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Fifty Years Under the Lash


(By Charles White.)

Author of “Australian Bnahrangiog,” “The Story of the Blacks,” etc


CHA)PTER XVII. CESSATION OF TRANSPORTATION. In 1828 the first important outreach towards that larger geneial freedom which Australia now enjoys was made, by concerted action on the part of the inhabitants, the large free population and the foremost emancipists in town and country joining as one in the agitation for the abolition of transportation. The reform effected by Governor Bourke in the system of assignment .was, although not of design, the first movement in this direction. This frank and generous man did more to alleviate the condition of the convicts under the system of slavery, which obtained when he arrived, than any of the Governors who exercised power while New South Wales remained a penal settlement. When he assumed the reins of ' government, magisterial authority and asters powers had reached their highest exercise in the direction of arbitrariness and cruelty. He abolished what were known as parlour courts, and swept away the whole system of mutual aclnmmodation by white slavedriving magistrates in the interior, abridging the authority of single magistrates and thwarting the efforts of wealthier settlers to secure to themselves the assignment of a large number of servants. He framed and promulgated rules regulating the number of convict servants to which each settler should be entitled (without favour), and the number of lashes which any single magistrate could order. The general principle thus introduced was that all male convicts, with the exception of all those skilled in certain trades, should be assigned to masters in propartion to the area of land occupied by shem, but no person war eo receive convicts in respect to land upon which he did not reside or maintain a free overseer to represent him.

The result of these regulations was to destroy a monopoly under which owoers and lessees of large areas of land had been able to secure disproportionate amount of the convict labour of the colony, to the prejudice of the smaller holders, to whom such labour, owing to their limited means, was of great importance, and who invariably put it to the best account. The enmity of the wealthy men whose rule had thus been broken followed Bourke to the last day of his- residence in the colony ; but it was powerless to injure him, and he received full compensation for all their insults and attacks in the hearty support accorded him by the more numerous class of liberals, who, with Wentworth at their head, recorded “their entire and cordial approval of the wise, disinterested, liberal, just, paternal and constitutional policy ” which had marked his government. At the close of 1837 a despatch was received from Lord Glenelg by the Governor, directing him to discontinue the assignment of convicts ; but immediate effect was not given thereto, the Governor pointing out that much distress would be produced by the proposed sudden interruption of the accustomed supply of labour.

About this time a committee of tho Bouse of Commons was appointed to inquire into the system of transportation generally, and after vo'uminous evidence had been taken a report was prepared recommending that the sending of convicts to New South ■Wales, and to the settled districts of iVan Diemen’s Land should cease as soon as possible ; that for transportation should be substituted, both in England and in the colonies, imprisonment with hard labour ; and that in future convicts should bo sent only to settlements where there were no free people, a nd from which free people might be excluded. But this did not please the men who made wealth out of convict labour, and shortly after the publicasion of the committee’s report in the colony (1839) a public meeting was held in Sydney, and a petition to the British Parliament was adopted, praying that transportation might NOT be abolished. The reasonsi set out by the petitioners for the retention of the system were many, am-

ongst others being the following ’ — That this meahs of punishment, followed by the usual course of colonial discipline connected with private assignment, was the best penal discipline which could be devised ; that the congregation of convicts together in large numbers, which would be the result if private assignment were discontinued, would render them less fit to return to society after the expiration of their sentences ; that the reason why the penal system had not worked well in the past was because of defective discipline an occasional excess of punishment on the one hand, and too much laxity on the other ; that there h a d been a great improvement in the morals of the colony during the preceding seven or eight years, which was a proof that no contaminating results foil fowed transportation. For these and other reasons the petitioners prayed Parliament to postpone its final decision on the subject for a year. Within a few months, however. Governor Gipps received further intimation of the intentions of the Home Government, and reported that he had publicly announced that “transportation had now ceased.” The reader would obly be wearied by the narration of the dry details of the proceedings immediately attending discontinuance of transportation to the colony. It was for the authorities in the Colonial Office across the sea to advise and direct and act ; it was for their servant the Governor in New South Wales to carry out their wishes ; it was for the people of the colony to accept with as good grace as possible the decision of the men sixteen thousand miles away, who, until the principle of self-gov-ernment began to work in the colony, exercised supreme control of public concerns at the Antipodes. And it is satisfactory to know that the people generally were favourable to the discontinuance of transportation. Those who sought, from motives of self-aggrandisement, to keep up the stream of convicts were not by any means numerous, and their efforts to induce the Home Government to “reconsider tht subject” was unsuccessful, as also was a subsequent attempt to assist that Government in the effort to renew the system after its death-knell had been sounded. Thus, freedom in its full.sst form began to set in towards the close of 1839 —just fifty-one years after Governor Phillip landed on the shores of Botany B a y with the first carg'o of convicts—the last transport ship to discharge her chained felons being the Eden, which entered Sydney in November of that year. Thus also the reign of the lash in its severest exercise was broken. The number of ships employed by the British Government in the transport of convicts to New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land, from 1789 to 1837, was 528, at an expenditure under the Naval Department of £2,756,910 9s 7d. (To be Continued).

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Bibliographic details

Fifty Years Under the Lash, Southern Cross, Volume 15, Issue 8, 1 June 1907

Word Count

Fifty Years Under the Lash Southern Cross, Volume 15, Issue 8, 1 June 1907

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