Moreton Bay (I)
DESCRIPTION: The singer meets a prisoner. The prisoner, an Irish transportee, describes the various prisons he has been in, ending with Moreton Bay, which had no equal for harshness. He rejoices at the death of the sadistic commander, Captain Logan
EARLIEST DATE: 1879 (quoted the "Jerilderie Letter" of Ned Kelly; see Hughes, p. 444)
KEYWORDS: abuse prison transportation injury Australia
1824-1842 - Period during which Moreton Bay served as a prison colony
1830 - Murder of Captain Patrick Logan by an aborigine
FOUND IN: Australia Britain(England(South))
REFERENCES (7 citations):
Fahey-Eureka, pp. 38-39, "Moreton Bay" (1 text, 1 tune)
Manifold-PASB, pp. 16-18, "Moreton Bay" (1 text, 2 tunes)
Paterson/Fahey/Seal, pp. 52-54, "Moreton Bay" (1 text)
AndersonStory, pp. 13-14, "Moreton Bay" (1 text, 1 tune)
VaughanWilliams/Palmer, #114, "The Convict's Lamentation" (1 text, 1 tune)
ADDITIONAL: Robert Hughes, _The Fatal Shore: The epic of Australia's founding_, Knopf, 1986, pp. 443-444 (1 text)
NOTES [1306 words]: "Between his arrival at Moreton Bay and his violent death there four years later, Logan became a legend among the convicts -- so much so that he was the only commandant of an Australian penal station to have a whole ballad dedicated to him" (Hughes, p. 443). Specifically this song, which Hughes quotes in full.
Logan (1792-1830) was a Scotsman who joined the 57th Regiment in 1810, coming to Australia in 1825 (Hughes, p. 445).
Learmonth, p. 321, says that "Little is known of the true personality of this hated commander except through official reports and the tales of flogging and escapes, and bitter ballads made by his convict charges whom he disciplined strictly and with some brutality." Hughes believe that Logan's brutal regiment was shaped by the experience of the British army, which -- being composed mostly of those who could find no other work -- was controlled largely by the lash.
Hughes, p. 446, reports that "Although the punishment registers for Moreton Bay in Logan's time are lost, it seems clear that Logan habitually worked prisoners in irons, whatever their sentences. He was also a relentless flogger. One sample record... show[s] that from February to October 1828, Logan ordered 200 floggings, for a total of 11,100 lashes."
Few reports of what was going on escaped the colony, since prisoners could not escape and Logan had to endorse any papers that were sent out. It has been speculated that what reports did reach the world were actually leaks intended to make people fear transfer to Moreton Bay (Hughes, p. 447). But at last a manuscript by Thomas Matthew emerged detailing the brutalities (Hughes, p. 449) -- and Logan's caprice in applying them.
Paterson/Fahey/Seal notes that, during Logan's tenure as commander of Moreton Bay, the death rate among the prisoners exceeded ten percent per year; there was a time when it exceeded 3% per month (cf. Hughes, p. 4460. This is not entirely Logan's fault; there was a famine and an epidemic at the time. On the other hand, a pretty good way to kill a sick man is to flog him unmercifully. No wonder prisoners celebrated his death!
Eventually Logan was ordered to India, but he stayed at Moreton Bay for some time to show his successor the ropes (Hughes, p. 450) and to testify to the state of things in Queensland. While waiting for the call to testify, he did some exploring, and was waylaid (Hughes, pp. 450-451).
Moreton Bay is located in what is now southern Queensland. The penal colony there was founded in 1824 (though relocated slightly in 1825), and deliberately placed far away from the settled areas of Australia. Moreton Bay was intended for "doubly convicted felons," and it was thought that its remoteness would make it more secure.
Governor Brisbane, who gave his name to the local river and to the town which later arose on the site, wrote that "Port Macquarie [is] for first grave offenses [in Australia], Moreton Bay for runaways from the former, and Norfolk Island as the *ne plus ultra" (Hughes, p. 461).
This policy of "security through distance" didn't work; squatters were settling near Moreton Bay by 1840. In 1842, the government gave in and opened the area to settlement.
The list of settlements the prisoner has inhabited seems unlikely. For one thing, Norfolk Island should have been his last stop -- unless he had been on Norfolk Island in its first incarnation. But the island was closed in 1814 and not reopened until 1825, when it was determined that Moreton Bay was not sufficient to handle the die-hards (Clark, p. 54). And convicts sent there were not allowed to leave for at least ten years!
In addition, Norfolk Island (in both its incarnations) was as bad as Moreton Bay (the death rate was prodigious; some men received over a thousand lashes a year, and the most common reason for murders was that men would do anything to be sent to Sydney for trial). In one of those interesting folklore links, the governor of Norfolk Island in 1846 was John Price, who "became a byword for cruelty" (Alexander, p. 163). He was the husband of Mary Franklin, one of Sir John Franklin's nieces (Alexander, p. 161). Among his other crimes, Alexander thinks he was an abusive husband. Little wonder he cared little for the convicts.
Interestingly, like Captain Logan, he was murdered for his behavior. A mob of convicts attacked him in 1857, injuring him so severely that he died (Alexander, pp. 163-164).
Of the other sites mentioned:
Toongabbie is one of the farming areas near Sydney, and (despite being called "cursed Toongabbie") was said to be the easiest, not the worst, of the settlements.
Castle Hill probably refers to Newcastle (which was so called because it was near a Castle Hill); founded in 1821, it was another place destined for incorrigibles, but was close enough to Sydney that it didn't last long.
The reference to Moreton Bay as part of New South Wales as correct at the time; although it is now in Queensland, all the settled regions of Australia, save Van Diemen's Land, were initially called "New South Wales," and Queensland did not become a separate territory until 1859.
The reference to men dying of starvation in Moreton Bay also has its truth; the British were incredibly inept about organizing colonies, and prison colonies were the worst; they didn't even allow plows to till the soil. A crop failure in 1828/1829 caused Logan to cut the minimal rations in half. He also kept prisoners in irons whatever their punishment status; this can only have lowered their productivity
A "triangle" was actually a tetrahedron, three sticks lashed together from which a man was hung to be flogged.
Logan (1792-1830) was assigned to Moreton Bay in 1826, and since he was judge, jury, and tribune, no word came out for some time; Governor Darling (who succeeded Brisbane in 1825) wanted it that way. But eventually a prisoner was brought to Sydney for trial, and though he was hanged, a manuscript he left behind revealed some of the truth.
Logan was assigned to other duties, outside Australia, in 1830. But he stayed on for a time to show his successor the ways of the colony.
During this period, Logan did some private exploration. On one such trip, he became separated from his party. His body was eventually found, partly buried; the physical evidence seemed to indicate that an aborigine had killed him. (Relations with the local natives had turned bad almost instantly, and they killed any intruders they could.) But there isn't much doubt that most of his prisoners would have murdered him given the slightest opportunity.
As with most such historical figures, there have been attempts to whitewash him (see Hughes, p. 444). The attempts strike me as ludicrous. Possibly he would have been a decent man in another job; perhaps he thought what he was doing was necessary. That does not make him less a sadist, brute, and fool, nor does it make Moreton Bay any less of a concentration camp.
Paterson/Fahey/Seal notes that this song is usually attributed to Francis Macnamara, but observes that other authors have also been suggested. Similarly Davey/Seal, pp.128, 178, 191, who credit it to "Frank the Poet," another name for Macnamara (an Irishman born in 1811 and transported in 1832).
Davey/Seal, p. 192, give the text of the relevant part of the Jerilderie Letter, thought to be the earliest citation of the song:
...[they] were doomed to Port McQaurie Toweringabbie Norfolk island and Emu plains and in those places of tyranny and condemnation many a blooming Irishman rather than subdue to the Saxon yoke were flogged to death and bravely died in servile chains....
The resemblance to the standard text of "Moreton Bay" is obvious; literary dependence is almost certain. How many of the differences are the result of oral tradition, and how much the result of Ned Kelly's illiteracy, is less clear. - RBW
Last updated in version 4.2
- Alexander: Alison Alexander, The Ambitions of Jane Franklin, Victorian Lady Adventurer, Allen & Unwin, 2013
- Clark: Manning Clark, A Short History of Australia, Penguin, 1963; fourth edition, 1995
- Davey/Seal: Gwenda Beed Davey and Graham Seal, A Guide to Australian Folklore, Kangaroo Press, 2003
- Hughes: Robert Hughes, The Fatal Shore: The Epic of Australia's founding, Knopf, 1986
- Learmonth: Andrew and Nancy Learmonth, Encyclopedia of Australia, 2nd edition, Warne & Co, 1973
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