TRANSPORTATION : SECTION XXVI
Lord Stanley devoted commendable and
humane attention to the management of female prisoners.
They were comprehended in his scheme of probation.
He resolved to establish a penitentiary, on a large
scale, within twenty miles of Hobart Town. The
women were to be carefully classified and separated,
and trained for the duties of domestic life. The
discipline intended rather to restore than to punish:
those remitted in disgrace to the government, were
not to re-enter this place of reform. Instructions
were forwarded to prepare the ground and collect the
material (1843); but the local officers were averse
to the plan. They complained that the contemplated
site was remote and inconvenient, and they succeeded
in postponing and finally defeating the project.
Mrs. Bowden, a lady of majestic presence
and enlightened mind, who had acquired considerable
experience in the management of the insane, was appointed
matron. Her fertility of resource, courage, and
zeal, had been greatly admired at Hanwell, where many
hundreds of the unfortunate were relieved from the
greatest of human calamities. The reputation of
this lady recommended her to the confidence of government:
with her husband, Dr. Bowden, the medical officer,
and a chosen staff of assistants several
only inferior to herself she arrived in
this colony with high expectations of success.
As a temporary expedient, the Anson, a ship
of war, was appropriated to the project. The decorum
of the ship, and the healthy and cleanly appearance
of the women, were striking to a stranger; but the
early lack of employment ruined the enterprise.
The government, with its usual negligence, failed in
details, and thus failed altogether. Towards the
close of the experiment, the making of clothing for
the prisoners was more successfully attempted; but
the local authorities were always hostile to the institution.
It was protected by Lord Stanley and Mr. Gladstone,
but Earl Grey consented to its extinction. The
results were certainly not encouraging. The women,
discharged from the ship ignorant of the colony, were
at once thrown into every temptation of convict associations.
They had been instructed in the principles of religion,
reading and needlework, and the fruit of these labors
will hereafter perhaps, appear; but whoever expects
much from mere dogmatic knowledge, will be doomed
to disappointment. On the death of her husband
Mrs. Bowden returned to England, convinced that moral
insanity is far more hopeless than the diseases of
Hanwell. This lady and her friends and coadjutors,
the Misses Holdich, found the women generally submissive
and docile: they were haunted with all kinds
of terrors, and had less than the ordinary courage
of women. Mere children in understanding; some,
such only in years; but their actual reformation,
for the most part, only remained an object of confident
expectation, while their true tendencies were repressed.
The lady officers, who expected to reap a harvest in
this field of mercy, began by blaming the colonists
for scepticism, and after 3,000 women had passed through
their hands, they, alas! ended in becoming sceptical.
A great number of these prisoners
are married. During the probation system, the
local government of the colony became far less scrupulous
in reference to their character, previous engagements,
and means of living. As a choice of evils this
course was the least; but many of these marriages
were a disguise for licentiousness, and of a very temporary
character. The freed man united to a convict woman
could not be detained in the colony; indeed, he was
often compelled to leave it, and his wife was not
permitted to accompany him. From this cause alone,
infinite vice and misery has arisen; and a total disregard
of ties so modified by a police regulation; which,
while encouraging women to marry, subjects them to
Before the introduction of Lord Stanley’s
probation system, several pious ladies established
a committee of visitation. They entered the factories
and cells, and conversed with the female prisoners.
Official teachers superseded these efforts of private
benevolence; and lessons, however excellent in themselves,
lost the attraction of spontaneous sympathy and disinterested
It is with deep regret these observations
are recorded. It is not intended to assume that
the reform of female prisoners is impossible.
A considerable minority are probably not inferior
to the lower classes of poor and uneducated women
in the cities, or more uncivilised provinces.
Re-convictions are not numerous; though, of course,
many are deeply implicated with colonial crime.
The law which consigns all to one penal fate, devotes
all to one common ruin. Were it possible to escape
the contamination of a gaol, what could be hoped,
where the male population is contributed chiefly by
prisons? What can be done to obviate these evils?
Such is the enquiry of the philanthropist: would
to God it could be successfully answered.’