know him as the Samaritan, nor do they, His usual name was Stephen Been. The wags of the rivers styled him “ The Has Been,” and remarked a second later, l! a lag.” The Samaritan was an ex-convict, und ho admitted the fact to anyone cruelly inquisitive enough to ques tion him on the subject. Ho was over seventy years of age, erect as a gum bole, strong almost as a man thirty years his junior, and, withal,gentle as a child, for his feet were very near the grave ; and already there was whisper - ingly chanted in his cars the forewords of ! ho song that all men shall one day, dying, hoar, and that the newborn have not yet forgotten. The world had dealt with him more cruelly than it does with its beasts, for ho was merely a man, and a dull one, which.is an animal of no fixed commercial value. This simple soul hud been intended to pass through the furnace of the world unsullied. Here was a child’s heart in a man’s body, and every thing had seemed to combine to degrade the mind of the man to the level of iho beast. When Steven Been was arrested in a suburb of London, long ago when the century was young, he might have been described on the charge-list thus:—“A Clod, 18 years old.” At any rate the law recognised that he was a Clod, and im mediately set about breaking him in twain as a preliminary to fertilising the barren soil of his mind. The poor, shiver ing, frightened animal had stolen half a sheep valued at five shillings, and the law sentenced him to seven years’ penal servi tude to square the accounts. “ Debit, one sheep, five shillings. Received pay ment with thanks, seven years’ transpor tation.” If the law had made out the account in a business-like manner that is the way it would have road. So the Clod, with a number of other clods, and a fair sprinkling of genuine criminals, was embarked for Botany Bay to servo his sentence and indirectly to lay the foundation of the Australian Nation. Botany Bay was not the Clod’s destina tion, by the way. Port Jackson was the particular hell he was bound for, but the knowledge of Australian geography held by English state officials at that time was limited. Is it much more extended now, I wonder ? If that voyage did not make of the Clod a fiend, it was not his fault. The genuine criminals just before alluded to were bad enough—the marines and the crow were worse. An earlier voyage of this very ship had lasted nearly two years, for the transport had taken out a cargo of female convicts on that occasion. And now it had hem entrusted with the conveyance of mostly first offenders,whose chief crimes had been poverty and hunger, and whom the stale alleged it intended to reform. And the stale’s methods of reformation were the lash, the chain, the chain, the tube gag, the collar, the scaffold —in a word its instrument was the execu tioner, its example—blood. This description of the convict period of the Samaritan is important because every convict is of more or less value to the only Australian patriotism extant. The horrors of the convict system form the only “ honoured past,” which the average Aus tralian, consciously or unconciously, cares to claim ; and he believes so fervently in the national value of that past that he celebrates unfailingly the successive anni versaries of the landing of the first fleet in 1788, and, moreover, he celebrates it with pride and organisation, and enthu siasm, and much blaring of brasses and beating of drums. Now the anniversa risod drum beat of 1788 was merely the signal for the beginning of no orgie of human brutality on tlie one side, and human agony on the other. That orgie was 10 years old, and strengthened by its experiences when Stephen Been landed at Sydney Cove. Being stupid ho was very quiet, and his gaolers, mistaking his stupidity for stub boraess, brought him up for punishment on the paltriest of excuses, Th«y would flog the mule out of him, said they, and instead they flogged a devil in. So ho became an animal, and as he passed from the lower vegetable state he had been born in, to the higher life of the Carnivora, he became, what the system called, “A dangerous felon.” Ho attempted to escape. Seven years wore added to his first sentence —his floggings wore more frequent; then Hobart Town and Maria Island—the aggravated hells of couvict dom—followed. Just before his ad ditional sentence had expired, a member of the Clod’s gang—a hybrid creature, half convict, half convict’s gaoler, pro posed that the gang should escape in a body. The gang acted on his suggestion aud attempted to break gaol. Mr. Hybrid sold thorn to Iho commandant of (ho station, and all the escapees wore ro -0 iplured. More floggings, more gaol for tlie animal clod. The law limited tho term of imprisonment then passed on him, but it did not specify tho number of lashes ho was to receive. The commandant could attend to that trivial question, and to do him tho justice duo to a zealous Govern ment official, the commandant did. Tho informer was at this time about twenty four years of ago. lie had yet to servo five years of his sentence for forgery, but the Crown grunted him a free pardon as tho reward of his treachery, and ho loft Tasmania for tho mainland, Stephen Been returned to his cell in Hobart Gaol and received tho first of his newsirlcs of laggings. Ho did not fool the strokes, ho w.is repeating to himself—as if ho could forgot it—the oath ho had sworn to kill tho informer. Ho did not flinch from the fbggor, for ho thought of his revenge, and revenge is tho kindest liniment for wrong. So at last tho most 1 meritorious convict system had made tho [ inoffensive clod first an animal and now a devil. In ’52 ho was discharged from | Hobart Gaol, after serving 2-1 years in a boll that could only Jiavo been made by man. Twenty years of a life that might have born made a source uf good to tho living, thrown away on expiation of an alleged crime that had long boon dead. If you visit tho theatre in Hobart, and are allowed to penetrate (o the dressing rooms of tho actors «od n r the stage, you will find a double row of stone chambers extending into tho ground for many yards. They ooze a slime which might bo tho sluggish tears of the wretches .who once
inhabited them. They arc hewn out of an open ttratified sandstone, and if you close yourself in one of them—anyone will do - for each h«ys recorded its deeds of horror—you can hoar the music from the orchestra in the theatre above. One decade a gaol, the next a temple of tho mummers—tragedy and comedy in layers. The name of the hybrid informer was Abel Shaw; He departed for Australia, as previously stated, and when gold was discovered at Bendigo be went to the field, and was allowed to mine, for ho held a free pardon. His claim was one of the lucky holes — f-ho informer’s fortune was assured from that hour. In ‘‘34 Stephen Been reached Bendigo, also, and stepped into a now world. His intention was to raise himself into a respectability be bad never known in the days of his innee nee, and to do this only money was necessary ; for the oho time clod saw, that respectability is merely accumulated money in its most portable form. He had never borne the appearance of a typical criminal, and as the police in spection was lux owing to the smallness of the [force he was allowed to secure a claim unquestiondd. In three days ho hai bottomed. With what trembling eagerness be washed his first pun of dirt. Tho results'of bis labour with tho pick, an.I the shovel, and the cr-idl*, and the dish meant more than gold to him. Good—they meant peace; bad—they were the pro phets of a return to the old life. But tho results were coed. The clod-animal poured the water from the dish very carefully, and saw seven water-worn pebbles, which lie took up on the point of his clisp-knife, and felt anxiously with In's tongue. Then lie began to tremble and to flush hot and cold, and at last the tears came. He had found gold. More, he had found hope. For over a fortnight he won at the rate of upwards of three ounces a day. Fortune, as if to atone for his 24 years in perdition, courted him and gave him gold. The ring of tho pick was gold. Tho sweat of his brow, which had been agony at Maria Island, was wealth at old Bendigo, And then the determination to kill the informer came back to him and blotted out all iiis visions of happiness. He had been planing what he would do with the money. Of course he would go back to his own little village in Devonshire, pro vided, certainly, that ho could escape the vigilance of tho police. And when ha reached England ho would play the banker to his family and all his old friends. His people should never toil again. Happiness should bo theirs for the rest of their days, and all (ho old daddies who han mumbled their kind hearted common places over him as a boy—worn old figures whose joints had neon curved and gnarled by the bitterness of their unpro ductive labor, clods who had wrought to make the master rich, tho master whose clay they were—should have their pipes alight and their glasses filled for over and ever. So the poor heart that wanted to buy love at any price, or to steal it if need be, builded his castles and day-dreamed be tween the pick strokes. All tho people he intended to benefit were long since dead, and freed at last from the dread of starvation which had accompanied them as a shadow through all their cheerless, songless lives. But Steven did not con sider that death might have spoiled his plans. He had suffered so much, and yet had lived, that he thought it must be terribly difficult to die. And so he planned lovingly for the few people who had given him a kind word or look in the days of his cloddishness. Planned to re* quite th-siu as their misery deserved—not with the measure of man, but with the measure of love, brimful and running over. But a product of the old, half-forgotten hell—Shaw, the informer, to wit—stepped in and blasted all these unselfish inten tions. Stephen Been met his enemy in a busy street, or rather track, of the camp some months after lie first began to win n for tune. The Samaritan to bo forgot all his dreams of benevolence to tho dwellers in the little English village ho had left so long ago. Within the space of a thought he sprang at tho informer, closed with him, and bore him to the ground, and there deliberately began to strangle him. A trooper, probably for the first time in the history of the world, was at hand, and ho promptly struck Steven Been with the blunt edge of bis sword, and towed him to the largo hut with many intermissions in the slabs tiicreof which served as a gaol. Final result—The Informer was regarded as a martyr who had done his duty to society, and had been undeser vedly punished therefor; and “Lag” Been was sentenced to two years’ im prisonment. A few mouths after his sentence had expired ho f*ll in with his enemy again, this time at Wood’s Point. A little more gold-winning, another assault, another sentence, this time for five years. And when (hat time hud expired ho found himself with only a few pounds as capital —his gold had been deposited with a man who was shortly after detected robbing a sluice box, and all the m°tal in the posses sion of tho thief was handed to the robbed company as being thoir property. Said Steven Been, ps ho loft. Beech worth Gaol in ’62, and shook hia impotent hand at its heavy bluestone walls ;—“ I’ll kill that dog next time—I’ll kill you if I live long enough.” But ho did not stay long in the country of gold. The existence of tho metal meant men, and tho presence of men meant police and (lie low. Even to find hia enemy and wreak a just vengeance on him was not sulllcicnt inducement Ho brave the terrors of solitary—tho hunted man, like a dog that has been driven from a meal by its more powerful fellows, saw that only in comparative solitude could ho find peace. Wherefore ho shouldered his swag and stepped bravely noith—an indescribably old man of 35. Tho system’had done one good turn for him. Truly tho torture of its rigorous disoipline had brought the sorrow that whitens tho hair and furrows the face. It had made hii heart old before his heart had known youth, but it had also developed in him wonderful physical endurance—it had deadened his body to pain—made it indillorout to hunger—in short had converted him into a perpetually adaptable creature to all, however rapidly changing, conditions of existence. (to bk coimsuKD.) A certain minister whose health had become impaired by too close attention to his duties in a largo parish applied to his physician for counsel. “ Go gunning, dominie ! go gunning !” was the advice ho received. “It will help you and it won’t hurt the birds.” "The.evil that men do lives after them.” “Oh sometimes tho parents outlive tho children.”