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'the love of my life'...
John Ward, writing whilst incarcerated on Norfolk Island, tells a story of thwarted love that-he claims-led him to a life of crime: including theft, sexual assault and more. In telling the candid story of his downfall he exposes his own ruthlessness and lack of empathy.
This book, using the diary as its base, is fascinating on so many levels. It is an insight into the criminal mind, ably examined by author June Slee. It is a glimpse into 19th-century aristocratic life-dress, food, pastimes and prejudices-from a servant's perspective (Ward was a groom to an officer gentleman). And it is a unique record, perhaps the only extant diary ever written during the Australian penal era whilst its convict writer was imprisoned. Plus, Ward records a particular moment in our history: not only life aboard prison hulks which he describes in detail but also the timing of his arrival in Sydney when convicts were no longer being accepted; he was sent straight to Norfolk Island where we get a fascinating insight into the rule of Captain Alexander Maconochie. Moconochie believed in a system of improvement for convicts based on a marks system for good behaviour rather than humiliating punishment. In this way, Ward gained access to writing materials for his diary.
It's all in this book: love, history, convicts, crime and criminology, Norfolk Island ...
The author weaves the diary-Ward's own words-into her text seamlessly to tell a gripping story.
Illustrated with over 150 images including paintings, photographs, documents, newspapers and drawings, the book includes text box features that elucidate aspects of life at the time: oyster bars and eating out, disease, smuggling, county justice, convict marriage, convict class and society, the end of transportation, and more.
June Slee is an experienced writer and researcher, lecturer and practitioner in the field of criminology, particularly relating to the Australian convict era. Slee was immediately drawn to Ward's story, not just for its insight into 19th-century crime and punishment, but also for its outstanding literary style and rarity as a diary that was written while its author was still incarcerated. Currently she is completing another book on convictism and has plans for two further books. June currently lives in New Zealand.
The manuscript diary of the convict John Ward, held by the National Library of Australia (NLA), is a striking account of one man's first-hand experience of life before and during transportation. June Slee's volume is a wonderful showcase of this important primary source.
Several dozen convict narratives were published during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, including well-known works such as Martin Cash's The Bushranger of Van Diemen's Land, Mark Jeffrey's A Burglar's Life and William Ross' The Fell Tyrant. These narratives were typically subject to intervention by an editor or ghost-writer, and adhere to a general formula. The almost always male author blames drinking, bad company, and womanizing for his descent into criminality, for which he is transported, much to the shame of his respectable parents. In Australia he sees and sometimes experiences the iniquities of the convict system, but emerges reformed and with his humanity intact, where his story acts as a warning to others not to repeat his mistakes. (There is also, of course, a body of texts by political transportees such as the Young Irelander John Mitchel, or the Chartist John Frost.) A good number of unpublished narratives and other texts authored by convicts exist in manuscript, and these are frequently more subversive in tone and graphic in content than those which were published. Though Ward's diary is one of these unpublished works, he appears unable to break free from the tropes of the convict narrative genre, particularly in the lengthy description of his fall from grace and in his eagerness to blame others for his misfortune.
John Ward was born in Hull in 1814, but he began the diary at the notorious Norfolk Island penal settlement on 1 November 1841. A substantial section of the text is therefore written in retrospect rather than being a true diary. Ward first describes his love for ‘Rose', and how his disapproving mother set him on the road to ruin after she destroyed a portrait of Rose which she found in his room. However, despite his insistence that Rose was the love of his life, Ward nevertheless embarked upon affairs and consorted with prostitutes. Slee deserves great credit for skilfully and sensitively handling the text and reconstructing Ward's life, particularly as he was, by his own account, thoroughly unpleasant and cared little for anyone other than himself. Ward was an attempted rapist and describes his sexual assaults with an astonishing lack of contrition, and an entire disregard for his victims; he only avoided conviction for these attacks as they went unreported. Ward discusses his inveterate gambling, alcoholism and thieving, and of his having repeatedly taken advantage of anyone who showed him the remotest bit of kindness. His luck finally ran out in February 1838, when penniless and wildly drunk, he robbed the Ram Inn in Northampton, for which he received a sentence of transportation for ten years. Ward's account contains a valuable account of life on the prison hulks, his voyage to New South Wales aboard the Mangles and, following the cessation of transportation to Sydney, the ship's subsequent arrival at the notorious Norfolk Island penal settlement in May 1840. There Ward became one of the 700 or so prisoners who underwent Alexander Maconochie's experimental penal regime, known to posterity as the ‘Mark System'.
Ward's diary is not particularly enlightening about Maconochie's system, which is understandable as he was largely confined to the Island's hospital with dysentery, suffering with a fistula and enduring regular purging at the hands of Dr James Aquinas Reid. Ward was fortunate to have survived: convict mortality at Norfolk Island was at its highest during the lethal dysentery epidemics of 1841 to 1843. During this time Ward underwent a fervent religious conversion, and much of the latter part of the text comprises commentaries, frequently incoherent, upon Reverend Thomas Naylor's sermons and upon the evils of sodomy and fornication. For example, the entry for 25 April 1843 reads gnomically: ‘Let my life preach or the testamonies [sic] of my pen, or lips will be entirely useless-dunghills when raked stink the most: ointments when rubbed smell the sweetest.'
The only shortcoming, and it is a relatively minor one, is that Ward's text is not quite as singular as it is presented, for other related works were written by convicts around the same time. The introductory note states that Ward's is ‘perhaps the only extant diary every written during the Australian penal era while its author was still imprisoned' (p. 1), though large sections of convict Aaron Price's journal were written while he was under sentence at Norfolk Island. Moreover Ward's diary is a part of a remarkable corpus of texts written by serving Norfolk Island convicts in the early 1840s with, if not Maconochie's active encouragement, at least his tacit consent. They include lengthy works by James Lawrence, George Palmer (a fellow Mangles prisoner), James Bushelle, James Porter (one of the group who stole the brig Frederick from Macquarie Harbour in Van Diemen's Land and sailed to Chile), the pseudonymous ‘Mansfield Silverthorpe', and Thomas Cook. Perhaps the most remarkable was the narrative of Laurence Frayne. It is not merely a catalogue of profound suffering-though suffer he certainly did, enduring a staggering if entirely atypical total of 1,125 lashes at Norfolk Island between July 1831 and November 1832-but is also a subtle and thoughtful treatise on the nature of good and moral convict management. Some comparison between Ward's diary and these manuscripts would have been useful by way of context, particularly in comparing Ward's experiences with those of his fellow Mangles convict, George Palmer. This absence is the book's only slight weakness, but criticism on this point is perhaps a little unfair, as the book is after all a showcase of Ward's diary.
Crime, Punishment and Redemption has been beautifully presented by the NLA, and is evidently the result of a great deal of research and effort on the part of the author. The detailed contextual information explaining various aspects of the convict system and nineteenth-century life will be particularly useful to non-specialists. The book should contribute to the wider literature on convict-authored texts, and serve to inspire readers to consult the original manuscript which is now freely available online (http://nla.gov.au/nla.ms-ms3275). June Slee should be congratulated on producing Crime, Punishment and Redemption, an excellent work which will find a welcome place on the shelves of anyone interested in the convict experience.
Slee fixes focus on sole convict diarist.
A unique insight into an Australian convict's life is the subject of a book, written by Dr June Slee, which is being released today.
The Waitaki District councillor and former Environment Canterbury councillor has been working on the book, Crime, Punishment and Redemption, for four years.
Dr Slee is a writer and researcher mainly on penal reform. Her book focuses on the diary of John Ward, who was sent to Norfolk Island from England for 10 years for theft in 1840. In 1841 he started keeping his diary.
Slee took this as the basis for her book.
"It is the only diary that has been written in custody in Australian convict history.
"The National Library of Australia were doing a series on heroes and I focused on their diaries. I read the Captain James Cook diary and contacted them about Ward's diary.
"I had studied it when I did my doctorate on behaviour management. They considered he was a hero because he was a survivor."
The library published her book, complete with 150 images and pictures of the original transcript.
"He had been a groom for a military officer, he would get the officer ready to go to balls then go and find prostitutes and drink. So it merges high society and lower society.
"He is terribly literate and writes about the love of his life, which he is not allowed to marry that sends him on a life of crime, including theft and sexual assault."
Ward writes openly about his life before his arrest and his family's disapproval of his loved one, his alcoholism, promiscuity, violent and criminal behaviour, illnesses and finally his redemption.
He was held under the rule of Captain Alexander Maconochie, who believed in a system of improvements for convicts based on marks for good behaviour rather than humiliating punishment, which allowed Ward to gain access to writing materials and the ability to write a diary.
Slee already has four more books in the pipeline. The next story will be about Point Puer Boys' Prison at Port Arthur.
Three thousand boys, some as young as nine years old, were sentenced to the prison between 1834 and 1849.
Located across the harbour from Port Arthur, Point Puer was the first reformatory built exclusively for juvenile male convicts in the British Empire. It was renowned for its regime of stern discipline and harsh punishment.
Slee says she is on her third attempted retirement.
"I don't know if I will ever actually retire. I got onto the ECan in 2004 but left because I was so disappointed with how it was being operated. I then got offered a job at Darwin University. I came home last year.
I had been asked to stand for Waitaki District Council. I didn't, but when I came back from Australia no-one had stood, so I did and I am absolutely loving it.
"Local government is great because it's all about being in touch with people."The book will be available at Oamaru Paper Plus.
June Slee has written a book entitled Crime, Punishment and Redemption which is based on the diary of a convict and is heading to Canberra for its launch on October 23.
Englishman, John Ward, was incarcerated on Norfolk Island from 1841-1844 after falling into a life of crime outside his employment as a groom for a military officer. He was then transferred to a prison in Tasmania where he served the remainder of his sentence.
Dr Slee, who has worked extensively in Australia including as a senior lecturer at the University of Charles Darwin, said she approached the National Library of Canberra and said she had a copy of a rare diary written by convict John Ward.
"There aren't a lot of convict diaries and in fact it's the only one I know of written on Norfolk Island," Dr Slee said.
"It's really incredible.
"Only a few people have read his diary and I think he was not a very nice person.
"He was a predator of women, a bit crazy, and an alcoholic.
"He was a complex and complicated character.
"I have put in a lot of direct quotes into the book so people can make up their own minds about him."
Dr Slee said she is happy with the book, which has 150 images and pictures of the original transcript, and early reviews have been positive.
"It looks like a coffee table book and I would hate that to take from the text."I've tried to have him (John Ward) there on every page."
In 1830, a Yorkshire man named John Ward became enamoured of a woman named Rosamund, but frustrated by his failure to seduce her and his parents' objections to the relationship, he became a violent, drunken, gambler who prowled brothels and pubs, then strayed into crime.
Convicted of burglary he was sentenced to 10 years' transportation. He was an educated man who soon realised he had destroyed his life and, during his time on Norfolk Island, kept a diary. The diary contains descriptions of Ward's life before he left for Australia and his account of his time on Norfolk Island, including under the enlightened commandant Alexander Machonochie, who sought to reform the prisoners by rewards for good behaviour. Ward's diary is one of the few first-hand accounts by a convict while still serving his sentence.
Fortunately the diary survived and is now held in the National Library in Canberra.This fascinating book includes excerpts from the diary and tells the story of Ward's life and times, setting his words in their wider context and providing insight into many different aspects of the life of a convict.
Dr Slee's informative and well illustrated book is based on a diary kept by John Ward, a drunken wastrel who was sentenced to 10 years transportation to Australia in 1838.
Ward begins with an account of his fall, then gives a convict's view of trial, imprisonment on the hulks and transportation to Norfolk Island. His style is histrionic as he bemoans what is, more than likely, his syphilitic state.
Ward's account is countered by Dr Slee's knowledgeable explanations of each stage of the penal process. This can make for a disconcerting mix.
In the chapter on Norfolk Island, Ward's rantings on sodomy, sectarianism and Christian redemption are juxtaposed with Slee's scholarly account of Captain Maconochie's innovative marks system.
Are markable diary came to the notice of writer and researcher Dr June Slee when an online digital scan was made available by the National Library of Australia in 2012. It was begun in 1841 by a convict on Norfolk Island.
John Ward had been a groom for an officer and gentleman before drifting into a life of crime. In February 1838 he was sentenced to 10 years transportation to Australia. His final entry was made in 1844, just before he was sent to Van Dieman's Land to complete the last four years of his sentence.
Ward blames a forbidden love affair for the events that led to his drinking, gambling, womanising and the subsequent burglary which had him sentenced. Ill health, possibly syphilis, exempted him from work on Norfolk Island, enabling him to keep a diary.Richly illustrated with paintings, photos and newspapers from the time, Ward's diary and Slee's interpretations provide an insight into 19th century convict life.
Convict's enduring journal
Unlike other convicts who wrote about their imprisonment after their release, John Ward wrote his diary when he was a convict on Norfolk Island.
He was able to do this under the humane policies of Captain Alexander Maconochie, the commandant.
Under Maconochie's system, ‘‘convicts were given the opportunity to earn or lose marks each day, with the ultimate goal of achieving enough marks to secure a ticket of leave''. Ward was well-educated among the convicts.
Born in 1814, he was the only child of a stern mother and an indulgent father in Hull.
At 16 he moved with his family to York where he worked for a while for his father's employer.
He became besotted with a local girl, Rose, to the great disapproval of his parents.
His diary describes how their opposition led him to drunkenness, gambling, debauchery and serious crime.
Nevertheless his parents stuck by him. In 1838 he decided to rob a public house called the Ram Inn in Northhampton.
Having got drunk ‘‘he went into the yard of the Ram Inn before they closed their gates''. ‘‘He took nine pounds, five shillings and eleven pence from the till and all the silverware.''
But it wasn't long before the police found him. He was sentenced to 10 years' transportation.
Ward went first to jail, then to the prison hulk York at Portsmouth, where he spent 19 months. He tells us about life on board.
He says that crime at every level was endemic on the York, including theft, blackmail, trafficking, homosexuality, bribery and corruption. Ward spent four years on Norfolk Island in hospital - mostly as a patient, but when he was well enough, as a ward attendant.
In 1844 he was transferred to Van Diemen's Land to serve out the remaining four years of his sentence.
By now his obsession with Rose was over and he found redemption in religion. He was given his certificate of freedom in February 1848. He did not keep his diary while he was in Van Diemen's Land and it is a mystery how it survived.
But on Norfolk Island, he had recorded all his crimes and dissolute life.
It has an echo of that great old movie Kind Hearts and Coronets.