Transportation and colonization/Chapter 15



To carry into effect the changes suggested in the preceding chapters, as of indispensable necessity for ensuring the future efficiency of the transportation system in the Australian colonies, certain changes, I conceive, should also be effected forthwith in the constitution of the government of New South Wales. In the state of rapid extension and transition which that colony is now exhibiting, the affairs of its civil government, implying the furtherance and promotion of its general welfare and advancement as a British colony, would unquestionably require the undivided attention of any one individual. It is therefore highly expedient that the governor should in future be relieved of the duties more immediately connected with the administration and management of the transportation system, as it concerns the colony; and that an officer should be appointed direct from England, to undertake the whole management and control of the convicts of all classes throughout the territory. On the character and ability, the zeal, assiduity, and energy of that officer, the future efficiency of the transportation system, and the moral welfare of the colony of New South Wales, (as far as it is likely to be affected by the continuance of transportation,) would in great measure depend; and it is therefore unnecessary to observe, that the appointment would be one of unspeakable importance to the colonists of all classes, and would consequently demand the conscientious exercise of all the prudent discrimination of which His Majesty's ministers are capable. Such an officer should, by all means, be a civilian, of approved character, of much and tried experience in the management of criminals, and of a sufficiently enlarged and expansive mind to be capable of applying to that important branch of the public service all the improvements of the present enlightened age, whether derived from British, continental, or American experience. He should also be accompanied by a complete establishment of subordinate officers, of similar character, ability, and experience, from the mother country; and the salaries of all these officers should be paid directly by Great Britain; the colony paying only for the estimated value of the labour of the convicts,—which, if it greatly exceeded the cost of their maintenance, as it undoubtedly would under efficient management, would reimburse the mother country for such outlay, besides assisting in defraying that portion of the expense of the colonial police, which, under such an arrangement, would fall to be borne by the imperial parliament.

It is at present the office of the surveyor-general of New South Wales to mark out suitable lines of road wherever new roads are required in the territory; and it is the office of the director of public works both to furnish plans and estimates of all other public works or buildings required in the colony, and to superintend their execution; as it is the office of the colonial legislature and executive to determine what works are of most urgent necessity, and to supply the requisite funds for carrying them on. At present the roads of the colony are formed and repaired by convict labour, under the control and management of the surveyor-general's department; while public works, such as the breakwater at Newcastle, are carried on by convict labourers, under the control and management of the officer in charge of that department. This, however, is evidently a most unwise arrangement; the duties of a surveyor-general, and of a director of public works, being totally different from those implied in the superintendence and management of convicts undergoing penal discipline. The consequences of such an arrangement are precisely what might be anticipated. The convicts at government labour are by no means under proper discipline, and are ever and anon breaking loose from their overseers, and committing depredations on the free inhabitants of their respective neighbourhoods; the quantum of labour they actually perform is proverbially insignificant as compared with their numbers; and the cost of their maintenance, and the consequent expense to the colonial government, are proportionably excessive. Under the proposed arrangement, however, the roads and other public works would still be carried on under the direction and inspection of the surveyor-general and the director of public works; but the convicts employed in these operations would be under the entire management and control of a third department, directly and exclusively responsible for their penal discipline, and for their due and incessant employment.

It would argue no small degree of presumption on the part of the writer to attempt to lay down rules for the discipline and employment of the convicts, to be employed hereafter at government labour in New South Wales, in the event of the discontinuance of the practice of assignment, and the establishment of an entirely new system of management under officers of experience and ability from England. Neither is it at all necessary to point out the manner in which gradations of punishment could be established in the different modes of employing convict labour above-mentioned, commensurate with the different degrees of criminality in different convicts. These are matters of detail, in regard to which the proper course of procedure would immediately suggest itself to men of understanding and observation; to whom it would consequently be sufficient to lay down for their general guidance Earl Bathurst's maxim, viz, "uniform and strict discipline, regular labour of a severe description, and constant superintendence."

By a uniform and steady adherence to this most judicious maxim, the following results might reasonably be anticipated:—

1st. There would be at least double the amount of labour performed in future by any given number of convicts; which would consequently reduce the expense of their future maintenance to one half its present amount.

2nd. The cost of the police and judicial establishments of the colony, which is at present enormous and annually increasing, would be progressively diminished; as the enforcement of strict discipline and vigilant superintendence would leave the convict comparatively few opportunities of committing fresh crimes or misdemeanours.

3rd. The demoralizing influence of convict principles and convict practice on the free portion of the colonial population would be checked for the future, and eventually completely neutralized; especially if at the same time there should also be a large annual influx of free emigrants, of virtuous character and industrious habits, from Great Britain and Ireland.

4th. The reformation of the convicts would be rapid and extensive; especially if it were made a part of a future system of management to grant tickets of leave and conditional pardons only for settlements (such as the one proposed to be established at Moreton Bay) in which they should be debarred the use of ardent spirits, after the attainment of their conditional freedom;—an arrangement, which could be effected with perfect facility, and with equal benefit to the convicts themselves and to the colony generally.