Transportation and colonization/Chapter 9



From the preceding enumeration of the causes that have operated in producing the comparative failure of the transportation system, whether as a means of preventing crime in the mother country or of reforming criminals, the reader will doubtless perceive, that that failure is not to be regarded as the necessary result of the transportation of criminals, but rather as the natural and unavoidable consequence of gross abuses, which it is, perhaps, comparatively easy to correct for the future;—of sheer mismanagement, of which it is probably by no means difficult to prevent the recurrence. At the same time, the calamitous results of the system of abuse and mismanagement I have described, in regard to the moral and political welfare of the rapidly advancing and flourishing colony of New South Wales, have latterly become so prominent and so unquestionable, that, under the idea of there being no other remedy to be had recourse to, there is now a very considerable and daily increasing number of the most respectable inhabitants of that colony, who maintain that the transportation of convicts to New South Wales ought to be forthwith and entirely discontinued; insomuch, that during the last two years the most respectable portion of the colonial press has been strenuously advocating the immediate and entire discontinuance of the importation of convicts, as a measure of indispensable necessity for the future welfare of the colony.

Indeed, if the system hitherto pursued in that colony, in regard to the management of the convicts, is to be continued, and if all the evils I have enumerated as having already resulted from that monstrous system, are not only to be entailed on the colony, but to be augmented and perpetuated ad infinitum by large annual importations of criminals from Great Britain and Ireland, the entire and immediate discontinuance of transportation, as a species of punishment, is "a consummation devoutly to be wished "by every reputable inhabitant of New South Wales. That colony is now completely saturated with the depravity to which the transportation system, as it has hitherto been carried into operation, has necessarily given birth; and the addition of fresh importations of criminals, at the rate of three thousand annually, to be disposed of as they have hitherto been in the colony, will only increase and aggravate that depravity. In short, from the facts I have already adduced, it must be evident that New South Wales is no longer a fit place for the transportation of criminals under the existing system of colonial management, whether the object of the imperial legislature be the prevention of crime in England, or the reformation of transported criminals.

At the same time, conceiving as I do, for reasons already stated at considerable length, that the transportation of criminals to the continent of New Holland is a most valuable provision of the criminal jurisprudence of the empire, and that no other means of equal efficiency can possibly be devised for ridding the mother country of a large portion of its culprit population, and for eventually transforming a considerable portion of that population into reputable citizens; I shall now point out such changes as it appears to me indispensably necessary to effect in the general administration of the transportation system in the penal settlements of the empire, in order to render that system powerfully efficient as a species of punishment for the future, and at the same time safe and salutary to the colony of New South Wales, and beneficial in the highest degree to the rest of the empire.

Before pointing out, however, the nature and extent of the changes that ought to be effected forthwith in the administration of the transportation system beyond seas, it may not be inexpedient to premise a few observations as to what may be done in the mother country, to ensure the future efficiency of that species of punishment. I conceive, therefore, that it would be highly expedient for the future to carry the sentence of transportation into effect only in the case of criminals under sentence for fourteen years or for life. Indeed, if it were practicable so to modify the criminal law, as to pass sentence of transportation only for life, much benefit, in regard to the future efficiency of the punishment, might be derived from the change. Such a change would enable the executive of the penal colony to adopt one uniform course of procedure towards all convicts, while it would afford sufficient time in every instance to put the efficacy of that procedure to the test: it would also enable the executive to fix the convicts for life to one spot or district in the penal territory, and to reduce them at any time to the condition of convicts, after they had obtained conditional freedom, on the slightest manifestation of criminality. Under the existing system of management, uniformity of treatment is so little studied or effected, that, as I have already remarked, transportation is a matter of as great uncertainty in its issue as a lottery-ticket—it may be a prize to the criminal, for aught the government can tell; or it may be a blank.

Again, as to the time afforded for making an experiment on the moral capabilities of the criminal; under the existing system, the convict for seven years is entitled to a ticket of leave, or conditional freedom, after the expiration of four years' service in the colony; provided he has committed no fresh offence, or rather been subjected to no additional punishment in the mean time. But as he is probably much better clothed and fed during these four years, than a large proportion of the free agricultural labourers of Great Britain or Ireland, and is not expected to perform any thing like the same quantity of labour which these labourers must perform, to earn even a scanty subsistence; it is preposterous to consider transportation for seven years as a punishment at all in the great majority of instances, or to expect that under such a system the criminal propensities of the convict should be repressed, or his reformation effected. Again, the benefits that would result from the Colonial Executive's having an absolute powder over the persons of all convicts, so as to be able to reduce them at any time to the condition of penal servitude, without the formality of a trial, on their being found guilty, before one or more magistrates, of any crime or misdemeanour, after having attained conditional freedom, or to confine them, notwithstanding that freedom, to a particular district,—are self-evident: indeed, nothing could possibly operate more powerfully, as a restraint on the criminal propensities of the liberated convict, than such a power on the part of the administrators of the law.

To invest the Colonial Executives with such a power over the persons of all convicts, as transportation for life should imply, it would be expedient, moreover, that that sentence should in future be passed only on one or other of the two following classes of criminals; viz. 1. criminals guilty of atrocious crimes; and, 2. criminals who had already undergone a milder punishment for a first offence, and been afterwards convicted of a second. It would surely be no unreasonable stretch of severity to subject criminals of the first of these classes to perpetual surveillance, to summary jurisdiction for life, and, in the event of their obtaining conditional freedom after a long course of good behaviour, to compulsory residence in a particular district or settlement; in which ardent spirits, the grand incentive to crime, should be absolutely prohibited, and strong inducements held forth to reputable and virtuous conduct. On the other hand, if a series of penitentiaries were to be formed in England on the American model, in which criminals, guilty of such crimes as at present subject the perpetrator to a sentence of transportation for seven years, should be subjected to hard labour and solitary confinement for two, three, or four years; not only might transportation for seven years be discontinued as a species of punishment, but a considerable number of criminals, of the class to which that punishment is at present awarded, might be permanently reclaimed and retained in England. If hard labour and solitary confinement, however, in a well-regulated English penitentiary, should be found insufficient to repress the criminal propensities of the culprit, who has been subjected to such punishment for a first offence, let that culprit, on being convicted a second time, be transported either for life or for fourteen years, according to the nature and aggravation of his two offences, and be subjected to the same treatment in the penal settlement, as the criminal of more atrocious character transported for his first offence. By this means the mother country would be gradually cleared of the irreclaimable portion of its culprit population, while sufficient time would be afforded for subjecting the culprits to an efficient system of penal discipline beyond seas.

Whether educated or gentlemen convicts should hereafter be transported to the penal colonies of New South Wales and Van Dieman's Land, should the convicts in these colonies continue to be managed as they have hitherto been, will scarcely admit of question after the preceding details. But if the law is to be allowed to have its due course in future, and if that course is to be uniform, definite, and certain, I can see no reason why the educated criminal, who can make an apposite quotation from Lucretius, (as a felon in double irons lately did to a respectable traveller in New South Wales, who, from charitable feelings, offered him a piece of tobacco, when passing the road-gang to which he was attached,) should not be subjected to the same course of penal discipline as the unlettered labourer from the bogs of Ireland, There are many good reasons why criminals of this description should be sent out of England; but there is no reason ever why they should be allowed to nestle themselves in Sydney, to disturb a whole colony, by exciting the worst passions of the worst characters in the empire, and thereby to expose His Majesty's government, as in the case of the convict Watt, to suspicion and distrust. There are fifty localities on the coast of New Holland, where a penal settlement, to be properly organized and conducted from the first, might be formed with the utmost facility. Let gentlemen convicts be transported for the future to a settlement of that kind; and, if under sentence for life, let them never be permitted to leave it. Away with the mawkish sentimentalism of those who would tell us, that such characters have never been accustomed to field- labour! It is necessary, I reply, that they should be accustomed to it: it is good for their moral health that they should learn to wield the spade and the hoe; and it is surely much better for that of the nation, that they should learn the use of these implements betimes, than that they should be permitted to wield such an instrument, either of good or of evil, as the public press.