Limeburner's Gang - Newcastle



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"SETTLERS AND CONVICTS: Or Recollections of Sixteen Years' Labour in the Australian Backwoods. By Alexander Harris. p11.

"How long have been here then, Sir?" I inquired.

"Nearly a score years. I have seen a good deal with my own eyes, and that makes me believe other things that I have only been told. And then, again, I have often heard men, after they became free, throw into the teeth of overseers the usage they had received at their hands. I recollect once, in coming over the blue mountain's, it set in to rain very hard,  and by the time we got to the punt at Richmond the Hawkesbury River was up, and there was no getting over. Nearly a hundred of us were gathered together about the public house at the ferry. And here one of the laboring men recognized an overseer who had been over him at the lime burners' gang at Newcastle. The overseer stoutly contended that he was not the person; but it was of no use. I made sure he'd have got his brains knocked out, and no doubt he would, had not the landlord shut him up in his room"

"What had he done?"

"Oh, nothing more than the other overseers, so far as I heard: but certainly that was enough, when we come to consider; for men are men, and not beasts, let 'em be ever such thieves. From all accounts there were some dark doings at that lime burners' gang. I have heard from twenty sources that Red...., the overseer, was known to have killed a man with a handspike, and was never tried for it. The commandant was as big a brute as he was, and so was not likely to bring him to justice; and the men were all afraid to say anything. It is a well known fact that they used to rouse up the poor half starved skeletons of fellows at midnight to load lime, when the boats happened to come in with a night's tide. They used to have to carry the baskets of un-slacked lime a great way into the water in loading the boats; by which means many of their backs were raw, and eaten into holes. But that made no difference. The work they must do. The shed they had to sleep in was close by the waterside; and the slabs were so wide apart that you might almost have galloped a horse through. Many of them at one time, had scarcely a rage of clothes; nothing more indeed than some piece of an old red shirt that they tied round their middle, and neither bed nor blanket. A man who worked for me told me that such was his case for a long time; and that for warmth they used to gather sea weed off the beach, and spread it some inches thick on the floor of the hut; and numbers of them would turn in together, covering themselves over with it, and getting warmth from the fermentation of the sea weed; you may say, in short, they buried themselves in a dunghill to keep warm


John Thomas Bigge described the limeburners in his Report of Inquiry in 1822