Image for Launched! Wanted ...

*Pic: Garry Stannus of Joan and Buck at Petrarch’s Bookshop, Launceston earlier this week ...

This is a fascinating work for which Buck and Joan Emberg deserve the highest commendation ...

First the context ...

“Illiterate Martin Cash related his prison tales in a pub in Hobart, Tasmania, 1870, to fellow convict James Lester Burke and a number of his followers.

A group of Van Diemen’s Land business people saw the value of the work and sponsored the publication of The Adventures of Martin Cash, which was published in 1870 during a period of intense interest in British convict tales.

For 111 years thirteen editions or repints of The Adventures of Martin Cash were very popular. Printings: 1870, 1880, 1890, 1911, 1929, 1940, 1954, 1961, 1975, and 1981. During one of these publications, the original manuscript was lost.

In 1990 the editors/intermediaries of this book, D.H. ‘Buck’ Emberg PhD and Joan Emberg MLitt, rediscovered the Cash/Burke manuscript, dusty, dirty and under a pile of mislaid documents.”

Fast forward and they produced The Uncensored Story of Martin Cash in 1996. Then Buck, with Joan as researcher wrote his PhD called, Deconstructing and Reconstructing the 1870 Martin Cash/James Lester Burke Narrative Manuscript of 1870. The thesis is at the State Library or UTAS and is available on Buck and Joan’s website: http://www.tasmanian-tiger.com .

This wonderful latest work covers his arrival in Hobart Town with his defacto wife Eliza (c. 1837), his servitude in Port Arthur, his escapes and bushranging escapades, his sentence to Norfolk Island, his marriage to Mary Bennett and his return to Hobart Town (1855) after a sojourn of four years in New Zealand.

That deals with the context ...

Now to the character, and I quote:

“Thus begins the story of Martin Cash, Eliza and his two bushranging partners, Kavanagh and Jones. Cash’s humour, toughness and Irish liveliness pervade the work - which should be seen as a social history of a cruel and degrading era. Cash was certainly not a ‘gentleman bushranger’ as many have claimed.

He was a strong, big, angry, generous, sensitive, warm, funny, vindictive and an occasionally violent man. Amazingly, during two decades of incarceration, Cash escaped the flagellator’s cat-o-nine-tails. … Unlike Ned Kelly’s hanging after a shootout, these poignant tales end in 1878 with Martin’s death from old age, at the age of 67 and in his own bed with his wife next to him. The farm he purchased in Glenorchy still exists and his grave can be found in Cornelian Bay Cemetery, Hobart.”

And now to his experiences, firstly at Jerusalem (now called Colebrook) ...

“For the first week I remained at Jerusalem I had not an opportunity of making my escape from this abode of wretchedness, where gaunt starvation, tyranny in all its revolting forms, and treachery existed to an unlimited degree ... No matter how well a man conducted himself he was not safe, as at any time he might be denounced by his fellow prisoners without the possibility of defending himself. In fact it was a perfect Reign of Terror ...”

And ... the horrors of Port Arthur ... Firstly the diet ... which I can imagine you could get rather sick of ...

“My dinner ... consisted of six ounces of salt pork, one pint of soup and 12 ounces of brown bread. The soup was prepared by boiling salt pork which was then removed from the copper, which on being cleaned is again filled with water. The allotted quantity of swedes, turnips and cabbages are then cut up and placed in the copper and when nearly cooked one or two pieces of the pork are again returned to the copper with a view to giving it a flavour.”

And the horrors of gang work ...

“... the rain came down in torrents, drenching us completely ... My (cell) was 6 feet long by 3 feet wide in the corner of which ... lay a single blanket, rug and empty canvas mattress. I stood shivering, the water dripping from my clothes ... The bell rang out at 5am (two hours before daylight) and on putting on my clothes, I found them nearly as wet as on the previous evening ... We then received the stipulated qantity of brown bread and scilly, after which we were left to cool our heels in anticipation of daylight ...”

What a horror ... can you imagine it ... the awful brutality of those long-gone days ...

Martin made a couple of attempts at escape from Port Arthur. The first, solo, was unsuccessful. The second, with mates Kavanagh and Jones, was more successful, leading to raids, holdups and more adventures ... which eventually and inevitably led to his capture and imprisonment on that most horrendous of places - even worse than Port Arthur - Norfolk Island.

And it was while on Norfolk Island that he was to endure his worst experiences under Commandant John Price. Martin writes about those experiences thus ...

“There was a row of cells in one of the gaol yards where daylight could not intrude and here was placed any man who came under Mr Price’s displeasure. (Martin asks the question:)  Did the prisoners placed under his charge become moral, orderly and industrious after passing through a refined system of torture which has never yet been fully understood by the public? No, they became more hardened and depraved than before and the colony of Van Diemen’s Land had already experienced the effect of John Price’s discipline by the many brutal and atrocious murders afterwards committed by men who, being subjected for years to his tantalizing and maddening system of torture, had been changed into demons in human shape.

As an illustration I have only to mention Rocky Whelan, who I have often conversed with while on the island as he was also a native of County Wexford and knew me at home when a boy. (On Mt Wellington is, of course, Rocky Whelan’s Cave ...)

He informed me that he had been 17 years on the island and gave up all hope of ever leaving it, but his trials were only about to commence as the next time I seen him he was handcuffed to a lamp post with his hands tied around his back and a gag in his mouth, secured by a head stall such as used for horses. There he remained, exposed to the burning sun and the attacks of flies and other insects for eight hours, merely for having a bit of tobacco in his possession.

Besides this, Whelan had been repeatedly flogged and imprisoned in the dark cells with the black gag - a favourite instrument of torture at that time - in his mouth for eight consecutive hours, it being the opinion of the doctors that this punishment could not be applied for a longer period without endangering the life of the prisoner. This gag was generally inflicted for some disrespect, whether real or imaginary, on the part of the prisoner towards the officials when on their tour of inspection around the solitary cells.

Whelan had been reduced to a skeleton and the mounds on his back rarely had time to heal before opened afresh by the flagellator, and all for some trivial offence ...

He remained on the island until the establishment was broken up, from whence he was removed to Port Arthur in order to fit him for other society. [Note: Rocky Whelan was eventually released from Port Arthur and went on a killing rampage in Van Diemen’s Land. His speciality was robbing victims after shooting them in the head. Whelan committed at least five murders in Van Diemen’s Land ... there were many others such as Whelan who finished their careers on the scaffold ...”

I’ll let Buck and Joan conclude ...

“He related his tale to a hard-drinking mob at the Lord Rodney Hotel on Hobart Town’s waterfront. Undoubtedly the old lags interjected with their own recollections and contempt for their British masters.

It is easy to imagine the raucous scene as the hardened drinkers tossed back their rum and whipped each other to escalating fury. The result is a vivid account of the brutality of the convict system in Van Diemen’s Land from the viewpoint of a victim caught in the net.

Although Cash’s account is unflinching in its depiction of cruelty and corruption, it is not without humour as Cash and his paramour trick their pursuers and make fools of the landed aristocracy.”

Amen to that! Buck and Joan, Wanted is well and truly launched ...!x