This article was found pasted into a scrapbook entitled, “1838 Patriot War.” The scrapbook is located at the Flower Memorial Library Genealogy Department at Watertown, New York. This article, one of a series written by L. N. Fuller, was copyrighted in 1923 by the Brockway Company, Publishers of the Watertown Daily Times. The series appeared in the Watertown Daily Times in March, April, and May of 1923. John B. Johnson, Jr., Editor/Co-Publisher of the Watertown Daily Times has granted me permission to incorporate these pieces on my website. I feel very honored to have been given this permission. (Shirley Farone)

Men Treated Like Mere
Animals By Brutal Keepers

Prison Life in Most Dreaded of British Penal Settlements ---
Forced to Labor Under the Lash --- Prisoners Flogged to
Death For Trivial Offenses.




(Copyright, 1923, by the Brockway Company, Publishers of the Watertown Daily Times.)

Chapter XVIII.

The next morning the prisoners were landed at Hobartown and were turned into the prisoners’ barracks. Soon they were convinced of the hard life that was before them. They were furnished with the coarsest clothes and their shoes were of the cheapest kind. They were allowed one pair every four months, but as two months was the limit of their endurance, they were obliged to go barefooted a large part of the time.

The treatment that prisoners were given at Van Dieman’s Land is almost beyond belief. They are harnessed like horses to heavy wagons and then compelled to draw loads of stone under the lash of a brutal overseer. The men were kept at work from sunrise to sundown. Their food often consisted of meat that had spoiled, some coarse flour and a cup of water. Lysander Curtis of Ogdensburg was the first to be a victim of this tyranny. He was compelled to wheel heavy loads of stone and fainted through exhaustion. He was kicked and beaten in a most inhuman manner by the overseer and in a few days passed away.

A few months after their arrival an attempt was made to escape. William Reynolds of Orleans, Jacob Paddock of Onondaga county, Horace Cooley and Michael Murray left the prison camp at night, but were recaptured and sent to Port Arthur where they were held in chains two years. The prisoners were divided into gangs and were sent to places far distant from each other to prevent any further plotting. Captain Heustis of Watertown was sent to a place about nine miles from Hobartown where he was a member of a chain gang. There he found conditions almost intolerable.

“The conveniences for flogging at this station were in a high state of perfection.” he wrote. “A portion of the time these floggings took place four or five mornings a week, and the number of culprits thus doomed to punishment varied from one to ten. All hands were called together to witness these inhuman whippings. We were formed in a hollow square, one side of which was a guard of soldiers. The superintendent, the overseers, the physician, the flagellator and the men to be scourged were stationed in the center of the square. The superintendent having read the warrant of the magistrate, ordering the punishment and prescribing the number of lashes to be inflicted, the offender was led to a triangle, with his bare back exposed and the flagellator pulled off his own coat, that he might have free use of his arms. The doctor stood by to decide whether the man could endure the sentence; if he thought they could not live through it, he ordered the remaining lashes to be reserved until such time as the man would be able to bear it. The flagellator then began his task and at every stroke of the cat o’ nine tails, a scream would come from the sufferer and the body would writhe in agony. After a few lashes had been inflicted, the blood would begin to run and before the close the flesh on the poor man’s back would be lacerated dreadfully. The lowest punishment is three dozen lashes which is inflicted for the most trivial offense. Seventy-five lashes is the common sentence and a hundred lashes is the most that a magistrate can inflict. If the offense is considered heinous the culprit is tried by two magistrates who can order any punishment they see fit. They occasionally go as high as 600 lashes and men are sometimes flogged to death.”

This is but typical of the type of governors who had charge of the prisoners at Van Dieman’s Land. The civil prisoners sent there were of the lowest type. Murderers, thugs, robbers and assassins of England, the scum of the criminal world, were sent there for life and once there they were forgotten by the home government.

The American prisoners there were not destined to perpetual banishment. Friends in America interceded in their behalf and the long process of securing a pardon for them was started. There was an attempt to make some sort of a rough classification between the American prisoners and the civil prisoners from England. It is recorded that at no time were the American prisoners forced to submit to the lash. They had privately resolved that they would die before they suffered this indignity.

After about two years on the island the liberties were extended and a large number of Americans were given tickets of leave, which permitted them to go about at will within certain limits. They were no longer prisoners in the sense that they were compelled to labor and be confirmed. They could hire themselves out to the residents of the islands, to engage in any form of labor which they saw fit, and could have the proceeds of their toil, being, of course, obliged to support themselves.

A ticket of leave man, (sic) was however, under strict regulations. He could not go beyond the limits assigned to him, was not allowed to have firearms and should he desire to go outside the limits which his ticket entitled him he was obliged to obtain a pass. The violation of any of these rules meant a revocation of the ticket and the prisoner was obliged to return to his former status. The lot of a ticket of leave man, though far better than that of a prisoner in confinement, was hard. His efforts to seek employment were discouraging as the best of English laborers could be hired for $20 a year.

Edward Everett, the American minister to London at that time, made strenuous efforts to secure the release of the American prisoners who had been condemned to Van Dieman’s Land. It took many weeks and months for correspondence to pass from America to London and thence to Van Dieman’s Land and the red tape and technicalities which had to be gone through took many months which lengthened into years. Through his efforts pardons were eventually granted to all of the American prisoners at Van Dieman’s Land. No provision was made for their getting home and they had to depend on their own wits. Most of the pardoned prisoners waited patiently until an American ship came to Hobartown, which was at rare intervals and took passage for home. Others took passage on whaling ships as sailors and went on lengthy voyages, sometimes extending three or four years, before they set foot on American soil. One by one they drifted back to their homes in Northern New York, many broken in health due to the terrible hardships through which they had gone. They were disillusioned. They had had their great adventure, but their efforts to bring that which they believed would be welcomed by the people of Canada were in vain.

Index of All Patriot War Articles

Return to Shirley Farone's Homepage