Page:A colonial autocracy, New South Wales under Governor Macquarie, 1810-1821.djvu/72

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44
A COLONIAL AUTOCRACY.

The Judge-Advocate General advised the Colonial Office to rest satisfied with Johnston's trial and to conduct no further prosecutions. In forming this decision he was influenced by the fact that none of the officers concerned were likely to return to the Colony in any public capacity.[1] Some, however, did return not long afterwards. Johnston himself ended his life quietly on his farm at Annandale near Sydney.

He was an insignificant man, made a leader against his will and afterwards used as a scapegoat, and his trial put an end to a military career not without its bright moments. In 1804 he had by courageous and prompt measures put an end to a convict rising which might have grown to formidable dimensions. With only twenty men he had met and dispersed some hundreds of rebels. It was strange that a simple military officer, quite without force of character and lacking in self-confidence, should play a leading part in two such important crises.

Johnston's trial showed the immense difficulty of dealing with political crimes committed at so great a distance and in so small a settlement. In a Colony without lawyers (save those convicted of felonies), the line between legal and illegal, so blurred and wavering to the layman's eye, must often be crossed. And when acts are called in question years after their accomplishment, before a court thousands of miles from the place of their commission, the severity of the judge is lessened, the vigour of the prosecution weakened. It is true that Wall, Ex-Governor of Goree, was tried, convicted and hanged for the murder of a negro subject twenty years before. General Picton also was convicted of illegally ordering the infliction of torture when Governor of Trinidad, five years after the commission of the crime.[2] But in both cases the crimes were acts of violence and cruelty. Johnston was guilty of mutiny certainly, but of neither a dangerous nor violent description, and he had obviously been another man's tool.

Bligh's story came to an end with the trial. Though technically he was triumphant, Government was chary of trusting commands to a man who had twice been the victim of

  1. H.R., VII., p. 553, 4th July, 1811.
  2. Trial of Wall, 28 State Trials, 51. Trial of Picton, 30 State Trials, 225.