Page 15 - Irish Convicts Abandoned on Cape Breton's Shore, 1788
ISSUE : Issue 72
Published by Ronald Caplan on 1997/6/1
convicts as indented servants in Maryland. A third ship carried 190 prisoners to indentured servitude in Alexandria, Virginia. The fourth vessel, the snow Dispatch: of Yarmouth, Captain Nappers, sailed in June 1787 and took 183 convicts.... They landed them at the new Loyalist settlement of Shelburne, in Nova Sco- tia[,] but the people there would not suffer them to land and in consequence the Captain was induced to put them ashore in a remote unsettled part of the bay of Machias [Maine, US], from whence the survivors begged their way into the more southern and different parts of the US saying they were in? dented servants from Ireland who had been put on shore from suffering a want of provisions and water on ship-board." The 5th vessel sailed from Dublin with 100 convicts in 1787. When the master landed them on a deserted Bahamian Island, the convicts endured months of incredible deprivation during which fifty-one persons died. The Captain who rescued the sur? vivors reported "the living were eating the carcasses of the dead."'* Chained below deck in the Providence, convicts knew the fate of previous voyages. After seven weeks crossing the wintry At? lantic, their ship finally reached northeastern Cape Breton. Ob? serving the snow-covered ground and fearful of delaying his re? turn trip. Captain Debonham resolved to abandon his cargo at once. Returning through the Strait of Canso, Debonham sought to abandon the convicts at a remote, uninhabited headland, far from authority. Late in the afternoon of December 11, Captain Debonham an? chored the Providence opposite the windswept shoreline be? tween Port Nova Island and Scatarie. Bringing the prisoners on deck, Debonham's crew removed their leg irons and forced them into the ship's yawl. According to a deposition made by Francis Dixon, chief Pilot of Main- adieu, Debonham's seamen: MIRA M'T C.Bretbn Convict Point no longer shows on contemporary maps. Mr. Burke places it for us on this portion of the Sur? veyor-General's 1931 map. for passing forged notes. In September, the Dublin court con? victed him of two more highway robberies and banished him for seven years. They tried and convicted MacDonald, his mur? derous accomplice, for several felonies only days before the Providence sailed. The courts banished Kirkpatrick, the poor victim, for life for sheep stealing.'' Many others might have perished as well but for the good for? tune that Charles Martell was cutting firewood nearby. Martell, the King's Justice of the Peace in Mainadieu, a respected colo- were armed with Pistols, cutlasses and swords & when the Boat reached shore, they tumbled [the convicts] headlong from the boat into the surf...and one man was killed by being thrown against a rock.'' The yawl made six or seven trips that afternoon, landing the eighty men, women, and boys at several locations on the coast now known as Convict Point. By 7:00 p.m., Captain Debonham was free of his charges and the Providence hoisted sail to the west. The convicts were left to endure a night that Francis Dixon said was "excessively cold...the ground cov? ered with snow."'? They huddled in small groups, disoriented, their clothes soaked from the landing • many without stockings and shoes, and all without food or blankets. Six convicts perished of exposure that night. One old man, John Kirk? patrick, was beaten, robbed, and left to die by two of his convict mates, Joseph MacDonald and Laurence Pendergast. The Irish newspapers document some of Pendergast's career in crime. Earlier in the year he served time in Newgate for forging a bill | of exchange. Law courts knew him as an old offender with previous convictions in Drogheda and Trim The Department of Natural Resources offers many titles that will stir your interest in forests, minerals, energy, wildlife, parks or outdoor recreation. From the historical to the m formative, to the ever popular children's stories • we offer something for everyone's taste. We also publish a wide variety of technical reports, maps, and periodicals which provide the results of the Departments studies and programs. For more information on these publications or to receive a free catalogue contact: Library, Department of Natural Resources RO. Box 698, Halifax, N.S. B3J 2T3 (902) 424-8633 Nova Scotia Government Bookstore RO. Box 637 One Government Place 1700 Granville St., Halifax, N.S. B3J 2T3 (902) 424-7580 or 1-800-526-6575 (toll free in N.S.)
Cape Breton's Magazine