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Barry Conyngham: Bony Anderson

  • Duration: 30’
  • Instrumentation details:
    fl. (also picc. and alto-fl.), cl. (also bass cl.), tpt., perc., keyboard, vln., vc.
  • Composer: Barry Conyngham
  • Text author: Murray Copland

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Work introduction

Colonial history affords few more brutal examples of man’s inhumanity than the fate of the English transportee Charles Anderson, who came to be known as Bony because of his gaunt appear.  An orphan raised in a workhouse, Anderson was apprenticed at the age of nine in a coal ship and later joined the British navy.  At the Battle of Navarino, the decisive naval defeat of the Turks which finally set the seal on Greek independence, the thirteen-year-old Anderson received a head wound which permanently affected his temperament, leaving him prone to fits of dizziness and violent rage for which he was mercilessly teased by his shipmates.


Back in England, arrested for his part in a drunken brawl in which a shop was broken into, he was sentenced at the age of eighteen to transportation for life.  Bony had not been long in New South Wales before the prison offices discovered that even repeated merciless floggings were insufficient to break his spirit.  Considered a hopeless case, he was left chained and exposed on a tiny rocky island in Sydney Harbour known as Goat Island, denied even enough water to wash his festering wounds, until the protest of humanitarians eventually caused him to be transferred to the limeworks at Port Macquarie. His sufferings there were hardly less terrible.  After an unsuccessful attempt to escpe, Bony killed one of his tormentors in a despairing bid to achieve release by execution.  Instead, cruelly and ironically, he was sent to the notorious settlement on Norfolk Island, the maximum-security hell regarded by convicts in those days as infinitely worse than death.


He had been there about thee years, permanently loaded with chains, when in 1840 Norfolk Island saw the arrival if its new superintendent, the supremely enlightened penal reformed, Captain Alexander Maconochie.  On his arrival he had Anderson released from his chains and, in an early example of occupational therapy, gave him charge of a herd of bullocks which had hitherto been regarded as intractable.  Anderson soon became of Maconochie’s great successes, proudly shown off as a model prisoner to the visitors that flocked to the island to inspect the Captain’s highly controversial experiment in human reform.  So well did Anderson respond to the trust placed in him, he was soon given charge of the outlook post on Mount Pitt;  and although in the end his reason gave way and he died in an asylum, he never lost his grateful devotion to Maconochie and his family.


In this production we meet Bony in the asylum bed. He drifts into fitful memories of the past. 

Murray Copland


The original version of this work, in the format of a one-act opera entitled The Apology of Bony Anderson, was written for an presented by the Victoria State Opera in September, 1978.  The conductor was Richard Divall, the director was Jan Stripling.  The present version of the work, re-scored for solo singer-actor and ensemble, extensively revised and entitled Bony Anderson, was commissioned by the Seymour Group with financial assistance from the Music Board of the Australia Council.


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