Moondyne/Female Transports

The morning arrived for the convict ship to sail, and the last chains of male prisoners were mustered in the prison yard of Millbank, ready to be marched to the train, for embarkation on the convict ship at Portland.

In one of the Pentagonal yards stood the female prisoners, fifty in number. They whispered covertly to each other, enjoying for the first time for years the words that were not orders, and the faces that were not cold.

"What is your name?"

"How long have you served?"

"What nice hair you have!"

"Will they cut off our hair again in Australia?"

"Were you lagged before?"

"That one there, with the red mark on her cheek, was sentenced to be hung."

"This is my second time."

These were the words that might be heard in the ranks—short sentences, full of direct meaning, such as are always spoken when formality is absent, and curiosity is excited.

The male chains having been inspected by the governor, who was accompanied by Mr. Wyville, had marched from the prison to the railway station.

Four great waggons or tumbrils rolled into the yard, to carry away the female convicts. Before they entered the waggons, the governor addressed the women, telling them that their good conduct in prison had earned this change; that their life in the new country to which they were going would be one of opportunity; that their past was all behind them, and a fair field before them to work out honest and happy lives.

Many of the prisoners sobbed bitterly as the kind governor spoke. Hope, indeed, was bright before them; but they were parting from all that they had ever loved; they would never more see the face of father or mother, brother or sister; they would never more see an English field or an English flower. Their lives had been shattered and shameful; but the moment of parting from every association of youth was the more embittered, perhaps, by the thought of their unworthiness.

When the governor had spoken, they entered the tumbrils, and the guards fell in. The old governor raised his hat. He was deeply affected at the scene, common though it must have been to him.

"Good-bye, and God bless you all in your new life!" he said.

The driver of the front tumbril looked round, to see that all was ready before starting his horses.

"Wait," said a tall man, who was rapidly and eagerly scanning the faces of the women, as he passed from waggon to waggon; "there's a mistake here."

"What is the matter there?" shouted the governor.

"There is one prisoner absent, Sir," said the tall man, who was Mr. Haggett; "one prisoner absent who was ordered for this ship."

"What prisoner?" asked the governor.

"Number Four."

"Start up your horses," shouted the governor; and the first tumbril lumbered out of the yard.

The governor was looking at Mr. Haggett, who stood beside the last waggon, his face a study of rage and disappointment.

"That prisoner was specially ordered for this ship," he repeated. "Sir Joshua Hobb wrote the order with his own hand."

"He has countermanded it," said the governor, curtly.

"When?" asked Haggett.

"Two hours ago," said the governor. "The prisoner will remain in Millbank."

Mr. Haggett looked his baffled malevolence at the governor, who paid no heed to the glance. Mr. Wyville stood close to him; but Haggett never met his eye during the scene. As he departed, however, in passing him, he raised his eyes for an instant to Mr. Wyville's face and said—

"I am going to West Australia. I shall soon return."

Mr. Wyville's face might have been of marble, so absolutely unconscious did he seem of the presence or words of Haggett.

The tumbrils rolled from the yard with their strange freight, and Mr. Haggett strode from the prison. He stood on the poop of the transport as she sailed from Portland that afternoon.

More than once that day did Haggett's words repeat themselves like a threat in Mr. Wyville's mind; and when all was silent in sleeping London that night, he arose from the study table at which he wrote, and paced the room in sombre thought. His mind was reasoning with itself and at last the happier side conquered. He stopped his tireless walk, and smiled; but it was a sad smile.

"Poor children!" he murmured; "what would become of them here? I must instruct Tapairu, and—and then," he said, looking reverently upward through the night, "Thy will be done."