From The Evidence to the Bigge Reports – The Oral Evidence (1971)

Royal Commissioner John Thomas Bigge arrived in Australia in 1819, sent by Secretary of State for the Colonies Lord Bathurst to investigate ‘all the laws regulations and usages of the settlements.’ Surgeon William Redfern had been a surgeon’s mate on HMS Standard  when he was sentenced to death for his role in the 1797 Nore mutiny, commuted to transportation. Bigge’s interview with Redfern on the state of hospitals and health in the infant colony did not go well, according to Redfern’s notes on the minutes of his evidence:

26 June 1820

  1. When & by whom were you appointed assist. Surgeon?
    I was appointed by Lt. Col. Foveaux in May 1802, to fill the situation of surgeon at Norfolk Island.
  1. How long did you remain there?
    Until September 1804. I was then relieved by Mr. Wentworth at Norfolk Island & I continued to assist him & Mr. Conellan until 17 May 1808. I then came to this place in the Month of June of that year through the persuasion of Col. Foveaux & Mr. Wentworth I accepted of the situation of assist. Surgeon of this place where I have remained ever since I received a local commission from Lt. Govr. Foveaux dated “1st Augt. 1808”.
  1. You were I believe recommended by Col Foveaux to His Majesty’s Government; & received a commission from His Royal Highness the P. Regent? 
    I did, & my recommendation from Col Foveaux was supported by Govr. Macquarie.
    I now produce Col. Foveaux recommendation in the hand writing of his Secretary Mr. Finncane (No. 3) Certificate of qualification (No. 2), Notification of Confirmation (No. 4) & Commission (No. 5).
  1. Are you a member of any Medical Society in England Scotland or Ireland?
    I passed an examination in London before the examiners of the Company of Surgeons but I am not a member of any Medical Society.

I must beg leave here to remind you Sir; of the great astonishment which you affected at my having said I had passed the usual examination before the Court of Examiners of the Company of Surgeons in London, observing “Mr. Redfern you must mistake, I think they are called “The Royal College of Surgeons”. I then explained that “at the time I had undergone examination (Jany. 1797) the[y] were then the Company of Surgeons”.

…Now, Sir, with regard to my not belonging to any Medical Society in England, Scotland or Ireland, I beg leave to say that it can make nothing against me. Few, very Few Medical Men in those days entered into the Navy other than I did – that is without Diplomas from any Medical or Surgical Society, as you are pleased to denominate them. And indeed if the[y] had had those Diplomas, which rarely happened they were still obliged to undergo the same examination before the “Court of Examiners of the Surgeons Company”. In those days it was not quite so fashionable to ‘be dubbed an M.D. from St. Andrew, where I might for the customary fee have procured one for My Horse; nor to throw away the fees for a Surgeons Diploma, when certain length of Service in the Army or Navy entitled them to all or nearly all the priviledges external to the College or Company. How Many Medical Men are there in the Colony who have any other claims than to “Chalk & Grinding” – and some of them not even that – merely the Fee for St. Andrews Degree of M.D.

  1. Where did you perform your Medical Studies?
    In London.
John Thomas Bigge, n.d. (State Library of Queensland)

John Thomas Bigge, n.d. (State Library of Queensland)

  1. You were Assist. Surgeon in the Navy?
    I was surgeon’s first Mate of His Majesty’s Ship Standard.

…When in my reply to your question “You were Assistant Surgeon in the Navy” I answered I was Surgeons Mate of His Majesty’s Ship Standard, the smile of exultation gleamed on your countenance in a manner which, tho I cannot describe, I shall never forget – I perceived at the moment, that you mentally said, “better & better”.

  1. How long did you remain in that situation?
    I served for a few Months.
  1. Was your sentence that of Transportation for Life?
    I suppose it was, for it was never communicated to me, I was sentenced to Death, but was strongly recommended on account of my youth. I was then about nineteen years of age.
  1. From whom did you receive your remission of sentence & when, was it absolute or conditional?
    I recd. an absolute Pardon from Govr. King. By the hand of Col. Foveaux. It bears date 4th June 1802.

I do further contend, Sir, that your questions but more particularly your conversation, connected with the Queries 7, 8 & 9, on the subject of the Secretaryship to the Mutineers & to Parker; on My Sentence & Pardon, whether it had passed the Great Seal, was most artfully & cruelly calculated to harrow up, wound & insult my feelings & that the question you put, but did not note down “Whether My Pardon had passed the Great Seal”, was asked in a manner to convey this impression “Take Care, Sir, Mind what you are about, otherwise I shall [take] such steps as shall prevent its ever passing it.” You will please to recollect this was about the time the question of the validity & effect of the Governor’s pardons was agitated & called into Public notice by the Judges.

William Redfern (State Library pf NSW)

William Redfern (State Library of NSW)

I beg leave to add, Sir, that in consequence of not seeing these examinations till Monday the fifth instant; of being up Country on the 3rd & 4th, & occupied in writing by letter under date the 5 inst when I returned, and attending to other pursuits, I have had no opportunity of correcting & animadverting upon more than the 9th Query, and that I beg you clearly understand that I do not sign these examinations as corrected any further than the 9 query, but that  I shall now send these examinations to you on this express condition, that I shall consider Myself at full liberty to correct, explain and animadvert on such parts of it as I may think proper. And I do further say that there are numerous & important omissions of My explanations given on examination, the insertion of which I consider essential to my reputation & character in a moral & professional point of view, & that those corrections I shall feel it My duty to send you ere Your departure if you happen to remain long enough, otherwise to deliver them to you in London on my arrival there…

William Redfern, English, 1774-1833

John Thomas Bigge, English, 1780-1843

 

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From An Historical and Statistical Account of New South Wales (1834)

Controversy over public buildings in Sydney – and especially how they are financed – has a long history. The turbulent Scottish-born Presbyterian minister John Dunmore Lang wrote An Historical and Statistical Account of New South Wales, both as a Penal Settlement and as a British Colony while on a voyage to Britain. The Westminster Review suggested that its title should read ‘The History of Doctor Lang, to which is added the History of New South Wales’. Here he charts the building of the ‘Rum Hospital‘:

The demoralizing influence indirectly resulting from the gratification of Governor Macquarie’s taste for public buildings, cannot be more fitly illustrated than in the plan he pursued for the erection of a general hospital in Sydney. Had the convicts been dispersed over the territory in the way I have suggested, an hospital of comparatively small dimensions would have been sufficient at head-quarters : at all events, a plain, substantial edifice was all that was wanted for such a purpose, till the expense of erecting ornamental buildings could be borne by the revenue of the colony. The colonial architect, however, having submitted to Governor Macquarie a plan of a spacious and costly edifice, consisting of a centre building and two detached wings, to be erected of cut stone, with a double verandah or covered portico completely surrounding each of the three piles of building, he determined that it should by all means be carried into effect. With this view, as there were comparatively few artificers among the convicts at the time when this measure was resolved on, he made an agreement, on the part of the colonial government, with Messrs. D’Arcy Wentworth, Blaxcell, and Riley, by which these gentlemen stipulated to erect a building agreeably to the plan proposed, on condition of receiving a certain quantity of rum from the King’s store, and of having the sole right to purchase, or to land free of duty, all the ardent spirits that should be imported into the colony for a term of years. The Rum Hospital, as it was called at the time, was accordingly erected on these conditions; and, standing, as it does, on the summit of one of the two ridges on which the town of Sydney is built, with a valley terminating in the beautiful inlet called Sydney Cove between, it is doubtless a highly interesting and striking feature in the general aspect of one of the most thriving and best situated commercial towns in the world.

View no.13. Looking east shewing: the Royal Mint, part of the Domain, Wolloomooloo Bay, Garden Island, Pott's Point, Darling Point, Clark's Island, Shark Island, Bradley's Head. In the distance Watson's Bay, the Gap, the Pacific Ocean and the North Head, 1873 (Alexander Brodie, Historic Houses Trust of NSW)

View no.13. Looking east shewing: the Royal Mint, part of the Domain, Wolloomooloo Bay, Garden Island, Pott’s Point, Darling Point, Clark’s Island, Shark Island, Bradley’s Head. In the distance Watson’s Bay, the Gap, the Pacific Ocean and the North Head, 1873 (Alexander Brodie, Historic Houses Trust of NSW)

I leave to the mere financier the task of reprobating the arrangement I have just mentioned, (which, it was universally believed at the time, was a highly gainful one to the parties concerned,) on the ground of its gross injustice to the community at large, as well as to those persons in particular who imported ardent spirits into the colony, and who were consequently obliged either to sell their commodity at whatever price the monopolists chose to offer them, or to keep it in bond for three or four years. My sole concern with the transaction is to calculate its true bearings on the professed object of General Macquarie’s administration— the reformation of the convict population of New South Wales : and this is by no means a work of difficulty. The wages of the artificers and labourers, and the prices of the materials employed in the erection of the hospital, were, agreeably to the usual practice of the colony at the time, paid half in money and half in property, i. e., in tea, sugar, ardent spirits, wine, clothing, or any other article, either of necessity or of luxury, which the employer happened to have in his store, and which was uniformly charged to the labourer at an enormous per-centage above its real value, or even above its market-price in the colony. Determined, however, that not a single shilling of the money-half of the wages should, if it could possibly be prevented, ultimately find its way into any other pockets than their own, the worthy contractors erected one or more public-houses in the immediate vicinity of the place, where their numerous convict and emancipated convict mechanics and labourers received that moiety of their wages; doubtless, to induce the miserable wretches, whose inability to withstand such temptation may well be conceived, to expend the last farthing of their earnings in the purchase of their exorbitantly priced and accursed liquor. In providing, therefore, for the physical health of the colony, Governor Macquarie was actually overspreading the whole surface of its body politic, in a moral and spiritual sense, with wounds, and bruises, and putrefying sores, which have hitherto surpassed the skill of the ablest chirurgeon to bind up, or the efficacy of the most powerful ointment to mollify.

–John Dunmore Lang, Scottish-Australian, 1799-1878

From New South Wales, its Present State and Future Prospects (1837)

James Macarthur, son of John, visited Britain in 1837-38, where he gave evidence to the Molesworth Committee on convict transportation. In the ghost-written New South Wales he attacks Governor Lachlan Macquarie’s (1810-1821) lenient treatment of convicts and emancipists, and articulates the point of view of the ‘exclusives’:

Had the encouragement of the convict population been indeed regulated upon the principle of conferring rewards on good conduct only, such a course could scarcely have failed to be productive of consequences alike beneficial to the individuals and to the community at large. But when men, who had been convicts, and who were besides disqualified by want of education, or previous mode of life, were appointed magistrates and public functionaries; -when land was distributed with undiscriminating profusion amongst the whole class of emancipated convicts without regard to good or ill conduct;-when the circumstance of having come free to the colony, conferred no claim to favour; and that of having been convicted became proverbially the best security for preferment ;-is it surprising that the free settlers should have expressed their dissatisfaction at the continuance, and their apprehension of the probable results of so extraordinary a system?

The natural consequence of this system was reaction,-a determination, on the part of the emigrant colonists, to maintain the more strictly those distinctions which it was the object of the Governor to break down.

On the part of the emancipated convicts, on the other hand, it gave rise to claims for full participation in civil rights and political privileges, upon the basis of property alone, without reference to character and conduct. It was the origin also of a feeling, at one time very generally prevalent amongst this class, and which still exists in the minds of many, that the colony was theirs by right, and that the emigrant settlers were interlopers upon the soil.

–James Macarthur, Australian, 1798-1867

The Three Graces [Edith, Eliza and Laura, daughters of Sarah and William Charles Wentworth], 1868 by Hans Julius Gruder, Vaucluse House, Sydney. 'Eliza, Laura and Edith Wentworth were three of the seven daughters of Sarah Morton Wentworth, nee Cox (1805-1880) colonial born, illegitimate and the daughter of convict parents. Although her husband William Charles Wentworth (1790?-1872) was one of the most prominent men in colonial New South Wales his financial and political success was unable to protect his wife and daughters from social ostracism. This exclusion contributed significantly to their decision to take their younger children to England for their education. Sarah and the children sailed from Sydney in February 1853. Although Sarah and her youngest children, including Eliza, Laura and Edith returned to New South Wales in 1861 they left again for England in 1868. This portrait of the three daughters, depicted as young women with all the trappings of wealth and respectability, and represented in an allegorical fashion as the Three Graces, can be seen as a direct challenge to the prejudices of the colonial society which had made them social outcasts.'

The Three Graces [Edith, Eliza and Laura, daughters of Sarah and William Charles Wentworth], 1868 by Hans Julius Gruder (Vaucluse House, Sydney)
‘Eliza, Laura and Edith Wentworth were three of the seven daughters of Sarah Morton Wentworth, nee Cox (1805-1880) colonial born, illegitimate and the daughter of convict parents. Although her husband William Charles Wentworth (1790?-1872) was one of the most prominent men in colonial New South Wales his financial and political success was unable to protect his wife and daughters from social ostracism. This exclusion contributed significantly to their decision to take their younger children to England for their education. Sarah and the children sailed from Sydney in February 1853. Although Sarah and her youngest children, including Eliza, Laura and Edith returned to New South Wales in 1861 they left again for England in 1868. This portrait of the three daughters, depicted as young women with all the trappings of wealth and respectability, and represented in an allegorical fashion as the Three Graces, can be seen as a direct challenge to the prejudices of the colonial society which had made them social outcasts.’