|Newspaper Title||Border Watch (Mount Gambier, SA : 1861 - 1954)|
|Trove Title||John, the Bishop: A Tale of the Dark Days of Tasmania|
JOHN, THE BISHOP.
A TALE OF THE DARK DAYS or
BY JAMES GRASSIE
A man and a person, supposed to be his wife, living in Wapping had a dread ful quarrel one night, both being under
the influence of that greatest of all curses -strong drink - when the brutal (sup posed) husband broke both the woman's arms, knocked one of her eyes out, and otherwise maltreated her. She was car- ried to the hospital, where a magistrate was in waiting to take her depositions. She was perfectly sensible, although in imminent danger of death, and deposed that the man who had maltreated her was not her husband but her paramour, and that they had lived together for three years. He had no trade or calling, and they lived on the proceeds of a robbery he had formerly committed. She was a housemaid in the employ of a Miss Shaw on Windsor road, when she first became acquainted with her paramour, aud it was him who robbed Miss Shaw's house-a robbery for which a Smithfleld cattle drover was transported-she aided and abetted him in the commission of the robbery, and did not raise an alarm until he had had time to escape. The cattle drover had no hand in the burglary and no knowledge of it. There was some of the jewellery unsold still;. and she fur= ther declared that the said statement was true, and not actuated by revenge or malice. The depositions were sent to the Judge, who put on the old sardonic smile and said that these depositions were merely a repetition of the old story of an injured, exasperated person seeking
extreme vengeance ; and the depositions,
in so far as they related to John the Bishop, were in danger of being laid aside, when the drovers in Smithfiold
employed a lawyer to act for Jonu, and the solicitor appealed to the city membor in Parliament, and the city member put some presure on the Colonial Secretary,
and he appealed to the Homo Seoretary. After-a fearful amount of red tape was expended a searching investigation was
ordered. The injured woman in the hos- pital, informed the police where, in one of
Miss Shaw's attics, they would find the
block of crape from whioh the mask was out, and the namo and address of an old clothes man from whom she purchased the cloak. The mask was found to fit
precisely te the block of crape, and the old clothes man identified the cloak and the woman.
The evidence was so conclusive that
the Seoretary of State for the Home De- partment sent a despatch to Hobart Town ordering John Wycombe to be
set at liberty, which was very generous, but he would not entertain any proposal
about indemnification. What were John's sufferings to him? What the flogging, the ignominy, and circumambient ruin that was heaped upon him, his wife
dead and his beloved daughters prosti tutes on the streets of London? What
cared he about John's blighted prospects and withered hopes? He is fortunate and ought to be thankful for his liberty, thought, the Seoretary as he signed the despatch ; but John needod it not, for he was already free-now freo aa the eagle
-but his hand was bloody.
I have abbreviated this story as much
as I can, because Billy the Tailor, who first related it to me, had his tongue hung by the middle, and approved of long measure in yarns. In fact his mouth
seemed to have been made for yabbering, and when it was open it resembled a burgomeistor's purse angled at the sides, and when shut was like a Brobdignagian wool-hook, But Billy was a great stick- ler for the honor of Vandemonia, and when a traveller visited the hut, one of Bill's first quostions to him would be, " Been at t'other side ?". or " Have you
been on the Dervine ?" The first inter-
rogatory implied, " Have you ever been
a convict in Tasmania ?" and the other
asked if the party had ever been on the Derwent in a similar capacity. I remem- ber once when a new chum swagman came
to the hut and answered Billy's first query in the negative, and ignored the second, Billy looked upon him with unmingled comtempt, his look almost saying, " Poor
devil, I pity you." The same night when a little afterwards two genuine old-crusted Vandemonians arrived, and the subject of conversation turned on " honest folk," Billy jerked his thumb superciliously in the direction of the first comer, and said, "That's a square head," and the poor man almost sank beneath the imputation.
l was, however, struck with the fact that one of the Vans could relate the story bf John tho Bishop's woes as
forcibly as Billy hisaself, and to him I am
indebtod for this chaptor, which he re-
tailed to me then. When he had con- cluded it, his mate by way of clinching its voracity, pointing to him and address- ing me said, " He was there hissolf, and see it." It appeaved from his statement that, the conflict between John and the penal authorities had ended in a species of drawn battle, or rather it resembled a suspension of hostilities in which neither side were wholly worsted, although both sides were demoralised. John appeared already an old man, although in reality he had not passed middle age, and the authorities discovered with alarm that their forty-horse crushing power could be resisted. They calculated by the rule of three that if one man could keep the penal establishment in a state of disturb- ance , for three yoars, what would five hundred do if they followed suit?
Both sides justified themselves; John knew, that he was a free-born Briton, who had never violated any of Britain's laws. Living honestly by the sweat of his brow, he had never deprived any person of a farthing by falsehood, fraud, or imposi- tion; and nevertheless hre he was loaded with ignominy and chains, with the flesh
torn from his back by the scourge.
The authorities desired him to attribute his woes to the jury that tried him. But why should he do so when the law gave that jury its power? He know that a hedge or township schoolmaster, a voter, a bum-bailiff or a tax-gatherer needed some kind of intelligence qualification, but a juryman, who had often to deal with the lives and liberties of the peoplo needed no intelligence whatevor; because if he bad a certain amount of property, that alone qualified him to hang and transport
men ad libertum.
John had the chaplain against him, be- cause be had once said that he would not be :
bothered with religion in a gaol - and, as the chaplain had brought some of the worst and most hardened criminals in the estab- lishment to a " state of grace," it an- noyed him to hear that John spurned these saints with loathing and contempt. In short, both sides were intriguing, or rather temporising for delay, the authori- ties wishing to trundle John off to Nor- folk Island, and John, preparing to trundle himself over yonder wall. Reconcilement was out of the question, for John was still sulky and ferocious, and the authorities not yet wholly defeated ; and never could true reconcilement grow where wounds of deadly hate had pierced so deep," A middle course was, therefore, deemed ex- pedient, and John was placed unshackled in an unoccupied yard, whose lofty wall would keep him in safety, and two soldiers
perched like redbreasts, on the top of it, would protect him. But John was for hard labor during his hopeless captivity, and labor implied tools, and tools were weapons, and John, with an adze or pick axe in his hand, would soon get the quarry to himself. That part of the Judge's sen- tence was, therefore, expunged, and if the gaolers could expunge oue portion of it, they might, with equal justice, have can celled the whole for a oroken sentence -
a Judge's decision cut up, parcelled, muti- lated, and divided, remains a farce and a mockery; and even if John the Bisho, had been as guiljy as the purblind Judge and the ignorant jurors thought he was,
he would even then have had had reason to demur at his oppression; for he saw around him men convicted of far more heinous offences than that with which he was charged doing light sentences. He
was accused of frightening a lady by pre- senting a pistol at her; and he saw near him a monster, who, on a similar expedi- tion, had used his pistol and wounded his victim, and, nevertheless, that monster's sentence was the very essence of mercy when compared to his; and these discrep ancies in the awards of justice rankled sorely at his heart.
Each side bided its time, but John's time came first, and unexpectedly ; and John wis a man who could act on an emergency. It seems the inside of the wall needed pointing, and a mason came to point it, and he had a cart with him conveying his lime, his tools, and the timber for his stage; and a prisoner carpenter walked beside the cart carry- ing his hammor and a sharp light American axe to erect the stage, and two armed warders escorted the whole. John happened to be near the gate when it was opened to admit the cortoge, and he saw that the outer gate was also open, and that circumstance was auspicious, and the time favorable. In a moment in the twinkling of an eye-he snatched the axe from the carpenter's shoulder, and
two speedy blows of, it laid the warders dead at' his feet, and he then rushed for the gate of the outer yard, which was kept by two prisonor constablos, who were not armed, and they on seeing John approach hastened to shut the gate; but they were a minute too late. John, rush- ing through the aporture, dealt the con stables a blow each, when death for ever sealed their swimming eyes. He was now outside all the walls, and had only to pass one sentry box, at which stood a soldier with his musket. and John made
direct for him-fiercer than ten furies terrible as hell. The soldier saw him coming, and raising his firelock to his shoulder kept aiming at the prisoner until he was withing twenty yards, when he pulled the trigger, and lo! the gun burnt priming, and the soldier, throwing it away, drew his bayonet and prepared to defend himself with it. John recog- nised in this soldior one of his guards in the convict ship, and one who had heaped many indignities on him, and aggravated much of his suffering, and his fury knew no bounds. But the soldier was game, and eluding many of John's blows, tried to stab his antagonist with the bayonet. John, light as a feather from starvation, was full of agility, and with equal skill shunned the bayonet, until gaining an advantage he cleft the soldier from the shoulder to the chin, and pursued his course, leaving the axe sticking in his victim. "Whether it was an illustration of fortuna favit fortibuts, or a mere coin- cidence I cannot say, but the murderer, on reaching the highroad, met his ancient foe the clergyman riding to the establish- ment on a spirited horse, and it was fortunate for Ezekiel that the axe was behind.
The prisoner soon dismounted the parson, and getting up in his place rode for bare life to the bush.
(To he Continued,)