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Convicts and vigilantes in San Francisco p1

READERSVOICE.COM aims to give people a few good reading tips. It includes samples from interesting out-of-print and forgotten books. This issue features a travel book from 1870 that describes an influx of ex-convicts from Australia into San Francisco after the discovery of gold in California in 1848.

Due to an understaffed and under-resourced police force, crime went out of control in San Francisco with the arrival of these gangs of ex-convicts and other “desperadoes”. So a committee of vigilantes was formed in San Francisco. There were some brutal consequences.    

Greater Britain, A record of travel in English-speaking Countries during 1866 and 1867, by Charles W. Dilke tells the tale. 

Mr Dilke writes: Hundreds of “emancipists” from Sydney, “old lags” from Norfolk Island, the pick of the criminals of England, still further trained and confirmed in vice and crime by the experiences of Macquarie Harbour and Port Arthur, rushed to San Francisco to continue  a career which the vigilance of the police made hopeless in Tasmania and New South wales.

He said that “the Australian gaol-birds formed a quarter known as ‘Sydney Town’.”

They were called Hounds, Regulators, Sydney Ducks, and Sydney Coves. He said that:  “the English convict party organized themselves in opposition to the Chilenos as well as to the police and law-abiding citizens. Gangs of villains, whose sole bond of union was robbery or murder, marched, armed with bludgeons and revolvers, every Sunday afternoon, to the sound of music, unhindered through the streets, professing that they were ‘guardians of the community’ against the Spaniards, Mexicans, and South Americans.

Mr Dilke continues: At last a movement took place among the merchants and reputable inhabitants which resulted in the break-up of the Australian gangs. By an uprising of the American citizens of San Francisco, in response to a proclamation by T. M. Leavenworth, the alcade, twenty of the most notorious among the “Hounds” were seized and shipped to China; it is believed that some were taken south in irons, and landed near Cape Horn. “Anywhere so that they could not come back,” as my informant said.

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