BLIND MAN’S BLUFF – A DOUBLE BILL- HALL & LAVELL

‘The full force of laws against theft was imposed from the moment the expedition arrived in Sydney. At the end of February 1788 five [5] men were convicted of theft and condemned to death, illustrating that property was more sacrosanct than life itself.

The sentences were carried out at public hangings, which the whole convict population was forced to watch’. Henry Reynolds,  Searching for truth-telling, History, Sovereignty and The Uluru Statement From the Heart, NewSouth Publishing, 2021

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‘Few personal documents relating to [Governor Arthur] Phillip survive; his low personal profile and the secret work in which he was sometimes involved make him one of the least-known founders of any modern state – in this case Australia’. Nigel Rigby, Peter Van Der Merwe & Glyn Williams, Voyages of Discovery from Captain Cook’s Endeavour to the Beagle, National Maritime Museum Greenwich, Bloomsbury, Adlard Coles, 2018

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1788 –  27 February, Sydney Cove: That morning four (4) convicts John Ryan, Thomas Barrett, Henry Lavell and Joseph Hall were brought before a hastily convened military court.

‘Just three [3] weeks before half a continent had been declared Crown land in one of the most remarkable acts of plunder in modern times.’. Henry Reynolds. op.cit.

All were accused ‘on shaky evidence of robbing or conspiring to rob food from the government storehouse.

Although each man had the previous day received ‘without distinction’ the full combat ration, all were sentenced to death.

The execution to take place later that same day.

‘The arm of a large tree was fixt upon as a gallows’. Arthur Bowes Smyth, Surgeon Lady Penrhyn, First Fleet  Journal, Australian Documents Library, 1979

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The four (4) men were mates. Their strong friendship had been forged during three (3) difficult years imprisoned on Dunkirk  a prison-hulk moored in the Thames River. See Mutiny on Mercury and Swift

Under the ‘gallows tree’ pressure was brought to bear on John Ryan the youngest of the four; ‘he turned king’s evidence [and] his irons were removed’.

At 5pm, Marine Captain James Campbell approached Mr Brewer the Provost Marshall with a twenty-four (24) hour stay-of-execution for Hall and Lavell.

Their nooses were removed. No longer part of the action they became part of the audience.

Only Thomas Barrett died that day. ‘The lifer who was the ringleader [was] launched into Eternity’. See: From Here to Eternity

‘The body hung for an hour and was then buried in a grave dug very near the gallows’. Lieutenant Ralph Clark, First Fleet Journal, Australian Documents Library, 1979

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1788 – Thursday 28 February, Sydney:  At 3pm the following day, twenty-four (24) hours having passed, Joseph Hall and Henry Lavell stood again under the ‘gallows tree’.

As  at Barrett’s execution the day before all the convicts and naval personnel assembled ‘under the charge of sentries with loaded arms’. The battalion paraded with fixed bayonets; ‘in case an insurrection should take place’.

‘All the time’ Clark says ‘it rained as if heaven and earth was coming to the end’. Drums and fife, loud so intimidating the day before, were muffled now by the din of pelting rain.

The fleet Chaplain Reverend Richard Johnson prayed over Hall and Lavell as the  rituals  of execution – nooses and blindfolds – were performed.

At 5pm hand-over-hand they climbed the ladder into the murder tree. Pushed out onto a platform ‘fixt between the branches’ both prepared to suffer the slow lingering death they had witnessed Thomas Barrett die the day before.

The action halted when Marine Captain David Collins, the garrison’s judge-advocate, handed Provost Marshall Brewer a reprieve signed by ‘His Excellency Governor Arthur Phillip’.

In lieu of death Hall and Lavell would be chained indefinitely onto a rocky island in Sydney Harbour on a reduced ration. The Gadigal Peoples knew the place as Mattewanye, the convicts called it Pinchgut, we know it as Fort Denison.

Sodden, exhausted and hungry this diverse crowd dispersed. Unaware next day they would stand on the same soggy ground to witness the final act of savage cynicism in this trilogy of terror.

Why?  ‘In case an insurrection should take place’. See: Catch 22 James Freeman – Act 3

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‘When leaving Botany Bay [for Sydney Cove 25 January 1788] Phillip noticed two [2] French ships in the offing…there would seem to be ‘some justification for the saying that England won Australia by six [6] days’. Edward Jenks, History of the Australian Colonies, cited H.E. Egerton, A Short History of British Colonial Policy, Methuen, London, 1928

EPILOGUE

‘Our wealth and power in India is their [France’s] great and constant object of jealously; and they will never miss an opportunity of attempting to wrest it out of our hands’. Sir James Harris cited, Michael Pembroke, Arthur Phillip Sailor Mercenary Governor Spy, Hardie Grant Books, 2013

 

 

 

‘Few personal documents relating to [Governor Arthur] Phillip survive; his low personal profile and the secret work in which he was sometimes involved make him one of the least-known founders of any modern state – in this case Australia’. Nigel Rigby, Peter Van Der Merwe & Glyn Williams, Voyages of Discovery from Captain Cook’s Endeavour to the Beagle, National Maritime Museum Greenwich, Bloomsbury, Adlard Coles, 2018

 

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