Friday, 23 August 2013

Not your usual bushranger

Tom Roberts' Bailed Up, one of the clichéd
items that is trotted out far too often.
I think I have already mentioned my dissatisfaction with print publishers at the moment.  They are slow and nervous, like penguins on the edge of an ice floe, waiting for some penguin to jump in first, to test the waters for sea leopards, lurking under the ice.  They stand there, they get cold feet, and they do nothing.

So I am jumping in.

I have something like fifty print books to my name, published over 40 years, but I am getting on, and I want to say a few things before I get too old and boring.  So I have gathered up all my research notes, and come up with 27 titles that I may well write.  Probably 20 of them will get done, and if they sell for $40 each, I will get $4, eventually.

I plan to publish them all as e-books, as a series, with titles starting Not Your Usual...  First cab off the rank is to be Not Your Usual Bushrangers, and it is an attempt to get away from the usual five or six.  That one is definitely suited to the curriculum. Some of the others will be less so, but they will all be packed with good yarns, and links to more information.

And I am publishing them myself, as e-books, through the Australian Society of Authors, which does the hosting and marketing for a 20% commission. They will be in mobi, epub and pdf formats, with no DRM,and the ASA is working on a way of selling site licences to school libraries.  I can sell for $5 and still get $4 each time, and much faster.  They will have ISBNs, and I will be open to print publishers picking up any of the titles. If they don't, I am hoping to put a dent in their sales, and make them match me in the e-book game.

If others follow suit, my initiative might just be a game-changer, but my plan relies heavily on the honesty of ordinary people. I will have more to say about this on a dedicated page on my writing site.

Moondyne Joe: after his
escape, he dressed himself
in marsupial skins
Now about those bushrangers: is it not more interesting to read of Moondyne Joe, who once escaped from gaol, dressed only in his flannel drawers, and who was later pardoned for his crimes by the governor because he was such a good escaper?  Or would you rather read of callous thugs?  The simple fact of the matter is that bushrangers were almost as common as bushflies and more of a nuisance, but most of the detail is buried.

I will have to deal with the career of the Kelly Gang briefly, but only to show how they were defeated by technology. Hall, Gilbert, Dunn, Morgan, Gardiner, Moonlite and Thunderbolt are all overdone, unlike Sam Poo, the Chinese bushranger, and Black Caesar, our first-ever bushranger (except the ones in January 1788, who are there as well).

Anyhow, here's a sample, the tale of a rogue who never did anybody any harm (except, perhaps, himself and a naval lieutenant who probably deserved what he got).  I need to add here that in the book, this follows on from the tale of one William Page who was hanged for his crimes.

The whole idea is to inject some new life into an area of discourse which is sadly stultified.  If others pinch my ideas, I will have won.  That's what writing is about, really: changing and enlivening the content!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The life and death of diver Fitzgerald

Almost as soon as there were newspapers in Sydney (or at least that have survived until today), people knew about John Fitzgerald who, along with John Taylor received corporal punishment (a flogging). Fitzgerald got his "stripes" for insolence to a Superintendent, while Taylor's whipping was for disobedience of orders. Back in 1803, nobody bothered to record in print how many lashes the two men took. Lashing was an everyday thing.

In January 1806, Fitzgerald fled from a gaol gang. The next day, Henry Kable's farm at Long Cove was robbed of clothes, food, a handsaw and a musket. A man who looked like Fitzgerald was seen nearby, and people drew their own conclusions.

On the following day, somebody robbed William Page's favourite target, John Harris, but Fitzgerald was soon captured. He promised to behave, was given a pardon for those offences—and immediately bolted once more. On January 25, he had been caught again. The magistrate ordered that he receive 300 lashes, and work in irons after that.

Although it wasn't mentioned in the report, Fitzgerald was sent to King's Town (which is now Newcastle). True to form, before long, he had escaped, together with one Bartholomew Foley. They made their way back to Sydney, where they were caught again in May. Their punishment: 300 lashes, and Fitzgerald was also ordered to work in the gaol gang, which meant he had fewer chances to escape.

In June 1808, he was on the loose again, as one of a gang of five "bolters", but as he was not one of the ring-leaders, Fitzgerald got off with a mere 200 lashes when he was caught. Was he downhearted? Far from it: in April 1809, he was posted again as an absentee.

He was taken again in August 1811, but in July 1812, he was back in the newspapers after he and Bartholomew Foley escaped from the brig Lady Nelson, while being carried to Port Dalrymple, near Launceston. In 1814, a reward of £10 was offered for his capture, and he was described in these terms "John Fitzgerald, a Prisoner of the Crown, and now a Runaway Bush-Ranger, [who] stands charged with divers Felonies and Misdemeanors..."

The reward was still being offered in April, 1815, but he must have been caught soon after that, because the reward advertisements ceased. Still, whatever happened, he was loose again in January 1816. He was still posted as missing in June 1816, after which he disappeared from the public record until his death in 1817. At some point, he must have been arrested yet again.
On Wednesday last John Fitzgerald, a character well known in the colony for a number of years past, was accidentally drowned abreast the King's Wharf. The body has not yet been found. 
The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, Saturday 27 September 1817, 2, http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/2177483
A week later, there came a longer report in the Gazette which gave a different picture of Fitzgerald. He was, said, the paper, a simpleton of no real wickedness. He was a man who had taken his punishment without reacting very much, and his thefts were minor, more to do with surviving than anything else.

He just got restless, and took off, said the reporter. Proof was offered for the view that the man was simple: whenever he was captured, there was no need to interrogate him, because he would happily tell all the details of his crimes, they said.

They also say there are none so blind as those who will not see. Fitzgerald was an Irishman from County Cork, and the southern Irish knew how to pretend to be simple. They used to do it deliberately as a way of making fools of their English overlords who always fell for their acts. Indeed, this is why people tell "Irish jokes", even today.

Perhaps we should keep that in mind for the next few paragraphs, because if Fitzgerald was truly simple, how did he manage to escape so often? When I could see no evidence that his body was ever found after he was apparently drowned, I began to wonder if he had really died.

Fitzgerald was "the best diver in the Colony", so when the anchor of the brig Endeavour became snagged at her moorings, he was sent down to sort the problem out. He examined the situation and reported that the anchor was caught up with two others that had obviously been abandoned by earlier ships. By now, he said, he was determined to fix the problem, and dived down again with an extra rope so the Endeavour's anchor could be pulled free.

Fitzgerald had been known to stay down for three and a half minutes. After four minutes, he was seen on the surface some distance away from the boat, but he sank again, and never seen again. 
(The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, Saturday 4 October 1817, 3, http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/2177497/493520)
And that was the end of Fitzgerald—or was it?  Most of this sort of history is driven by the newspaper records, because those are easily searchable with a computer. That was how I found that in 1825, a John Fitzgerald and a Bartholomew Foley were each sentenced to receive 300 lashes each, and sent to the gaol gang.

It began to look to me as if Fitzgerald  might have surfaced from his dive, took a deep breath before diving again, to swim under a wharf and hide. It was quite possible that if he had pulled a trick, his later recapture might have just failed to make the papers, as other arrests had done.

The name John Fitzgerald was common enough in colonial Sydney: there were at least two others of that name in Sydney in the 1820s, so there might be some confusion there, but Bartholomew Foley must surely be a less common name?

Sadly, elaborate theories like that are most easily undone. There must have been at least two Bartholomew Foleys in the colonies, because one, almost certainly Fitzgerald's friend, was hanged for sheep stealing at Port Dalrymple in 1814. So John Fitzgerald probably did drown, after all.

If he did, it is probably because he used hyperventilation, taking a series of deep breaths to charge the blood with oxygen. Hyperventilation can work for a while, but sooner or later, it ends up killing the user, and that must have happened to him.

Footnote:
A curious story about Fitzgerald emerged in 1857. The Hobart Town Courier told a tale concerning Governor King and the ship's bell on board the Lady Nelson, which was then moored in Sydney Harbour. These events happened in 1803, and Governor King suspected that the watch on the vessel was not as alert as it might be. He decided to set a thief to catch some slackers. King was not only the colony's governor, he was the senior naval officer.

He sent for Fitzgerald, even then recognised as a good swimmer, who was brought to him in double irons, suggesting that he had recently been naughty. The governor ordered him to swim to the ship during the night. Once there, he was to go on board, remove the ship's bell and bring it to Government House.

In those days, each half hour in each watch on board ship was signalled by the sounding of the bell. Even if a thief got on board and made off with the bell just after the bell was rung, the theft should be discovered in no more than half an hour—if the ship's guards were alert.

The point King wished to make was that the crew of Lady Nelson, were expected to watch for signals that might come at any time of the night from the Governor, and pass them on to the other naval ships in the harbour, Supply, Reliance, Buffalo and Investigator. There could be no slackness on the ship, just in case there was an emergency.

Fitzgerald swam out to the ship safely, even in double irons, but he needed the help of a constable to make it back to shore again with the bell. He was rewarded with two gallons of rum and one set of irons was removed from his legs. When the lieutenant who commanded Lady Nelson handed in his report in the morning, stating that the bell had been rung every half hour, he was punished for submitting a false report.

Looking back on Fitzgerald's later 'career', it is all too likely that, having found favour with the slightly eccentric King, he may have been tempted to persist in his waywardness, which seems to have started around then.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Other contemplated and partly-planned titles, high on my list of 27:
Not Your Usual Medicine; mainly quack cures and theories, patent medicines.

Not Your Usual Manufacturing; mainly about 19th century materials.

Not Your Usual Inventions; mainly eccentric inventions.

Not Your Usual Rocks; rocks that float, bend, tilt, melt, polish up and more.

Not Your Usual Wee Beasties; the things in your garden, your house and on you.

Not Your Usual Power Sources; 19th century power supplies.

Not Your Usual Gold Seekers; the ordinary people who went looking for gold.

Not Your Usual Measures; the ins and outs of fast and slow.

Not Your Usual Place Names; Famous Beach, Useless Harbour and others.

Not Your Usual War Poems; The ones that don't get read on Anzac Day, but should.

Not Your Usual Consequences; Serendipity and Things That Went Wrong.

Note added December 5: there are now potentially 35 titles—and if you liked this unusual bushranger, I have just added another one.

Labels: , , ,

0 Comments:

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home