Back to Tasmania

The use of Norfolk Island as a penal settlement ended in 1855 and on 8 February of that year James boarded the Lady Franklin for the trip back to Port Arthur. Tasmania was now on the verge of self-government and had officially ceased to be penal colony.

The colony is in a good deal of agitation respecting the convict system. In G.W.W.'s family two of the servants are convicts. House servants are mostly convicts and rarely stay long in the same situation. I am quite struck by the forbidding countenances we meet with in the streets. Chain gangs are abolished, though chains are not, for we met yesterday a man in his parti-coloured dress wearing chains which clanked with every step he took.Mackie p. 83.

..the towns and the people look much like England. The streets are broad and straight, crossing at right angles and are well macadamised. The paving is bad, being only such as each individual chooses to put down before his own door, and often there is none at all... Hobart Town now contains upward of 24,000 inhabitants by the last census. I have been much struck with the thin spare habit of the people which is alike in rich and poor, more particularly those born in the colony. We do not at once see that we are in a country where the refuse of England has been poured upon it.ibid. p77


James arrived back in Tasmania almost exactly five years after he left with three years one month and twenty six days of his original sentence still to serve plus the additional three years imposed on the Island for the robbery with a chisel. With almost 14 years behind him he still faced another six to serve. The 49 passengers on the
Lady Franklin were sent to the Separate Prison for three months before being returned to the Penitentiary. Here he was forbidden to speak with any other person and saw no one other than guards.

None of the gang that absconded with James from Cascades returned with him. William Foster’s time on Norfolk Island confirmed his violent and rebellious nature that continued after his return to Hobart. In November 1856 he received another death sentence for robbery with a pistol. Again he was reprieved and he served another twenty one years as a convict. He was well into his fifties before he was released. Andrew Kelly had been returned to Port Arthur in the middle of 1852 and towards the end of the year he was sent to the north of Tasmania. The next February Kelly and James Dalton killed another convict, Thomas Buckmaster, at Bona Vista; they were tried in Launceston on 7 April 1853 and were executed nineteen days later. Richard Walton had absconded from Norfolk Island in January 1854 and disappeared.

Unlike his colleagues in crime James reformed and his good behaviour began to have a positive effect. His assistance in fighting fires earned eight days of his sentence remitted on 29 April 1855 and six weeks later half the additional sentence applied on Norfolk Island was also remitted. From May 1855 to February 1856 he resided at Port Arthur. In August 1855 his three years at Norfolk Island was reckoned to be fully served and in early November passed from the penal stage to probation. At the end of February 1856 the rest of his sentence was remitted, he received his pass and was transferred to the Prisoner's Barracks in Hobart. The Barracks was located in Campbell St. just north of the corner with Bathurst St. and about to be extended into the main Hobart Gaol.

Pass holders were at the third stage of their sentence, they had limited freedom and were available on assignment to businessmen and farmers as indented labour. James' first assignment was to Mr. Murphy at
Cygnet where he spent a month before returning to the Barracks. In June he learnt that he would be eligible for a Ticket-of-Leave in March 1858 but later that month the date was brought forward by three months for ‘meritorious service at a fire’. In July 1856 he was assigned to Mr. Archer, the operator of the Risdon Ferry, for four months. Back at the Barracks he was briefly admitted to hospital on November 25, the first such record, and quite an amazing comment on his constitution under such rigorous conditions. On discharge he went to work for Mr. Lucas at Brown's River, the farmhouse is now the clubhouse of the Kingston Beach Golf Club.