Chapter 8: Girls at Government House
What excitement there was on the morning when land was sighted for the first time and everyone rushed to the deck to see the strange new country where they were to live for the rest of their lives. “If the Magistrate decides that we have been convicted unfairly”, said Widow Twankey often, “we can always go home to England!” But on the deck of the Busy Blow Fly that morning, England seemed so very far away. The land in the distance was low and blue and green. It was going to be a warm day and the girls were so looking forward to coming ashore. Everyone dressed up as well as they could; they wanted to make sure that they arrived in Botany Bay looking good.
As they neared their destination, Captain Price told them that the settlement was now at Sydney - and not at Botany Bay. When they finally sailed into Sydney Harbour, both the girls and Widow Twankey said it was the most beautiful place they had ever seen. The high cliffs, the deep, green water, the splendid sunshine, the little town in the cove and the harbour crowded with boats: it was magnificent. The wharf was lined with people waiting to meet the boat and even though the convict girls were not allowed ashore until early evening, it was so exciting.
There seemed to be a lot of convict men about – all of them wearing the striped clothes of the prisoners of the colony and busy on the wharves and the street beyond. But no one was wearing chains and it seemed that lots of people were laughing and happy. Some of the convict men were very busy having a smoke and telling yarns in the lovely evening light. They waved to the girls cheerfully. Then there was bustle and a lot of ordering about; the ladies were coming ashore at last. Because they were children, Katie and Emily decided to hang back and not to push as some of the more forward ladies did.
When they finally came down the gangplank, there were many men there to see the ladies arrive. One of them stepped forward as soon as Widow Twankey set foot on the wharf and lifted his hat.
“Good evening, my Dear, and would you be interested in marrying a gentleman farmer like me? I have four hundred acres and a hundred fat sheep; all I need to make me happy in life is a fine lady wife like you.”
Emily giggled and Katie didn’t know what to say – and for a moment, she was frightened that Widow Twankey would accept his offer. But the good widow simply gave the gentleman a deep curtsey and said that she hadn’t planned on getting married that afternoon but she was very honoured, to be sure. Katie was frightened that the gentleman would be sad and grumpy but he just made a bow to them all – and asked the next lady convict down the gangplank instead! The girls were hurried on through the streets by the guards and so the girls never learned whether the gentleman found a wife that afternoon.
Captain Price had come to see them off and he told them that there were so many more men in the colony than women that gentlemen were keen to marry any of the ladies as soon as they arrived. “And Emily”, he said, “you be careful or some gentlemen will be asking you! If some squatter with a hundred sheep comes along, he might turn your head!” The girls really giggled now.
They stopped giggling when they saw the awful barracks where they were to lodge that night. The girls had hoped that now that they had left the ship that they would not have to sleep in their hammocks again but they were squeezed in ten to a room again with the hammocks stretched across the whole room. Dinner was wonderful after the last few weeks on board ship, however: there was lamb stew and potatoes and apples and as much milk as they wanted to drink. And best of all, there was lots of water for a real scrub up. The bars of soap that Mabel Chottapeg had given them were brought out and Emily kindly offered them to any of the convict ladies who wanted to clean up. For the first time in many months the girls felt really clean. Other things that Mabel had given them also came out: a needle and thread was needed to make repairs and before they settled for the night, Widow Twankey had found a roll of calico and cut out a new pair of knickers for each of the girls. She would sew them up tomorrow in the lovely Sydney sunshine.
The next morning, the girls had had their breakfast and Widow Twankey had found some other things that they all needed: there was a washtub, a bar of laundry soap, some clothes pegs and a washing line. Everything that they had except the light clothes they were wearing went into the tub and the girls got to work. They were almost finished their washing when there was a stir at the door and the guards rang a bell and all the ladies and girls had to come and stand in the dining room. There in front of them was the Lady Matron of the Women’s Prison – together with a lady who had the sweetest, kindest face you can imagine. This lady was none other than Lady Macquarie – the wife of the new governor of the colony. When she was introduced, all the women convicts gave her a curtsey.
For Katie and Emily, this was a very sad moment. Both of them remembered well the afternoon in the Workhouse when Widow Twankey had chosen them to come to Dursley Hall. If only they could be lucky a second time. Lady Macquarie reminded the girls of Mabel Chottapeg. She had the same kind manner and happy smile. She slowly came through the dining room, looking carefully at all the women. She spoke kindly to many of them, asking whether they had enough to eat and if they were warm enough at night.
With such a grand person coming near them, Katie and Emily and Widow Twankey wished that they had tidied themselves up a little more. They had been washing and their hands were still wet and their aprons were splashed with soap suds. When she saw them, Lady Macquarie laughed gently.
“These are new convicts, Ma’am,’ said the Matron, “just arrived on the Busy Blow Fly”
“They look good, gentle people,” said Lady Macquarie. “Do you think they would make good servants for me at Government House?”
“Oh, we know all about being good servants,” said Katie eagerly. “We can clean and wash and sew and bake. And Widow Twankey makes wonderful apple pies and is so kind.” Here Widow Twankey dropped a curtsey and Lady Macquarie smiled at her with her happy face.
Lady Macquarie then reached out and looked at the girls’ faces. “They look like such good girls, Matron.”
“It’s a terrible case, Your Ladyship.,” said the matron nastily. “They look like good girls, to be sure, but I must tell you that these two little girls stole a valuable ruby necklace and the jewel has never been recovered. They are Workhouse girls as you must know. I believe they are really terrible, vicious girls! And the old one is no better – probably worse.”
Here Katie burst into tears. It was so unfair! They came to Botany Bay as prisoners and yet they had done nothing wrong at all. Now this horrible Matron was spoiling their chances of going to be the servants of this kind and gentle lady.
“Your Ladyship is right!” cried Emily sadly. “We are good girls, really. And Widow Twankey is the best lady in the world. Please give us the chance to show you how good we are.”
Emily started to cry now and so did Widow Twankey. She just loved these two little girls who were so good and so brave. “Matron, I think that these two girls and this old lady will suit me very well. Yesterday my cook got drunk and married a farmer and my maid just walked out to marry a gentleman she met on the docks. I don’t have any ruby necklaces to steal and anyway, these girls look like good little workers to me. “
Lady Macquarie walked on; she couldn’t know how excited and happy she had made the girls by her kindness.
And that was the start of a wonderful adventure at Government House for our three friends. When they reported for duty that afternoon [taken there by a kindly young guard who turned out to be country boy and kind and gentle despite his job] they found a neat, busy house where the governor of the colony and his lady lived. It was nowhere near as grand as Dursley Hall; apart from a gardener and some grooms and stable boys the girls and Widow Twankey were the only indoor servants. The last cook had been able to make wonderful dinners but she also became so drunk that many days the governor and his lady had to live on bread and jam. The kitchen garden was in a mess and whoever had been doing the washing and ironing had made an awful mess of it and burnt most of Lady Macquarie’s linen drawers. It was just the sort of place that Widow Twankey and the girls could brighten up.
And they did. The next twelve months went very quickly. In no time at all, Government House began to feel like a real home. The food improved for a start because Widow Twankey was, after all, a very good cook and housekeeper. The kitchen garden was soon providing all sorts of good things for the Governor’s table. The chooks in the hen house gave nice brown eggs –even if Emily had to chase the snakes away sometimes to collect them. The Governor’s laundry was smartened up too and now Lady Macquarie could go to church without a horrible burn mark on her best silk dress. The girls grew to love the Governor and good lady wife; they were wise, kind and always cheerful. After the terrible servants they had had before the girls, the Governor and Lady Macquarie loved the girls as well. Not only did the Governor enjoy the loyalty and goodness of the girls, he loved the wonderful changes they brought to his table. He had been a soldier all his life and he was used to the coarse food of soldiers in the field. He just loved having the good dinners and fresh vegetables and fruit that Widow Twankey and the girls provided.
More than anything, however, the girls and Widow Twankey loved the new land in which they lived. They pitied the poor convicts they saw in the streets and Sydney could be a tough and violent town on occasions but nothing could beat the beauty of the harbour and the golden sunshine that seemed to be always around them. The winter had been cool, to be sure, but there were none of the dreadful cold drizzly days that always hung about the Workhouse in England. Katie learned to swim in the harbour, diving off the rocks into the cold, clear water. Emily soon learned to do this too – and to row a boat. They loved walking in the bush and seeing the animals – the timid wallabies, the snorting wombats and the noisy kookaburras. And even once they saw a koala but instead of being savage and dangerous as the magistrate had threatened, the bear was snoozing in a gum tree and nothing seemed to wake him up.
The governor was often away from home: up very early and on his horse to go out to places far away from town. On those days the girls had to be up very early too to make the governor his porridge and cut some sandwiches for his lunch. On the very best days, Lady Macquarie went with her husband and then the girls often went too. They would pack a big picnic lunch and while one of the convict boys named Billy built a fire to boil a pot for a cup of tea, Katie and Emily would spread out a clean white cloth and put all the things for lunch in the shade for the Governor and his party to enjoy.
There were dangers in the bush. The girls never met a ferocious kangaroo or a savage koala but thy often saw the shy black Aboriginal people in the bush watching them travel past. They knew that some of the settlers were cruel to the Aborigines and that the Aborigines sometimes fought white travelers with spears. They also saw the convicts who had been rowdy and troublesome, chained together and working to build the roads. They were sad and desperate looking men and Katie and Emily were glad that the governor always had a guard with him on those days. There were bushrangers on the roads too – escaped convicts who robbed and hurt lonely travelers. Governor Macquarie had warned Widow Twankey that she and the girls were never to use the roads without some protection.
One day while the girls were out on the road to Penrith with the Governor and Lady Macquarie they saw the person they had come to fear most in the world. Governor Macquarie had stopped his carriage to talk to the surveyor who was building a road towards the Blue Mountains in the western distance. The convict gang who was actually doing all the hard work was pleased to take a break in the shade of a big gum tree. Emily saw him first and tugged on Widow Twankey’s skirt, pointing to the biggest convict at the end of the gang. Instead of his beautiful waistcoat and green trousers, he wore the sad black and white of the convict but there was no missing that famous big bottom that Emily had seen on the stairs that night so long ago when their world had changed for ever. Sir Dudley Dursley was now a convict, chained at the ankle and carrying a shovel to spread the stone to make a road. His hair was long and untidy and he carried a horrid scar on his cheek – the result of a fight with another convict on the boat coming to Australia. He looked grumpy and cunning. Katie shuddered. Now that she saw how miserable Sir Dudley was, even she felt sorry for him.
Widow Twankey could not hold herself; she leapt out of the carriage and ran towards the gang. “Sir Dudley! Oh, Sir Dudley! It is so sad to see you like this! Your poor mother! How shamed she must be to see you as a convict villain!”
Sir Dudley leapt up as Widow Twankey approached. “You! You old bag! And the two horrible girls with you! I had hoped that you would be hung or dumped in the ocean by now. This is all your fault. If you had gone to prison cheerfully, I wouldn’t be here now. My father never believed that you had stolen the candlesticks and watched me like a hawk after that. I think he alerted that stupid butler that a robber was in the house. You’ll pay for this, watch if I don’t strike you down!”
And here Dudley raised his shovel and tried to run at Widow Twankey to hit her. The chain on his leg stopped him from going very far and when the guards saw what was happening they rushed in and used their wooden batons to knock Dudley to the ground. Widow Twankey burst into tears. She wanted to comfort Sir Dudley; she remembered how he was as a little boy and she forgot all the wicked things he had done to her. The guards separated Sir Dudley from the chain gang and secured him by a separate chain to the biggest gum tree. He was to be kept a secure prisoner until he calmed down.
“Officer,” said the Governor, “this man is obviously dangerous. Please watch him carefully – and teach him some respect for ladies.”
Poor Widow Twankey cried much of the way home to Sydney that afternoon. You see, she knew what happened to convicts who were violent and rude – and how Sir Dudley would be punished by the cruel guards on the road gang. She tried very hard to keep her sadness to herself and not to worry the Governor and Lady Macquarie with her concerns but the sight of her old master a convict and a villain was a terrible burden for her. Katie and Emily sat silently beside her, holding her hands as the carriage rattled slowly back to Sydney. Really, there was nothing to say that could make the sadness any easier to bear.
Life returned to normal at Government House for the girls and Widow Twankey. It was always too busy to be sad and I must say that only Widow Twankey really felt sad about poor Sir Dudley. The girls rather hoped that the guards would give him just what he deserved. When dinner was finished one night, however, and the girls and Widow Twankey had cleared away, the Governor called them all into his study. Lady Macquarie was sitting to the side of the desk looking very happy. There was a pile of letters on his desk; the girls knew that letters only came from England once every two months and when the mail came, there were always lots of letters for the governor that he must read and answer. The girls had seen the tall sailing ship with the mail from England come into the harbour that morning.
“Who was the man in the road gang, Widow Twankey, who tried to hit you with the shovel when we went to Penrith?’ the Governor asked quietly.
“He was my old Master, Sir – Sir Dudley Dursley – although he doesn’t look like the son of a Lord now, does he?” Here, Widow Twankey began to weep quietly and Katie and Emily had to tell the story for her. They began right at the beginning and told the Governor and Lady Macquarie the whole story of the Workhouse, Dursley Hall and the robbery. When they were finished, Katie and Emily were crying too. “Captain Price on the Busy Blow Fly promised that he would write to the magistrates in England and tell them that we were innocent and that Sir Dudley had taken the candlesticks and the jewels but I think he must have forgotten us poor girls once he set sail again,” said Emily finally.
“You must have more faith in young Captain Price,” said the Governor. “Here arrived today for me from England is a letter from the Attorney General who writes to tell me that your convictions for theft have been put aside. He declares that you are innocent of all charges. I have another letter here from Captain Price explaining that on his way back to England he was detained for four months in India when everyone on board ship came down with the cholera. He is sorry that this has taken so long.”
“And I have a letter here from an old friend, Mabel Chottapeg in Calcutta and another one from Lady Dursely,” said Lady Macquarie. “Mabel writes to tell me that the police have finally recovered her ruby and Lady Dursely says she is so sorry that you were wrongly convicted and can you come back to England now and be servants again in Dursley Hall. She tells me here that no one kept her house as tidy as Widow Twankey and no one ironed her frocks as well as Katie and Emily.”
“Innocent!” cried Widow Twankey. “I knew that this would happen one day!” The girls hugged one another and Widow Twankey; they laughed and cried all at once. When they had calmed down for a moment, Lady Macquarie said a little sadly, “The only sad thing is that as you are going back to England I shall have to find some new servants for Government House. Perhaps there will be some more good girls back at the Convict Factory where I found you.”
“I beg your pardon, Ma’am,” said Katie, “I can’t speak for anyone but myself but I love it here in New South Wales. There’s nothing for me back in England but the Workhouse and washing at Dursely Hall.”
“Don’t forget the awful weather and the cabbage soup!” said Emily.
Widow Twankey was uncertain what to do for just a few moments but it didn’t take her long to decide. “I would give anything just now to be home in my parlor at Dursely Hall but Katie and Emily are right you know. There is so much we could do here if we were free to live as we want. I will write to her Ladyship to tell her how grateful I am that she has thought of us but that perhaps she might find someone else at the Workhouse to do her laundry. And besides, a farmer with a horse and ten sheep might just meet me on the wharf and make me a handsome offer.”
Everyone laughed. Governor Macquarie was so pleased to see the girls declared innocent. “All this time you have been working for me as convicts you should have been free workers – and you deserve some wages. I can give you some land and enough money to start your own farm if you like.”
It was true. The Governor could make grants of land to free settlers and that’s what Katie and Emily and the Widow Twankey were now. But while they were celebrating, it was Katie who had an even better idea.
“Governor, the road we saw being built to the Blue Mountains. People using the road are going to need somewhere to stop and have a cold drink and a sandwich. Perhaps you could give us some land on the road – and enough stone to build an inn and some stables. If Widow Twankey could look after Dursley Hall, she can certainly look after an inn.”
And so it was settled. Three months later – once the girls and Widow Twankey had traveled the road and checked all the best spots- they selected one hundred acres just where the road started to climb into the hills. Governor Macquarie organised a team of convicts [including Sir Dudley Dursley] to cut the stone and transport it up the road. The convicts worked under a builder to construct a splendid inn which Widow Twankey decided to call The Dursley Arms Hotel. No one complained about the name except Sir Dudley who hated being reminded about his sad family back in England.
And in a final, terrible punishment, Governor Macquarie assigned Sir Dudley and two other convicts to work on the farm attached to the inn. They had to plough and sow and feed the pigs and plant the kitchen garden. Widow Twankey was always busy running the hotel and looking after her hungry guests; Katie had to supervise the kitchen where there was always the most wonderful soups and stews and roasts and puddings being cooked on the big kitchen range. It fell to Emily, then, to look after the convict workmen – and she could be as bossy and as hard to please as she liked. Apart from Sir Dudley there was a lively Scottish boy named Sandy who had been transported for stealing some whiskey for his grandmother and a cheerful Irish lad named Seamus whose only crime was to have pinched some apples for his old mother to eat. They had been working on the road gang too and when they were assigned to work on the farm they thought it was like heaven. They loved Emily and couldn’t do enough to please her. Seamus was excellent with the pigs and soon had the fattest porkers growing up ready for sausages and hams and sides of bacon. Sandy worked well with the sheep and apart from the roast mutton for the table there was wool to send to market in England. Best of all, Sandy persuaded Emily to find him a puppy for the farm. Jessie, as you might imagine, was soon the best sheep dog in the colony.
No one could get anything but surly bad manners out of Sir Dudley. He had been beaten and punished on the road gang many times; Emily never did anything mean to Dudley and she always called him Sir Dudley – something that made Seamus and Sandy laugh every time they heard it. Slowly, ever so slowly, Sir Dudley began to change his ways. He was working hard for the first time in his life. He grew taller in the colony and his skin was soon tanned and healthy. There was no brandy to drink and no cigars to smoke and what with Widow Twankey’s splendid cooking and all the hard work, he quickly lost his big bottom and grew stronger and fitter. He had to be polite to Seamus and Sandy: the first time he tried to be mean to them they threw him into a pile of horse manure in the stables.
Widow Twankey was busy but she found time to teach Seamus and Sandy to read and this proved to be the thing that finally made Sir Dudley a kinder person. One day when Widow Twanky couldn’t come for the lesson, Sir Dudley took up the big book and began to help Seamus and Sandy. In time, he learned to smile and laugh. If you had seen Sir Dudley after a year at the Dursley Arms, you might not have recognized him as the vain, silly boy who had bought Radish the horse to race at Ascot.
Katie, Emily and Widow Twankey never returned to Dursley Hall although Sir Vernon and Lady Dursely pleaded with them to come home. When Widow Twankey wrote to tell them that Dudley was a servant on their farm and that he was growing into a nice person at last they wrote a most thankful letter – and sent ten pounds each as a way of saying sorry for the suffering the girls had endured so unjustly. With this money, the girls were able to buy some more acres and some fine Merino sheep from Captain Macarthur. Before too long, the value of their flock had grown and the Widow Twankey and the girls became comfortably well off.
And Sir Dudley? Once his time as a convict had expired he decided to head off to the new colony in Port Phillip where he opened a school for boys. The farmers of Port Phillip were rather pleased to have a real English aristocrat as a School Master and the school prospered. Today the school stands in wonderful grounds and the gracious old buildings are listed with the National Trust. Dursley House is the oldest boarding house in the school and on its centenary, the school incorporated the Dursley Coat of Arms into its badge and raised the fees considerably.
I won’t tell you all the adventures that the girls had at the Dursley Arms but there were many. One night they were raided by bushrangers – and would have been badly robbed, I’m sure, if Jess hadn’t taken a big bite out of the leg of the fiercest bushranger and sent him howling off down the road as fast as he could go. The girls grew strong and tall and happy. When Widow Twankey finally accepted the hand of one of the many farmers who came to court, the girls were her bridesmaids when she was married at St John’s Church in Parramatta. They lived on in New South Wales for many years but they never forgot their sad times in chains and no poor man or woman who came begging at the door of their hotel was ever turned away hungry.
Nor did they ever forget the goodness of Governor Macquarie and his lovely wife who believed their story and gave them back their hope and dignity. When Widow Twankey left the hotel, the girls decided to rename the inn and from that time it was called the Sir Lachlan Macquarie hotel. It’s still there on the side of the road up to the Blue Mountains although much changed from its former fabric. The farm where Seamus and Sandy worked so hard is now a shopping mall and the inn is now a giant Leagues Club. The bistro restaurant is still called Katie’s Kitchen and the large room where the poker machines are kept very busy is called Emily’s Lounge. It’s a happy tribute to the founders of the hotel so long ago in convict days.