Moondyne/Bond and Free
Three years passed. It was believed that Joe had perished in the bush. Bowman had entered the convict service as a trooper, but even his vigilance brought no discovery. Absconders are generally found after a few months, prowling around the settlements for food, and are glad to be retaken.
But Joe was no common criminal nor common man. When he set his face toward the bush, he meant to take no half measures. The bush was to be his home. He knew of nothing to draw him back, and he cared not if he never saw the face of a white man again. He was sick of injustice and hardship sick of all the ways of the men he had known.
Prison life had developed a strong nature in Joe. Naturally powerful in mind, body, and passions, he had turned the Power in on himself, and had obtained a rare mastery over his being. He was a thoughtful man, a peacemaker, and a lover of justice. He had obtained an extraordinary hold on the affection of the convicts. They all knew him. He was true as steel to everything he undertook; and they knew that, too; He was enormously strong. One day he was working in the quarries of Fremantle with twenty others in a deep and narrow, ledge. Sixteen men were at work below, and four were preparing a blast at the head of the ledge, which ran down at an eagle of fifty degrees, like a channel cut in the solid rock. The men below were at the bottom of the channel. A pebble dropped by the four men above would have dashed into their Midst.
Suddenly there was a cry above, sharp, short, terrible—
"Look out down there!"
One of the half-filled charges had exploded with a sullen, mischievous puff, and the rocks at the head of the ledge were lifted and loosened. One immense block barred the tumbling mass from the men below. But the increasing weight above grew irresistible—the great stone was yielding—it had moved several inches, pressed on from behind. The men who had been working at the place fled for their lives, only sending out the terrible cry to their fellows below—
"Look out down there!"
But those below could only look out—they could not get out. There was no way out but by the rising channel of the ledge. And down that channel would thunder in a quarter of a minute the murderous rocks that were pushing the saving stone before them.
Three of the men above escaped in time. They dared not look behind—as they dung to the quarry-side, out of danger, they closed their eyes, waiting for the horrible crash.
But it did not come. They waited ten seconds, then looked around. A man stood at the head of the ledge, right before the moving mass—a convict—Moondyne Joe. He had a massive crowbar in his hands, and was strongly working to get a purchase on the great stone that blocked the way, but which actually swayed on the verge of the steep decline. At last the bar caught—the purchase was good— the stone moved another inch, and the body of the man bent like a strong tree under the awful strain. But he held back the stone.
He did not say a word—he did not look below—he knew they would see the precious moment and escape. They saw it, and, with chilled hearts at the terrible danger, they fled up the ledge and darted past the man who had risked his own life to save theirs.
Another instant and the roar went down the ledge, as if the hungry rocks knew they had been baffled.
Moondyne Joe escaped—the bar saved him. When the crash came, the bar was driven across an angle in the ledge, and held there, and he was within the angle. He was mangled and bruised—but life and limb were safe.
This was one of several instances that proved his character, and made him trusted and loved of his fellow-convicts.
Whatever was his offence against the law, he had received its bitter lesson. The worst of the convicts grew better when associated with him. Common sense, truth, and kindness were Joe's principles. He was a strong man, and he pitied and helped those weaker than himself. He was a bold man, and he understood the timid. He was a brave man, and he grieved for a coward or a liar. He never preached; but his healthy, straightforward life did more good to his fellows than all the hired bible-readers in the colony.
No wonder the natives to whom he fled soon began to look upon him with a strange feeling. Far into the mountains of the Vasse he had journeyed before he fell in with them.
They were distrustful of all white men, but they soon trusted him. There was something in the simple savage mind not far removed from that of the men in prison, who had grown to respect, even to reverence, his character. The natives saw him stronger and braver than anyone they had ever known. He was more silent than their oldest chief; and so wise, he settled disputes so that both sides were satisfied. They looked on him with distrust at first; then with wonder; then with respect and confidence; and before two years were over, with something like awe and veneration, as for a superior being.
They gave him the name Of "MOONDYNE," which had some meaning more than either manhood or kingship.
His fame and name spread through the native tribes all over the country. When they came to the white settlements, the expression oftenest heard was "Moondyne." The convicts and settlers constantly heard the word, but dreamt not then of its significance. Afterwards, when they knew to whom the name had been given, it became a current word throughout the colony.
Towards the end of the third year of his freedom, when Moondyne and a party of natives were far from the mountains, they were surprised by a Government surveying party, who made him prisoner, knowing, of course, that he must be an absconder. He was taken to the main prison at Fremantle, and sentenced to the chain-gang for life; but before he had reached the Swan River every native in the colony knew that "The Moondyne" was a prisoner.
The chain-gang of Fremantle is the depth of penal degradation. The convicts wear from thirty to fifty pounds of iron, according to their offence. It is riveted on their bodies in the prison forge, and when they have served their time the great rings have to be chiselled off their calloused limbs.
The chain-gang works outside the prison walls of Fremantle, in the granite quarries. The neighbourhood, being thickly settled with pardoned men and ticket-of-leave men, had I been deserted by the aborigines; but from the day of Moondyne's sentence the bushmen began to build their myers and hold their corroborees near the quarries. For two years the chain-gang toiled among the stones, and the black men sat on the great unhewn rocks, and never seemed to tire of the scene.
The warders took no notice of their silent presence. The natives never spoke to a prisoner, but sat there in dumb interest, every day in the year, from sunrise to evening.
One day they disappeared from the quarries, and an officer who passed through their village of myers, found them deserted. It was quite a subject of interesting conversation among the warders. Where had they gone to? Why had they departed in the night?
The day following an answer came to these queries. When the chain-gang was formed, to return to the prison, one link was gone—Moondyne was missing.
His irons were found, filed through, behind the rock at which he worked; and from that day the black face of a bushman was never seen in Fremantle.