Transportation and colonization/Chapter 4



1. The first, and without doubt the most influential cause of the comparative failure of the transportation system, as it has hitherto been administered in the Australian penal colonies, is the want of a free emigrant and virtuous population, to afford the requisite stimulus to reformation, and to repress the general tendency to criminality.

It has become fashionable of late for those writers in England who decry the whole system of transportation as essentially impolitic and inexpedient, to endeavour to enlist the authority of the celebrated Lord Bacon in support of their position, by quoting the following well-known aphorism of that distinguished philosopher:—It is a shameful and unblessed thing to take the scum of the people, and wicked, condemned men, to be the people with whom you plant." To attempt to form a community, either in whole or in great measure, of such materials, I agree with his Lordship, is disreputable to any government,—equally opposed to the maxims of sound policy and the principles of enlightened Christianity: and if any proof or illustration were wanting of the folly and madness of such an attempt, I would only appeal to the past history and the present condition of the Australian colonies. But I have yet to learn that Lord Bacon was of opinion that wicked, condemned men" were in no case to be transported to a British colony, or that convict labour ought never to be had recourse to in a foreign plantation, either as a means of punishing and reforming the criminal, or of promoting the welfare and advancement of the settlement. If Lord Bacon had really advanced any such opinion, I would only have said, after appealing to that experience and observation which his Lordship so successfully established as the basis of his inductive philosophy, that he had himself been theorizing in this particular instance, and that "the greatest and wisest of mankind" was for once mistaken. To carry out Lord Bacon's own metaphor, I would observe, that as the goodliest herbs and the most valuable fruit-trees, when first planted in the earth, have their roots covered or surrounded in the shape of manure with the filthiest and the most abominable of physical substances, so may a certain portion of the moral abominations of the empire, in the shape of "wicked, condemned men," be so disposed around the roots of that vigorous plant, a British colony, as to enable it to strike these roots the more quickly and the more deeply into the virgin soil.

It was not the object of the founders of the colony of New South Wales to form a community to consist exclusively of convict materials,—to accumulate a mere dunghill, so to speak, for the British empire. They had other and far higher objects in view. Their object was to employ the transported criminal, whom his mother country had vomited out of her political system, in preparing the way for a settlement of freemen at the ends of the earth; where, his spirit harassed with toil, ignominy, and privation, and deprived of all hope of ever returning to the scenes of his former crimes and temptations, he might be led to bethink himself of his past enormities, and to return to the paths of virtue,—encouraged by the good example of the reputable portion of the new community into which he was thenceforth to be cast, and stimulated by the prospects which are uniformly held forth in new countries to industry and perseverance.

A virtuous free emigrant population, sufficiently numerous to form a point d'appui to the government, and to prove, in concert with that government, "a terror to evil-doers, and a praise to all such as should do well," was therefore an essential part of the political organization and constitution of the penal colonies of the empire: and if unforeseen and calamitous events, of overwhelming importance, had not entirely absorbed the energies of his majesty's ministers, and withdrawn their attention for a long period from the state and prospects of the penal colonies,—leaving the management of these important appendages of the empire to chance and incapacity,—the whole framework of their society would doubtless have been organized and constituted, from the first, on this rational model.

This will appear evident from the following extracts from certain despatches of Captain Phillip, the first governor of New South Wales, addressed to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, in the year 1790; in which it was taken for granted that the settlement of a considerable number of free emigrants in that colony, to assist in controlling the convict population, in rendering their labour useful to the community, and in promoting their ultimate reformation, was a measure contemplated by the home government from the very first.

"Sydney Cove, 12th Feb., 1790.

Here I beg leave to observe to your Lordship, that if settlers are sent out, and the convicts divided amongst them, this settlement will very shortly maintain itself; but without which the country cannot be cultivated to advantage. * * * The labour of the convicts, employed in cultivation, has been very short of what might have been expected."

Sydney Cove, 13th Feb., 1790.

As the land, for several miles to the southward and twenty miles to the westward of Rose Hill (now Parramatta), that is, to the banks of the Hawkesbury, is as fine land for tillage as most in England, some few spots excepted, I propose that tract for the settlers who may be sent out. As the labour of clearing the ground of timber will be great, I think each settler should not have less than twenty men on his farm, which I suppose to be from five hundred to one thousand acres. It will be necessary to give that number of convicts to those settlers who come out, and to support them for two years from the public stores: in that time, if they are industrious, they will be in a situation to support themselves; and I do not think they would be able to do so in less time. At the expiration of two years, they may return half the convicts they have been allowed, and would want no farther assistance from government."

"Sydney Cove, 17th June, 1790.

If settlers are sent out, many difficulties will be removed; they may choose the situations to which I cannot at this moment detach convicts: and I have had the honour of observing, in my former despatches, that settlers appear to me to be absolutely necessary.

"As I thought the first settlers sent out might require more encouragement than those who might come hereafter, I proposed, in my last despatches, giving them a certain number of convicts for two years, and supporting them during that time at the expense of the Crown. Much will depend on ensuring the success of the first settlers sent out, and who, I presume, will be good farmers: the assistance proposed for them will certainly put them at their ease, if they are industrious, and would not, I apprehend, be any great loss to the Crown.

"I am desirous of securing the success of the first settlers, * * * The river Hawkesbury will, I doubt not, offer some desirable situations, and the great advantages of a navigable river are obvious.

"In addition to the officers I shall be able to send to Norfolk Island, I presume that two or three magistrates will be necessary. If settlers come out for that island, perhaps some amongst them may be found to answer the purpose."

"Sydney Cove, 17th July, 1790.

The consequence of a failure of a crop, when we no longer depend upon any supplies from Great Britain, will be obvious; and to guard against which is one reason for my being so desirous of having a few settlers, to whom, as the first, I think every possible encouragement should be given. In them I should have some resource, and amongst them proper people might be found to act in different capacities, at little or no expense to government; for as the number of convicts and others increase, civil magistrates, &c. will be necessary.

The following extract, however, from a letter addressed to Governor Phillip, by Mr. Secretary Dundas, previous to the date of any of the governor's despatches above-quoted, will evince the intentions of government in a still clearer light:—

"Downing Street, 10th Feb., 1790.

"Such settlers as have determined to go will embark in about six weeks with a master-miller and a carpenter. What the number of settlers may amount to, I cannot at present ascertain, but I think it will fall short of that stated in my last letter (No. 2) as having made proposals to government."

It appears from this extract, that previous to the date of the second letter, which was written by the Secretary of State to the first governor of New South Wales, and probably before any other intelligence had reached England respecting Captain Phillip than that of his arrival in Port Jackson, the government were taking steps for sending out a considerable detachment of free settlers to the colony: and means having been used at the same time to make known to the public the encouragement which the government would afford to those settlers of this description who should emigrate to the new colony, it appears, that so early as the year 1791, fifteen Quaker families had actually made proposals to government on the subject; from which, however, they were afterwards unfortunately induced to recede, in consequence of the refusal of government to extend the laws of England to the settlement.

If these intentions of the founders of the colony of New South Wales had been followed up; if the reiterated recommendations of the first governor of that colony had been duly attended to, and the requisite means employed to induce agricultural and other emigrants of reputable character and industrious habits to emigrate to the new settlement; if, for instance, in addition to the encouragement proposed to be held out to such emigrants by Governor Phillip, a moderate salary had been guaranteed to any Protestant minister, of approved character and zeal, and of whatever communion, who should accompany each small detachment of emigrants proceeding to New South Wales, of not less than twenty families each, to dispense the ordinances of religion to these families, and to whatever convicts might be employed either in their service or in their vicinity,—the happiest results would doubtless have been realized. In particular, the settlement would have been able to supply itself with the necessaries of life at a much earlier period than it actually was; a state of things, which would have saved the government, in the way of outlay for imported grain, as much as it would have cost them to form at least twenty parishes in different parts of the territory, having each a nucleus of from twenty to thirty free emigrant families. But the moral and political effects that would have resulted from the adoption of such a course are of incalculably greater importance than the mere diminution of expenditure, to which it would undoubtedly have led. It would have afforded the governor, agreeably to the reasonable anticipations of Captain Phillip, powerful and effectual support in the administration of penal discipline; supplying him with fit persons for situations of trust or authority. It would have established, from the very first, something like public opinion in the colony; which would very soon have gathered strength enough to put down injustice and oppression on the one hand, and outrageous immorality on the other. It would have placed the trading concerns of the colony, whether on the large or on the small scale, in the hands of reputable persons; and prevented that system of legalized chicanery, extortion, oppression, and robbery, into which they actually degenerated in the hands of liberated convicts, or of free persons deeply imbued with their dishonest principles, and living in willing conformity to their disreputable practice. It would have rendered it necessary for the ticket-of-leave holder, or emancipated convict, to obtain his livelihood by honest industry, in clearing and cultivating land, or in the service or employment of reputable freemen, instead of living a life of idleness and luxurious indulgence, or preying like a horse-leech upon society, as a publican or general dealer. It would have given the requisite encouragement and protection to the really reformed emancipated convict, by confirming him, on the one hand, in his returning attachment to the pursuits and pleasures of honest industry, and by rescuing him, on the other, from the fangs of the publicans and dealers of his own class and order. It would have relieved several successive governors of the colony from the mortifying and humiliating necessity of purchasing the patronage of men who owed their own lives to the lenity of the laws, and of whose thorough reformation there was no evidence but their acquisition of wealth, in order to secure an adequate counterpoise to the weight and influence of a few individuals, whom they fancied opposed to their legitimate authority. It would have kept the convicts and emancipated convicts in their proper place in the social system, and saved the colony from the evil consequences that have already resulted from the growth and ascendancy of a class in colonial society, distinguished by the name of emancipists, and actually glorying in the recollection of their having once been outcasts from society for their crimes.[1]

Had the intentions of the original founders of the colony of New South Wales been vigorously followed up, and had the reiterated recommendations of its first governor been duly attended to, so as to have enabled the first detachments of free emigrants to have taken root in the colony; there is no doubt whatever but that numerous and reputable families and individuals, of all classes in society, would have soon found their way to the new settlement; and that government would consequently have found it practicable, at a comparatively early period in its history, to have entirely withheld the positive and pecuniary encouragement which it was so highly expedient to have afforded to free emigrants at its formation. Unfortunately for the colony, however, as well as for the establishment of those great principles of criminal jurisprudence that were so deeply involved in its success, the intentions of its founders were entirely lost sight of, and the recommendations of its first governor totally neglected, during that long period of national alarm, of preparation for foreign war, and of actual hostility, that ensued upon the outbreaking of the French revolution; for, although a few straggling emigrants arrived and settled in the colony during the administration of Governor Hunter, and a few more during that of Governor King, their number was so small, and their weight and influence on society so insignificant, that, as I have already observed, during the first thirty-three years of its existence, or until the close of the year 1820, the colony of New South Wales may be considered as having been formed exclusively "of the scum of the people," and of "wicked, condemned men;"—a mode of planting colonies, which Lord Bacon rightly designates as "a shameful and unblessed thing."

The very different results that must inevitably follow from the two systems of penal colonization we have been describing,—viz., that of leaving the outpourings of a thousand gaols to ferment into a body politic of its own accord, and that of employing them., so to speak, in the way of manure, to enable the colonial plant to strike its roots more vigorously into the virgin soil,—are evident, in some measure, in the comparative condition of the prison population, and of society in general, in the two penal colonies of New South Wales and Van Dieman's Land. The latter of these colonies was settled at a much later period than the former; and, at a comparatively early period in its history as a penal settlement, it became the resort of a large number of respectable free emigrants from Great Britain and Ireland, who, with their families and free servants, settled all over the island. Society in that settlement was thus differently organized and constituted from the very first, as compared with its organization and constitution in New South Wales: penal discipline was consequently much better administered than in the older colony, a§ it was more obviously the interest of the influential inhabitants of Van Dieman's Land to enforce the government regulations on that subject: the convicts were therefore taught very early to know their proper place in society, and effectually precluded by the voice of public opinion from presuming upon that of others; insomuch, that although the emancipated convict in Van Dieman's Land has all along occupied exactly the same position in regard to rights and privileges as in New South Wales, the name of emancipist has never been heard of as a political watchword, or as the designation of a party in that island. This superior state of things in Van Dieman's Land has doubtless resulted, in no small degree, from the highly judicious arrangements established by Colonel Arthur, the late lieutenant-governor of that island, for the discipline and management of its prison population; from the zeal and abilities of the principal officers he employed in the work of superintendence; and from the long period of twelve years, during which he was honoured to hold the government of Van Dieman's Land, and which, occurring in the most important period of the history of that island as a British colony, enabled him to mature his plans for the superintendence and management of the convicts, to give them a fair trial, and to bring them to a state of comparative perfection: but all these concurrent circumstances would have been utterly ineffectual in bringing about the present comparatively superior state of things in that island, had its colonial executive not enjoyed, in the enforcement of a well-regulated system of penal discipline, the advantage of a point d'appui, which was utterly unknown to the governors of New South Wales for the first thirty years of the existence of that colony, in the form of a comparatively numerous and virtuous free emigrant population.

From the entire want of such a population in New South Wales, the tone was originally given to society in that colony by convicts and emancipated convicts; who, being uncontrolled by the voice of public opinion, and having no stimulus from without to induce them to pursue a more reputable course, speedily presented one grand scene of enormous profligacy; in which, indeed, the very officers of government, so far from interposing in the way of prevention or counteraction, for the most part took the lead, and set them the example. In such a state of things, the reformation of the convict population was utterly hopeless; insomuch that, in process of time, the very word reformation had almost entirely lost its English meaning in New South Wales; the reformed emancipated convict of the era of Governor Macquarie being not the man who evinced a change of heart and character by a change of habits and practice, but the man who had succeeded in acquiring wealth, by any means however unworthy, and who, perhaps, notoriously expended that wealth in the grossest licentiousness.

Governors, it is well known, being generally military officers, are a class of men who are usually extremely jealous of their delegated authority, as the representatives of majesty; and this jealousy is, for the most part, in exact proportion to their distance from the mother country, and the comparative minuteness or insignificance of their governments. Having situations of emolument and other substantial favours at their disposal, it is impossible in the nature of things, but that their exercise of their own discretion, in appointing to such situations or in distributing such favours, should give offence in some quarter or other. Thus, if Mr. A. has had a useful convict mechanic assigned to him, while Mr. B. has only had a common Irish labourer; or if Mr. C. has had a young bull and a few heifers lent him from the government herd, while Mr. D. is told that there are none for him, or that he must wait till the following season,—hasty and inconsiderate expressions, either of disappointment or of anger, are apt to be uttered by the said Mr. B, or Mr. D. Now, instead of conciliating and disarming such individuals, the approved method in the Australian colonies has generally been to catch at such expressions with the utmost avidity, and to interpret them, forsooth, as signs of disaffection to the constituted authorities, to withhold from the obnoxious individual all indulgences for the future, and thus to enable him to join with other individuals in similar circumstances in organizing a regular faction in petto. In managing and controlling such factions, however, the governor must have a point d'appui, or some influential portion of the community to look to for countenance and support; but as there was no free emigrant population in New South Wales to supply this desideratum, the earlier Governors had to form one for their own interest and convenience out of the class of emancipated convicts; elevating individuals of that class to situations of influence and authority, and loading them with favours and benefactions. By this means the emancipated convicts were at length encouraged and enabled, by the Government of New South Wales, not merely to step forward from that state of comparative obscurity to which they had been tacitly consigned, as well by their own right feelings as by the general consent of society, in Van Dieman's Land; but to constitute themselves a separate class in the community; able, eventually, by means of their wealth, their numbers, and the incessant clamours of their leaders, to control or overawe the Government itself.

In such a state of things—a state in which the standard of morals was authoritatively lowered, and a false estimate of men and manners publicly established, and in which, moreover, every thing was done that could be done virtually to divest the prison population of all sense of degradation and criminality—it is superfluous to inquire whether transportation had proved effectual, either for the prevention of crime or for the reformation of criminals.

It is extremely gratifying, however, to be able to state, that arrangements are now in progress in the colony of New South Wales, which will counteract, in great measure, the moral and political evils of its original constitution, and effect, in some degree at least, its moral and political regeneration. By a new arrangement for the disposal of crown land, introduced by order of the Right Honourable the Secretary of State for the Colonies, in the year 1831, a revenue has been unexpectedly created in New South Wales, which, if judiciously applied towards the purposes of its original destination, will enable the colonial government to introduce into the colony industrious and virtuous free emigrants from the mother country, at the rate of three thousand families and upwards every year: and as the rapid extension and advancement of the colony will afford ample means of settling these families in its ample territory, so will their moral and religious influence on the general population be rendered beneficial in the highest degree by another arrangement of a most important bearing, for which the colonists are indebted, in great measure, to the enlightened liberality of the present governor, Major-General Sir Richard Bourke. In virtue of that arrangement, every small community, in whatever part of the colonial territory, will henceforth be enabled to secure the services of an efficient schoolmaster, as well as of a resident minister of religion of their own communion. The combined influence of these arrangements—the annual introduction and progressive settlement of large bodies of free emigrants, for whose intellectual and spiritual welfare effectual provision is thus prospectively made by the colonial legislature—will doubtless eventually change the whole aspect and character of the colony of New South Wales; gradually undoing the past evil effects of the transportation system, and rendering transportation powerfully efficient for the future, both for the prevention of crime and for the reformation of criminals.

  1. As a proof of the correctness of these statements, and of the reality of the feeling I have represented as existing extensively in New South Wales, I would merely mention the following fact:—At an anniversary dinner, held by the emancipists of Sydney, in the year 1822 or 1823, to celebrate the founding of the colony, Mr. Edward Smith Hall, a free emigrant, and for a long time past the editor of a paper called the 'Monitor,' which for the last ten years has been pandering to the worst passions and feelings of the convict and emancipated convict classes of the population, and doing an infinity of harm to the colony, actually expressed his " sincere regret that he was not an emancipist himself," or, in other words, that he had not arrived in the colony as a convict. If Mr. Hall had been a person of disreputable conduct, the circumstance would not have been so remarkable: but as he has all along maintained a reputable character, it only serves to demonstrate the pernicious results that may be anticipated from attempting to form a colony exclusively of "wicked, condemned men." There were very few free emigrants in New South Wales when Mr. Hall expressed himself in the manner above-mentioned: it would be somewhat difficult to find a respectable individual of that class who would venture to do so now.