The duty of the Commissioner being
discharged, it devolved on the home government to
gather, from the mass of facts he accumulated, those
which discovered abuses remediable, and to select
for adoption the recommendations of their chosen councillor.
The changes he advised amounted to a total revolution
in the system, subject to his censorship; but so obstinate
are evils, fostered by local interest and lengthened
indulgence, that years elapsed before the effects of
his influence were powerfully realised. He, however,
secured for the exclusionists the recognition of their
favorite principle, and not only were emancipists
pronounced ineligible for the future, but those already
in the commission found it expedient to resign.
Mr. Redfern was dismissed.
This determination of the imperial
authorities, by whatever reasons supported, was a
deviation from a practice which covered the entire
period of Macquarie’s government; therefore sanctioned,
expressly, or by the silence of the crown. The
degradation of those on the bench, could not have
been politically important, and was one of those acts
of power, which rather gratify the vengeance of caste,
than vindicate the purity of government. The
mortification of the emancipists, at this triumph,
was intense: they justly felt, that the ministers,
and not they, were responsible for measures which
had recognised their eligibility to the usual honors
of colonial opulence; and that, even were it expedient
to abandon the former system, a less violent process
might have been discovered.
It may not be amiss to describe the
career of an emancipist, of whose elevation Mr. Bigge
remarks, “that it had been most strongly urged
against Macquarie by his enemies, and most questioned
by his friends.” This case (1810) formed
the precedent for appointments from persons of his
class, and, as selected by Mr. Bigge, may be considered
a specimen of the most objectionable. The facts
of the Commissioner are all here embodied; his detracting
tone is abated.
Andrew Thomson was a native of Scotland:
his relations of that class of traders, in their own
country called merchants; who carry their goods from
town to town. He was sixteen years of age on his
arrival in the colony, and therefore, a boy of fourteen
or fifteen when he forfeited his liberty. When
free, he engaged in business as a retail shopkeeper,
and traded to Sydney in boats built by himself:
the defects of his education he partly cured by application,
and acquired such knowledge as ordinary retail shopkeepers
possess. He established a salt manufactory, a
ship-building establishment, and it was rumoured,
an illicit distillery. He was chief constable:
kept a public-house such was the common
practice of traders. He acquired great influence
among the settlers, by his forbearance and liberal
credits; his business extended, and he became a considerable
landholder. He supported the legal authority
during the rebellion, and suffered for his loyalty;
a just ground for the esteem of that Governor, who
came to restore the authority of his sovereign.
When an inundation of the Hawkesbury exposed the settlers
to great suffering, he undertook their relief; supplied
them with goods, and was happily a gainer by the risk
which his humanity induced him to incur: so great
was the importance of prompt exertions, he was permitted
to employ both the men and boats, which were under
his control as superintendent of convicts.
In his neighbourhood, there were but
two persons suitable to the office of magistrate,
and having filled that of chief constable with great
approbation, the Governor, Macquarie, considering his
youth at the time of his offence the merit
of his loyalty when few were loyal his
industry and opulence, and his reputation for humanity did
not think his former condition a bar to a commission
of the peace. It is said that Lieut. Bell,
who conducted the party by whom the government-house
was surprised, and a Governor made prisoner, objected
to his appointment; but his opposition was confined
to murmurs, or if represented at home met with no
sympathy from the ministers.
Mr. Thomson was admitted to the company
of the Governor, and the parties of the military,
who yet, it is said, were not pleased with the abrupt
suppression of the absolute ban. He died within
the year of his elevation to the bench. Governor
Macquarie commanded an epitaph to be placed on his
tomb, stating that “it was in consequence of
his character and conduct, that he appointed him to
the magistracy; and that, by the same act, he restored
him to the rank in society he had lost.”
His death was regretted by his neighbours, who in
a public address to his Excellency described him “as
their common friend and patron.” It must
be added, he had participated in some of those immoralities,
which, in the time of the Prince Regent, dishonored
the residence of kings; and he escaped that just reproach
which could not be expected where the selection of
mistresses was the prerogative of military command.
Such is a fair statement of Andrew Thomson’s
character, as given by Bigge, without his reflections.
The disclosures of the Commissioner
terminated the indulgences given to expirees, with
such “unsatisfactory results.” The
small portion of land granted them, without great
industry, was incapable of supplying their wants,
and they were the pests of their neighbours; or, when
they settled on allotments in town, they obtained
materials from the royal stores by the assistance
of their fellows. Land was still granted, but
not as the indispensable consequence of transportation.
The plan of recompense to officers
in kind, he also condemned: rations of food and
rum, double and triple; and the assignment of men to
earn wages, as the salaries of their masters, were
gradually substituted by payments in money. The
small sums formerly allowed, were rather the wages
of servants who live on their fees: by a casuistry,
never long wanting to those who earnestly seek it,
even men beyond the rank of overseers, persuaded themselves
that the recognised stipends were never intended to
be reckoned as payment. The tender of these supplies
was a source of profit to the officers; like the butlers
of noblemen, persons of the highest trust were not
insensible to presents; and merchandise was accepted
only when the “regulars” were duly paid.
The waste of public property, occasioned by the system,
was great. The loss and sacrifice of clothing
and tools; the spoiling of food, and the wilful destruction
of implements, proved how large may be the outlay of
the crown, without much advantage to a colony.
Years were required to reduce these evils; some of
which are yet not unknown.
These were, however, small changes,
compared with the total revolution in the spirit and
details of convict management, suggested by the Commissioner.
All those signs of advancement which he saw in the
material state of the colonies, in connection with
the objects of transportation, were anomalies in his
eyes. He observed, that the prisoners were always
anxious to reside in the towns, where they obtained,
by casual labor, the price and opportunities of dissipation.
By a peremptory exercise of his authority, Mr. Bigge
stopped some of the public works, and promoted the
dispersion of those multitudes who were employed in
the improvement of the capital.
The Commissioner, strongly impressed
with the mischief incident to the congregation of
prisoners in the presence of a free community, proposed
several remedies. Among the most important was
the establishment of settlements, purely penal, at
Port Curtis, Moreton Bay, and Port Bowen. These
places were explored by Mr. Oxley, the surveyor-general
of the colonies. Moreton Bay is situated 480
miles from Port Jackson: this region, watered
by the Brisbane, unequalled for climate and soil in
any part of the globe of the same latitude; adorned
with trees of magnificent growth, had nothing
in its natural features to repel. Though the
days are warm in summer (80 deg. to 100 deg.),
the nights are cool, and for several months fires
are agreeable. Bananas, plantains, and pines cotton,
tobacco, maize, the sugar cane, and all the ordinary
productions of a tropical climate, are cultivated with
success. The atmosphere is soft and salubrious:
of 1,200 persons, afterwards stationed there, sometimes
not more than ten were sick at once; and during seven
years, one soldier only died.
Such was the site chosen by Mr. Bigge;
but he endeavoured to render it suitable, by suggesting
a code of regulations, in which may be discovered
the outline of several schemes, since claiming originality.
It was intended for those convicted of serious crimes,
or such as committed offences in the colonies.
The prisoners, two together, were to build their own
huts; their sole implement the hatchet, and their
material wood and nails: their only furniture,
stools and bedding. Their labor graduated; from
removing heavy weights, and sawing the hardest timber,
to the easy occupation of the gardener, according to
their behaviour or their crimes. They were to
raise their own provisions, and the produce of their
tillage for the crown, was to be sold in the colonies,
and carried to the public account; except a sixteenth
part, the moiety of which was to be paid to the commandant,
and the rest proportionately to the overseers.
No vessel, unauthorised, was to touch at the port:
every precaution was projected to prevent escape, and
the natives were expected to bring back, for rewards,
such as might venture to stray. Every crime,
short of murder, was to be punished on the spot.
No spirits were to be sold; no money circulated; no
private speculations in produce permitted. The
wives of prisoners, when suffered to join them, were
to sacrifice all but the necessaries of life.
From the chief settlement others were to branch off;
fifteen miles distant from each other. A church,
a school, a library, were to promote the reformation
of the prisoners an object to be considered
paramount to every other. Such were the plans
for a City of Penitence, projected by Bigge;
and by which he expected, in several directions, to
dispose of 4,000 prisoners.
It was his hope, that their labor
would discharge the chief cost of their control, and
end the mockery, and the inequalities of punishment.
Before the arrival of the Commissioner,
penal establishments existed, and prisoners were sequestered
for violations of local regulations; or on extensive
farms, where grain was grown for the royal stores.
At Newcastle, on the Hunter River, were coal mines
(1818), where those under colonial sentences, or those
guilty of experience in mining, were subjected
to a more rigorous servitude. By an onward progress
of the settlers, this station was less adapted for
its purpose, and (1821) a second was provided at Port
Macquarie, 175 miles north of Port Jackson. The
increase of population soon rendered a further movement
requisite: it was not, however, until 1824, that
Surveyor-general Oxley completed his report of Moreton
Bay: pioneers were forwarded, and at length 1,000
prisoners were employed in that remote region.
The plan thus narrowed, only partially succeeded,
and the numbers at last dwindled to 300 men:
the Commissioner’s idea, therefore, was never
fairly tested. An organisation of several thousands
in a city of penitence; under a discipline, which,
while excluding the worst temptations of regular society,
might preserve many of its elementary forms; managed
by permanent officers, in number and gradation, sufficient
to form and preserve the tone of a profession is
unfortunately still a speculation: nor is it yet
safe to assume, that the failure of stations, exhibiting
several features of the Commissioner’s scheme,
but excluding others not less important, is a conclusive
argument against the original design.
In this colony, a penal station was
projected during the residence of Bigge. While
he approved the object, he did not cordially concur
in the selected locality: he remarked several
of those obstacles to access, which were not compensated
by the difficulties of escape. The punishment
of colonial offences, when persons were already in
bonds, was attended with some difficulty; the law
not authorising additions to a sentence, except by
a court of criminal jurisdiction, regulated by the
forms, and bounded by the limitations of English statutes.
To punish a misdemeanour, and sometimes even capital
offences, the culprit was brought before a justice
of the peace, and sent to a penal settlement for the
remainder of his sentence. Thus a widely different
penalty attended the different parties to the same
crime: one would scarcely touch the place of
his second exile, before the termination of his British
sentence restored him to full freedom; another, perhaps
a prisoner for life, would linger out his wretched
existence in the place of his seclusion, forgotten.
The name of Macquarie Harbour
is associated exclusively with remembrance of inexpressible
depravity, degradation, and woe. Sacred to the
genius of torture, nature concurred with the objects
of its separation from the rest of the world; to exhibit
some notion of a perfect misery. There, man lost
the aspect, and the heart of man!
Macquarie Harbour was explored by
Captain Kelly, at the expense of a merchant whose
name is borne by Birch’s River, and that of his
wife by Sarah Island. It is an inlet of the sea,
on the western coast: by water, about 200 miles
from Hobart Town. It penetrates the country twenty
miles to its junction with Gordon River, where, diverging
to the right, Sarah Island becomes visible once
the principal station, now deserted and desolate.
This region is lashed with tempests; the sky is cloudy,
and the rain falls more frequently than elsewhere.
In its chill and humid climate animal life is preserved
with difficulty: half the goats died in one season,
and sheep perish: vegetation, except in its coarsest
or most massive forms, is stunted and precarious.
The torrents, which pour down the mountains, mingle
with decayed vegetable matter, and impregnated with
its acids discolour the waters of the harbour; and
the fish that approach the coast, often rise on the
waves, and float poisoned to the shores.
The passage to this dreary dwelling
place was tedious, and often dangerous. The prisoners,
confined in a narrow space, were tossed for weeks
on an agitated sea. As they approached, they beheld
a narrow opening choked with a bar of sand, and crossed
with peril. This they called “Hell’s
gates,” not less appropriate to the
place, than to the character and torment of the inhabitants:
beyond, they saw impenetrable forests, skirted with
an impervious thicket; and beyond still, enormous
mountains covered with snow, which rose to the clouds
like walls of adamant: every object wore the air
of rigour, ferocity, and sadness.
The moment the prisoner landed, if
the hours of labor had not expired, he joined his
gang. The chief employment was felling the forest,
and dragging timber to the shore: these gigantic
trees, formed into rafts, were floated to the depot.
In this service, life was sometimes lost; and the
miserable workmen, diseased and weakened by hunger,
while performing their tasks, often passed hours in
the water. They were long denied vegetables and
fresh food: they were exposed to those maladies
which result from poverty of blood, and many remained
victims long after their release. On a breakfast
of flour and water, they started from their island
prison to the main land, and pursued their toil, without
food, till the hour of return: they then received
their chief meal, and went to rest. Those who
were separated to punishment still more severe, lodged
on a rock: the surf dashed with perpetual violence
on its base, and the men were compelled to pass through,
wet to the waist, and even to the neck. They
were destitute of bedding, sometimes in chains; their
fires were extinguished, and they laid down in their
clothes, in a cold and miserable resting place.
They were subject to a single will;
moved often by perjury, and sometimes by passion.
One man, Alexander Anderson, a convict overseer,
delighted in human suffering this was his
qualification for office; yet seventeen persons have
been flogged in one day, at his single report.
The instrument of torture was special; double twisted
and knotted cords: 100 lashes were given, and
repeated at short intervals. Even to repine was
criminal: an expression of anger from the sufferer,
was a punishable offence: a second infliction
has been known to follow, by a sentence on the spot.
The alleviations of religious instruction
were unknown. The commandant was found, by the
earliest clerical visitor, living in profligacy, and
he returned at once, despairing. Women were, at
first, sent there, and four were dispatched to gather
shells, under the charge of one man, in whose hut
they lodged. The forms of devotion depended on
the surgeon, and were detested by the prisoners.
They were, mostly, desperate men, and required a strong
restraint; some were there, however, for offences
of no deep die, who, while the least spark of humanity
remained, felt the association more horrible than
the place. To escape this dread abode, they gambled
for life; and, with the deliberation of actors, divided
the parts of a meditated murder, and sinister testimony.
They loathed existence, and were willing to shorten
its duration, if the excitement of a voyage and a
trial might precede the execution. It was their
proverb, that all who entered there, gave up for ever
the hope of Heaven. Death lost its terrors, and
when some unhappy victims were brought down to terrify
the rest, they saw them die as many see friends depart
on a desirable but distant journey. Some were
detained for years by a succession of punishments;
perhaps, for the possession of a fish-hook, of a potato,
or an inch of tobacco. Some were flogged; until
this species of punishment lost, not only its terror,
but its power: the remnant of the understanding
settled down into one single faculty the
ability to endure. It will be our painful task
to turn to the results of this experiment, since elsewhere
repeated, of what nations can inflict, and man can
suffer: excusable, had the Rhadamanthus of those
regions been always just, and those subject to his
lash always the worst of criminals.
The improvement of the assigned service,
by raising the qualifications of the masters, and
increasing the dépendance of the men, was another
great project of the Commissioner. There were,
indeed, no employers, except those who had been convicts,
or officers of government; and the first and larger
class, possessed neither capital nor discretion.
They were rather patrons than masters. There
were but two changes practicable: the vast establishments
projected at Moreton Bay, and introduction of a class
of settlers, who might exercise the authority requisite
to restrain the vagrant indolence of the men; and whose
capital might give them constant employment and proper
sustenance. Several military settlers, such as
Macarthur, had large establishments, chiefly for cattle
and sheep; and their management exemplified the superior
facilities of control, where the men were both dispersed
and guarded divided in their occupations,
but subject to a vigilant supervision.
It was the opinion of the Commissioner
that none, having small estates and trivial resources,
should be placed in the responsible position of masters;
but that the inducements offered in former times should
be renewed and extended. He calculated, that
the employers of convict laborers, for each, relieved
the treasury of England to the extent of L24 10s.
per annum. Thus every consideration commended
the system of assignment beyond any other. To
attract the attention of settlers, he advised that
the emigrant should be entitled to a grant, to purchase
an addition at a low price, and to receive a bonus
in land, for the stock he might rear, or according
to the industry and skill he might otherwise exhibit.
It has been stated, that the ministers
who founded these colonies, intended that free emigration
should accompany transportation with equal steps.
The despatches of Governor Phillip, addressed to the
secretary of state in 1790, proved that he felt
the want, and perceived the value, of such auxiliaries;
but the early determination to raise expirees to the
condition of landholders, seems to imply the form the
settlement at Port Jackson was expected to assume.
It is obvious that the immediate design of the Governor,
was to provide such free settlers, as might act in
different official capacities, at little or no expense.
The reply to these communications was favorable, and
the prospect of emigration cheering; but the result
was insignificant. It is stated by Collins, that
several families, members of the Society of Friends,
proposed to accept the offers of government, but were
deterred by the reputation of the colony, and the
disorders which prevailed.
The Bellona at length arrived,
with free settlers and their families, including a
millwright and blacksmith; one of whom had been already
in the colony, under other auspices! An authority
to the Governor was now conveyed, to establish such
persons as were eligible on terms highly advantageous.
They chose a fertile spot, and to mark their civil
condition, called their locations “Liberty Plains”
(February, 1793). The British government provided
their passage, an assortment of tools and implements,
provisions for two years; their lands free of expense;
and the service of convicts, with two years’
rations and one year’s clothing. It is
difficult to imagine a more alluring offer; yet, except
a Dorsetshire farmer, the rest were not bona fide
settlers: two formerly belonged to the Sirius,
and a third to the Lady Juliana transport;
in short, they were sailors. Concluding, then,
the secretary of state had sought settlers in earnest,
the presumption is strong that no considerable number
of persons could be found to engage in such an enterprise:
one which seemed to comprehend all the perils of distance,
of official tyranny, and of social corruption.
The additions, thus made to the free
population, were generally of persons connected with
the merchant service or the military profession; and
who, by a residence intended only to be temporary and
official, contracted a preference for the climate;
where they found great respect and deference, by the
paucity of their numbers. It was their example
which finally overcame the reluctance to settle, which
no mere offers of the crown were sufficient to conquer.