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Friday, 24 March 2017

Not Your Usual Australian Villains

This is an amended version: I have been lazily thinking of this as Not Your Usual Villains, but it's actually Not Your Usual Australian Villains! Update March 25: the Kindle version of this book is now available at

I have rumbled from time to time about a planned series of e-books, using up my leftover notes to write some fun history. One of these is now ready to go, though some portions have already appeared here, like my tale of Moondyne Joe, a sort of bushranger,  a wicked publican, and others.

Now here's another taster from the collection: once I have done this, I will create the Facebook page for the book, and then set myself to work, getting Not Your Usual Australian Villains out on Amazon Kindle.

The book is a set of essays adding up to about 80,000 words on topics that mainly relate to colonial history, though when I look at women wearing trousers, that story comes up to 1950 (which many young'ns already think of as "history"). My book, my rules, but it's an amusing read.

A wicked legal clerk

The management of the law in the earliest colonial days was something of a problem. The first Judge-Advocate, David Collins, lacked legal training, but he had common sense. The second Judge-Advocate, Richard Atkins, was also the fourth, and he served throughout Governor Bligh’s time. Unfortunately, he was a drunkard and a crook, and even John MacArthur called him “a public cheater living in the most boundless dissipation”.

MacArthur later wanted to prosecute Atkins for libel, but that may have been just a ploy: suffice it to say that there was no love lost between these two villains. Roger Therry describes the situation from hearsay, but it seems to match the facts:
The Governor [Bligh] was also placed in a position of great embarrassment from the want of competent legal assistance. The Judge-Advocate, Atkins, was a person of no professional mark, and was besides of a very disreputable character. There is no term of reproach too strong to apply to him, if what Bligh reported of him to the Secretary of State be true, — “that he had been known to pronounce sentence of death when intoxicated!”
With Atkins was associated one Crossley, holding no office nominally, but really performing the principal functions of the law department. He was a convict, whose true character is disclosed in the enormity of the crime that caused him to be transported. His case was this: Crossley had resorted to the ingenious device of putting a living fly into the mouth of a dead man, and then guiding his hand to trace his signature to the writing that purported to be the will of the deceased person.
Upon the trial, he swore, with audacious assurance, “that he saw the testator sign the will with his own hand while life was in him!” In passing sentence on his conviction for perjury, Lord Ellenborough took the opportunity of congratulating the profession in getting rid of such a pest. Moreover, he had been convicted of swindling in the Colony. Much should be pardoned to the erroneous courses of a Governor who was obliged to lean upon the support of such a worthless pair for legal assistance…
— Roger Therry, Reminiscences, 75.
Therry went on to outline some of the ways in which the activities of Atkins and Crossley served to push the Rum Rebellion forward. There can be no doubt that the real villains in that piece were the rebellious officers who would, in an honest world, have been convicted of treason, but Atkins and Crossley helped cause the trouble.

Just recall that if somebody swallows a fly, you can console them with the thought that they have life in them.

Don’t say it to a lawyer, though, or you may be seen as a villain.

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