Spotlight: NORFOLK ISLAND RIOTS —Slaughter of Human Beings

Citizen (Sydney, NSW : 1846 – 1847), Saturday 31 October 1846, page 4



We have been recently favoured with important intelligence from this Island, and as it is but rarely any of the doings of that unhappy spot reach the public ear or eye, we are glad to have it in our power to communicate an account of the late proceedings, upon which our readers may rely; and a more melancholy one can scarcely be imagined. The following is a correct account of the late transactions, and of the incentives, which terminated in so frightful and fatal a tragedy:

From a state of really quiet obedience, the island from the time the prisoners (who are not slow to appreciate character) began to perceive the weakness of the Superintendent, fell into a gradually increasing state of insubordination. Some of the prisoners cringed, others plotted, and more bullied him. It would occupy too much time to tell of the progressive steps by which the total insubordination of the convicts, and the disorganization of all system were brought about.

Mutinous disturbances began towards the close of last year. The ration of the prisoners has always been notoriously bad at Norfolk Island — throughout the year they have salt beef and maize meal only; so that but for the indulgence (always allowed them) of growing a few sweet potatoes in plots of ground marked out for their use, and cultivated by them on Saturday afternoons, their fare would have been positively destructive of life (as it often proved to newly-arrived prisoners.) On the 1st January a public order was posted stating that all their garden plots were to be taken from them. Then the prisoners refused to work unless some equivalent were given them; and to appease them half a pint of peas was promised to each man daily. At the end of four days the peas were said to be all issued, and there was another row. The Superintendent next promised they should have 8 oz. of 12-per-cent. flour served out in lieu of the peas. To add to this unhappy state of things the resident Police Magistrate was appointed from Van Diemen’s Land, who soon rendered himself an object of vengeance: flogging became general and furious — from 500 to nearly 2000 lashes would be inflicted of a morning, until the ground about the triangles was literally soaked with human blood. Matters daily grew worse.

About the first June the store of flour was reported to be nearly exhausted, and the 8 oz. was discontinued. The men became more clamorous than ever. By an order published in May, ’45, it was announced that, the gardens being no longer allowed, 2 lbs. of sweet potatoes should form part of the daily ration to each prisoner. During 14 months this order was hanging up before all eyes at every part of the island; the men read it, and repeatedly demanded their allowance of vegetables, which was still promised but withheld from them. When at last they became clamorous and furious, they were told it had been determined by a board that 2 oz. of salt pork was equivalent to 8 oz. of flour! (the ration issued instead of peas), and that this would be given to them instead of the potatoes, to which they were entitled. It is impossible to conceive the state of mind in which the men were described to be in at this time — goaded to the point of madness, they were fit for any desperate deed, and the deed was soon effected. Ever since the time of Major Anderson the prisoners were allowed a tin vessel to each mess, to cook their vegetables in; these, at the suggestion of the stipendary magsitrate, were to be taken away from them; and at the same time with an order announcing that the long-expected 2 lb. of potatoes would be issued, it was added that on the evening before the 1st July all their kettles would be seized. When all the prisoners were shut up in their wards, except the few attending school, the police went into the lumber-yard and took away all the obnoxious kettles, and everything belonging to the prisoners which they could find. At this time “Jackey Jackey” (William Westwood, notorious in this colony) was sitting in school, about seven o’clock, when a hand-cart came rattling into the barrack-yard, and a crash of tin vessels was heard. Jackey was busy in the intricacies of a sum at the moment, when he suddenly paused — lifted up his hand, held it elevated for a few seconds, as if list-ning and hesitating — then dashed down the pencil — pushed the slate off the table violently, and deliberately folding his arms, as if he had made up his mind, remained in deep thought the rest of the evening. Every man done likewise, and sat whispering until the school broke up. The following morning the men were all mustered for prayers, and during the service a murmuring sound was heard passing from bench to bench. It has since been thought that this was a signal for the slaughter of the officers present, but nothing of the kind was attempted then. After prayers all hands went to the lumber-yard, and finding the tins gone, they paused a moment, and marched back again, five or six deep to the barrack-yard in perfect silence, broke into the store, took out every vessel in it, and returned in the same manner to the lumber-yard. As they approached Jackey Jackey addressed his followers in a speech. “Now my men,” said he, “I’ve made up my mind to bear this oppression no longer; but remember, I’m going to the gallows; if any man, therefore, funks, let him stand out of the way. Come on!” — A loud cheer was here raised by his desperate followers. Morris, a policeman, was in the archway, Jackey Jackey with an immense bludgeon, others with sticks, one man with a reaping-hook, another with a pitchfork, rushed upon the uphappy man and knocked him down; he struggled and got into the room behind him; Jackey followed him, and beat his head to pieces. The men, made furious by the taste of blood, then proceeded to the cook house, where Stephen Smith, the police runner, was; the murderous villain rushed on him also, when poor Smith, who was formerly much liked by the prisoners, cried piteously, “for God’s sake, don’t hurt me, Jackey! Remember my poor wife and children !” “D — n your wife and children” was the horrible reply, accompanied by a blow which beat in poor Smith’s eye and the side of his face. The poor fellow’s shrieks for help were terrific, but in a second or two his cries were over for ever! From the cook-house, they proceeded towards the police-house at the barrack gate. At the corner of the road, Price, overseer of work, and a man named Ingram, were standing. Jackey made a furious rush at Price, aiming a deadly blow at him, but Price stooped and the blow fell upon Ingram, nearly killing him. The mob came rushing on with such violence that Jackey was pushed forward, and Price escaped, he knows not how, and ran for the police. The great object of the mob at this time seems to have been to seize the stipendary magistrate, Mr. Barrow, who sat at six in the morning to try cases; but on this morning he was on a board of survey, and so escaped. The beach guard, seeing the mob approaching, advanced, and forming near the gaol drove the rioters back. They then ran towards Government House, and on their way there, Westwood (Jackey) stopped at the lime-kiln, and entered the hut there with an axe which he had by this time obtained. Two policemen, Dinon and Saxton, were in bed; the former was actually asleep, when the cowardly villain smashed his skull by a blow of the axe, and Saxton only opened his eyes to see his death-blow fall from the hand of the same monster; the wounds were most appalling ones: the walls of the room were spattered with blood and brains. Westwood, after this atrocity, coolly lighted his pipe, and after a few puffs, shouted out “Now for the Christ-killer” and a cry was immediately raised — “To Barrow’s, to Barrow’s.” Happily the alarm given by Price had roused the military who were now under arms, and came running down the Water-road, when the rioters instantly retreated to the Lumber-yard, Westwood loudly denouncing their cowardice. The place was surrounded, and after much difficulty all the ringleaders were seized, and ahout sixty left to be tried by a Special Court of Criminal Sessions. So rests for the present this fearful tragedy — unparalleled heartless atrocity. — ‘Herald.’

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