HL Deb 17 February 1853 vol 124 cc165-70

said, it bad been rumoured that the Government intended to introduce some measure the effect of which would be the total suppression of transportation to Australia. Now that he thought must be a mistake; he believed that so far from there being any indisposition on the part of the inhabitants of Western Australia to receive convicts, they were desirous that convicts should be sent to that colony. He wished to know, therefore, from the noble Duke (the Duke of Newcastle) whether it was intended that the contemplated measure should apply to Western Australia?


said, he was much obliged to his noble Friend for putting this question, because there had been considerable misapprehension abroad as to what fell from the noble Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Lord John Russell) in the House of Commons last week, when he announced the measures proposed to be introduced by the Government. Before he answered the question, it might perhaps be convenient that he should state the position in which this question stood upon the accession of the present Government to office. It would be recollected that, at the commencement of the Session in November last, Her Majesty, in the Speech from the Throne, recommended Parliament to take into consideration at an early period whether it might not be possible, by changes in the law, so to deal with the question of secondary punishments as to enable them before long to dispense with transportation to Van Diemen's Land. He (the Duke of Newcastle) found that on the 14th of December his predecessor in the office of Colonial Secretary (Sir John Pakington) addressed to the Governors of the Australian Colonies a despatch on tins subject, in which he stated that the then Government would be prepared, as speedily as possible, to abandon transportation to Van Diemen's Land; but that it would be necessary to effect certain changes in the law, and to make preparations in this country with reference to increased prison accommodation and other matters, which prevented him from fixing any definite time at which transportation would cease; but he promised that it should be brought to a close as speedily as arrangements could be made. Upon succeeding that right hon. Gentleman in the Colonial of-fice, and his attention having been called to the state of the question, it occurred to him, and to the other Members of the Government, that, with this promise of an early cessation of transportation to Van Diemen's Land, it was necessary immediately to look into the subject both in its bearings upon the Colonies and upon this country, with the view of endeavouring to decide at what exact period it might be possible to bring the system to a final termination. With that view, having entered into communication with his noble Friend the Secretary for the Home Department (Viscount Palmorston), and having carefully investigated the subject, they came some short time ago to the conclusion that it would be practicable, and that being practicable it was most desirable, that transportation to Van Diemen's Land should cease at once. He had therefore the pleasure of assuring his noble Friend, in answer to his question, that, as regarded Van Diemen's Land, not one convict more would be sent there. In stating that, however, he would not conceal from his noble Friend, or from the House, that the question was not by any means unanimously decided in the colony of Van Die-men's Land whether or not it was time that transportation should cease. At the same time, looking to what was, he thought he might say, the general feeling of the colony, and to the fact that the other colonies contiguous to it were so deeply interested in the question, and so greatly affected by the continuance of transportation to Van Diemen's Land, he thought there could be but one opinion as to the propriety of the course taken by the Government, that transportation to that colony should cease at once and altogether. As to the question, so far as it regarded transportation to Western Australia, what had fallen from his noble Friend the Foreign Secretary (Lord John Russell) in the other House had been misunderstood. His noble Friend bad not said that transportation should at once and immediately cease to all the Australian Colonics, but that it should cease immediately as regarded Van Diemen's Land. The noble Lord (Lord Monteagle) had rightly stated that, with regard to Western Australia, so far from its being desired by the colonists that transportation should cease, it was alleged by many persons that it would be a very great inconvenience to that colony if transportation were at once abandoned. With respect to that colony, very considerable expenditure had been incurred by this country, within a very recent period, for the accommodation of convicts there; and, looking to this expenditure, to the interests of the colony, and to this further fact, that while they were benefiting the colonists of Western Australia by continuing transportation to that colony, they were not in any way injuring any other colony, because its remote position, as compared with that of others, prevented that efflux of convicts who received their pardons into other colonies, which did take place from Van Diemen's Land—looking at all these facts, the Government had come to the conclusion that it might be safe and wise for a short period, and to a limited extent, to continue transportation to Western Australia. At the same time he thought it necessary to state—and he did not say it with any view of now introducing a discussion on the subject, which he thought would be premature; but, in reference to what had fallen from his noble and learned Friend the Lord Chief Justice the other night, and to the alteration of the law which must take place this Session, in order that there might be no misconception or misunderstanding on the point, he would remind them that the colony of Western Australia was of very limited extent indeed: he did not mean, of course, with respect to territory, but population. The free population of that colony was extremely small. The number of convicts hitherto sent there was not inconsiderable, and consequently the means of receiving others were but limited. It was therefore right that he should state, looking to the alteration of the law upon this subject which must take place before long—he meant in the present Session—and looking to the circumstance that Western Australia now remained the only colony to which, with safety to the interests of the colonists, transportation could be continued, that he could not, on the part of the Government, hold out any expectation but that transportation to Western Australia would also, before long, be brought to a final conclusion. However, convicts would, in all pro- bability, be sent out to that colony for a very short time, and to a limited extent. But with regard to Van Diemen's Land, and all other Australian Colonies, no further convicts would be sent to them.


did not desire to enter into any lengthened discussion upon the subject to which their Lordships' attention had been drawn, but he must express his most earnest desire that Her Majesty's Government should deliberate carefully before they determined upon the abolition of transportation. He thought that system afforded the best chance of reforming criminals, and of protecting the community at large from the repetition of those crimes for which they were transported. He declared to their Lordships, that from his experience as a Judge he was in a position to state that the sentence of transportation produced the deepest effect not only upon those upon whom it was passed, but on all who heard it pronounced. He believed that no length of imprisonment that could be inflicted upon a criminal, afforded the slightest chance of his reformation. Let them look to the state of things in a country with which his noble and learned Friend who sat near him (Lord Brougham) was well acquainted—he meant France. He had conversed with a great number of eminent lawyers and statesmen in that country, and he had been informed by them that criminals returning to Paris from the travaux forces, uniformly returned to their habits of depredation and violence. Those lawyers and statesmen had expressed themselves in the highest terms in favour of the system which prevailed in this country, by which criminals were removed altogether from the scene of their outrages, and had an opportunity of becoming useful and respectable members of society. If the Government should decide on the abolition of transportation to Australia, he most earnestly hoped that some other part of the world would be found to which our convicts might be sent, for he despaired of finding any system of secondary punishment at home which could be advantageously substituted for it.


did not wish to prolong the conversation; but as his noble and learned Friend had referred to him upon the opinions held in France upon this subject, he was bound to add that some change might be observed in the opinions of reflecting and well-informed persons, and that in some quarters where, some years ago, a strong opinion was entertain- ed against the punishment of the galleys, and in favour of transportation, or what the French called "deportation," there was now much hesitation on the subject, and a strong disposition to reconsider the matter. It was certain, however, that the great bulk of the people were favourable to transportation, such opinion being founded upon their actual experience of the working of the existing system of punishment. If their Lordships would look at the reports of proceedings in the criminal courts in any part of France, but particularly in the great cities, they would find that a very considerable number of the convicts who were sentenced were persons who had before been condemned to the travaux forces; and that these were not escaped convicts, but persons who, after suffering heavy punishments, had been turned loose upon society, and had again resorted to the commission of crime. He would not say that the penitentiary system of this country might not be so greatly improved as to provide a fit and proper system of secondary punishments; but the difficulty was very great, as those noble Lords who had attended their Committee in 1847 well knew.


said, that the late Government had no desire that he was aware of to abolish transportation. He was not himself aware of any secondary punishment that could be advantageously inflicted in this country by way of substitution for transportation; but the question was, whether transportation could or could not be maintained. It was clear that they could not continue to send convicts to places to which they had hitherto been sent; but he was not aware that it was necessary to do away with transportation altogether, for not only was Western Australia open to them for some time, but they had also Bermuda, Gibraltar, and other places, to which he believed they might continue to send persons who were transported to be employed on the public works. He hoped the Government would not carry into execution the abolition of the punishment of transportation beyond the necessity of the case, for he, for one, thought that transportation was the best secondary punishment that had hitherto been devised in this country; but, as far as there was a necessity for its cessation, they must submit.


observed, that the question of transportation, so far as the colonies were concerned, stood upon a totally different footing from what the noble and learned Lord who had last spoken alluded to as transportation to Bermuda and Gibraltar. The convict establishments in those places stood more on the same footing, though on a different soil, with those at Dartmoor and Portland. They were prisons where the convicts were employed on public works; and, with respect to them, it was not the intention of the Government to introduce any alteration whatever.


said, he was perfectly aware of the distinction to which the noble Duke had referred, but he had thought it necessary to advert to it. All he had meant to say was, that being sent to these places was transportation, and that, as the convicts could there be occupied usefully as regarded the public, there was no necessity for the total cessation of transportation.

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