HL Deb 14 March 1850 vol 109 cc852-80

rose to move the Second Reading of the Convict Prisons Bill, and said: The Bill, my Lords, which I now move to read a second time, is a Bill for the better management and government of Convict Prisons. The prisons to which it refers are the prison of Parkhurst, a prison set apart for the reformation of juvenile offenders under the direction and control of visitors appointed by Her Majesty in Council—the prison of Pentonville, under the government and superintendence of Commissioners appointed by the same authority—the prison of Millbank, under the control of visitors appointed by the Secretary of State for the Home Department—and the hulks and the establishment at the Isle of Portland, under the government of persons appointed by the Secretary of State, to exercise the powers formerly exercised under the Transportation Act by the Superintendent of Convicts. These prisons now contain 5,400 convicts, sentenced to various periods of transportation, and are, as your Lordships will perceive, under the control and management of four separate and distinct authorities. As every one of these establishments is maintained for the safe custody and punishment of persons sentenced to transportation, and as it is considered to be of the first importance that there should be concert among the governing powers, and an uniformity of system for the management of the convicts, it has been found that a division of authority is inconvenient, and prejudicial to the public service. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department has therefore made arrangements for practically uniting this divided authority in the same hands, in order to secure the necessary co-operation between these different establishments, and unity of system. This is effected by giving to the same individuals appointments under the different Acts of Parliament relating to the prisons of Parkhurst, Pentonville, Millbank, and Portland, and the hulks; but this mode of accomplishing unity of management is incorrect and irregular, and it is only a temporary expedient adopted until a more satisfactory and permanent system can be established by passing the present Bill, the object of which is to place these different prisons under a board of visitors to be appointed for that purpose. In stating the grounds upon which I recommend this alteration of the law to your Lordships, I may be permitted to premise that the experiment of the prison at Pentonville—for that prison was at first nothing but an experiment—was placed under the superintendence and control of certain persons of great weight and influence. The Commissioners of Pentonville consisted of distinguished Members of both Houses of Parliament, and of professional gentlemen of the highest character and reputation. Two of the Commissioners were Members of your Lordships' House. I do not see them now in their places; but they were the Duke of Richmond and Lord Chichester—who both of them took great pains and afforded most valuable assistance in the management of that prison. The prison of Pentonville, as most of your Lordships are well aware, has now been open for more than seven years, and is therefore now no longer an experiment. Those Commissioners who first undertook the voluntary office of superintending it have gradually withdrawn their attendance from it; and it is the object of this Bill to substitute for them public officers more directly responsible to the Secretary of State. But it must not be supposed that Her Majesty's Government have been influenced by any idea that the services of the Commissioners had been ineffective. On the contrary, I am happy to be able to declare that their services have boon of the highest value, and that the public is deeply indebted to them for the zeal and assiduity which they displayed. Their authority, however, will now be at an end; and the prison of Pentonville will fall under the general regulations for the government of the prisons for the detention of convicts sentenced to transportation. As the object of this Bill, my Lords, is to provide for the management of these prisons to one or other of which all offenders sentenced to transportation will be sent, and thus to ensure a better and more uniform execution of the sentence of transportation, I think it is right that I should state briefly what the mode of carrying that punishment into execution has been and now really is.

I think that all your Lordships will admit that no subject is of greater importance than that of secondary punishments. On the efficiency of those punishments depends the authority of the law and the good order and tranquillity of society. To have a good system of secondary punishments is, therefore, an object of primary importance. The difficulty, however, of obtaining such a system is at least equal to its importance. It has been felt, and it is still felt, in every country of the world, and under every form of government, that the question how to dispose of offenders is a constant subject of perplexity and difficulty. The utmost that we can expect is this—that by watching the operation of the secondary punishments which have been adopted as tie best which experience has suggested, and introducing from time to time improvements where we see defects, we may arrive at last at a satisfactory result after a long series of experiments, all tending to progressive amelioration. To suppose that we can arrive at perfection at once by any sudden effort of legislation, is, in my opinion, as wild and visionary an idea as ever entered into the imagination of man. This process of gradual improvement in the system of punishment has been going on in this country for many years, and more especially since an inquiry was instituted into it by a Committee of the House of Commons in the year 1838. That Committee sat during two Sessions of Parliament, and the result of its investigations was of the very highest importance. It opened the eyes of Parliament and the public to the existence of an enormous mass of evils of a frightful character, the existence of which before was not even suspected, and it led to the general conviction of the absolute necessity of an early and complete reformation of the system. Very soon after the reports of that Committee were published, as a first step in the right direction the prison of Pentonville was erected as an experimental prison. Shortly afterwards directions were given by the Government at home for the discontinuance in the colonies of the assignment system, which had previously prevailed there. In the year 1840 this step was followed up by an Order in Council, issued by the advice of my noble Friend Lord J. Russell, then Secretary of State for the Colonies, whereby the colony of New South Wales ceased to be a place for the transportation of convicts. It was not, however, till the year 1841 that the assignment of convicts was practically discontinued; and in the following year the noble Lord opposite, who was then Secretary of State for the Colonies (Lord Stanley), issued full instructions as to the regulations under which convicts were to be placed when sent, in pursuance of the sentence of transportation, to Van Diemen's Land. Those instructions were the same in principle with those which have since been substituted for them. The mode of applying the principle differed indeed from that which has since been adopted, but the principle of the instructions of the noble Lord is substantially the same with that of the existing regulations. The principle was that persons sentenced to transportation should ultimately become free in the colony to which they were transported, after having undergone penal labour under the control of the Government for a certain period of time proportioned partly to the severity of their sentence, and partly to their good conduct while under punishment. The system imposed a certain minimum amount of punishment upon all; but at the same time left open to all a prospect of ameliorating their condition by good conduct and regular obedience. I think, my Lords, that to the principle of those instructions no objection can be fairly taken; but certainly in practice the measure founded upon them was a failure. And I think that it was a failure owing to these reasons: first, that there were no adequate means in Van Diemen's Land for carrying it properly into effect; there were neither suitable and sufficient buildings nor properly qualified officers to superintend the operation of the system then adopted; and, secondly, and principally, because too large a number of convicts had been sent out to that colony. When my noble Friend Lord J. Russell advised that New South Wales should cease to be used as a place for the punishment of convicts, it was his intention to revert to the former practice of the country, that is, only to remove to a penal colony a small proportion of the convicts sentenced to transportation, and to keep the remainder in the hulks or other prisons at home. But in the year 1841 resolutions were carried in the House of Commons against the Government of the day, and condemnatory of the retention in this country of convicts sentenced to transportation. In consequence, a vast number of convicts were poured into Van Diemen's Land and Norfolk Island; and those settlements were compelled to endure, as they best might, the undue number so suddenly cast upon them. As a proof this I will only mention to you, my Lords, that the whole number of male convicts who arrived in Van Diemen's Land in the five years ending with the close of the year 1840, did not exceed 7,942; whereas, in the five years from that time to the close of 1845, the number of male convicts transported there was not less than 17,637. The arrival of this large number of convicts not only broke down all the arrangements which had been made for the safe custody and superintendence of the convicts in the island, but it also so glutted the labour market that the easy means by which convicts on becoming entitled to tickets of leave or conditional pardons had formerly been able to obtain subsistence for themselves by honest labour, ceased to be available, and thus that which had really constituted the chief recommendation of transportation was entirely lost. The convicts who had acquired the privilege of discharge from the probation gangs were obliged to return to hiring depôts which it was necessary to establish, because they were unable to procure labour from private individuals. This led to a state of things which was absolutely frightful. The reward to which convicts in the gangs had been accustomed to look for good conduct ceased to be one, since there was little difference between their situation in the hiring depôts and in the gangs, and thus mere coercion became the only means of maintaining discipline. This, together with the other causes I have referred to, led to a demoralisation which was shocking to contemplate; and the whole colony was thrown into confusion and disorder owing to the large number of convicts who were unable to find employment. This was the state of affairs when we, my Lords, came into office. We could not doubt the absolute necessity of the determination to which our predecessors had very properly come, to suspend trasportation to Van Diemen's Land for two years. As to that point we had no doubt; and we also came to the conclusion that any future transportation to Van Diemen's Land should not be carried on upon the old system. We thought that penal labour, previous to transportation to a distant land, should always be inflicted at home, or at Gibraltar or Bermuda, where we could command more vigilant and careful superintendence than we could by any possibility command either in Van Diemen's Land or in Norfolk Island; where abuses could not grow up without being much more promptly discovered; and, besides, we thought that that penal labour should in all cases be preceded by separate confinement for a certain period. We also thought that after enduring this punishment at home the conviots should not be sent out as convicts, but as exiles. This proposed alteration was stated by myself and by my right non. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department to this and to the other House of Parliament in the year 1847. Objections were taken to it in both Houses, and a Committee was appointed by your Lordships to investigate the matter, and to hear evidence upon it. That Gommittee collected much valuable evidence; and, at the same time, information was received from the colonies which led to the conclusion that this plan of sending out convicts as exiles was not likely to succeed, and that it would be advisable that they should rather be sent in a manner which admitted of their being placed under some control. Accordingly a modification of the original plan was determined on, and it was decided that convicts, after suffering a certain degree of punishment at home, should be sent to the colonies, not as exiles with conditional pardons, but with tickets of leave. The difference of these two states is one of great importance, to which I shall have occasion by and by to advert. The nature of the system under which it was now proposed to carry into execution the sentence of transportation was fully described by myself in a despatch dated the 17th of April, 1848, which was laid before Parliament in the course of the month of May following. The system so described is substantially that which is still in operation, though some improvements in its details have been already introduced, and others are still in contemplation. I am anxious, therefore, to call your attention, my Lords, to the views on which that system is founded, and to the results by which it has been, and by which I think it likely that it will be, attended. Ever since transportation was known to the law of England as a punishment, it has been found that mere removal from this country would not answer the object in view. For, when we know that thousands of honest and industrious labourers are not merely anxious, but absolutely eager, to go out to our colonies in the hope of bettering their condition, it is clear that removal from this country cannot by itself be a sufficient punishment to deter from crime, and, therefore, that coercion and penal labour must be added to it. Looking at the results of experience, I think it is also clear that penal labour cannot be inflicted in the colonies without greater risk than is incurred at home, of abuses arising which may remain long undiscovered. This was shown by the long continuance of abuses without detection under the assignment system, and equally so under the plan of the noble Lord opposite (Lord Stanley), which worked so differently from what he expected, but of which it is clear the evils would never have risen to the frightful pitch which they actually attained, had not the great distance of the scene where they occurred deprived the noble Lord of the means of obtaining early and accurate knowledge of the first symptoms of the failure of his measures, which would have enabled him in time to adapt them to the exigency of the case. Hence, my Lords, we concluded that the penal labour of the convict should be inflicted principally at home, where it could be more effectually superintended, where its effects would be sooner and better known, and where there were advantages for inflicting it much greater than in any colony. We thought also that part of the convict's punishment should be separate imprisonment. I need not describe to your Lordships what separate imprisonment is. There are, my Lords, a series of the most valuable reports from the Commissioners of Pentonville prison, describing the nature and results of separate confinement. There are those who, looking only to the physical condition of the prisoner, think that separate imprisonment is not a sufficient punishment. Looking at this confinement in a separate cell, which is well warned and regularly ventilated, where he is well clothed and well fed, and called upon to perform but little labour, they think that it is a very light punishment for a criminal who has been convicted of heinous crime. It has not, however, been found so in practice; on the contrary, it has been fairly tried—its chief defect has been discovered to be this—that it cannot be continued for a sufficient length of time without danger to the individual, and that human nature cannot bear it beyond a limited period. The evidence of medical authorities proves, beyond dispute, that if it is protracted beyond twelve months the health of the convict, mental and physical, would require the most close and vigilant superintendence. Eighteen months is stated to be the maximum time for the continuance of its infliction, and, as a general rule, it is advised that it should not be continued for more than twelve months. It inspires great horror and dread among those who have undergone it. There are also satisfactory grounds for believing that, as a reformatory system of discipline, it is most efficacious, and amongst those grounds I may refer to the small number of recommittals of persons who have suffered this punishment in comparison with that of those who have suffered any other species of secondary punishment. On this point I will refer you to the returns published annually on this point; but if you want other evidence, I will refer you to a pamphlet which has been recently published anonymously, but which I believe to be written by the very excellent chaplain of one of the prisons in which this system of discipline is adopted. His description of its effects, which I believe to be most just, is as follows:— But whatever may be thought of the influence of separate confinement as a means of reformation, there should be no doubt about its utility as a punishment, if not carried to an extreme. It is a most severe one, certainly…Criminals, of all men, can least bear to be alone. A thoroughly bad man, by himself, is the greatest coward, and without his accustomed stimulants the most wretched of beings. We have no hesitation, therefore, in stating that such a man would prefer even the scanty food, the vermin, and the sloth of such a place as Newgate, where he might gamble for his supper, learn new tricks, or instruct the novice, sing, play, and quarrel by turns in the night-room, than the very best treatment and the most abundant diet of a prison on the new plan. The reformatory character of such a gaol is, to such persons, an object of real terror. This point, my Lords, does not rest on the evidence of those who have watched the progress of this new punishment, and who may, therefore, be supposed to entertain a prejudice in favour of the work which they have superintended. Sir W. Denison, the authorities in New South Wales, the excellent chaplain to the convicts employed on the public works at Gibraltar, the Governor of Portland Island, every person who has to take charge of convicts after they have undergone separate imprisonment, all report that it is a most excellent punishment for inspiring dread, and for producing a desire of reformation on the part of the prisoner. The concurrence of the authorities on this point is most satisfactory and conclusive. For this reason, my Lords, it is proposed that all convicts sentenced to transportation shall undergo a greater or less period of separate imprisonment. While the prison at Pentonville was only an experiment, and there were not the means elsewhere of inflicting the punishment, this could not be done, and only a limited number of convicts selected from the whole body could be so treated. But while this was the case, whatever advantage might be derived from the discipline of Pentonville in the reformation of the particular convicts sent there, it is obvious that it could have little effect in deterring from crimes. In order that it should produce its full effect in this respect, it is necessary that all convicts sentenced to transportation should undergo a certain period of separate imprisonment. Means now exist for this. In addition to the establishment at Pentonville, part of the Penitentiary at Millbank has been fitted up with separate cells, and arrangements have been made with the magistrates of several of the county prisons, whereby a number of their cells will be at the disposal of Her Majesty's Government. There are now 2,000 cells placed in this manner at the disposal of the Government, and this arrangement will enable us to apply the system of separate imprisonment to the average number of convicts sentenced each year to transportation. After undergoing this separate imprisonment, it is proposed that the convicts shall be employed for a certain period on penal labour on the public works, either in this country, or at Gibraltar, or at Bermuda. I know, my Lords, that there are objections, and strong and plausible objections, against the employment of convicts on public works. When we reflect on what the hulks were, and to a certain degree still are, in this country—when we look at the galleys in France—and when we turn our eyes to the road-gangs in some of our colonies, I am not surprised that objection is taken against the association of convicts in gangs on the public works. But it does not appear to me to be proved that such abuses as have existed in the cases I have mentioned, are of necessity inseparable from the infliction of forced labour on offenders; and, at all events, the means of inflicting adequate punishment for serious offences without such labour, have not hitherto been discovered. It is absolutely necessary, my Lords, that you should keep these convicts under coercion for some time after they emerge from separate confinement; that imprisonment, I have stated, cannot be prolonged beyond twelve or at most eighteen months, and this would obviously not be sufficient in itself for aggravated crimes, especially where a convict has perhaps narrowly escaped the punishment of death. Such a person it would be wrong to set at liberty, either at home or in the colonies, after only eighteen months separate imprisonment; it is, therefore, indispensable that farther punishment should be inflicted, which, in the present state of our knowledge, can only be effected by a system of forced labour. I am happy to believe that, by judicious regulations, coercion and imprisonment of this kind may be successfully carried on. The first judicious attempts to improve the system of managing convicts employed on public works, was made some years ago at Bermuda. Under the direction of the engineer officers in charge of the works in that island, there has been gradually established a system of taskwork, which has been most effectual in stimulating industry on the part of the convicts. My Lords, when you have made convicts industrious, you have not done all that you want and ought to do, but you have accomplished a good deal. When you have succeeded in making them work hard, you have made a great step towards improvement. Idleness, it has often been said, is the mother of all mischief, and this is more especially true as to convicts; they have very generally been seduced into crime by their love of idleness and their hatred of continuous labour; and I believe that when they find the consequence of crime is to subject them to continuous labour of a much harder character than that to which an honest man is subject, the result cannot but be the most beneficial. Besides, when a convict has been engaged in and fatigued by hard labour during the whole day, he will not be inclined, when his hour of rest arrives, to pass his time in immoral conversation, or to indulge in other demoralising habits. Hence when you shall have succeeded in making the labour of the convict really hard work, you will have made a decided step to his improvement. The system of taskwork, by which the industry of convicts is powerfully stimulated, I have already informed your Lordships, was first enforced at Bermuda; it has since been extended to other penal establishments. But, my Lords, much more must be done in addition to this, and much more, I am happy to say, is in progress for the moral reformation of the convicts. Greater exertions must be made for their instruction, moral and religious. The noble Lord on the opposite benches (Lord Stanley) added largely to the means of such instruction by the arrangements which he made for sending additional religious instructors to take charge of the transported convicts in Van Dieman's Land. From the failure of the noble Lord's measure in other respects, this increase in the means of religious instruction was less useful than was expected; but yet I feel certain that if these unfortunate men are placed under proper instruction, both moral and religious, and if such regulations are enforced among them as will stimulate industry, much greater reformation than any we have yet witnessed may be accomplished among them. The great difficulty with which we have hitherto had to combat has arisen from the want of adequate buildings for the proper custody of convicts. The hulks are utterly unsuitable for this purpose, and must always be most objectionable as prisons; first, because they are very costly, far more so than any prisons on shore, and next, because from their confined space, and the difficulty of preventing communication, they are unfitted for any system of proper prison discipline, I therefore hope that in a few years more they may be discarded. Many of the convicts employed on the public works at Gibraltar have accommodation found for them on shore; and at Portland a new prison has been erected for their reception. A few days ago, my Lords, I laid upon your table a report on the state of that prison. I recommend that report to your attention. From the unavoidable delay of the printer in completing the plans, it has not yet been delivered to you, but as soon as it is in your hands, I recommend its perusal. The prison at Portland is one of the prisons to the management of which this Bill applies. The first time convicts were sent there was in November, 1848. They were employed at first in completing those portions of the prison which had not been entirely finished. In the July of last year, however, the preliminary operations were so far completed, that the convicts could be sent to the quarries, where they will now be regularly employed. You are no doubt aware, my Lords, that the construction of a harbour of refuge at the Isle of Portland has long been considered an object of national importance. The commissioners who were appointed some years ago to inquire into the expediency of constructing harbours of refuge along our coasts, reported that Portland was one of the situations in which a harbour of refuge was most wanted, both for the purposes of war in times of war, and for commercial purposes in times of peace. The Isle of Portland offers also the advantage of affording great facilities for keeping the prisoners, when on the works, entirely isolated from the population of the place. I believe that the breakwater, of which the construction is required for the harbour of refuge, would have been deferred for many years, had it not been for the facility of employing upon it convict labour. The labour on that breakwater was just the labour suited for men in the unhappy condition of these convicts. The first set of labourers was sent to the quarries last year; and now, out of 800 convicts confined in Portland, 500 have been sent to the quarries to raise stone for the construction of this harbour of refuge, the remainder being employed on various works for the completion and maintenance of the prison and buildings belonging to it. The result of the system established in the prison at Portland has thus far been most satisfactory; the amount of labour actually performed has been quite as great as could be expected; discipline has been perfectly maintained, and the conduct of the prisoners has been so good, that in only one instance has corporal punishment been inflicted on any of their number, with the exception of some men brought from the hulks, and immediately removed from the island on account of their riotous and insubordinate behaviour. I hope, my Lords, that before long it will be demonstrated that convicts may be employed on public works in such a manner as to render their labour not merely a portion of their punishment, but beneficial both to society and themselves. We cannot, however, altogether discontinue the infliction of penal labour in the colonies; for although the great proportion of the convicts are capable of being reclaimed, and rendered useful members of society, yet there is still a small percentage of convicts on whom neither separate imprisonment, nor any other secondary punishment, produces the slightest impression. It has been found that the best mode of dealing with such refractory convicts, is to send them to Norfolk Island. I have come to that conclusion with great reluctance, and after grave consideration. I know all the danger of sending the worst of our criminal convicts to a remote island far out of our sight and superintendence; but over some men the removal to such a distance, and the confinement in such a place, out of sight, and almost out of mind, exercises a great and salutary influence, and, moreover, the dread of being so sent, produces a good effect on those who are employed on the public works. It is, therefore, intended that the small proportion of convicts who may be expected to prove otherwise unmanageable shall be sent to Norfolk island; but, judging from experience, it is hoped that the number will not exceed between one and two per cent of the whole body. But there is another circumstance which will also create a necessity for making provision for subjecting some convicts to penal labour in the colonies. I have mentioned that in future convicts are in general to be sent to the colonies not with conditional pardons, but with tickets of leave, the essential difference between the two is, that convicts with tickets of leave can at once, in case of misconduct, be brought back under punishment; hence, in all colonies to which convicts are sent with tickets of leave, there must be penal establishments to which they may be remanded as a punishment. But, with the exceptions which I have just mentioned, the more experience we have, the more clear appears to me the expediency of inflicting that part of the punishment of transportation which insists of penal labour, under the eye of the Government, in order that improvements in the system should be made as soon as possible after their necessity became obvious. Still I think that removal to a foreign land should constitute a portion of their sentence; for, although removal is by itself inadequate as a punishment, yet it is powerful as an element in the system of transportation. Even voluntary emigrants consider removal from the land of their birth as a painful resource. No man leaves the country of his birth unless he finds it difficult to maintain himself comfortably at home, and has some hope of bettering himself in another land. It is to raise himself in life, it is in the hope of raising himself above the difficulties to which his destiny consigns him at home, that a man submits, though reluctantly, to expatriation. I therefore think that removal from this country should form a part of every sentence of transportation. I find it stated in the last report from the chaplain of Pentonville prison, that it is the combination of punishments in our present system of secondary punishments that renders the punishment of transportation effectual. He says— The sentence of transportation henceforth may well strike terror into the stoutest heart, divested as it is of well-known chances of escape, and involving a course of previous discipline, penal and reformatory, distasteful beyond measure to criminals. It will come home to every class of mind. There is a surprising; diversity of feeling amongst prisoners as to the comparative degree of severity belonging to the several sorts of punishment. Therefore, that which is most uniform is also most unequal in its pressure. The adventurous young criminal, for instance, and all who have no friends or home, make very light of being sent out of the country. To many, indeed, of this class, transportation has been an object of desire, as giving them a chance of bettering their condition, or of ambition as the completion of their education in crime. But the thought to such an one of being shut up by himself for 12 or 18 months first, having only respectable and religious persons to speak to—the very sort of persons he has been fleeing from all his life—fills him with dismay. The educated and well-brought up, desiring concealment, and having mental resources, can bear the thought of seclusion for a while, and of an exile to follow, in a country where he is not known; but his heart sinks within him when he hears that, after the ordeal of separate confinement, he is to be worked at penal labour in a convict dress, and in some measure exposed to public view. Others, again, and perhaps the greater part, accustomed to labour, and contemplating the advantages to be derived from education whilst in prison, could bear both these stages of discipline with little mental or bodily suffering, to whom removal from home and country is perfectly appalling. But this is not the only nor the most important object of the removal of criminals. My Lords, I must again endeavour to impress on your Lordships that it is of the utmost importance to society that ultimate removal from England should form part of the punishment of transportation; because, owing to the circumstances in which in our crowded population criminals would be placed if enlarged here after punishment, they could not remain without being a source of inconvenience and danger. This reason for the ultimate removal of convicts is well explained in the first instructions addressed to the Commissioners of Pentonville by Sir J. Graham, when Secretary of State for the Home Department. He says— Considering the excessive supply of labour in this country, its consequent depreciation, and the fastidious rejection of all those whose character is tainted, I wish to admit no prisoner into Pentonville who is not sentenced to transportation, and who is not doomed to be transported. The convict on whom the discipline might have produced the most salutary effect, when liberated and thrown back on society here, would still be branded as a criminal, and would have an indifferent chance of a livelihood from the profitable exercise of honest industry. His degradation and his wants would soon obliterate the good impressions he might have received, and, by the force of circumstances which he could not control, he would be drawn again into his former habits—he would rejoin his old companions and renew the career of crime. Not so the convict transported from Pentonville. The chain of former habits would be broken, his early associations would be altered; a new scene would open to his view where skilled labour is in great demand, where the earnings of industry rapidly accumulate, where independence may be gained, and where the stain of tarnished character is not quite indelible. Nothing, my Lords, can he more true than the description of the convict's fate given in this extract. I believe it has been known, in more than one instance, that a convict, after having served out the term of his sentence, has gone to a distant place from that in which he committed his offence against the law, and has there endeavoured to obtain by his industry an honest and independent livelihood. But it has happened that such individuals, so disposed to return to habits of industry and honesty, have been found out by their former associates in crime, and have been immediately threatened with a disclosure of their former misconduct and transgressions unless the silence of their old confederates in crime was purchased by money; cases have been known in which these men, so desirous of avoiding a return to a life of crime, have, after submitting to repeated exactions to purchase silence, been driven perforce into rejoining their former associates. It is of the utmost importance, therefore, to the interests of society that criminals after having undergone punishment should be removed to the colonies, where they would have the chance of becoming useful members of the community; instead of remaining in this country where by the force of circumstances they would almost be driven into the commission of new crimes. It will be apparent to your Lordships that this is a matter of the most urgent necessity, when you consider the large number of men who have once been convicts now at large in Australia. From the best calculation that can he made from the various documents in the Colonial Office, it appears that there are now at large in Australia no less than 48,000 persons who have had sentence of transportation passed upon them, and this, too, in addition to those who are still under punishment, and reckoning only those who have become free, or have obtained conditional pardons. If you add those still in the condition of convicts, but not actually under punishment, It may be reckoned that there at this moment In the Australian colonies not less than 68,000 persons upon whom the sentence of transportation has been passed, and who are now living in a state of perfect or qualified freedom, and in general earning their bread by honest industry, but who would have had no resource but to fall back into the commission of crime, if removal had not been made a portion of the punishment of transportation, and they had consequently been discharged at home. This would have been not merely a great evil, but I think it a very great danger, when I remember what we have heard of the army of forçats now in existence in France, and of the part which they have taken in all the late commotions In that country. I therefore hope that removal from this country will continue to constitute a portion of the punishment of trans- portation. I believe that under a proper system it may do so, and that convicts may be sent to our colonies, not merely without disadvantage to the colonies, but with positive advantage to them. This, however, will mainly depend upon the manner in which they are sent, and I have now to call your Lordships' attention to the Importance of the change by which convicts are now to be sent out with tickets of leave instead of with conditional pardons. When they were sent out with conditional pardons, they were under no control whatever. If they fell in with their old associates on arriving in the colonics, and were in possession of a little money, they were immediately laid hold of, dragged into the public-houses, and there seduced into crime by every temptation. The convicts holding tickets of leave can be required, on their arrival in the colony, to go into the more distant parts of it. In those districts they will be obliged to go into the employment of private individuals. It is proposed that this shall be the regular system hereafter. The ticket of leave men will be required to go into the remote districts; they will be required to remain there; they will be required to take service with some respectable settler in the colony before they are allowed to pass out of the Government control. It is likewise proposed that they shall pay out of their wages a certain sum to the Government before they gain a conditional pardon. One purpose of requiring that payment is to provide a fund out of convict transportation for free emigration; but its more important object is, that of subjecting the convicts to an obligation calculated to exercise a beneficial influence over them. I have to point out to your Lordships in explanatlon of this regulation, that ever since transportation has been a punishment, the Crown has had a property in the services of the transported convict. Under the assignment system, the convict was, on his arrival in the colony, assigned over by the Crown to some colonist, who had a right to all the work which he could get out of him in return for a daily ration of food and a certain allowance of clothing. The assigned convict was thus the slave, and nothing better than the slave, of his master, in more ancient times this slavery was still more complete, for in the earlier days of transportation to Virginia, the convicts were sold by public auction to the highest bidders. Of such sales, and of the state of society which then existed in Virginia, your Lordships may remember a curious description in one of Defoe's amusing novels. In recent times in Australia the convict who was assigned to a master was hardly less a slave than if he had been thus avowedly sold as such, since he was obliged to work for the benefit of a private individual, in return for little more than that which was necessary to supply his hare necessities. This system of assignment gave rise to such grave abuses, that, when they were brought to light by the Committee of 1838, they led to a very general concurrence of opinion as to the necessity of altogether putting an end to the practice. In some cases masters made complaints against good servants who had been assigned to them, for no other reason than to monopolise to themselves the services of the convicts beyond the period when as good servants they would have been entitled to a conditional pardon. In other cases masters treated their servants with great and undue severity, and thus drove them to become bushrangers. There were also masters who gave to the convicts assigned to them very improper indulgences sometimes from corrupt motives. Cases also were not wanting in which convicts had contrived to get themselves assigned to those who had served out their sentences, and who had been previously their associates in crime in this country, and virtually escaped all punishment. Abuses of this kind undoubtedly existed to a great extent, and most justly led to the condemnation of the system; but yet it is equally true that when the convict was assigned to a good, and respectable, and intelligent master, he was placed in a situation which experience clearly proved to be highly favourable to his reformation, and in which his services were most useful to the colony. Your Lordships are probably aware that there are in New South Wales many persons in good circumstances, and some even in great wealth, who have risen out of the class of assigned convicts. I do not know whether any of your Lordships have seen a letter addressed to me on this subject by Mr. Hall, who was formerly the editor of an Australian newspaper, and has had great experience of the effects of the former convict system. His description of its working is highly interesting, and he has shown very clearly that in very many cases the practice of assignment proved highly beneficial to all parties. The object of the arrangement now adopted is to assimilate the situation of holders of tickets of leave with that of assigned servants under the old system, and yet to guard against the abuses of that system. It is with this view principally that it is proposed to require the convict to repay from his wages the cost of his conveyance to the colony. Experience has shown that it is too sudden a change for men who have been under punishment, deprived of all command of money, and compelled to labour for certain regulated supplies of food and clothing, to become at once their own masters, with the free disposal of the high wages which labour generally commands in these colonies. But, if required to proceed to the remoter districts, and to pay a certain sum from his wages, the convict will be taken away from the temptation of the towns—his command of money will be greatly diminished, and, at the same time, he will have a strong motive to industry to discharge his debt, and thus acquire his freedom. It is this, not the realising a sum of money, which is the principal object of the regulation. At the same time, my Lords, I do not hesitate to say that the mere payment of this money by the convicts, and thus increasing the fund for free emigration or public works, is calculated to be of great advantage to the colonies, whose interests we are bound to consult. The principle of this regulation was adopted, as regards passholdera, in the regulation established some years ago by the noble Lord opposite (Lord Stanley). I think that the principle of that regulation was sound, although there were some difficulties in carrying it practically into execution—difficulties which I trust will be removed by the modifications which are now proposed. Your Lordships will have already perceived that I think it of great importance that the convicts should be dispersed in the remote parts of the colonies; I certainly do think so, and would therefore disperse them, not only in the remote parts of the colonies, but also in different colonies; and it was with that view that we recently proposed to send convicts to the Cape of Good Hope, and other colonies. Our object, however, was defeated by the reluctance of those colonies to receive convicts. We thought ourselves not at liberty to overrule that reluctance in colonies which were not founded as convict colonies. We felt that colonies founded as free colonies should not be compelled to receive convicts against their will; and we were of opinion that, after the implied pledge which had been given to the colony of New South Wales, by the Order in Council of 1840, by which it was declared to be no longer a place to which convicts would be transported, that that colony could not he treated as a penal one, but must be considered as a free colony, because a large proportion of inhabitants have settled there since the date of the Order I have adverted to, and on the faith that transportation to it was to cease. But in Van Diemen's Land, in which we have expended large sums to fit it for the reception and custody of convicts, and to which the free inhabitants have gone with their eyes open, knowing it to be a convict colony, I do think that the inhabitants have no just claim upon the mother country to discontinue this use of it, thereby rendering it necessary to incur the very heavy expense of preparing some other colony for the reception of convicts sentenced to transportation. But, while I must on this ground maintain our full right to go on sending convicts to Van Diemen's Land, while the interests of this country requires it, as I think it now does; on the other hand, I think the colonists are entitled to demand that we shall exercise this right with the least possible injury to them, and that, at all events, we should not allow it to be any burthen or expense to them; and I am glad that in that view of the subject I am supported by the example both of the noble Lord opposite, and of my immediate predecessor in the office which I now hold. The noble Lord, acting on the principle that no pecuniary burthen should be allowed to fall on the colony from the continuance of transportation, made an arrangement with the Treasury, by which a sum of 24,000l. a year has been paid out of the money voted by Parliament for convict services, for defraying the increased charge of the police force of that colony, rendered necessary by the presence of a large number of convicts. Acting on the same principle, Mr. Gladstone made an arrangement by which an addition has been made to the salary of the Lieutenant Governor from the Parliamentary vote, and he was thus enabled to secure the services of Sir W. Denison, who previously held a confidential situation under the Admiralty at home. Of the great public advantage which has arisen from this arrangement, and from this appointment, I am glad to have this opportunity of expressing my sense. Sir W. Denison's professional knowledge as an engineer officer of great ability, has been of much service in turning the labour of the convicts to good account; in his general measures for effecting the reform which was so greatly needed in the management of the convicts, he has shown sound judgment, an earnest wish to promote the welfare of the convicts in the performance of his duties, and also strong religious feelings, the influence of which cannot be over-estimated in the management of such a colony as that intrusted to his charge. The present Comptroller General of Convicts, Dr. Hampton, has acted in the same spirit, and ably seconded the Lieutenant Governor. Since our appointment to office we have acted upon the same policy as the late advisers of the Crown, in endeavouring to render the continuance of transportation, as far as possible, a source of advantage to the colony. Amongst other things, our wish has been to promote free emigration as much as possible, and at the same time to advance as much as possible the execution of public works. To that end two objects have appeared to us of special importance: first, to encourage the settlement of free emigrants; and, secondly, to employ convict-labour in the execution of public works calculated to develop the resources of the colony, and thus increase the means of employment. With that view the territorial revenue which had been ordered to be applied towards the reduction of the expenditure on account of convicts by this country, at the time of making the grant of 24,000l. a year for the police, to which I have already adverted, has been restored to the colony, and this fund is again applicable to its legitimate object of improvements calculated to add to the value of the land, from the sale of which it is derived. Orders have also been given to relieve the colony from any expense connected with the employment of convicts on public works, beyond the supply of superintendence and tools. Formerly it was the rule that the colony should pay 6d. a day towards the wages of the convicts employed on public works, and the orders were, that when this payment could not be made, convicts should not be allowed to work for the colony, but should be employed in raising food for themselves, and in other ways calculated to reduce the charge on the British Treasury. But as the colonial finances, when the territorial revenue was withdrawn, were not in a state to provide for such payments, for some time little work for its benefit was performed by the convicts, while they were most inefficiently employed on account of the Home Government in raising supplies for themselves. Now, that rule has been altered, and works of considerable magnitude are now proceeding, because the colony is not called upon to do more than pay for the tools necessary for the men engaged on them, and to pay the persons who may be employed as superintendents. The result is, that roads, affording improved means of communication have been constructed or improved, and that others are in course of being so. The port of Hobart Town has been improved by the construction of a wharf, and a similar work has been undertaken at Launceston. All these objects, I am enabled to state, have been accomplished; but, as I am informed, three times the money expended would not have effected them, but for the employment of convict labourers, under the improved system of management which has so greatly stimulated their industry. These measures, by developing the natural resources, and advancing the prosperity, of the colony are, I hope, calculated to attract free settlers; but as, in sending convicts to any particular colony, it has always appeared to Her Majesty's Government a matter of the highest importance that free emigration should take place at the same time to such an extent as not to allow the convict element to predominate in the population of the colony, additional measures have been taken with that view. In the estimate which was last year submitted to Parliament for the convict service, Her Majesty's Government recommended that a sum of 30,000l. should be voted for the expense of promoting free emigration to those colonies to which convicts might be sent. This vote, I am happy to say, was passed without objection from any quarter; and it is our hope that, by means of it, to whatever extent we may find it necessary to send out convicts, we may be able at the same time to promote free emigration to a corresponding extent. One important application of this fund has been to send out the wives and children of such convicts as might be reported fit persons to receive such an indulgence. Formerly it was the practice to grant this indulgence to convicts as an encouragement to good conduct; but a few years ago this practice was altered, as I think very unfortunately. We have thought it right to resume it, and for this, among other reasons, that the opposite system has the effect of greatly demoralising not only the convicts themselves, but also the families whom they leave behind them. We have thought also that we shall greatly improve the moral condition of the convicts, as well as advance the best interests of the colony, if we can promote the emigration of a rather superior class of persons to that colony. It is quite obvious that it would be in vain to incur the expense of sending emigrants of the labouring class to Van Diemen's Land, since the superior wages to be found in the neighbouring colonies would induce them to leave it immediately, and our object there ought to be to encourage the settlement of the class of emigrants who would give employment to the convicts—I mean by that, people with some capital. Our object, I say, has been to give every encouragement to persons of small capital to go to Van Diemen's Land, and regulations have been adopted with this object, and promulgated by the Emigration Committee, by which very considerable advantages have been offered to those who may settle there. I am bound to say, that up to this time very few persons have availed themselves of the boon thus offered; but when the real advantages which are held out to settlers come to be understood, I trust that the candidates for them will increase. Free passages are granted to those who are prepared to purchase a certain quantity of land, and by means of the territorial revenues improvements will be made in the districts where these purchases may be effected, of a nature calculated to enhance the value of the land so bought by these free emigrants. Measures are now being taken to make these advantages known to all persons likely to emigrate to Van Diemen's Land. These are some of the measures which have been adopted, in order to render the continuance of transportation no disadvantage to that colony. But what, in my opinion, will most contribute to that end, is the improvement of the previous discipline at home. The most gratifying testimony has been borne to the manner in which what has been done with this view has hitherto worked, as shown by the conduct, both while in this country and while on their voyage to the places of their destination, of those convicts who have been subjected to that system of moral discipline which has now been established. Your Lordships will find in the papers lately laid upon your table an account of the convicts sent out in the Hashemy. This vessel was sent out last summer to New South Wales laden with convicts who had been subjected to the improved discipline. She arrived at a time when there were four other ships in the port laden with free emigrants, to the number of not less than 1,000 souls. On the voyage, and previous to the voyage, the convicts had been so disciplined that their conduct obtained for them the highest praise, and won the confidence of the colonists to such an extent, that almost all the convicts received immediate engagements as servants, even before the free emigrants at the same time in the harbour. The arrangements made with this view by the colonial authorities were most judicious and perfectly successful. The convicts were not permitted to land until they had entered into engagements; and respectable settlers from the remote pastoral districts were admitted on board, by whom most of the convicts were speedily engaged at wages varying from 12l. to 16l. per annum, in addition to very liberal rations. These engagements having been entered into, the men were sent at once to their destination, without being allowed to go into the town of Sydney. It was also part of the arrangement that their masters were to pay a part of the wages they agreed to give direct to the Government, in discharge of the debt which I have mentioned to your Lordships that convicts are now considered as having incurred. Within a very short time, a second ship laden with convicts arrived, and the convicts by it were also at once engaged as servants for persons residing in the pastoral districts of the colony at even higher wages than the first. Looking to these facts, I cannot but regard it as an unfortunate circumstance, that, owing to the address to the Crown which has been voted by the legislature of New South Wales, no more convicts can now be sent there. In the northern part of that colony, there are districts of pastoral land of the very best description and of almost unlimited extent, on which the sheepowners possess flocks of which the increase is only checked by the want of a sufficient number of servants to look after them. Now, this service of attending to sheep in these remote and solitary regions is precisely that which experience shows to be the best for convicts, with a view to their reformation, while it is an employment in which it is often difficult to find any other persons to engage, though it adds so much to the wealth of the colony. I must, therefore, regard it as a very great mistake to suppose that the presence of convicts may not, under some circumstances, be a great advantage to a colony; and I repeat that I think it unfortunate that the people of New South Wales should no longer enjoy the benefits of an increasing supply of convict labour for the extension of sheep farming. In. considering this question, we ought not to overlook the fact that those pastoral districts of New South Wales have greatly benefited our woollen manufactures; that the fine qualities of wool imported from that country have greatly aided the woollen manufacture of England. I therefore greatly regret the course that has been taken with respect to convicts in that colony. I am not without hope that it may yet be corrected, and that the colony may once again be opened for the reception of convicts. It is very well known that free emigrants going to New South Wales do not like going to the more remote paris of the colony; they object to live so secluded a life, and for such a course of existence the convict, with a ticket of leave, is perhaps the most useful description of servant. For the present, at least. New South Wales is, however, closed against convicts; but an opening for their reception has presented itself in another quarter, by the application of Western Australia for the formation of a penal establishment. Looking at the condition of Western Australia, which offers so little hope of improvement without the advantage of convict labour, there can, I think, be no doubt that the application for it has been wise. Western Australia has long been in a most deplorable condition, in consequence of the mistaken system originally adopted there, of making extravagant grants of land to the first settlers. The consequence of that system has been that there was no emigration fund to afford the means of sending out free labourers, and there consequently has always been a want of available labour which has effectually arrested all attempts at improvement there. The colony, entirely, as I believe, owing to the fatal error of making profuse grants of land, has remained for years in a stationary condition; and whilst Port Phillip, a colony established long subsequently, is in a most flourishing and advancing condition, Western Australia is in a hopeless condition of stagnation. The colonists have, therefore, asked for convict labour. They wish to have a convict settlement established there, and Her Majesty's Government have determined to accede to their request, and to send convicts out there. A convict establishment, in the first instance, on a very small scale, is to be formed there, and a month has not elapsed since a vessel with a few convicts, selected for good conduct, and under the guard of a small party of pensioners, has been sent out; but it is necessary not to proceed too hastily with the work of sending convicts to that colony, as suitable buildings for their reception have not yet been erected, and I apprehend that for some time to come those convicts will be employed in raising a suitable edifice for their own use, and that the colony will not all at once enjoy the advantage of their services. It is not, however, intended that a penal establishment should ever be formed there on a very large scale. What is desired is, that the convicts sent out should, after a short time, obtain employment in the service of individuals as the holders of tickets of leave; and the main object of having a certain number employed in penal labour, under the charge of the Government, is to keep up an establishment to which the holders of tickets of leave may be remanded for misconduct. At the same time, it is my confident hope that by means of the convict labour which will be at the disposal of the Government, a much-needed impulse will be given to the progress of the colony. They are to be employed under the direction of an officer of the Royal Engineers—Captain Henderson, who gave proof of great ability in the survey of the projected line of railway from Halifax to Quebec. He has been instructed, in the first instance, to endeavour to improve the communication between the capital of the colony and the sea. There is reason to hope that it may be found practicable to render the entrance of the river available for vessels of ordinary burden; and if this can be accomplished, they will be able to come close to the town of Perth, which would thus gain an advantage of the highest importance. Should this be impracticable, a good road is at all events to be made from the town to the present port. Should these measures succeed as I trust, the resources of Western Australia will be developed, and very abundant employment will be hereafter provided for an increased number of convicts. In my opinion—and, I am sure, in the opinion of your Lordships—this part of the subject is of much importance. The development of the resources of Western Australia is a matter of great interest. Coal is to be found there; and with a view to the projected measures for establishing steam communication with Singapore, I need scarcely remind you of the vast value of such a product. Further, I may state, that Western Australia abounds with forests of the finest timber, while it possesses a climate and a soil capable of producing anything which a hot, though not a tropical, region of the earth may be expected to yield. It is to be hoped, then, that the settlement of convicts in that colony may be productive of great advantage to them, by giving them facilities for recovering their position as useful members of society; to the people of the colony, as affording them a supply of labour; and, in both points of view, to the mother country. I have now, my Lords, stated most of the measures which are now in progress with regard to the management and disposal of convicts sentenced to transportation; and while I freely admit that there are many points of detail on which I have no doubt that improvements will from time to time be required, some of which are even at this moment in contemplation, I hope I may be permitted to express my confidence that the leading principles of these measures are proved by experience to be sound. Your Lordships will observe that throughout the whole of this statement I have confined myself to convicts from Great Britain. My remarks, hitherto, have been limited to offenders convicted in England, Wales, and Scotland; because these only can be sent to the prisons, the management of which will be confided to the visitors appointed under this Bill. The same policy is, however, applicable to Ireland; and it is intended that, as soon as possible, there should be made arrangements for the punishment of Irish convicts in the same manner as those from Great Britain. But these arrangements are at present in a much less state of forwardness as regards Ireland. A great and unforeseen calamity occurring in Ireland has prodigiously increased the number of persons who have been sentenced to transportation. The average of the three years preceding the famine shows that 681 persons had been sentenced to transportation annually. The average of 1847, 1848, and 1849, was no less than 2,658; and I still further regret to be obliged to add, that the highest of those years was the last—in the year 1849 the number of convicts sentenced to transportation exceeded 3,000. This great increase in the number of convicts sentenced to transportation in Ireland, together with the absolute necessity of closing Van Diemen's Land against the reception of convicts, for some time imposed upon Her Majesty's Government a difficulty of the very gravest kind. Every effort has, however, been made to meet it. Under the former state of the law, Bermuda and Gibraltar were not available for the reception of convicts from Ireland; this law has been altered, and they have been sent there. We have thus been enabled to increase the average number of convicts sent from Ireland to 636 from 435, which was the number in former years. Besides that, additional establishments have been formed for the reception of convicts in Ireland at Mount-joy, not far from Dublin, and at Spike Island, which latter establishment, I am sorry to say, has become crowded most inconveniently—1,400 convicts being now there. The prison at Mounjoy is conducted on the plan of Pentonville, and it is now occupied. At Spike Island, also, every effort is being made to improve the prison discipline. I will not, however, go at any further length into this part of the subject. I am reminded that I have been occupying your Lordships' attention for an unreasonable length of time, much more so than I had myself anticipated. But the subject is one of such great importance, and one which it is so desirable to have well understood, both at home and in the colonies, that it was necessary I should take this opportunity of explaining to your Lordships the views and the measures of Her Majesty's Government. In doing so, I have carefully avoided any reference to matters of controversy, and all allusions to those various imputations which have been thrown out against the conduct and motives of Her Majesty's Government; for however our motives may have been misunderstood or misconstrued by others, I am persuaded that your Lordships will give us credit for having made the best arrangements in our power under circumstances of no ordinary difficulty. I certainly see some points in which, with the experience we now have, I could wish that our measures had been somewhat different from what they were, and with respect to which I acknowledge that a better course might have been adopted; but now, upon looking back at all the circumstances under which we were compelled to act, I may be permitted to doubt whether we could have been fairly expected to have avoided the errors into which we may have fallen; while I think I may state, with confidence, that a foundation has been laid for establishing a system of convict discipline which will have the effect of deterring criminals from the commission of offences, and which is, at the same time, calculated to promote their improvement, and to protect, to some extent, society at large from the effects of their example and their offences. The experience which we have had, limited as it still is, seems to me to justify this conclusion, and I am sanguine in believing that the accounts which we are receiving from the colonies will be found still further confirmatory of it.

Bill read 2°, and committed to a Committee of the whole House.

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