Other books by

Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall








By Charles Nordhoff




By James Norman Hall














copyright 1941, by Charles Nordhoff

and James Norman Hall





George Mackaness, Esq., M.A., Litt.D., James Coutts Scholar, University of Sydney, Research Scholar, University of Melbourne, Sydney, Australia.

Dear Dr. Mackaness:—

Permit us to dedicate this book to you as a small acknowledgment of the pleasure and profit we have derived from your researches in the field of early Australian history.

As you will see, our story is what might be called a romance of the First Fleet, in which, for dramatic effect, we have been obliged to take certain liberties in the matter of dates, incidents, and the like; but our purpose throughout has been to keep close to fact with respect to First Fleet events.

We hope that you may find some entertainment in following this furrow over an almost untilled field in the realm of historical fiction.

Sincerely yours,

J. N. H.      C. N.

Sausalito, California,

April 22nd, 1941


ITom Oakley3
IIAt Garth’s Farm19
IIINewgate Prison34
IVTransportation for Life50
VMortimer Thynne59
VIPhoebe and Doris73
VIIThe First Fleet88
VIIIAboard the Charlotte102
IXBotany Bay122
XThe Felon Pioneers136
XISentenced to Pinchgut149
XIIGoodwin’s Homecoming166
XIIIThe Upper Hawkesbury186
XVThe Second Fleet212
XVIGarth’s Vengeance228
XVIIThe Riot at the Guardhouse239
XVIIIThe American Brig254
XXA Thousand Leagues282
XXIThe Parting at Snapeness296
XXIIAt Tower Hill Gardens311
XXIII“To Be Hung on Monday”327
XXIVThe Hanging Chapel340
XXVNewgate Street358


It has been a glorious day of Australian spring, without a cloud in the sky; the air cool enough to be bracing, yet warm enough in the afternoon to permit taking my ease, here in the shade of my favourite tree. The long, narrow lagoon is just below me, where I can watch the black swan and other waterfowl moving about the wind-flawed surface, and Arthur’s cattle approaching in groups to quench their thirst, or to stand knee-deep in the cool water they seem reluctant to quit. The sun is halfway down; toward the west, the green, gently rolling downs stretch away as far as the eye can reach.

For many miles in that direction the land is my son’s. His house stands on a knoll overlooking the still water and timbered bottom land. It is a dwelling of the pioneer sort, such as my ancestors erected two hundred years ago in Maryland. Rude the house is, but solid and comfortable, with flower beds in front and a fine kitchen garden at the back which my daughter-in-law has laid out with her own hands. Smoke is rising from the chimney, for she and Sally are busy at their baking. The corn stands tall and green in the fenced field below the house. This red soil, blessed in normal years with an abundant rainfall, grows wheat as bountifully as the best land on the Potomac, and when left untilled to produce its native grasses it will support three hundred and fifty sheep to the square mile. With limitless tracts of such land, the future of New South Wales seems bright indeed, yet only forty-three years since there was not a white man on the Australian Continent.

I can recollect, as though it had happened yesterday, how the convicts were disembarked in Sydney Cove, and how a village of tents sprang up on both shores of the little bay. Sydney is a thriving town in these days, with busy streets, shops and warehouses of stone, and a forest of masts along the waterfront. It is strange to reflect that I was one of the first boatload of Englishmen to set foot on the shores of the cove. It has been my misfortune, or good fortune perhaps, to live in an era of mighty changes: the war which freed the American Colonies from British rule, the revolution in France, the efforts of Napoleon Bonaparte to make himself master of Europe, and the end of Spain’s empire in the New World. Though unimportant by comparison, the greatest event in which I have played a part has been the settlement of New South Wales.

Australia has a character of its own and is beginning to breed a race of men upon whom that character is stamped indelibly. Though first settled by convicts, it is by nature a land of freedom, of bright sunlight and vast plains and mountain ranges. Yet it is a harsh land, where only the strong can survive. Our vegetation, inured to storm and drought, is the hardiest in the world, and men must share this hardihood. The sons of Australia are wanderers, adventurers, and pioneers.

My own children are widely scattered. One of my younger sons is a sea captain and the other a farmer in Tasmania. My daughter, Sarah, is married to the son of Tom Oakley and lives in Sydney, where her husband is a partner in the prosperous firm of Thynne and Oakley, printers, engravers, and stationers. My oldest boy, Arthur Phillip Tallant, named for the governor whose memory all Australians revere, lives here at Beaumont Downs, already spoken of as one of the most promising stations in the Colony.

It is strange to contrast the life here with that I knew as a boy, on the Potomac. Like the estates of the American planters, Arthur’s home is self-sufficing, though in a simpler and ruder way. Beef and mutton are in abundance, and wild game; bread is baked from corn grown on my son’s land. Potatoes, onions, and cabbages flourish on the bottom land; good cheer and hearty appetites make up for what we lack of the more refined table, and polished manners, of Maryland. In place of Negro slaves, my son’s farmhands are assigned convicts and a few young men from our local tribe of blackfellows.

Like his men, Arthur spends half of his life in the saddle, mustering his cattle at the proper seasons, and waging warfare on those inveterate fanciers of mutton, the dingoes. He contrives to keep order among his somewhat turbulent men because he is the best of the lot. It is remarkable to see what he has done for some of his assigned convicts: what with firm but humane treatment, hard exercise in the open air, and an abundance of wholesome food, their self-respect, if they have ever possessed that quality, returns to them. Some become fine horsemen, skilled at handling the stock; hearty, jovial fellows, from whose faces the hangdog expression is banished, who look forward to the day when they shall be free to farm, or to breed sheep or cattle for themselves. You must recollect that many of these men have been transported for the most trivial offenses, under the savage laws which are a disgrace to England. Men have been transported to New South Wales—some of them boys of fourteen or fifteen—for stealing a gamecock, two pounds of sugar, or a pair of stockings. To treat such offenders as hardened criminals and to consider them incapable of response to just and humane treatment are crimes in themselves. If I speak for the convicts, and lay claim to some understanding of their thoughts and character, it is because I myself have been one of them.

The tutor Arthur has had assigned to instruct his four young children is a case in point. He is an Irishman and a scholar, a witty, agreeable fellow, whom every member of the family loves. For what offense he was transported I have never inquired, nor do I wish to know. He may have fought a duel and killed his man, or, like so many of his countrymen, have become involved in seditious practices. Yet my grandchildren will live to look back upon their mentor with deep gratitude. It is strange that this scholar should love Beaumont Downs as I do. He knows every bird and beast of the countryside, and the name of every tree and wildflower; when we take the dogs out to hunt kangaroo, no man joins more whole-heartedly in the chase. And Sally and I, in spite of our years, still love to follow the hounds.

More than a month has passed since we drove out from the Hawkesbury, over the remarkable road constructed by Surveyor Evans. We traversed the region which baffled successive exploring parties until 1813, when Blaxland, Lawson, and Wentworth crossed the Nepean River and ascended the Dividing Range. On attaining the summit, they gazed with astonishment and delight at the distant Fish River, and the wide, green Bathurst Plains. They had discovered an Empire.

My son Arthur, then twenty years of age, was of their party and resolved upon the spot to establish himself in this rich pastoral region as soon as it should be opened to settlement. During the eighteen years which have passed since that day, Arthur has proved that the pioneer strain in our blood is far from extinct; he has made for himself, in what was a wilderness, the home he now wishes his mother and me to share.

I have discussed the matter with Sally, my wife, and we shall comply with Arthur’s wishes. We have already chosen a site for the small house we shall build, here beneath this great tree, on the high bank overlooking the lagoon. It may seem odd that a man of seventy should be planning a new home, but my back is still straight and I may be good for another twenty years. As for my Sally, she might be forty, instead of sixty-one. The truth is that we are weary of our farm and shall abandon it to an overseer. The country thereabouts is becoming as tame as England; we feel hemmed in by our neighbours and cannot breathe as freely as in these incomparable solitudes.

Sally was reared among the lakes and forests of Canada, and I in tidewater Maryland, yet we love Beaumont Downs as though born and bred here, and hope that men of our name may live on the land for generations to come. With our descendants in mind, wishing that they may know something of their ancestry and of the early history of New South Wales, in which my wife and I played humble parts, I have decided to set down what I can recollect of my life, and of the beginnings of the settlement at Sydney Cove. What I shall write will be of interest to my children, at least, and the ransacking of memory will serve as a pastime for an idle old man. Of the events which led to my transportation to New South Wales, I shall write as briefly as possible.

The founder of our family in America, for whom I was christened, was Hugh Tallant, from Bedfordshire, where the name has long been extinct. In 1639 he crossed the Atlantic to settle in the newly founded colony of Maryland, a vast domain granted to Cecilius Calvert, Lord Baltimore, by King Charles the First. Baltimore’s brother, Leonard Calvert, had entered the Potomac River five years before, with two ships, the Ark and the Dove,—Maryland’s First Fleet,—and founded the town of St. Mary’s, at the head of an extensive inlet on the north shore of the river, close to where it debouches into Chesapeake Bay.

Some fifteen miles inland from St. Mary’s, a second large inlet, or estuary, opens on the north shore. This is Bretton Bay, and on its east side, on a considerable estate which was granted to him, together with manorial rights, our ancestor established himself with his young wife and the bondsmen he had fetched out from England. Here, close to the water’s edge, and commanding a fine prospect of the long, wooded peninsula of Beggar’s Neck and the shores of St. Clement’s Bay beyond, Hugh Tallant erected his first dwelling of logs. Nearly a century later, on the same site, his grandson built the house called Beaumont Manor, where I was born. I was twenty years old, and it was clear at last that England had lost the American War, when our house was sacked and burned to the ground by a mob, some of whose members I had known since childhood. They did their work thoroughly and murdered those of our servants who strove against them.

I have often thought that civil war, for all its cruelty, may have a part to play in the universal design. The men of the losing side, their estates forfeit and their lives in peril, have no choice but to uproot themselves and emigrate to foreign lands, where they may prove vastly useful in trade or manufacturing, as did the Huguenots in England after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, or become pioneers in the wilderness as did the same Huguenots in Capetown and the Loyalists in Canada.

The American War was a civil conflict as cruel as any in history, making enemies of neighbours and brothers, and on the Potomac, at least, uprooting families who had lived on their estates for nearly a century and a half. Nothing could have been more shortsighted than England’s treatment of the Colonies; none of our neighbours was more keenly aware of English injustice than my father, but when it was no longer possible to remain neutral, he took up arms for the King. Both he and my elder brother paid for their loyalty with their lives: they were killed early in the war. When I was seventeen I was received into my father’s regiment with the rank of cornet, promoted lieutenant two years later, and severely wounded in one of the last battles of the war. Some time after our house was burned and our estate confiscated, my mother and I were fortunate enough to make our way to one of the English vessels anchored near the mouth of the Potomac, and to reach New York by sea, with Mr. Robert Fleming, an old neighbour, my father’s lawyer and closest friend.

New York was already crowded with Loyalists, uprooted folk, bewildered, penniless in many cases, and still mourning their dead. Some planned to sail direct for England, where they would present their claims for compensation from the Crown; others were going to Canada, to settle on the land promised them there. My uncle, whose estate adjoined ours on Bretton Bay, was for Canada, and we decided to accompany him. On Mr. Fleming’s advice, we pooled what we could spare from the few hundred pounds remaining to the three families, signed the necessary petitions and powers-of-attorney, and delegated him to go to London to lay our claims before the committee appointed by Parliament. My mother and I asked for ten thousand pounds, less than a quarter of what our estate was worth.

Mr. Fleming was detained in New York until the city was evacuated and General Washington’s forces moved in to replace the King’s troops. My mother and I, with her brother and his family, had embarked several months earlier for Nova Scotia, where we hoped to establish ourselves. I shall not describe the hardships of our first winter. Though accustomed to a gracious life in the genial climate of the Chesapeake, my mother displayed great cheerfulness and fortitude in the Northern wilderness. In summertime, and even in spring and autumn, Nova Scotia was a pleasant land enough, with abundant game in the woods and trout and salmon swarming in the streams. But the winters were of almost arctic severity, the soil was poor, and the labour of clearing and planting our fields, singlehanded, was more than disheartening. Nevertheless I might be in Nova Scotia to-day had not a letter from Mr. Fleming reached us in the fall of 1784 urging me to come to London as soon as possible.

I still have that old letter—it lies beside me as I write—and it is strange to think that so perishable a reminder of past days should have survived the vicissitudes of nearly half a century:—

New England Coffee House

Threadneedle Street

London, November 12th, 1784

My dear Mrs. Tallant and Hugh:

You will be eager to learn what I can tell you of our fortunes on this side of the water. I regret to say that they are in no forward state at the moment, and many here are beginning to despair of the Loyalist claims ever being met by His Majesty’s Government. I am more hopeful. Parliamentary committees, particularly those concerned with money affairs, work with painful slowness, but I am convinced that England is mindful of us, and that, in the end, this business will be carried through. But every claim is scrutinized and verified by the Committee with minute care and thoroughness, which accounts, in part, for the little action taken thus far. The Tallant claims will, I feel certain, be allowed, and the more readily because they are so modest in comparison with the actual losses you have suffered.

Meanwhile, let me speak of a matter of great importance and promise in connection with the Loyalists. The New England Coffee House, where this letter is being written, has become headquarters for the Loyalists here to press their claims. A few days ago I attended a meeting here, under the auspices of the President of the Royal Society, Sir Joseph Banks. He had with him a Mr. James Matra, who laid before us the heads of a most interesting plan. You may recollect that on one of Captain Cook’s voyages, he skirted the eastern coast of New Holland, and dropped anchor in a harbour he named Botany Bay. This was in 1770, and both Sir Joseph and Mr. Matra were with Captain Cook at the time. After giving us some account of the climate, which resembles that of Southern France, and of the country, said to be of immense extent and great promise, Sir Joseph introduced Mr. Matra, as the originator of a plan which might prove of interest to the American Loyalists.

Mr. Matra then explained briefly what he had in mind. There were at present a great number of Americans in England, whose loyalty to the King had cost them everything they had possessed. They deserved well of England; they were of the best English stock, many of them skilled in pastoral and agricultural pursuits, and descended from men and women who had been pioneers in the New World. It would be a great pity if their country could not make use of these folk, at the same time offering them some compensation for what they had lost in the American War. Mr. Matra proposed, therefore, that such of the Loyalists as desired to emigrate might be sent out to Botany Bay at government expense, granted large tracts of land, and provided with food, clothing, implements, and livestock to tide them over until the new colony should be self-supporting. The Ministry had been appraised of the plan, and it was understood that it might be considered favourably if enough of the Loyalists would signify their desire to settle in Botany Bay.

When the speaker sat down, Sir Joseph assured us that, if we so desired, he would exert his influence to further the idea. I hasten to write of this matter because I believe that it may offer a splendid opportunity, particularly to young men like Hugh. Botany Bay may prove another Maryland, and its settlers may prosper as our ancestors did. But Mr. Matra’s plan needs the hearty support of all who desire to emigrate, and for this reason I advise Hugh, if money can be found for his passage, to come to London as soon as possible, that he may acquaint himself with the details at first hand, and be prepared to enroll when the time comes.

I scarcely need to say that Mr. Fleming’s letter stirred my imagination and set me longing to be off. My mother gave me every encouragement, saying that I should go to England, and that if all turned out as we hoped, she would remain with her brother until I wrote her to join me in Botany Bay. We had settled accounts with my father’s agent in London, and the balance he forwarded made us considerably better off than when we had left New York. I parted from my mother with mingled anticipation and regret, but I had her blessing, and funds enough to keep me in England for a year or more.

Reaching London in the spring of 1785, I took lodgings with Mr. Fleming and was introduced to the Loyalists who met at the New England Coffee House. A few of the claims for compensation had been settled, but so tedious was the process and so long the delay in considering each case that many despaired of the business ever reaching a final settlement. We discussed the Matra plan frequently, read Captain Cook’s account of Botany Bay, and learned the little we could of New Holland, or New South Wales, as the eastern half of Australia was then beginning to be called. Sir Joseph Banks, whom I had the honour of meeting on several occasions, was enthusiastic about the proposed colony, and informed us that he hoped the Government would give favourable consideration to the project. We were even asked to submit estimates of what each settler would require, and the tonnage of shipping that would be needed to transport us to Botany Bay, in order that the total expense of our establishment might be made known to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. But our hopes, which had seemed so bright at first, were tarnished by interminable delays. The summer passed, and the autumn; when the new year began, our ten thousand pounds’ compensation and my prospects of emigration to Botany Bay seemed as remote as on the day of my arrival in England.

Waiting is the hardest of all tasks for a young man. I lived in a constant state of suspense, watching my small hoard of shillings dwindle at an alarming rate, and hoping from one day to the next that the Government might act on Mr. Matra’s proposal, or that our petition for compensation might be granted. Of London, I had long since had enough, for no young man can enjoy life, however rich and varied, as a mere spectator. Mr. Fleming was different; he had visited London many times in the past, and loved his cozy lodgings, the evenings with his cronies at the Coffee House, and the noise and bustle of the streets. As bad luck would have it, I was the one to stop and he to go, for he informed me, early in the summer of the new year, that he was obliged to join one of his nephews in Canada, where he would remain until his compensation had been granted.

Some little time after my old friend’s departure, I learned to my great regret and disappointment that Mr. Matra’s plan had been set aside. No explanation was given, but we were told that our hopes of emigration to Botany Bay must be abandoned. Had I possessed the means of paying my passage to Nova Scotia at this time, I would have returned at once, but my money was nearly gone, and idle seamen so numerous about the docks that it was impossible to work my passage. So many ships had been paid off at the conclusion of peace, and so many regiments disbanded, that hundreds of seamen and soldiers were begging on the streets.

In comparing England with the various nations of Europe, I had often heard it stated that no industrious Englishman could starve. Nothing could have been further from the truth. The Enclosure Acts, which had begun to depopulate the countryside as far back as the reign of Queen Elizabeth, were now culminating in a state of affairs shocking to every true Englishman. They had made homeless, and driven to London, thousands of men, women, and children of the sturdy country stock which has ever been the backbone of the nation. Most of these unfortunates asked nothing more than the chance to earn an honest livelihood, however hard the work or scanty the wage. Yet for a large proportion the chances of this were slight indeed. It was well known that there were more than twenty thousand homeless in the great city: folk forced to live like animals, or worse, with no shelter from the weather, and no caves or hedgerows into which they might crawl at night. And for each of the homeless there were certainly ten other poor wretches, able to obtain only the miserable daily pittance required for a bed in some crowded and filthy doss house. Begging, theft, robbery, and prostitution would at least lift a man or woman out of the ranks of the homeless, and these occupations were followed by many thousands of London’s inhabitants. Of beggars alone, there were more than fifteen thousand at this time, and it was said that they lived better than honest men. If I write with some assurance of London’s poor, it is because I have lived and worked among them, been confined with them in gaol, and know them better than any other class of English folk.

There was nothing I could do but seek employment, and attempt to save enough to pay my passage back to Canada. Without influence, it was useless to hope for dignified or well-paid work. There were scores of applicants for every place of this kind, whether in the countinghouses of the City, the East India Company, or in Government employ. I tried my hand at a dozen humble occupations and lost employment time after time because I could not learn to swallow my pride. The poor man who wishes to pick up a living in London must above all be obsequious; the bow, the servile smile, the hat in the hand, the “Yes, my lady,” and “Your Honour’s too kind”—these are the touchstones which transmute copper pennies into silver sixpences. I held horses, swept crossings, frequented the courtyards of inns in hopes of earning a few coppers as a porter, carried a sedan chair, and worked as a lumper, unloading the cargoes of ships at anchor in the river. In this latter occupation I might have enjoyed a modest prosperity had I been willing to steal, as did my fellow workers, almost without exception, every day of their lives. At last, by a stroke of good luck, I obtained steady work, at a wage which enabled me to save a few shillings a month.

During my first summer in England, Mr. Fleming and I had often visited the Black Swan, in Holborn, whence the York coaches left three times each week. The landlord was a pleasant, jovial fellow, for whom we both felt a hearty liking. One day in the late autumn, when I had pawned everything I could spare and was nearly at my wit’s end, I decided to renew my acquaintance with the man I had known in better days. He proved a friend indeed, questioning me in a manner so kindly that I opened my heart to him, and was soon installed as a night hostler, with a warm bed in the straw and a bellyful of good food twice each day.

It was here that I met Tom Oakley. He was a horse dealer, as I supposed, and since, like all Maryland men, I love a fine horse, we were drawn together by my admiration of his mare, Rosamond. Oakley came frequently to the Black Swan; when our acquaintance had ripened into friendship, he often invited me to his room upstairs, to talk of horses and share a bowl of punch or a bottle of claret. Tom was a strong-made, smallish man of twenty-five, with a weatherbeaten, ruddy face and bright blue eyes; he went plainly dressed, in breeches and a long, square-cut coat, but his waistcoats were of satin and there was always fine lace at his throat and wrists. I put him down as the son of a wealthy yeoman farmer, or even of some squire in a distant county.

I was thinking of Tom as I trudged homeward one wintry afternoon. It was my custom to inquire at the New England Coffee House for letters from Nova Scotia. On this occasion I found a letter from my uncle, informing me that my mother had fallen ill of a wasting consumption, and was not likely to live through the winter. He urged me to sail for Nova Scotia at once, since my mother longed to see me once more before she died. The news placed me in a cruel position. Ships bound for Canada were few; the cheapest passage I had been offered cost thirty pounds, which might as well have been three hundred, and of working my way there was still not the slightest hope. Mr. Fleming was gone, and I knew no one from whom I might borrow more than a few shillings. Tom Oakley was my only hope. I doubted that I could bring myself to borrow from him, but hoped that he might be at the Black Swan on my return. The landlord had been so kind to me that I would as soon have spat in his face as asked him to lend me thirty pounds.

I found the pair of them in the court of the inn. Oakley was showing the landlord a strong sorrel gelding he had fetched from the country. I took Rosamond from one of the other hostlers, rubbed her down well, blanketed her, and walked her for a time before I led her inside. Oakley came into the stall where I was stroking the mare’s neck as she munched her oats.

“How fares it, Hugh?” he asked. “Come, dine with me; I’ve a leash of wild duck and two bottles of the best.”

It had been a lonely and depressing day; I was glad to join Oakley in his cozy chamber upstairs. He was in a gay mood and began to entertain me with droll stories of his trading in horseflesh, and the trickery and subterfuge employed by the horse copers of Southern England. Presently he broke off and glanced at me keenly.

“Ye’ve a face to curdle milk,” he said. “What ails ye? Come, out with it!”

“I’m in the dumps,” I admitted, with a wry smile; “but naught’s so bad it can’t be mended.”

“True enough, but there’s times when a friend comes in handy. Ye’re in trouble, that’s clear. Make a clean breast of it; two heads are better than one.”

His glance was so friendly, and his interest so genuine, that I found myself explaining my sorry situation and the events that had led up to it, while he put in a question now and then. I said nothing of my mother or her illness, but made it clear that my uncle required me in Nova Scotia, and that I had no means of getting there. When I had finished, he sat silent for a time.

“Ye’ve had a rough hard time of it,” said he. “So ye fought for the King in the American War? There’s aplenty here in England would say ye chose the wrong side. Where’s all the redcoats and jack-tars now? Begging in the streets and sleeping in hedgerows! England’s no place for a man of spirit these days. No . . . It’s every man for himself, by fair means or foul!”

I nodded, somewhat glumly, for he had done no more than put my own thoughts into words.

“We were small farmers in the North of England,” he went on; “my father, and grandfather, and his father before him. Our village and its common lands went back to Norman times. We was poor, but we lacked naught needful, and we was free men, by God! Then Parliament passed another Enclosure Act, and the land we’d ploughed and planted for seven hundred years went into pasture for His Grace’s sheep. My father had hopes for me, before we was enclosed. He gave me more schooling than our station warranted. What for? And what’s one deserted village, out of a thousand, when ye come to think of it? The others crawled away to take service, or beg, or walk the streets of London, if they was females, and young. But not Tom Oakley!”

He took a long pull at his glass and grinned at me suddenly. “Enough o’ that! One Friday face’ll do the pair of us. . . . See here, Hugh—England owes ’ee a debt, there’s no question of that. Why not take the collectin’ of it into yer own hands?”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

He looked at me shrewdly. “What I say—no more and no less.”

He rose, glanced up and down the passageway, and closed the door again. After a moment of striding back and forth in thought, he went on, lowering his voice: “I’ve not known ye long,” he said, “but I know a man I can trust when I see him. How far would ye go for a double fistful of guineas? I’ve jobs now and again, too risky to tackle singlehanded. Would ye join forces with me, for to see how ye’ll thrive at my trade? ’Tis a good one, I promise.”

His eyes met mine in a clear, straightforward glance. “Ye don’t take my meaning? Damme, I’ll out with it! I’m a highwayman. And what of that? I’m only getting my own back, and I’ve the right, by God! The fact is I’m a kind of chirurgeon for your lords and ladies, and purse-proud citizens. I slit their purses and save ’em from a congestion of gold.”

“More power to you!” said I.

“Think it over. There’s risks in my work, but well worth the taking. I just saw my cruiser. There’s a horse load of guineas comin’ our way! It’s as sure as rain at a review, or ladies at a rape trial! But think it over. I’ll not press ye for aye or nay on the dot.”

Before I left Oakley, I had agreed to become a highwayman. And although the admission may seem strange, coming from a man brought up as I had been, I can affirm that I did not then, and do not now, feel shame at having turned to such desperate work. I was destined to feel bitter regret, when it was too late to mend matters, but nothing more. Oakley directed me how to find the farm of a certain Mrs. Nellie Garth, northwest of London, where his horses were kept, and when I spoke to the landlord of the Black Swan, next day, he tipped me a wink that was like a nudge in the ribs as he informed me that he knew of another man who would take my place.


There had been a heavy frost during the night, and the sun shone in a pale-blue wintry sky. It was bitter cold, but I walked briskly through the squalor and misery of St. Giles, along Oxford Street to the frozen stillness of Hyde Park, where patches of snow lay on the grass, and the trees stood gaunt and half-dead in the grip of the frost. The long, narrow lake, ice-covered, glittered in the sunlight; the waterfowl had taken refuge in their little ornamental houses, and sat with feet tucked under them on beds of straw. Leaving London behind, I followed the Uxbridge Road, through Ealing, and came at last to Southall, where Oakley had directed me to turn north.

A narrow lane, deep-rutted and hard as iron under the frost, led me through the village of Northolt, and I was tempted to stop for dinner at the inn where several carriers’ wagons were drawn up. Since all the folk were indoors and no one had noticed me, it seemed best to continue on to Wood End, a village of no more than half a dozen houses, where I was to turn west and make my way across country to Mrs. Garth’s place. The lane I now followed, bordered by hedges of thorn, was scarcely more than a cart track, so narrow that two wagons could not have passed. I followed it for half a mile without passing a single house, and the sun was in my eyes when I came to the gateway Oakley had described, between two fir trees that gleamed with ice crystals in the level light.

The farm was as small as it was lonely, and I could see that it was an orderly, well-kept place. A hundred paces back from the lane was a stone cottage with a low, thatched roof, and the farm buildings beyond looked as neat and substantial as the dwelling.

I knocked, and waited for some little time before the door was opened by a woman who stood in the entry way eyeing me coldly. She might have been in her late twenties, or early thirties. Her eyes were dark blue, under level brows, her colour fresh and glowing, and her figure, considerably above the average height, would have served as a model for a statuary.

“Mrs. Garth?” I asked, raising my hat.

“Aye,” said she, regarding me with the same frosty look. “What d’ye wish?”

“I was directed to you by Tom Oakley. He asked me to meet him here.”

“I know no Tom Oakley.”

“But he told me to come to your house,” I replied.

“What he may have told ye is your affair, and his. It’s none of mine,” said she.

She stepped back, ready to close the door, eyeing me in the same hostile manner. There was nothing for it but retreat.

“Then I wish you good evening,” I said.

Her only reply was to shut the door and slide the bolt.

The moon, round, yellow, and at the full, was rising as I retraced my steps in the narrow lane. I had a couple of shillings in my pocket, but it would be a weary walk back to Northolt, where I planned to spend the night. If Oakley were hereabout, he would guess, perhaps, where necessity had taken me. I was puzzled by the woman at the farmhouse and wondered if I could have mistaken the name given me by Oakley. What an Amazon, I thought, as suspicious as she was strong and handsome.

I had gone no great distance when I heard the sound of a horse’s frost nails ringing on the frozen road. It was Oakley’s mare, coming on at a fast easy canter. He pulled up at sight of me.

“What the devil!” he said. “Where bound, Hugh?”

“Where bound? From Mrs. Garth’s, to be sure! She’s never heard of you. She looked ready to set the dog on me!”

Tom laughed heartily. “Staunch old Nellie! Cautious is the word with her. Ye might have been a constable for aught she knew. About-face, lad! Ye look half-froze.”

He dismounted stiffly and walked at my side, leading the mare. When we turned in at the gate, Mrs. Garth gave the pair of us a welcome as warm as mine had been cold half an hour before.

“Tom,” said she, “when ye wish to meet friends at my house, I’ll thank ye for word in advance.”

“I thought to be here before him, Nellie. Would there be a bite of supper for a pair of starved travelers?”

“There might,” said Garth, with a smile. She ushered us into her warm kitchen, and a quarter of an hour later we tucked into a hearty meal, a cold joint with bread and cheese and home-brewed ale to go with it. I felt more at home in this place than I had since leaving America. It was just such a kitchen as one finds among the farmers and small planters of Maryland: clean, cozy, glowing with comfort and good cheer. The great spit in the fireplace, on which fifty pounds weight of beef might have turned, the spotless floor, the shining pots and pans, the hams, sides of bacon, and strings of onions hanging from the beams, all showed the well-managed farm and household where thrift and simple abundance were matters of course.

While we were at table the door opened, and the lad who had taken Oakley’s mare came in. He looked at me with shy wondering eyes as he went to the fireplace to warm his hands.

“Ye’ve rubbed her down well, Nat?” asked Tom.

The boy nodded.

“And put the heavy blanket on her?”


“Ye can trust him with the horses,” said Garth. “They know him as well as yourself.”

Nat was a waif of fourteen, whom Garth had found starving in Covent Garden Market, some years before. A widow, with no child of her own, she centred all the love of her generous heart upon this boy, who, though not precisely simple-minded, had the trustful, confiding nature of a child of five. When Mrs. Garth rescued him from the London streets, Nat had been cuffed from pillar to post for as long as he could remember, but under her cherishing care he had forgotten that evil existed in the world. He worshiped his foster mother, followed her about with his soft brown eyes, and would spring to do her bidding almost before her wish was expressed.

Not a word was said during the evening of the purpose of my coming here. Presently Mrs. Garth went to her own chamber; Oakley lighted a candle and led the way up a steep flight of stairs, to a garret under the thatch. There were two narrow beds in the place, some articles of clothing hanging on pegs, and a chest of drawers. Oakley seated himself on one of the beds.

“Well, Hugh, how do ye like my countryseat?” he asked.

“A snug spot,” I replied. “Do you come here often?”

“Whenever I’m working this side of London.” He gave me a steady searching look. “Now that ye’ve had time to sleep on the matter, how does it strike ye? There’s no call for haste, if ye wish to weigh it further. . . ?”

“I made my decision at the Black Swan. I’m your man, if you’ll have me.”

“Have ’ee? That I will!” he replied heartily. “Call it settled, then.” He paused. “Here’s what I’ve in mind: ye’ve heard, maybe, of a young Mr. Baxter, him that won the ten thousand pounds in a night, at Brooks’s.”

“I can’t say I have.”

“No matter for that. He’s at Bath at this present moment, taking the waters by day, and all the rhino in the place by night. My scout tells me he’s like to leave for London around this day week. So far he’s won a bag of guineas would break a horse’s back. If his luck holds, we’ll ease him of it as sure as my name’s Oakley.”

“How’ll we know when he’s to leave Bath?”

“Trust my cruiser for that. I’ll have word, with all the particulars, well in advance.” He drew out a handsome watch, in a gold hunting case, and wound it slowly. “Now, lad, I’m for bed. I’ve ridden a good thirty miles since morning.” He pressed the stem of the watch, and it sounded ten soft, clear chimes. “Have a look, Hugh. I took that, with a bonus of fifty guineas, from the biggest thief in the Kingdom.”

“A thief?”

“Aye,” said Oakley with a grin. “But he robs by law, from inside the Admiralty Victualing Board. How the rogue hated to part with his watch!”

“You don’t fear to carry it?”

“Not now. I’ve had it christened. Look!”

I glanced at the maker’s name: “Ducour Frères, Paris.”

“It strikes the French chimes now,” Tom remarked. “But Basset & Harvey made it. Their name’s off as clean as ye wipe a slate. . . . Well, lad, I’m for bed,” and a moment later he was fast asleep.

After my wretched hand-to-mouth existence in London, the peace and homely comfort of Garth’s farm made the place a haven indeed to me. Oakley was away a good part of the week, and I returned to the life of a countryman with a keenness of interest and pleasure that won me Mrs. Garth’s friendship from the first day. I took over the outside chores, milking the cow, feeding the pigs, cutting firewood and the like, and ate Garth’s excellent meals with the appetite of a harvest hand. She was no woman to pour out her history to a stranger, but I learned a good deal about her life during the days that followed. She came of farming folk in the West of England, and had lived there until the time of her marriage. Since her husband’s death, some years before, she had managed this farm herself, going twice a week with her horse and cart to carry produce to Covent Garden Market. She asked nothing of her neighbours save to be left in peace, and I gathered that she had but one close friend in this part of the country, a Mrs. Windle who lived half a mile distant, and whom I once saw for a moment. It was plain that she had a hearty liking for Mrs. Windle, as warmly returned by her neighbour. For the most part, Nat was her only companion. The relationship between the boy and his foster mother was something to touch the heart of a looker-on. Few words passed between them in the course of a day: they seemed to have no need for much speaking. To be together was all either needed for that content which is something deeper than happiness.

One evening when Oakley was absent and Nat had gone to bed, Nellie opened her mind to me freely about Tom. He had first come to her place two years before, she said, with three horses he wished to put out to grass.

“I struck a bargain with him, Tallant, for I was willing enough to put by a bit of extra money. I boarded and cared for the horses, and let him the garret at five shillings a week, for the times he said he’d be coming this way on his business. He’d be in and out of the place, sometimes a day or two in the week, and again we’d not see him for a fortnight; but it came to be a kind of home to him in the end. We took to him, Nat and me, straight off, and looked forrard to his coming. I never doubted he was a dealer in fine horses, for they was the main part of his talk and I could see the love he had for ’em, but one day he says to me: ‘Nellie, ye’re an honest law-abiding woman, and I can’t abide to carry false colours in this house. Ye’d best know the truth about me. I’m a highwayman, and I think shame to myself for not having spoke before. Say the word and I’ll take my nags and clear out.’

“ ‘I esteem ye none the less for that,’ said I, ‘but if I’d known when ye first came here, I’d not have harboured ye for so much as a day.’

“ ‘Then ye wish me to go?’ said he.

“ ‘I haven’t said it yet,’ I told him. ‘I’ll think about it and let ye know for certain when ye next come.’

“And so I did, and the more I thought, the less I liked the notion of sendin’ him about his business. Nat thought the world and all of him; I knew the lad would miss him sore, and so would I, for the matter of that. Afore I was married I’d lost a brother as like Tom as two men could be, not of the same blood. Well, I thought and I pondered, and the end of it was that, when he came again, I said: ‘Tom, bide here and welcome as long as ye please, but Nat’s never to know the trade ye’re in, and I wish to know no more of it than ye’ve told me already.’ And that’s how it’s been since. There’s times I’ve been worried and anxious, as though he was my own kin, for fear he was catched; and I’ve worried more for Nat’s sake, for if Tom was took, they’d have me up for harbouring, and where would the lad be then?”

I had thought of the same thing more than once. Though I knew that Mrs. Garth received nothing from Oakley save the money for rent and pasturage and feed, I had little doubt as to how she would stand in the eyes of the law.

She regarded me with a grim, anxious smile. “And now I’ve a pair of ye to harbour! And what’ll come of it, in the end . . . Tallant, I don’t doubt but ye’ll make the best of companions for Tom; he needs just such a man as yerself to stand back to back with him. But mind what ye do! Ye don’t belong in that trade, and Tom knows it as well as myself. Whatever have ye took to it for?”

“It’s not one I mean to follow for long,” I replied, and then I told her something of my life up to this time, of my miserable existence in London, and of my plans for a return to Canada as soon as I had money enough for a passage. “That’s understood between us,” I added. “Tom has taken me in, not so much because he needs me, but to help me over a bad stretch of road.”

“Mind it’s not the end of the road, young man! I wish ye was well beyond it, on the kind of road ye should be traveling.”

“Never fear. I shall be, before many weeks.”

“And ye’re for America again? Sometimes I’ve teased myself with the notion of going there. What like of a country will it be where ye came from—all wilderness and savage Indians?”

“Far from it,” I replied. “You’d see fine settled valleys, the land cleared long since, with fat cattle and sheep grazing in the pastures, and arable land richer than could be found in the whole of England. You could buy a farm five times the size of yours for a fifth of what would be paid for this. I’d like well to coax Tom to come, for he’d thrive there, on his own fine acres, as a breeder of horses. There’s no great towns and no miserable starved creatures such as you see everywhere in England. The black slaves fare better than the half of London.”

“I’d like well to go there,” said Garth, musingly, “and who knows? Mebbe I will, some day. But egg Tom into it if ye can. ’Twould be a heavy load from the heart to know him safe, and settled into an honest life. If he stays in England, I see the end as plain as I see his mare yonder in the pasture.”

Tom came back on the Saturday noon with the news we’d been waiting for. Mr. Baxter was London bound from Bath and had spent the previous night at Reading. He was not traveling by post chaise but in his own carriage, with his own horses, and making a leisurely journey of it. Oakley had learned from his cruiser that Baxter would leave Reading about two o’clock this same afternoon.

“Reading is forty miles from London,” he said, “and I know exactly how he means to come. We’ll be off, Hugh, when we’ve polished off Nellie’s dinner, comfortable-like, and jog south-along to Heston. It’s thereabout we’ll meet him, and, by the Lord, he’ll be well worth waiting for!”

“His luck’s held, then?” I asked.

“No, but ours has, or call me out. This I know: He dropped all but three hundred guineas before he left Bath, and he’ll drop what’s left afore ever his horses’ hoofs touch pavement. My cruiser has spied out his company. There’ll be none but himself inside, with the coachman and a third on the box beside him. Hugh, if ye’re set for Canada, ye can go to London to-morrow to take passage, though I’ll be the last to urge haste upon ye.”

The winter afternoon was half spent when Oakley and I set out. He rode his favourite mare, Rosamond, and my mount was a spirited sorrel. It was a delight to be on a horse’s back once more. Garth stood in the doorway, looking glumly after us as we cantered down the lane leading to the highway. Little I dreamed, then, where that road was to take us. It was the first leg of a journey of better than fourteen thousand miles, that was to fetch us up at Botany Bay.

I felt no prickings of conscience, no misgivings, as we rode on at a smart pace through the gathering winter dusk. I was reminded of raids I had made, with Loyalist comrades, into enemy territory during the American War: there was the same heightened sense of expectancy, of adventure with risk attached, the same quickening of the blood. As for Tom, I could see how keenly he relished the prospect of the work before us: it was like food and drink to a man of his spirit.

Night had fallen by the time we reached the place where we were to wait: a small thicket thirty paces from the highroad, two miles to the west of Heston. The air was crisp and bracing and the winter stars sparkled in a cloudless sky. Here we dismounted, looked to the priming of our pistols, and fastened handkerchiefs over the lower part of our faces.