I've kept this blog, on and off, since 2006. In 2015 I used it to chart daily encounters, images, thoughts and feelings about volcanic basalt/bluestone in Melbourne and Victoria, especially in the first part of the year. I plan to write a book provisionally titled Bluestone: An Emotional History, about human uses of and feelings for bluestone. But I am also working on quite a few other projects and a big grant application, especially now I am on research leave. I'm working mostly from home, then, for six months, and will need online sociability for company!

Thursday, September 03, 2015

My Year with Bluestone: breaking out with Winifred Johnson

I'm slowly finding my feet and my way into the writing of this book. My fabulous research assistants Helen and Anne have located a terrific mass of materials, and the evidence is often irresistible: the voices of the past are crowding in thick and fast.

At the moment I'm working through a report to the Legislative Assembly and a series of interviews dating from 1857. There are two accounts of a woman breaking out, and I am guessing it is the same woman.

The first report comes from Claud Farie, the sheriff in charge of the Melbourne gaol: 
There is one most unruly woman there now [i.e. the Eastern Hill gaol]: I cannot keep her in the western gaol from which she broke away; I have had her in the main gaol ever since she got her last sentence. She tried to break through the cell into one of the other prisoner’s cells, by means of a spoon; she got out the whole of the lime and mortar round one of the large stones; she took an immense stone out of one side of the cell…. Last Sunday afternoon her language during Divine service was most horrible; the clergyman was obliged to stop; and without gagging her, it is almost impossible to keep her quiet.

The second longer interview is with John Price, a settler who became Inspector of Penal Establishments, after working at Norfolk Island and Van Dieman's land. He was eventually murdered  [more to come later on him, I hope].

It is not long ago that Winifred Johnson broke out of the female gaol. At the time they were putting up a portion of that building I said any woman who know how to go about it will break out of it. [ ... ] That woman was removed up to the western gaol, which I look upon as a strong building, and she made a hole there the size of this fire-place, through those heavy stone walls.
I'm presuming this is the same woman. Winifred Johnson was unruly in every sense; breaking out of the prison both physically and verbally.

I have come across several stories about prisoners removing a single large bluestone block, which would have given enough space for a person to climb through. I like the comparison with the fire-place, though it's not all that helpful in this context: how big was the fireplace?

There is a great deal of discussion about the quality of workmanship; Price also describes some walls for another building that looked great till the roof was put on, and the walls collapsed.

So bluestone looks strong and hard, but there are human skills involved in assembling walls, and also in disassembling them, with a humble spoon.

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