9 corrections, most recently by anonymous - Show corrections
THE LATE MR. JOHN DELL. (From the Melbourne Spectator.) The following reminiscences of the olden times were furnished to us by a gentleman who took them down as they fell from the lips of John Dell, the Greenwich pensioner, a few months before his, death, which happened at Launceston, in the early part of the present year:- He was born, he said, at Reading, in Berkshire, on the 5th of November, 1763. He was one of a family of twenty four children. He remembered the excitement occasioned by the Gordon riots, and how the people gathered round the London coach which brought down the tidings of the tumult, incendiarism, and bloodshed. He was apprenticed with another Reading lad, to a veneer cutter in London; and as he and his fellow-apprentice were one day staring in at a shop window in Fleet-street, and observ ing to each other that there was nothing like that in Reading, they were accosted by a respectably dressed man, who said his wife was from Reading, and would so like to have a chat with them about the dear old place; would they go home to tea with him ? They cheerfully assented; and were taken to a house in an obscure neighborhood, at the back of the Fleet Prison
Immediately they entered, the door was locked behind them, and the lads straightway concluded that they had been allured there to be murdered; but they were reasonably well fed and taken care of, and remained there some days, with numerous other inmates, who had been similarly kidnapped. Dell watched every opportunity to affect his escape; and one day he saw a portly elderly gentleman enter the house. He seized the propitious moment to run butt at him with his head, doubled him up, bolted through the open door, and rushed bare-headed along the streets, crying out "Murder, murder !" When he reached his master's house, he found him very uneasy at his lengthened absence, and unable to account for it. Dell was taken before the Lord Mayor, who gave instructions for the rescue of his fellow apprentice. They had both fallen into the hands of crimps ; but this mode of recruiting the Navy was so far connived at by the authorities that no steps were taken for the release of the other detainees. Having enlisted in the 102nd Regiment, Dell came out to New South Wales with Governor Phillip in 1785. As she was drop- ping down the Thames, his vessel anchored near a transport which had just returned with troops from the American War. By the aid of a glass he recognised an old acquaintance, named Fitzpatrick, on board, whom he obtained leave to go and see, and from whom he obtained the particulars of the British reverses in the colonies. Dell described Governor Phillip as an atrocious and ferocious scoundrel, with a finely-shaped head set on a most diminutive body. The sacrifice of human life, both on board ship and in the settlement, by cruelty, disease, over-work, and insufficient food, was perfectly appalling. He mentioned the story of a beautiful young woman, with respectable connections, who had been transported for stealing a silver thimble, which thimble was averred to have been marked and dropped in her box by her mistress, who was jealous of her husband's admiration of the girl. While in New South Wales this convict picked up a parcel containing some boots and other trifling articles, which had been apparently stolen from the Government stores. They were found on her, and she was tried for the theft. Governor Phillip, addressing the prisoner, said, "Now, if you will speak the truth, on the honour of a gentleman, I will acquit you." She replied, "On the honour of a gentlewoman, as I am"-her brother, held a commission in the Guards-" I found the things as I have said." "It is the old story," rejoined the Governor; and thereupon she was found guilty, and sentenced to be hanged. She died earnestly protesting her innocence, and bitterly inveigh- ing against the Governor as " no gentleman," for having violated his word. After her death, it transpired that the parcel had been thrown away by an escaped convict. Many of these fugitives, Dell added, used to make for the bush and travel northward, under the impression that they could reach Europe overland. On one occasion the mortality in the: hos- pital was so great, owing to a contagious disease, generated by a low diet, excessive labor, insufficient clothing, and unhealthy accommodation, that the people died off like rotten sheep. A deep pit was dug for the reception of the dead, and into this they were flung " unhousled, unannointed, unanealed.", The men entrusted with the office were so brutalised that they stripped the corpses of their shirts, in order to sell them for a plug of tobacco. While they were taking a fine linen shirt off the body of one man, who was of respectable parentage, and had been trans- ported for forgery, the poor follow revived, and feebly entreated to be reconveyed to the hos- pital. "What's the use?" was the reply of the callous grave diggers, "You'll be brought back again to be buried to-morrow. You'll be dead enough then you know." He pleaded so hard, however, that he was taken back, and recovered. When Dell returned to Eng- land, in 1810, he met this very man in Holborn, who immediately recognised him, and insisted upon taking him home to his mother, that he might assure her from his own lips, that her son's report of the horrors of a penal settlement in New South Wales was not exaggerated. Dell gave a graphic picture of the old lady, who impressed him by her natural piety, sitting with her hands clasped over one knee, and listening to him with a white, wondering face. When Dell came out a second time to Sydney it was in a ship commanded by a man named Donald Traill. He had been in- strumental in bringing three of his crew to justice for an alleged mutiny, and they were hung in chains opposite Blackwall, as the custom then was with malefactors of this des- cription. When the vessel went down the river with the tide, some perverse influence seemed to take the ship close to the place of execution, and to render her immovable. The people on board, Dell alleged, could hear the groans of the dying men ; and the crew com- mented on it in their own superstitious way, with no very complimentary allusions to the captain, who seemed to be so awe-struck by the horror of the scene that, telling the second officer business of importance would take him (the captain) back to town, he handed over. the command of the vessel to him, quitted the ship abruptly, and was never seen on board again. In 1793, he said, one of the sentinels on duty in Sydney declared that he had seen the excution of the King of France, in the moon, and described the event with circumstantial minuteness. He was taken before the colonel and the Governor, and still persisted in his assertion, describing the appearance of the King as he walked up to the guillotine, and all the adjuncts of the scene, in a manner which led the authorities to believe that it was a mental hallucination; but when, a year after wards, the tidings of Louis XVI's execution reached New South Wales, the date of the event was found to coincide with that of the sentinel's lunar vision, while the details likewise agreed. Among tihe free settlers in the colony was a Louis Bourbon, whom Dell asserts to have been a member of the Royal family of France. He owned 5000 acres of land, stock, &c. When the Irish and English faction fight (P) took
Place in Sydney, the rioters went out to the farm of this Bourbon. He was a brave man, and would not yield to their demands. He was strung up to a tree, head downwards, and left in that position, from which he was fortu- nately rescued just in time to save his life. During his first stay in Sydney, a fellow townsman of Dell's, and who had enlisted in the 102nd Regiment under an assumed name, made some offensive remark to the adjutant, who drew his sword and split his skull open. The wounded man was tried by court-martial, and two privates (who were shortly after- wards promoted to be petty officers) swore they saw the man present a firelock at the adjutant. The poor man was condemned to be shot, and twelve men were detailed for the duty. When brought out for execution, he asked leave to speak to the sergeant, the ob- ject of his request being to obtain a few minutes conversation with Dell. Permission having been obtained of the colonel, Dell went to the doomed man, who told him he had paid what few debts he owed, and re- quested him (Dell) to receive and accept the pay which was coming to him. "I have one dying request to make," said he. " Whenever you go back to Reading my mother and sister are sure to hear of it, and to make inquiries about me. Tell them you saw me die; but don't tell them how, or why." When Dell did go home, in 1810, almost the first persons he saw were his late comrade's mother and sister, to whom the tidings he was permitted to communicate were a great blow. Dell was a sentinel at Government House when Bligh was put under arrest, and des- cribed him as tyrannical as Phillip. Hunter and King, on the contrary, were good men. Among his Tasmanian exporiences, he narrated his pursuit of two convicts who had escaped from Port Arthur, and taken to the bush. They had no provisions with them, and were famine-smitten. One of them murdered his companion as he slept, cut him up, and fed upon his flesh. When appre- hended by Dell and party, the pockets of the fugitive were found full of fragments of the mutilated man, which his destroyer declared were as sweet a meat as ever he ate. He was captured in the northern part of the island; and on their way back to Hobart Town the soldiers camping for the night on the edge of the Salt-pan Plains, dug a hole, thrust the cannibal into it, head downward, and buried him alive-so exasperated and savagely vindictive were they with the atrocious con duct of their prisoner.