A Letter to Bessie


For Elizabeth Sherritt

Sheepstation Creek, Reid’s Creek P.O

Near Beechworth.

(H.R.M. Gaol. Beechworth)

My dear Bessie, I write the following lines to you to let you know how I am at present. You must be careful with these few bits of paper, for I have written them on the sly and had them posted out of the gaol by a tall chap who works in the garden. If you wish to send me any correspondence you can send it in easy through him, a tall thin chap.

Dear Bessie, please believe me when I say that it is difficult for me to be positive about this cold, lonely place, which is worse than the promised hell itself. The tobacco rations here are so scarce I have had to ask Jack to fetch me a pound of it from William Foster. I must smoke twice as much as any of the coves in here, as I seem to be the only fellow without a plug of it to pack in my pipe. In the letter I have written to Jack I have asked him to free the two blue fillies Aaron and I have in the secret yard. They must be terribly desperate for water with no one to keep the trench clear.

I have only been in here a month and already my feet are red raw from the ill-fitting shoes we are constantly marched in. Each day we are given a new cell to sleep in and cannot take our bedding with us, as the buggers fear we may conceal weapons in this way. Yesterday I found a strip of leather under the rotted matting we are forced to sleep on like mangy dogs. The gruel that is fed to us is worse than Aaron’s cooking, which I know you would argue could not be possible.

There is one guard in here who I would like to take to with my fists. The other prisoners call him Ernie, but I cannot be sure if that is his real name. On several occasions I have caught him sniggering at me while I was bathing. The water was so cold and filthy when it was my turn to wash, that I found it hard to hide my repulsion.

Please forgive me Bessie, for I am not myself. I do not know how I will survive five more months in this cursed and wretched place. The hauling and cutting of rock that is forced upon us day in and day out is near back breaking, but is about the only thing that keeps me warm, for these woollen uniforms offer little comfort. 

I apologise that I cannot inform you more on the spirit and health of your dear Aaron, we are forbidden from conversing in the work yard and often we are sent to opposite ends of the gaol.  My visits to the library on Tuesday afternoons are the only escape I am granted but the selection offered is limited. Nothing like the shelves in the Public Library.

Dear Bessie, I must now conclude by sending you my love and deepest affection.

I remain yours always,

Joseph Byrne (Well known)


Joe’s prison record. From the Public Records Office Victoria.

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