Orders had been repeatedly issued on this very subject, the store-keepers being most pointedly directed to give the preference to the man whose grain was the produce of his own labour; and if any favour were shown, to let it be to the poor but industrious settler who might be encumbered with a large family. But these necessary and humane directions had been too often frustrated by circumstances which were carefully kept from the knowledge of the governor; it was, however, proved to him, that on occasion of the store at the Hawkesbury being opened for the reception of 1500 bushels of wheat, the whole was engrossed by two or three of these opulent traders, to the exclusion and injury of others, and the petty farmers in general. The store-keeper was not dismissed, because a better might not have been found; but the governor directed, that half the quantity of wheat thus partially and improperly put in should be taken away, and room made for the accommodation of the settlers.
A report prevailed at this time among the labouring people, particularly the Irish, who were always foremost in every mischief and discontent, that an old woman had prophesied the arrival of several French frigates, or larger ships of war, who were, after destroying the settlement, to liberate and take off the whole of the convicts. The rapidity with which this ridiculous tale was circulated is incredible. The effect was such as might have been expected. One refractory fellow, while working in a numerous gang at Toongabbie, threw down his hoe, advanced before the rest, and gave three cheers for liberty. This for a while seemed well received; but, a magistrate fortunately being at hand, the business was put an end to, by securing the advocate for liberty, tying him up in the field, and giving him a severe flogging.
A few days after he had been informed of this circumstance, the governor visited the working gangs at Toongabbie. On his return to Parramatta, he met the prophetess upon the road, a very old Scotch woman, who, as soon as she discovered the governor, held up her hands, and begged that he would listen to her for a few minutes, while she would endeavour to contradict the malicious reports which had been propagated in her name. She said, that she had heard that he was offended with her; which he assured her depended upon the truth of the information which he had received. This, she was anxious to convince him, was totally false, and had proceeded from a bad man, who, as she made a little beer, and sold it to the labouring people, had called for some one day at her hut, and entered into conversation with her about the expected arrival of ships with stores from England. This induced the old woman to recount a dream which she had had the night before, and from which she was led to hope that ships would soon arrive. Out of this conversation and dream, a story had been fabricated, purporting that this harmless old creature had prophesied many extraordinary things; so that she had the credit of all the absurd and extravagant additions which some designing and wicked villains had made to the original story.