HL Deb 03 March 1846 vol 84 cc480-501

then said, he rose in pursuance of notice to call their Lordships' attention to a petition of considerable importance, both as regarded the quarter from which it emanated, and the subject to which it referred. It was a petition very numerously signed by the inhabitants of a Colony well known to most of their Lordships—the Colony of Van Diemen's Land. It was a most attractive and interesting Colony, and hitherto had been a very thriving one. The persons, however, who had emigrated thither stated in the petition which he was about to present, that they had been encouraged to emigrate to that country in the hope and expectation that no greater number of convicts would be sent to that part of Her Majesty's dominions than might be expected to be useful in the Colony, and would be absorbed in the virtuous and free population; but that latterly they had been subjected to such an increase of the importation of convicts as they thought would prove most vicious to the society of the Colony. The petitioners further stated that they had embarked large amounts of capital in the Colony, and that, for a long time, nothing could be more thriving or prosperous than the state of the Colony had been under their control. The petitioners stated, that from the year 1834 to 1840 the population of the Colony had increased from 12,000 to 40,000; the number of acres under cultivation from 25,000 to 124,000; the shipping from 142 tons to 141 vessels; the imports from 62,000l. to 988,000l.; and the ex- ports had increased to an equal extent; but that this rapid progress—this great prosperity, had been arrested by the Colony having been made the receptacle for the whole convict population of these countries. No less than 16,000 convicts had been introduced into the Colony in four years; and the consequence of this enormous import of criminals was, that it was impossible to carry out any perfect system of classification or discipline, but they were distributed about the country in groups of three or four hundred, endangering the safety and inspiring terror in the minds of the colonists. The petitioners further stated that crime had increased in proportion to the large number of criminals so introduced, and that a consequent necessity had arisen for maintaining a very large police force. Under these circumstances, notwithstanding the immense natural advantages of the Colony, the number of free settlers was rapidly dimishing, and in the course of the last year—that was, down to the last seven or eight months—700 free settlers only had come into the Colony, while 2,000 had gone out, thus occasioning a diminution in the free population in one year to the extent of about 1,300. The persons who had signed this petition were most respectable, and it was brought forward under the countenance of the Bishop of the Colony and the great majority of the Members of the Legislative Assembly; and he submitted, that inasmuch as it expressed the sentiments of some 1,300 or 1,400 of the principal landowners of the place, it was entitled to the consideration of the Government. He (the Marquess of Lansdowne) would offer no opinion, on the present occasion, upon the general question of secondary punishments; but, looking at the state of our criminal law, and the prevalence of crime in this country, it might be proposed that this description of punishment should be continued; but he had, nevertheless, indulged himself in the hope that it might have been so conducted that a certain number of convicts, proportionate to the free population, might be introduced into our Colonies under such regulations as should make the system conducive not only to the carrying the law into effect, but conducive at the same time to the advantage of the colonists, and that which should be the great and ultimate object of such such punishment — the reformation, the improvement, and the well-being of the convicts themselves. The only hope of success, however, depended upon the num- ber of convicts bearing not too large a proportion to the number of the free population of the Colony; and if the system was to be persevered in, the Legislature must make up their minds as to the character of the Colony which was made the place of punishment—whether it was to be regarded as a penal Colony, and used for the purpose of punishing criminals only, or whether, while receiving convicts, it was still to be a free Colony—free for its own advancement and improvement, and deluged only with that number of criminals which, by proper management, might be gradually absorbed into the honest and industrious population. This Colony of Van Diemen's Land was entitled, by the conduct of its free inhabitants, its fertility, and other great natural advantages, to be regarded not as a penal Colony only, but as one in which the interests of the free settlers should be respected and cared for by the mother country. He was aware that there were great difficulties in the way of the application of a remedy; but he was convinced that no measure would meet the evil which did not relieve, to a large extent, the Colony from that amount of criminality which was now, day by day, being introduced into it. The petitioners prayed that no convicts might be sent to the Colony; but while this was their opinion, there were others who did not object to the introduction of a limited number, though they felt that the importation of criminals to its present amount could only end in the destruction of all order, prosperity, and happiness in the Colony. The effect of the system, as now carried on, had been to interfere materially with free labour. There were 2,000 free labourers, or reclaimed convicts, having tickets of leave, who were now going about searching in vain for employment; the convict labour absorbing the whole demand. The consequence was, that the convict was in a better position than the free labourer or the reformed criminal, whom we were bound to encourage. He hoped the subject would receive the attention due to it from the right hon. Gentleman who now held the office of Secretary for the Colonies.


said, his noble Friend (Lord Lyttelton) who sat near him, had so recently entered on the administration of colonial affairs, and he (Lord Stanley) had been so intimately acquainted with them as Secretary of State for the Colonies, and this question particularly had occasioned him so much anxiety in that capa- city, that he trusted he might be forgiven by their Lordships, and also by his noble Friend, if he (Lord Stanley) interposed some observations between the House and any he (Lord Lyttelton) might have to make on the part of the Government. He (Lord Stanley) begged their Lordships to understand that this petition involved questions infinitely more important than even the welfare of a single Colony; for it involved the decision of a no less vital question than that of the whole of our system of secondary punishment. He thought that to a certain extent the allegations in the petition were exaggerated with regard to the evils resulting from the present state of things; yet he was far from denying that in the course of the last four or five years there had been inflicted on Van Diemen's Land a considerable amount both of financial and social evil by the necessity that existed of confining the whole transportation of convicts to this Colony. Though the petitioners said they had mainly, if not entirely, contributed to the extraordinary growth and prosperity of this Colony, yet it was a fact that it was to the convicts that the prosperity of the settler was owing; for it should be recollected that the conditions on which the free settlers obtained grants of land there were, that they should be bound to receive and maintain, at their cost, a certain proportion of convicts. In point of fact it so occurred, that that which was at first imposed on these free settlers as an obligation, was speedily felt to be a boon. The free settlers soon began to write to the Government for convict labour; and it was to the consequent expenditure on the part of the Government, mainly, if not exclusively, that the free settlers owed their prosperity. He (Lord Stanley) was far from denying the great importance of preserving something like a proportion between the supply of convicts and the number of free settlers. He would beg their Lordships' attention to the position in which the Government was placed at the period in which they came into office. Up to 1840, the system of transportation was such, that every convict going to the Colonies, was handed over to some free settler, who undertook to maintain him, and who had the advantage of his services; and who, in point of fact, exercised over him almost the same authority that a master would over a slave. The assignment system, as it was called, continued till 1840. He (Lord Stanley) was far from saying, that that system was not open to serious objections; but it had its merits, and he thought was too hastily abandoned. For so long as you could place a limited number of convicts in the society of a free settler and his family, they were removed from the temptations to crime, and they were educated, by virtuous persons, who had a sort of parental care over them. No system could tend more to promote the great object of punishment, namely, the reformation of the guilty. But he could not conceal this from himself, that the system of assignment was open to this heavy and grievous objection, that there was no certainty as to the amount of punishment inflicted. It varied with the character of the person to whom the convict was assigned, and also with the physical qualities and capabilities of the convict himself. Many a master passed over the faults of a vicious but useful, because skilful servant; while on the other hand the slightest shortcomings were severely visited when the qualifications and capabilities of the convict were not such as to make his services of much value to his master. Many, indeed, of the latter class were sent back by the persons to whom they were assigned, with a stigma thus wrongly fixed on their characters. But the evil went further. It was known that persons were sometimes transported from this country, that their friends followed them, purchased property in Van Diemen's Land, and then obtained that the convict husband or son should be handed over to them as servants. This was no punishment. But with a harsh master the case was different, and the condition of the assigned not unfrequently became one of cruel slavery. The system was put an end to in 1840. Up to that time persons transported were sent partly to New South Wales, partly to Van Diemen's Land; but in that year the then existing Government decided not only to put a stop to the assignment system, but that no convicts should in future be sent to New South Wales. The Colonies of South and Western Australia had obtained in their charters security against being made places of penal settlement. But, as he had stated in 1840, the then Government decided that the resources of the almost boundless Colony of New South Wales should be lost as a penal settlement; and, from that time, Van Diemen's Land had been the sole place to which convicts could be transported. This was the situation in which, on their accession to office in 1841, they found themselves. The disposition of the convicts in gangs, he might here remark, was not arranged merely because of their numbers. It was the fundamental system upon which the plan of transportation had been remodelled, the assignment system being in fact abolished in order to place the convicts in gangs, employing them upon hard but uniform labour. In 1841, the present Government came into office, and had to grapple with the question, loaded with these restrictions. But was that all? No: for the House of Commons in that same year passed a resolution condemning the hulk system, and requiring, in all transportation cases, that the sentence should be rigidly and literally carried out. Under these circumstances—assignments prohibited, gangs established, the field of penal settlement narrowed, the House of Commons pressing for the rigid carrying out of every sentence of transportation—he did not deny that Van Diemen's Land had received some injury, or that it had grounds for demanding relief at the hands of the Government. There was no subject to which his attention was more earnestly directed than to find a means of remedying these inconveniences, which he then foresaw, and which were now under discussion. But their Lordships would agree with him, that it was not easy to establish a new system of convict discipline, when all the arrangements had to be carried into effect by two parties so distant from each other as to require that a year should elapse before the replies to each other's letters could be received. It fortunately happened, although his (Lord Stanley's) attention had been directed to the subject earlier, that towards the close of 1842, one of the ablest of the colonial servants in the employ of the Government, Mr. Montagu, came to England at the same time that the Attorney General for New South Wales happened to be in this country. Several consultations were held with these gentlemen, and also with his right hon. Friend at the head of the Home Department; and the result was the formation of a system of convict discipline, which their Lordships would find recommended and explained in Papers laid on the Table of the House in 1843. It was decided, in accordance with the provisions introduced by the noble Lord who preceded him (Lord Stanley) in the Colonial Office, that in all cases convicts should be divided into penal gangs, called probation gangs, to be distributed into the unsettled parts of the country; and that they should be removed from thence in periods proportioned to the periods of their original sentence, but varying also according to their conduct in that state; and having passed through a variety of stages of less and less severity, at last get, by ticket of leave, into the state of conditional or ultimate free pardon. Though it reflected no credit on this great country, it was a fact, that till within the last four or five years, though we had been sending 3,000 or, 4,000 convicts annually to that Colony, yet there had been no provision whatever made for the religious or spiritual superintendence of those convicts. One of the first steps which Her Majesty's Government took in this direction was, to arrange the convicts into gangs of 200 or 300, according to their respective religious persuasions, and appoint chaplains to instruct them, with the consent of the Protestant and Roman Catholic bishops of the Colony. He had reason to believe that, in a moral point of view, that plan had been productive of the most beneficial results. The general conduct of the convicts under the improved system of discipline was most satisfactory; and if the scheme had failed in any respect, it had failed in this: that the large increase in the number of persons sentenced to transportation took place previously, at the period of the great and growing embarrassment of New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land, in consequence of which there was great want of employment. He admitted that this was a great and grievous evil. Her Majesty's Government had taken steps to alleviate that evil; they had taken on themselves a much larger amount of the police expenses. They had also taken another step, which would require some explanation. Their Lordships were aware, that in the Australian Colonies there was a minimum price fixed on land, for the purpose of preventing a large accumulation of that kind of property by small capitalists, who would not be able to cultivate it. But when the amount of labour was superfluous, this plan was reversed. Then it would be found more desirable to facilitate the acquisition of land, in order that more labourers might be employed upon it. With that view he obtained their Lordships' consent to an Act for the repeal of the Land Sales Act, so far as they related to Van Diemen's Land. That, indeed, had been made a matter of com- plaint, and under this law all sales of land became the property of the Colony; but partly from the embarrassments of the Colony and the influx of convicts, the sales had so fallen off, that no revenue was provided from that source. Her Majesty's Government thought it advisable in the first place to give instructions that the convicts employed in clearing the unsettled parts of the country should be also employed in raising the food necessary for their subsistence. They were also employed in the improvement of the land. But before the repeal of the Land Sales Act, it was necessary that the improved land should be sold by auction, and the proceeds thereof paid into the Financial Treasury of the Colony. The Government thought that while they took on themselves a large proportion of the burdens of the police and other establishments, and the expense of maintaining convicts, they should also assume the control over the finances. This course enabled the Government to assign improved land to those convicts who were unable to find employment, which land they might cultivate on their own account, and of course that would be a premium on their good conduct. While he admitted that the introduction of a very large number of convicts into Van Diemen's Land had been productive of some social evils; yet when the petitioners spoke of so large a body of convicts being admitted into so small a Colony, it should be remembered that the territory of that Colony was not less in extent than that of Ireland, while it was occupied by not more than 40,000 free settlers. To speak of a Colony as extensive as Ireland being swamped by the introduction of 4,000 convicts annually—provided those convicts had proper superintendence and control over them, and the means of providing for themselves at the expiration of their sentence—was merely adding another difficulty to those which arose from the present state of our convict population. But if this system were not permitted, what were you to do with the sweepings of our gaols? We now sent abroad annually 4,000 or 5,000 male convicts, and there were now in our penal Colonies not less than 50,000 convicts, from the pollution of whose presence this country had been relieved. Was it not an advantage to have this country permanently relieved from such persons? But independently of pecuniary considerations, was not the system-in a moral point of view, better for the parties themselves? Did you believe that at the expiration of their sentence, men going out of prison stigmatized as felons by having been sentenced to what was equivalent to transportation, would have the remotest chance in this over-peopled country of obtaining employment? Would they have a chance of recovering their character? Would they not, when turned out of gaol, be driven by sheer necessity to seek the company of their former associates? Would they not recur with tenfold activity to their former wicked habits? On the contrary, by sending those men to Van Diemen's Land, it gave the free population an incentive to excel them in moral conduct, while their example would in turn improve the character of the convict population, particularly in a country where the climate was good, the means of subsistence were ample, and there was plenty of room for employment. He thought that few people would advocate a material diminution in the amount of convicts sentenced to transportation. If, then, they were not to send out convicts to Van Diemen's Land, and shut out the other Colonies, he would ask, in what manner they proposed to dispose of those convicts? It was very easy to say "we will establish a new penal Colony;" but it was exceedingly difficult to carry such intention into effect. Many things were required to establish a proper penal settlement. In the first place, security was required—a position not too close to a tropical climate; a country not inhabited, and a fertile soil; all those requirements it would be exceedingly difficult to obtain, and even if found, in his opinion it would not be suitable for the purpose. For in his judgment, the notion of sending convicts to a purely penal Colony would be fatal to the system of penal punishment; for at the expiration of the term of transportation, what would become of them? They must establish, in that case, a Colony which must never be refreshed by the presence of an unconvicted man. Let a distant land be taken for the purpose of security, and let it be converted into a large prison; and, passing by the obvious evils of such a state of things, when the convicts were released from confinement, what would or what could become of them? Constituted as such a settlement would be without a free population amid which they could gradually absorb themselves, what could become of them? He would take the case of Norfolk Island alone, and appeal to his noble Friend on the cross benches (the Duke of Rich- mond), who knew the strong feeling in the Colonies, and know the difficulties which existed in providing, even upon the smallest scale, for the convicts who were sent from Parkhurst and Pentonville, and who had gone out under no restriction except that they were not to return again to their native country. The Government had acted as it had done, because they considered that beneficial effects arose from the mixed community of a free and convict population. They considered that great advantages would accrue to the convict, because he was gradually led from a state in which he suffered the severest penalties, and introduced into the society of a free population, under the surveillance of the magistrates and police, and thus enabled to return to honest habits while he was under certain control, which prevented him from feeling the consequences of a too sudden transition from ignominious punishment to total freedom. It would be, in his opinion, inexpedient to comply with the prayer of the memorialists, for the reasons he had stated, and because such compliance could not be made without an alteration in the entire penal system. He would compare our system of penal discipline with that maintained in a neighbouring country; and he believed that there was nothing which had led to so much general complaint in France as the return of 8,000 convicts, who it was apprehended would contaminate society, and be productive of much social evil. If then the return of 8,000 convicts was to be so much dreaded in a country of such large extent as France, how much greater would be the evil, and how much more serious apprehensions were to be entertained from pouring back upon an overburdened population like this, a body of 50,000 convicts? Her Majesty's Government were convinced that the present system was productive of many advantages to the convicts, because they were gradually absorbed among the free population in the neighbouring Colonies, and at the expiration of their terms of imprisonment, from the contiguity of those places, and the ready means of access, were enabled to suit their labour to whatever demand might exist for that labour in other Colonies. Her Majesty's Government had recently formed a new Colony in the north of New South Wales, under regulations which would enable the convicts to migrate to other parts of that country when there might be a demand for their labour. It was intended that a number of those convicts who had reached the most advanced, that was, the lightest stage of penal discipline, should go to that Colony, where they would be furnished with provisions for a limited period, and also a portion of land. They would also be permitted, if they thought proper, after a certain interval, to emigrate to the adjoining Colonies, and become the servants of the outlying population of those Colonies. The class of convicts who would be sent to this new Colony (Port Essington) would be those who, when they arrived there, would be in the position of having received a conditional pardon. He assured their Lordships that no subject had been more anxiously considered by the Members of Her Majesty's Government and himself, than the present question. They had taken every step within their power to relieve the financial difficulties of the Colonies, and to improve the social and moral system of the convicts, a great part of the moral effect of which depended upon their admixture with a free population, and the contiguity to some other country in which the labour of the liberated convicts might be made available. He would be slow to speak in other but respectful terms of the motives which had actuated the petitioners; but he could not help saying, that their financial embarrassments at the present moment had led them to attribute much of what they had complained of to the presence of convicts among them, when in fact they were owing to other causes. The petitioners had alleged that property had been deteriorated in value to the extent of one-half in consequence of the Colony being a penal settlement; but were noble Lords aware that in New South Wales it was stated that property had been depreciated in value two-thirds by the loss of convict labour? Thus it appeared that there were two arguments adduced—one against the admission of convicts, and another in their favour. The real cause of the depreciation of property could be traced to the fact that both Colonies shared in a portentous, unhealthy, and insane system of speculation—that after a short time public credit began to be shaken, and money had to be raised to meet engagements, at an enormous sacrifice. This of course caused a disorganization in commercial matters; and to that cause, and not to either the presence or absence of convicts, was to be traced the distress that had prevailed, and which had been instanced as an argument in favour of the prayer of the memorialists. He was glad to say that New South Wales was recovering from the depression thus produced; and he hoped that it would not be long before Van Diemen's Land would also recover from its effects. The noble Lord opposite (the Marquess of Lansdowne) had stated that 700 persons had been obliged to emigrate from Van Diemen's Land. [The Marquess of LANSDOWNE: A much larger number; say 1,400 within six months.] He (Lord Stanley) would admit that 1,400 persons had emigrated, or as many more as the noble Marquess wished; but it should be borne in mind that a great increase of capital had taken place in South Australia, and that there had consequently been a proportionate demand for labour, which accounted for the emigration, which was to be attributed to the desire to obtain a higher rate of remuneration in another and more prosperous Colony. He thanked their Lordships for the kindness with which they had heard him; and he entreated the House to consider well before it made a serious change, and that before it altered that system, and condemned the existing system, it would well calculate and consider what system it was prepared to substitute. He begged of the House not to condemn, but to amend what they might deem deficient—not to destroy one system, until they had found another which would not only be equally advantageous for Van Diemen's Land, but be a system which would also relieve this country from the immense mass of contamination which the pouring back of a large number of convicts would inevitably occasion, and one which would be equally successful in giving to those convicts a chance of being reformed by discipline, and ultimately of entering upon an honest course of life in a country which could afford them a fair return for their labour.


said, that as his noble Friend had appealed to him to say, whether he was not aware of the difficulty found in providing employment for persons sent to the Colonies from Pentonville prison, he would trouble their Lordships with a few words. He was no longer a Commissioner of Pentonville prison; but while he was, he made it his duty to inquire into the subject; and he knew that when men went abroad with a good character from that prison, they were received by the people with derision, and could hardly get any employment at all. There were prejudices against them, which, however, were now wearing away, and he hoped that the Colonists would now find them good and efficient servants. Cordially agreeing with all that his noble Friend (Lord Stanley) had stated, he should not have risen but for the purpose of mentioning these facts.


, who was very inaudible in the gallery, said, that nothing more was left to him to do than state to their Lordships the course that had been pursued since the noble Lord had quitted the colonial department. It was proper that he should state, in the first place, to the noble Lord opposite, who seemed to have misunderstood some of the points under consideration, that the first of the printed Papers laid on the Table of the House, which was a despatch from Sir Eardley Wilmot, the Governor of Van Diemen's Land, had been adopted by his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary as the basis of the proposed change about to be carried into effect. The subject naturally divided itself into two parts. The first was the moral and social state of the convicts at Van Diemen's Land. The second was the financial and economical considerations affecting the whole system as regarded the convicts. With respect to the moral and social part of this question, he (Lord Lyttelton) was not prepared to adopt the view taken by the noble Lord, that the probation system had proved beneficial. He was, however, not prepared to maintain a contrary opinion. The despatches on the Table asserted the system to be beneficial, and in so far the Government was prepared to adopt it. So far, indeed, as they could come to any conclusion from Sir E. Wilmot's despatches, the probation system must be held to be a good one. The returns from the different jails for the preceding and former years threw very little light upon the conduct of the convicts. He found that in a given number of passholders, who had been released from the probation gangs, and had sought other employment, there was manifested a slight improvement. Of the number of passholders thus removed, there was a proportion of fifty-four per cent who were shown to have committed no social or moral offence. He quite admitted that the information possessed on these topics was very scanty, and that much fuller knowledge was required respecting the moral and social condition of the convict classes of Van Diemen's Land. The Government had, however, directed this information to be collected and sent home, and when received it should be laid before their Lord- ships. With respect to the general complaints of the petitions with regard to the great influx of convicts into Van Diemen's Land, he was prepared to state that the Government entertained a belief that some of the allegations could not be denied. It was, however, certain, that if the Despatches and Papers, laid on the Table of the House were examined, it would be found—and the noble Lord (Lord Stanley) had not noticed the fact—that in regard to financial, economical and general moral results, very many of the grounds of complaint urged in the petition would be found to have been removed. He was prepared to state, with respect to the general allegation as to the hardship of selecting from amongst the whole of the Australian possessions one single spot, in order to concentrate upon it the convict population of the Empire, that this complaint had deeply impressed the Government by its justice, and had created a very strong anxiety to provide a remedy. He was enabled to state that the Government was prepared to depart from the rigid practice inferred by the noble Lord, and also to hold out a hope that the system adopted during the last few years of confining the transportation of convicts to Van Diemen's Land and Norfolk Island alone, would be relaxed. The Government entertained the strongest feelings upon this subject, and, without going into details, he would say his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary was about to see whether an attempt to abandon the system referred to might not be made with safety, and even with advantage, to the Colony. Their Lordships might have seen from the Papers before referred to, that application had been made from the other settlements in Australia, to receive from Van Diemen's Land a number of those convicts who had become passholders, who were nevertheless in a state of punishment. The demand for labour in New South Wales was so great as to have induced Sir G. Gipps, the Governor there, to apply for leave to transfer passholders from Van Diemen's Land thither; and under these circumstances it was, that the change of system was under the consideration of Her Majesty's Government. He begged to apologize to their Lordships for the vagueness and generalisms to which he was necessarily confined in dealing with the important subject before them. He could only assure them that the whole question was under the anxious consideration of his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary; and if, during the course of the Session, any new facts should transpire, or any decided steps should be taken, their Lordships might depend upon being made acquainted with them in due course.


entirely concurred in some of the observations which had fallen from the noble Lord who had just sat down, and augured much good from the course upon which the Government had entered; but he could not at the same time declare himself satisfied with the statements made by the noble Lord as to the views entertained by Her Majesty's Ministers upon the important subject under consideration. The noble Lord had not denied the statements in the petition presented by his noble Friend. The case of those petitioners was deserving of the serious consideration of that House. The noble Lord held out a hope that relief might be expected by them, in so far as the burdens imposed upon Van Diemen's Land by the present system of transportation were concerned. That, however, he was disposed to regard as the smallest part of the grievance of which they complained. He considered that part of their case which related to the effects of the system of transportation on colonial society to be the greatest and most important feature in it; and from that evil no relief, it appeared, was to be expected. From all that their Lordships had heard it was quite clear that great evils arose to colonial society from the system of transportation; and he did not think that to continue a system which inflicted those frightful evils could be called acting justly or fairly towards the Colonies. There was no doubt that the difficulties of the subject were very great; but if they continued to send convicts to Van Diemen's Land, they would find that those evils would daily be aggravated and become worse, because so long as they retained that system the proportion of convicts to free settlers would every hour become greater, and the chances of an improvement in the general state of society there would diminish. The noble Lord opposite (Lord Stanley) said the system could not be done away with. He (Earl Grey) was prepared to express his opinion that the system of transportation to a penal Colony, as at present in operation, could and ought to be done away with; and that was an opinion which he had long entertained. No answer had ever been made to the frightful picture of the evils of the present system of transportation which had been drawn by the most reverend prelate the Archbishop of Dublin in a former Session. The Legislature and the Government of Great Britain had no right to create at the other end of the world such a society as was thus established by means of the transportation system. What were they to do if they continued the existing system? The plan of employing the convicts in gangs had been already objected to. The employment of gangs had been the result of giving up the principle of assignment. They had heard of the rejection of the system of assignment by the Government; and he would ask any man who had read the evidence before the Committee of the House of Commons on that subject, to say if it were possible that the system of assignment could ever again be resorted to? He (Earl Grey) believed that it was possible for the Government to adopt a plan by which part of the system of transportation might be retained, and the evils which accompanied the existing system prevented. There were two objects to be effected under the present system by the transportation of a convict; namely, in the first place, the punishment of the convict while under charge of the Government; and after that period of punishment had expired, the relief of this country from the presence of the convict. Now he considered it a great mistake that, in our treatment of convicts, we did not sufficiently separate those objects; and he believed that a very great advantage might be obtained by their more perfect and entire separation. The penal labour to which the convict was sentenced ought to be undergone in this country, and the transportation might follow the labour. His noble Friend opposite had truly said that it was impossible to establish a good system of penal labour, where the persons whose business it was to superintend and regulate that labour, could not reply to a communication of the Government in less than twelve months from the time at which the communication had been forwarded. That was felt to be the case as regarded Van Diemen's Land; and those difficulties could not be avoided in a case where such a lengthened period must elapse before a reply could be obtained to a regulation of the Government at home, or a communication from the Colony to the Secretary of State. He (Earl Grey) believed that the system of penal labour ought to be proceeded with under the eyes of the Government, and the exile might commence at the period when that penal labour concluded, when the convicts had so far been trained to industrious and sober habits. It was true that there might be a reluctance on the part of the colonists to receive the convict at the end of his sentence of penal labour; but it was quite evident that it would be better to send such a man to a Colony after the expiration of his sentence of penal labour, than to remove him before that period of labour had commenced. He felt it his duty to make those observations while that subject was before their Lordships, and to call their attention to the importance of making every improvement possible in the present system: for it was most desirable that the faults which had hitherto existed in connexion with the system should be removed. He thought the present system of transportation had altogether failed in answering the purpose of a proper secondary punishment; and he should repeat it, that he did not think we had a right to inflict those serious evils which had been complained of in a distant quarter of the globe. It was objectionable on moral as well as other grounds, and those evils ought not to be allowed to continue.


said, he would trouble their Lordships with a very few remarks on this subject. He agreed generally with the noble Earl opposite, who had alluded to the effects of transportation, and had shown some of the great, and, as he believed, insuperable evils connected with the present system. But those statements did not make good the case of the noble Earl with reference to this petition; for the petition asked for peculiar redress for peculiar evils. Whereas he (the Bishop of Oxford) believed the evil to be a general evil inherent in our system of transportation; and they might lay down very good rules for the future conduct of that system, but that would not in any way afford relief to the Colony in its present necessities. In order to meet the prayer of the petitioners they must find some vent for the surplus convict population they had already consigned to Van Diemen's Land. As far as regarded some general alteration as needful, he concurred in the general principles stated by the noble Earl opposite. He considered that transportation, as it had been conducted in this country since the commencement of the present century, had been a great curse to the world, and a great reproach to this nation. He called upon noble Lords to remember that when our first penal settlements were established we sent out vast bodies of convicts, with large detachments of soldiers to watch them, because we knew they were regardless of social obligations—that we sent out medical men to attend to their bodily necessities; but in our first scheme did not provide for so much as one religious instructor of any kind or class whatever to watch over their moral progress. Knowing, as we knew, or ought to have known, that evil was always a fermenting principle—knowing that to associate persons of vicious habits, increased instead of diminishing the evil—we were ready to consign convicts to a distant part of the earth with no moral supervision and instruction. After the long voyage which was necessary before those convicts could reach the penal settlement, during which every evil which characterized one man might be communicated to all the rest, they were to be set down in a strange country to found a new people, without having in themselves any one principle of moral regeneration or of spiritual healing. Of this character was the conduct which we pursued in founding the first penal Colonies; and we had reaped as we had sowed. The result of the course which we had adopted was now to be witnessed. It was impossible to hear or read of the state of things in the quarter of the world to which he referred, without shame and deep sorrow. They found that there, in common with the English name, had sprung up the most deep and horrible moral pollution—that vices which Christianity had almost banished from the earth were there flourishing in rankness and evil abundance—that the tone of society was altogether lowered—and that even those who were recovered in a great measure from the particular sins of their progenitors, exhibited in other respects no great moral improvement. They found a state of society in which chastity was rare among the women, and purity a stranger to the men. This had been the result of their present system of transportation; and how would this country be repaid for its policy? Most undoubtedly those who believed in a Moral Governor of the universe would admit that in some way or other such evils, if continued, would be visited in vengeance upon those by whom they were knowingly committed. It might be that they were nursing up in that remote part of the world a nation of future pirates, who would cramp and destroy the energies of their commerce—it might be that at their hands, through India, this country would be punished; for that punishment must come upon a nation which would seed the earth with iniquity, those who believed in the moral government of the world could not for an instant doubt. He for one, therefore, thanked the noble Lord who lately held office as Secretary for the Colonies (Lord Stanley) for the speech he had made that night, and for his statement that Her Majesty's then Government had seen the great importance of giving moral and religious instruction to the convicts who were sent out from this country. He rejoiced at the manner in which that announcement had been received by their Lordships. He was much gratified to hear many of the announcements of that noble Lord, who had made his statement with wonderful clearness. He could not, however, concur in all the plans which the noble Lord announced he had entertained an intention of bringing forward at the time he was at the head of the Colonial Office. He (the Bishop of Oxford) wished to call their Lordships' attention to one extraordinary principle asserted by the noble Lord—that the prevalence of vice among the convicts in the penal Colonies tended to raise the standard of virtue among the free population. This appeared to him the most monstrous paradox ever propounded. Were they to be told that crime would be prevented by presenting continually before the eyes of men vice—not in chains, in fetters, or in punishment, but prosperous and triumphant—by showing them vicious men acquiring large estates, and so far influencing the tone of society, that a man high in professional life did not dare, at a public dinner, to confess that he had not gone out as a convict, because he was ashamed that he could not in that respect claim a fellow feeling with those who were around him? To maintain that society constituted on such a footing as this, where vice was triumphant, could be reformed by that very fact, was, in his opinion, a position utterly untenable. He had always hitherto heard that the best means of preventing vice from extending was to keep it out of sight. He had hitherto thought that the best mode of preserving the purity of their own families was not to lead them to the haunts of vice and licentiousness, but to prevent them from witnessing such scenes, for that the mere knowledge of evil implied a certain measure of contamination. He could not for a moment entertain the opinion, that by exhibiting triumphant vice in their Colonies, they were tending to improve the moral condition of the community. But the noble Lord had told them that his proposition for the relief of Van Diemen's Land was to found a new settlement, not strictly penal, in the northern part of Australia. They must remember that the convicts sent to such a settlement would receive rations from the Government, and that those who were unable to purchase land in order to establish themselves would obtain it gratuitously; and they would necessarily be placed in a much better position, and on a much better footing, than men of virtuous character in the districts in which they were located. He fully concurred in the opinion of the noble Earl opposite (Earl Grey), that our strictly penal discipline could be managed better, more safely, more cheaply, more certainly, at home; that at home we could better provide for the separation of criminals whom it might be deemed advisable to keep apart; that we should there have them more constantly under our eye, and should consequently be better able to adopt an efficient system of moral restraint. This, in his opinion, could be done much better at home than abroad. But then came the question—what was to be done with these men when they had become better fitted for social life? There, he thought, the system of transportation might rightly be resorted to. After the convicts had suffered their punishment at home, the object should be to give them an opportunity of recovering their character. That they could hardly do at home. He considered, therefore, that our penal Colonies ought to be receptacles for the men who, having suffered their punishment at home, went thither to gain new characters, and thus we might make them the pioneers of civilization. It seemed to him that this course had already been marked out by Providence. The first settlers in any land had to undergo privations which after-settlers were not compelled to encounter; and he thought they were justified in saying to men who had lost their character and had suffered the punishment of their crimes, "You shall incur those penalties which Providence and nature have imposed upon the first settlers in a new country, the risk of health, the suffering from bodily labour, and those other inconveniences of every kind which attend such enterprizes. You shall have an opportunity of regaining your character, but you shall establish the possibility of living for those free colonists who may hereafter be sent out to profit by your labour." He considered that it was most advisable to combine these two principles—to inflict the punishment, and seek to work the reformation at home, and then to give to the convicts an opportunity of establishing their characters in a new land. He considered that, by the adoption of such principles, transportation might be made a great blessing by removing from this country men who, though reformed, might, if they remained here, again lapse into crime—by establishing outlets for free labour in those Colonies, which might be rendered fit dwelling-places for civilized men—and by allowing them to temper the administration of their law with mercy, by not inflicting capital punishment upon those who could not again be let loose upon society in this country. So, by peopling the earth, not with the foulest specimens of humanity, but with those who, he hoped, would reproduce their race in something of its original greatness and nobleness, they might confess the faults of the past, and venture upon the experiment of the future. Conducted on such principles as these, he thought they might render the system of transportation worthy of this great country, and a blessing to the world in which they were placed.


replied: He was aware that his noble Friend (Lord Stanley) had, in 1841, introduced a regulation excluding transportation from the whole of Australia, and concentrating it upon Van Diemen's Land. He believed the view then entertained by his noble Friend was, that though it might not be practicable altogether to do away with transportation, that mode of punishment might be considerably limited. He was extremely happy to have in support of his views the testimony and arguments of the right rev. Prelate who had with so much eloquence and force, and in a manner so becoming, adverted to those topics which had naturally attracted attention in the course of this debate. Perhaps the views which he (the Marquess of Lansdowne) entertained on this subject, were the same as those which had led to the experiment at Pentonville, which had been so successful. He hoped that, by an improved system of prison discipline, persons who had undergone preliminary punishment might be qualified for transportation afterwards, and might become comparatively useful members of society in new communities. He believed that, so far as the experiment had been tried at Pentonville, the prisoners who had been sent out to our Colonies had been among the best, the most orderly, and the most promising settlers.

After a few words from Lord Lyttelton and the Bishop of Oxford in explanation,

Petition ordered to lie on the Table.

House adjourned.