This article appears in The Incarceration Issue , a special edition of VICE Australia.
Let me ask you something. If it was 1867 and you were on the last convict voyage from Britain to Australia, languishing below deck under lock and key, what would you be doing to pass the time? Squireling away each lime that rolled through the mess and waiting 'til dead of night to rub it against your scurvy tooth stumps? Weeing into your hammock to avoid the queue for the water closet? Not John Flood. Like an Irish J. Jonah Jameson with no photography budget, he was commissioning content for his convict newspaper.
The Wild Goose: A Collection of Ocean Waifs was a weekly edition—handwritten on foolscap donated by the onboard priest, and read aloud to passengers of the convict ship Hougoumont every Sunday. Reaching a landmark seven issues, The Wild Goose could be called Australia's first zine. True to the traditions of zine-making, at least, it was a bitch to produce. In the transcripts, Flood's grouchy asides reveal the challenges of convict-ship publishing—including losing "a great quantity of manuscript, some careless person having sat on our slates."
Apart from a hastily introduced rule about not going near their slates or else, Flood and his fellow editors, John Boyle O'Reilly and John Casey, had a pretty strict submissions policy: "All contributions… must be sent to our office not later than Wednesday night; and we wish earnestly to impress on our valued correspondents that 'brevity is the soul of wit.'"
Their letters-to-the-editor column was fierce but fair. To "A constant reader" they replied: "We don't believe it possible to cozen the Captain out of all the sheep-shanks made by the Crew; neither do we think they would improve the soup." But "Dick" got burned for his spelling: "It is spelled 'Coxswain' not 'Cock'shen.' Where did you go to school?"
They accepted poems, opinion pieces, news items, and comedy bits—the last two overlapping most of the time, thanks to Flood's non-stop tongue-in-cheekery. "It is rumored that five Messes will be allowed on deck in turn each morning at four o'clock, for purpose of bathing. We congratulate the public on this very necessary boon."
Flood had been a journalist by trade before being convicted of treason (alongside other Irish rebels, for attempting an arms raid on Chester Castle in Liverpool) and sentenced to 15 years transportation to Western Australia. Embodying a healthy disdain for The Man, The Wild Goose was named after the "Wild Geese" of Irish history: rebels of the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries who joined the armies of continental Europe to fight the British.
Flood mercilessly impaled the Brits upon his rapier wit—"That magnanimous government in the kindly exuberance of their feelings, have placed a large portion of… Australia at our disposal. Generously defraying all expenses incurred on our way to it."
But most of all, he was in it for his buddies: "The public—our public—are just now afflicted with… monotony and melancholy—two goblins we earnestly wish to vanquish." And, if reading didn't work, he recommended the time-honored therapy of just writing down everything that pisses you off. Goblins-wise, said Flood, "The surest way to overcome both the one and the other."
May the spirit of the Goose continue to watch over our melancholy scribes. Amen.
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