A CONVICT named Isaacs

The following incomplete article was found on a microfilm held at the Genealogical Society of Queensland identified as GSQ NSW 831/002 Manuscript in the Mitchell Library CY Reel 1793.


The article was 13 pages of hand written script with very little punctuation. I have taken the liberty of adding punctuation to make it easier to read. The Mitchell Library in Sydney has confirmed that the fragment on the microfilm is all that remains, and has given permission for its use.


It is titled – Life of a convict named Isaacs, a Jew in Van Diemen’s Land taken down from his own dictation in 1821 by T. Scott.


I was born in the city of London and was reared by my parents tenderly, being the youngest son. They took great pains of me until I was 13 years old. My mother died when I was young. My father gave me good advice, but I was not to take it. I began to know myself and pick up with bad companions. The first of my transactions was I robbed my father of £75. I being so young I did not know what to do with such a great sum of money, but I soon found some of my companions who soon learnt me how to make away with it and then the way how to get more elsewhere. I then soon began to be very knowing, as good as themselves. I never met with my father, not for 12 mths after when he heard what a pretty game his son was carrying on would soon bring him to the gallows. He fetched me home with him and told me if I would leave off this line of life he would bind me apprentice to a respectable tradesman. I told him I would, and making faithful promises he bound me apprentice to an upholsterer with him. I did not stop very long. My fingers were itching to be at my old game.


One day my master sent me to Gentleman’s house with some furniture where I was to draw the money and bring it to him, he putting a deal of trust in me. I drew the money and kept it, and ran away with it. I went then to my companions which I picked up with at first till my money was gone. One day as I was working the street, I met with my father again. He told me I had been playing a pretty game with my master after the faithful promises I had made to him that my master declared when he saw me he would put me in gaol. I then said to my father I did not care what he said for I wanted none of his advises, that I would take good care he would not put me in gaol, and on the same night I went out with two of my companions when we broke open a house which we cleaned of everything to the value of 9 pence. We directly went and sold our swag for fear of being found out. I received my share £37 and then went down to the country.


One of my companions being taken for the same robbery got transported for life. I went to Worcester, and for fear of being apprehended myself, I enlisted for a soldier. I was then 15 years old. That line of life seemed very strange to me. When the sergeant took me down as far as (Gloucester) where I received 8 guineas, the half of my bounty, which seemed very little in my hands after what I had been lately used to, that I soon spent it in about 2 (?). After I went to join the Regiment (Num) lying in Jersey where I soon became acquainted with new companions. When two of my comrades and myself was on guard one night together, we laid our heads together for to break open the Quarter Master’s Stores that same night at 12 o’clock when we completed our business. We planted the swag down by the seaside. On the next night we took the greatest part of it and sold it – consisting of shovels, pick axes, blankets, sheets, etc. to the amount of £550.


Two weeks after, as we were coming home from the country from the people to whom we had sold it, being half past 8, we met the Corporal of the picket. He asked us where we had been. I told him we were going home. I had some tea and sugar for my own use I had got from the people we had sold the property to, which tea and sugar was of a great value, and I determined to get it by some means or other. The Corporal put us all 3 in the Guard House and there we remained till next morning when the Adjutant came down and said we were the three who had robbed the Quarter Master’s Stores. He said to me what the other two did not know (?) them, and (?) the sergeant that ever enlisted such a scoundrel bringing a disgrace upon the Regiment. He told me he would flog me above all the rest if I did not tell him where the property was. At the same time he might as well have asked the stones where it was for I should never have told him. He then related the circumstances to the Colonel who on the next day tried us by a court martial for the robbery and then we were sent to the guard house again. We remained there two days and then upon solitary confinement upon bread and water. Then I began to be very well pleased thinking that it would be all that I would receive. We remained there 30 days in that condition. One morning previously unknown to us we were suddenly taken out and received 300 lashes apiece by the tap of the drum. I then began to be very sorry of not taking my father’s advice when I was at home, but all this I did not mind. I then got well and remaining in the Company to which I belonged steady, a young gentleman, lately come into the Regiment as an officer, picked me out to be his (?). I thought to myself he could not pick out a worse (?) but used to put very great trust in me till one day I took the liberty of going to his desk where his money was and took out 5 dollars. He did not miss this small sum. I continued this very often thinking he would not miss such small sums till one day he happened to miss £15. He called me to an account. I told him I knew nothing about it. He said he would not report it to the Colonel or he would get me a good flogging if I would tell him whether I took the money or not. I told him I knew nothing about it. He might do as he liked. He sent me to my duty again.


A few months after, our Regiment was ordered to Spain. We set sail from Jersey and in 7 weeks we arrived at Lisbon, where being formerly used to pilfering I still carried it on, but fortune favoured me here so that I never was found out. Sometimes there when I was short of money I would take my blanket and sell it to a Spanish woman and get sometimes 5 or 6 dollars for it. When I had sold it I would go and put two stripes upon my arm as a corporal and go to the person I sold the blanket to and demand it back again. I soon found this was a good way of doing here. I sometimes sold it to 5 or 6 people in a night and always got it back again. I then found out another scheme that when the army would be engaged I would always be in the rear robbing and plundering the dead, but one day I was picked up at that by an officer who asked me “what I was about”. I made him no answer but he told me to go with him. He then ordered his drummer to tie me up to the first tree and gave me 5 dozen. This was at the Battle of Salamanca and sent me by a Corporal to my regiment. When I joined my regiment they were ordered then for to march farther up the country. After arriving in the camp I fell in with the Corporal belonging to another regiment. He said he knew me very well and if I would go with him he could take me to a Spanish woman’s house where we could get something worth. I told him I did not care much. When we came to the house it seemed a poor place. We went in and found but very little money only about £5 that I took and shared it with him. I soon found he was no judge of houses. I would have nothing to do with him any more.


Two nights before the Action of Toulouse we lay in a village where I saw the door of a house open. I went in and found an old woman who asked me in Spanish what I wanted. I could talk very little Spanish myself but I made signs to her that I wanted money. She went to the cupboard and brought me to the amount of 9½/- and said it was all she had and then stamped on the floor and so much as to say “It was not enough” and I would have more till I searched the house all over. I could find nothing but a pair of sheets of any value. Then I took the 9½/-. The sheets I sold to a woman in the regiment. She gave me only 4/6 for them.


When the Action commenced at sunrise in the morning I was at my old trade the same as at Salamanca. I was very fortunate in the midst of this battle. I fell in with an officer who was killed. I searched his pockets. I took his purse and watch and epaulets. In the purse was 10 guineas in gold, 5 dollars, and 2 crowns. Then I thought for fear of being catched. It was time for me to leave off. I went up and joined my regiment. One or two of my comrades asked me where I had been, but I made them no answer and the Action was then very near upon a closure. After the Action we advanced into France and were quartered in the country villages. I was quartered in a house by myself where there was an old woman with two daughters and one son. The one daughter was 22 and the other 19, both unmarried, the boy 16. When they asked me what religion I was, I told them I was a Catholic as I understood they liked all to be of their own religion. They soon learnt me to talk French. I was two months with them before I did anything amiss until I found out all corners. The first that I took from them was 17 francs out of a basin in the cupboard. They did not blame me for it but I heard them (?) a disturbance with the son about it. One day I was watching the oldest daughter as she was counting out some money and saw her tie it up in a piece of cloth and hide it underneath the cupboard at night. When they were all gone to bed, I got up softly and took the bag, and in the morning the young girl went to look for it. I heard her tell her mother in French that the money was gone. Although she had done as she desired her with it she told her daughter to ask me if I knew anything of it. I told her I did not and wondered how she could ask me any such thing and asked her if they thought I had robbed them. She said that it was all that she and her mother, sister and brother were worth and she did not wish to make any more complaint about it so that she got it again for no stranger could come into the house to take it. She then made a complaint to the officer who told me if I did not bring the money to light that he would flog me. I made him no answer. He went and ordered a serjent to confine me. I still had this money concealed. I was brought before the Colonel. He told me if he could prove it against me he would hang me, but fortune was in my favour so that they could not bring it against me, and they shifted my quarter and put me in another house under the eye of a sergeant where I had but little opportunity of getting any thing.


One day as I was walking in a field by myself about a mile from the town I overhauled my former deposit, and found it to consist of 17 Louis dollars, 65 dollars, 5 half dollars and 27 francs. I then thought I might rest myself a while and I could make a very good shift without doing anything for some time. In a short time after we got the road for England. We shipped at Bordeaux, and in 14 days arrived at Plymouth and marched to Portsmouth 4 days. After arrival I soon got short of money. I said to one of my comrades I will go out tonight and try what luck. He was agreeable to what I said. We went together and in the street fell in with a drunken gentleman. I said now is our time to see what he has. Whilst he was looking in at a cook’s window I served his pocket and found 2/2½. I then went around to the other side of him whilst my comrade was looking over his shoulder. I went to the other side and got his handkerchief which only brought 1/7. I said to my comrade this is a very poor night’s work and as we were going to the barracks we fell in with a drunken whore. We asked her where she was going. She told us to ask her and I gave her a push and knocked her down and searched her all over as she lay and only found 7½d and a little snuff box with a silver 6d in it. I says then – we will go home taking our way there. Then at the market place I saw a drunken sailor. He said he had been robbed of all the money he had. I said to him it was a pity that he should be served in that manner. I told him to get sleep till he got sober. We left him and he went to sleep. We came back to him again when I found he had a good pair of shoes and a handkerchief which we took and went home.


On the next day we got the route for America. The night before we sailed, I took the liberty to stop out all night and sold all my necessaries. In the morning I was taken and brought into barracks where the adjutant asked me where my necessaries were. I told him I knew nothing about them. He said he would get me a good flogging. I was tried by drum head court martial and sentenced 200 lashes. I got it upon the spot. The next morning we embarked at Portsmouth on board the Ceylon E S for America in May 1814. After a long passage of 3 months we arrived near the town of New Orleans on the banks of the Mississippi, to the east of the town. We landed upon the Tuesday and marched up 5 miles to the camp before the city, and on the Sunday following, the 8thSeptember, in the morning we engaged after a long and bloody engagement of 24 hours. We began to cease firing a little while and every man felt fatigued and hungry. I then says to my comrade I must go out and see what I can find. I then came to a black man laying on his belly. I kicked his hat off and I thought I had found a prize for the hat was full of biscuit and beef. I then went a little further among the wounded. I then came to an officer belonging to the West India Regiment with part of his skull shot off. I searched his haversack and there I found a pair of fine roast duck and some white biscuit, then thought within myself I had very good luck – I found besides in his haversack a shirt, a pair of stockings and a purse with 5 dollars. But before I could get cleverly back to my own regiment the Americans were beginning to fire harder than they had done before from the walls at us. I then met my comrade (who had been out upon the same game as myself) just as I came into the ranks. He says comrade what luck. I told him very indifferent. He says it’s not so with me for I have found a small tin of dollars. Very good, says I, that will do well. We were then ordered to retreat out of the field.


That night we went back for 2 miles and then halted. I, on that same night, was first on the outline picket. In about half an hour after I was stationed, the Indian squaws came from the army without provisions. There were no distinctions, the officers getting the same as the next man. The captain of our company cried who will roast me a piece of beef. I will cried I. I roasted him his meat and gave him a piece of biscuit and then I saw his canteen full of rum laying by his side. Oh says I to myself, I must have this. I immediately went and filled my own canteen full of water, placed in the place where his was full of rum and took his away. I and three more of us went and enjoyed ourselves. In half an hour later, the captain called out where is my rum, he finding the canteen full of water standing by his side. He called for me as I had cooked his supper for him before and asked if I had seen the rum. I said no sir and then I changed the canteen again leaving his own empty and took mine away with the water. He then said he could find neither rum nor canteen. I then turns round and said sir here is your canteen standing here but no rum in it. He said he would give £5 to know the man who took it. I told him I would try to find him out.


At about 2 in the morning the Americans began fire again which caused all the pickets to be engaged and brought the whole body of the army down and there we remained fighting till daylight. At 8 in the morning we sent in a flag of truce to them for 12 hours, to bury the dead. At 12 next night we were forced to retreat off the field altogether for 6 miles. In two days after we were forced to take refuge on board the ships where we came from, being only 10 days ashore. We were landed upon an island called Dolphin Island – the whole army. Two companys from each regiment were drafted to go and storm the Fort of Mobille about 12 miles from the island. We went in flat bottomed boats and landed at 12 at night, and at daylight we had everything ready for storming the Fort. We were commanded by Major Munroe of the Artillery. We sent them word whether they intended to surrender or not. They sent that if they got until 12 noon they would surrender. They were allowed to march out with the honours of war – 350 fine young men. We immediately took possession. We began to look about the place and could find nothing in it but sand bags, it being built of wood and mounted 26 guns. We were in the Fort 15 days and were very badly off for want of provisions. They one time gave us pork that we refused. They buried it in the sand it was so bad. In about 10 days after, there being no provisions, they dug the stinking pork up again and served it out to us. I said we must either take it or want. In about 5 days after, we were embarked on board the fleet and (in consequence of peace being proclaimed) embarked for England. I have to mention a circumstance that happened in the Fort. When we first came into it, we began to pull up the sand bags that were heaped one above the other. I struck something with my bayonet, and pulling up some more boards and bags found a small box full of dollars, about 360, which we spent afterwards.


Some of the ships went one way and some another. Our ship met with a contrary wind so that we could get with much ado into Halifax. Before we arrived we were short of water and had no bread but flour aboard. We were for 6 weeks upon a pint of water and a quarter pound of flour a day till we got in sight of Halifax Harbour. We went 10 weeks from Dolphin Island to Halifax. When we arrived there we all got ashore and remained there a month till the ship got victualled and watered. We then embarked for England and took an Agent who had been left there on board our ship. One day as I was walking the deck, the Agent came to the forcastle for something that was the matter with the sailors. I turned round, not thinking he was coming, having a large quid of tobacco in my mouth. I threw away the quid and as bad luck would have it, it fell upon his epaulette. He turned round and said who was that damned rascal, and one of the sailors told him it was me. He went and lodged his complaint to our officer aboard and insisted on my being punished for it, and I was tied up to the gratings and got 75 lashes.


We were a month on our passage till we anchored at Spithead. We had scarcely dropped before we got orders to go round to the Downs and there we were ordered to be in readiness to go over to Ostend. When we were fitted out in 3 days we landed at Ostend, and to my joy I heard that the Battle of Waterloo was over. We were then put in boats and went up the Canal as far as Ghent, being 4 days on our way. When we arrived there we were billeted in different houses in the town. During our stay here every man got a week’s liberty to go about the town and no duty to do. I was quartered upon a baker who kept a shop. Every time I rised to go into the house for my meals, I used to take a silver spoon or fork with me which I put in a secret place till I went away. The night before we went away I went down at midnight to the shop where I began to search for their money, but I found it all gone. I then went upstairs and thought a pair of sheets and boots were the only things I could take away with me.


At 4 o’clock in the morning we got the route and marched 7 leagues that day upon the road to Paris. When I came into my quarters at night I sold the sheets, boots and silver forks and spoons for 3 Luis dollars to the people I slept with. Next day we went on for 5 leagues. Me and my comrade were quartered upon a poor man and woman in the town. We took from them a pair of trowsers and sheet and blanket and 4 small cheeses which was all we could find worth taking, we making it a rule to rob every house as we went along. We were 10 days in going from Ghent to Nuielly Camp within 3 miles of Paris and 2 from St Damis. The last night but one of our journey, me and my comrade were quartered a shoemaker’s house. Before we came away in the morning very soon as they were up, we stole 4 hides of red Morocco leather, but before we could get all the parties together we were found out by the shoemaker’s wife who missed her leather. She found it upon my comrade and went and reported it to the Captain of this party. He was tried by a drum head court martial and gave him 150 lashes and then made him march on.


After I had been a month at Nuielly Camp as I was one day on guard I fell in with an Irish man belonging to the Regiment. He says to me damn my eyes if I don’t desert and I says damn my eyes if I don’t too, and in the morning at 4 o’clock, happening to be both on sentry together, we thought it the best time to go off and we went in full marching order with our arms and accoutrements. We travelled the first day all the way through the camps of the allied army without being known. At night we found ourselves within 3 miles of the village we left in the morning. I was very jarring upon this. I did not like what I had done but I thought as I had begun I might as well go through with it. I then took fresh courage and went into a wine shop and laid myself down upon a form close by the fireplace, the woman asking me in French if I was unwell. I told her I was and she took me backwards up some stone steps and………


Unfortunately that is all that remains of the story of Isaacs. The fact that the narration was found on a microfilm wit Port Macquarie Deposition Books, can we assume it was written at Port Macquarie?


Who was T. Scott? Was he the following Thomas A Scott of Port Macquarie who is mentioned below?


Thomas A. Scott, Superintendent of the Sugar Plantation at Port Macquarie being duly sworn deposed. On Thursday morning the 2nd June instant about the break of day while asleep in the dwelling which I occupy at Prospect, my Servant James Schofield awoke me, saying that the prisoners, Gough, Banks, Brooks and Charlton were endeavouring to break into the house.


While I was searching for my Cutlass, Gough broke open the window, and with assistance made his entry therein with a knife in his hand: the first thing he demanded was a Musket, not finding it, he took the cutlass from the bedside, commanded the Servant to open the door, and when Banks and Brooks entered the house, he gave the cutlass to the latter.


Gough then took the Watch belonging to me which was hanging on the fire place, ordered the Servant to light a lamp and demanded to know where the provisions lay: they then took a quantity of flour belonging to myself, the Constable and Overseer, besides some Hemp, Knives and razors government property with All the wearing apparel that was in my box. – in consequence of my Servant delaying to make a light, Brooks stood over him with the Cutlass in a menacing attitude.


They remained in the house about 10 or 15 minutes and on leaving it said they had a great party to join from the plains and that they intended to murder Keegan one of my Overseers [illegible name here in the original manuscript] an Overseer of the Agricultural Establishment.


I am decidedly of opinion that had I offered resistance after they came into the house they would have sacrificed myself and my Servant to effect their purpose. They signified they were sensible of the consequences of what they were about, and therefore would have no delay or nonsense. During my absence on Saturday the 4th June inst. the same gang with increased numbers returned and stripped the place of all they could find suitable to their purpose.


SignedThomas A. Scott


The following article appeared in the Sydney Gazette


In the abortive defence which he presented to the Court, my public character and conduct, as regarded the treatment of the prisoners under my superintendence, was most falsely impugned. With the enlightened and discerning characters who were present on the occasion, I do not apprehend the smallest fear that they conceived an idea, in consequence of Goff’s statements, that would in any way, militate against me. Yet, as erroneous conclusions may by some be entertained against me, I wish briefly to state, that so far as consistency and my duty towards Government permitted, it has always been my utmost wish and study to ameliorate the fallen state of the men under my immediate charge.


My system has and will continue to be such, as to visit the deserving and well behave, with rewards and comforts, which I believe no other crown prisoners enjoy; these I have effected at a very considerable expense; and, in consequence of what has been stated, it affords me pleasure to relate this fact; that the Commandant has frequently and publicly been pleased to bestow upon me the most flattering commendations for the healthy, clean, and orderly state of the whole of the prisoners attached to the plantation establishment, and for the unusually little trouble he has with them in his Magisterial duties. It is true that they have to work hard, yet notwithstanding this fact, the greatest punishment for them would be in being discharged from the establishment. Had any improprieties existed in my treatment of the men, such conduct would have speedily come to the knowledge of the Commandant, who frequently visits the station, and in whose immediate charge and care all the prisoners at Port Macquarie are placed, and who would not have been so remiss in his public duty as to neglect to restrain such irregularities, which I am confidently proud in asserting, have no other ground to support them, than the accusations of a man the most degraded and infamous.


T.A. Scott. Sydney, December 5, 1825