Author(s): June Slee
John Ward, writing whilst incarcerated on Norfolk Island, tells a story of thwarted love that--he claims--led him to a life of crime: including theft, sexual assault and more. In telling the candid story of his downfall he exposes his own ruthlessness and lack of empathy. This book is an insight into the criminal mind, ably examined by author June Slee. It is a glimpse into 19th-century aristocratic life--dress, food, pastimes and prejudices--from a servant's perspective (Ward was a groom to an officer gentleman). And it is a unique record, perhaps the only extant diary ever written during the Australian penal era whilst its convict writer was imprisoned. Plus, Ward records a particular moment in our history: not only life aboard prison hulks which he describes in detail but also the timing of his arrival in Sydney when convicts were no longer being accepted; he was sent straight to Norfolk Island where we get a fascinating insight into the rule of Captain Alexander Maconochie. Moconochie believed in a system of improvement for convicts based on a marks system for good behaviour rather than humiliating punishment. In this way, Ward gained access to writing materials for his diary.
An extraordinary book produced by the National Library of Australia of Slee’s meticulous research of John Ward who was imprisoned on Norfolk Island between 1840-44. The book was born out of the author’s studies around ‘poor, orphaned & destitute boys who drifted into crime at a young age’, & later a doctorate on juvenile penal reform. Such diaries are rare and therefore add an important voice to the story of colonial Australia. - Karen, The Book Grocer