Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Harper Nicholls

Harper Nicholls was a frequent sight round Gladstone in South Australia in the early 1890's, pulling round a cart, selling fruit and vegetables. He was an old man, and feeble, but still working to support himself.

He appears to have been homosexual. In 1892 he had been charged with an indecent assault and had received a sharp rebuke from the Chief Justice and 6 months gaol. Indecent assault had a much wider meaning then and a six month sentence suggests there was no coercion or violence involved and that the other party was an adult. He was probably caught masturbating someone.

He told the court he had arrived in the colony early in the century on the convict transport Buffalo and had stayed out of trouble. He would have been young then. There is mention of him as an inmate of the harsh Point Puer Juvenile prison in Port Arthur, Tasmania. He was a bystander when a warder was murdered by fellow inmates. Boys as young as nine were sentenced to transportation from England to that hell hole. Young children were placed in underground isolation cells, restricted to a diet of bread and water, and sometimes flogged with a cat-o'-nine tails.

The ruins of the underground cells at Point Puer.

Harper came before the court again in March 1895. This time he had been caught in the act of sodomy with a 19 year old man.

Some people would undoubtedly be concerned by the age difference, but remember - if it had been a 19 year old girl, Harper would not have faced prosecution. Once again there is no mention of coercion or violence.

Harper was convicted and the new Chief Justice sentenced him to 10 years with hard labour in Gladstone Gaol. Hard labour in that prison consisted of working the prison's market gardens, so at least he wasn't breaking rocks with a sledge hammer all day.

Gladstone Gaol, South Australia

But Harper was not a young man. On 22nd May 1898, he died in gaol and is buried in Gladstone Cemetery.


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