I am resting now, in a quiet place under the Southern Cross and it’s a peaceful time. It wasna’ so peaceful during my life but it was fun I had, my bonny lasses and me. I have a want to tell you my story, as sorry and as sunny as it was. So listen up, and hear my tale. It’s an Australian tale, tho’ it wasna’ Australia then. No, back then it was the harsh penal colonies and Van Diemen’s Land for me. It was said to be the land of the giants… and aye… that’s what it was. It was the trees that was the giants tho’ and we little understood it at the time.
I lived under the rule of the cat’ and the lash for many a year. Under the harsh and unjust English colonial rule you would say. But to me, just a young man really, it was an adventure the like of which you may never know. I survived and raised my kin and kind. It was not like the times you will know at all. They were wild and strange times for all, that many of us wore the chains. But I had good times in’t all the same. Though many dinnar’ have such a time to look back on. Many of the masters were cruel to convict and native alike and some were worked like animals and fed even less. Captain Wood though, he was fair he was.
I was born a wee lad in Scotland in 1808, a bonny boy my Gran’ would say and it was she that raised me then. By 10 yrs of age I was working in the cotton mills like many a small lad scrambling beneath the whir of the looms but when I grew too big my Uncle took me to train as a painter. Times were hard then in Glasgow and thieving was rife, it was the only way many got to live and even to eat a crust in their day. Yes I turned to stealing clothes over the harsh winters, me and me mates. It does you no good this thieving and by 17yrs I was sentenced for the term of my natural life, to be transported across the seas with me mate to Van Diemens Land.
I came over the sea’s in one of the dark and damp hulks and I learned then to hate the sea. Winter it was and I never saw summer that year. It was the coldest year of me life 1825 and when I arrived in this strange land I was assigned over to Captain Wood as I was a good strong lad even then. Captain Wood… he ‘ad taken up land in Dennistoun, near Bothwell high on the plateau of the central lands of Van Diemens Land. It was the end of the Earth I thought then and that is was too, wild as it be then. It was said that there was nothing beyond the wild seas to the south but the endless winter. It was untamed and as wild a place as you ever did know in this strange upside down land. With heathen dark tribes ranging afoot that wore little but skins on there backs. Those who would spear you as soon as eat you… aye and they did that too. There are strange seasons and plants, strange animals to hunt and eat and even stranger ways to live. You took your life in your hands just tending to the sheep you did.
It was there that I met me Annie, a bonny little lass, a freeborn Scots woman she was and we both worked for Captain Wood. She was only 17 when we married and she died that same year. She had lived at Bothwell and was indentured by her marm’ as a servant girl, then abandoned to the likes of this land when she was barely a child of 10yrs, her and her older sister Margaret. She died in childbed and was survived by my son, my only son, young Tim.
Aye… what does a convict man in servitude do with a motherless son, a babe in arms? I was able to keep him with me for a time. It was his Aunt Meg who helped us then. When a fine looking lass Peggy later was assigned to the homestead as a convict servant it was easier for a time. She was sent out at just 14yrs and dinna’ have such a good time of it. There were but a few women back then an’ she was amongst the first women convicts to this isle as the end of the Earth. Aye.. she was a game as they come though and gave them a run fer’ their troubles.
Tim, my lad was an adventurous boy, brazen and game as they come. Too much for me to handle and with no means of supporting him I had to surrender him to the orphanage in Hobart Town. I was lucky to have kept him with me so long. He was there for six long years and was lucky to survive. Many of the kids died young, wasting away, failing to thrive as they did and it was no wonder, the stolen children of convicts and maids with none to love them as they should. Convicts couldna’ keep their kids by their side in these times. Ya’ couldna’ work they said and most of the freeborn children of convicts died in these cold places. My Peggy lost her babe this way too and she never forgot either.
Peggy and I, we wed a year later after little Tim had been taken down to Hobart Town and when I was granted my conditional pardon in 1839 we took the young lad back in with us. Peggy was given her pardon a year later. Once I had gained my ticket, a grant of ‘freedom by servitude’ I was able to work around the district on the high plateau. Work for myself and my family, and work I did for near ten years.
Peggy… agh my Peggy was a fine woman. As raw as the gentle Annie had been sweet. Peggy, now she was a bit of a strumpet really but I loved the woman none the less and she was faithful in her own way. Together we raised the young lad and one of our own until he was of an age to step away for the world of the convict and be a free man. You gotta understand that in Van Diemens Land then… a man… well he was never to be free of the English. It was an isle full of convicts, old lags and English masters back then and each week I had to report to the police barracks for the rest of me life. Aye… that was the convicts lot.
You was never really free there and the only path to freedom was on the mainland, across the Tasman Sea and I was no lover of seafaring. We sent young Tim away to his mother’s people along the Hunter River near Sydney Town as soon as he was of an age and it was a long time before I saw him again. He was after all a freeman born and he deserved the privileges of that. Aye… a man grown he was and with a babe of his own then, when I finally saw him again. Young and strong, a fine man as wild as he be, there was no stopping the boy. A currency kid and with a fine strong woman, it was enough to warm my heart.
Peggy and I, well we had heard of the treasure of gold to be found around Ballaarat in 1851 and with the kids full grown it was time for us to leave. We found our freedom in the end at Beaufort, a small settlement near the gold fields in Victoria and with all the trouble at Bendigo and Ballaarat and the Rebellion in 1854 it was best we settle a bit away from the place. Peter Lalor, aye he was a good man, a leader of men in the Eureka stockade and a fine politician he made too. He was one of the best… not like those ponce’ English convict masters.
Peggy and me… well we made a right good life of it in Beaufort. We both enjoyed the wages of our gold and I died happily drunk. Peggy… well she sorta fell outa bed one night and dinna get up off the floor, the poor woman. We lay together at Beaufort still and it is a fine place to rest on the side of the hill overlooking what you lot have made of our world.
I hope you enjoy the land we built… it be like none other on this Earth, as young as it is and as old as the many timeless secrets it keep.
This is a fictional construct, knitted together with facts and events in the life of Campbell Roy. I would like to thank the family researchers Janelle Quitman & Jill Roy for their inspiration.
You can read more true life studies under the tab “Flash Fiction”. There you will find Martha Roy’s story, she is the young wife of Tim.