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Haywood County, TN

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The States-Democrat




Held a Prisoner Thirty Long Years in
Australia -- He Returns to His
Old Home and Friends

The strangest story every heard in Brownsville is the one related last Friday by James Rainey who has been mourned as dead by his family for more than thirty years.   The story is hard to believe, yet there are many corroborating circumstances.   Briefly told, it is that James Rainey, after thirty years confinement at Botany Bay, on the western coast of Australia, has arrived at his old home to find but a few persons to remember him.


James Rainey was born in Lauderdale county, but reared in Madison.   He is a son of Wesley Rainey, and was born some twenty years before the late war.   When the war broke out he enlisted in a Madison county regiment under Col. Wisdom.   He was wounded at the battle of Vicksburg, Miss., and his family, though diligent inquiry was made, could fine no trace of him after the battle.  He was wounded in the head and leg, and, for some time, was physically unable to enter the service.  He was help a prisoner by the Federal troops after the battle, and when he had recovered he took the oath of allegiance and joined the Federal army rather than remain in prison.


On last Friday morning Mr. Rainey arrived in Brownsville, and the story he tells rivals that of Robinson Crusoe.  The first man he accosted after arriving here chanced to be Capt. Alex. Duckworth.  After finding that Capt. Duckworth was a resident of the city, he asked to be directed to the residence of Mr. Newton Cobb.  Capt. Duckworth could not give the desired information, but directed him to the firm of Shaw & Richardson.  Hunting Mr. Richardson up he informed him that he was a nephew of Newton Cobb, and a brother o Thos. Rainey, of Madison county.   It being about night, Mr. Richardson invited the stranger home with him to spend the night.  The invitation was accepted and his story was unfolded to Mr. Richardson.   Rainey says he joined the confederate army in Madison county and was captured at Vicksburg as stated above, took the oath of allegiance and joined the Federal army.   He says, however, that he never fired a gun at a Confed.


At the close of the war he had drifted out west, and joined the United States navy, perhaps at San Francisco.  At any rate, he was ordered with a man-of-war to the Pacific ocean.  During a voyage to Australia he became involved in a quarrel with a son of the captain of the vessel and struck him.  This action incensed the captain, who had Rainey arrested and tried as a spy.  He was convicted and sentenced to 30 years imprisonment in Van Dieman's Land, in Australia.  From here was transferred to Botany Bay, fifteen years after his conviction.


The story he tells of his imprisonment is one too horrible, almost to be believed.  He was confined in a dark dungeon, scantily clothed and poorly fed.   He was not allowed to talk with any of his fellow-prisoners, and life was a burden almost too heavy to be borne.
Tasmania, or Van Dieman's Land, is a British penal colony in Australia, where desperate criminals were confined for many years.  This station was discontinued, and all the convicts transferred to Botany Bay,and in 1787 (? 1887?? misprint, maybe not?) a penal station was made there, and it is used until this good day as a convict settlement for Australia.  There is no record of Americans ever using these stations for confining prisoners, but the English have used them until recently years, hence, Mr. Rainey must have enlisted in the English navy to have been imprisoned at either place.


A strange feature in the case is the rather mysterious disappearance of Rainey.  He spent the night with Mr. Richardson, and very early next morning came up town before breakfast.  He returned to the residence but again left, and went to Mr. Cobb's.  He arrived there about 8 o'clock and remained less than an hour.  He left this place saying he was going to Joseph Hunter's and from there to the home of his brother in Madison county.  Inquiry revealed the fact that he did not stop at Mr. Hunter's, and nothing has been heard of him since.  Mr. Hunter was with Rainey in the army, and corroborates him in the main in his story.

Thos. Rainey, of Madison county, hearing of the arrival, came here Sunday, but could find no trace of his brother.  It is probably, however, that he went through the county, walking to Madison county, and may now be with his friends.

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