HC Deb 20 July 1846 vol 87 cc1347-50

Order of the Day read. On the Question that the Speaker do leave the chair,


brought forward the Motion of which he had given notice, that he would, on going into Committee of Supply, move that— It is expedient that the practice of making Van Diemen's Land a general receptacle for Convicts should cease. It was his opinion that transportation should be discontinued as a punishment, and be maintained only as a supplement to the previous punishment of imprisonment. He had at the commencement of the Session presented a petition from a number of the free settlers in Van Diemen's Land, praying that transportation to that Colony might be put an end to; but, owing to the difficulties which always lay in the way of a private Member of the House, he had been unable to bring the subject formally before the House, as he had intended, until the present occasion. In 1830, the free population in Van Diemen's Land was as three to one in proportion to the convicts; but at present the latter numbered 34,000, while the free Colonists were under 30,000. In consequence of this enormous amount of vicious and immoral persons, families felt themselves not safe either in or out of doors, and the amount of crime and immorality in the Colony was most painful to contemplate. He had a letter in his hand which he had received from a Missionary settled there, describing in the strongest terms his horror at the condition of the country; but he would not delay the House by reading it at length. He had also the testimony of the Lieutenant Governor of the island to the same effect, as even he admitted that such was the amount of criminals in the country, that it was almost impossible to employ them. But it might be asked, what course would he adopt in lieu of the present system? It appeared to him, that there was a course which might advantageously be taken, namely, imprisonment until the parties were reformed, and transportation afterwards. He understood that an attempt of this kind that had been tried in a part of Australia near Port Philip had been attended with complete success. A number of criminals had been sent out there after being reformed at Parkhurst Prison, and they had since made for themselves new characters, and were now doing exceedingly well. The system of the noble Lord the late Secretary for the Colonies was the very reverse of this. He had concentrated in Van Diemen's Land such a number of criminals as most materially to injure the character of the Colony. There was an amount of turpitude and crime now prevalent in the Colony that was quite inconceivable, and which could not be thought on without the greatest pain. The question of transportation had been referred in France to the Judges, and they came to the conclusion that it might be adopted as a supplement to imprisonment; and in an admirable treatise recently published on the subject in that country, the view which he now put forward was advocated. He had intended to enter at considerable length into this subject; but he would not now do so in consequence of the lateness of the Session, and the recent change in the Government. He ardently hoped that the attention of Her Majesty's Ministers would be directed to this question, which might so well be called not only moral and political, but religious. The Government could not be expected to have formed any plan on the subject as yet; but he trusted they would attend to it, and effect a real reform of this most unparalleled system of colonial policy. He would leave this question with confidence in the hands of his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department.


said, he was sure the House would not expect him to enter at any length into this very important subject at present. He gave his hon. and learned Friend credit for the manner in which he had brought the question before the House; and he would assure him most fully that the subject was one which was engaging the serious and earnest consideration of Her Majesty's Government. He was afraid that it was impossible to allege that his hon. and learned Friend's statement of the condition of Van Diemen's Land was at all exaggerated. As he had stated on a former evening, the question had occupied the attention of the late Government; and they had resolved to suspend transportation to Van Diemen's Land for a period of eighteen months; and the manner in which the convicts were to be disposed of in the interim, was now under consideration. The second Resolution of the hon. Gentleman embraced a still wider field for inquiry; and he believed his hon. Friend scarcely expected that he should now, on the part of Her Majesty's Government, express any opinion upon it. In theory, he perfectly agreed with the views expressed and embodied in that Resolution; but his hon. Friend was, no doubt, aware that the question of secondary punishment was one of the most important that could engage the attention of any Government. It was one that Her Majesty's Government were fully alive to, and to which their most serious attention should be given. He hoped his hon. Friend would be satisfied with this explanation, which was all he found himself in a position to give.


said, he had to complain that the hon. Gentleman, in bringing forward his Motion, should have thought it necessary to single out the noble Lord under whom he had served for attack. The hon. Gentleman should have recollected that his charge was met by his own statement. The present system was commenced in Van Diemen's Land in 1839, long before his noble Friend had come into office. It had been adopted in consequence of a Committee of that House having reported against transportation to New South Wales. The whole tide of transportation had been thus directed to Van Diemen's Land; and, with defective arrangements, the result was certainly by no means successful. His noble Friend, on coming into office, found the whole tide of transportation turned to that Colony. What was called the probation system had been introduced under the noble Lord the Member for the city of London. His noble Friend did not establish that system, but he had done his utmost to improve it by adding religious instruction and issuing additional orders as to classification. His right hon. Friend near him (Sir James Graham) had, after the noble Lord left office, altogether put an end to transportation to Van Diemen's Land. He had not such strong hopes as the hon. Gentleman of the success of reforming prisoners. Some of these reformed convicts who had been sent to Hobart Town, as soon as they learned that they were free became utterly unmanageable.

Motion by leave withdrawn.

Question again put.

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