Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Dorrington's First Encounter with the Unknown

 For people who had never travelled more that a few kilometres from their home, the first leg of their journey in a covered wagon must have seemed extraordinary. Please on as Jack tells us of his disappointment.
Only we weren’t!
       When the wagon stopped and the flaps were lifted Madge shouted, “This here’s no New South Wales. It’s only Woolwich. It’s where that no good sailor thought he could hide. But….”
Before she could say another word, the geezer appeared and started shouting at some redcoats who’d come out of the fog that covered everything.
“Get these women out of the wagon and down to the end of the pier quickly. Make sure they stay together. I don’t want any of them thinking they can escape.”
There was no chance of that. Those redcoats shoved us this way and that down a path of wooden planks. One of them decided to get a bit fresh with me mum. He asked her name and told her his was Higgins before he pinched her on the bottom. She let out a yelp so I kicked him in the shins.  He swore, grabbed hold of me and lifted me clear off the ground.
“Ya’ little swine!”
            I kicked again and got him in the belly. That made him let go of me. I fell in a heap on the planks. The geezer came rushing to see what was going on.
            “Get to your feet, boy. Do you know the punishment for striking one of His Majesty’s officers?” I shook my head as he poked me with his silver topped cane. “No! I thought not. You’ll not do it again or I’ll have you thrown into an orphanage. Your mother will have to go to New South Wales without out you.”
            Me mum started to cry. “Please, no! He’s all I’ve got. Besides he was only protecting me from this man.” She pointed at Higgins, but all the geezer said was “Hrrump,” and waved his stick as he bustled back into the fog.
He was waiting for us at the top of some steps.
“Down you go!” he ordered. There was a little boat bobbing about against the bottom step. Mad Sarah refused to move so Higgins picked her up and carried her down. Me and Joe and our mums ran down after him and sat ourselves down on a hard wooden seat that went across one end of the boat. Elsie and Dolly followed us but Madge stood at the top of the steps with her arms folded across her chest.
            “I’m not going anywhere in that thing. It’s too small.”
            The geezer prodded her with his silver topped cane. “Move woman,” he roared, but she wouldn’t budge. Higgins and another redcoat got behind her and pushed as hard as they could till she toppled over. She rolled down the stairs and into the boat sending water splashing up all around it. The two redcoats followed her down as the geezer shouted to the sailors to move off. They put their oars in the water and we began to move away from the steps into the fog.
            We didn’t have far to go before we came smack up against a great wooden wall with a rope ladder hanging over it.
            “Up you go,” Higgins said to me and Joe as the sailors lifted their oars and took hold of the ladder so we could climb on to it. It swung about a bit but we worked our way up it. When we got near the top some hands reached down and pulled us the rest of the way. We found ourselves standing on the deck of a huge ship.
            Me mum and Mary helped Dolly up the ladder and Elsie scrambled up after them but Mad Sarah had to be prodded and poked by Higgins before she’d move at all. When she was half way up she decided she wasn’t going any further. Eventually one of the sailors from the ship had to scurry down and drag her the rest of the way. She hissed and spat at him like a frightened cat. Madge didn’t give the redcoats or the sailors any trouble as she made her own way up the ladder on to the deck.
            There were more redcoats on the ship lining us up in rows and telling us to be quiet as more women were brought out to the ship. The last to come on board was the geezer who was met by an angry man in a long black coat with lots of shiny buttons and a three cornered hat on his head.  
"How dare you bring women out to my ship in such a wretched condition. They’re covered in filth and their clothes are rags. I want none of their vermin infecting my clean ship. Do something about it.”
“I gave orders that they were to be properly dressed, Captain,” the geezer said in a much quieter voice than he used on us.
“Then you should have seen to it that your orders were obeyed.” The captain turned his back on the geezer and stood in front of us.
“I am the captain of this ship, the Lady Penrhyn, and while you are here you will obey me and my officers at all times. You will not fight among yourselves. You will keep yourselves clean and you will not have anything to do with my crew.”
Behind me Madge muttered, “Scurvy lot! Wouldn’t touch them if you paid me.”
The captain heard her.
“You speak when I’m talking, woman, and you’ll spend the journey in the coal hole.” He waited till there was real quiet. Then he roared. “Do you know what that’s like?” Madge didn’t answer. “It’s a pitch black hole full of coals for the galley. And anyone one of you that misbehaves will spend time in there. Do I make myself clear?” With that he turned on his heel and disappeared through a door at the end of the ship.
 The geezer’s face was still pretty red when he ordered the redcoats to get us below.


  1. I will mention this read to all the fans of historical fiction I know!

  2. The story of Australia's beginnings is not as well known as it should be even among Australians. I hope that Dorrington's story of his incredible journey will go a little way to rectifying that