Convict letter

Something you might notice when you first read this snippet from an Australian convict in the 1800s is that it’s long. It’s a single, elaborate, multi-part sentence. That’s partly the style of the time and partly the fact it’s a letter: this is a train of thought, and that train is a long one. 

The letter observes the rules that ‘a man has to mind’, the reward if ‘he does his master’s duty’, and the brutal punishments ‘if he don’t’. 

All a man has got to mind is to keep a still tongue in his head, and do his master’s duty, and then he is looked upon as if he were at home; but if he don’t he may as well be hung at once, for they would take you to the magistrates and get 100 of lashes, and then get sent to a place called Port Arthur to work in irons for two or three years, and then he is disliked by everyone. 

Henry Easy, convict

The best tip for this is probably not to try too hard with the ‘ye olde’ writing – you may end up sounding like a cartoon pirate! Try to be a little more formal, don’t use slang words, write longer sentences and maybe slip in one or two bits of bad grammar (like ‘if he don’t’). That will go a long way to sounding closer to this time. 

Also, notice the use of the semicolon in the middle of the snippet; it helps split the sentence into related halves. You might like to do the same.

Your diary snippet could be about the life of a convict, but there are alternatives. Another example of someone living a life with few rights and many rules can be seen in the example below.

All a servant has to do is stay low and quiet, look after the dogs and carry his master’s kills home from the hunt, and then he may even get some of the spoils for doing a good job; but slip up even once and you might as well be one of those birds he’s shooting at, for you will feel the butt of the gun hard against your back, and then be sent home alone and freezing in the snow, to face your hungry family in shame.

Meinte Jansen, huntservant

You can find some ideas for Australian 18th Century convict slang:

That said, this is less about colourful word choices and more about one elaborate sentence.

Use long, multi-part sentences to write a letter for someone that would feel connected to the painting. Someone living a harsh life from a similar time, that has to play by the rules …or else!