‘The horrors of transportation’ (1842)

The following piece of history was recorded in the News Letter during this week in 1842, the report had arrived at the newspaper’s office in Belfast via the Assizes Court at Waterford which was held on July 15 of that year.

By Darryl Armitage
Thursday, 28th July 2022, 1:48 pm

It detailed - Stephen Nash was arraigned for returning from transportation before his term was up. The prisoner pleaded guilty, and added a most impressive and remarkable detail of the “horrors of transportation”.

He said he was put to work in a dockyard gang of labourers and because he would not join in a plan to rise and escape, he was not sure of his life for a minute - “his mind was miserable, and he preferred death to remaining there any longer”.

He determined to escape at any risk, and he made his way to a vessel, by swimming. He told the captain that he ran away from a man of war, in consequence of which the captain would not take him.

The city of Waterford

He was then backwards and forwards three weeks on the beach and swimming to the vessel through water that was full of sharks - “one day hungry and another day thirsty” - the vessel was a mile and three quarters from the shore, and his only food was a musty biscuit and an odd muscle that he found on the beach.

He told the Assizes that at the place where he was at work if a man was only found with a bit of tobacco in his mouth, he was taken out, tied under a triangle and given fifty lashes.

As for Norfolk Island he said he could call it “nothing but the island of Sodom and Gomorrah”.

“My Lord,” he told the Assizes in piteous terms, amidst great sensation in court, “have mercy on me - I care not for my body, but for my soul - and I would as soon have you pass sentence of death upon me as send me again to New South Wales.” Commenting, the judge said: “I really feel most distressed, but, I believe I am left with no discretion.”

To which Nash said: “Oh, my Lord do not send me back.”

The judge replied: “I wish to God that the unhappy people who are putting themselves into circumstances that make it necessary to send them to where you came from, knew what you and others like you had to suffer.

“It always gives me a degree of pain nearly equal to what I feel in pronouncing the capital sentence of death, when it is my duty to send people to that rigorous country.

“I feel this pain not alone on account of the pain to their feelings - the anguish of being torn from their family and country, but on account of the dreadful fate that sentence of transportation is - of the frightful punishment and suffering that awaits them, of which you have had experience.”

The judge concluded: “I wish to God they heard you here this day, and taking warning from your statement, would avoid crime in future.”

The prisoner was then removed from the bar, still imploring mercy.

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