colonial reporting – padding it out


On 17 February 1805, The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser published the paragraph below. Before you read it, imagine the possible scenario.

Editor to aspiring 1805 journalist:

“Mind how you go on the road from Sydney to Hawkesbury. There’s been a siting of three gents hanging about near the Ponds.  They stopped a cart.  Put together a few words of warning for tomorrow’s edition, will you?”

Aspiring 1805 journalist:

“On it, Sir”

Take a deep breath and read on.

Punctuation and spelling are as per the original item.

part 1 - bushrangers

suspicion of their being bushrangers. They had been previously observed lurking about the Ponds by a carrier, who passed unmolested, owing perhaps to his having another man in company : they did not, however, take any thing out of the cart they did stop ; nor at this time has any account been received of their offering violence to either passengers or other persons ; from whence it may be hoped they prefer the prospect of being restored to society to any momentary relief that might be obtained from acts of additional imprudence that could at best but render their condition hopeless. It is nevertheless necessary, that the settler as well as the traveller should be put upon his guard against assault, and that exertion should be general in assisting to apprehend every flagitious character who would thus rush upon a danger from which they can only be extricated by timely contrition and their return to obedience. All that have heretofore devoted themselves to this most horrible state of exile exactly correspond in the narration of vicissitudes to which many have fallen the unhappy victims. How deplorable must be the prospect of terminating an existence under all the accumulated horrors of such an exile! without a friend at hand to administer the last kind offices, or to alleviate affliction by humane condolance! parching with thirst, perhaps, but deprived by famine of the power to quench it! instead of the delightful confidence which Christian resignation can alone inspire, each succeeding pang embittered with self-accusation and remorse, heightened by the surrounding gloom to all the agonies of deep despair. If conscious impropriety of conduct inspire the fatal resolution of flying to the woods, this second act becomes a second outrage, and by an obstinate perseverance the very doors of mercy may be closed, and every avenue to hope cut off.

can you describe the criminal?

Today’s post touches on burglary, assault and descriptions of the offenders.

Sydney Gazette and NSW Advertiser – 3 July 1803

stolen goods

one of them had “a reddish pimple or lump on the nose”.

Last seen making their way from the house of John Larkham, at the Ponds, near Parramatta, carting:

4 yards of striped muslin, seven yards and a half of broad black lace, three yards of narrow black lace, a blue jacket, a white calico petticoat, 2 muslin handkerchiefs, a bordered shawl, an ivory small-tooth comb, a pound of coarse white-brown thread, a yard and a half of striped print, a quantity of meat in pickle, 3 pecks of wheat, a yard and a half of very fine calico and a small quantity of sugar.

pale skin, polite robberconsiderate young man with pale complexion

The Australian – 11 January 1844

“Mrs Gaden, having fainted, one of the burglars very politely helped her to a glass of wine.”

The North Western Advocate and the Emu Bay Times – 30 September 1905

Note: This one has the ring of being apocryphal but it’s worth it for the story.

Advice from his lawyer.

“Sikes – you have no legal claim against your late partner….The only remedy I can suggest is a careful disguise and a heavy club.”

After the fact.  Sikes to his lawyer.

“I rigged myself up as a perfect copy of yourself Sir.  The police have your description!”

Lawyer B

antiques expert foils bridge opening – incurs wrath of brothel owner

Tilly Devine abuses Francis de Groot

Two infamous characters crossed swords (so to speak) and paths in 1932 on a day that the Sydney courthouse was playing host to both of them.  Francis de Groot was there about his gate crashing of the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and  Tilly Devine was facing court for her consorting activities.

 You can read the story of Matilda Parsons (nee Twiss) – war bride – here at the Australian War Memorial’s site.  

Daily Telegraph 1932 - de Groot

Francis de Groot – source – Daily Telegraph 1932

Tilly Devine

Tilly Devine in 1925 – source Australian War Memorial

Pentridge Prison

In 1863, The Argus ran a series of articles on Pentridge Prison.  B Division – 28 April 1863   The selected excerpts from this rather upbeat article refer to meal time and the prisoners’ daily schedule.


….. The mess-room is a very large apartment, 180ft. long, and 24ft. wide. Here the prisoners at meal times are seated, five in a row on each form, their faces all turned one way, so that a small number of warders have a complete supervision over all. Here, as elsewhere in the establishment, three meals a day are served – breakfast at seven o’clock, dinner at noon, and supper at five. The first meal (full rations) consists of half a pound bread, a pint of hominy (about 15oz.), and half oz. sugar. The dinner consists of 12oz. meat and bone, a pint of soup (the liquor in which the meat is boiled), 1 lb. potatoes, half  lb. bread, and half oz. of salt. Supper consists of a pint of hominy, 4oz bread, and half oz, sugar. The meat served is always fresh boiled meat, beef and mutton mostly the former. One prisoner carves for each, mess of five, and if either of the other four disapprove of his impartiality in adjusting his own claims to a due share, the option is given to the dissatisfied person to exchange plates with the carver. ……

……. Prison life is certainly left to present its own repulsive aspect but its terrors are not heightened by the incapacity or unnecessary harshness of the gaolers. The prisoners’ day for the present month (it varies with the season, as the days shorten or lengthen) is thus measured out to those who have passed the discipline of the Panopticon :-Rise at 6.15 a.m. ; leave the cells or sleeping-wards at 6.30; prayers at 6.50;breakfast at 6.55 ; muster for labour at 7.15; dinner at 12 ; muster for labour at 1 ; school at 4 ; supper at 5 ; prayers, 5 25 ; they are locked up, at 5.30; and perfect silence must be observed after half-past seven o’clock.

Such is prison life at Pentridge. Cleanliness, and generally robust health, intervals for reflection, and opportunities for learning useful labour, with the additional advantage of being taught to bear restraint, and becoming thoroughly and practically acquainted with the steady outages of losing honest freedom – these are all forced upon the condition and mind of all the prisoners. …………..

Ten years later, The Australasian Sketcher for Pen and Pencil – 4 October 1873 featured illustrations from Pentridge Prison.





The State Library of Victoria summarises the history of the gaol.