The Victims of Whiggery - George Loveless - Part 3
We arrived at Portsmouth about nine o‘clock at night, and I was given up in charge to the officers of the York Hulk. When I went on board I was struck with astonishment at the sight of the place, the clanking of chains, and of so many men being stripped.
When ordered to put on the hulk livery, and to attend on the smith to have the fetters riveted on my legs, for a moment I began to sink down, until the first mate, Mr. Nicholson, told me I was to go into No. 2 ward, middle deck, one of the best and quietest wards in the ship, by the captain‘s order, in consequence of a good character he had received with me from the prison.
And yet, after all the striving and struggling by my adversaries, to discover some foul blot against my reputation, without effect, so cruel and revengeful was some party, as to say that I and my brother were rioters. Now to prove the fallacy of such an assertion, I would just refer to the period already alluded to, when we asked our employers to advance our wages, no threats or intimidation were made use of by any of the labourers; and, at the time when so much incendiarism was prevailing in many parts of the kingdom, a watch was set in our parish for the protection of property in the night, and I and my brother, among others, were chosen to watch such property. Will any reasonable man believe, if we had been rioters, that we should have been so chosen? Again, I and my brother were reported to have been regular smugglers and poachers.
But all this reporting, stabbing, and slandering men was in the dark, behind the back, out of sight; and well did the party know that there was no foundation for such foul and black assertions; and if there ever was instance known in the space of thirty seven years, which was my age when these vile slanders went abroad; I say, if ever, in any one instance, I stand chargeable for any misdemeanour or crime, I call upon James Frampton, Esq., magistrate, or his satellites, or any one else, to stand out and declare it. Again, I challenge them to come forth and do it in a public manner, that the world may judge the case, and acquit me if innocent, or not let me escape with impunity if guilty.
But the secret is this: I am from principle a Dissenter, and by some, in Tolpuddle, it is considered as the sin of witchcraft; nay, there is no forgiveness for it in this world nor that which is to come, the years 1824 - 5 are not forgotten, and many a curious tale might be told of men that were persecuted, banished, and not allowed to have employ if they entered the Wesleyan Chapel at Tolpuddle. But enough of this subject, it is still on record.
Monday, April the 7th, I was called upon to work with the gun wharf party, and in this employment I continued the whole of the time I was at Portsmouth , being just six weeks. On the 17th of May in the morning, I was called upon to prepare for a voyage to Botany Bay . One hundred and twenty were draughted from Portsmouth , to join the same number that the ship brought down from Woolwich, and after having stripped off everything, and putting on a new suit for sea, irons as well, we went on board the 'William Metcalfe', lying at Spithead , where we remained till the 25th of May. In the afternoon we weighed anchor, and the next evening bid farewell to England, having passed the Land‘s End. I now began to think I had seen and heard but very little. A small bed, pillow, and blanket were allowed for each man, which would have contributed greatly to our comfort, had there been room sufficient to have laid on them, but we could not. A berth of about five feet six inches square was all that was allowed for six men to occupy day and night, with the exception of four hours we were allowed daily on deck, two hours in the forenoon, and two hours in the afternoon for air. For nearly ten weeks out of fourteen I was not able to lie down at length to take rest. But what then? I was a prisoner, and there is no pity. “You have no business here, so you must take it as it comes, for better for worse,” is the consolation you get when you complain.
On the fourth of September we cast anchor before Hobart Town , Van Diemens Land, having sailed nearly thirty miles up the River Derwent. Tuesday, September 9th, the magistrates came on board, as is usual, to take dimensions, &c., of the prisoners, and one by one was called into the cabin as their names stood arranged on the alphabetical list, or rather as the town stood from whence they were convicted. When I was called in, after asking me a number of questions about my father, mother, brothers, sisters, wife, children, &c., the following conversation took place between Mr. Thomas Mason and myself: “What is all this about unions? You think of doing great things I suppose; now tell me what you meant.” - “We meant nothing more, Sir, than uniting together to keep up the price of labour, and to support each other in time of need.” - “Now, I know this is false; there is some secret design of conspiracy at the bottom, is there not?” - “No, Sir, quite the reverse of that; for every man that is a member of the Union is under an obligation not to violate the laws.” - “Yes; surely, I know you mean they are bound not to break any of their own laws.” - “I mean they are under an obligation not to violate the laws of their country.” - “I do not believe anything you say about it, for there is so much secrecy belonging to it. Now what is that secret sign or signal by which the Unions knew when to meet all over England at the same time?” - “I do not know of what you are talking, Sir.” - “You daring fellow, will you tell me so again; do not you know that they did meet all over the kingdom at once?” - “I know of no such thing as their having secret signs or signals to know when to meet; I never heard of such a thing before.” - “Where were you when they made such a noise then? Be careful in what you say.” - “I understood the Union had public meetings at different places, but I was at the York hulk, Portsmouth , at the time.” - “It is no matter where you were, you are one of them, and you know all about it, and if you do not tell me here and now all and everything about them, I will report you to the governor, you shall be taken on shore, and we shall give you a second trial, and you shall be severely punished; now, what are those secrets you are so backward in revealing?” - “I have none to tell, Sir,” - “Now, you pretend from a scrupulous conscience you cannot reveal the secret to me; if you have taken an oath not to reveal it, you are sinning against God and man, until you break that oath, and if you still refuse to tell me you shall be severely punished.” - “I am in your hands, and am ready to and willing to undergo any suffering you shall think proper to inflict upon me, rather than say I know anything, when in reality I do not.” - “That I will do, I will report you to the governor, and you shall be punished.”
Friday, September 12th, at daybreak, we were landed, and conducted to the prisoner‘s barracks. The same day we were marshalled in the yard for the inspection of the governor, who examines every man, and when he came to me, I was pointed out by the above named magistrate as being one of the Trades‘ Union, and very backward to say anything about them, he (Mason), thought it advisable, therefore, to give me a second examination. What the governor replied I could not then comprehend; however he began to talk to me on the subject; the following is a part of what passed: “What a fool you must have been for having anything to do with such things; what object had you in view for doing so?” - “The motives by which we were influenced were to prevent our wives and families from being utterly degraded and starved.” - “Poh, poh, no such thing! What, cannot labouring men live by their labour?” - “Not always now, Sir.” - “I mean good labouring men. Surely, they can live comfortable?” - “No, Sir, times have been in England when labour was well rewarded, but it is not so now; there is many a good willing workman that cannot get employed at all, and others get so little for their labour, that it is impossible for them to live if they have families.” - “But you know that you did very wrong, do you not?” - “I had no idea whatever that I was violating any law.” - “But you must know that you have broken the laws, or how came you here?” - “By some means or other I was sent here; but I cannot see how a man can break a law before he knows that such a law is in existence.” - “You might as well say I have done very wrong, I acknowledge it, and am sorry for it.” - “I cannot do this, Sir, until I see it.”
September 13th, a constable came for me to go to the police-office; and when there I was introduced to Mr. Mason, in a private room, who calling a young man that acted as clerk for him, he asked if I could remember the conversation we had the other day. I answered in the affirmative: he bid me repeat it; I did, the young man looking at a paper he held in his hand, to see if I deviated or not. He again urged me to reveal the secret to him; I told him that I had told him already as far as I knew. “But,” said he, “think, now, is there not something you have not told yet?” - “I have told you, Sir, all I can; it appears that you know more about it than I do.” - “Well, I have to tell you that you was ordered for severer punishment; you were to work in irons on the roads; but in consequence of the conversation you had with the governor yesterday, his mind is disposed in your favour; he won‘t allow you to go where you was assigned to; he intends to take you to work on his farm.”