Notwithstanding little more than two years had elapsed since our departure from England, several convicts about this time signified that the respective terms for which they had been transported had expired, and claimed to be restored to the privileges of free men. Unfortunately, by some unaccountable oversight, the papers necessary to ascertain these particulars had been left by the masters of the transports with their owners in England, instead of being brought out and deposited in the colony; and as, thus situated, it was equally impossible to admit or to deny the truth of their assertions, they were told to wait until accounts could be received from England; and in the mean time by continuing to labour for the public, they would be entitled to share the public provisions in the store. This was by no means satisfactory, as it appeared that they expected an assurance from the governor of receiving some gratuity for employing their future time and labour for the benefit of the settlement. One of these people having, in the presence of his excellency, expressed himself disrespectfully of the lieutenant-governor, he was brought before a criminal court and tried for the same, of which offence being found guilty, he was sentenced to receive six hundred lashes, and to wear irons for the space of six months.
It must be acknowledged, that these people were most peculiarly and unpleasantly situated. Conscious in their own minds that the sentence of the law had been fulfilled upon them, it must have been truly distressing to their feelings to find that they could not be considered in any other light, or received into any other situation, than that in which alone they had been hitherto known in the settlement.
In the infancy of the colony, however, but little was to be gained by their being restored to the rights and privileges of free people, as no one was in possession of such abundance as to afford to support another independent of the public store. Every man, therefore, must have wrought for his provisions; and if they had been gratified in their expectation of being paid for their labour, the price of provisions in this country would certainly have been found equal, if not superior, to any value they could have set upon their time and labour for the public. As these considerations must have offered themselves to the notice of many good understandings which were among them, it was rather conjectured, that the dissatisfaction which evidently prevailed on this subject was set on foot and fomented by some evil-designing spirits and associates in former iniquities. The governor, however, terminated this business for the present, by directing the judge-advocate to take the affidavits of such persons as would make oath that they had served the term prescribed by the law, and by recommending them to work for the public until some information was received from government on that head.
The observatory which was erected on our first landing being found small and inconvenient, as well for the purpose of observing as for the residence of Lieutenant Dawes and the reception of the astronomical instruments, the stone-cutters began preparing stone to construct another, the materials for which were found in abundance upon the spot, the west point of the cove.