The house in which I lived from my birth till I was twelve years of age stood on the green-grassed slopes of a treeless bluff which overlooked the blue waters of the sunlit Pacific. Except for a cluster of five or six little weatherboard cottages perched on the verge of the headland, half a mile away, and occupied by the crew of the Government pilot boat, there were no other dwellings near, for the 'town,' as it was called, lay out of sight, on the low, flat banks of a tidal river, whose upper waters were the haunt and breeding places of the black swan, the wild duck and the pelican.

My father was the principal civil official in the place, which was called Bar Harbour, one of the smaller penal settlements in Australia, founded for what were called 'the better class' of convicts, many of whom, having received their emancipation papers, had settled in the vicinity, and had become prosperous and, in a measure, respected settlers, though my father, who had a somewhat bitter tongue, said that no ex-convict could ever be respected in the colony until he had lent money to one or other of the many retired military or civil officers who held large Crown grants of land in the district and worked them with convict labour; for, while numbers of the emancipists throve and became almost wealthy, despite the many cruel and harassing restrictions imposed upon them by the unwritten laws of society (which yet academically held them to be purged of their offences), the grand military gentlemen and their huge estates generally went to ruin--mostly through their own improvidence, though such misfortunes, our minister, the Reverend Mr Sampson, said, in the sermons he preached in our hideous, red-brick church, were caused by an 'inscrutable Providence'--their dwellings and store houses were burnt, their cattle and sheep disappeared, and their 'assigned' labourers took to the bush, and either perished of starvation or became bushrangers and went to the gallows in due course.

My mother, who was a gentle, tender-hearted woman, and seemed to live and move and have her being only for the purpose of making happy those around her, was, being English-born (she was of a Devonshire family), a constant church-goer, not for the sake of appearances, for her intelligence was too great for her to be bound by such a shallow reason, but because she was a simple, good and pure-minded woman, and sought by her example to make a protest against the scandalous and degraded lives led by many of the soldier officers and officials with whom she and her children were brought in almost daily contact, for my father, being an all too generous man, kept open house. But although she was always sweet-tempered and sometimes merry with the hard-drinking old Peninsular veterans, and the noisy and swaggering subalterns of the ill-famed 102nd Regiment (or New South Wales Corps), she always shuddered and looked pale and ill at ease when she saw among my father's guests the coarse, stern face of the minister, and her dislike of the clergyman was shared by all we children, especially by my elder brother Harry (then sixteen years of age), who called him 'the flogging parson' and the 'Reverend Diabolical Howl.' This latter nickname stuck, and greatly tickled Major Trenton, who repeated it to the other officers, and one day young Mr Moore of the 102nd, who was clever at such things, made a sketch of the cleric as he appeared when preaching, which set them all a-laughing immoderately.

'God alive!' cried old Major Trenton, holding the picture in his left hand, and bringing down his right upon the table with a thump that set all the glasses jingling, ''tis a perfect likeness of him, and yet, Moore, if ye had but given him a judge's wig and robes instead of a cassock, he would be the double of damned old hanging Norbury up there,' pointing to the picture of an Irish judge which hung on the wall. 'Come,' he added, 'Mrs Egerton must see this. I know our hostess loves the gentle parson.'

So three or four of them, still laughing boisterously, left the table to look for my mother, whom they found sitting on the latticed-in verandah, which on hot summer days was used as a drawing-room. She, too, laughed heartily at the sketch, and said 'twas wonderfully drawn, and then my brother Harry asked Mr Moore to give it to him. This the young lieutenant did, though my mother begged him to destroy it, lest Mr Sampson should hear of the matter and take offence. But my brother promised her not to let it go out of his keeping, and there the thing ended--so we thought.

Yet, in some way, my mother's convict and free servants came to hear of the picture--they had already bandied about the parson's nickname--and every one of them, on some cunning excuse, had come to my brother's room and laughed at the drawing; and very often when they saw the clergyman riding past the house, attended by his convict orderly, they would say, with an added curse, 'There goes "Diabolical Howl,'" for they all hated the man, because, being a magistrate as well as a minister, he had sentenced many a prisoner to a dreadful flogging and had watched it being administered.

But perhaps it was not altogether on account of the floggings in which he so believed for which he was so detested--for floggings were common enough for even small breaches of the regulations of the System--but for the spiritual admonition with which he dosed them afterwards, while their backs were still black and bloody from the cat. Once, when an old convict named Callaghan was detected stealing some sugar belonging to one of the pilot boat's crew, my mother went to Dr Parsons, who, with the Reverend Mr Sampson, was to hear the charge against Callaghan on the following morning, and begged him not to have the man flogged; and Tom King, the man from whom the sugar was stolen, went with her and joined his pleadings to hers.

'Now, come, doctor,' said my mother, placing her hand on the old officer's arm and smiling into his face, 'you must grant me this favour. The man is far too old to be flogged. And then he was a soldier himself once--he was a drummer boy, so he once told me, in the 4th Buffs.'

'The most rascally regiment in the service, madam. Every one of them deserved hanging. But,' and here his tone changed from good-humoured banter into sincerity, 'I honour you, Mrs Egerton, for your humanity. The man is over sixty, and I promise you that he shall not be flogged. Why, he is scarce recovered yet from the punishment inflicted on him for stealing Major Innes's goose. But yet he is a terrible old rascal.'

'Never mind that,' said my mother, laughing. 'Major Innes should keep his geese from straying about at night-time. And then, doctor, you must remember that poor Callaghan said that he mistook the bird for a pelican--it being dark when he killed it.'

'Ha, ha,' laughed the doctor, 'and no doubt Mr Patrick Callaghan only discovered his mistake when he was cooking his pelican, and noticed its remarkably short bill.'

My mother left, well pleased, but on the following morning, while we were at our mid-day meal, she was much distressed to hear that old Callaghan had received fifty lashes after all--the good doctor had been thrown from his horse and so much hurt that he was unable to attend the court, and another magistrate--a creature of Mr Sampson's--had taken his place. The news was brought to us by Thomas King, and my mother's pale face flushed with anger as, bidding King to go into the kitchen and get some dinner, she turned to my father (who took but little heed of such a simple thing as the flogging of a convict), and said hotly,--

''Tis shameful that such cruelty can be perpetrated! I shall write to the Governor himself--he is a just and humane man--oh, it is wicked, wicked,' and then she covered her face with her hands and sobbed aloud.

My father was silent. He detested the parson most heartily, but was too cautious a man, in regard to his own interest, to give open expression to his opinions, so beyond muttering something to my brother Harry about Thomas King having no business to distress her, he was about to rise from the table, when a servant announced that the Reverend Mr Sampson wished to see him.

The mention of the clergyman's name seemed to transform my mother into another woman. Quickly, but gently, putting aside my sister Frances, whose loving arms were clasped around her waist, she rose, and fire flashed in her eyes as she said to the servant,--

'Denham, tell Mr Sampson that I desire to speak with him as soon as he has finished his business with Mr Egerton.'

My father went out to the drawing-room, where the clergyman awaited him, and for the next ten minutes or so my mother walked quickly to and fro in the dining-room, bidding us remain seated, and in a harsh, unnatural tone to one so sweet and gentle, she told the servants who waited to withdraw.

'Mr Sampson is at your service, madam,' said Denham, opening the door.

'Show him in here,' said my mother, sharply, and her always pale face grew paler still.

The clergyman entered, and extended his fat, white hand to her; she drew back and bowed coldly.

'I do not desire to shake hands with you, sir.'

Mr Sampson's red face flushed purple.

'I do not understand you, madam. Is this a jest--or do you forget who I am?'

'I shall try to make you understand me, Mr Sampson, in as few words as possible. I do not jest, and I do not forget who you are. I have a request to make.'

'Indeed! I feel honoured, madam,' and the corners of the clergyman's thick lips turned contemptuously down--'and that is--?'

'That you will cease your visits to this house. It would be painful indeed to me to receive you as a guest from this time forth, for this very day it is my intention to write to the Governor and acquaint him with the shocking act of cruelty committed this morning--'twas a shameful, cruel deed to flog an old man so cruelly.'

Mr Sampson's face was now livid with the rage he could not suppress.

'Beware, madam, of what you say or do. 'Tis a pretty example you set your children to thus insult a clergyman.'

My mother's answer cut like a whip-lash. 'A clergyman such as you, Mr Sampson, can inspire naught in their childish minds but fear and abhorrence,' and then she pulled the bell cord so violently that not only Denham but my father entered as well.

'Show Mr Sampson out,' she said in accents of mingled anger and scorn, and then turning to the window nearest, she seemed to be gazing unconcernedly upon the blue expanse of ocean before her; but her little hands were clasped tightly together, and her whole frame trembled with excitement.

As soon as the clergyman had mounted his horse and ridden off, my father returned to the dining-room.

'You have made a bitter enemy of a man who can do me much harm,' he began; but something in my mother's face made him cease from further reproaches, and he added lightly, that he hoped 'twould soon blow over.

'Charles,' said my mother, who was now herself again, 'it must not blow over. The Governor shall know of this man's doings. And never again shall I or my children enter the church when he preaches. To-night, I suppose, he will visit that wretched old man--the victim of his brutality--and administer "spiritual admonition." Come, children, let us go to the beach and forget that that dreadful man has been here.'

It was, I think, this practice of 'administering admonition' to convicts after he had had them sentenced to a severe flogging that first gave my mother such an utter abhorrence of the man, together with his habit of confining his sermons to the prisoners to the one subject--their own criminal natures and the terrors of hell-fire everlasting. Then, too, his voice was appalling to hear, for he had a way of suddenly dropping his harsh, metallic tones, and raising his voice to a howl, like to that of a hungry dingo.{*}

* The native dog of Australia, whose long, accentuated howl is most distressing to hear.

Often did I, when sitting in our great square pew in that dreadful, horrible church, press close to my mother's side and bury my face in her dress, as he lashed himself into a fury and called down the vengeance of a wrathful God upon the rows of silent, wretched beings clad in yellow, who were seated on long stools in the back of the church, guarded by soldiers, who, with loaded muskets, were stationed in the gallery above. Some of the convicts, it was said, had sworn to murder him if an opportunity served, and this no doubt made him the more merciless and vindictive to any one of them who was so unfortunate as to be charged before him in his capacity of magistrate. By the Regulations he could not sit alone to deal out punishment, and sometimes had difficulty in finding a colleague, especially among the military men, who nearly always protested against his fondness for the cat; but there were always to be found, in the end, magistrates who would do anything to please him, for it was known that he had great influence with the Home Government, and was not chary of using it on behalf of those who truckled to him, if he so inclined; and, indeed, both Major Trenton and Dr Parsons said that he was a man with many good points, and could be, to those who pleased him, a good friend, as well as a bitter enemy to those who in any way crossed him. But they asserted that he should never have been appointed a magistrate in a colony where the penal laws gave such latitude to his violent temper and arbitrary disposition.

Early one morning in December, and three months after the drawing of the picture by Lieutenant Moore, my two brothers and myself set off on a fishing excursion to a tidal lagoon whose waters debouched into the Pacific, about fifteen miles southward from the little township. Behind us followed a young man named Walter Trenfield, who was one of my father's assigned servants, and an aboriginal named 'King Billy'; these two carried our provisions, cooking utensils and blankets, for we intended to camp out for two or three days.

A half-an-hour's walk over the slopes of the bluff brought us to the fringe of the dense coastal forest, through which our track lay for another two or three miles before we again came to open country. There was, however, a very good road, made by convict labour, through the scrub as far as it went; it ran almost along the very verge of the steep-to coast, and as we tramped over the rich red soil we had the bright blue sea beneath us on our left, and the dark and almost silent bush on our right. I say 'almost,' for although in these moist and sunless seaboard tracts of what we Australian-born people call bush, and English people would call wood or forest, there was no sound of human life, there was yet always to be heard the thump, thump of the frightened scrub wallaby, and now and again the harsh, shrieking note of the great white cockatoo, or the quick rush of a long-tailed iguana over the thick bed of leaves, as the timid reptile fled to the nearest tree, up whose rugged bole it crawled for security.

We had come some three or four miles upon our way, when we suddenly emerged from the darkness and stillness of the scrub out into the light of day and the bright sunshine, and heard the low murmur of the surf beating upon the rocks below. Here we sat down to rest awhile and feast our boyish eyes on the beauties of sea and shore and sky around us. A few hundred yards away from where we sat was a round, verdured cone called 'Little Nobby'; it rose steep-to from the sea to a height of about three hundred feet, and formed a very striking and distinct landmark upon that part of the coast--bold and rugged as it was--for a stretch of three score miles. Presently, as we lay upon the grass, looking out upon the sea, Walter Trenfield and the aboriginal joined us, and whilst they made a fire to boil a billy of tea, my brother Harry, hearing the call of a wonga pigeon, picked up his gun and went into the scrub to shoot it.