I was lucky when I began to write Remy as this book was a sequel to Blue Haze so a lot of the research had already been done. However, there were a new set of issues to be faced in this sequel, as the characters were moving into different settings. One of the reasons I love research is because it leads you into so many interesting avenues; places and facts you would never have known had you not delved for your story.
What is that they say about the “good ol’ days’? Don’t you believe it! While researching for my historicals I come across some horrific forms of punishment. Poor Remy, my hero, endured one of the worst—flogging. Then there were the treadmills.
I knew about treadmills of course, but had no idea what purpose they served in the 1800s. I thought they were constructed as a gruesome punishment for the early convicts sent to Australia by the British government. Their main function (apart from being torture) was to grind wheat and maize. Free settlers, soldiers and sailors as well as convicts did time on them for misdemeanors such as drunkenness, gambling and theft. Each man worked for about 40 minutes in the hour from sunup to sunset. Apart from being hard work, it was tedious and monotonous. Some convicts said they would rather be hanged—so subsequently were sentenced to solitary confinement instead. Imagine what it was like. They had to step up or fall off and perspired so freely that 15 minutes work on the treadmill caused rapid wasting. Their hands became blistered through gripping the rail, their legs became swollen, and worse, if the shaft broke, they were thrown heavily onto the platform.
On a really cold and wet day here in Victoria it’s hard to imagine the heat, flies and dust they endured.
The treadmill was by far not the worst of the punishments meted out in those early days. Remy’s flogging came about when he was moved to the new settlement of Moreton Bay. I knew nothing of the conditions suffered by the convicts sent there from Sydney until I began my research into Brisbane in the early days.
Living down south in Australia I knew little of the settlement of Brisbane. And if I was sending my hero Remy to the convict settlement up there I had to know everything about the conditions. I contacted the State Library of Queensland with a query about maps dated in the first quarter of the 1800s and to my pleasure and astonishment, a wonderful librarian sent me back a whole wad of maps, pictures and information in answer to my plea.
Brisbane was probably the best example of the early settlers’ grave errors of judgement in their attempt to colonise in a warmer climate.
The first soldiers and convicts settled on the shores of Moreton Bay and set about planting seedlings carefully transported from the Botanical Gardens of Sydney. Unfortunately, after all their hard work the seedlings soon shrivelled and died. The sandy soil soaked up the water that had been carried by hand.
Most seeds never germinated and the ones that sprouted were soon scorched by the sun. Sickness set in and they had to wait another 8 months for medicines to arrive from Sydney. It was a painful learning process.
The convicts barely survived up there and most were sick. Imagine nights spent in crowded barracks with appalling hygiene and polluted water. Because of the crop failure, they had no vegetables and so were prey to epidemics. In 1819 one in every nine convicts died of dysentery. Malaria was common and for the first time the soldiers suffered as much as the convicts they were sent to guard.
So, these are just a few facts gleaned from my research and from my over 200 pages of notes and maps it’s likely that I used perhaps a half dozen pages. But what fun it was to delve back into the past and in my research learn so much about our early settlers and the struggles they went through to turn this land from hell to paradise.
Remy will be released at MuseItUp in August.