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Kate Crawford by John Lang

 

"WE had several female Specials," said the old lady; "but the most remarkable of them was Kate Crawford, Beautiful Kitty, as she used to be called. She was very handsome, certainly, and not more than nineteen when she arrived in the colony."

"What had been her condition in life?" I asked.

"She was the daughter of a Yorkshire squire. In short, she was a lady by birth," was the reply, "and had received the education of persons in her father's position and circumstances, and she was accomplished, according to the standard of that day."

"And what was her crime?"

"Horse--stealing."

"Horse--stealing!"

"Yes. That was the offence of which she was convicted, and, in those barbaric days, sentenced to be hanged. That sentence, however, was commuted to transportation for fourteen years."

"Rather a strange offence for a young lady to commit," I remarked.

"Very true; but you must hear the particulars, just as she related them to me, and to several other ladies who took a very great interest in her. And remember, that all she told us--I mean all the facts she stated--corresponded exactly with those detailed in the report of her trial, which was subsequently, at her request, obtained from England. In one sense of the word, Kate was a very bold girl; in another sense, she was the very reverse of bold. Her manners were in perfect harmony with her person--soft, gentle, and feminine; but, if she were resolved upon carrying out any project, great indeed must have been the obstacle she would not surmount. Her story, as she told it, was this:--

"'My father, Squire Crawford, and one Squire Pack, lived within a mile of each other. Their estates adjoined. Squire Pack had a son, John Pack, of about twenty--four years of age. I was then between seventeen and eighteen. John Pack was an only son, and I was an only daughter. Both Squire Pack and my father were widowers, and had housekeepers. The old people, over their bowls of punch one night, settled that John Pack should be my husband. Now, it so happened that John Pack--whom I liked very much, he was such a good--natured goosey--was already in love, and secretly engaged to a farmer's daughter, a stout, tall, red--haired girl, with blue eyes, and a very florid, but clear, complexion. Just the girl, in short, to captivate poor John, whose taste was not particularly refined. She had, besides, the exact amount of learning to suit poor John, who was not an erudite person by any means. I, too, had a secret engagement with a younger son of Sir Francis Bowman, and who was a lieutenant in a regiment of foot. Squire Pack and my father were both great tyrants, and to have offered the slightest opposition to their plans would possibly have led to their putting into execution, respectively, that threat which was constantly on the lips of either of them: I'll turn you out of doors, and cut you off with a shilling! John Pack and I therefore, came to an understanding. We were to be lovers in the presence of the old people; but to every other intent and purpose, we were to assist each other in corresponding with our true loves--trusting, as we did, to some accident or some quarrel between our fathers to annul the marriage contract they had entered into on our behalf. Matters went on this way for several months, and nothing could be more satisfactory to us young people. John Pack frequently carried letters and messages for me, and I as frequently did the same for him. Squire Pack and my father used to quarrel once in every year, and for a month or two were the most implacable enemies; but, at the end of such term, the one or the other would give way, make an advance (which was always met), shake hands, and become as good friends as ever. The truth was, that when the evenings drew in, they missed their game of cribbage; for John Pack was a very sleepy person over cards, and, as for myself, I could never play at any game except beggar--my--neighbour.

"'One morning in the month of December the hounds met a few miles from our house. Squire Pack and my father rode to cover together. John Pack, who had brought me a letter from my lover, accompanied them, and joined the meet. The moment they were out, of the gate, I broke the seal, and read as follows:--"

'DEAREST KATE,--If you possibly can, meet me on the Halifax road, near the Hen and Chickens. I will be there at eleven, and will wait till two in the hope of seeing you. I have something very important to communicate. My father intends having an interview with your father the day after to--morrow. I would have ridden over to the Hatch, only you gave me such good reasons for not doing so, or even coming near the place at present. In haste. "'Ever affectionately yours, "'George Bowman.'

"The Hen and Chickens, a roadside inn, was distant from the Hatch (the name of my father's house) about six miles; and, when I received my lover's letter, it was nearly half--past ten o'clock. I flew to the stables, and ordered the groom to saddle my horse. To my disgust, he informed me that the animal was as lame as a cat. I then ordered him to put my saddle on Marlborough, a second hunter of my father's. The groom told me that the horse had been taken to a point called Milebush, where the squire expected to pick him up fresh. I then said, 'Saddle the old mare,' and was given to understand that she had gone to the farrier's to be shod. What was to be done? I deliberated for a few minutes, and then ordered the groom to take my side-saddle and bridle, and follow me to Squire Pack's, and hastily attiring myself in my riding-habit and hat, I ran across the fields as fast as I could, and made for the stables of our neighbour. The only saddle-horse in the squire's stables at the time was a magnificent thoroughbred colt, which had just been broken in; and this colt the squire's groom was not disposed to saddle for me without the squire's personal order. Becoming very impatient, for it then wanted only three minutes to eleven, I shook my whip at the groom, and said: 'Saddle him this instant. Refuse at your peril! You shall be discharged this very night!' All Squire Pack's servants, as well as our own, believed that I was to be John Pack's wife, and the groom, fearful of that gentleman's wrath, no longer hesitated to obey my instructions. The colt was saddled and brought out. I mounted him, and laid him along the road at the very top of his speed, perfectly satisfied that John Pack would take care that my father never heard of my adventure, and that his father would say nothing about it--determined, as I was, to have a note for John, to be delivered on his return from the chase.

"'It was exactly nineteen minutes past eleven when I arrived at the Hen and Chickens, and found George Bowman waiting for me. He had walked over from his father's house. The colt I had ridden was so bathed in perspiration that I alighted, and caused him to be taken into a shed and rubbed down. While the stable--boys were so enganged, George and I walked along the road, and discoursed intently on our affairs for more than an hour and a half. We then returned to the inn, and I gave orders for the colt to be saddled. But, alas! the colt was not in the stable wherein he had been placed after he had been rubbed down, nor was a traveller, who was dressed like a gentleman, and who had come to the inn to bait his jaded horse shortly after my arrival, to be found on the premises, though his horse was in one of the stalls--a horse that must have been a very swift and valuable creature in his day, but then rather old and broken--winded. There could be no doubt that this person, whoever he might be, had made the exchange, and ridden away unseen while the stable--boys were taking their dinner. A well--dressed man had ridden swiftly past George and myself whilst we were walking on the road; but we were far too much engrossed in conversation to take any particular notice of himself or the steed he was riding. Under these awkward and distressing circumstances, I scarcely knew what to do. It was now past two o'clock, and I was anxious to return to my home. I, therefore (accompanied by George Bowman to the very edge of our grounds), proceeded on foot. As soon as I was in my own room I divested myself of my riding--habit, and wrote a letter to John Pack, requesting him to see me at the earliest moment possible. It was past four o'clock when my father returned, and the moment I saw him I discovered that he was much the worse for the refreshment he had taken while absent from home. He told me, and it was quite true, that Jack Pack had had a bad fall in the field, had broken his thigh and smashed his head, and that he was then lying in a dangerous state at a public--house not far from Bradford. I begged of him to let me go and see the sufferer. But he said No! and then informed me that he had had such violent quarrel with Squire Pack, that they could never be on speaking terms again. It was all about the settlements he said; that the old thief wanted to hold off coming down with any money till his death; that he (Squire Pack) had broken his word; that he (my father) had given him a good bellyful of his mind; that he told the squire that neither he nor his father before him were born in wedlock; and that, after all, it would be a disgrace for a Crawford to have a Pack for a husband. All this distressed me very much; but I still hoped that this, like their other quarrels, would be made up ere long, and that, in the mean time, poor John Pack would recover, and Sir Francis Bowman tempt my father to listen to the liberal proposals he was about to make to him with respect to my union with George. It was, however, a frightfully anxious night that which I passed. My sleep, when it at last stole over me, was a troubled one, and my dreams a succession of horror upon horror. When I awoke, I fancied that all was a dream--the accident to John Pack, the quarrel between my father and the squire, the meeting between myself and George Bowman, and the loss of the colt at the Hen and Chickens.

"But, alas! I was speedily awakened to the reality, by my father calling out 'Kate! Kate! Come here! What have you been about? Here are the officers of justice come to take you before the magistrate!' I ran down stairs, confessed everything, and entreated him to forgive me. Like most of the old squires, he was a very violent and head--strong man, and on this occasion his answer was terrific. 'Take her!' he cried to the officers. 'Take her away! Let her be hanged, for all I care! She deserves it for deceiving me!'"

"'It seems that as soon as Squire Pack heard of my taking the colt away, he vowed that he would have me tried for horse-stealing, and thus would he disgrace the man who had called him such vile names and said such bitter things to him. And, in fulfilment of this vow, he went to the nearest magistrate, accompanied by his groom and another servant, and made a deposition upon oath. The magistrate was an old clergyman, to whom Squire Pack had given the 'living,' and who was in the habit of responding the words 'of course,' to every sentence the squire uttered. A warrant for my apprehension was immediately issued, and I was taken into custody. What happened before the clerical magistrate I cannot recollect; but I can remember being asked several times, 'What has become of the colt?' and replying, 'I don't know.' The consequence was, I was committed to take my trial at the forthcoming assizes, and was meanwhile sent to prison."

"'Whilst I was in those cold and dismal cells, my father never came near me; nor did he write to me, or even send me a message. The only person whom I saw--and that was in the presence of the jailer--was George Bowman, who did all in his power to console me, although, poor boy, his face and shrunken form plainly betrayed that he was bordering on insanity caused by grief. George told me that Sir Francis Bowman had spoken to Squire Pack; but the squire would not listen to him, and that he had declined to receive the value, or double the value, of the colt which had been 'stolen' by me--swearing that 'the law should take its course.'"

"'The day of trial came, and I was arraigned. George Bowman had retained an able lawyer to defend me, but his advocacy was of no avail. He urged that I had not taken the colt with the intention of stealing it, but of returning it after I had ridden it. To this the other counsel replied, 'Why didn't she return it?' 'Because it was stolen from her at the inn,' was the rejoinder. This the jury regarded a very fond (foolish) tale, and found me guilty; whereupon the judge put on the black cap, and sentenced me to be hanged by the neck until I was dead!"

"What happened afterwards--whom I saw, or what they said--I know not. I was in a perfect lethargy, and did not recover my senses until more than half of the voyage to the colony was completed.'"

Here the old lady paused for a brief while, and then resumed.

"What Kate's sufferings must have been, when she was conscious of what was passing around her, it would, indeed, be difficult to describe. She had not only to bear the companionship of the three hundred degraded wretches who were her fellow--passengers, but to withstand the unseemly attentions of the Navy surgeon, who had charge of the convicts, and who had become enamoured of her extreme beauty. The captain of the vessel, also, fell desperately in love with her, and on several occasions proposed to marry her, abandon the sea, and settle in the colony. The surgeon having heard of this, quarrelled with the captain, and threatened Kate that if she ever spoke or listened to the captain again, he would have her hair cut off, and that she should be publicly flogged. (He had the power, you know, of inflicting such punishment upon any female convict who incurred his displeasure.) The captain being informed by one of his officers of this threat, thrashed the surgeon on the quarter--deck, to the delight of the women, who looked on and cried 'Bravo!' The surgeon called the guard--fifty soldiers (recruits). But as each man had his sweetheart on board, and as the cause was regarded as the 'women's cause,' the guard declined to interfere in the matter. This was a sad state of affairs, no doubt, so far as discipline was concerned; but it tended very materially to Kate Crawford's advantage. Amidst the strife and contending passions of the two men, she was safe in that sense of the word most desirable to herself. When the ship arrived in the harbour, the surgeon preferred a complaint against the captain and his officers. There was an investigation, which resulted in a manner rather prejudicial to the surgeon, and the Governor gave an order that he was not to be permitted to depart the colony until the pleasure of his Majesty's Government was known. Such pleasure was known about a year afterwards. It was to the effect that the surgeon was to be sent to England, under an arrest, in the first man--of--war that touched at Port Jackson. He had made several statements and admissions at the investigation to warrant and insure his dismissal from the service of the State.

"Soon after her arrival, Kate had to undergo fresh persecutions. She was 'applied for' by at least twenty unmarried officers, each of whom was anxious to have her 'assigned' to him as a servant. It was not uncommon in those days for officers to marry their assigned servants, and make them sell rum at the back doors of their private houses, or quarters, to private soldiers and convicts at a dump (fifteenpence) a glass. It was by these means that many of them amassed their large wealth in ready money."

"Did the Government know of this?" I asked.

"That is a question I decline to answer," replied the old lady. "But this I know, that when the duty was taken off rum imported to the colony, very few people were licensed to keep public-houses. However, none of these gentlemen were destined to be the master of Kate Crawford. The statement she made at the investigation aroused the sympathy of Mrs. Macquarie (the Governor's wife), who enlisted the respect and affection of all who know her. Mrs. Macquarie was driven in her private carriage to the factory at Paramatta--an institution to which all unassigned convicts were taken on their arrival in Sydney--and had an interview with the unfortunate girl. I accompanied Mrs. Macquarie on that occasion.

"When Kate was brought by the matron--superintendent into the little room in which Mrs. Macquarie and myself were seated, she was dressed in the uniform garb of females under sentence of transportation; the commonest calico print gown, a white apron, white cap without frills or strings, thickly--soled shoes, and no stockings. The dresses were made short, so that the ankles and the lower part of the legs were visible, while the arms were perfectly bare from the elbow--joint. Nevertheless, in those hideous garments, Kate still preserved the bearing of a well--bred gentlewoman. There was no low curtsey--no 'May it please your ladyship'--no folding of the hands; but there was a gentle inclination of the head and of the body, and an honest, modest look, which would at once have satisfied the most suspicious person in the world that the girl was incapable of committing any crime. And when Mrs. Macquarie, with a graceful movement of the hand, requested her to be seated, she thanked and obliged the old lady, simultaneously.

"'I have not come to see you out of mere curiosity,' said Mrs. Macquarie, 'nor have I come to gloat over the sight of a young lady in such a position as that in which you are now placed. I simply come, armed with the authority of the Governor, to know by what means your sojourn in this colony may be rendered the least painful.'

"On hearing these words of unexpected kindness, the poor girl burst into passionate tears, and Mrs. Macquarie and myself followed her example.

"When she was calmed, and in a condition to listen, Mrs. Macquarie again put the question to her, and the poor girl replied, in broken accents--'Do with me, or for me, whatever your kind heart may dictate.'

"'Then you shall live,' said Mrs. Macquarie, 'in private apartments, in the house of Mr. Kherwin, the chief constable of Paramatta, whose wife shall make you as comfortable as circumstances will admit of. Under that roof you will be perfectly safe, and protected from every species of annoyance. And if you will allow me, I will send you the means of providing yourself with more suitable apparel than that you are now wearing.'

"Poor Kate expressed her gratitude in becoming terms, and we took our departure. Mrs. Macquarie then ordered the coachman to drive to the house of the chief constable, and expressed to that functionary her wishes, which were tantamount to orders; and that very night Kate Crawford occupied a room in the small but cleanly cottage of the Kherwins. They were very respectable people, the Kherwins; and Mrs. Macquarie arranged that Kate was to board with them. I don't know whether Kherwin and his wife were recompensed by a payment of money, or a grant of land, but I am quite satisfied that they lost nothing by the attentions they showed to their unhappy charge.

"Whenever the major and myself went to Paramatta, we never failed to pay Kate a visit, and have a long chat with her. On one occasion she told us that she had received a reply to a letter she had written to a friend in England. Her old lover, George Bowman, she said, had, shortly after her conviction, become insane, and was a hopeless lunatic in an asylum. Her father had married a young damsel, and had by her an infant son. John Pack, when he recovered, and came to know of the cruel course of conduct his father had pursued, quarrelled with the old man, flogged him in his passion, and then married Peggy, and became a farmer on his own account. Squire Pack, too, had married a young maiden, and had made up his quarrel with Squire Crawford.

"Kate was only three years a prisoner of the Crown, or (to speak in the coarser phrase) a convict. General Macquarie, one morning, accompanied by Mrs. Macquarie, all the chief officials, and their wives, journeyed from Sydney to Paramatta. The cortége drew up opposite to the chief constable's cottage. The general and Mrs. Macquarie were the only persons who alighted. After a brief absence they returned, bringing with them poor Kate Crawford, whom the general handed into his carriage, and then ordered the postilion to go to Government House. (There is a Government House in Paramatta.) There, in the presence of all assembled, the dear old general presented Kate with the king's pardon, and at the same time handed to her a piece of parchment, sealed with the seal of the colony, and bearing the general's own signature. It was the title--deed of a grant of land, of two thousand acres, within forty miles of Sydney, and situated in one of the best and most alluvial districts. This ceremony over, the old general led her to the dining--room, where luncheon was ready. The poor girl--she was then only twenly--three--was evidently much overcome by her feelings: but she struggled hard to subdue them, and succeeded."

"And what became of her?" I asked.

"You shall hear," said the old lady. "While she was under the protection of the chief constable, Kate was not idle. She assisted Mrs. Kherwin in all matters connected with the household. The cows, the pigs, the poultry, &c., had each and all some share of her attention. And she kept the accounts--for the Kherwins sold the product of the animals which they reared. In short, although she did not cease to be what the vulgar call a 'fine lady,' she made herself a woman of business, and a shrewd one too,--not that she ever took an advantage of those with whom she dealt.

"Now free to do what she pleased, and with a grant of land in her possession, Kate resolved upon remaining in the colony, and devoting herself to farming and the rearing of cattle. Both the general and Mrs. Macquarie were so fond of her, that any favour she asked was at once accorded. She applied for fifteen convicts; they were assigned to her. She then engaged a very respectable overseer--a man of firmness and integrity. She borrowed £300, wherewith to commence operations, and build a house. At the end of two years she paid off this debt, and had a considerable balance in hand. The wheat and the Indian maize grown upon her farm always brought the highest prices in the market, and she was equally fortunate with her live stock. Many offers of marriage were made to her, year after year, by persons in eligible positions and circumstances; but Mrs. Crawford, as she now called herself, had determined on remaining single. She had built for herself a vehicle called a sulky, a gig which had a seat for the accommodation of one person only, and in this she used to drive to Sydney once in every year. Upon all these occasions she was a guest at Government House. In 1823, she was the owner of £12,000 in money, which was invested on mortgage of landed property in the town of Sydney; and in 1837, when I last saw her, and laughingly said--'You must be frightfully rich by this time, Kitty,' she replied--'Well, if I were to die now, there would be about £120,000 to be divided amongst those who are mentioned in my will. Your boys are down for a few pounds--not that I fancy they will ever want them.'"

"Is she still alive?" I asked.

"Yes," replied the old lady, "and likely to live for the next twenty years; for although she had many days of sorrow, she never had one of sickness, to my knowledge."

[Since the history of Mrs. Crawford was related to me, she has departed this life. The gentleman who gave me this information lived many years in Australia. On asking him what she died possessed of, he answered--"The value of her estate, real and personal, was as nearly as possible half a million sterling."]

End.

 
 
 
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