Table of Contents
“Beautiful!” Rachel sighed, looking over the gunwale of the ship towards the land a few chains to the west.
“There’s nothing! Not a sign of life,” spat Ann in reply as the two friends ambled in step towards the bow.
Well, I think it is going to be the start of a new life for me, said Rachel.
“After what we’ve been through so far, I wish that was true,” said Ann, “but all my life has been misery, poverty and loneliness, except for you, dear. I don’t hold out much hope of anything being much better here.”
Rachel made no reply as the girls leant over the ship’s railing again and watched the schools of silvery fish below and the seagulls whirling above. Once more they looked towards the shore and saw the coast with two different sets of eyes. One noticed grey-green walls of small plants and shrubs under towering trees with gently waving branches, layered rocky cliffs and outcrops. The other saw that they were at the end of the world, in a place where no one seemed to live. And here they both were, on a ship anchored at sea, youngsters not yet considered adults, surrounded by brutal women and leering, violent men.
Unseen by either of them, a third set of eyes glanced towards the coast too and then wandered over the young women. The ship’s master, Captain Aitken, looked at them casually, almost not seeing them as his mind ran through the pros and cons of his next move. He had held the Lady Juliana off the coast here for three days, supposedly because it was too rough to enter the harbour in adverse winds.
The real reason was that it guaranteed him a higher payment under his contract. Aitken was weary, having set sail at Plymouth Sound more than 300 days ago in the calendar year 1788. Despite his tiredness, he was looking forward to finally unloading his human cargo, having a few weeks rest and then searching for a lucrative cargo for the return journey to England via Canton, far to the north in China. He felt modestly pleased. The contract had been maximised to his advantage and his morals were at peace: he had lost only five convicts, and none of them due to neglectful treatment. His agreement with His Majesty’s Admiralty was fully performed. He would receive a tidy sum in total and a nice profit once he had paid out his various creditors.
At that moment he decided he had had enough. He gave the two girls no further thought as he called to the boson to pipe for the ship’s anchors to be raised.
Over the next few days, all three were to have different experiences to what they expected and hoped.
Captain Aitken’s plans were disrupted less than two hours later as the vessel slipped quietly through the gigantic sandstone headlands marking the entrance to Port Jackson. At first it seemed they would have a smooth sail through the heads when right in the midst of the great chasm, the ship juddered. They were caught between the twin forces of the seas from the ocean breaking on the rocky outcrops and the out-surging tide.
Aitken saw that they were being drawn quite slowly but inexorably towards the thundering surf on the rocks of the southern headland. Just then, to make matters worse, the westerly wind that had kept them off shore sprang up again to 25 knots. Even with storm sails hoisted the ship began to run stern first back towards the shoals. The sound of the surf rose higher and higher, great swirling masses of water sucking them closer and closer.
Aitken kept outwardly calm as he ordered his seamen to reef the sails further but inwardly he began to panic. All they had gone through until now might end in disaster. Many of the women convicts watched in anguish, turning their eyes between the ever closing rocks and the face of the Captain to seek his reassurance.
Just as it looked like they were in mortal danger, the wind dropped and a rogue swell from the sea lifted them clear of the cliffs and thrust the tiny ship back into the midst of the channel. With a fluky nor’easter providing a gentle easterly impetus, they entered calmer waters under a lighter breeze and rain squalls. The sails flapped as the Lady Juliana bore slowly westward in deep blue water, into a magnificent harbour. A sense of calm returned to the crew and convicts as they sailed slowly westward.
“What a shame this isn’t at the mouth of the Thames,” grumbled Ann as the two girls again watched the shore. “It would be so nice to look over and see houses and shops and fair grounds instead of this desolation and emptiness.”
“But look how untouched it is,” replied Rachel. “We might be the first people to ever have seen this land. Maybe one day there will be lovely houses and farms and gardens all along the shore! Don’t you find it exciting?”
“Not half as much as when we get to shore and I get some decent food, a steady bed and some nice men to keep me company,” said Ann. “If only I can keep safe and dry!” she mused to herself.
After another couple of hours the Lady Juliana dropped anchor in a small cove. There were no other ships anywhere to be seen. Apart from a few huts they could see at the far end of the cove they were as alone as they had been for most of the past year.
Their ship had sailed alone. Their voyage had taken them to Rio de Janeiro, then far to the south towards the tip of South America and then across the South Atlantic Ocean to the Cape of Good Hope. From Cape Town they had dipped deep into the Southern Ocean, east and?even further south than only a few other humans had ever been in the history of the world. For 32 days they had battled through mountainous seas. Gales had threatened to swamp the ship on many occasions. Then after they finally rounded the southern tip of Van Diemen’s Land it was as if they had emerged into a different existence. Long days of balmy autumn weather followed as they batted and tacked northwards up the eastern coast of New Holland towards this place that they now looked out at; so new it had only been named “Sydney Cove” a year before.
Rachel’s first excitement was tempered by how eerie it seemed on land. The earlier first arrivals they had seen were clearly enthusiastic and pleased that the Lady Juliana had come. Several officers had already rowed out to the ship as she made her way up the harbour. A few convicts had also been on board to check cargoes for the officers.
As Rachel looked south to the settlement from the prow of the vessel, she had expected to see a neat, orderly and prosperous looking settlement, for no other reason than that that was what she had dreamed she would find in this new part of her life. But the place seemed poor; there was a haggardness about the buildings, the whole set-up looked ramshackle and temporary, as if they were just holding on at the edge of an alien world.
“This could go either way for me,” Rachel thought appraisingly to herself as she leant over the ship’s running rail and into the grey-blue waters below. “I’ve got to be realistic about this. It could be Hell on earth; it could turn out to be Paradise. I’m just going to have to keep my wits about me, keep positive and protect myself as best I can. Until I can get a family around me, I’m on my own and that’s just how it’s going to be. So, I must get on with this new life and see what I can make of it.”
Despite Rachel’s resolve, another night was to pass on board before Rachel and Ann got their feet on dry land for the first time in 75 days.
In the meantime they waited around, staying on deck as much as they could to avoid the fetid conditions below decks. As convicts sentenced to transportation in the new colony of Sydney, they knew they would have no say in anything to do with their lives for several more years to come.
While the girls lolled over the ship’s railing, a few of the men in the convict gangs looked at them with lascivious eyes as they toiled to swing cargo from the hold up onto the deck. While many of the convict women on board had had little male company on the voyage, at the settlement it had been even worse for the almost all male convict force; most had not been with a woman for several years.
The press gangs feasted their eyes on the newcomers whenever the officers were not attentive. Looks of appraisal passed between men and girls while minds worked at a furious pace calculating what might lie ahead once they were ashore.
Early on the morning of the third day since their arrival off the coast, Lieutenant Edgar, the military agent in charge of the 229 female convicts, strode onto the main deck. He called the women to attention, gave orders about getting their bedding and slings packed up, where to stand for final muster and what personal things they would be allowed to carry ashore with them.
Finally, mid-morning on the sixth of June 1790, a ship’s boat bumped against the new wooden wharf that jutted out into the deeply shelving waters of the cove. Rachel, Ann and a dozen other female convicts clambered over the side and up the few steps to the deck, handled roughly by the sailors who laughed and leered at them as they took their chance for a grope at their shapely young bodies.
It was oppressively hot, misty and raining. A solitary crow cawed, a few seagulls called, but otherwise an eerie quietness met them. The air smelt of salt water and a strange mintiness that seemed to come at the girls out of the bushes.
It was a different story for the first settlers on the shore who were straggling down to the water’s edge or standing on low rocks just above the lapping tide.
As the young women arrived on shore, the atmosphere changed in the twinkling of an eye. Hundreds of convict men who gathered broke into big smiles and jostled one another as they ogled the women, already eying off potential partners; for them it had been as many as five years since their sentences in London, the Midlands and other places in Britain. Many had not been in the company of a woman in all that time, having languished up to two or three years in gaol. Then they had been chained below decks on hulks in the Thames for many months. As if that was not enough, there had been many more months of only male society on the long voyage to the other side of the world. And for the last two and a half years in this lonely desolate camp, the closest many of them had come to female company was a querulous look or a casual word from one of the few women in the first settlement party.
Those few women in the crowd wore a mixture of expressions. Rachel knew why some looked at her and the others with a superior air as they stood alongside their officer husbands; others looked genuinely friendly. But a few watched them with frozen stares.
Two others in the ragged crowd looked more troubled at the site of the new arrivals. These were a couple of officers in military uniform. One man in particular looked angry, confused and withdrawn all at the same time.
“This is the last straw,” he muttered in a plummy upper class voice. “We are in danger of starving with the lot we have already and now we have another 200 odd and no additional supplies. We’ll all be dead in two months!” he grumbled, turning towards a hut on the small rise a few hundred yards further inland.
His brother officer said nothing in reply but a small smile came to his mouth as he continued to watch the women scramble up the sloping shoreline.
“This is the new beginning for us,” cried Rachel as she picked up her blanket full of belongings and strode forward.
“This is the end of us!” muttered Ann as she trudged after her only friend in the world.
“All prisoners line up here!” bawled the overseer as the women and girls huddled in a clearing about two hundred yards from the edge of the cove.
“Come on, come on, you lot! We’re not here for a picnic,” the overseer, named Wright yelled.
When they were all in ranks a corporal counted them off. A slight rustle in the watching crowd turned into muttered greetings as a small party of officers in uniform came forward from the cluster of huts on the nearby knoll. One liveried officer was clearly Arthur Phillip, Governor of the new colony of New South Wales on behalf of His Majesty, King George III. He wore a three cornered hat, clean trousers and slightly harried look. The junior officers showed him obvious respect as he wandered along the ranks, speaking to some of the women. He stopped in front of the woman next to Rachel.
“And where have you come from, my dear?” he asked.
“Lincolnshire, yer Lordship,” she replied. “I was done for stealing a coat from my mistress, yer Honour, she blathered. “But it wasn't me!”
“Pretty much every one here is innocent,” he replied with a twinkling eye. “The judges get it wrong so often,” he said as his eye glanced ahead and he saw Rachel standing next in line. “And you?” he inquired. “Stealing too m’lord.”
“Oh! And were you caught unfairly too?”
“Too right!” Rachel replied, for a moment forgetting to be subservient in the presence of her betters and quickly regretting it. The man turned fully towards her, cocked his head slightly and looked her straight in the eyes. She took it as a signal from one in authority.
“I went with a man one night,” she continued in a more moderate tone, “but he was drunk and too broke to make out so my friend and I left him next morning and just took a couple of bits of his clothes to pay for the lodging and our expenses. Unfortunately the bailiffs didn't see it the same way,” Rachel continued, trying to make the interview as conversational as she could. “And neither did the beak at the Old Bailey in London, so here I am on the other side of the world with no family a few friends and five years of my sentence to run. But I've got no complaints, your Honour. I’m looking forward to finishing my time and making a go of it here if I can.”
“Well good luck to you,” Phillip responded, with a look of approval at the young woman.
“It is going to be tough enough just surviving for the next few months and maybe years on the poor diet we have here,” Phillip intoned a little louder for the benefit of those in the lines of convicts and their gaolers within earshot. “We have lots to do still to get adequate housing and water supplies, but we might just do it if we get enough willing help from everyone here and that includes you, our newest arrivals.”
With that, Governor Phillip moved further up the line until he had inspected all the party. Then he turned and spoke to all the assembled crowd; soldiers and officials, overseers and sailors, convicts from the first fleet and those who had just arrived.
“As you who know or soon will, in the case of our newest arrivals, we are in some difficulty,” Phillip began in a loud, clear voice.
“Our supplies are running low; sicknesses are affecting many of us, not to mention the natives we have so far encountered. Winter is upon us for the second time since we arrived a year and a little more ago and we have a lot to do to stay warm and dry. We all need to work together to continue to set this place up as a functioning settlement. It requires hard work but it doesn’t necessarily mean hard labour. My brother officers and I have determined that no one is to be in chains unless for special punishment and I ask you to be well behaved. If you do you will be treated fairly.
“We were hoping against hope when we first saw you arrive that the Colonial Secretary in London had sent some more supplies. That is clearly not the case. In the meantime, we must all do what we can to use what little we have carefully. Very well Lieutenant, carry on.”
The Lieutenant, a solidly built fellow in full uniform but looking slightly bedraggled in the squally breeze blowing again from the west, called to the sergeants to lead the convicts off to their rough quarters on the eastern side of the small stream.
Groups of six women were assigned a tent, two buckets, a rough blanket each and some crockery to share between them. Rachel found herself allotted to a mixed collection of tentmates. As luck would have it, she and Ann were billeted together. Then there were two other women a couple of years older and another two who, from their saggy bodies, greying hair and lined faces, looked as if the weight of the world rested on their shoulders.
“This ain't much,” grumbled one of the older women, clutching a small child in one hand while she wrestled her few belongings and the assigned gear into a pile at her feet.
“Well you'd better get used to it, dearie,” said another. “I think we are in for a tough time if what the Guv’ner said is true.”
“Maybe we could make a break for it,” whispered another, looking off to the bushes.
“Sure! And where would you break to?” chuckled another. “There's nothing here but jungle and savages, I'll bet and no civilisation between here and India. Would you be walking with your little one to India?” she mocked.
“Well anything is better than this!” the woman rankled.
“Don't bet on that either,” the older woman replied. “Our best idea is to do what we need to get by and either stick together as best we can or hope we can shack up with one of the better overseers. There were a few in the crowd that looked half decent.”
Not two hours later the little group’s meagre hopes were dashed. As Rachel eyed the uncomfortable bed she was making, two rough looking fellows that she judged to be convicts by their ill-fitting uniforms, strolled towards the tent like a couple of Lords out for a walk in Hyde Park.
“Good day, ladies!” the taller one began, doffing his canvas cap to them all but clearly singling out Rachel and Ann for their closest attention.
“M, mm, my! I like the look of you!” his companion stuttered, eyeing Rachel up and down with a very direct look as if he was imagining her standing naked before him, bereft of her rough convict garb.
“Get off with you!” replied the oldest woman, Sarah, as Rachel stood her ground as best she could and tried to out-stare her propositioner. “And leave these girls alone I tell you!”
“And who are you to tell us anything you old c, c, c, cr, crone?” leered the stutterer.
“Be away with you or I’ll call the overseer right now,” she replied in a low and menacing tone.
The two men ambled away but not before making a passing leer at Rachel and Ann and promising they would show them a good time before the week was out.
“Oh, Lord! Not more of this!” shuddered Ann as her mind strayed back to the beatings and drunken coupling she had had to endure in the filth and mire of London.
“Don't worry,” whispered Rachel as they strolled off in search of some grass and leaves to make a more comfortable bed for the night. “Besides, I thought the tall one was quite handsome.”
“Well I'm not getting landed with the stutterer,” Ann giggled nervously. “He has a nice face but by the time he gets a spoken sentence out straight I will be finished my convict sentence and on my way home!”
Next day Rachel and Ann were introduced to the Women's Factory, a marked-out area between the women's camp and the eastern shore of the cove.
“Why, there's nothing here!” exclaimed Ann to the convict overseer walking with them.
“No, and it will be a long while before there is, I think. There’s a plan for a timber building right here but with hardly a nail to be had and a only couple of carpenters who have both got the fever, that’s just what it is at this stage: a plan.
“In the meantime, your jobs will be to sit on these rocks, mend the officers’ uniforms and cut up calico for more tents, girls. Here's the gear. Now get on with it.”
The two girls sat with a pile of clothing on one side and several bolts of tough white cloth on the other. They began to stitch holes and tears in grey breaches and red coats. As each one was finished they folded and placed it on rocks in several piles as neatly as they could. Then they turned to the calico, struggling to mark cutting lines on the rough ground, scissoring and sewing segments together into rough five-sided boxes with a flap for a door and a panel for a window on one side.
Late that afternoon, Rachel wandered across the cove towards the harbour and a rocky ledge just above the incoming tide. She ambled along the edge, picking up shells and tasting oysters, which she cracked open with a hard grey rock she found amongst the sandstone pebbles. “Oysters were common back in London,” she reminisced. “We used to have them with beer or stout when we had some money. But these are so tasty, plump and fresh!”
As she looked out across the water at the strange trees, the beautiful sandstone rocks and the cool looking gullies on the other side of the harbour, her mind went back again to the chaos that she had left behind in London. Dirt, filthy clothes, violence, poverty, fear, nowhere to sleep often, fickle friendships, no contact with her family for years, noise all day and night, sickening air to breathe, days and days sometimes without anything decent to eat.
What would it be like here in New South Wales? Could she make a new start, like the name of the colony implied? Would it be better? Could she find a husband who would care for her and help her raise a nice clutch of children? Could she dream of having a bit of land to raise good food on? What about some animals? Her mind became more excited as she thought of the prospects and possibilities and began to dare to dream of a new, better life than the one she had been forced to leave behind.
Already her feelings and apprehensions of a couple of days previously had waned, at least a bit. There were some good things but also some fearful ones too. Already, she didn’t feel as alone here as she often felt back in the hubbub of London; the women in her tent were kindly in their own way. Ann was a friend she could talk with, up to a point. The overseers and guards were a mixed bunch; some decent, while others already had shown that their violent natures were just below the surface. Sitting around the fires last night, there had been stories from the first arrivals of men forcing their way with native women, people that Rachel had only heard of for the first time when Governor Phillip had spoken about them.
Just then she heard a twig snap and she turned half attentively to see where the noise had come from. As if he had materialised by her thoughts, a black man stood near one of the sandstone outcrops. He just looked at her; no movements at all, no expression in his eyes, no smile or even a scowl. Rachel gasped, her heart racing as her eyes darted around for a way to escape or to protect herself from this raw, primitive man. She knew at once she was vulnerable, completely at his whim if he chose to harm her.
As she slowly rose, first to her knees and then to her feet, she slipped a small rock into her hand. Heart still thundering and trembling with fear she tried to smile, strangely thinking in the moment how weird she must look with such a grimace when she might be about to be murdered and eaten.
The native never moved. His eyes remained fixed on her eyes, never wandering up or down or off to the side. He was naked except for a small bark-like cloth covering his loins. A clutch of wooden spears and other strange items rested in his left hand, a small spear in his right. Then he smiled. A big nervous grin. Rachel nearly fainted with relief. Her knees buckled and she sank again to the ground, wrapping herself as best she could under her dirty, calico smock.
The black man kept standing, watching. His grin faded and he started to speak a few sounds. Then he froze.
He turned quickly to the left as his eyes came back from over his right shoulder. With one brief glance at the girl he slipped noiselessly into the darkening bushes and in an instant was gone.
Rachel's heart began to beat more normally and she eventually sighed with relief and a twinge of excitement at seeing her first native of this strange new land.
She was just beginning to get to her feet when a gruff male voice above her on the outcrop muttered: “Don't move!” “Oh God,” Rachel screamed in her mind. “I know that voice! He was the fellow who leered at me yesterday. Now I am in for it, alone here and with no defence.”
“Don't be afraid, dearie,” the tough looking convict grumbled. “I saw the black from the other side of the cove and have been working my way around behind him.”
“Well, thank you,” Rachel said, more to appear in command of herself than from any real gratitude. “I was scared rigid of him at first but he had just started to smile when he must have heard you coming over the rocks and he melted away over there,” she pointed.
The man above her nodded thoughtfully, looking frankly over her face and figure. “He was probably smiling at the thought of how good you’d taste when he ate you!” Then he surprised them both by successfully jumping down from the rocks to her feet, swinging his cloth cap from his bright red hair and sweeping into a bow before her.
“It's not safe to be out of camp after dusk,” he said, consciously deepening his voice and appearing as swashbuckling as he could. “Can I escort you back, my dear?”
“Oh thank you, kind sir,” Rachel replied in a parody of what she thought a toff would say. “But I can’t accompany you. Why, we haven't been introduced!” she gasped in mock alarm. “
I'm Jim Molleson,” the stranger said, as he held out his hand, embarrassed and trying to be gallant all at once.
“And I am Rachel Hoddy,” the girl curtsied graciously with a shy and knowing smile, feeling more in command of herself and her new acquaintance with every passing moment.
“And you’re both under arrest!” thundered a voice standing on the rocks where Molleson had been above just moments before. “You two are escapees and will be punished to the full limits of the penal code,” uttered the man, clearly an officer from his uniform and obviously someone of rank by his bearing and command. “Don't move while I come down,” he ordered, covering them with a flintlock pistol. The two stood rooted to the spot while the third clambered down, never taking his eyes from the pair.
“Let's go!” he commanded, pointing with his gun over to the other side of the cove to the crude settlement. Whilst the officer covered them they began to wend their way across the rocks when Rachel suddenly stumbled. “None of that!” roared the officer, thinking that Rachel was feigning a trip. He raised his gun directly towards Rachel.
None of them saw the spear slice into the officer’s right arm and carry through to the trunk of a tree until it was there, still quivering. The officer groaned, whipped round and fired where he had seen movement of the bushes to his right. “Winged him!” he called in delight.
“Winged you too, Sir,” said Molleson as he rushed to the officer’s side.
“Damnation! It’s ruined my uniform. No real harm done,” he mumbled, unbuttoning his tunic and checking to see the how deep the wound was. “Just a gash,” he said, putting a cloth from his pocket into the tunic and over the wound.
“Now you two, off to camp,” he ordered as briskly as he could muster himself “and into the brig.”
“But sir,” wheedled Rachel, “if you were out there all alone without us you might have been killed by that savage and no one would have found you for ages.”
“Perhaps, but you two were out there too and for all I know out were escaping.”
“Where to, sir?” Molleson piped up. “There's nothing here on this whole continent as far as anyone yet knows but this camp and a couple of outposts. The nearest civilisation is probably India or Jogjakarta and we would probably have been speared by a black before we got to the next bay. Besides, Rachel and I just came over for a bit of peace and quiet,” Molleson almost purred. “We just met yesterday and I figured it would be nice to get to know one another better away from the crowds.” He looked knowingly at the officer. “You know how it is sir, I'll wager,” his voice trailed off.
“Well maybe,” the officer replied and while Rachel bent to put the ragged shoe back on that had caused her to stumble, the officer and the convict exchanged a nod and a blink that could have been a wink if it were exchanged between men of equal status.
By the time they regained the edge of the settlement the three were walking together.
“What's your name, sir, if I might inquire,” said Rachel.
“I am Lieutenant David Collins,” came the reply, a mixture of conversational tone and a desire to assert his position. “Judge Advocate and Secretary to the Governor of this noble project, if we survive the next few months. But here we are. I won't take this any further as to your absenting yourselves without leave,” said Collins in a low tone, “but I will need you both to come to my hut tomorrow and sign a statement about the incident with the aboriginal. Be there at 10 o clock,” he uttered with as much public presence as he could and ambled off with one hand pressed up into the shoulder of his tunic.
“OK, my lovely; let's go back to your tent,” grinned Molleson as his eyes wandered over her shapely form.
“Not on your Nellie,” laughed Rachel as fiercely as she could. “I've had enough of men's antics for today. And besides there are five others in the tent!”
“Well, you can't blame me for trying and besides I want some thanks for saving your life so I’ll save the favour for some time soon.”
With that, he doffed his cap again to her and strolled towards the other convicts who had watched the events with mounting interest.
“What have you been up to, young Jim?” called one of the lackeys.
“Been doing a bit of surveying,” replied Jim as he lifted the flap on the grey dirty tent and threw himself onto his rough mattress. Jim began to dream.
Her eyes shot open. Rachel's heart thumped. All else was silent. She looked up and all she could see was whiteness. Then as her pulse slowed she realised she was in the tent. The quietness melded away with the gentle sounds of women dozing in the early dawn. Outside she could hear the early sounds of a new day’s life, odd bird calls. Despite the closed flaps of the tent, Rachel smelt the strange mint of the surrounding trees. She slipped from her rough mattress and cast aside the one grey blanket she had been issued with a few days earlier.
Easing her way out of the tent past the other women, she emerged to greet a morning of clear blueness, crisp air with a sniff of wood smoke and the first warming rays of the southern sun.
“How different this all is from where I was this time last year,” she thought as she began to pick her way across the rocks and around the low bushes towards the spot she knew was the stream. It spattered and gurgled its way across the cove towards the water of the harbour and already was becoming fetid where the cove dwellers had churned its banks to a muddy morass. Moving up stream a hundred yards or so, Rachel found a secluded spot and quickly washed her face, arms and legs and sat briefly in the morning sun to get warm and dry. It was going to be a beautiful day, not like the first couple of days since her arrival nor the interminable days of storm and tempest she had spent at sea coming to this strange new place.
On board she had known many days of calmness like this now, but there had always been fearsomeness about it, as if trouble brooded all around them. Rachel realised suddenly that that feeling was just like the one she had had prior to landing in the cove less than a week ago. She began to think that it was all part of one big sense of apprehension that she had been experiencing ever since her arrest and conviction. Sometimes there had been trouble on board, with fights and violence as the cargo of mostly women battled to establish their place in the hierarchy of shipboard life. Rachel had decided early on that she would not seek attention by becoming a leader nor would she lie down to the others' bullying. Instead she kept as much to herself as she could and made a few friendships where she knew she could rely on others to help when she needed it. Friends like Ann. “Where is Ann?” she suddenly thought. Ann who had stood by her when they tackled that old sod on the night they were arrested; Ann who had fended off both women and men from her during the long months of incarceration in London; Ann who had been her friend and companion during the long, long voyage here from the other side of the known world.
Rachel resolved to find Ann that morning. Although they had been billeted together when they arrived, Rachel had not seen her friend to talk to for several days. Usually one was asleep when the other turned in at night and because of their different duties they did not eat together. One day they had waved to each other as Ann trudged back with a wooden bucket of water and Rachel passed on the other side of the camp with a load of branches for the fire. “We must get together for a good natter!” Rachel called and Ann smiled and mouthed “Yes!” in reply. They hadn't had a chance to really talk since that afternoon many days before when they had leaned over the ship’s side wondering at the new place that might now become their home.
But before she could find Ann, Rachel knew she had to present herself at Lieutenant Collins’ office. By the time she came back to the women's tent, others were about, making a meagre breakfast of porridge and tea.
Rachel sat with the women, making small talk about the doings of the settlement and then she went into the tent to get herself as tidy as possible, brushing her hair, straightening her smock and rubbing her cheeks to make them a bit redder.
“Where are you off to? called one of the women with a nasty leer and a cackling laugh.
“I must see the Judge Advocate,” she replied, “about a native over the other side of the cove.”
“Ooh , she’s got a new boyfriend,” another giggled and by the time Rachel managed to escape, she had been beset by all kinds of gossip and lewd suggestions.
“Stupid,” she mumbled half to herself as she ambled over the half cleared ground towards the few huts and cottages on the brow of the small hillock behind the convict tents.
Just then she was joined by Molleson.
“Ah! You've come for our date, have you?” he chuckled as they met and walked together up the small rise, pausing in front of a soldier who stood guard at the entrance to a small compound in front of the row of buildings.
“This is as close as you’ll get to a date.” Rachel replied. “If we meet again, I will have to have Lieutenant Collins as chaperone to keep you in order, I can see.”
“Collins won’t be interested in that job, I’ll wager. A much better idea is that, as soon as the interview is over, we go for a walk back down to the cove and test those nice patches of lovely soft fern I saw there yesterday,” he angled.
“Don't count on it, boy oh!” she replied as gruffly as she could.
The guard quizzed the pair on what they wanted and when they told him they had been ordered to appear, he told them to wait outside Collins’ cottage. There was a simple bench there and the two sat down to wait the great man’s pleasure.
Perhaps not knowing that others could hear, Collins was inside the hut quietly but clearly discussing a matter with someone he evidently respected, based on his careful and subdued tone of voice.
“Well, I can't see that we have any other course,” said a voice the two outside recognised as Governor Arthur Phillip’s.
“No, Sir. I suppose you are right,” replied Collins. “We are down to supply levels we can count in weeks now, and this latest two hundred from the Lady Juliana puts all of us in the greatest danger of starvation and possibly also of more illnesses than we already have.”
“Yes, it is such a shame that so many of the soldiers and convicts have succumbed to this new fever. First it was smallpox, then dysentery and typhoid. I don’t know what this latest one is yet. And I am getting new reports each day from the scouts that more and more natives are getting sick and dying all around the ridges of the harbour.”
“Maybe we are infecting them with our civilised life,” said Collins, half to himself and half to the other man.
“Maybe, indeed,” came the reply. “But whatever the plight of the aboriginals, we just are going to have to do someone about finding another source to feed our convict population and find it fast.”
Unbeknownst to the two outside, there was a third person inside the room who then spoke.
“What about the Norfolk Island idea I raised with you last week, Sir?” the new voice said.
“Well maybe that needs to be factored into all this,” came the voice of the Governor. “If only it wasn’t so damned uncertain!” Phillip burst out in a rare show of emotion. “Lieutenant King and his officers have been doing a mighty job there. However, the first hopes of it being a garden of plenty have come to nought. And the shipwrecking of the HMS Sirius has put them in a fine balance for survival themselves. Now that we have all these extra mouths to feed we are going to have to come up with some solution as a matter of urgency. If we send them to Norfolk Island we might just be transferring our troubles from here to there.”
“Well, Sir if we are to bring Norfolk Island into it we had better act fast. As you know, Captain Aitken on the Lady Juliana is making plans to go to Canton for a cargo of tea and returning to England directly. If he goes before you can commandeer him we will either be lost at worst or just have to sit it out until new supplies come from England and that could be any day or many months.”
“I know, I know,” puffed the older voice. “What do you advise, Hunter?”
“I think we should get the Lady Juliana to take the bulk of those women off to Norfolk Island together with some better behaved men and see if we can kill as many as three birds with one stone. We need to have less mouths to feed here. We also need to decide once and for all whether Captain Cook’s views on masts and flax are well founded. And thirdly, hopefully the first settlers have been more successful recently and the place is fertile enough to support the new arrivals.”
“It's a big task, Sir,” said the voice of Lieutenant Collins. “My commission is to maintain and enforce discipline and good order, as you know, Sir. I think what Hunter is proposing has tremendous risks but my first duty is to this settlement and I think we have to do everything we can to protect it. Besides, if we can't make a success of it here, the French could sail in any day and lay claim to the whole continent, if that's what it really is.”
“There are so many unknowns,” mused the older voice. “Still we have to act. Collins, will call a muster for tomorrow morning. I'd better see Captain Aitken this afternoon and persuade him to take a cargo of convicts to Norfolk Island together with whatever we can spare in the way of food and shelter.
“When would you like them to get away Sir?” asked Collins.
“It's a fine point,” replied Phillip. “The women who have just arrived are still weak from their long voyage, but the longer they stay here the nearer we all get to running out of food. Let’s see if we can keep them here another two to three weeks and encourage the scouts to shoot more game. We have to investigate too whether there are any more edible plants. You know,” he chuckled, “one of the convicts came up to me in the compound the other day and said he knew the officers had run out of tea and would I like to try a plant he had come across when out with the scouts. I got Elizabeth to try it in the afternoon and I must say it wasn't too bad! I'm sure there is no connection between the new tea and her getting sick though, although I will have to find a new servant as soon as possible.”
“Well, there are quite a few girls you can pick from to help in the house, Sir, and if we can keep scouring the countryside I hope there will be more foods we can use to supplement what we have left from England.”
“What I wouldn't give for a long glass of Madeira and a slice of fresh butter cake!” chimed in Hunter.
The two outside exchanged glances, knowing they had overheard something that could be terribly important but not yet fully understanding how it would change both their lives.
Just then the door of the cottage opened. Rachel and Jim rose and the leading man paused as he put his tricornered hat on. He spied the two standing to his left. His startled look made the two convicts nervous but his mouth rose in a faint smile.
“Good morning!” he said as politely as if he was addressing a Lord and Lady in the streets of Mayfair. “Your honour,” said Jim.
“Good morning, Sir!” added Rachel. The other two officers were walking out the door when the senior man motioned to them.
“A moment, gentlemen. It is clear these two have overheard all we have discussed and I don't want any of it to get out before I am ready. What can we do?”
“Well, Sir,” replied Collins, “why don't you take young Rachel here to replace Elizabeth at least until she recovers and I will use Molleson as a servant here?”
“Capital, Collins,” uttered Phillip.
“Now you two,” said Lieutenant Hunter, “not a word to anyone about what you know. If you do a good job for the Governor and for Lieutenant Collins and keep your peace, you will get some extra rations and you will be doing a service for the whole settlement by not gossiping.”
The two young convicts glanced the briefest of looks to one another and almost together said: “Yes guvnor!”
“No, that's me!” said Phillip with a chuckle as he strolled down the knoll towards the main encampment.
“Right you two, first I need a statement about that black you encountered yesterday and then I will give you directions on what to do in the cottages.”
Rachel and Jim dusted off their clogs, smoothed their clothes and entered Collins’ hut.
During the next week Jim and Rachel saw each other often. Their duties in the houses required them to get water, go to the baking ovens, requisition stores. To Rachel it often seemed more than a coincidence that Jim showed up at the same time as she was out of the cottage.
They used these brief moments of quiet together to reflect on the news that was now all through the camp: the first fleet of ships that had arrived in January, 1788 together with the women from the Lady Juliana were to be split up, with about two hundred to go off to some new settlement to the east called Norfolk island.
All these developments had been made both better and worse by the arrival of a flotilla of new ships in the last few days. The Second Fleet had arrived. It was better because at least it showed to the first arrivals that they were not forgotten and there were precious provisions and stores for them to access. It was much worse for the settlement as a whole though because on board were hundreds of new mouths to feed and hundreds sick and dying. Nearly a quarter of the complement that had sailed from Portsmouth had died or were so sick they would surely soon die. Those that survived were haunted by the treatment they had received on the long voyage. There had been brutality on a scale not even officers had seen before.
Amongst the first arrivals there was a mixture of despair, depression and disquiet; how could they survive for even a few more months? Surely they would all stave or die from disease or be killed by the Indians? Within this overall mix, some of the women were also distraught, since they had had more than enough of sea journeys getting here. Others were already partnered with men from the first wave of ships and knew the chances of pairs getting to either stay at Port Jackson or go together to Norfolk Island were slim. The only good news for those who would stay at Port Jackson was that the number of mouths to feed would drop. A very small number of the originals saw that if the inhabitants of the new colony could hold on until further relief fleets arrived, they might survive to finish their sentences and maybe get to take up some of the fertile land to the west that the scouts were starting to report.
Despite all these sentiments and concerns the biggest upset came from the marines, especially those being ordered to embark for Norfolk Island. Some were seasoned soldiers from the recent wars in British Bengal in India. They knew that to go from one piece of new territory to another that was virtually unknown was folly at best and could be suicidal at worst. Governor Phillip had had to work very hard over many hours to quell the disquiet. At one stage it had looked like the marines would actually rebel. Phillip and his lieutenants had sat and directly talked with the men, appealing thorough their sergeants for reasoned co-operation. Eventually the troops had been won over as they too realised that there was little choice but to split the settlement and send some off to try to make a go of it on Norfolk Island. By the time Phillip retired to his cottage and to a cup of tea from Rachel he was exhausted but pleased. Surviving here required many ways of dealing with issues that would cause outrage back in England. What had finally quieted the troops was his undertaking that soldiers could volunteer to go to Norfolk Island, although he reserved the right to order additional troops to make up any shortfall.
As Rachel and Jim sat talking through all the news and developments they also talked about the inevitable implications for Rachel. Elizabeth, Governor Phillip’s head servant had recovered from her consumption. It was clear that Rachel would be sailing for Norfolk Island. Jim had grown very attracted to Rachel and tried every trick he could to be sent with her, all to no avail.
When Rachel had been sent to Phillip’s house she had packed her small sheet with her meagre possessions, bid a half-felt goodbye to her companions in the tent and traipsed off to the cottage, thanking providence for her good fortune. The work was not hard, Phillip was a gentleman in all his requests and she had plenty of chances to slip outside and sit overlooking the spectacular harbour and the comings and goings of the settlement dwellers in the cove.
Jim would often arrive with a basket of new green stuffs for the governor to try. The scouts were always returning with discoveries, edible plants, furry creatures shot with their muskets, birds that were plucked to see if any might be tasty and meaty enough to provide sustenance.
Jim used these visits to woo Rachel, with only partial success. He was quick witted, of average height, a charmer from east London, not good looking but with none of the obvious scars or blemishes that so many men had. She liked him but had no feelings of love.
Once or twice they strolled between the two houses. Once Jim tried to embrace Rachel and kiss her. She responded partially, allowing herself to lean into him a little but she quickly brought the encounter to a close.
Jim tried and tried to win her, always showing an air of politeness and reserve but afterwards dashing his fist into his palm and muttering profane phrases under his breath as he trudged back towards Collins’ hut.
Late one afternoon Rachel sat on the sandstone rocks at the water’s edge. It was an idyllic afternoon, the sun warming the rocks, the seawater swirling in small eddies around the small beach stones and across the sands. Rachel was thinking deeply about the future.
As much as a convict could know anything about what lay ahead, she had some inkling of the journey about to begin for her and a couple of hundred others to Norfolk island.
Not much was known about the island itself. Captain James Cook had discovered it in 1770, just 20 years before now. A small party had landed to scout the huge trees and see whether they would be suitable for sailing masts. They had also gathered samples of the native flax which might be used in making ships’ rope.
Rachel and Jim had overheard many of the officers’ discussions about the preparations for the move. One of those conversations had almost been her undoing here in Port Jackson. Unbeknown to the commandant and his officers or to Rachel and Jim, another servant had been on the one side of the cottage listening the day that Rachel had first gone to Phillip’s office. Before Rachel and Jim could even return to their tents to collect their belongings, the camp was live with rumours and a quiet, dread had spread over the whole settlement. Knowing Rachel and Jim’s special assignment to the officers’ quarters, everyone at the main camp had quizzed them but they kept to their word and had not added to the rumours spread by the other servant.
The next day, Collins was initially rope-able about the leak and blamed Rachel in particular for inflaming the new settlement’s already perilous state with rumour mongering. Nothing Rachel could say convinced Collins and she expected to be dismissed at any moment from her post and sent back to the tents. Just as Rachel waited for the axe to fall, Collins heard a noise outside the cottage. Striding across to the door he pulled it open to see young Maisie, the Irish cook edging away around the corner of the cottage. Collins grabbed her arm and quickly extracted a confession from her before she had even been tugged back inside. Rachel stood mute as Maisie was given extra duties but luckily, no further punishment.
Rachel mused how close she had gone to losing her one little break of good fortune since she arrived. “I have to keep my nose clean,” she thought to herself as she watched a small crab in a periwinkle shell edging towards a rock pool at her feet. “I’ve got one chance to have a decent life here and so far as it is up to me, I'll take it. Even if we go to Norfolk Island and it turns out to be even worse than here, somehow I will survive. If only I had a man to be my partner,” she sighed. Her thoughts turned again to Jim, but she knew he was not the one for her. It would be easy to go with him, even for a short while but if things worked out between them, their relationship could still be smashed apart all too soon, if she went to Norfolk Island and he stayed in Port Jackson.
“No, better to keep my options open,” she resolved to herself. “Just like that little crab, I will look after myself, and take every opportunity that comes my way.”
Just then she heard a sound of stone on stone. Turning, she saw Ann sliding down to sit beside her on the warm sunny rocks. The two had renewed their friendship since arriving several weeks before. As they both looked across the beautiful harbour in the fading afternoon light, they chatted about how like being in another world it was here compared to the slums of their former home in London. “We've got to make whatever we can from this,” Rachel advised her younger pal.
“It's all very well for you to say that!” scoffed Ann. “I don't have your looks or your luck or your cleverness.”
“Ann! No more of that. You are pretty and clever and we can make our own luck up to a point so let's see if we can each find a place on Norfolk Island where we can lie low, and stay out of harm’s way.
“Well, you might be right,” said Ann. “And if what the commandant said this morning is right we might even get a plot of land each to farm!”
Just that morning, there had been a parade after church. All the convicts, marines, soldiers and the few free settlers had been assembled at the mouth of the cove to be addressed by Phillip. In his calm, no-nonsense way he had outlined the plan to relieve the desperate state of the main settlement by trying for Norfolk Island. “We have had a party at the island for over two years already,” he began. “Whilst it has been almost as tough for them there as it has been for us here, they have made a start and they have been able to provide enough food to at least supplement their rations from the government stores.
“Of course, the shipwreck of the Sirius on the island earlier this year was a terrible blow. But despite the extra mouths to feed, they have survived. I have reviewed all the information we have and have listened carefully to my officers,” he broadcast in his quiet but authoritative voice.
“There are some risks, not just of the journey but also as we don't know for sure if the land is able to take a bigger population than is already there. But the reports from Captain Cook were positive. Lieutenant King has sent back reports to say they are now getting improving crops of maize, wheat, potatoes, cabbage and many kinds of fruits.
“If those that are going can make a good landing, get set up and start to clear more land and grow food, we will get further supplies to you just as soon as we can.”
“Why don't you just send another small party, Governor?” called one of the crew from a whaler that had arrived the week before. “We anchored there briefly on the way down from the North Pacific and it seemed like paradise.”
“That would be a good idea in normal circumstances,” replied Phillip evenly, “but our food shortage is so acute now that we just have to move as many people out as we can before we all starve.”
“Well if it's as good as you and that old tar say sir,” called a convict in the back row with his head down so he couldn't be seen, “we're going to paradise one way or another so let’s get on with it.” The crowd chuckled and Phillip wisely dismissed the parade at that point before they became restive.
“Oh!” Rachel sighed as her mind came back from the morning’s events to the present. “Now we are away from England, I so much want a clean cottage of my own, enough food, some little ones to care for and a husband to keep me warm on winter’s nights”
“You'll do even better than that I'm sure,” said Ann as the two young women stood up. With one last lingering look at the water strolled back through the strange bushes and under the towering trees towards camp.
In the succeeding days there were several new developments. One affected everyone in the new colony; the other played out for Rachel and Jim. Early one morning a cannon shot from the eastern lookout post heralded an approaching ship. It could well have been a French explorer but it turned out to be two British vessels, HMS Justinian and HMS Surprize.
With only a week to go before the two ships set off to sail to Norfolk island, Jim renewed his wooing of Rachel with a sense of urgency and outright desire. She was a beautiful girl, not pretty by the standards of London society and certainly not prettily dressed as he looked at her in her convict smock, but Jim liked her young lithe figure, her light brown hair and her dark green eyes. Her complexion was marred a bit by a bout of disease and rough living in London, but her smiles were very appealing, on the rare occasions when Jim could get her to part with one in his direction.
That same day, Phillip had called his staff into his cottage for a meeting to finalise the details for splitting the two settlements. Here was a tremendous amount of detail to work through, since if resources were not accurately planned one or other group could perish before back up supplies arrived. There was also the question of security to work through. Phillip reasoned that the bulk of the marines and soldiers should stay in Sydney Cove, especially since the number of runaways had increased in recent weeks. There were rumours that a couple of convicts had been sheltered by the natives, but several bodies had been found, apparently dying of starvation in the inhospitable bush surrounding them to eternity in every direction. He was worried too that the contact with natives was continuing in some unknown way to be causing the natives to die like flies. Just as he had left England a theory had been put out that many diseases were spread in some mysterious way by particles smaller than the eye could see. Phillip was confident that something like this must be causing the natives to die in such numbers. He wanted to limit contacts between the two races for health reasons but also because he senses the blacks' increasing resentment about the newcomers’ impact on the land. Already trees were being felled in large numbers, water diverted from age old stream beds, bush cleared, holes dug in search of useable clay for pottery. Only that morning a party of convicts and overseers sent along the shore a couple of miles to the east had been harassed by natives with spears and cudgels as they tried to burn shells in order to make a rough lime for cementing the pottery kiln.
All these worries ran through his mind as he called for reports from each of his officers on their area of responsibility. Phillip had originally decided that he would have to charter the Lady Juliana to take the party to Norfolk Island. But the arrival of the second fleet had opened the option to use at least a couple of those ships. It was tedious work but had to be done as he ran through again the final arrangements for the departure and checked the deployment of their meagre stores and the best way to split up the convicts.
Jim had overheard some of this as he waited on the officers' table and it spurred him to romance.
That afternoon he knew Rachel would most likely go down to the harbour side as she did whenever her duties were over and the weather was fine. Sure enough there she was. Jim ambled up to her across the rocks, hoping she would notice his cleaned trousers and shirt. “She might even notice my good features,” he half grinned to himself as he nipped across a couple of puddles and clambered up the short cliff face to where she was sitting. Rachel had seen Jim coming and had indeed noticed that he was almost handsome. He was certainly a strong looking man, with good muscly arms and a thickish neck. She was just wondering idly how he had ended up with such neck muscles when he popped over the ledge and planted himself by her side.
“Lovely afternoon,” Jim said never taking his eyes off Rachel. “You're not even looking at the scenery,” teased Rachel.
“Oh yes I am!” Jim replied and before she took her next breath Jim had lent in and kissed her lips briefly.
“Why! You smell of the bush,” Rachel blurted as she eyed Jim appraisingly and a little abashedly.
“I watched the natives the other day when they were washing in the steam,” he said, still keeping her eyes locked to his. “They chew leaves from several bushes after they rub their teeth with ashes from their fires dipped in the water.”
“Oh! What the heck,” thought Rachel. Taking Jim by surprise she put her hand to his shirt and pulled him towards her, kissing him gently again to taste the mintiness of his breath but then melting into his mouth as they kissed with passion that quickly built between them. Before either of them knew what they really wanted together or intended for themselves and each other, they were locked together.
“Come on,” Jim mumbled huskily as he jumped up and pulled Rachel after him. “There's a nice spot over here where we can be alone without prying eyes from the camp or the natives.”
While they made love, Jim abandoned himself to a habit that Rachel had never experienced in all her couplings with men in England. Jim hummed songs, familiar to them both from their common but unshared past. Rachel's tears melted into Jim’s chest as they loved and rested afterwards. Lying on the ferny undergrowth below a stately gum tree and looking out across the water, Jim was already planning a life together for Rachel and him. Rachel's mind was more realistically thinking of how she would handle the next few days since she knew that Jim would be staying and she would be going.
While the couple were together neither had noticed the storm clouds building to the south and by the time the wind began to beat on them, the rain was also starting to fall in angled sheets all over and around them. Jim laughed as he helped Rachel get dressed and began leading her through the scrub. Rachel, though, thought the storm might be a portent of difficult times ahead, not just in how she would handle Jim but also she felt something deeper was not as it should be.
Perhaps Rachel had heard something on the southerly wind that she wasn't even conscious of, because by the time the camp came into view, the pair could see that there was trouble. Several tents were on fire, flames fanned to fury by the southerly winds. Convicts ran to smother the flames with dirt and water from the stream. Strangely, to Jim’s eye, soldiers ran crouching across the cleared land heading into the bushes and were covering one another as they fired.
“Let's get up to the officers!” Jim called and the two ran as fast as they could up the side bank to the small rise where the cottages lay. All was calm there although Lieutenant Collins had joined Lieutenant Hunter in the doorway of his house as he called directions and orders to sergeants and soldiers on the grounds below.
As they rushed up, Rachel heard Collins say to Hunter: “We're in for it now. Those natives timed their attack to create maximum nuisance for us. I don't think they are as simple souls as some make out. We will have to find the ringleaders and make some examples or life is going to be hell for us in the coming days.”
Rachel heard no more as she rushed around the back of the cottage to fill buckets and carry them down to the burning tents.
The drama was over in ten more minutes but in that time, several convicts had been badly burned, including one infant who had been inside a tent. Two aborigines were hauled from the bushes with flesh wounds. And just as seriously, the soldiers were hauling stores from the burned tents as best they could. All in all the settlement lost precious bolts of cloth, flour and other foodstuffs that they could not afford. A sense of dejection fell quickly over the camp as convicts continued to clean up and overseers muttered.
The next day, Phillip again called a parade and announced that the Norfolk Island ships would leave as planned in three days’ time.
By this stage Jim had learned that he wouldn't be going to Norfolk Island. At first he thought it would be easy to convince Phillip to let him go. He asked for permission to speak to Phillip that morning as he served him his tea in the small office off his bedroom. Phillip was slightly disconcerted by Jim’s approach, since convicts almost never spoke to the Governor unless they were addressed first. Perhaps Phillip sensed that Jim was unusually nervous and since he had a good regard for his servant-convict, Phillip said he could speak his mind. Jim poured out his troubles about staying, his desire to go with Rachel to the island and his thankfulness for Phillip’s understanding and good treatment of him. Phillip sat quietly for a few moments. Then he looked directly at Jim and said: “I can't condone these common law connections between convicts and it's none of my business whether you plan to marry this young woman or not. I shouldn't allow what the Church says is sin to be encouraged. You are useful to me here in the house and I can’t afford the time and energy to train a new man. You and the girl could have made it easier for me by getting the Reverend Mr Johnson to marry you but you haven’t done that and there is no time left to do so before the Norfolk Island party leaves. You have four more years of your sentence to serve and by then, if we survive here, there may be opportunities for you to return home or take a ticket of leave and try to settle. For all these considerations I would say: “No.””
“But Sir,” began Jim.
“I'm sorry but that's the way it is,” replied Phillip. “Now ask Sergeant Thompson to present himself here immediately.”
And with that Phillip bent over his small desk to review the latest reports of damage from the fire and skirmish with the natives.
Jim bowed stiffly and withdrew, fuming at the Governor and cursing himself for not making a better case.
When the afternoon lull came and Jim would normally have rushed down to the water’s edge hoping to see Rachel, he set off to walk through the bush in a westerly direction. He rambled along a slight path, able to see the footprints of natives, the boots of white soldiers and the rough clogs worn by many of the convicts. At many spots he noticed small twigs broken from branches, pointing further westward and he realised that many of the whites were picking up simple tracking skills from the blacks. As he walked his thoughts turned to his options. There was no way, he told himself , that he would be separated from Rachel and even though he knew she did not love him as he loved her he reasoned that they could have a happy life together if only they were given the chance. Within another half mile a plan had developed in his mind about what he would do.
As he was ambling along the track he almost stepped on a black stick. It moved. He recoiled ready to strike before the snake stuck at him. With a rock held above him he was about to let fly when his gaze shifted slightly and he noticed another black stick at an angle. Then he paused. They weren't snakes but limbs of a small human being. The young black girl lay to the side of the track, her upper body partly concealed by a rock. It was as if she was wrapped around it. Jim lowered his missile and peered around the rock. A black face with bright, feverish eyes stared up at him, fearful but also vacant.
Jim quickly realised that the girl was sick and lifting her into his arms he trotted along the track with her hot body pressed against him and she whimpered like a pup.
Just over the next ridge the smoke from the natives fires met him first, then he saw a wellbuilt man standing in the path directly in front of him, spears in hand, naked but for a small loincloth . He did not seem on edge but looked squarely at Jim and then at the girl. With two smooth strides, the native was in front of Jim, easing the girl from his arms and carrying her himself to the camp. Before Jim could draw breath wild calls came from the women sitting at the closest fire as they saw the girl and then the white man. Jim’s natural interest turned suddenly to dread as a small group of men appeared as if from nowhere, brandishing their spears in a menacing show of aggression.
“I'm dead if I run,” thought Jim and just as his mind started to turn to what he could do, the black man who carried the girl grunted some words. At first no one moved, then the tension dissolved and the women rushed to tend the girl and take her to a nearby hut-like shelter.
Jim stood still. The men stood opposite him still holding their weapons. Jim glanced around to see if a weapon presented itself of him to use and just as his eyes noticed a small angled flat piece of wood, the well-built fellow made a gesture of welcome with his free hand and muttered another sentence to his tribesmen.
Within minutes Jim was ensconced by the fire, warming himself as the late afternoon mist began to close in. Jim smiled a lot and looked as humble as he could. The black men also smiled and averted their gaze as the story of Jim’s arrival was evidently relayed amongst all the tribe who were filtering in from other fires and huts. Soon a party of about 20 men and children were sitting around Jim. He tried to introduce himself and some of the men repeated his name as “Jum”. Food soon materialised and Jim ate what he guessed was a leg of one of the hopping animals with more grunts of appreciation and smiles than he was really feeling.
His desire to understand something of the natives soon overtook him. Before long they were all dancing to haunting songs accompanied by clacking sticks and a very cleverly played hollowed-out branch. This strange slender thing, about the thickness of a man’s arm, produced a continuous rumbling noise from one end as a big-cheeked warrior blew through the other end. As an amateur flute player himself, Jim was interested to see how the sound was created. He marvelled when the hollow log player was able to teach him to make rudimentary sounds in a few minutes. Before long there was a lot of laughter and more singing as the little kids joined in with animated dances that seemed to tell a story about the hopping animals.
After a couple of hours, Jim made to return to the cove. He had seen nothing of the young girl in all that time and the women had all been absent.
Jim made hand signals to wave goodbye and shook hands with all the men.
It had been an adventure and he had learned a lot. He had also acquired something else that was to change his plans for himself and Rachel yet again.
Three days later the cove was alive with movement and noise before dawn. Tents were being broken down, provisions loaded into long boats and lots of shouting echoed around the settlement as the Norfolk Island party of soldiers and convicts got ready to board the ships moored near the point. Jim had volunteered to help ferry provisions and he thought he was in great luck when he shouldered a cabin trunk down a gangway to an officer’s cabin and was left alone for a few minutes. Amidst all the turmoil of stowing goods no one noticed him slip into one of the forward ship’s boats and under the canvas. He lay quietly. All around officers stomped and convicts shuffled, lifting and lowering sacks, trunks, barrels and all the paraphernalia needed for not just a longish sea voyage but also to help reprovision a brand new colony in almost totally unknown conditions a thousand miles to the north east. The sun warmed Jim’s hideaway and he dozed.
He woke suddenly to the sound of women's shouts. Jim realised at once that the loading of provisions must be complete. The women convicts were arriving on board. He listened hard for the sound of Rachel’s voice but could not hear it amongst the throng. He had no idea how long he had slept but his head pounded, his body felt like it was on fire and he thought he could just about fill his belly with seawater if he had to, to quench his raging thirst. He lapsed into unconsciousness.
A rough hand shook his shoulder. As he slowly came around a man’s voice close to his ear rumbled, “Now what do you think you're up to, lad? Pretty strange to stow away on a ship most of us would rather not be sailing on. And you've got the fever. No way can you come with us, lad.”
“Oi!”called the voice, “we've got a lubber here, Captain, hiding in the ship’s boat.”
“Bugger!” came a reply from a slightly more cultured voice to Jim’s right. “Bo’s’n, pipe that boat to come back alongside a moment. We've got some returning freight.”
Before Jim could move, four rough sailors’ arms had each grabbed one of his limbs and he was unceremoniously lifted from the ship’s deck and lowered into the boat tied up alongside.
Jim lay in the gunnels, his head on a seat as he gazed up at the ship towering above him. Just as he lapsed again into a daze his last sight was of Rachel standing at the railing looking beautiful and a picture of concern.
“I hope he will be OK,” Rachel muttered as if to herself as she watched the rowers dipping their oars into the water and the ship’s crew beginning the task of raising the anchors.
“He’ll get no medicine for that fever,” replied an older woman convict leaning over the rail next to her. “And if he recovers he’ll get a spell in the stocks for trying to abscond, just to remind him of how useless he is as a man and a lover.”
Rachel did not reply but turned away, thinking of Jim with tender regret that she did not love him and a wish that he would manage to get by at the settlement.
Within a few days Rachel had almost forgotten Jim as her life became attuned to being at sea again so soon and dreaming of what lay ahead at Norfolk Island.
Rachel hardly noticed the next few days of sailing. Calm seas, then heavy swells, salt spray in the crashing wash of water over the decks, wind in her face and hair as she gazed over the endless blue, long hours of bored dozing in her swaying hammock below decks, trying to ignore the smell of rank women and slops and sick.
And some fun. As with her arrival at Sydney Cove there were lots of men paying her attention. She was young and winsome, slight and mid brown haired with deep pools for eyes and a come hither smile that she used carefully but with great effect. Such charms quickly won the attention of two admirers.
Late one afternoon a gentle swell rocked the ship as she cruised along in a northeast easterly direction with a following breeze. One of the crew who had been playing quieter songs on his squeeze box lifted the pace and began to sing to a well-known reel from home called
"Strolling through Lambeth." Two of the women prisoners glided onto the mid-ship’s deck and began to dance. Soon others joined in and before long one of the few settlers on the ship ambled over to Rachel and invited her to dance.
Rachel had noticed his appraising looks her way several times and had decided that he could look, for looking cost nought. She thought him wildly handsome but not one for her as he seemed to be way beyond her position. He was clearly a man of some modest means, having brought aboard a couple of large trunks as they embarked from Sydney Cove. Rachel guessed he was more than a tradesman from his good clothes and confident manner.
As the couple reeled their way through the dance, pacing knowingly through the required steps, the fellow glanced often at his partner.
"You're pretty," he murmured as they rounded the great mast in the middle of the deck. "And you're impertinent," replied Rachel. The fellow only chuckled in a relaxed way, as if he was immensely experienced in chatting up ladies of all kinds. "I'm George," he said a few moments later, as if he was commenting on a passing seabird. "George Smithers."
Rachel made no reply but let one of her nice smiles escape, much as if she was acknowledging the accordion player, rather than her partner. This only served to entice George. But before he could enquire, Rachel told him her name was Ann. "Ann Hardiman," she said in a confident way but then gave herself away by looking away and touching her face. George picked up on the lie immediately but all he did was chuckle again. "I know Ann," replied George as the accordion was joined by a mouth organ in a livelier dance. "And you're not her. She sorted uniforms for me in the factory back at Sydney Cove and that's where I first saw you."
"Well sir, you seem to know much more about me than I do of you. But what of you?" she asked. "You are much too self-assured and well-dressed to be a convict like me."
“I'm a contracted provisioner,” Smithers replied. “I signed on to oversee the setting up of the stores, the recording and safe keeping of all the goods and materials for the Fleet. Governor Phillip asked me as a freeman to join the voyage to Norfolk Island because what little we had at Sydney Cove has now been secured, registered and is properly doled out as needed. Phillip saw that a similar system will be needed at Norfolk Island and asked me to take it on.
“I watched you up at the officers' cottages and when I saw you in the muster to come, I must admit that tipped my decision and I agreed to come too, hoping to meet you and to get to know you much better.”
"Well, George, I'll take that as a compliment and thank you for the dance," Rachel replied as they strolled off the deck and over towards the railing on the leeward side of the ship. George carefully angled himself so as to be slightly in front of her and facing away from the sea.
"I already like you a lot," he almost growled. "Well, liking is fine," replied Rachel “but loving is what I need and I don't mean just for a fling at a dance. We can be all the friends we like on board but sure as life itself, a prisoner won't be allowed to be charmed by a free man once we get to the Island, I'll wager."
“Maybe," George mused almost to himself, "but does that mean you like me as much as I like you?"
“I don't honestly know,” Rachel decided to say frankly on the spur of the moment. “You seem like a good man, you're handsome and well-mannered, if a bit forward,” she said glancing at him and favouring him with one of those smiles. "But I've had a tough start, I don't mind telling you and I fully intend to make the best life I can for myself at this new place. If I have to come half way around the world, I am going to make it count for something for myself and the family I might have one day. “As nice as you are George, I don't see how we could ever be together.”
"Well, let’s see what develops when we get to the island." George replied. "And in the meantime, let's have some fun. But before we do, there is something I must tell you about Ann.” Smithers drew Rachel over to a quiet area away from the main deck.
“Ann died the day before we left Port Jackson,” Smithers began, making his tone as quiet and concerned as he could. Rachel was shocked. She and Ann had missed seeing one another for a few days and Rachel had thought it was just because Ann was busy at the factory. “She contracted this cursed fever,” said George. “It wasn’t rheumatics, nor the plague, but it was just as quick to develop its deadly course. She told me she had a bad headache and was going back to her tent to rest. The next day the head crone told me she had died in the night, just as quick as that.”
George watched Rachel carefully and let his eyes move out to sea as he saw hers mist briefly and a muffled sob escape. All too soon, Rachel recovered. As sad as she was to lose her only real friend and her “partner in crime” as they often used to laugh to themselves, Rachel realised that what was done was done. She felt troubled that she hadn’t known of Ann’s illness but comforted herself that Ann had not suffered long. Once someone developed one of these dreadful fevers there was almost no hope; the best thing to hope for was a swift passing.
Care for another dance?" George rumbled, lifting her elbow and guiding her back to the main deck.
Over the next hour they danced twice more, although several other men also sought her out too.
An old tar who had somehow cornered some grog, perhaps from one of the crew, also asked her to dance, an experience Rachel had had many times before on the Lady Juliana on the voyage out. The crone was somehow different, rubbing Rachel's back whenever the dance allowed it and looking at Rachel with a lascivious eye. Lesser women would have recoiled in disgust but Rachel humoured her, while at the same time never giving her any encouragement to go further. Rachel had decided only yesterday while standing at the ship’s rail that if she was to get on in her life she needed to stay on good terms with as many people as possible and while it was hard to see how the old woman could help her achieve her dreams in any way, Rachel thought it best to keep her options open. One day not too soon, that leering old biddy was to save her life.
Emboldened by the dance and the frank talk they had had, George kept up his attentions to Rachel over the next few days. One night they kissed in the starlight, leaning against the rail in the spot where they often met.
She could easily have let it go further, in the way of her past experience but something caused her to keep her wits and propriety. While George seemed a little put out, he also seemed content to bide his time.
In the daytime watches on board, officers mingled with crew, settlers and prisoners, sometimes standing in relaxed small groups and sometimes chatting in pairs as they lent over the side. They watched the ship’s wake, the occasional porpoises and flying fish and gazed off towards the distant horizon.
One such officer engaged George regularly. He was Sergeant Major Grimshaw and George knew that he and Grimshaw would be working closely together in managing the provisions and stores once the ship anchored at Norfolk Island. Their conversation went mostly to practical details about how they would get the necessary work done. After some time George turned the conversation to the need for extra labour.
“We'll need to select about six prisoners we can trust,” ventured George. “I've been talking to several and have listed here the ones I think have a good head for counting, have energy and might even also be honest," he added, handing over a scrap of paper to Grimshaw.
"And are pretty good lookers too, from those I've seen you paying most attention to,” joked Grimshaw, drawing a bit of an abashed grin from George in reply.
"Well, you know how it is for a man in his prime," said George, "and besides, if we are both going to be spending a lot of time together with these prisoners we may as well make it as pleasant as possible. Heaven knows how glorious or horrid it is going to be when we arrive.
“And besides, Grimshaw, I've seen you eyeing off the better girls yourself, so don't make me have to feel embarrassed on my own." With that, he nudged Grimshaw in his portly stomach and went on, "Speaking of that, what do you know of the housing arrangements?"
"I know just what you're driving at Smithers. I spoke to Lieutenant Clark yesterday. It was apparently one of the topics for deep discussion amongst the senior officers before we set sail. Phillip said he much preferred the classes to keep apart, but after a lot of discussion apparently left the door open for the officers on the island to see how things work out. After all, romances and arrangements are bound to spring up whether there is an ordinance against them or not. And if it makes for calm in the colony and doesn't lead to slack work why should the officers interfere? After all, they are human too. I've noticed a few wooings going on between officers and women prisoners just in the last few days. So let's just see what pans out, shall we?"
"Sounds fair enough to me," replied George.
Just then, a tar way up above them in the crow’s nest called out: "Land Ho!" and as all eyes peered upwards they could see his arm pointing ahead and very slightly off to the starboard side.
Within a couple of hours the land mass materialised into a wall of high cliffs pounded by thundering surf, with a deep green mop of vegetation sitting like a crown on top of the craggy headlands. Above the main mass of vegetation towered immensely tall trees with hugely thick trunks and almost wispy branches coming off them at right angles in strict segments up to the topmost parts.
Rachel watched the ship’s crew manoeuvring their craft closer to the coastline, seeking a landing place.
“That's just like me,” she thought. “I need to work out some way to survive here. I won't be just another convict wench. I must create a future for myself and whatever family I have.” Her thoughts mirrored the goings about of the two sailing ships as they edged ever closer to the shore but could find no safe landing place suitable for disembarking such a large number of people and stores.
The spot marked on the ship’s charts showing where Captain Cook had put in may have been suitable for a ship’s boat to make a quick reconnoitre but it was going to end in ruin if they tried to land here. The captain knew that this spot had been tried before. However he had been ordered to assess it once more before they headed to Sydney Cove, the landing place where the earlier settlement by Lieutenant Governor King had been founded.
Eventually he signalled to the other ship and they moved off along the coast seeking at least any other small beaches where they could go ashore. Almost at the other end of the island they came to Sydney Cove, a sheltered bay with a good beach but it also had a long reef of nasty looking volcanic rocks right across the mouth of the bay. After a couple more hours of depth sounding the ships anchored and a ship’s boat set out to confirm the rough charts that showed a precarious passage through the reef.
The passengers watched eagerly from the decks as both boats made it through a narrow channel and landed on a golden beach.
The colony had been in operation on a bare survival basis since shortly after the First Fleet had arrived in Port Jackson, a thousand miles to the west. Lieutenant King and a small party of 25 had set up camp at Sydney Cove on the 5th March, 1788. Several ships had visited them over the previous two years. But each Captain returning to New South Wales had reported the difficulties of landing there. Most visitors had stayed moored off the reef and had had to be content with rowing men and materials through the treacherous shoals and surging tidewaters.
By nightfall most of the convicts and crews had been ferried ashore. The motley residents who had lived on the island these past two years were happy to see the new arrivals and welcomed them warmly.
Tents were quickly erected, fires lit, food preparation began and a general relief pervaded the new little community of Norfolk Island. There was no sign of any native people as there had been in Port Jackson.
The beach sloped gently up to a bushy verge with small shrubs and trees suitable to coastal conditions. It was not too difficult to walk through the vegetation, so many of the newcomers strolled in along the rough tracks, seeking signs of what their new home might be like.
Within a few weeks there were the very earliest indications that the enlarged settlement might just survive, now that there were both the advantages of extra workers and the disadvantages of more mouths to feed.
With a bit of conniving and some prompting from Smithers, Rachel volunteered to help the Stores Master, Grimshaw and soon found herself permanently assigned to check off all the government stores they had brought from Sydney Cove. It was not arduous work and Rachel used every chat with officers and soldiers to be friendly and helpful. Soon she was fending off amorous advances from several men, but she kept her attentions inclined towards Smithers. A couple of times they met at the back of the stores area and she let him kiss and caress her, all the time knowing that she would have to be very careful on many counts if she was to achieve her aims of security and safety.
As Norfolk Island had been chosen deliberately as a potential source of food and supplies for Sydney Town, Lieutenant Governor Major Robert Ross announced three orders which were to shape the direction and future of Great Britain’s colonisation of the island.
Announcements were usually made on Sundays after a semi-official church service, there being no resident chaplain. At the end of the service, the Commandant strode to a spot just vacated by the church-warden and spoke to the assembled crews and convicts.
“As you know, this island has been settled because there just wasn't sufficient food for us to survive at Sydney Cove,” he began. “Our coming here both relieved that pressure and provides us with the need to not only feed ourselves but also to contribute food back to Sydney. With the extra provisions brought by the latest arrivals, we have sufficient stores to last us for several months. But, it is urgent that we identify more fertile and arable land as quickly as possible and get it into production. The first arrivals here have done a good job to begin clearing land and we have had some encouraging harvests, but we need to do much more cultivating and animal husbandry. We also need to produce flax for ships’ ropes and to finish assessing how useful these fine pine trees will be for ships’ masts.
“If we are going to succeed in these tasks it is my judgement, and it is supported by my officers, that we need to adopt some practices here that would not apply in other penal settlements.”
Ross paused and looked carefully across the assembled crowd, making eye contact with as many as would look him in the face. All were keenly listening but many were too servile to raise their heads. Rachel was not one of them; she listened attentively to Ross and watched every twitch of his facial muscles as he spoke.
“Firstly, since this is an island that is totally cut off from the rest of the world except by boat, there will continue to be no physical restraints such as cuffs, manacles and the like, except when convicts are subject to punishment for breaches of the ordinances and regulations. This has worked well for the first party to arrive and I am calling on the newcomers to behave well and respect the concessions we are making to you.”
At this the crowd of convicts let up a cheer although it quickly died as they turned expectantly towards the recently arrived soldiers and the few freemen. The original handful of free settlers were not at all happy about the prospect of more convicted felons wandering anywhere on the island at will.
Ross noticed the reaction but decided to press on. “This is a matter of trust,” he resumed. “If it is breached we will revert to more stringent discipline. It is up to you all. My aim here is to ensure that everyone is treated fairly. If we all work together there will be enough food for us all and we will build our resources through the products we send back to Sydney. There will be no need to steal from the Government Stores. Do not take property that does not belong to you. Keep your morals and your tempers in check and we will all make the best of it.
“I have a second announcement.” Again he paused and looked meaningfully over the faces set before him. “It is this: all newly arrived freemen and convicts will be able to select small tracts of land for growing food.”
At this the crowd erupted. To many this seemed almost as good as being emancipated right there and then. To have the freedom to have their own house and some land was a dream many of them could not even conceive until this moment. To be able to grow their own food was a luxury and it all suddenly began to seem very possible in this equable climate with good rainfall and rich fertile soil.
Ross let the excitement go on for a few moments as the eager folk absorbed the importance of the news and began to chat with their neighbours and share in their good fortune. Eventually he called the assembly to order once more. When all the muttering and scuffling had died down, Ross continued:
“Thirdly, the Government stores will issue each landholder a basic kit of tools and seeds for land clearing and to grow crops. We don't have enough carpentry tools for all. So, it will be necessary for us to form two or three gangs of competent men to progressively build more permanent huts on each lease. The surveyor has made a rudimentary chart of additional land he thinks could quickly be made productive and this will be allocated first to army and marines personnel. Each man will be allocated a convict to assist in building and working the farm. Convicts will then progressively be allocated their own land parcels which they can work when not needed for other government service.”
By this stage some of the excitement had begun to subside. The convicts realised that paradise was already losing its initial lustre. A few minutes ago Ross’s news had seemed like a quick admission to Heaven; suddenly they had come crashing back to earth. The old class distinctions would continue. The hated controls by the military would remain just as strong as ever. The convicts’ opportunities would have to be squeezed in between long periods of daily grind in the service of His Majesty.
Rachel, standing off to the side of the crowd and watching its every ebb and flow of sentiment, calculated that she could make all these announcements work in her favour.
As the crowd broke up in a mixture of excited clamour and quieter cost counting, Rachel closed on Smithers as they walked back to the stores compound.
“Would you come and work for me on my land?” blurted George.
“But Mr Smithers,” she replied: “won't you be tired of working all day with me at the stores and then have me working around you at the house?” she asked, a mixture of sincerity and coyness in her voice and eyes.
“Rachel, this is the chance I have been waiting for to ask you to live with me. Now it is possible!”
Rachel knew that the next few minutes were going to be crucial for her survival and happiness.
“Well George, I will come if I am properly allocated to you.”
“Don’t worry about that,” said Smithers. “I've already lined it up with Sergeant Major Grimshaw who has been drawing up the assignment lists”
“Oh!” replied Rachel. “You knew about this in advance did you? Look, I will come willingly and even if I am ordered. I will look after your house but you must agree to let things develop naturally between us. I know you could force me but if something is going to develop between us that is beautiful and good it has to be allowed to grow, just like these wonderful pine trees.”
“Well I know what is growing just like a pine tree, just thinking about you and me together!” burst out Smithers! “But I will behave. Oh, Rachel I am so glad! Come on, let's get these stores ready to distribute to all these new landholders.”
Over the next few months, new land was cleared, huts built, farm plots laid out and sown to crops. The weather proved mild and accommodating and by the change of seasons some reasonable vegetable crops had been produced, poultry was establishing rapidly and already sows, cows and ewes were producing offspring. Some crops did not work. Wheat and other seed crops did not at first seem suited to the temperate seaside climate but after some experi-?mentation reasonable yields began to be achieved.
Smithers chose a 15 acre block just up from the landing bay, already called Turtle Beach. The flats were sandy but as the land sloped upwards it became more fertile. After the first tree felling was completed Smithers and Rachel worked side by side on the backbreaking drudge of grubbing out roots, clearing the remaining undergrowth, then ploughing and sowing. Rough timber fencing went up fairly quickly to deter the burgeoning cattle population that was attracted to the rich crops.
Their hut was built by one of the roaming gangs of carpenters. When finished it was small but weather tight and comfortable enough. It was just one room, about eight good paces long and five wide. The floors were constructed on simple foundations of stone. Each floor board had been laboriously chipped with an adze to smooth out the bumps, knots and splinters. The result was a dry but still uneven floor that required the careful placement of bits of furniture so that they looked as steady and square as possible. The walls were unlined split pine; the bark side of each plank was exposed to the elements but the golden heartwood lit up the inside as soon as lamp light was shone on it.
A small chimney and fireplace had been built from local stones. The stones were held in place by calcined mortar made from shells burnt in a rudimentary furnace that was operated just back from Turtle Beach. The fireplace was one of their most proud possessions as many huts just had outside campfires to cook on and no access to warmth when the weather turned cold and windy.
There was one window: a pine flap two planks deep and four hand spans long was fixed to the wall with two leather hinges and a simple wooden catch. In good weather a simple whittled stick propped the flap open to let in fresh air
A romance of a kind developed. Rachel let herself be wooed. She did not love George but he was a good, kindly man, besotted with Rachel and very proud as they walked to work together. He walked taller and swaggered a little as he noticed the admiring glances of other government workers and convicts. Normally a quiet man when he walked, whenever he saw others approaching he would strike up an animated conversation with Rachel designed to draw out one of her beguiling smiles that passers-by could not fail to see.
Rachel learned fast about the elementary principles and practical details of land clearing, housework and crop production, all the while figuring how she would make use of the knowledge if and when she got the chance to have her own plot. Her luck came within the year.
By 1791 more ships were making the crossing from one Sydney in Port Jackson to another Sydney at Norfolk Island. More convicts were arriving as food production increased. Exports of food, flax and timber were very variable however. While there was enough food produced to provide for the basic needs of the islanders, they still required supplementation from the government stores at great cost to the Colonial Secretary's Office on the other side of the world in London.
Rachel was kept busy in the stores, commencing her duties within an hour of sunrise and bustling about until mid afternoon. She would snatch a few minutes break whenever she could and there was a formal break late morning for a simple meal. At about 3.00pm a bell outside the Commandant’s Office would peal, signalling the end of Government work. For the convicts this was when the best part of the day would start; this was their time. Seven days a week Rachel could be seen each afternoon working on their piece of land tilling soil, harvesting crops, tending animals, cooking, cleaning.
Occasionally she relaxed her guard and made herself available to Smithers. Sometimes George would take her down to a secluded bay and they would fish, swim and make love, Rachel always showing enough interest to keep him attentive but not allowing him to become too possessive.
In May 1791 two ships had arrived off the island. One was the HMS Neptune and the other the HMS Surprize. The Neptune was loaded with stores and provisions. The Surprise was loaded with human cargo, a couple of hundred more convicts.
Smithers and Rachel were rowed out to the vessels just after they anchored, as part of the crew commissioned by the commandant to get the ships’ manifests. As she came up the side of the ship, Rachel, still dressed in convict calico despite her preferential status, looked more like a man than a woman. Her hair was pulled back and knotted. She was slim waisted and slightly figured so at first glance she looked like a youngish man.
“You there!” called the boatswain to Rachel as she took her first steps on the deck. “Look lively and carry that gear down to the captain’s cabin for your master.” Rachel glanced severely at the man and as she did so tripped on a pile of rope on the gently rolling deck. A wiry arm caught her just before she fell. Her eyes moved up over grimy pants and a similar calico top to hers and into the face of a wild looking convict.
“Williams, get away out of there!” called the boatswain. “I was just helping the lady, yer ‘onor,” said the felon.
“What! So, she is a woman!” exclaimed the boatswain, to mild laughter from those standing around watching the drama unfold. “Good heavens! Anyway, Williams get going!”
The convict called Williams moved as slowly as he could without warranting a blow from the overseer, but not before he had exchanged glances with Rachel that said more than a million?words ever could.
After that it was all business as convicts and stores were shipped ashore, crews given leave and officers escorted ashore for a meal on dry land.
The new arrivals were quickly absorbed into the settlement. Isaac Williams made a name for himself right off by showing that he could dive to catch lobsters in the quiet waters just in from the reef. The delicious morsels were a welcome change at the officers’ dinners and pretty soon Williams was a part of Lieutenant Governor King’s household, making himself useful in many outdoor chores from felling trees to cutting wood for the household kitchen stove, to tending the kitchen gardens.
Like Rachel, Isaac had decided early on that he would keep his nose clean on the island. As a convicted horse thief, he knew that King had taken a risk in allotting him to his own staff, where there were more chances to thieve than most other places. He showed a lively sense of humour, while always remaining respectful towards the Lieutenant Governor in their occasional interactions. For his part King had returned to the Norfolk Island to take up his duties after a long absence back in England. He returned with a better appreciation of the opportunities and the lifestyle.
Pretty soon King ensured that Williams was allocated a good small plot of land to work near the best land up the rise from the beach. The areas of land were just big enough to produce a few small crops of vegetables that each landholder might use to supplement supplies from the Government Store. As luck would have it, it almost adjoined the plot allotted to Smithers.
Soon Williams was finding any excuse at all to arrive outside Smithers’ hut early enough in the afternoon that George would still be down at the store house and Rachel would be getting ready to come in from the land. Requests for loans of tools and seeds soon graduated into shared cups of tea and ultimately full blown afternoons of abandoned lovemaking on Smithers’ bed. Their love nest was made of calico and straw. They looked out together from the flaps of canvas that formed the doorway at the spectacular seashore in the distance. Occasionally a tern or a mutton bird would perch on the rough frame of the shack’s roof. They felt they were in heaven together.
Isaac would saunter back to his plot as Rachel frantically worked to catch up on the unfinished tasks of the afternoon, so that Smithers’ suspicions would not be aroused.
But Norfolk Island was a small settlement and it wasn't long before a passing overseer noticed Williams’ return from Smithers’ hut mid-afternoon. He mentioned it that night at a meeting called by Lieutenant King. Soon the whispers started to seep through the whole settlement. Of course everyone had an opinion but most kept their own counsel.
George’s suspicions were not aroused until he himself came back to the hut early one afternoon when all the day’s work was complete.
Rachel and Isaac were sitting at the front of the hut on two stools sharing a cup of tea in the warm sun. While all looked proper George realised from the surreptitious glances and soft eyes of them both that he had a competitor. He further realised that Rachel never looked at?him that way. It was galling and also inevitable.
By the time he reached the hut’s only door to go inside, George had decided what he would do.
He bid the pair good day, went inside and emerged a few moments later with a cup of tea, a plate with a few biscuits on it and a knife.
Williams made to get up to depart but Smithers said he should stay and enjoy the rest. Isaac’s bold response of agreement masked his acute discomfort.
George made small talk for a few minutes, all the while shaving chunks of biscuit and popping them into his mouth whilst he slurped his tea.
“I know what's afoot here,” he said in a low voice. Rachel made to speak but he cut her off with a look she had never seen before. “I have two choices here,” he said. “Either I can kill you now Williams or I can do it later when you least expect it.”
Isaac moved slightly on his stool and George flicked the knife up from the plate just enough for him to see that anything more would cause someone serious harm.
“That won't be necessary,” said Williams. “We are just being friendly.”
“To say I don't believe you would be a great understatement,” replied George. “So I'll tell you how it will be. You keep out of our lives and you will stay alive. Come anywhere close to us or to Rachel in particular and you will be found drowned with the lobsters you love so much, them eating you instead of you eating them.”
Isaac rose with all the dignity he could muster and without another word tried to amble his way down the path as he had in the past. This time there was a noticeable stiffness in his gait. As he walked towards the rough stile that marked the front entrance to the plot he wondered if he might get a knife in his back at any moment.
Things were tense in Smithers’ hut for the next few days. A quiet calm descended but there was an underlying tension as if a storm might break at any moment. Rachel tried to act as before with the same routines, hoping to convince George that nothing was changed between them. For his part Smithers took whatever Rachel offered and did for him but the light of romance had gone out.
Work became a drudge for Smithers, and just as Rachel had said when he first propositioned her, it became difficult for them both to be together day and night and behave as if everything was as before.
Rachel's breakthrough came a few days later. For some weeks Smithers had suspected that there was pilfering of the store’s stock of nails, which were amongst the most prized possessions on the island. One evening after returning to the hut, Smithers told Rachel he was going back to the store to check something. He took the long way back, arriving at a hillock of land just behind the store in time to see a figure easing towards the store as it shielded a candle. George edged quietly closer, listening carefully as a few boards on the back wall of the store were levered off.
“Got him,” thought George as he removed from his jacket the knife he always carried and made for the hole in the wall. There were three other actors George had not noticed. One was the figure that had come up behind him and who now swung his arm up to dash George to the ground with a rock that the intruder had grabbed on the pathway. Just as the arm was raised and readied to strike, a shout came from the right and the assailant fell like a shot bird.
The second form George had not noticed was that of Rachel, who had come down to the store via the main track and had seen three figures approaching from the rear.
“Rachel!” cried out Smithers. “It's O.K. At least we got one. And the other too, I'll bet,” he said as he stepped through the hole in the hut and grabbed a figure crouched in a corner. Just as Smithers got the burglar tied up, the third unnoticed form appeared. Isaac came into the light of the candle.
“What are you doing here?” sneered Smithers.
Rachel jumped in before the two men could begin to square off. “But George, Isaac threw the rock that got our visitor.”
Smithers looked from Rachel to Isaac and back again. “Oh, really? And how did you get that fine throwing skill?” asked Smithers as his breathing began to lower and his pallor lost some of its redness.
“Well, yer Hon’r,” replied Isaac, warming to the story he realised might serve himself and Rachel, “you know, I suppose, that I am convicted of stealing a horse back in the old country. Truth to tell, I didn't steal her but that's another story.” Smithers shuffled his feet and was about to reply when Isaac bolted on. “I am a farrier and have spent all my life around horses. When work was slack we'd often play clangers in the courtyards where we were shoeing. And of course there's nothing better at the end of the week than a few rounds with a couple of gins on board. So, over the years my aim and distance have become pretty good.
“When I saw that bloke going through the hole I just slipped the rock into my hand like it was a horseshoe and let it come out like it was heading straight for the post. Not bad if I'd say so myself for a 30 yard throw underarm.”
“Yes. Well,” stammered Smithers: “That may be. But thanks anyway.” He looked querulously at Rachel and back to Isaac. “Now I must get these felons over to the lockup.”
“I'll give you a hand,” replied Isaac and in 10 minutes the job had been done and the three of them were strolling back up the track towards home. The moon was on the wane, the stars were out and the breeze was light on their backs. Smithers watched as Rachel and Isaac walked along. It was clear that there was something between them. It was like watching little shooting stars going off between them as they chatted and looked at each other.
“I've lost her,” Smithers realised. His pulsed raced and then slowed right down. “What's the point,” he thought: “if she's gone she's gone. I knew right from the start that she didn’t love me. It was good while it lasted and I'll just have to find another to share my life and home.”
By the time they had reached point in the track where Isaac was to branch off to his own hut, Smithers had made up his mind. “I could kill him,” he had thought “and probably escape getting caught. But Rachel would never come back to me.” Just as they were to part, Smithers said to Isaac: “Listen you two. I know it's finished for Rachel and me. I can see you are a horseman and you've galloped off with my love. But if Rachel is as keen on you as it seems I won't get in your way. I wish you well together. Rachel, why don't you go back with Isaac now and I will see you tomorrow at the store.”
The two lovers were silent as they watched Smithers trudge up to his hut alone. It was a bittersweet moment for them. They eventually turned and walked together over to Isaac’s hut and entered.
This was a new beginning for Rachel and she was determined to love the man of her life. She was also grateful that Smithers had been so generous and she determined there and then that she would find a way to thank him.
Over the next few months things went from good to even better for Rachel. She settled well with Isaac and before winter set in she was pregnant with his child.
Work at the store continued and a genuine friendship developed between Rachel and George Smithers. They worked well together and although Rachel was still subject to convict discipline, Smithers offered her little favours, partly at least because he still wanted her affection.
Lieutenant King observed the way that Rachel so competently exercised her skills as a store woman. She couldn't write or read but her counting was accurate and she followed a
simple system for keeping tally of stores items and their costs. She had learned how to handle both overseers and convicts.
King also noticed that many times in the day the foot traffic to and from the stores was quite high. At first he was suspicious that something was going on, maybe that the stores were being pilfered. But on interviewing Smithers he found that both freemen and prisoners, men and women, liked to drop into the store just to chat with Rachel. Although only in her late teens she was good with people. She knew when to listen and when to offer some words of advice. And of course as her pregnancy advanced there was lots of banter and advice back to her about babies.
As he ambled back from his inspections of the settlement one day, King was discussing the next round of land releases with the surveyor, Charles Grimes. “We’ve got to get more land into production quickly,” King was saying. “Governor Phillip at Port Jackson is threatening that either we get the volumes up to distribute the costs better or we will get even more of the very worst convicts sent to us. I am favouring the first.”
Just then he passed the store and his mind flitted over the thoughts he had of Rachel and her good influence on the settlement. “Why don't we try giving every convict a bigger parcel of land?” he said, as much to himself as to Grimes. So, with that stray collision of ideas began an experiment that just might save the little colony.
Following the now usual practice, Lieutenant Governor King proclaimed the scheme one Sunday after Church parade. Every convict was allocated a more viable acreage of land than had been allotted in the first grants. Each grant was made from maps drawn up by the surveyors. Some land proved unsuitable but most lent itself to either crop production, flax growing or sheep and pig raising.
The main part of the island was densely forested so all the land clearing required many valuable trees to be felled. The prime trees were sequestered for navy and military use. Even so, there was ample left over for building more substantial cottages.
Soon valleys and leas echoed to the sounds of timber being felled. The land was cleared by teams of men working together. Other small teams of twos and threes worked on building?cottages. Then it was up to the landholders themselves to get the land ready for production. It was backbreaking work and Rachel was getting heavier, slower and more tired each day but she did what she could. With a bit of conniving, her block was allocated right next to Isaac’s and while the plans showed they were separate, in reality it was a combined farmlet.
The views from the hut were spectacular. On warm afternoons the pair would sit on a bench under a huge pine, sipping tea and watching the sun drop down in the western sea. The cloud forms made for some breathtaking sunsets. Golds, oranges, reds and deep vermillion each provided their splashes of colour until the sun eventually sank and the evening quiet descended.
It must have been because Norfolk Island was so isolated that there were few land birds; it seemed to Isaac as he lazily watched the setting sun that only the strongest migratory birds landed there. A few sea birds would come inland from the beaches, rocks and cliffs sometimes but mostly they stayed near the shore. In the trees overhead and the forests leading up the ridges there was virtual silence. It was very peaceful and also a bit unnerving at times. After all, the homemakers were from the busy streets of London where the noise ever stopped day or night. Still, they loved the peacefulness more and more.
While Isaac’s mind mused about the birdlife, Rachel’s was in a different place altogether. She was beginning to hope that her newborn might be raised here, happy and healthy. And of course the child would be free too as soon as her emancipation occurred. She still had three years to go. Isaac had two years left to run of his sentence. Very soon they could begin to establish a great new life for themselves and their family.
Rachel’s time to give birth came suddenly. She was working at the store when the pains began. An old crone from the Commandant’s kitchen was summoned and while the men were shooed away the birthing began.
Someone had the presence of mind to race up the hill to where Isaac was working on a new cottage. By the time he arrived Rachel was lying on the storeroom floor in a sea of army blankets supplied by Mistress Inett, King’s common law wife. Beside her lay a small babe.
“It's a big girl,” mumbled Rachel, smiling exhaustedly.
“Let's call her Susannah,” proposed Isaac as he kneeled down to kiss Rachel lightly and peered at the little creature next to his wife.
“If we must,” said Rachel in reply “but I was thinking of Sarah.” Isaac began to breathe in to reply but wisely noticed a look in Rachel's eyes he had not seen before. Before he knew it he replied with the faintest of smiles: “As you say.” It was a moment Rachel remembered for the rest of her life.
All too soon there was bustling and hubbub at the entrance and Isaac was whisked off for the ritual toasts and bumpers to celebrate fatherhood.
“Just like all men,” muttered the kitchen hand. “You do all the work, dearie and the men go on like it was all their efforts that produced the child.”
“Well he did have a small part to play in it,” Rachel tittered and all the women collapsed in gales of giggles and jests while they completed the cleaning up.
Baby Sarah died at 14 months of age. Her death was sudden but accepted with resignation. Rachel struggled to keep the child’s fever down for three days. With no resident doctor on the island, ineffective home remedies and no chance of evacuating back to Sydney, the little mite wasted away and was buried in the small but growing cemetery at the edge of Turtle Bay.
As they returned from the brief ceremony through the wind-razed bushes towards the store where she worked, Rachel resolved that such a tragedy would not be repeated for any more of her children. Whatever it took she would make sure that they got the best possible care as quickly as possible.
All too soon Rachel fell pregnant again and in the space of a few years she and Isaac were the parents of more children. As the years crawled by the children grew. They were wild, helpful, cheery and for the most part, extremely healthy.
Rachel and Isaac marvelled at how different these kids’ childhoods were from their own. Had they been born in England they would have been facing poverty, disease, life in a slum, foul and stinking air, threats of violence all around them at every turn, freezing days and numbingly cold nights. Instead life on the Island was Paradise for children.
To be sure, the Island was unmistakably and inescapably a penal settlement. This fact was forever present in the minds of the adults. Marines with rifles paraded around the main roads and cleared patches. Two small cannons brooded over the entrance through the coral reefs at the Bay. Convict gangs trudged the roads. An innocent looking wooden triangle in the main square masked the regular horror of its chief purpose: holding up shattered forms as they were flogged, sometimes within an inch of life. The acting lieutenant governor, Major Ross had shown himself to be a brutal, sadistic bully, ordering beatings, floggings and hangings for the slightest infractions. Despite these horrors, the isolation of the island was sometimes its chief menace for the population; they were over a thousand miles by sea from the nearest civilisation and even that was a hell hole.
Yet for all those tyrannies there some wonderful compensations for adults and children alike.
Food was plentiful, the air and climate fresh and sublime. There were loads of playmates to frolic with at the safe beach while their mothers worked nearby. Chores were giving them new practical skills. They saw their fathers every day.
Isaac loved taking the children on walks in the late afternoons. They would wander along the cliffs collecting mutton bird eggs and kindling for the cottage fire. Several of the fathers made rough kites which were a huge success down at the beach or in the gradually expanding pasture lands; there was always a breeze blowing. Isaac taught the older children basic farm?tasks and allocated the care of his piglets to them. The youngest had a chicken or two to tend.
Isaac’s experience with larger farm animals earlier in his life stood him in great stead now as he was one of the best pig raisers on the island. Within the first five years he had expanded his small herd and was able to make good returns from selling pork for transport back to New South Wales.
Three years after they first arrived, Rachel received a personal call from Lieutenant King. King had been recalled to Sydney and London but had returned recently. He informed her that her sentence had expired and she would now be emancipated. It was a joyous time that night for the family and their closest friends as they celebrated Rachel's release. She was thrilled with the idea that she was a free settler and she shared the pleasure with Isaac who had received his remission the year before from the dreaded Major Ross. Their stature in the settlement had grown progressively, as they were among the longest residents. They were regarded as friends and helpful advisers by many.
Whilst Isaac could be wild at times, as reflected in some of his children, he had good skills as a sawyer and builder. There were only a few horses on the Island but his skill and experience in keeping them in fine fettle was appreciated by the officers. His help was always practical and appreciated by their neighbours. He worked hard and although his energies often need to be channelled, he was in demand as an honest and open landholder who was always full of practical advice. Isaacs stocky frame belied his raw physical strength and more than once Rachel noticed the admiring glances of younger women when he worked in the tree felling parties or chatted bare chested to them as he built fencing along their boundary track. Isaac loved the attention but would quickly get back to the job in hand if he saw Rachel sweeping across the paddocks towards her husband and the now departing visitor.
What Rachel never saw was the open admiration of a couple of kitchen hands in the main settlement when Isaac joined the crew to land supplies from visiting ships. While Rachel tallied stores coming in to the main storeroom she was unable to witness the banter and repartee that went on as the men handed up parcels and small boxes to the girls on the makeshift dock. Their job was relatively easy: to walk with the goods a few paces and load them on to handheld carts for transport to the store. It gave the girls plenty of opportunities to flirt with the sweating young male convicts and to keep on good terms with the overseers at the same time with pleasant chatter. It was all relaxed and friendly but there was also a certain physical tension.
In late 1795 Rachel noticed that Thomas, their eldest boy and now aged four was not developing as fast as the others. He was physically slower and while bright and bubbly like the others most of the time, would sometimes be found sitting on a log or under a tree in the late afternoons, while the others were kicking a ball in the paddock or rolling hoops down the slope to the creek.
Mindful of her resolve after the death of Sarah, Rachel decided to take the boy to Sydney in the hope of getting him attended to there. There was no problem in getting permission to?leave the island now she was a free woman. Local neighbours volunteered to keep the remaining children in their care. Her best friend Molly also promised with a raised eyebrow and a gentle nod of her head that she would keep Isaac under her eye as well. Rachel left on a government transport for Sydney, confident that her family was in good shape and the future's promise was unfolding very well. She was even confident that young Thomas would get a good diagnosis in Sydney and soon be back to full good health when they returned.
Nostalgia flooded over Rachel as they sailed through the massive headlands that protected the magnificent harbour at Sydney. She recalled her first glimpses of the new land, those towering sandstone cliffs, the aromatic bush smells from the gum trees and shrubs lining the shore, her wistful speech to Ann as they waited for Captain Aitken’s decision to finally sail in to land. “Poor Ann,” she sighed.
Rachel could scarcely believe the sight of Sydney Cove as the ship anchored close to Pinchgut Island in the middle of the harbour. In the few years she had been away the colony had been transformed. In some ways the sprawl was a marvel. Scores of brick buildings dotted the foreshore and hillocks behind the cove. Crude wharves jutted out into the water and some smaller boats were now able to directly discharge and load their passengers and cargoes. Rough tracks crisscrossed the land as far as she could see.
Most of the bushland for more than two miles had been cleared. But the smell was awful. Rubbish was everywhere, clogging the entrance to the little Tank Stream that had supplied fresh water so recently. Swill and slops floated out from the berthed ships into the main tidal stretches of the harbour creating brown tracks of muck to contaminate the previously pristine waters. Rachel saw dead fish floating by her as she and Thomas were rowed in the longboat towards the wharves on the western edge of the cove. Wood smoke from fires burning cleared bush mixed with more acrid vapours of burning lime and other new industrial wastes being generated from the new industries that had sprung up while she was away. The clang of metal on metal, shouts and curses from men to men and from men at animals came as a shock after the far more gentle atmosphere that she was now used to on Norfolk Island.
“So this is the new country,” she wondered. “Enormous opportunity, but will it be grasped or squandered?” she asked herself. “Well, I won't have much of a say about that,” she consoled herself as she stepped ashore, “but so far as it depends on me and my family we are still going to make a go of it,” she reassured herself, putting her arms under young Tom and hauling him up the rough timber steps from the longboat to dry land .
A small inn had been built in the shade from the outcrop to the west of the cove and Rachel directed a longshoreman to carry their small trunk there. She took a room for a week with an option to stay longer if needed.
Next day she made inquiries and found that two doctors had arrived to serve the colony in the years while she had been gone. She waited in turn to see both and was relieved by one’s opinion that the boy was just suffering from a bit of bad blood and would respond well to some leeching, and medical elixirs. The other doctor’s diagnosis was more troubling. He was sure that Thomas had a poor heart rhythm and that he may not live to be a teenager if it persisted. He merely shrugged his shoulders when Rachel asked what could be done to treat her son.
“You'll just have to let nature take her course,” he winced “and pray for a miracle if you are a woman of religion.” He nodded as he bowed them out of the room and into the bright sunlight of midday. “Well I won't be just sitting here waiting at all,” Rachel muttered to herself as she swept the boy along the track and back down towards the ramshackle huts that lined the waterfront. “Let's have some tea!” she smiled at her son.
The first buildings they came to at the end of the track were full of carpenters, sail makers, rope makers and other tradesmen who supported the shipping. But Rachel noticed that there were providores of fresh and casked goods as well, so she strolled along looking for whatever fresh delicacies she could find to tempt and reward her son. In the second shop she walked into she was surprised by someone greeting her by name.
“Hello Rachel!” called a well-built man in his early 30s with auburn hair, a ruddy complexion and a big smile. “Fancy seeing you after all these years!”
“Oh Jim! The surprise is mine! The last time I saw you they had you in the bottom of a landing boat looking dead from the fever! I'm so glad you seem recovered.”
“Hale and hearty!” he beamed, “and doing O.K now as a ship’s chandler and providore, thank you very much, ma'am!” He smiled again and bowed deeply to her. Rachel smiled back and almost didn't catch the small wrapped sweet thrust into Tom’s hand as he came up from his bow.
“And who is this?” Jim asked as he looked over the young lad with a mix of fatherly affection and an appraising eye that he might have used when buying a piglet at the new stock yard.
“This is Thomas,” Rachel responded putting her hands lightly on his head. “I married a man on the island and we now have three.”
“Well that's grand!” said Jim, “but will you come and meet my wife and our bairns and will you stay with us? And will you have some refreshments now?” he blurted out, a mixture of happiness and bashfulness overcoming him.
It was so unlike the fellow who had courted her those few years ago. Rachel fell silent for a moment. Then she glanced up and said: “We'd love to meet your family. We have some lodgings at the western inn and I'm as parched as the desert, so I'd love some tea.”
“That's my girl!” replied Jim, “You have always known what you wanted and have set out to make things happen ever since we met. Come in to the back room and I'll boil some water for tea and there might even be some new drink from India for young Tom to try. It's made of some special leaves that give it a nice fresh taste especially when it is sweetened with some bush honey, which I just happen to have from one of my local native pals this morning.”
“And how are the natives getting along with all this invasion?” Rachel inquired.
Jims face darkened. “They are all but gone.” he said simply. “They started to get fevers and smallpox and dysentery and measles as soon as the first fleet arrived. Not many knew and?hardly anyone paid them any attention or gave them much care. By the time you came in the Lady Juliana the rates of sickness were really building up. That's when I fell ill, remember?”
She nodded. “Well, since then the diseases have spread like wildfire through all the surrounding tribes and what hasn't killed them that way has seen them finished off by scouts and settlers as they take over their lands for settlement. It's a crying shame. Governor Phillip did his best, even though he was wounded by one of their spear throwers in the early days, as you know. Some of the marines managed to convince the powers that be that the natives either need to be exterminated or corralled into their own towns so that we can get on with the business of colonising. But still there are some small, good signs.” Jim pottered about making the tea as Rachel and Thomas followed his movements from a small table and chairs just inside the back room.
“Amazingly, a few of the Aborigine families, as we now call them, didn't die and they are prepared to talk with us while keeping out of further harm as much as they can. I have a friendship with a tribal man named Warrung. He is the one who brings me honey and herbs and the occasional kangaroo haunch and tail for soups and stews at home. We even go hunting together when he is around and that's a lot of fun. Say, Tom, would you like to come with us?” Jim bubbled along just like the water as it came to a boil. He dashed a tinful of hot water into a crockery teapot. Pleasant aromas steamed up.
“Indian tea is still more precious than African ivory here, just like when we first arrived here. Do you remember those scouts coming in with the first discoveries?”
“I do indeed,” Rachel responded, with thoughts flooding back of those first days in Sydney Town.
Jim remarked: “Mostly we still have to be content with ti-tree leaves. They give off a nice colour and have not too bad a flavour when they are properly steeped. Normally that’s what I would give you but I have a little of the special Indian chai. There, try that.”
He blushed with pride and embarrassment as he offered Rachel a cup and saucer. “I'm even lucky enough to get some of the new earthen ware from the pottery kilns you may have seen at the eastern shore. I make a tidy profit selling them to the local captains, especially the ones that Fred Chaplin makes; they have little imprints and sketches of life in the colony. Apparently, their wives think they are very amusing in London when they are entertaining their lady friends ‘At Home’.”
The conversation skittered on. Rachel sensed that Jim still held strong affections for her so she worked hard to be friendly but a little restrained when they went back to Jim’s house for lunch and to meet his wife and children. They all seemed to get along fine.
Two days later Jim took Thomas out to the “Aborigines’ camp” with two of his boys about the same age or older and together with Warrung’s family members they set off west along the harbour’s edge to hunt. Over the next few days Thomas miraculously recovered his?strength and happiness. Rachel could only guess at the causes. She watched proudly as he played the games that were a blend of ones from England and the native culture. Soon he could play as fast and as long as the other boys.
Rachel found herself relaxing. A few good sleeps, a few rare indulgences on treats, a few presents for the family back home and she was happy.
Early the next week Rachel inquired at the commissariat and learned that a supply ship would be leaving in three days’ time. As Norfolk Island was a penal colony and not a free town she still had to obtain official permission to return to the Island where her house and family were. Despite that, the officials were obliging and the formalities were soon completed. “What an amazing feeling to be able to arrange what suits me!” she thought to herself one morning as she strolled along the waterfront. “It is so good to be free of the directions and whims of military and penal overseers.”
A couple of days earlier she had thought that she would like to linger in Sydney Town for a while longer; however she was missing Isaac and the other children deeply and so chose to make a booking for a passage back to the other Sydney at Norfolk island.
With a slight shock she also realised that Norfolk Island was “home” to her now. In all the years of her exile in Norfolk Island she had thought of London as “home”. Her sense of belonging to Norfolk Island had grown while she had been serving out the remainder of her sentence. It was only now as she stood on the familiar shoreline of Sydney Cove and looked out over the water that she confirmed that the fragile desires for a home, family and a good life had now firmly taken root in Norfolk Island.
It had been both a banishment and a great escape to go there several years ago. The island was a fortress and prison. Yet it was where she had now lived for longer than in any other place in her life. And it was amazingly beautiful, despite its isolation from the rest of the world. The towering cliffs, the fantastically fertile soil, the wonderful, if often windy weather. It was almost the perfect place for children to grow up. “What an idyllic setting to grow old in with Isaac,” she pined to herself as she adjusted the new parasol she had bought earlier that day. Her thoughts returned to her husband. “What is he up to back there?” she wondered. It was as well that she did not know.
The day before they were due to sail, Jim showed up at the inn with his middle son James, just as Rachel was finishing breakfast in her room with Thomas. “I've come to take you out on a picnic before you go,” he announced. “And you, young Tom, would you like to go with the boys and their schoolmaster on a trip to the other side of the harbour?” “
“Great!” Thomas piped up. “Will we be able to play with the Indian boys too?”
“I don't know about that. There has been a lot of sickness over on that side of the water so the schoolmaster might warn you to keep your distance. But I'm sure he will let you play together if it is safe. There are some beautiful sandy beaches and pools over there and I know you can swim well now so you should have a whale of a time!”
“And you, Ma’am,” said Jim turning to Rachel quietly, “I would like to take you to our favourite lookout, for old times’ sake.”
Rachel looked carefully at Jim. His voice had dropped both in volume and tone. He was a little flushed about the face but his smile was sincere as he caught her eye and whisked up the hamper and ushered them both out the door of the inn.
The boys went off together, down the roughly made road to the little wharf to meet the teacher. Rachel and Jim went part of the way after them but then turned off in the space of a few minutes, and onto a small track over a gentle sandstone ridge.
As they walked through the rush and scrub, Rachel felt both calm in herself and a bit disquieted about what Jim was really up to. The smells of the ti-tree, eucalypts and damp ferns reminded her of her first days here. The crows were cawing. One of the strange birds, called a kookaburra by the local people, was laughing in a giant gum tree above them as they walked beneath. The first cicadas of the early summer season were beginning their deafening chirrups. Rachel was warmed by the mid-morning sun but also enjoyed the gentle cool breeze on her face as they mounted the peak of the ridge and descended to a smaller sandstone outcrop above the harbour.
“This is the place where we first met,” said Jim. “Do you remember?”
“Of course I do!” she replied “How could I forget meeting my first aboriginal, being jumped on by you and being almost arrested, all in the space of a few minutes!” she laughed as she settled on a fine natural ledge just above the waterline. Jim sat close by her and was quiet for a few minutes while they both watched a pod of dolphins swim close to the shore in front of them, chasing a small school of silverfish through water that was so clear it sparkled like diamonds.
As Rachel turned slightly to watch the dolphins go around the point, Jim bent towards Rachel and kissed her lightly and tenderly. Before she knew what she was thinking, let alone doing, Rachel was in Jim’s arms. Minutes later they were stretched out on the ledges in a full embrace of loving and passion. While they made love, Rachel though constantly of Isaac, en-?joying the passion of the moment with Jim but feeling a sense of guilt and longing for the lover of her life and the father of her children.
“I know you don't love me, but I wanted to let you go with nice thoughts of me because I don't think we will ever meet again,” Jim murmured as they lay together looking out through the trees.
“I know that too,” said Rachel. “And thank you for caring about me all these years,” she said simply.
“The pleasure has truly been mine,” said Jim as they started to get up off the sandy ground and adjust their clothing. Just then a small cutter rounded the point heading away from them back towards Farm Cove.
“I wonder who they were,” thought Rachel.
Jim made no comment but he realised from seeing the waistcoated figure in the stern of the boat that it was the school boys on their return from the next bay. They must have decided not to go over to the northern side of the harbour and risk contact with the sick natives, but had instead stayed on the southern shore and rowed to the east.
Back in the settlement Rachel, Jim and the boys met up back at the school clearing. Jim’s boy had a look of fun on his face as he greeted Jim. “Hello Dad. Did you have a nice picnic?” he enquired a little saucily. Thomas looked slightly abashed but said nothing as he sidled up to his mother and stood close beside her.
“They must have seen us at least lying together on that blasted rock!” thought Rachel. She decided not to say anything to her son.
Jim and James seemed to be sharing a joke far more grown up than was warranted by James's tender years.
“Maybe Jim has done this with other women,” thought Rachel with feelings of shame, upset and outrage roiling up inside her all at once.
“Well thank you for a nice picnic.” said Rachel, distantly. “Good bye Jim and young Jim, if I can call you that. We will be leaving tomorrow. Perhaps one day you will come to Norfolk Island and visit us,” she said to James, avoiding Jim’s eye.
“Maybe,” was all that the boy said in reply. “Goodbye Mrs Williams.” “Good bye Tom, it's been fun having you around.”
“So long!” said James, grasping his father’s sleeve and tugging him down the track towards their home. As Rachel paused in the way, Jim looked back over his shoulder, gave the briefest of small waves and then was gone around a bend in the track.
The voyage home gave Rachel another chance to sort out in her mind what might lie ahead when she returned to the island. She longed to see Isaac and the children of course but the events of the last day in Sydney town made her feel upset and guilty that she had betrayed her husband. Why, she might even be pregnant to Jim and how would she explain that?
The supply ship made good time through fair weather and in six days they were back on shore, landing in small longboats laden with goods for the Islanders.
Isaac had no inkling of when Rachel would return so there was no party of husband and family to meet them when they set foot on the small dock. But word quickly spread. A crude but effective system of bells rang throughout the settlement and up along the ridges to alert the settlers that a ship had arrived. Very soon people started drifting in, greeting the arrivals and beginning to load goods onto hand carts and small wagons drawn by cows and the odd donkey.
A few of the men greeted Rachel somewhat distantly she thought, given that she was such a well-known identity in the little community. Some of the women were less withdrawn. A trio of well-known gossips quickly bussed up to Rachel and with mock sadness, but also a sense of gleeful relish, informed Rachel that Isaac was in the lockup.
“Whatever for?” she gasped? “And who is looking after the children?”
“All in good time, my dear,” the leeriest crony of the clutch replied. “The kids are being cared for by several of your neighbours. Isaac though is another matter. He raped young Ann Beer!” she blurted.
“What?” Rachel nearly fainted. Emotions of anger, outrage and then fear coursed through her as she stumbled off towards the lockup with Thomas in tow, forgetting her baggage in her desperation to find out some facts. As she wound her way across the parade ground towards the barracks, Rachel was increasingly filled with dread. She realised quickly that although Isaac was no longer a convict, a crime this serious, if he was found guilty, would mean he would be summarily hanged. If the facts were plain he could expect no mercy and certainly no leniency. “However shall I manage?” she panicked, catching her breath in her chest as she burst into the warder’s office.
“Ah, Mrs Williams! Glad you are back in time for the trial,” said Sergeant Davitt with a bleak smile. He ushered Rachel to a seat in front of his desk before she collapsed under the weight of emotions surging through her body and mind.
“What happened?” Rachel asked, trying to compose herself as best as she could and realising that the next few minutes could have a decisive effect on Isaac’s life and her and her children's future.
“It's a pretty clear case, my dear,” said the sergeant, who had supervised Rachel when she worked in the store as a convict some years before.
“Isaac coped well for first few weeks you were gone but then he began to get into the rum at night and rampage around the ridges up at your block of land. Late one afternoon about two weeks ago he had been drinking for a couple of hours on your front doorstep and perchance saw young missy Beer go by. He called out to her and the exchanged a few words back and forth. But as she turned away from the gate, according to her, he followed and kept up an increasingly lewd conversation with her until they reached the glen at the bottom of your valley. Then, again according to her, he nudged her off into the bushes and before she could do anything to protect herself, he had his way with her against her will.
“Isaac must have come to his senses pretty fast because he helped her back along the road to town and into the hospital. Miss Beer had composed herself by that stage and although it was clear she had been sobbing, the doctor at first thought she must just have stumbled. But while he was cleaning her up he noticed the trappings of sex on her clothing and she blurted out that Isaac had forced her. The doctor called me and I arrested Isaac there and then.
“Fortunately Mrs Murphy from next door to you was passing and we got the little ones billeted out. Joseph Brimstone and Herbert Little have been looking after the animals and even got a crop of peas off the land for you,” Sergeant Davitt ventured as he tried to keep the atmosphere as calm as he could. It was no good.
“I don't care a fig about the crop!” shot Rachel. “What I want to know and must know is did Isaac rape her or not?”
“Well that'll come out in the trial, Mrs Williams,” replied the sergeant in an attempt to sound more official. “It is set down for next Monday, so you won't have too long to wait.” He offered Rachel his most conciliatory smile. “And I am sure the outcome will not be delayed,” he murmured half to himself, sure in his own mind that the verdict would be swift and brutal.
“Can I see Isaac?” she asked, trying to keep her self-control but noting the pleading sound of her own voice as she half rose from the seat.
“Sorry. But I can get a message to him if you like.”
“Alright, then.” Rachel replied and because neither of them could write a full sentence, Rachel gave Davitt a verbal message to pass on to the only prisoner in the lock-up that night.
“What a mess!” Rachel mused to herself as she and the boy trudged up the path towards their home a couple of miles distant. She began to feel a sense that her guilt in having sex with Jim had in some way been repaid by Isaac being gaoled. But she quickly realised that if he had in fact raped the girl it was his own lust and poor judgement, rather than thing Rachel might have done. “Still,” she thought guiltily to herself “if I hadn't stayed so long at Port Jackson maybe I would have been here to prevent this.”
With thoughts like this surging through her mind she eventually pushed their way through the gate to their landholding.
All the fears and concerns evaporated as she opened the door and the older children rose up like a small band of ducks to greet her with hugs and a few tears and lots of questions and?news. They sat together on the floor for an hour or more as the children took turns to sit on Rachel's lap, clasping her around the neck and kissing her face as they realised with obvious relief that their mother was back.
The older children were matter of fact about their father being in gaol. Despite the idyllic environment of the island, life amongst the settlers was quite harsh and sometimes brutal. The children were often exposed to seeing beatings, floggings, men pilloried and in stocks. Even at a young age there was a sense of inevitability about convict punishment. Although children and adults muttered about the injustice of many of the proclamations, rules, and petty laws there was always the threat of harsh force to ensure compliance. Summary discipline came hard and fast in most cases, leading to a grudging acceptance that that was the way things were. Men, women and children all knew the best course was to keep your head down and stay out of trouble as best you could.
It was with these ideas in the backs of their minds that the children said that they had been down to the gaol every few days and that some of the neighbours had been supplying Isaac with food.
During the rest of that week and into the weekend Rachel toured the settled parts of the island, catching up with old friends, receiving the sympathy of those who genuinely cared for her about Isaac’s troubles. Over the years Rachel also had developed skills to deal with the gossips. She met some in her walks who wanted to use the calamity as a way of pulling her down a peg or two while at the same time having some rare fun at another's expense. For her part, Rachel kept her own counsel and listened to all the stories told many times over by people who had direct, indirect or no real knowledge at all of what had really happened.
On the Monday morning of the trial, Rachel had been up for hours doing the farm chores alone and then getting the children dressed and respectable. Then they began the walk to Sydney Cove, up and down the familiar track as it wound its way over hills and through cool glens. They met several other individuals, pairs and families as they trudged along. It was clear that the trial had been well publicised and in the best English traditions it was going to be well attended, particularly since it was a hanging offence that Isaac was charged with.
The formal affairs of the colony were fraught. The full weight of the Crown and summary discipline could be brought down by the marines on the slightest pretence. Every moment of official business carried with it a sense of menace and foreboding.
In the last couple of years the little settlement’s denizens had experienced pendulum swings in the forces of law and order. Lieutenant King, the first Lieutenant Governor had been fair and for the most part conciliatory in his attempts to keep order and discipline. Some of his subordinate officers and many of his rank and file soldiers were brutes and used every opportunity to punish the slightest infractions. Rumours amongst the settlers circulated that some?of the officers had even sent dispatches to Sydney complaining of too much leniency shown towards convicts.
Spectators at official affairs showed up wanting to see every detail of what went on, while keeping out of harm’s way themselves. Rachel and Isaac had long before decided that they would let the affairs of the Crown work themselves out and that they would do all they could to keep their heads down while always acting with quiet dignity.
The Commandant’s office was too small for a trial, so two tables and several rows of chairs had been set up in the quadrangle in the centre of the barracks and gaol wings.
Many of the seats were already occupied when Rachel and the children arrived but they managed to find sufficient places in the front row for Rachel to see everything. She wanted to be positioned so as to have the best chance to carry out the small plan that had formed in her mind in the sleepless hours of last night.
It was soon clear to the spectators that the officials were in no hurry to get started. The vessel that had brought Rachel back to the island was still loading crops and timber for the return journey. A visit by a Sea Captain and his officers was a rare enough event to warrant the island’s elite getting together. There were usually lots of conversations to share news, long dinners and mellow drinks of port and rum after meals. As a consequence, some of the officers’ heads were fuzzy and their tempers short as the adjutants, advocates and bailiffs set up shop at the best tables in the shady part of the quadrangle. Captain Townson was to be the presiding judge.
By the strangest coincidence one of Judge Advocate Collins’ deputies was visiting and would be the inquisitor for the Crown. He had met Rachel in the early days when Rachel and Jim had looked after Governor Phillip and Collins at their rough quarters in Sydney. He looked over Rachel in a disinterested way as the official party made their last preparations before the trail commenced. Then his eyes wandered back to Rachel and they exchanged a small nod of recognition. No one else in the crowd would have noticed it but it gave Rachel a glimmer of hope for her husband. As was often the case with convicts, there was no one allocated to represent Isaac, even though he was technically a free man, having completed his sentence and been emancipated.
Such was the penal system at the time that once the appropriate inquiries had been made by the Crown, if the case went forward the outcome was almost a foregone conclusion. The defendant might be permitted to answer some questions of fact to seal his fate and very occasionally he might be permitted to make a statement on his own account, but this was very much at the discretion of the trial judge. There could be no thought of allowing even the possibility of a vigorously mounted independent defence.
Rachel knew all the injustice of the procedures and the summary justice of the sentences and punishments but she hoped she could get a chance to help if the right circumstances came?along.
She got the chance she longed for after the midday recess. By the time the court resumed it was clear that Captain Townson thought he had heard enough and was just going through the final motions before he dispensed justice and got to have a nice nap before dinner. Almost all of the Crown’s case had been presented to the court. It was an open and shut case as far as Captain Townson was concerned.
And then Deputy Judge Advocate Wilson did a strange and unexpected thing. He rose in his place and asked the judge if he might ask some questions of the defendant directly. Townson could not hide his impatience that this would prolong proceedings. However he grudgingly exercised his discretion and allowed Wilson to continue.
“Prisoner,” began Wilson, “the events of this case are clear except for the question of whether the victim willingly gave herself to you or not. What did she say or do that led you to believe that hers was a favour freely given to you and not a heinous crime of force by you on an innocent girl?”
Rachel's eyes lit up with expectation as she turned towards her husband. Then her hopes were dashed as he said: “I can't honestly say that I thought much about it Y’r ‘Onor. I’d been tippling rum for an hour or more in the late afternoon, thinking about me wife and how much I longed for ‘er to come ‘ome. Then this bit of skirt came by the front gate with a pretty smile and a saucy mouth. We talked a bit over the gate. I watched her sauntering away along the path and something must ‘ave snapped in me ‘ead.
“I followed her down the track and when we got to a quiet and pleasant way I pushed her into the bushes and before I knew it I’d ‘ad my way with her. It didn't take me long to come back to my senses and I tried to do the right thing by her and all; but what I did was wrong and I guess I will have to pay.”
The judge quickly moved to quieten the chatter that broke out at this point. Bystanders in the back of the quadrangle murmured to one another as those in the seated section exchanged querulous glances.
Before she knew it, Rachel was on her feet. “Your lordship!” she blurted out. “I am Mrs Williams, the defendant’s wife.
“Yes, yes I know that,” replied the judge with his eye towards a small school of chucklers from the rear gallery. He was just opening his mouth to tell Rachel to resume her seat or be found in contempt of the court when she jumped in with: “I've been on this blasted island even longer than you have. Your Honour, may I say something on my husband’s behalf?”
“Well it's most irregular, but given the case is almost concluded I don't see why not. I will allow you two minutes and not a second more.”
“Your honour, what I want to say is that despite what Isaac might have just said, he is basically a good man. We have been together for over 10 years now. We have had three children. Isaac served his time without getting into any trouble and has been a real contributor to our?shared life here on the island since he was emancipated. We live peaceably on our small holding. Our crops and produce are a genuine help to the colony at Sydney Town. We have benefitted financially and have saved up a little so that we can sometimes go off the government stores and rely on our own resources.
“What Isaac did was wrong but he is a good worker, a good provider and a good husband. I ask the court to show some leniency here. If you find him guilty and hang him no one here will be shocked into different behaviour. We are a community of people all struggling and managing as best we can to make our way and contribute to the success of the Colony of New South Wales.
“Isaac still has a strong fit frame; he has some good skills. He is a good sawyer, horseman and farmer. Don’t let the colony at Port Jackson or the settlement here lose those skills. Show some clemency and put him under close conditions if you must but please, I am begging you as a mother and wife don’t leave us to fend for ourselves.”
With that she resumed her seat with as much composure as she could muster, but then slumped as the emotion of the day overcame her.
“Get Mrs Williams some water,” said the judge, more than a little moved by Rachel's speech.
“The court will adjourn briefly,” intoned Townson. “But stay where you are. We will not be long.”
He turned to the officers on his right and left and together they huddled at the table for several minutes. With a nod to the bailiff to order silence Townson then announced: “We will resume. This court is unanimous in finding that a rape occurred here, committed by the accused. It is an offence punishable by death by hanging. The court so finds Isaac Williams guilty of said offence.”
At this the crowd began to shuffle.
“Order! But the court is mindful of the precarious situation here. As some of you know we struggle to be self-sufficient, let alone export sufficient produce to meet the requirements of the colony in Sydney. I don't know how long we can continue. In the light of this situation, the court decides that the prisoner will still be found guilty of the rape of Ann Beer, sentenced to death by hanging from the neck until he is dead.
“It is beyond my power to do anything other than judge criminal charges, decide guilt and impose the sentences demanded by the Crown. However, in this case, given the extenuating circumstances presented to the Court,” and with this Townson turned knowingly to Rachel and resumed: “the court is proposing to remit the circumstances of the case to Governor Hunter at Port Jackson. He alone is empowered to reconsider the case.”
At this stage the crowd was still, as if collectively holding their breath to see what would happen next.
Townson continued: “In the meantime, until I am advised further by the Governor, the sentence will be suspended while ever the prisoner continues to show responsibility for his family and exemplary conduct as a member of this community.
“Prisoner,” Townson said, turning directly to Isaac, “you will not be incarcerated. I am not having you sitting around in the gaol indefinitely. So, in the meantime you will labour as a sawyer on the pine plantations. You will be permitted to return to your home each day and to do whatever you need to keep your family off the government stores. Until I receive further advice and so long as you do this and you keep moral conduct your sentence will not be carried out. This Court is adjourned. God save the King.”
All rose and intoned the blessing on His Majesty. Then the crowd erupted in chattering noise as they tried to make sense of this unusual turn of events. Many came forward to speak to Rachel. Others congratulated Isaac on his escape, at least for the moment. After a few more minutes the quadrangle was cleared of people except for Wilson, Rachel and Isaac.
“Well, you are apparently as free as you ever will be,” said Wilson, noting that Isaac was not in chains and the gaolers had interpreted the judge’s comments to mean that he was at liberty on the island, at least for the moment.
Rachel and Isaac kissed quickly but softly, holding one another for the first time for many, many weeks. When they walked together through the portal of the quadrangle the area surrounding the precinct was almost deserted. “The children must have been taken by the neighbours,” Rachel thought. Wilson was seen sloping off to the officers’ quarters, leaving husband and wife together to stroll up the track towards their little home.
“I'm pregnant,” Rachel murmured to Isaac the next morning. She was standing outside the cottage, washing dishes from breakfast. Isaac had just come up behind her and clasped her to his waist in a show of affection and resurgent passion.
“My, that was quick,” he started to say; “we only made love last night!”
Rachel had been thinking about the pleasures of the evening before with a twinge of sadness when Isaac had walked through the front door and out into the sunlight towards her.
When they had arrived back at their home the afternoon before, there had been a wild fun time as the family celebrated Isaac’s release. The children didn't care a fig that Isaac had been away all that time in gaol. All that mattered to them was that their father was back and they could see the clear love between their mother and father.
After the children had been put to bed early, tired but happy, Rachel and Isaac strolled hand in hand down to the cliffs overlooking the sea. They walked and talked as they traversed headlands and gullies out towards a promontory above the steep cliffs and surging seas. In the last light of a long summer’s day they climbed down the cliffs to a rock pool and put their feet into its cool waters. They talked and courted, sharing news and stories of what had happened to each of them in the several months they had been apart. Rachel's love for this sinewy, rough man had deepened even more as they laughed and looked knowingly into one another’s eyes again.
“Hey! That must mean you had your skirts up in Sydney!” Isaac blurted out, bringing Rachel back from her reverie in a rush.
“Yes, that's true,” Rachel responded quietly. “It was a final parting from the man who helped me so much when I first arrived in Port Jackson. He is happily married now but he still had affection for me and I let myself go. I don't regret it Isaac. But I have to tell you that I love you more than any other man. We've both probably sinned in the last few weeks and months. I think we have to decide whether we will get on and keep loving one another no matter what.”
Isaac was quiet for a moment. Then he leaned into her back again with his hands once more around her waist. “You'll do me, wench. Let's make love work.” Rachel's heart melted as her trim figure melted into his.
“Well,” she laughed, “speaking of work, you'd better start working, lad. Wipe those dishes and then then you'd better present yourself down at the Commandant’s Office.”
Over the next days and weeks Isaac split his days between labouring at the plantation and timber yard and tilling, cropping and shepherding at their smallholding.
It was hard work over long hours. After a few weeks, not having experienced any really vindictive treatment from the marines, Isaac still managed to feel hemmed in and increasingly tired.
Several weeks after the trial, a proclamation was posted on the board outside the Commandant’s office. It advised that a special hearing of the court would be held the following Monday in the matter of “R v. Williams.”
The whole island’s population showed up for the hearing. The place was agog with rumours. No one knew for sure what would happen but the predictions ranged far and wide. Some claimed to know from inside sources that Isaac would hang that very week. Others said they had heard from unnameable sources that we was to be sent back to New South Wales . But no one, other than Captain Townson really knew the contents of the letter that had arrived in the latest ship’s mail.
The court convened at 10 o’clock. Townson sat alone at a table in the quadrangle and all others present stood in ranks in front of him.
“I have received advice from Governor Hunter in this matter. I will read the statement from His Excellency:
‘By His Excellency John Hunter Esquire, Captain General and Governor in Chief in and over His Majesty’s Territory of New South Wales and its Dependencies.
‘Whereas Isaac Williams was at a Criminal Court of Judicature held at Sydney Town in Norfolk Island, one of the dependencies of His Majesty’s territories called New South Wales in the Year of Our Lord one thousand seven hundred and ninety nine, tried and convicted of a rape and received sentence of death for the same.
‘And whereas some favourable circumstances have been represented to me by the court who tried him and at the particular representation of Captain John Townson, late Commanding Officer at the said island, I therefore am induced to extend Grace and Mercy unto him the said Isaac Williams and grant him a pardon for his said crime – provided always and on condition that he continues to reside for the term of his natural life within the limits of this Territory.
‘In pursuance of the power and authority vested in me, I do hereby grant him a pardon for the said offence on condition above specified, which said pardon shall be null and void, if the said Isaac Williams is ever found at large out of the said Territory contrary to the express intent and meaning of said pardon.
‘Given under my hand and the seal of the Territory at Government House, Sydney, New South Wales, this thirty first day of January one thousand eight hundred.
‘Signed: John Hunter.’”
Townson continued: “I suppose we should all be thankful for small mercies from His Majesty and the Governor. Prisoner, step forward.”
Isaac duly moved to the front of the crowd.
“The court’s intention is to carry out the terms of the pardon granted by Governor Hunter to the letter. While there is some uncertainty about this, I rule that you are to be confined to Norfolk Island for the term of your natural life. It is possible that the Governor’s pardon might extend to allowing you to move to other dependencies within the Territory of New South Wales. I will undertake to obtain further clarification of this. In the meantime you are free. The court is adjourned.”
Once again the crowd erupted into loud chattering and conversation. It was clear from the reactions that most thought the court had acted well. Hunter had a reputation for fairness and this had been borne out.
One evening as he and Rachel sat on their front step, Isaac announced that he didn't think he could endure being a convict for the rest of his life, even if the punishment was light and the officers seemed to regard him with a measure of begrudging respect for his skill.
“You've heard the rumours just as I have,” Isaac began. Rachel merely nodded.
In the last few weeks there had been increasing talk of the unviability of the Norfolk Island settlement on a long term basis. Several officers had taken the trouble to visit each of the landholders to talk through with them their assessment about the costs of keeping the island supplied and staffed. Whilst the first few years of settlement in New South Wales had been perilous to say the least, Port Jackson had been increasingly provisioned by convoys of ships from England. Each new arrival bore stores and key men who knew more about farming and building than any of the earlier fleets.
Food supplies out at Parramatta and Rouse Hill had also improved. Ships had been up to Batavia to secure flour and other commodities. A small flotilla of ships had even travelled several times from the North Island of New Zealand with stores of harvested crops and live animals. The colony was rapidly changing from threatened extinction to almost certain survival.
At the same time, Norfolk Island was becoming less and less necessary as a feeding station. True, it was still seen as an important bulwark against the French aspirations to secure footholds in the south seas. There was still a vague hope that flax could be successfully produced there but each of the incumbent Lieutenant Governors’ expectations and fulsome reports had steadily become more matter of fact in recognising that the chances of success were slim. The other great initial hope for the island’s economy, pine trunks to be used as masts, had been quickly proven to be unworkable. The stately monsters were unwaveringly straight but lacked sufficient strength to cope with the stresses of full sails under stormy winds. The few trials had been dismal failures.
In the last few years the island had also become increasingly used as a repository for the most depraved and recalcitrant convicts from both the motherland and from Sydney. More and more political prisoners were being sent there out from Britain, the Crown’s objective being?to split them into as many small sub groups as possible and prevent them becoming a force of their own. Despatching some to Norfolk Island once they arrived at Sydney was one way to splinter them into even smaller groups. Norfolk Island had also acquired a dreaded reputation for fierce capital punishment, particularly under the term of the savage Lieutenant Governor Foveaux.
All this information had been shared with the settlers and emancipees on the orders of Captain Piper, the latest Lieutenant Governor. It was a sign of changing attitudes, although there was more than a whiff of condescension from the government officials as they visited each hut and cottage.
Rachel and Isaac sat on their step, reviewing their combined knowledge and interpreting what it might mean as best they could. It was clear that Isaac had come to a conclusion, one that initially startled Rachel but which she quickly came to understand if not fully accept.
“I will have to look out for an opportunity to escape,” Isaac muttered, afraid that even in their isolated farm cottage someone might overhear them. “That bastard Foveaux never bothered to find out the real meaning of the pardon. If they move to abandon the settlement there's a real risk that you will go and I will be left here to rot for the rest of my life. I couldn't bear to be separated from you and the children like that.”
“Let's just see how things develop,” Rachel replied, seeking to prevent Isaac from committing himself to a course of action when events might still change. The fact of the matter was that although Rachel was now a free woman, and the family was ‘off stores’ and supporting their children, they were kept in the dark about the government’s real plans and intentions.
In the next year or so government officials proposed that the little outpost in the midst of the vast Pacific Ocean be progressively abandoned. Volunteers were being offered inducements to give up their leases and be taken to new lands that were being earmarked for them for farming and sheep raising in Van Diemen’s Land.
Most of the settlers were unhappy but more and more agreed to go, especially when the compensation for leaving their farms on Norfolk Island was increased and generous grants were made when they settled again in their new outpost of the Colony of New South Wales at Port Dalrymple or Hobart Town.
Rachel and Isaac had occasionally discussed together the merits of a move to Van Diemen’s Land or whether she and the children might be better to try to return to Port Jackson. “One thing’s for sure,” Isaac half joked, “I don't want to be stuck here and you off in Sydney Town with that bloke that got you duffed!”
They decided they would seek to delay a move for as long as possible but would eventually go south rather than east when the time came. Rachel was determined to plead a case for Isaac to come with them when they had to leave. She had several interviews with the commandant. However at each meeting it was unwaveringly clear that Isaac was going to stay a?prisoner for the rest of his life and that if he wasn't extremely well behaved at all times his commuted death sentence would be turned into a date at the gallows in very short order.
Isaac, for his part tried to show himself to be a model citizen. He worked hard in the forests felling trees and then labouring to get the fallen giants to the saw yard. There he used his ever deepening knowledge of timber to get the very best cuts from the trees to be used in meeting the burgeoning needs of the British Empire.
One day Isaac just disappeared. He went to work in the pine forest at the foot of Mount Pitt early one morning. Several tree felling parties were working together and they had all met for a short break mid-morning. Isaac had seemed his usual self in every way to those who had to testify later. Isaac had gone off to get some saw blades re-honed and never came back.
A search party had been hastily organised the next day when Rachel had reported that he hadn't come home the afternoon before.
It was a strange circumstance to lose someone on the island. In the early days convicts had tried to abscond and live rough in the unsettled parts but had always been found either dead or alive. Free men had sometimes gone missing but had always either turned up back at civilisation or had been found if they had somehow got themselves lost in the scrub or forests.
For several days search parties combed the island, without finding a trace of Isaac. His work tools, meal container and rough wool jersey were all still beside the tree he had half felled on the morning of his disappearance.
A meeting at the commandant’s office had accepted an idea that he had possibly fallen over a cliff on his way back to the settlement, although this required a stretch of the imagination that few could perform. To fall over the nearest cliff, Isaac would have had to have walked away from the direction of the settlement for more than a mile.
Searchers scoured the base of cliffs and edges of headlands for a full day without as much as a scrap of evidence being produced. The Lieutenant Governor was embarrassed that such a high profile ‘prisoner’ had disappeared so he relentlessly sought to have Isaac found. At one officer’s meeting one of the sergeants reported that one of the convicts had suggested that he had seen a figure like Isaac’s in profile, crouched and sneaking towards a whaler’s longboat that had called at Turtle Bay a day or two before Isaac disappeared.
The whaler had been searched but there was no sign of Isaac. The commandant favoured a view that Isaac had somehow fallen over a steep cliff and his broken body had been washed out to sea, devoured by the schools of thresher sharks that swarmed the currents. Others thought that he might have created a stash of food and supplies and might be hiding in one of the more remote valleys or forests. This was dismissed in derisory terms when even the dullest realised that, if he survived, he could not last there forever.
The commandant summoned Rachel to his office to interrogate her on what she knew. For her part Rachel answered truthfully that she had no idea where Isaac was. She kept their private conversations about his misgivings and long term possibilities to herself.
The children were initially distraught that their father had disappeared but over the following weeks Rachel's and the children's concern for his disappearance and their grief were gradually replaced by a matter-of-fact acceptance that whatever had happened to him they just had to get on with working the land each day and providing for themselves as best they could. Life became focussed on just doing the next thing that was required.
Late one night when Rachel was putting washing away in their bedroom dresser, Rachel realised that some of Isaac’s clothing was missing. “He must have taken them. So it was planned. He’s made some kind of escape. How did he do it?” she wondered, her mind puzzling at Isaac’s cleverness and his thoughtfulness in not disclosing details that might compromise her if pressured by the authorities.
She favoured the idea that he had either stowed away on one of the two small whalers that had called in on their way south to the killing fields below New Zealand. Or it just may have been that he had gone on the brig that was working its way up the eastern side of the continent to go to Hong Kong and then to San Francisco.
“Isaac could be anywhere in the Pacific Ocean now,” she wondered, for a moment allowing herself to wish she were with him. That’s assuming he is alive,” she mused as she finished putting the children's washing in the tub to do next day.
With six children now and no husband she had little time to think too much about Isaac’s whereabouts although she missed him achingly. Life was going to be hard, but she was resolved to make the best of whatever opportunities came along.
One chance was not long in coming. Isaac’s landholding had been separate from hers and she successfully petitioned the commandant to allow her to continue the lease for a nominal fee. She converted more of the small acreage to be able to raise pigs. From her own land she produced food for her family. Chickens thrived, so they had plenty of meat. But the best thing of all was that Isaac’s surplus land produced good crops of peas, corn and other delectables that the pigs loved to eat and they thrived.
Even before Isaac’s disappearance she had for a several years been producing enough pickled pork and live pigs to ship to Sydney at a handsome profit. Now she had more land she was able to add to her exports. She determined to save all that she could.
The responsibilities with the children meant that she had no leisure time for spending money other than an occasional tipple. She had never been a gambler, taking the view that money was too hard to come by to see it go on betting or smoking.
The children's needs were simple. They were well fed and adequately clothed. One of the wives of an officer started a class to teach convict and marines’ children and Rachel enthusiastically enrolled them as they turned of age. Although she could not read she was determined that her children could read. Rachel had a sense of numbers and was able to work her way through lists and figures. What she couldn't decipher she relied on the eldest children to help her with. She was not too proud to try to hide her lack of reading and writing skills. It was a fact and Rachel always operated her life from what the facts were.
She was not sentimental but she missed Isaac dreadfully, especially in the long silent hours of the late evening when the children were all in bed and she was sitting in the kitchen with only her longing for company.
“Where is he?” she would ask the room? “What is he up to? Is he with another woman already? Drowned? Harpooned?”
She knew she was wildly guessing and that it was hopeless to speculate. Instead she would talk herself out of these moody thoughts by hoping he was “OK,” trusting that he would return one day. In the meantime she just had to get on with creating the best life she could for herself and her children.
Another opportunity gradually began to present itself over the course of the next couple of years. The Colonial Secretary’s Office in London was becoming increasingly resolved to completely abandon Norfolk Island as a penal settlement, not just to run it down as they had been doing for the last few years. The worst convicts were now being shipped to Van Diemen’s Land rather than Norfolk Island. New penal settlements were being planned for the far recesses of the southern island, rumoured to be hell holes of deprivation and brutality. There was talk of establishing a west coast gaol to house the very worst criminals. The more tractable convicts were being assigned to emancipees and free landholders who were swarming to the countryside out from Hobart Town. They were making inroads from small settlements on the north and east coast too.
Convicts at Norfolk Island had no say on where they were sent, but emancipees had to be negotiated with. Rachel came to the view that she would go wherever the best chances for success presented themselves and she would extract the best deal she could. The land and lifestyle at Norfolk Island were good. She was making money from the pigs and poultry, keeping her children healthy and she was well regarded by her neighbours for her level-headedness and practical outlook.
Rachel decided that she would hold out at Norfolk Island at least for the time being. Isaac might come back to her there, although that was extremely unlikely. If he returned he would surely be hanged for having escaped while under sentence. He was inclined to be unpredictable and she couldn't put it past him to do something crazy like return under an alias with a disguise. Isaac had used four aliases at various stages in his earlier life, so another one might come very easily.
Rachel's profits kept mounting. One day the administrator visited her at her cottage. John Dunworth was a former marine clerk who had decided to stay on as a civil servant when his enlistment was up. He liked the colonial life, had a mistress here and a wife back in England, like many of the other marines and free civilians. He was good at clerical recording and minute taking for the commanding officer. Most important of all, he saw that his position could set him up for land grants.
After the usual cup of bush tea he announced that he had come to inform her that another major drive was going to occur to get settlers relocated to Van Diemen’s Land.
“But what about the value of the assets we have here?” she demanded.
The administrator cooed a soft reply: “Now, Rachel, you know that we will be compensating you for leaving the land. It will be a fair reward for moving and it will help you get established down south.”
“Yes, but what about the work Isaac and I put into building the cottage and the fencing and the sheds for the animals and for storage? What about all that work we've put in to clear the land at both acreages? What about my current crops and my herds of pigs and my flocks of fowls?”
“I will see what we can do,” Dunworth replied.
“Well I will be very grateful if you can help us make a good move,” Rachel replied, letting a couple of her old flirting tricks out of her kit. “I'd be ever so grateful she repeated,” batting her eyelids and looking demurely first to the floor and then up into his eyes directly.
Dunworth blustered a bit. He thought he might have a harem going if all the visits to all the landholders turned out as favourably as this one seemed to be going. With that thought, he put on his cap, bid Rachel goodbye with the most knowing smirk he could muster and toddled off down the path to the front gate.
“Got him!” Rachel breathed as she shut the front door of the cottage and then turned to the task of plucking and gutting one of the mutton birds she and the children had discovered and caught the day before on an outing to the cliffs.
By the time it was clear that they would have to leave in the next convoy, Rachel had negotiated compensation for as much as she possibly could. She had also squeezed the commandant through the good offices of the administrator, Dunworth, to add some extra payments for Isaac’s land as well. While not formally allowed, it had been justified on the basis of their common law marriage and in partial recognition of Rachel’s loss.
The “City of Edinburgh” sailed from Turtle Bay in September 1808. The parting was not sad. The children looked on it as an adventure. Most had never left the island in all their short lives. Rachel was seeing the future as one of more chances to get ahead for herself and the children. Although the authorities had initially told them they were all going to Port Dalrymple, she had no idea where they were actually going to end up.Once on board the destination was announced to be Hobart Town in the south of the island rather than Port Dalrymple on the north coast. Whatever the final destination, Rachel reasoned to herself that as a free woman and no longer a convict, it was up to her to determine if the land to be allotted her would be where they stayed in the longer term.
Rumours had circulated on the Island before they left that earlier settlers at Van Diemen’s Land had been allotted some dreadful land; marshy, or with poor soil or too close to the native people’s camps. Moving from where the new colonial government wanted her would not be easy but Rachel was resolved to deal with whatever she had to.
Each passenger leaving the “The Island” for the last time was allowed to bring most of their possessions including a few head of livestock. Most of Rachel's remaining animals had been slaughtered and sold for shipment to Sydney, at a final nett profit for her. Her farmhouse had been abandoned and was to be torn down by a convict work party once they were gone.
They had a few pieces of furniture, lots of hand-made clothes in a couple of sea chests, and a small trunk containing some carefully assembled mementoes and treasures. Isaac’s precious tools for carpentry and woodwork were wrapped in oil soaked rags and then bundled and tied in cloth bags. All of the possessions of each departing family were laboriously rowed out to the ship by lighters and manned by convicts who were either also departing the island or remaining for the demolition work.
The ten day journey south was mostly pleasant. The weather was kind for the first week. Her children all knew the other youngsters on board and Rachel had lots of time to chat with the mothers while they watched over their broods. From Rachel’s earlier sailing experiences she knew that sailors fall into two camps: either they love having children on board or they show their displeasure by ignoring them or being surly whenever they are around. She was relieved to see that this crew mostly fell into the first lot. The old tars enjoyed getting the children of all ages to haul and tie ropes as they were going about their ordinary duties. Some of the children showed a real aptitude for rope work and were soon tying off the ropes at the foot of the main mast, where the bosun could still keep an eye out and ensure that nothing endangered the safety of the ship.
In fair weather Rachel would spend long hours looking over the gunwale of the ship and out to sea, as she had done on several long voyages earlier in her life. Sometimes her older children would ease up beside her and ask what she was looking for or what she was thinking but
Rachel always fobbed them off with a vague reply or an errand to run. Soon they left her alone.
Rachel’s mind was always focussed on how she could make every circumstance and bit of knowledge work to the advantage of her family. Many of her fellow passengers just accepted their lot. They were either still convicts or emancipees who continued to rely on receiving government rations to survive. Rachel too was an emancipee but she was determined to rely on government stores as little as possible. She wanted to be self-sufficient and to make her own way. She saw that the whole convict system had many quite malevolent aspects to it that she did not want any bar of either for herself or her children.
At Church parades every Sunday for nearly half her life now, she had often heard governors, ministers, overseers or others preach justification as to why the Crown was forced to transport people from one side of the earth to the other, against their will, and to subject them to forced labour and violent punishments for the most trivial offences. All this was done, so she and the other convicts were repeatedly told, in the name of creating law and order.
Rachel saw it differently. She would not have engaged in prostitution as a teenage girl except for one vital fact. She was starving, had no family to support her and nowhere to sleep the night she first went with a man she had never seen before and did not even know by name. The money gave her a warm meal and a bed to sleep in without fear of violence in the dark watches before dawn. She would not have done what she did if she had had a job, could read and write or did not have to spend so much of each day struggling to keep safe, dry and warm. She had belonged to the class at the bottom of the heap in England. It was something she accepted as unchangeable but she was as determined as ever not to fall foul of the system in any way that would have her return to the situation she had struggled all her life to leave behind.
Rachel had seen time and again that the convict system was really about the exercise of power to protect the powerful. It seemed to be so important for those at the top, the so called “upper classes” to exalt themselves at the expense of others. It happened in the ways that they careered past lesser people on their horses or in their carriages. It showed up in their mansioned houses, their liveried servants and their great monuments and institutions, which were open to the mighty and the well-connected but denied to the masses of struggling poor who were just trying to stay alive.
But worse than all this, the convict system represented a way of thinking by the Crown and the ruling class. Whatever nation-building intent may have lain behind it, the main effect that she could see was to diminish the dignity and spirit of anyone not able to make a way for themselves or able to rely on family wealth and position. It was the ultimate means of control by those in power to stop those at the bottom of society, and even many in the middle classes, from being anything other than sources of labour. The whole construction of the convict?transportation scheme was designed to ensure that those of the lowest classes would not be able to cause any kind of social disruption or unrest that would threaten the privileges of those at the top.
This idea that whole segments of the population were deliberately being diminished occupied Rachel for many hours as she idly watched the dolphins surging through the water just off the ship’s bow or squinted at the following albatrosses wheeling to the stern in the afternoon sun. To the other passengers she looked to be almost dozing but inwardly her mind wheeled and surged like those graceful sea creatures below and behind her. She longed to create a future life for her family where they could be free of controls by others. “And,” she thought, with a touch of cleverness, “if I can use the system’s controls to my children’s advantage I will do just that!”
She now realised that she had emerged from convict service to be someone who wasn’t going to allow herself to be diminished by anyone or anything. No future relationship was going to have her cower in her own home. No government pettifoggers were going to control her natural capacities, especially after they arrived at their new home in Van Diemen’s Land. She had learned what was right and what was wrong in her thirty-something years of life. She accepted that there had to be rules for society to function peacefully. But there was no way, she told herself, that she was going to place herself or her family in any situation where she could not have the lion’s share in determining where they lived, what they ate, what occupations they pursued, what dreams they sought to fulfil.
Whatever happened to them in the next few years, she knew that she could not control her children as they got to adulthood. To seek to do so would make her as bad as those in authority she resented. All she could do was to have her children see from her own example what motivated her to build her family and succeed in this new world. She would often explain to them how they should live with high awareness of what was going on in the world and to make good choices about who they associated with and what they did in life.
By the time Rachel had sorted through these thoughts she felt refreshed and invigorated. She was ready to lead her family into the next chapter of their lives together and to make the best of whatever came their way.
She next began to do a mental stocktake, just as she had had to do regularly in her job in the stores at Norfolk Island. Firstly, she was alone, without Isaac. Whether he was dead or alive she did not really know but she held a deep trust, together with some private knowledge, that he had escaped the island somehow.
What was next? Of course, she had six children now. All healthy, reasonably intelligent and mostly well behaved. Not having a father around made it tough sometimes to manage the boys, particularly as they began to want to behave like grownups, but Rachel had learned?how to manage men and boys over many years. She had developed a quick tongue and a look that could cause even the most wayward child to stop in mid-sentence or mid-stride.
Then there were her finances. She had scrimped and saved all through her life on Norfolk Island. She had a grubstake totalling nearly 100 pounds; more than enough to get her established when they landed. So far as she could manage it, the money would be spent on capital; certainly not on fripperies and fancy frees. The children were adequately clothed but would need some new clothes for the cold and wet conditions they were heading towards. Fortunately her eldest daughters, Elizabeth, Mary and Catherine were developing good skills around the home and could knit, sew, stitch and even cobble. All of these skills, together with their growing knowledge of how to keep a house clean, to cook and to garden would make the girls very sought after for service or marriage in the months and years to come.
Lastly, as she stood at the ship’s prow looking south to towards their new life, Rachel indulged herself in imagining what the end of her life might be like. Like many women of the day, Rachel foresaw herself as an old woman surrounded by kith and kin, living comfortably in a warm, happy, well-provisioned home, departing at peace with the world and all in it. To have accomplished all this, to unshackle herself from her past and the strictures of all who would control her or diminish her would be a fine way to end her life The one niggling uncertainty in her dream of the end was whether Isaac formed a part of it.
Rachel turned from the bow and made her way stern-wards towards her hammock below decks. As she did so she noticed that the wind was at her back. “May it always be so,” she murmured with a contented and pensive sigh.
After a further few days sailing, mostly with a fair nor’easter to push them southwards, they saw their first glimpse of Van Diemen’s land.
With her six children clustered around her, Rachel watched as their ship at first sailed and then inched her way up an impressive bay, then into a harbour and finally into a cove. The land around them was forested, a deep green that reminded Rachel of England. Hugely tall trees rose above the lower canopy of jungle. All seven of them lifted their eyes to a lovely mountain that loomed over the small settlement they were approaching.
Sailors were bustling about, bringing in the sails and tying back the booms and jibs as they made ready to land. Her children were still amazed by the whales and seals they had seen on the journey up the bay. They had seen plenty at Norfolk Island but always out to sea. Here they were much closer. Families of the huge creatures were either swimming casually just out from their ship or frolicking inquisitively at the bow. They could count hundreds of seals sunning themselves on the rocks jutting out into the waters, evidently enjoying the glorious day.
The purity and unspoiled splendour of the countryside and seaways was immediately marred as they looked closer at the settlement. Clouds of blue smoke rose in pockets dotted along the escarpment. A cluster of tents and a few timber houses clung to the shore. Just as at Sydney Cove, what was so recently a clear flowing stream was already spewing brown water into this cove. There was no wharf to land at, so the vessel anchored close in and soon a cutter put out from the shore to board.
Rachel gasped as she saw a familiar figure. He was perched in the middle of the longboat looking interested in the newcomers. Judge Advocate Collins! What was he doing here? Why were the Marines deferring to him as if he was the Governor? She was soon to find out. As the party boarded, Rachel drew her children closer around her and kept towards the back of the crowd that had formed.
Collins boarded, was piped and saluted. His hand was shaken by Captain Caruthers and he was quickly escorted below decks.
Meanwhile the passengers and crew readied themselves to disembark. No-one could leave until given permission by the captain but eager sailors prepared the four longboats, anxious to get their charges ashore. Their motives were simple, if not pure: their bodies cried out with urges to see for themselves what delights the new settlement held for thirsty jack-tars. They had been surrounded by women for several weeks but longed to get much closer to girls who were more willing, if there were any to be had.
When their bags and parcels had been gathered together, Rachel shooed her brood into the shade of the main cabin to wait for the word to board the boats. She was bending over to straighten young Harriet’s grey woollen pinafore as the official party came on deck. Just as they came through the main cabin hatchway, Harriet’s straw doll fell on the timber deck and?one of the party bent to pick it up. As he did so, Collins looked straight into Rachel’s face. At first he merely glanced at her and nodded in a distracted way. Then his eyes returned and he quickly recognised her.
“Rachel? Rachel Hoddy?” he inquired as Rachel watched his mind go back all those years to Sydney Cove. “Why yes it is! It’s so good to see you. And are all these yours?” he asked as the children crushed closer to their mother.
“Yes, Your Excellency, they’re all mine and it is good of you to recognise me,” she stammered trying to appear composed but inwardly amazed that such a one as him would remember such a one as her. “Only now I am Mrs Williams and I have been a free settler for thirteen years.”
“They were dark days, were they not?” Collins asked, after duly acknowledging Rachel’s changed status on both counts. “Those first three years I often thought we would all die of starvation or plague,” Collins ruminated while all around him officers shuffled impatiently and the other passengers drew closer, anxious not to miss a word of what was going on. It was a strange sight to see a lower class woman who had no husband talking so knowingly to an upper class toff. Already the rumours were forming in some of the older women’s minds.
“Look, we need to get you all ashore,” Collins turned to the crowd. “Captain, you are free to unload your passengers and cargo.”
As the scene broke up, Collins lingered for just a moment as he went to climb down the side of the ship to his waiting boat. “Mrs Williams, please come and see me at Government House when you are landed. There are some things we need to discuss.” Rachel nodded, with a sense of alarm building in her chest as she herded the five girls and her boy into the next longboat.
She wondered what it was all about. Why Government House, unless he was the man in charge of the whole colony here? What did he want to raise with her? Was there something wrong with her emancipation papers? Had she bargained too hard for compensation on Norfolk Island and was going to lose her precious savings? Did Collins have news of Isaac? All these questions milled in her mind as she tried at the same time to appear calm, to take in the new settlement and to begin the process of working out where they were all going to live.
Standing on the shore for the first time in nearly two weeks, the family huddled together at first but already the children were eyeing off the urchins who were clustered around the docking area. They had never seen children like this before, since at Norfolk Island every child was closely managed all the time. Here the discipline seemed much more lax. Marines sloped about, half-heartedly ordering the newly arrived passengers to fall into untidy lines along the rough shoreline. Already the filth astounded Rachel and some of the other women as they exchanged glances and made muffled comments to each other. Dust rose in waves along the?track where they stood, sure to turn into sucking mud at the next rainstorm. Scraps of waste lay all about, and were being picked through by the waifs for anything of use or value.
“Where are we to stay?” called one of the few male passengers as he shrugged off a tug at his sleeve from his wife.
“Why, Sir, wherever you can damn well find!” came a sneering reply from a Marine Sergeant. “There’s no free housing here. We’ve hardly any supplies for His Majesty’s forces so you will have to get whatever you can, however you can.” Then as quickly as he had erupted, the Sergeant subsided and he muttered: “There are some canvas supplies available at the Government Store. You can make up tents but I advise you to get some more solid housing as soon as you can. Storms blow down from the mountain without an hour’s warning. The sleet can be as bad as in the old country but the wind is the coldest I’ve ever experienced.”
With that last comment he wandered off, as if the new arrivals were no more his concern than the urchins sneaking around the dispirited, straggly groups left on the shore.
“Well, I’m not having any of that,” Rachel thought to herself. Allocating as many bags and parcels to each of the children as they could manage, she led a procession along the track and headed for a newly built but very modest house on a rise, where she guessed she might find her benefactor.
Even at first sight there was a strangeness about Government House. Built less than four years previously, the glorified cottage was already showing signs of wear and tear as Rachel strode up the driveway to the front door. She was bemused that Collins was living in such straitened circumstances, not because she felt any great feeling for the man, but the whole façade of colonial rule seemed in disarray. For more than half her life, Rachel’s existence had been a shadow of what the forces behind the Crown thought and did. In the Old Bailey in London, she had been a mere pawn processed through an unforgiving and relentless system designed to rid her and people like her from acceptable society. Her stint on the hulks in the River Thames had shown her that her life was entirely expendable and at the whim of others holding power over whether she ate, slept, stayed dry, avoided violence and disease or not.
She had been forced into prostitution on the journey to New South Wales on the Lady Juliana, on the orders of her gaolers. In Sydney Cove she was a pair of hands, captive to the demands of the King’s Marines. On Norfolk Island every aspect of her life and that of her young family had been controlled by those in authority. Power was there to be exerted and flaunted. The Crown existed in her mind to show her and those of her class that they were nothing. All these trappings of authority were managed by ensuring that the government’s status was always in evidence in the better food, clothing, housing and public buildings that they enjoyed. Yet here was this decrepit building, little more than a rapidly decaying hovel, said to be occupied by one of the most powerful men in this half of the world.
“Maybe I have come to the wrong place,” she thought and was just about to turn on her heels when the front door opened and there was the great man himself.
“I saw you through the shutter,” Collins said, still holding a quill in his hands. Close behind him was a servant, looking flustered and alternatively servile and superior depending whether he had Collins’ or Rachel’s eye.
“Bring Mrs Williams through, Grimes,” Collins muttered to the factotum as he held the door open for Rachel to enter. Collins led the way into a dreary room, roughly lined with timber. Sack-like rugs lay on the floor. An escritoire and a couple of upholstered chairs were the only signs of the kind of civilisation Rachel knew Collins was accustomed to.
“It’s not much, is it?” Collins stated, as if to himself. “I’ve been here for four years and every day has been a struggle. No skilled workers to help build a proper township, limited provisions to help us get established, little or no support from my superiors. Then there are the skirmishing aborigines, the disease outbreaks, the horrendous terrain and the quarrelsome settlers to contend with,” he moaned and then quickly caught himself. “But you have just arrived and I need to encourage you and help you, because you and the other settlers from Norfolk Island are the best hope we have!”
“Well, sir,” Rachel replied, “I don’t know what to say. It certainly is a surprise to find you like this. But, it does seem like a wonderful site for a settlement. I didn’t want to leave Norfolk Island but since we were forced to I have resolved that I will do all I can to survive here. And if it is within my power, I and my family will prosper to whatever extent we can through our own efforts.”
“Is it just you and your children?” Collins inquired as he ushered Rachel to a chair and sat down himself. The children followed their mother’s quick glance to the floor when she had their attention and they obediently sat on the rough rugs and waited.
“Yes. My husband Isaac disappeared two years ago from Norfolk Island. No one knows what happened. He just vanished. We searched for him all over the island. Some of the authorities thought he may have stowed on board a whaler that was visiting at the time but no one can be sure. It was a terrible loss for me. I love him still and miss him every day.” Rachel looked down at her lap to gather her composure. Collins muttered something about dust on the table and Rachel picked up Harriet and put her on her knee.
When all seemed composed again, Collins asked: “Would you stay here tonight if we can make room? Despite appearances, this is the best residence in the settlement and it would allow time to get a temporary shelter built for you down in the quieter part of the village.”
“Why would you do such a generous thing for me above others?” Rachel asked, fearful that Collins’ embarrassed change of subject when they were talking of Isaac meant that he might be trying to soften a blow about something to do with Isaac that she did not yet know.
“Let’s say it’s for old times’ sake,” blustered Collins. “You know, when you came to the cottage at Sydney Cove and helped out you made the place seem better in some way.”
“I don’t know where this is leading,” Rachel thought quickly to herself. “Could he have taken a shine to me, all those years ago?”
As if to answer her unspoken thought, Collins said as graciously as he could, “You know I thought that fellow you walked out with around that headland at Sydney was pretty lucky. You were pretty then and you still are now and I am sure that you will make a success of whatever you choose to do here.” Collins rushed on: “Now that we have accommodation at least lined up, let’s get some rations sorted for you and the children.”
So, that first night in Hobart Town, Rachel and her children were guests of the Lieutenant Governor at Government House.
In the next few days, weeks and months, Rachel’s status as someone who was a friend of the Governor earned her lots of whispered rumours but also some begrudging courtesy from officials who knew that she had Collins’ ear if she needed it. She was very careful not to overplay her connection but used it wisely to ensure that the children got their fair share of rations?and a good enough spot to build a timber shack. It was completed with some requisitioned labour and the willing hands of Thomas, who was now 13 years old and growing to look more like his father every day.
Rachel never heard a word from Collins about Isaac. He did not seem to know anything of Isaac and seemed too busy with the problems of the settlement to even make enquiries in Sydney or further afield.
One afternoon in early autumn Rachel sat on a chair near her front door, soaking up the warmth before the evening chill set in. She was content. The strange Minister of the Church of England, The Reverend Robert Knopwood had started a Sunday school for children and adults and all her children were enrolled to attend. Knopwood was a gambler and drunk who had, according to the stories, once been wealthy but now was reduced to a government sinecure, looking after the oddly assorted flock on the other side of the world to where his favourite haunts and dalliances were. He had located a young woman who had arrived with a settler husband, learned that she could teach reading and some writing and had progressively lured her away from her husband’s needs to help him set up the school. Whether it went beyond that was a mystery that all speculated on but none knew for certain.
Rachel continued to consider her situation. She thought back to those first conversations with Collins in October when he boarded their ship and when he entertained her at Government House. Collins had talked of untrained labourers, warring aboriginals, insufficient provisions, sickness and illness among the population. How, she wondered, could she make an opportunity from all that? The answer came the next day.
Unbeknownst to Rachel, at the very earliest opportunity when the colony was established, some farmers had gone searching for good grazing and agricultural land away from the hilly surrounds of Hobart Town. Within a couple of days’ march they had located increasingly fertile land, well watered and lightly treed. Within a few months they had experimented with crops of wheat, barley and maize. At first the results were very promising then the next two crops failed abysmally but this last year had been good.
As Rachel bustled along the main track of the settlement past some rudimentary stores and shopfronts, she noticed a dray loaded with bags of grain. She boldly asked the driver if she could sweep up the grains of wheat that had fallen into the dray tray. He didn’t seem to care one way or another so Rachel took that as permission and quickly gathered a half pound of scrapings.
Back at home she shared the news of her small find with the children and during the evening hatched a plan to for the family to begin to learn about farming. Thomas was especially excited and the older girls, Elizabeth and Mary, could see that this was important to their mother so they tried to add what they could to the discussions.
Next day Rachel visited the commissariat. With a bit of bargaining, pleading and a vague reference to her friend the Lieutenant Governor, she obtained a temporary allocation of a small parcel of land near the back reaches of the creek along from their cottage. For a month or more she and the children, together with some other settlers, cut saplings, dug out rocks and hacked back underbrush until they had the makings of a small paddock to sow their first crop. It was a good time for winter wheat to be put in and before the first icy blasts came down from Table Mountain, the crop was harvested, threshed, bagged, transported and sold to the Government Store for a small but useful profit. Rachel’s career as a farmer had begun.
Over the next two years good crops, fattened cattle and first crops of fruit from new orchards began to lift the fortunes of the settlement. There were even sufficient surpluses to send to Sydney where crops had once again failed to meet the burgeoning needs of the colony there. Rachel maximised her profits by using her own family’s resources to keep their costs low. Slowly but surely the family’s savings increased.
Rachel had a plan in mind, which she shared with no other soul. As she sat on the front step each afternoon in good weather during the year 1809, she slowly developed a detailed scheme in her mind of the next steps she wanted to take in securing their place in the colony of Van Diemen’s Land. Over the course of the next two years she gradually got to the point where she was ready to make her move.
“The Governor has died!” cried Margaret Eddington as she rushed up the path to the door of Rachel’s cottage. Rachel was shocked and saddened but not grief-stricken by the news. Whilst Collins had been a great help to her in getting established, they were not of the same social class; there was no question of a romantic relationship between them. It was a relationship of no more than courteous and business-like dealings, albeit against the backdrop of their shared history so many years ago in Sydney Town. For Margaret Eddington it was a different situation altogether. Rachel held Collins’ paramour close to her, making a pot of precious tea as a special concession to Margaret’s grief and then sitting with her while she poured out her anxiety.
“He just died!” Margaret wailed. “I was in the other room while he sat in his study. I heard a noise like someone stumbling and when I went in there he was slumped over his desk, still holding his pen, with a vacant look in his eyes.”
“What will you and the children do now?” Rachel said as she tried to ease around to more practical matters. “Did he make any provision for you?”
“No!” Margaret wailed. “We couldn’t marry, because of his wife still being in England. And I heard just now that there was another like me in Sydney. I loved him in my own way but I never gave enough thought to something like this happening and damn me! Now I am high and dry with two extra mouths to feed. There is no way the authorities will recognise me nor will they help me. As soon as the funeral is over I’ll be out on the street.”
Rachel bustled around the room, talking plainly and with as much care as she could to the distraught woman. When she had calmed down, Rachel gathered Margaret up and walked her back to Government House. The body had been removed. Officials flustered about. Others gossiped in corners or engaged the Deputy Judge Advocate in conversation about the affairs of the colony. Governor or no Governor, the government must go on.
The next day the whole settlement turned out for the funeral. Over a thousand made up the congregation in the open air as the service was conducted. The Reverend Mr Knopwood announced that the body of the late Lieutenant Governor would be laid temporarily to rest but then moved to the site of the new Church to be built and named St David’s. All agreed the name would be a nice acknowledgement of the man who had struggled so much to get the colony established and onto a viable footing. Of course a church could never be named in honour of anyone other than a saint, but all realised that the most likely St David, the patron saint of Wales, had little or no connection with this far off outpost of the British Empire.
After the wake, Rachel went home and revised a few details of her plan. Collins’ death changed it a bit but she was still essentially on course.
Over the next 15 years Rachel achieved her dreams. As she strolled along Melville Street from her house one bright summer’s morning she paused at a new shop that had just opened.
“How amazing life is,” she wondered to herself as she looked over the offerings of fine porcelain in the small window. “Who'd have thought 15 years ago that I would be here, half a world away from my birthplace; married; (‘Oh! Where is Isaac?’ she interposed to herself); seeing my children each find their place in the world; enjoying having enough money to stand here thinking of buying another silly teapot!” she chuckled to herself.
“How amazing life is!” She repeated the thought again and glanced around the new streets in the new Town of Hobart. Even their names were new, after the push by Governor Macquarie some years ago to establish a civic presence. The new shops selling so many things she never could have dreamed of on Norfolk Island. The people! They were arriving steadily each month, hundreds sometimes in a single week. All were looking for a new start, a new shelter, a new pub to visit.
“That's where I have come into my own,” she smiled a touch smugly to herself. “That inn has been our launching pad. Money, work for the children, lots of valuable contacts, even some social acceptance,” she noted as a gentleman passer-by nodded his head politely and raised his trimbler hat.
Social standing was now a frequent preoccupation for Rachel. Had she stayed in England, her life was foreordained to penury. But here, in the space of these few years, new possibilities for security and happiness had opened up in ways she could never have dreamed of back then. A new environment such as this had created ways for ordinary folk such as she and her family to do things beyond merely selling their bodies or their labour. By using their heads and their contacts and by seizing the opportunities, they had all begun to move towards the middle class. “At least the lower end of it anyway,” she snorted to herself and ambled on down the street.
And there was some pressure in all this opportunity too, she reflected soberly. While all these immigrants represented openings to provide services at a profit, the release of new lands also changed the mix of newcomers. There were now three times as many free settlers as convicts and former convicts in the colony.
In the early years as a freed woman, Rachel had had a bit more status in Van Diemen’s Land than mere convicts. But then as freemen arrived they increasingly regarded convicts and emancipees as not much better than dirt. They had a commercial incentive to do so, besides their feelings of moral superiority and their innate desires to assert class distinctions. The free folk needed the convicts and those who had finished their sentences to stay poor and available as labour. Unlike the stories floating in with the new ships of vast estates opening up in Africa and the new American colonies, with teeming numbers of Negro slaves for labour, here in the colony of Van Diemen’s Land the taking of new lands from the aboriginals was?different. Success depended on having enough fit, strong, subservient and semi-skilled men to provide cover from the marauding blacks and to labour to clear and subjugate the land. Of course there was always a need for more women to be cooks, cleaners and housemaids.
Rachel had realised this early on. She had decided that she and her family would not get caught in a poverty trap like the one they would surely have been consigned to if they had ever returned to England. No thoughts of return ever occurred to her. This was where the future lay.
So, she had set about calling in favours, borrowing small sums, making her small stocks of capital work hard, working hard herself. With the help of James Templeman, she had found a good plot of land in Melville street. It was a natural thoroughfare for folk on the hills as they walked down to the docks, shops and rising merchants’ buildings.
The pre-existing ramshackle shack on the block was soon replaced with a pleasant timber and isinglass frontage. The new Horse and Groom Inn was close enough to the centre of town that it soon did a roaring trade in midday meals and drinks. And of course as they returned home of an evening the labourers, clerks and small-time merchants all needed an ale or two to fortify them for the uphill walk to home. Often city dwellers would come in the evening to drink and gossip. Those who were making good money in the pastoral lands would drop in too to quench their thirst for good ale and let off some steam.
It was on one of those evenings that Rachel's life took a real lurch.
Much earlier that same day, Rachel had been in Macquarie Street, accompanied by her daughter Elizabeth. They were marching out from a merchant’s warehouse where Rachel had just haggled over the price of new plates and mugs for the Inn. The street outside was full of wanderers and passersby. There were also folk about their business of making money and keeping appointments. Others were careering down the street to start work, to get ready for appearances before the magistrates, to settle bills and engage in all the hustle and bustle that made up the newly emerging mercantile life of Hobart Town.
As Rachel's foot touched the last step down from the warehouse onto the street, she bumped against an old man. They both quickly apologised to each other and went to move on. As she looked up, Rachel saw a face go by in profile. Her breath caught in her throat. She stumbled again as she peered after the departing head in the crowd. Was that Isaac? The face was older, but the eyes and complexion were Isaac’s. She watched his gait as he continued down the street and looked about to enter a shop. At that moment, the face turned and looked at her. Nothing by way of recognition passed between them, not a knowing look, a wink, a smile, a raised eyebrow or a slight bow. It was just a look but Rachel was sure. And then he was gone.
Elizabeth steadied Rachel as the blood ran to her boots. Thinking she was light-headed from the bump with the old man, Rachel was steered into a nearby teashop and made to sit. Her mind whirled, her breathing remained laboured and her heart pumped furiously. Was it him?
“It must have been,” she thought to herself as Elizabeth bustled about her mother, ordering tea and buttered bread for two. “Why didn't he stop? Where had he come from? Was he sick? He had looked in the picture of good health and had been well dressed as a man able to make his own way in the world would. Maybe he didn't want to see me.” She slumped forward.
“Are you alright, mother?” Elizabeth fussed as she pushed the tea things away and leaned forward to loosen Rachel's bonnet and remove her shawl.
“Why yes, I'm fine,” Rachel told Elizabeth as she made to recover and restore her normal demeanour as best she could. “I just got a shock at seeing someone in the distance,” she confided to her eldest daughter.
“Who was it, mother, that would give you such a turn,” Elizabeth asked, only half interested as she concentrated her attention on making her mother comfortable.
“I saw your father!” Rachel let out and straight away regretted it.
“Father! Are you sure?”
“That's just the thing; I am not. It looked so like him even after all these years but I just don't know.”
“Where did he go?”
“Into the shop across the road.”
“I'll go and see myself. You rest here.”
Before Rachel could say a word, Elizabeth had weaved through the passing traffic and entered the shop. She was gone only a couple of minutes before she returned.
“Just three old men,” said Elizabeth as she slumped onto a chair.
“Would you know him?” Rachel asked.
“Mum, those men were ancient. None of them could have been father.”
“Perhaps he works there and went through to the back,” thought Rachel as she sipped her tea.
Thoughts, memories and longings flooded back and over her as the years rolled away. They stood together again on the cliffs at Norfolk Island watching a new day dawn before that fateful day when Isaac had disappeared.
All that day Rachel was distracted by her thoughts of Isaac, whether it was really him and if she could locate him.
She did not have long to wait.
That night Rachel had decided to stay on at the Horse and Groom to look after the evening trade. She had been so distracted by the earlier events of the day that she knew she still had work to do to catch up and keep the Inn in good shape.
Coming from behind the bar she moved across the main room, collecting mugs, taking an order from a favourite customer, returning stools under the tables. In a far dark corner she almost did not see the lone man sitting nursing a mug with his head down, reading a newspaper. Having seen him now, she noticed that the fellow still had some beer left in the mug and made to move on when he said to her, just above a whisper: “Hello, my dear.”
Rachel fainted. Patrons rushed. Staff fussed. Family was called. Rachel was lifted into a back room. After a few minutes, she came round and made to get up but young John, Elizabeth's husband, held a meaty plasterer’s hand to her shoulder. “Don't you move!” he intoned as severely as he felt he could get away with to his mother-in-law. “You've a bruise the size of an egg on your noggin where you hit the floor like a nine pin, mother.”
“I've got to get up,” she struggled.
“It's no use, he's gone.”
“What! Do you know who it was?”
“Don't talk; everything will be alright,” John replied.
John left the room and returned a few minutes later with a trap driver shuffling behind him. Together they raised Rachel upright and half carried her to the small carriage waiting outside the main door. John got in besides his mother-in-law and lightly held her hand as the horse pulled them up Elizabeth Street towards their new cottage further along the ridge.
“Do you know?” began Rachel excitedly. “Do you?”
John squeezed Rachel's hand and motioned with his head towards the driver. “Sshh.”
In ten minutes they were at home. A small light burned in Rachel's bedroom for an hour more and then all was quiet.
The next day Rachel ambled around the cottage and garden all morning before going down to the Inn. She seemed to be absent-minded, to the maid. Gladys dismissed it as being due to the events of the night before and bustled about as usual. She was bemused at seeing her mistress paying close attention to the flowers and looking out over the view more than she had ever seen her do in all the years she had been Rachel's servant.
Rachel quickly returned to her normal self. Nothing more was said about the incident.
But in the evenings when everyone else had retired to bed, Rachel's bed light could be seen from the street long after every other house was dark.
One night Gladys, from her maid’s room out behind the kitchen, thought she heard a gasp and a stifled laugh. “Should I get up,” she wondered, “or am I imagining ghosts?”
“Go to sleep, girl,” she told herself and rolled over in bed.
In 1825 Rachel presided over the family at the marriage of her second youngest daughter, Catherine. She made a gracious matron as the happy families and friends assembled in the grounds of St David's Church for the wedding ceremony. All went off well. It was the custom at the time for the marriage register to be signed in the church but Rachel had asked for the signing to take place in the rector’s vestry.
As the wedding party filed into the office, the bride and groom signed and witness signatures were added. Rachel had never learned to write and added her mark below a signature already in place for the bride’s father. Catherine looked queryingly up at her mother who sublimely ignored her and carried on without any comment or even an indication that she had seen the signature too.
And so it continued for some years yet.
At first it was just a headache and what seemed to be a mild fever. She had had good health all her life and avoided all the life-threatening illnesses that had taken so many of her friends, and even members of her extended family. The fever was like nothing she and ever experienced before but she paid it no special attention and it eventually passed.
The family was becoming larger every year now with grownup children marrying beaus and sweethearts, grandchildren tumbling out at first sporadically but now at a bubbling rate, much like the headwaters of the Derwent River that passed through the expanding town.
Her sense of continual tiredness, plus the odd strong headache became worse but Rachel soldiered on, as mothers and grandmothers do.
Gradually it got to the point where she had one of her very few days in bed, rising for a short while to sit and sip tea with a little brandy. As she sat on the bench at the front of the cottage she recalled sitting on the step of her old cottage back in Norfolk Island
What a life she had had! And still there was much to be done and experienced. Every day was the beginning of something new in this new place on the other side of the earth from where she began. It was still exciting to think about all these grandchildren and to watch grow them up. Surely they would keep her young for many years to come.
Just then the attack hit her. It came on from nowhere; stabbing, violent, aching pain. Rachel slumped to the ground in a paroxysm of fright and agony. Her breath came in sobs; her head felt like it would explode and then just as quickly it was over. She was left with a sense of eerie quiet, with little squeaking noises going off in her head and flashes of light before her eyes, like skyrockets. Her next thought was that she must be dead but in another few seconds she opened her eyes. She could still see and feel her body rising and falling to the intake and outrush of her laboured breathing.
John came along the street on his way home from work, saw her from a way off and began to run with a fury. He yelled for the maid at the back of the house and together they lifted her inside and into her bed in the front room.
“Run for the doctor,” he called to the maid as she came back in to the room with a towel and basin. “Quick, go!”
“It's alright, John. I’ll be fine in a minute.”
“Sure, sure, to be sure,” he murmured as he packed in some cushions behind her head and lifted her while she sipped some water.
After an hour of rest Rachel was feeling as if the worst was over and while she knew she was weak and something serious had happened, she confidently expected to be right as rain again in no time.
The doctor, Brake, soon put paid to Rachel's self-diagnosis. “Rachel we've known one another for many years now so I won't gild the lily with you. You have had a brain attack and it's?going to take you well before you want to die. I can't tell you how long you have but you should prepare as if it will be sooner rather than later.”
“You know, Hanibel, I was thinking just as this thing came on, how much more I have to live for, how each day something new is happening here and how much enjoyment there is in it all. And even as we are talking I can see that every minute is indeed precious.”
Dr. Brake examined her, noting the tell-tale weakness in her right arm and the slight slump at the side of her mouth.
Rachel mumbled her thanks as the physician left the bedroom.
“She won't last long, I am sorry to say,” he whispered to John. “There's nothing I can do now, so just keep her comfortable as best you can. I have had a couple of patients in my career who have staged miraculous recoveries. Some have carried on for quite some time. For most, though, it comes to an end soon after the first attack. I can put her in the hospital but I think she will be happier here, at least for the time being.” With that he pocketed the coins John offered, raised his hat and ambled off down the road.
The next few days were idyllic for Rachel. She was quite comfortable, lacked for nothing and for the first time in her life enjoyed a kind of holiday, where family members looked after her every need. Many came to sit by her bed to chat and gossip. Grandchildren performed ditties and skits at the foot of the bed.
One morning Rachel woke with a new sense of calm. She was aware of how eternal the present moment is, a moment of unimaginable possibility that moulded itself into the next moment and the next. Each second was one to be made the most or the least of. Every sense in her body was alive and aware at a new level. She felt euphoric as she lay calmly, eyes gently closed, breathing quietly, listening to the sounds of the house and the street outside. It was warm and the sun poked through a gap in the curtain to beam rays of speckled light on to her bedcovers. “What a moment!” she thought, “What a life.”
Gladys, the maid came in just then and noticed Rachel breathe out and turned to take the glass of water on the table. She didn't realise that it had been Rachel's last breath. There was no indication of death at all. Rachel's life just came to an end. When Gladys turned back with the water, she saw the unseeing eyes, the motionless chest, the slight gap between Rachel’s lips.
The maid, being prone to drama and strife, would have ordinarily felt compelled to cry out and run screaming from the room. But the peace on Rachel's face calmed her. She gently adjusted the sheet and smoothed the cover, patted her hair and went to find the family.
The funeral was brief, with many of Hobart Town’s original and newer residents there to see Rachel off.
The wake was a triumph. “Just what Rachel would have liked to have been at herself,” many said in their cups at the end of the long day.
“The last will and testament of Rachel Hoddy Williams,” the lawyer intoned to the family who were stuffed into his chambers in Macquarie Street. In the nearly quarter of a century that Rachel had lived in Hobart, she had gathered a significant amount of wealth, which now became a legacy to her children. There were several properties, houses full of goods and chattels and financial matters for the family to note and work through for over an hour, with advice from the lawyer. Rachel had made certain that all her family was catered for as best she could.
As a close knit group, there were quiet acknowledgements of her thoughtful generosity and no disputes or outbursts. The whole estate could be wrapped up quickly with little chance of delays in granting probate. All present sighed their collective and individual relief.
“Well, that was Rachel's will,” said William Williams’ wife to John Collins, her brother-inlaw.
“Well, it was part of it,” he replied.
“What do you mean?” Rachel’s youngest child, William asked as John put his hat on and they stepped out of the gloomy front office, into the light of the street and the noise of the carts and the other traffic.
“Come on William. Think, man. Rachel's will was much more than that.” And with that quiet comment he strode off down the pavement towards the Horse and Groom Inn in Melville Street once more.