Cape Breton's Magazine

> Issue 72 > Page 16 - Irish Convicts Abandoned on Cape Breton's Shore, 1788

Page 16 - Irish Convicts Abandoned on Cape Breton's Shore, 1788

Published by Ronald Caplan on 1997/6/1 (574 reads)

nist, and retired soldier from Wolfe's army at Louisbourg, en? countered one group of convicts who related their pHght. He brought them to Mainadieu at once, where, he later told the governor, the residents provided "what assistance they could without injuring their own families."'' Later that evening, Mar? tell and Francis Dixon organized a search for the remaining convicts, finding another thirty or forty. At a De? cember 15 Council meet? ing Dixon told the Lieu? tenant Governor that when they found the con? victs "the greatest part of them [were] little l3etter than naked."'' A great number of felons have been brought to Newgate within these few days past, to be transported to British America, for the taking away of whom the Right Hon. Lord l/layor has en? gaged the snow Providence, of North Yarmouth, Captain De? bonham, burden 200 tons, on board which ship two hundred of these unhappy people are to be embarked about the 13th to be landed at the first port she can make in Nova Scotia. The fate of unfortunate convicts on former too great a re? flection on the humanity of the nation and so disgraceful an in? fringement of the Laws of the Nation as to need repetition. • Freeman's Journal, Dublin, October 2,1788 Over the next three days, the villagers of Maina? dieu cared for the con? victs. On the 15 th they loaded 40 convicts, all the females and those suffering frostbite, aboard Luke Kee gan's fishing boat the Shilaly, bound for Sydney. The inauspicious arrival of destitute persons ''mBrtsnolet 'warm welcome awaits you at t 'lyQape Breton's most popular gift shop, located in the centre of downtown Sydney. 'eaturin' an eaten&io; • /&e;/ecf40fi(' ' Maritime & Canadian Handcrafts "' Quality Souvenirs & T-Shirts ' Folk Art & Country Gifts ' Seagull Pewter ' Scented Candles & Potpourri ' Imported Gifts & Collectibles ' Kitchen & Home Decor Accessories ' Year Round Christmas Shoppe Open Daily 9am-5pm Thurs & Fri 9am-9pm 303 Charlotte St., Sydney, NS B1P 106 "' Telephone: (902) 539-7338 in Cape Breton that winter raised imme? diate alarm. Although the population of Sydney only doubled the convict number, Sydney's merchants had barely enough pro? visions to last until spring. In addition, the Lieutenant- Governor, William Ma- carmick, was unable to cover new expenses, having spent the contin? gency funds earlier dur? ing the visit of Prince William Henry, later King William IV. Furthermore, several merchants remained unpaid for excessive bills run up by J.F.W. DesBarres, the Island's previous administrator. Learning of the convicts' arrival, Macarmick ordered Keegan's ship to dock at the military wharf with a guard to prevent them from landing. He then called an emergency Council meeting, advis? ing the senior merchant, Keith Stout, to feed and clothe the convicts. The next day. Council met with Sydney's merchants to determine the quantity of provisions on hand. Discovering that supplies hardly met local require? ments. Council voted to ship some convicts to Halifax aboard the Treas? ury brig Relief-with the rest to follow in hired vessels. On December 19, Council informed Macarmick they could in? duce no vessel to risk a voyage and the Reliefs captain refused to sail with more than ten or twelve convicts. Faced with quar? tering the convicts until spring. Council advised Macannick to learn what supplies were available and to request instructions from the Secretary of State, Lord Sydney. Macarmick rented a large house at once, lodged the convicts and placed them under a military guard. Later that day he wrote to Lord Grenville, the Home Secretary: whatever their destination was, or whatever their crimes...may have been, they came to me in so miserable a state and by an Act so cruel, that were they not H.M.'s Subjects I could not resist the pressing Inducements to give them protection.''' The following day Macarmick soHcited advice from the Colonial Secretary and requested an immediate shipment of supplies from Governor Parr in Halifax. He shipped the letters aboard the brig Relief hut in a bizarre turn of events, a storm blew the ship off course, and the master, later claiming insanity, sailed to the West Indies where he remained until May.'' This incident prevented the delivery of Macarmick's letters, with the consequence that neither Hahfax nor London was aware of the precarious situation in Cape Breton. Without direction, Macarmick was forced to support the convicts from his own meager Treasury. References to the convicts over the next few months are scant. As winter continued, fifteen to sixteen convicts remained in the hospital recovering from frostbite received that first night in the woods. Several were permanently lamed and others died of the exposure. Rev. Ranna Cossit of St. George's Anglican Church notes in his Vestry Book the deaths of several: "Buried Wood- HOME IMPROVEMENT! STEPHENS Building Supplies '' Makita Power Tools Kohler Windows Donat Flamand Windows All Types of Cedar Sidings CGC Gypsum Board Iko Roofing Plywood Peach Tree Steel Door Systems 199 Townsend Street, Sydney 564-5554 Vinyl Replacement Windows Prefab Houses & Garages Pressure Treated Lumber Cedar Lumber SICO Paints & Stains Weldwood Vinyl Siding Fibreglass Pink Insulation Free I Computerized I Estimatesl Nightingale Nursing Services {21 24 hours; 7 days a week service iZI R.N.'s - L.P.N.'s P4' {21 Homemakers & babysitters '' {21 Care provided in home or hospital {21 Bonded & insured {2! Reasonable rates FULL TIME R.N. 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