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Legacy of Gold
I will never forget the stench that permeated the
bowels of the freezing hulk called the Havring as it
sailed me out of England, away from my starving
family. It increased in intensity with every mile that
further distanced my fellow unfortunates and myself
from the docks of Portsmouth, until finally, upon
reaching the shores of Australia, we had become like
the disgusting filth itself nothing more than refuse
that required dumping. And that is what we were:
human refuse traveling across the seas to the largest
natural prison in the world.
Ah, the Havring! Cruel, cruel ship that she was. It
was she who tore me away from my dear wife, son, and
daughter. It was she who showed me the sights of the
world through her gloomy portholes the Canary Is-
lands, Cape Verde Islands, Rio De Janeiro, Cape Town,
and further eastward until we were spewed out at Port
Philip Bay on the southeast coast of Australia.
The voyage took three months, and many a strong
man died along the way. Indeed, many died before we
even left port, be it from heartbreak or exposure to the
cold weather of England.
My fellow passengers were, in the main, poor men
turned to crime for the purpose of feeding their starv-
ing families. I can recall one young boy no older than
ten who had joined our ranks for the crime of having
stolen a handkerchief from the pocket of a gentleman.
That "gentleman," who probably lived like a lord in
London, surely didn't own enough handkerchiefs to
soak up the tears that the poor boy's family shed on the
docks as we sailed away.
Our punishments were severe, seven or fourteen
years banishment to Australia. I had been sentenced to
seven years for allegedly stealing half a pound of flour.
The magistrate in his drunken duty passed judgment
over me in a fleeting instant.
"Your crime, Jew," spoke the red-faced drunkard,
"deserves more than the seven years I'm giving you.
You're a shame to the Queen and your people. Yet
seven years should see you an honest man again."
We were stuffed, overcrowded and freezing, into the
holds of the old warship one cold February morning in
1849. The ship had been crudely converted to accom-
modate more men than she could handle. In the dark-
ness of the holds we were each designated a plank to
lie on, and in such fashion we left Portsmouth.
To prepare us for our voyage we were clipped by
the ship's barber. I could see him eyeing my peyos from
a distance. When I came before him he smiled cun-
ningly. "Well, if we don't have one of the chosen before
us. Show me your locks then, Jew." He grabbed first
one, then the other, and shore them off with a curse.
When it came my turn to receive the ship's uniform,
the quartermaster tried to snatch the tallis and tefillin
which I had miraculously managed to hold on to since
my sentencing, but I held fast to the precious bundle.
He was a brute of a man, and I was certain he'd beat
me for my insolence. I had watched as he poked his
knife through each article of clothing of the men before
me, keeping whatever he thought valuable enough to
sell for profit. His knife tore into the tallis covering the
tefillin. He cursed me, spat at my feet, and sent me
along the line.
"On with yer, Jew! Yer can have yer things, but I'll
wager my privilegin' it will do yer more evil than
And by his lights he was right. Their presence
brought me derision and attempted physical abuse. Yet
without them I'm sure I would have perished along
with the others.
I originally believed, and rather naively, that having
been torn away from our loved ones and the country
of our birth, we wretches might bond in brotherhood.
Nothing could have been further removed from the
truth. The weak were preyed upon by the strong, the
gentle by the cunning. We Jews have always brought
attention upon ourselves, and I was no exception. With
my peyos shorn and the clothes torn off my back, still
they knew I was a Jew and that was ammunition
enough for them. The most wicked among them ruled
the holds below, and their violence knew no bounds.
HaKadosh Baruch Hu created me unusually large
and strong, in itself a miracle considering the poverty I
came from. Perhaps 1 was so created to sustain me on
the Havring's passage. There were times when I was set
upon by more than a few of them. When they attacked
me I fought like a pariah dog, until I had nearly
mauled them all. All this to protect my objects of faith
and my dignity.
I stood out for other reasons, too. I never ate the
dry meat flung at us by our jailers. The officers got
used to me and would deride me by offering me double
rations amid waves of raucous laughter.
The ringleader, a man called Jack O'Hearn, would
often shout from across the galley that he wished he
were a Jew so he could fill his belly on my Jew's double
I didn't starve though. We were given lime juice,
sugar, and vinegar against scurvy. There was rice, pud-
ding, and peas. Though of course these weren't kosher
either, after two days of fasting I decided that for
reasons of'pikuach nefesh, saving my life, I would eat just
enough to sustain me. 1 drew the line, however, with
meat and can proudly say that the taste of treife meat
has never passed these lips of mine. With my belly half
full I was able to survive in what I thought a better
frame of body than the men who ate that rotted pork.
Jack O'Hearn was the toughest man I have ever set
eyes on. He used to beat anyone in sight, including the
officers who came to feed us. It was early in the passage
when he paid a call on me. Until then I had never
fought a man. A Jew, after all, is raised for better things
than brawling. Yet I fought O'Hearn for my life, and
he received as much of a thrashing as I did. Never
again after that occasion did he approach me for a
tight. I could tell I had wounded his Irish pride, and
yet I found that he came to respect me in his typical
insolent manner. He'd insult me, but there was always
a glint of veiled respect in his eye when he did. And no
man could curse like Jack O'Hearn.
Using brute strength against another has never
come to me easily. I have only used it as a last resort,
when my very life was at stake. We Jews are a God-
loving people who shy from such brutish exercise. I can
honestly say that every time I have had to resort to
lighting I have regretted it, wishing a gentle word in
the other man's ear was all that was needed to settle
differences. Alas! Men not educated by Torah have yet
to learn this valuable lesson.
For his insolence O'Hearn was flogged with the
cat-o'-nine-tails on many an occasion. The "cat" had a
long leather-bound handle from which hung nine strips
of thick hide. The ends of each were knotted twice.
Before being used in a flogging, they were soaked in
seawater, to add what the head officer called "a little
sting to hear you sing by." Hardened men like
O'Hearn, and there were many, refused to sing. If they
were flogged twenty-five or two hundred times they
never once raised their voices to complain or cry out in
We were made to watch the proceedings, which
took place on deck. I vividly recall one particular flog-
ging, a ghastly affair. Standing before us, tied to the
triangle, O'Hearn turned to the ship's captain, looked
him in the eye, and said, "I cannot help it. I was born
a wild man. I will rebel against your likes again and
again and never be broken by your treachery." He spat
at the captain's feet and then yelled at the flogger. "Put
your back and shoulder into it or you're a coward if
ever there was one."
Once the beating was over, we were sent back down
to the hatches. For his troubles O'Hearn's back was
doused in seawater.
Davening Shacharis was the greatest hurdle I had to
overcome on the passage. Every morning I'd wake
before the other men and say my morning prayers.
The only shame that I felt was having to pray in that
pigsty. What alternative was there for me? I'd stand
defiant and proud as the men were woken at reveille.
"You'd be better hanging yourself by them straps
than wrapping them round your arm." Such was the
daily comment I heard from the wizened old pick-
pocket who slept next to me, by the name of Burling,
the first words he spoke every morning.
The abuse hurled at me every day paled in compari-
son to what I received on Shabbos.
"Jew Lazar! What makes this day different from the
others we've spent in this hole?" O'Hearn would shout at
me. "What good's your Jew God helping you in the
middle of these seas? Wear your straps today or tomor-
row, it will make you no difference. Us scum don't have
the right to nothin'. Not even a God. So what makes you
different from the likes of us, then? Chosen? All you were
chosen for, Jew Lazar, was the scum heap of the world.
That's all your Father in heaven chose you for."
Strange as it may seem, I recall those torrents of
abuse with pride. I found the courage to withstand
their curses and maintain my dignity. Today I actually
find it amusing that there are non-Jews living in this
colony who know that Jews don't put on tefillin on
Shabbos. They learned that from Jew Lazar.
If there was any small comfort to be taken on the
Havring it was the thought that those above deck were
suffering, too. Apart from the human cargo below,
there were voyagers on their way to Australia, "free
immigrants" who were going to try their luck across the
seas. They were made welcome in the colony for their
capital or skills. Thousands made their passage that
year and in the years following, mainly because Eng-
land's economic depression sent them searching for
Finally, after months at sea, Port Philip Bay came
into view. I remember the seas being particularly
choppy that day and the winds unusually fierce. It was
raining, although in comparison to the cold, wet Lon-
don winter, the temperature was mild.
Our docking caused quite an uproar. We filed out
of our holds onto the quay. To an observer we must
have looked a dishevelled, unimpressive lot. Many well-
to-do men, colonial officers, and sightseers gathered to
watch us disembark. We were greeted, if such a word
is appropriate, by a self-important man by the name of
Grey. He addressed us in a loud voice, intending, no
doubt, of making certain that the spectators gathered
there could hear his every word. He was a man who
liked to create impressions. He informed us that
though we had been exiled from England, we had
much to look forward to in Australia if we applied
ourselves to the task at hand. There was work a'plenty
waiting to be allotted to us, and should we prove
ourselves trustworthy and adhere carefully to the laws
of our imprisonment, we could look forward to early
emancipation and the right to work as free men.
As 1 mentioned earlier, I am a large man. I stood
head and shoulders above most of the men, and as a
result must have drawn attention to myself. I soon saw
a man, who looked quite a gentleman, busily speaking
to the officer standing directly behind Grey. Another
officer sent to our ranks told me to step out of line. The
gentleman approached and looked me over from head
to toe. I felt like a slave at an auction.
"What are you carrying there, man?" he asked me,
pointing to the bundle that never left my possession.
"I'm a Jew. I pray with these," I answered.
"Can you be trusted, Jew?"
"To trust you?" I replied defiantly. The man broke
into raucous laughter.
"I like a humorous fellow," he said. "Listen, Jew.
I'm going to give you a choice. You can go with the
others and work for Her Majesty or come and work for
me. If you are interested, I can arrange for you to be
separated from this mob forever. And let me warn you
that your chances of finding a master as gentle as I are
as remote as the forgotten shores of England."
"What makes you interested in me?" I asked.
"Look at you! You're a giant compared to the
others. A bit of good food in you and you'll do the work
of three men. Well then, are you interested?"
"I'm interested. But I want the right to practice
living as a Jew."
He broke into laughter again. "Jew, you are in no
position to make demands. Were you let loose among
some of the livelier residents in this fair colony, you'd
be quickly torn to shreds," he laughed.
"I survived the holds of the Havring for three
months at sea and I see no reason I shouldn't do the
same on land," I replied.
Being as ignorant as any newly convicted man on
foreign shores, I saw treachery in everything. I was as
willing to go with him as not, and so had drawn him
out to bargain, knowing full well that whichever way I
turned I was taking risks. I looked him in the eye. He
stared back and, after a moment, said, "It's either a
foolish or brave man who plays cards the way you do.
I'll give you your freedom to practice your faith as a
Jew, and you'll work for me as I demand or I'll turn
you loose upon the dogs of this town."
"So be it," I said.
"What's your name then, good Jew?"
"Lazar. Moses Lazar."
"My name's George Matthews." He motioned me to
stay where I was and walked toward the officers over-
While he was gone, I couldn't help but think about
the family I'd left behind. We had no means of com-
munication, no hope of seeing each other for years. I
was alone, with no one but Hashem. Had any Jew since
the destruction of the great Temple ever been this deep
Like tormented Jews throughout the ages, I stood
praying to the Lord to spare my dear family and not
make their suffering too great a burden to bear. I
prayed with a broken heart that Hashem, in His glory,
sound the shofar for our freedom and gather us, His
exiles, from the four corners of the earth. "Te'kah
beshofar gadol lecheruseinu..."
"Open your eyes, Lazar," came the command.
"There's no time for dreaming. We've lost half a day
already and I'll be loathe to waste the other half on
account of your idleness."
George Matthews had returned, holding the re-
quired documents. He waved them victoriously. Sud-
denly I felt as if I'd been sold into bondage. The reality
of my sentence was beginning to sink in.
Matthews was in his mid-thirties, medium in height,
and heavyset. From a distance he looked quite fierce,
although I was soon to discover his nature was com-
passionate. He was dressed in the height of fashion,
from the immaculately polished and shining riding
boots to the brushed felt hat on his head. I had no idea
what Matthews had in store for me, and quite honestly
I didn't care. But I found myself following him out of
the port, as a dog follows its master, into the blustery
I walked behind him at a distance of a couple of
yards until we came to a carriage. There were no
servants to meet us, just two horses hitched to a cart,
their heads buried deeply in nosebags. "Welcome to
Melbourne, Mr. Lazar," announced Matthews. "The
city of gamblers, drunkards, rioters, and hell on earth.
In this colonial outpost you'll find neither roads nor
railways leading off to the other colonies. We have no
telegraph system, and the only attachment we have to
mother England is twelve thousand miles of ocean. This
is your new home, good Jew Lazar, and if you'll be
seeking ways out of here, let me inform you that there
are two: death or obedience. The former is common
and occurs constantly. The latter is granted to a man
who works hard and honestly. Give me a year of solid
work and I'll give you the freedom you want. Come
then, Lazar," he said, as he took the nosebags off the
horses. "Our time is short and there's much work to be
I climbed into the carriage and sat down next to
him. He flicked the reins sharply and off we trotted to
my as yet unknown destination.
Matthews was in a rush. He whipped the horses
forward, but our progress was hindered by the terrible
conditions of the roads. Rains had transformed the dirt
roads into bogs, and the danger of sinking into the
morass was ever present. I had no real interest in
learning where we were going. My thoughts were far
away, in London. I barely listened as Matthews talked.
"I've been granted property just west of the city.
I've a run of sheep there. We're in the process of
building the fences that pen the sheep in at night. With
a little luck, this country should prove a sheep owner's
gold mine. Others have seen success. I hope my choice
of land will see me as wealthy.
"Look here, Lazar," he said, emphasizing the point,
"if I don't make a fair go of this run, I'm a finished
man. I need decent, honest men to make it work. The
last man I employed ran off as soon as he'd money
enough in his pockets to drink a gallon of rum. Do you
"I can get by on a small cup a week," I answered,
thinking to myself that if no other drink was available,
I'd use spirits for making kiddush on Shabbos morning.
"One cup, you say?" he laughed. "What sort of cup
do you have in mind?"
"A cup's a cup over here as much as it is over in
England, I guess," I replied.
"Men become wild when they're filled with the
"You don't like a drink?" I asked. Hearing this,
Matthews laughed so hard he nearly fell out of the
"I didn't know my question was that funny, Mr.
"Ah, rum! Without rum my nights would be sober,
and if they were, Jew Lazar, I'd be driven to madness.
Have a look under the canvas behind you." I turned
around, lifted the canvas, and saw three large barrels of
rum. And then, as if to remind me of his real intent, he
declared, "But my days are for work. D'you hear,
As the roads became increasingly difficult to
traverse, we spoke less. We passed through the main
settlement, Melbourne, and were traveling over rough
country. The land was flat and dull, the few hills
slightly undulating. Looking up I was amazed by the
color of the sky. It was unlike the sky of England, a
deeper, richer blue, a color that gave off an encourag-
ing light. For the first time, I felt a promise of some-
thing brighter than the squalid life I'd left behind in
England. I thought of my family, reflecting as I did on
the awful circumstances that had led me to misery and
a ticket to the other side of the world.
.....end of sample
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