St Helena’s official punishment registers bulge with listings of prisoners’ misdemeanors — loitering, talking on muster, idleness, assault, disorderly conduct, swearing, failing to salute a warder, destroying Government property, and so on.
But scattered among the routine offences are a few which warrant special mention.
Forger John Daley made good use of his criminal skills in November 1890 — and was awarded three days on half rations for his efforts. He obliterated the number ‘35’ from a new pair of trousers belonging to a fellow prisoner and substituted in ink his own number ‘39’.
James Bradley found himself in solitary for five days in 1891. The punishment register records the tale:
- For falsely stating to the Superintendent that he had given prisoner Jimmy the spirits ordered by the Visiting Surgeon, when he had not done so.
- For appropriating to his own use the spirits entrusted to him to give to the above prisoner.
- For being under the influence of spiritous liquor.
Others were punished for ‘allowing a quantity of manure to accumulate in the piggery’, for ‘allowing sheep to stray among the potatoes’, for ‘destroying another prisoner’s hat by putting it in the night bucket’, for ‘sitting in the lavatory in F Yard for fourteen minutes, gossiping, and laughing at prisoners coming and going’, for ‘performing acrobatic feats on the hammock bars’, and, while working in the dairy, for ‘watering down the milk’.
Many prisoners were punished for idleness. Among the many vagrants who spent short periods on St Helena was old Jas Wilson who, claimed the authorities, was ‘just too lazy to work on St Helena’. He was sent back to Brisbane Gaol, presumably so that he could be lazy in peace.
In 1894, James McCallum was sentenced before the Superintendent to a period in the probationary cell for using threatening language towards Warder Spain. But while he was being conducted by the warder from the Superintendent’s office to the cell where he was to see out his punishment, McCallum began to quicken the pace from a walk, to a trot, to a sprint, with the warder in hot pursuit. The chase ended with a puffing Warder Spain finally catching up with his prisoner, who was standing, grinning, outside the door of the probationary cell. His practical joke backfired: he received double punishment.
Top marks for toughness went to the prisoner in 1892 who, after being ordered by the Visiting Surgeon, and later by the island authorities, not to remove the bandage and splint from his badly broken right hand, did so — prior to ‘knocking the block’ off a fellow inmate, fractured hand and all!