A True History of Bernard Reilly

Reproduced with permission from the national Library of Australia, Canberra.

Nothing is known about the author of this pamphlet. It is possible that he was not the convict he claimed to be. Transportation was a topical issue in the late 1830’s and prospective authors had both an eager market and the necessary source material in evidence presented to the Molesworth Committee on Transportation (1838) and in the writings of reformers like William Ullathorne. Fictional or not, the pamphlet typifies those widely circulated in Ireland in the 1830’s and 1840’s.

 

A True History of Bernard Reilly,

A Returned Convict,

who was transported in the Year 1824 for fourteen years

and has lately returned from Exile.

With an account of his sufferings, etc – Written by himself.

 

Near this Town I was born and bred,

My father was a carpenter by trade,

I was sent to school and educated well,

As many in this town can tell,

At sixteen years of age I ran away,

And with my parents did no longer stay,

For I had staid at home from school that morn,

And home in the evening I dare not return,

I went without delay then thro’ the town,

Where company enough I shortly found,

And to my misfortune, being easily led,

With wicked thoughts they filled my head,

A handsome female, but of broken fame,

Did first delude me till I was lost to shame;

Strong liquor they did largely give to me,

So that the bolder I might growing be,

Next by a well known snib to rob I learned,

And had to give him half of what I earned,

By day we went about in close disguise,

And in each quarter had our secret spies,

Some drest like jockies some like countrymen

And some like sailors just come from the main

Thus we our plans did lay in broad daylight,

Then went to make our deaths at dead of night

We had our places to conceal our store,

And brought them out when all was o’er,

To markets and to fairs, we went likewise, –

We robbed the farmers there before their eyes

Sometimes played cards, and sometimes dice,

And purchased pleasure then at any price,

But short and dangerous was my wide career,

As shortly will to all your eyes appear.

Three of us did agree to take the road,

Our pistols we with double balls did load.

A wealthy cattle drover to waylay,

Whom we had set upon that very day,

We dogged him on the night so dark came on,

When we attacked the drover one by one,

His pocket book we forced him to give,

And fifty pounds beside to let him live,

We then proceeded into town as quick as thought

But soon were found and unto justice brought.

Unto the jail they took us then,

And shut us up in that most dismal den,

When we deplored our fate for 3 months long,

Confined in dismal walls both high and strong,

Before old Judge M’Lelland we were tried,

And two of us were soon identified.

The other two by false swearing got away,

But we, our companions would not betray,

Had we been sentenced on the tree to die,

We would have kept it dark most faithfully,

At length Judge addressed us in a solemn strain,

Saying, you are two young but very wicked men,

And for the crime of which you guilty stand,

I’m forced to send you from your native land,

For 14 years to climes beyond the seas,

Where you may soon amend if you please.

On carts they straight way chained us 2 and 2,

With convicts clothes we were a motley crew,

Our fathers and mothers flocked around –

Their tears in torrents fell upon the ground,

To see their children a tearing from their home,

To distant lands unhappy slaves to roam,

I thought my heart that day with grief would break,

When they came to me their last farewell to take,

We were then shipped on board the hulk at Cork,

And used far worse than any Jew or Turk’

Then in the transport fettered all in pairs,

For seven long months the chains we had to wear

Under the hatches we were closely pent,

Where we our wicked lives did sore repent,

Our food was bad, and scanty too beside –

The sick men’s soup and biscuit we’d divide,

On one half pint of water in the day,

Our burning thirst at noon for to allay,

We could not stand up strait or lie at ease,

So we took cramps in both our arms and knees,

At last the seamen did the land descry,

But then I thought on old Ireland with a sigh,

At Hobart Town we got on shore at last,

And in a jail that night we were confined fast –

Our heads were shaved our clothes then changed,

Then in rows along the halls then ranged,

Until the Governor did us review.

And till our several names and trades he knew,

When this was done he bid us all prepare,

For business next day let it be foul or fair,

The prisoners in the cells of the same jail,

Our clothes that night did come and steal,

Like horses they examined wind and limb,

When a gentleman said I was the man for him,

Then straightway in a waggon I was taken,

To the Estate where I had to remain,

The rest were sent to different parts to toil,

Some at their trades and some to till the soil,

From sunrise in the morning we are bound,

To labour like negroes till the sun goes down,

Our faces all were blistered with the sun,

And the field-flies our helpless bodies stung,

And yet we dare not ask leave to rest,

Tho’ with labour are sore distressed,

The overseer with watchfulness stood by,

Kept us to our task both low and high,

At night when from the fields did return,

We had to grind the master’s corn,

Water mills are scarce and far away,

Which makes our weary carcases to pay,

Till eleven o’clock we had to turn the meal,

Then when in our beds our sores we feel,

Just six hours sleep we are allowed,

The bell at sunrise rings their notes so loud,

Let those foolish young men at home beware,

They little know what the poor convicts bear,

When from our native land are exiled,

To slave in countries where the men run wild,

Like beasts of burden must bear the load,

Or by the lash our master will us goad,

Some of my old acquaintances here I met,

Whose cheeks in tears for their young days is wet,

They told me if they got at home once more,

Their former dreadful course they’d give o’er,

Lamenting that they brought their parents down,

With grief to their graves their deeds to crown,

And brought themselves to slavery and shame,

When they might have acquired an honest fame,

And might have lived in honesty and peace,

Instead of running to sin and disgrace,

There’s some to the gallows sacrifice their lives,

And send to beggary their children and wives,

Some to Van Dieman’s Land for life are sent,

Where they their wicked lives do sore repent,

Some for seven and some for fourteen years,

To bemoan their fate in misery and tears,

When they’re there their fortune they may curse,

For if in jail they could not be worse,

If to the mountains they run and hide,

They must then go without house or guide,

In danger of wild beasts and men as wild –

From friends and country doubly then exiled,

These hapless men then take to rob and steal,

And vengeance on the helpless settlers deal,

They burn their houses and their goods away,

To hiding places in the Woods convey,

Then one hundred pounds the Governor gives,

To those who capture them dead or alive,

And fifty more for leaders of the gang,

Whose bodies on the shore in chains they hang,

A warning to be to all convicts sent there,

Of such a punishment for to beware,

If we commit a fault they are severe,

For disobedience we are confined one year,

And two for petty theft it is ordained,

For those that cannot be reclaimed,

And if their thievery they do repeat,

Their liberty for life they then forfeit,

And when this sentence on a convict passed,

All favour here from his master is lost.

Three men from Cavan and one from Leitrim town,

One morning in the Black Wood by chance was found,

Their bodies putrefying in the sun,

As part of life remained in only one,

Their frames by hunger reduced to bone and skin,

Like skeletons they seemed so lank and thin,

For they had lived three weeks on little meat,

And for five days they nothing had to eat,

They laid them down beneath a tree to die,

Lamenting that they to the Woods did fly;

One of them did recover and they told him soon,

That life’s long slavery is to be his doom.

My master was a wealthy Gentleman,

Mr Luke Dillon a transport from Dublin,

One hundred crown slaves are on his estate,

And those of good behaviour he did treat,

With kindness and attention, Wages good he gave,

And told us carefully our store to save,

So that they might return home free,

And of our master independent be,

For Government our passage don’t pay,

Then We must save to get ourselves away,

For twenty pounds they have to tender down,

In any vessel home for England bound,

There’s some spend all their money on the shore,

And by the time is out they then deplore,

For they are compelled to work or starve,

And that is just what such bad men deserve,

If we do get lazy, or they do suspect

We’ll run off, or catch us in the act,

They’ll chain us separately to several logs

As they at home chain mastiffs and bull-dogs,

To keep us to our work they guard us close,

And if they murmer of the lash they get a dose.

Thank God my fourteen years are gone and past,

And I’m on Irish ground arrived at last,

I hope my exile to me good sense to learn,

In honesty my daily bread to earn.

I have some money saved that will support

My aged mother, whose days are short,

When I came home my friends all leaped for joy,

I am happy blown by their Southern Gales

From that land of Heathen called New South Wales,

Let this to all young men a caution be,

To avoid night rambling and bad company,

Lest they should meet the same unhappy fate,

And rue like me when it might be too late.