Attempt of some Irish convicts to desert in search
of a new settlement
Steps taken to prevent future desertion
A settler’s boat stolen
The Francis returns from the southward
Conjectures as to a strait
A convict providentially saved
1798.] January.] The Irish prisoners who had arrived in the last ships from that country had about this period become so turbulent and refractory, and so dissatisfied with their situation, that, without the most rigid and severe treatment, it was impossible to derive from them any labour whatever. In addition to their natural vicious propensities, they conceived an opinion that there was a colony of white people, which had been discovered in this country, situated to the SW of the settlement, from which it was distant between three and four hundred miles, and in which they were assured of finding all the comforts of life, without the necessity of labouring for them.
It was discovered, that, in consequence of this extraordinary rumour, a plan had been formed, by means of a correspondence carried on between these people, from one district to another, of escaping from the colony; which was to be put in execution so soon as they had completed a sufficient stock of provisions. The place of general rendezvous was fixed upon, and they were furnished with a paper of written instructions for their guidance to this fancied paradise, or to China; in addition to which, they had been supplied with the figure of a compass drawn upon paper.
Having received early information of the intentions of this party, the governor wrote to a magistrate at Parramatta, desiring that he would go to Toongabbie, where the principal part of the malcontents were employed, and point out to them the danger to which so ill-advised a step would expose them; but, as to attempt to reason with ignorance and obstinacy was only to waste time, he was to acquaint them, that the governor would allow any four of them whom they should select from their number, and who they might think capable of travelling over steep and rocky mountains, through thick and extensive woods, and fording deep and rapid streams, to proceed as far as they should find themselves able with such provisions as they could carry. That further, for the preservation of the lives of those four men, he would order three other people, who were accustomed to the woods of this country, and well acquainted with the savages of the mountains, to accompany and lead them in the direction pointed out in their written instructions,
On conversing with these infatuated people, it appeared, that the history of the supposed settlement had its rise from some strange and unintelligible account which one of these men, who had left his work, and resided for some time with the natives, had collected from the mountain savages.