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Tocal's convicts 1822-1840

A hard master?

James Phillips Webber

As Tocal's owner and convict master from 1822 to 1834, James Webber could send his convicts to a magistrate to arrange for their flogging, and he could recommend they receive a cherished Ticket of Leave or other 'indulgences' such as free passage for their wives and children.

Was Webber a hard master? Those convicts who revolted in 1829 because Webber would not issue tea and sugar certainly thought so. No doubt Hugh Murdoch thought the same when Webber refused to sign his application for a Ticket of Leave despite Murdoch's unblemished record and reputation for hard work. Those convicts who were flogged on Webber's word probably thought themselves harshly treated.

Above right: James Phillips Webber, Tocal's first European settler (photo courtesy of Alberto Sega, La Maddalena, Italy).

Or was Webber a man of his time, strict but simply fulfilling the role expected of him as owner, master and magistrate?

The records show he supported his convicts and ex-convicts on several occasions. He recommended John Waggoner for appointment as Police constable at Paterson and unequivocally supported several applications by his men for free passage for their wives and children. In 1830 Webber took the time and trouble to write to the authorities on behalf of two of his ex-convicts, Michael Magner and William Doyle, to stop their eviction from Church land at Paterson that they were renting.

On balance it is difficult to condemn James Webber as a harsh convict master.