Spotlight: Melville’s Defence and Charges Against the Convict Superintendent (1857)

Perth Gazette and Independent Journal of Politics and News (WA : 1848 – 1864), Friday 30 January 1857, page 4


The great interest which the trial of Melville has excited in Victoria, and the astounding character of his statements, induce us to give his defence at length —

Gentlemen of the Jury — It is now necessary that I should take you by the hand, and lead you step by step through all the circumstances (commencing a considerable time ago) which have at last placed me in the position in which I now stand before you. From the first I have been the victim of a system of irritation and espionage. I was put under the hands of a doubly and trebly convicted felon — a man named Graham — who tried everything in his power to abuse, ill-use, and exasperate me, and make me insubordinate, that he might reap the reward of appearing more vigilant and meritorious than others by reporting me to his superiors. On more than one occasion he even laid his hands on me, and on one occasion violently pushed me. I seized him, not with violence or with a blow, but to complain of him; and instantly I was clutched by 12 able-bodied men, who dragged me, stuck me, beat me with bludgeons, leaped on me, trampled on me, and, dragged me by the heels to a dungeon, five feet, six inches by two feet, and one foot six inches. They handcuffed me, hoisted me up to, and fixed me, so as, to leave me on but the tips of my toes, and in this position of torture they held me for five day and six nights. They brought my food to the door within my sight to tempt me; but nothing passed my lips, The prisoners, my companions in confinement, men hardened to ill-usage cried out for me. They petitioned for me, and when unsuccessful on my behalf, they groaned, yelled, and howled to show their abomination of the treatment to which I was submitted. They even threatened to release me. These horrible noises were maintained for half an hour. The prisoners said they would liberate me themselves, and the guards feared and retreated. The prisoners lifted their soil tube, weighing twenty or thirty pounds, and with them beat against the door for twenty minutes making marks half an inch deep. .The authorities thought it prudent to make a concession, and they let me down; but it was only that they might get the prisoners safely stowed, for as soon as that was done they hung me up again. They propped me with supports placed under me, and there I remained twenty days. I was sent to a cell. For two years I remained where I never saw the sun rise or set — a cell six feet six inches by three feet three inches, and 10 feet high, with but one aperture of six inches for ventilation and light. Here I was kept with my body almost naked, exposed to the cold beams, and heavily ironed. Within hearing of obscene conversation and horrible imprecations, I remained without moral or religious help. I asked for books to beguile my weary hours, they were most brutally refused. One of them who so refused me said malignantly that he did know that I should ever get a book. A Presbyterian minister came to me, and offered me consolations, and he pressed my petition for books; but they were still refused. I saw him but once in two months. His occupations at last required him elsewhere, and he at last left.

Graham gets my own companiod [sic], the man transported with me, into his plots. They plant their spies — they make other men their tools. Among them is a superfine villian [sic], William Pitt. This man concerts a plan — he lays a scheme — he has a stratagem to make a target of the bodies of 13 of his fellow men, that he may get his own liberty for merit. I was fortunate enough to pick up a note which hinted his plans to me. From that note I guessed they were concocting my ruin, slowly, stealthily, but surely. From that note it appeared they calculated “it would all fall on the captain’s shoulders.” They had watched the minister on board, and observed the kind interest he took in me, and I overheard one of them whisper to the other, “One flat and one flat makes two flats.” I pricked my ears, and was on my guard, and said to myself, ‘Two flats and one flat make three flats.’ They found means, in spite of the regulations, to communicate constantly, but I was aware of them. After a time they gained over 15 or 20 men, including, as they supposed, myself, and the word was passed that I was “quite well,” meaning that I was willing. This man so ingratiated himself into all their good graces that he obtained their confidence perfectly; in fact, they at last regarded him as their demigod. But I knew the character of the man, for he had robbed me his companion; and I knew he would betray for his own gain. One word was passed — “there’s a push coming off.” I said to the man who told me so, “If it takes place when I am in my cell, it’s no good to me.” One question, was pointedly put to me, “Will you be in it?” I answered, “I have looked at it, and see no good in it; such a thing may be, but I don’t know the men, and therefore cannot advise it; nevertheless, if it comes off, I dare say I shall be somewhere about;” and I go on to say, “You take to that old man and leave the man that’s armed to me to deal with him.” Well, the thing goes on; they think I’m like a barracouta that will bite every rock in pursuit of freedom, and they therefore feel sure that I’ll be “there.” The morning comes; this traitor is not in the post where he ought to be — he seems to be giving the opportunity required. But I look at his eye closely; I look again, and see that his sword is newly sharpened, and that he has two pistols in place of one. My suspicions are confirmed. He is pretendedly drawn away; I hear the word passed, “Tell Frank to collar the old bloke.” That was to be the beginning, but it was not done; and they wait for me to begin. Desmond pretends to search me; I pass on; I see treachery in features which nobody suspects but myself: I go to wash, and return to be searched. The watch steps back, and I say, ” Mr.——, will you be so good as to give me a rub down” [the action of searching]. He says, “I am poorly this morning.” I say, “If you are never worse, there will be little ailing you in ——” Instead of acting as they have plotted for me, I walk off, and the are taken aback. Presently, seeing themselves outwitted, a multitude of warders start from their places of concealment on board with arms in their hands, and the chief warder says, “Its a good job for you it didn’t come of, for you see we were ready for you.” I tell all the prisoners what is the real case, and thus the scoundrels is exposed to them, and defeated of his promotion; at least, gentlemen, he is defeated for that time. Some six months after this, Greenfield, a Van Diemen’s Land constable and detective, comes among us. He gets the confidence of the other prisoners. After a time he says it will be better to have another “shracking” a display of remonstrance by hisses, groans, &c.], to bring our state under the notice of the authorities, I dissuade. He presses again and again; and then I suspect. After a time I found it was about to come to pass, and again I am to be the victim. What am I to do in this dilemma? I saw twenty or thirty men who are about to do a thing that can only worsen their position, and will most likely increase the severities practised on them; if I oppose, there are those among them who will say that I wish to get favour with the authorities; if I join with them, I make their condition worse. E [sic] man is yut [sic] in heavy irons in “the box:” if he is not taken out of “the box” it is to take place. I warn the authorities, without going into particulars, that if that man is taken out of the box it will be better for the subordination of the prisoners; if not there will be trouble. On this I am myself put in heavy irons in a box two feet by one foot two inches, and that is done to me for endeavouring to do good and to prevent evil. Patrick Sullivan comes on board the hulk. He makes a complaint about his food, and gets into an altercation with Cameron, which ends in his being, struck two blows. He returns blows, and is instantly beset, knocked down and jumped upon. His prison dress is torn off in the scuffle, and he is dragged out naked, and thrown into a cell like a dog. He is sickly and diseased; this treatment confirms his illness, and he dies. The day before his death he petitions to be liberated; but the overseer who is set over him, tells him —”If you’re too ill to work tell the doctor that; but while under me you shall work. I’m no doctor, but a working overseer, and, by God, so long as you are under me I’ll make you work.” His disease is of a scrofulous nature, and he is discharging from more than one place. His fellow-prisoners pity him, and remonstrate on his behalf. He petitions again, and ten of the men remonstrate again, and the overseer at last lets him off. Next morning, at the breakfast table, he died. (Sensation) Another man, a soldier of the —th regiment, a man who has fought the battles of his country, and has afterwards in this colony yielded to the attractions of the gold fields and deserted, is refractory. They put him in “the box;” there they drench him with water. He is furious and frantic. They put him in “the bath,” where the sea rushes in upon him. The man then becomes cranky. He is changed to the Success hulk. There the officers do not know him, and it is all gone over again. In the Success, the sea always comes in in rough weather. He cries out against his cell, and says he has a right to be put in another one, as long as there is a dry one in the ship. He raises a great disturbance at his grievances. For this they beat him, and put him in another cell, less, and wetter, and more miserable. He continues his outcry. Mr. Gardiner comes and beats him. They cut his head in three places. They gag him. He moans, and makes a stifled sound. Mr. Gardiner gives him blows again. They pour water into his mouth above the gag, and over his nostrils. He is then tried and sentenced — months of heavier punishment. There sits, under the Judge, Dr. Wilkins, the humane doctor, who had to take that poor cranky being out of his cell before half his sentence was out to save his life by wine, and diet, and indulgences. But it is too late — he dies! (A thrill of horror testified by audible murmurs throughout the Court). Another man devised a new plan of escape, but fails in carrying it out. he digs himself a grave, and, his companions cover him up. But it is ill-done; he is missed; search is made, and his place is discovered. Some of the warders beat him so cruelly that a warder — a man of no kind feeling — has to interfere, and say that he’ll report them if they go on. He is brought in — Mr. Gardiner turns to him and says — “Why don’t you run, that I may have a shot at you?” Irons weighing 40lbs are placed upon him, and at last he becomes one of the prisoners you have now to try. Eockey [sic] had some irons weighing 28lbs for two years; he prayed for lighter irons, and had heavier ones put upon him. Duncan remonstrated against the continuance of irons upon him after the time which they ought to remain on him, and then he had his irons continued and increased. Duncan was a man of bad temper, and I certainly think of very little sense; perhaps it may be allowed that be was a troublesome man; he is pushed, irritated, till he breaks out; and for that he gets solitary confinement in heavy irons for twelve months. He is put to the pump; one of his superiors considers that he is shrinking his work there, and says to him he’ll see if he can’t get more work out of him, which leads to words between them. He is up for insolence; they resort to violence with him; he scuffles, and they drive him headlong down a ladder fifteen feet long, and set at an angle of about thirty degrees, and then down a second ladder. At the bottom of that they beat him and jump on him. Another man sees what is going on, and does something which they will not have. They call him out; he will not come out to be served as he had seen the other served. They drag him out, they beat him, throw him down, and jump on him. They then take him up and try him; and they give him two years’ extension of his punishment. What has all this to do with me here? Gentlemen, I have, read the regulations of Norfolk Island, under which the worst criminals are placed who come from England. Twelve months of ——, then six years of ——, and then a ticket-of-leave, under which those men who are deemed the worst have the means, by good conduct and merit under their sentences, of enjoying a certain degree of liberty. Gentlemen, that system is a paradise to our case. The prisoners who come out from England there are gentlemen compared with prisoners in Victoria, and are the consequences of the system, as you see them in me any my companions, who will follow in this place. Better than those of the system of Norfolk Island and Sydney! In Sydney the men are allowed to go free one hundred miles into the bush while, I get twelve months where I never see the sun rise or set. For good conduct I am put in a cell, where I am compelled to break a pot for a reflector to increase the light to read. To preserve my health and life in this weary system I have endeavored to take exercise by making for myself a system of gymnastics, which I have regularly gone through. In this cell there was so little room to move, that I was only able to take a massive bolt, and work as if I were in the act of sawing. I appeal against my position, and I am put down on the lower deck. After a time, for good conduct, I am let out to work. I am even allowed to go and break stones. There I am put into the go-cart, and am made to drag that through mud over the ankles. I ask if I may not cut stone for mason-work. A man in authority says I may do so, as he has the intention to place me under the water, to work there at foundations as a diver. I say that I will only go to reduce my sentence one half. I thought it no great favor, after never seeing the sun for two years, that for good conduct I should only be allowed, by working all the hours of the day under water, able to reduce my time from 28 years to 14. Again you will ask me what has all this got to do with the charge that is now before you? Why this shows you that the prisoners are by the treatment they meet with brought to that state of mind that they will, seize upon anything for freedom. And, gentlemen, you can easily see that having so many years of captivity before me, they all actually think that I will be willing and ready for any attempt. In me you see a man, however, who would scorn to tell a lie even to save his life; but I have on premier motives. I never was a murderer or a ruffian, though I have been a robber. I have been branded, as a robber. I have robbed; I allow that, and I suffer for it; but no living being can say that ever I did a cruel or cowardly action; and if I had twenty necks to lose for this cowardly crime with which I am charged, and if all of them were to be broken for this crime, they would not atone for it. It is not to save my life that I desire, for at the best it is most likely that I shall finish my existence in a gaol. What, then, is the true statement of my share in what happened at the murder of Owen Owens. I was down towards the wharf, and see a crowd of men at the light-house. A man points out two cutters, lying convenient, with sails spread; and he says, “There is a chance for liberty; there is a strong fair wind; we must take one of those cutters, and, if we can, escape in it.” I see instantly how the case stands. I see the constables in one direction; I see the ships with armed wardens on the other side. But I see that, with the wind then blowing, if we get those cutters, we are out of fire in three minutes. I know that if there is any attempt to escape I shall be the mark for every bullet fired. I see the chances are nine to one against me, but I instantly resolve I go on board the launch with the intention not to kill a man, but to hold up my own body as a special mark for the aim of hired murderers, in hopes of liberty. In the launch I see the men hesitate to haul up the tow-boat till we were advanced about 200 yards. I think Mr. Jackson is not wrong there; we were too far. At last we haul up the tow-boat. I think I was about the first into it; and I held her on while others entered. Mr. Jackson then says that I and another knocked him overboard; he tells a lie. I certainly should have done it if necessary for our object, but I did not, for he was not there to make it necessary. Nor did I “push,” or, as he afterwards says, ”hold” him under. It’s an arrant lie; I am incapable of it; but I pass that with contempt. I saw the deceased stowed away in a passive position. We got under way. I heard Hyland cry out to the warders to fire. I stood up, and said to him, ” Good-bye,” as much as to say, “do your worst.” The wind was blowing hard that day, and the management of our boat was bungled; she got foul of the towing warp, and could not cross it and head towards the cutters laying under sail; we abandoned that purpose, and went “about” in hopes of rowing off dawn wind and tide. I heard the fire, and said, “Now they are delivering their murderous volley!” Immediately after I saw one of my companions lying down. I said, ” Get up Dick; this is no time for cowardice or slinking.” He said, “I can’t, I’ve got two balls in me” I saw the blood coming out of him, and said, “Oh, if you are hit, I’ll do all I can for you;” and I look off my cap, and dipped it m the sea, and put it to his wound to stop the bleeding. While so engaged I heard the boy Macdonald (who was at the bow-oar, double-bank with another), cry out, “Oh, my God!” or some such words. I turned round and saw the second blow struck at Owen Owens by Stevens. Presently he said, “I’ve done it. I prefer this,” and he dived overboard. The police were then coming up with us fast, and sooner than be captured again that man gave up his life. I appeal to men who certainly would not be the most willing to speak in favour of one whom they may consider has done much towards sacrificing themselves. The whole of their evidence will point to the man who was the most likely to have done this deed. We are taken back and placed in dungeons. I was put in irons which are called 36-pound irons, but which I should certainly say weighed 40 pounds. We do not know how the case is to appear against us at the inquest. The inquest is held on the Deborah (hulk). The witnesses are examined in one room and we are in another. I am called in once. We are committed without being allowed to hear the evidence. I hear that I am the man who is to be charged with striking the blow. I send for the visiting magistrate and the clergyman. I told him I was not the man, and that it would be better for him to test the truth of that by examining all the prisoners successively. Barker, and some other witnesses at the inquest, have stated, in the presence of the Inspector and others, that I was not the man. I appeal to have the depositions of these witnesses, and to have subpoenas for these men, but get no redress. At last, when I come here I appeal to Mr. Farie, the Sheriff, and he immediately grants me everything I am entitled to have. I was allowed to subpoena witnesses. But how am I to do that? I am in a dungeon shut out from the world. No kind friend comes to me — no man who knows the truth says to himself, “It’s a lie, and I will come forward to testify to the truth;” so I am left without help. But I for some of the very men who were employed shortly before in shooting at me, and for the men on the launch, who did not join in the attempt at escape, but who may have suffered severely on account of these occurrences; for I say to myself some of these men will speak the truth, and the truth is all I want. I send also for Pavey, and for all other man, whose evidence I hear was in my favour, and one of them spoke in direct opposition to Jackson (the first witness for the Crown at this trial), and also for a warder that has been dismissed because he “would not stand to see men shot like dogs.” But some of these, as I have said, are dismissed, and gone where I cannot find them; others have leave of absence given to them, and those I cannot bring forward. Two of the warders are out of the way. With regard to my defence, I said that I knew none of the gentlemen at the bar, and I had been so long shut out from the world that I had neither friends nor finances to engage counsel for me. I know it was most likely I should fail in defending myself, but I must attempt it. I was told that many gentlemen of the bar would willingly take up my case to distinguish themselves, and at last — said he would write to Mr. Ireland. Things were dilatory; and at last I was told counsel are engaged. Still I am unable to bring forth the warders. I am informed in the hulks that three copies of the depositions at the inquest have been sent to me; but two only have come to us. I suspected that the other copy would be used to our disadvantage, in concocting and agreeing upon a case against us, and I pressed for the third copy; but I am answered that I am only cavilling, and we are all enjoined strictly that the two copies must be left out of our cells each night, I again make an appeal for the witnesses, but am told that one is dismissed. I ask Hyland what he is dismissed for and he barks in my face like a native wild dog, and asks me what business is that of mine. I say to that most respectable person that it is business of mine, for that the man who has not feared to incur the displeasure of his superiors by saying that he would “not stand by and see men shot like dogs,” will not fear to speak the truth now, and the truth is all I want. And so, gentlemen, I am left without witnesses and without counsel for my defence. And what, gentlemen, is there left for me to struggle for? A life such as I have lately lived is valueless to me, and my only motive now to struggle is to clear myself from the charge of this cowardly, this dastardly crime — for I say that to take the life of a man when there are ten to one against him, and he is in a passive position, would have been the crime of cowards. The men who are now charged with this crime were not guilty of it, and if they suffer for it they are judicially murdered. It is not the Judge nor the Jury who now try them that will be responsible; their duty is to fulfil their oaths according to the evidence before them; and if that evidence costs us our lives, it is those who make this evidence who are our murderers.

The prisoner then adverted to the paragraphs which lately appeared in a newspaper, describing a pretended attempt of Melville to escape, by changing his dress with a Roman Catholic priest. He read the paragraph with bitter emphasis, and with striking comments on each sentence. We have heard Mr. Farie, the Sheriff, state that the whole affair is a pure invention, not even founded upon one fact. Having finished the paragraph. Melville went on generally in reference to it thus — What does the insertion of such an article as this in the papers mean, when we come to recollect that officers of the Government, and of the departments write in the press? It appeals to a religious sentiment, and arouses a religious, prejudice; the most sensitive of all prejudices — the most easy to make and the most difficult to remove. And it was to work secretly; for where I was shut up from the world they judged it would never come to my ears in a dungeon, but would act as a slow, secret, and insidious poison in the minds of a large portion of the public, from which the Jurymen to try me would be chosen. Gentlemen, I never was a coward, and I feel nothing out the meanness of convicting myself in the judgment of the public by any such an act as that. When I die I will not die by my own hands, but will die as a man and as a Christian; and to have done such a thing as that would have been signing my own death-warrant. I see that as the case has been laid before you, the evidence is calculated to convict me. But can you not see the motive and spirit of that case? On the other hand, can you not see the motive of the case which I wish to prove to you by the evidence which I would lay before you in my favour, if I had the liberty to do it. If you can question the motive of a man who would call on the men hired to shoot him to death, on other men who saw all, and have no motive to speak in his favour but only the motive of speaking the truth, and on others who are also the men to stand their trial for the same crime I have done. I must submit to die, and I shall be happy to leave a life where no justice can be done to me. I call Heaven to witness that the others, like myself, mere spectators: and I say that if you take the evidence of men who saw me only now and then, and then only among a crowd of others, who on this occasion were at a great distance, and who differ from each other in their accounts, although they have had every opportunity of agreeing on their case, and if you do not receive the evidence of men who have known me intimately, and my every action, for years, and who were on the spot, then I complain of the law, but yet submit to my fate. But if I remove the impression from the minds of the public, I am content to he a martyr. I complain not of the Jury nor the Judge, but of the witnesses, who are my judicial murderers, and who sacrifice me to keep up appearances, and conceal the works which they have carried on for so long a time. I can forgive the Judge and Jury, and, like Steyhen [sic], ask pardon for them. Gentlemen, I forgive you; the fault is not yours, but theirs who bring me here * * *

You cannot see so clearly as I can that the evidence for the Crown shows combination and concoction. As I stand before God, I say to you that I can see that the evidence is made up to agree.

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