A Memoir (thumbnails) of Convict Davies, 1824
1. Macquarie Harbour
Beating north to the harbour
you steer between a headland
and vertebrae of sandbars
a beach marked out with wreckage
as if in warning
flotsam of ships and whales.
Hell’s Gates, the neck of water
assailed by the Southern Ocean
froths like a urinal;
fish cannot live in this harbour
its rivers of peat and bark.
To starboard a sharp jumble of rocks
cuts off all chance of escape –
only sealers and mad captains survive.
2. Sarah Island
Past Liberty Point and Liberty Bay
a river of mud and moonbirds
flapping in their millions
returning to sand-dune burrows
the island rears up a leviathan
death in its heightened smell, the rancour of blood.
Most desolate place on earth
bare of the old forests
cluttered with buildings, sawpits, shipyards
to ferry wood and water from the mainland;
taking split-sandstone walls
of the penitentiary, whale-oil lit corridors
its sleeping-cages, length of a man
height of a raised forearm.
The Cats... were the most Dreadful things that can be thought of...
3 times the thickness of the Hobart Town cats.
The Tube Gag/ Spread Eagle/ Scavenger’s Daughter/ Witch’s Broom
the Mistress’s Scald/ the Cockchafer (a wondrous cruel machine)/
the Cradle, most feared of all, an iron rack to strap a man to
week on unending week.
Six months in irons, 100 lashes given
for rebelliousness, insolence, refusal to work
the flagellator dipping the Cat’s tips in sand
pausing between strokes, running
the tails through his fingers.
His back like Bullock’s Liver and most likely his shoes
full of Blood...the same man would be flogged
the following day for Neglect of Work.
4. Grummet Island
Driving piles on the slipways
under water and in chains
if that didn’t break a man
a night on The Rock
a rude stairs in the cliffs the only road
to a truly Wretched Barracks
might do the trick
snow falling in our faces
like splintered glass
leg-irons covered in hoar frost.
Your breath rasps like wind
through ripped canvas
you ache with rheumatism
dysentery, saltwater boils.
5. For everything, a season
Tired of this life
of prison-time that passes
for real time
in this Place of Ultra Banishment
you pray to be hanged, would murder
an overseer or fellow prisoner
to have sentence passed.
They kick off their shoes
on the scaffold, laugh and dance
farewell each other in dementung
the pidgin of convict fly talk
as though on a whaleboat run.
Our souls, if such there be
weigh lighter than a feather.