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
- 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.
- 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”.
- 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).
- 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.
- Where did you perform your Medical Studies?
- 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”.
- How long did you remain in that situation?
I served for a few Months.
- 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.
- 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.
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