Fatal Excursion

The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser

26 June 1803

The following melancholy account has been given by John Place, who now lies in a very weak state in Parramatta Hospital, of an attempt made by him and three of his fellow prisoners, to escape from this Colony

John Place declares, that he, John Cox, William Knight, and John Phillips, all late of the Glatton (prisoners) formed a resolution on the road from Castlehill to Hawkesbury, to attempt their escape.

They formed this determination in consequence of having heard people say on board the Glatton, and while at work at Castlehill, that they could get to China, by which means they would obtain their liberty again; being all married men (excepting one) they were very anxious to return to their families.

On the seventh of May (three days after their arrival at Hawkesbury) they left Cornwallis-place, resolved to pass the Mountains, and took with them only their week's ration, which they received on Saturday and consumed on the Wednesday following; after travelling for seventeen days, in hopes of passing the Mountains, and despairing of accomplishing the object on which they set out, they resolved (if possible) to return.

After they had eaten their provisions they found nothing to subsist on but wild-currants sweet tea leaves, and had been oppressed with hunger for twelve days.

Before they set off to return, John Phillips let them to gather some berries, and they saw him no more; they heard him call several times, but could render him  no assistance, they being so reduced by hunger, and concluded he perished.

Being asked in what direction they went, Place says, that they travelled the whole of the seventeen days with the sun on their right shoulder, and found great difficulty in ascending some of the mountains, and also attempted to return by the direction of the sun.

After travelling for upwards of twenty-days, all (except Phillips) reached within five miles of Richmond-Hill, when William Knight, unable to proceed any further, lay down, where Place says he must have died.

On the same day Place and Cox made the river above Richmond Hill, and in attempting to cross the fall the current carried them down.

One was carried to one side of the river, and the other to the opposite side, with difficulty pulling themselves ashore by the branches of the trees.

Cox had only his shirt and shoes on, Place saw him lain along the bank, where being very weak, and the night extremely cold, he supposes he died.

Place also lay down, despairing of life, and was found on the day following by a man, who, with some of the natives, was in quest of Kangaroos, he was then too weak to walk alone, but was led by the natives to the nearest hut, where he remained all night; in the morning he was taken to Hawkesbury, and from thence sent to the Hospital at Parramatta.

None can read the above account without pitying the ignorance, and commiserating the sufferings of these deluded prisoners; and it is fervently to be hoped, that the inconceivable hardships they have endured from hunger and cold, with the almost consistant prospect of death before their eyes, will deter all other prisoners from either advising any of their companions or from making a similar attempt themselves.

It is well known, that those are not the only unfortunate men who have perished in this wild attempt, many others have never returned to relate the hardships they underwent, and must therefore have perished under every accumulation of misery by their rashness and folly.

Place who appears to be the only survivor, resigned himself to despair and death, and was found, within a few hours of eternity.

He seems to have been preserved by a particular providence, to give the above awful admonition to all others who now do or shall in future, entertain, any idea of re gaining their liberty by a similar act, in which nothing but inevitable death must be the final event.