Robert Pringle Steward, Norfolk Island Report and Correspondence, 20 Jun 1846 1
Copy of a DESPATCH from Earl Grey to Lieutenant-Governor Sir William Denison.
Downing Street, November 7, 1846.
IN my despatch No. 4, of the 30th of September, 1846, 2 I instructed you, with the least possible delay, to take measures at once to break up the establishment at Norfolk Island, and to withdraw the whole population of that settlement to Tasman's Peninsula.
I now write so far to qualify this direction, as to refer to your own discretion the time of carrying my instructions of the 30th of September into effect. It is of course possible that practical difficulties, not to be foreseen at this distance, may render the immediate transfer of so large a body of prisoners to Tasman's Peninsula impossible, or extremely prejudicial to the very interests which the measure is designed to protect. To any such difficulties you will, however, yield, so long only as they may be found to be really insuperable.
With regard to the question of your legal authority to effect this removal, I would refer you to the statute 11 George IV, and 1 William IV, chap. 39, sec. 3, which enactments would authorize the transfer, even if Norfolk Island were still a part of the Government of New South Wales.
I am, &c.,
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Copy of a DESPATCH from Earl Grey to Lieutenant-Governor Sir William Denison.
Downing Street, November 28, 1846.
I TRANSMIT to you herewith, for your information and guidance, a copy of a despatch 3 which I have addressed to the Governor of New South Wales, intimating the abandonment by Her Majesty's Government of the design entertained by Lord Stanley and carried into effect by Mr Gladstone, of establishing in the north-east of Australia a colony for the reception of pardoned convicts, who might be unable to find the means of maintaining themselves in Van Diemen=s Land. The inclosed despatch explain to you the causes which have led to that decision.
I am, &c.,
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Copy of a DESPATCH from Lieutenant-Governor Sir E Eardley Wilmot, Bart.,
to the Right Hon. WE Gladstone.
Van Diemen's Land,
Government House, July 6, 1846.
I HAVE the honour to inform you that in consequence of the great inconvenience which would have resulted in the Convict Department by the absence of the Comptroller-General from Van Diemen=s Land, I despatched Mr [Robert Pringle] Stewart, an experienced visiting magistrate of the Convict Department, to Norfolk Island, to investigate the state of that settlement, and to inquire minutely into every branch of the Convict Department there.
From Mr Stewart's report, it will be perceived that the settlement has recently been in a most alarming state; that the prisoners were on the verge of an open mutiny; that life and property had become insecure; and that measures of the most decisive character should be at once taken to restore discipline and order amongst the convicts.
I lost not a moment on the receipt of Mr Stewart's report, in calling the Executive Council together, and placing before them that document, and also a summary in reference thereto, prepared by Mr Champ, the Comptroller-General; and requested their advice as to the measures which such an emergency required.
I have the honour to transmit Mr Stewart=s report, Mr Champ's letter to me, and the proceedings of the Executive Council, on the subject being laid before them.
The Council, you will observe, were unanimous in their advice, that the authority should be at once taken out of Major [Joseph] Childs' hands. It is therefore with great concern and deep regret that I find myself imperatively called upon, both for the restoration of convict discipline in particular, as well as to insure the safety of the inhabitants of the settlement in general, to take the immediate and prompt measure of suspending a Major Childs until Her Majesty=s pleasure be known, and placing in his stead some gentleman whose knowledge, firmness, and long experience with the convict population in this island, would restore order, and impose those regulations, without which it would be in vain to hope for success.
I have accordingly sent Mr Price, the police magistrate of Hobart Town, to Norfolk Island, as Civil Commandant, until Her Majesty=s pleasure be known; and I have perfect confidence in his prudence, zeal, and knowledge of the duties of the trust reposed in him, to be assured that very few weeksCI had almost said daysC cannot elapse after his arrival, before everything will be restored to order and regularity.
The first thing which Mr Price will do will be to disarm the prisoners of the knives which each of them possess, and to prevent the possibility of their obtaining any in future.
To make them wear the convict dress, with the necessary distinction on it.
To make them attend muster regularly, and in silence; and to attend prayers and Divine Service.
To institute messes, with a given number in each mess; and to each mess, one person to cook and prepare the meat.
To insure attention and punctuality to the hour and time for which each duty is specifically marked.
And, above all, to attend to that separation by night, and that continual surveillance and watch, without which nameless horrors are perpetrated, and even with the strictest vigilance, cannot always be is of prevented.
By attention to these regulations, (not new ones, but detailed in the printed regulations, and enforced constantly by the late Comptroller-General and myself in frequent communications to the Commandant,) I believe the settlement will shortly be restored to order and regularity.
In my despatches 4 to Lord Stanley, and particularly in those transmitting the Comptroller-General=s reports of August 1845 and January 1846, I urged upon his Lordship the necessity of giving us means of communication with Norfolk Island. I represented that a war steamer stationed here, or a sailing vessel, was absolutely necessary, in order to keep up that constant communication with Norfolk Island, without which it was impossible to superintend with satisfaction the affairs of that settlement. Having no vessels attached to that settlement, all our communication is conducted by a vessel sailing from hence; returning, and sailing back again, which generally consumed three months from the first starting. These vessels are the "Governor Phillip," of 188 tons, and the "Franklin," of 320 tons; adapted chiefly for the conveyance of prisoners' stores or military. I beg respectfully to urge the necessity of more speedy and efficient means of communication.
I have, &c.,
(Signed) K Eardley Wilmot.
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Inclosure 1 in No. 14.
MINUTE of Meeting of [Van Diemen's Land] Executive Council.
AT a meeting of the Executive Council, on the 1st of July, 1846, at which are present:—
|The Senior Officer.||The Lieutenant-Governor.||The Lord Bishop.|
|The Colonial Secretary.||The Chief Police Magistrate.||The Treasurer.|
* * * * * *
His Excellency.—The question which I am now about to propose to the Council, involves a measure, which I feel to be of the deepest responsibility, namely, the removal of a high public officer.
Major Childs has from time to time been furnished with the most ample instructions for his guidance as Commandant of Norfolk Island; nevertheless, reports some time since, and through various channels, reached the Government, which, however exaggerated they might have turned out to be, threw great doubt upon the order and discipline of the settlement, and proved, to say the least, that a necessity existed for a full and immediate inquiry.
At first, I thought of requesting the Comptroller-General to visit the island for the purposes of this inquiry, but other business rendered his doing so impracticable, and Mr Stewart was eventually commissioned to discharge the duty. I now lay on the table a report, in which the observations of that gentleman are given at great length, and of which there is also now before the members a summary, prepared by the Comptroller-General, who, it will be perceived, has arrived at the conclusion, which appears to me also to be inevitable, that the settlement is on the very verge of an open mutiny; that life and property there are no longer secure, even for an hour; in short, that an emergency has arisen, and that immediate measures of the most decisive nature must be taken to restore discipline and order.
His Excellency then directs Mr Champ=s summary to be read; after which, he requests the members to say whether they are now prepared to advise him, or whether they would defer doing so until to-morrow, with the view of reading in the interim the original report prepared by Mr Stewart.
The Senior Officer, relying on the information which he has received through his own department, as well as on the summary now read, has no hesitation in advising his Excellency not only to remove Major Childs, but to do so without delay. The only fear is, that even now it may be too late to avert mutiny and bloodshed.
The Colonial Secretary.—Although I have not yet seen the original report, I feel no difficulty in advising your Excellency upon the summary of the Comptroller-General, which I have now heard read. I think your Excellency is called upon to provide for the safety of the island, by transferring its government at once to Major Harold, the experienced officer now there in command of the troops, until a permanent appointee can be dispatched from this country to succeed him. The junction in one person of the civil and military commands, even for a time, is, I know, liable to objection; but it seems to me to be far more important that Major Childs' actual removal should not be preceded, even by a rumour of the intentions to remove him; otherwise, during that interval, matters might be brought to a crisis, and the island be subjected to all the horrors of an open mutiny.
The other members think, that in justice to Major Childs, they ought themselves to read the original report, before submitting to his Excellency their opinions on the subject now before the Council.
Adjourned to half-past 12 o'clock to-morrow.
At the meeting of the 2nd July, , there are present the same members as yesterday; and his Excellency requests the Lord Bishop, the Colonial Treasurer, and the Chief Police Magistrate now to favour him with their opinions.
The Lord Bishop informs his Excellency that he has now carefully perused the original report, which, in his Lordship's opinion, fully justifies the summary yesterday received.
His Lordship conceives that Major Childs has been shown to be destitute of the qualifications essential to his being enabled to cope with the difficulties of his command; and that the present state of the island is such as imperatively to require an immediate transfer of his authority.
But whilst his Lordship considers Major Childs' removal indispensable; he deems it to be only due to him to advert to the difficulties with which that officer has to contend, for these have been of no ordinary kind. The bad state of the buildings and stations, and other inconveniences unfavourable to discipline, would, under many circumstances, have rendered his position an anxious one; but to these have been added the far greater evil, that he has not been supported, but rather embarrassed by his officers, some of whom have even opposed him.
The Treasurer.—I also have read the report very carefully; and I am convinced that immediate and decisive measures are indispensable. The most prudent course that can be adopted, appears to me to be the one recommended by the Colonial Secretary.
The Senior Officer.—I have a very strong objection to the union of the civil and military commands in the same person, even for a limited period; but should your Excellency deem such a course expedient in the present instance, I have such confidence in the officer now in command there, that I shall offer no objection.
The Chief Police Magistrate concurs with the other members, as to the necessity which exists for the removal of Major Childs.
His Excellency.—One point still remains to be considered. Major Childs has not had the usual opportunities of reply and explanation.
The Lord Bishop.— submit to your Excellency, that peculiar emergencies require peculiar remedies. When life and property are in immediate jeopardy, ordinary forms must be dispensed with.
The other members concur with the Lord Bishop; and the Colonial Secretary observes, that, moreover, Major Childs lies under no moral imputation. He has had to contend with the remains of the relaxed system introduced by Captain Maconochie, with the difficulties attendant upon the commencement, under adverse circumstances, of a new establishment—and more than these— with the opposition of officers by whom he ought to have been assisted. He has not had energy to cope with such a state of things but his moral character remains unimpeached.
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Inclosure 2 in No. 14.
Copy of a LETTER from the Comptroller-General to the Lieutenant-Governor of
Van Diemen's Land.
Comptroller-General's Office, June 30, 1846.
I Have the honour to forward to your Excellency the report that has been furnished me by Mr Stewart, upon the present state of the Convict Establishment at Norfolk Island, in obedience to the instructions of your Excellency, conveyed to him in my letter of the 27th of April .
It is with the deepest regret that I have to lay before your Excellency a document disclosing evils of such magnitude as will be found in this report.
Without entering seriatim into these several evils, I may observe that the old convicts have not been separated from the new, and that apparently no attempt has been made to effect this most important measure, although the necessity for it has been repeatedly, and in the most emphatic terms, pressed upon the attention of Major Childs; that knives are allowed to the convicts; that the schools have been neglected; that no inspection of the wards by night, as ordered by Regulation, has been made, or even attempted; that the reading of daily prayers, though positively enjoined by Regulation, has been constantly omitted, and that, when performed, the average attendance of men has been only from 10 to 25 out 600; that a general insubordination has grown up, under which the convicts are only just a degree removed from mutiny; and that the consequence of the general fearful laxity of discipline has been the rapid and unchecked growth of the most heinous crimes.
Making every allowance for the difficulties with which Major Childs had to contend, from the want of buildings sufficiently extensive, and adapted for the proper coercion of the number of convicts on the island, still, the conclusion remains, in my opinion inevitable, that, either from want of experience, or from an absence in his own character, of the qualifications necessary for the control of criminals, he is totally unfitted for the peculiar situation in which he is placed.
In the official correspondence of Mr Tomes, it has been openly stated that the decisions of the Commandant rest with his chief clerk; and although to the unsupported assertion of a gentleman who has evinced in the discharge of his own duties a most lamentable want of discretion I should not be disposed to attach undue weight, still I canno [sic]
forbear referring to it, confirmed as it is by the numerous reports which have reached me through various channels.
It is impossible indeed to conceive that an officer endued with a sufficient degree of firmness, would have tolerated, supported as he was, at all events, by a sufficient military force, the insolent insubordination of the convicts, and allowed it to pass uninquired into and unpunished.
The sentences of the visiting magistrate, which have never been severe, but, on the contrary, as your Excellency as had occasion to observe, even lenient, in proportion to the offences, have been continually remitted by the Commandant.
The constant disputes between the officers have been at different times laid before your Excellency, referred, as they have invariably been by Major Childs, for decision at head-quarters; and this unwillingness or inability to decide for himself was forcibly noticed by my predecessor, in his communication to Major Childs of the month of July last.
Looking at the present state of things at Norfolk Island, and the paramount obligation to check, if possible, the overwhelming tide of crime with which that island everywhere abounds, I feel that, however reluctant I may be to recommend the removal of any officer from the sphere of duties which have been confided to him by Her Majesty=s Government, I should yet fail in my duty were I not to express to your Excellency my firm conviction, that unless an officer of more experience, energy and decision, be placed at the head of the establishment at Norfolk Island, all the other remedies which may be resorted to will be found to be of but comparatively small avail.
I have already received your Excellency's sanction for the removal of those assistant superintendents and overseers who are either inefficient or corrupt, and I shall endeavour to replace them by officers of experience and honesty. But all the efforts of subordinate officers, from the stipendiary magistrate downwards, to enforce the observance of order and decency amongst the men, must be partially, if not altogether paralyzed, if it is to be believed by the convicts, that their strict coercion is the work, not of the Commandant, but of his inferior officers, but for whose interference they would be allowed, to work out their own unrestricted will.
By a change of officers, who will carry out the instructions they may receive, discipline, outward order and decency, may, I apprehend, be restored and enforced. And with regard to the fearless vices which have been already contracted, the only palliative which I can suggest is, that no man now at Norfolk Island, who is not clear from the commission of that crime, stated to be so rife there, should be allowed to return to society, until, by having been subjected to at least one year's separate treatment, some guarantee has been afforded that the habit has at all events been interrupted, it may be hoped, by judicious treatment, for ever broken off.
I have, &c.
(Signed) W Champ, Comptroller-General.
His Excellency Sir E Eardley Wilmot, Bart.,
&c. &c. &c.
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Inclosure 3 in No. 14.
Copy of a REPORT from Mr [Robert Pringle] Stewart to the Comptroller-General.
Hobart Town, June 20, 1846.
In obedience to the instructions of his Excellency the Lieutenant-Governor, conveyed to me in your letter of the 27th April last, I proceeded to Norfolk Island, for the purpose of inspecting the various establishments at that settlement connected with the accommodation of the convicts, and affording to the Commandant such suggestions as I might see occasion to offer, with the view of assimilating, as far as circumstances would admit, the system of convict management at Norfolk Island to that pursued in Van Diemen=s Land; and to enable me to report fully, for the information of his Excellency, on the present employment, management, and discipline of the convicts, and to exhibit to the Lieutenant-Governor a complete view of the actual condition of the settlement accompanied by such remarks as might enable his Excellency to form an opinion as to the advantages or disadvantages attending the occupation of Norfolk Island as a penal settlement, under either existing or altered circumstances.
I beg to inform you that I landed at that island on the 12th, and re-embarked on the 26th ultimo. Having addressed to Major Childs a letter containing suggestions for his adoption, in conformity to the more prominent general Regulations, which appear unattended to, of which I beg to enclose a copy, and have now the honour to submit, for the information of his Excellency the Lieutenant-Governor, the following Report:—
Norfolk Island, situated in the 29th parallel of south latitude, is about 1500 miles north-easterly from Van Diemen's Land, and contains about 9000 acres in superficial extent.
There are but two seasons at Norfolk Island, summer and winter, the heat during the former, though tempered by the sea-breeze, is occasionally oppressive, the winds prevailing from the north and north-west, the sky clouded and the air hot, the state of the atmosphere is severely felt by new arrivals, and is favourable to the appearance of dysentery, which assumes an epidemic character from which few not acclimitised [sic] escape. During winter rain falls in frequent heavy showers, and strong winds prevail generally from the south and south-east.
The upper stratum appears to be generally decayed vegetable soil, though I observed occasionally indications of decomposed volcanic matter, amygdaloid and tufa. Boulders of basalt are seen imbedded in the soil in all directions, even on the cultivated spots. On the south-east is seen a coxalline limestone, and a cross-grained, porous sand or freestone, the base of the island being of porphyraceous rock.
Norfolk Island has not a river, but springs are found in various directions, which form creeks, finding their way to the sea.
The appearance of the island is extremely picturesque, and very beautiful; the surface preserves a general level of about 300 or 400 feet, broken into rather steep valleys of moderate depth and extent. Mount Pitt, the only elevation, rising at the west part to the height of about 2000 feet.
A considerable portion of the surface is crossed with highly ornamental trees, the very elegant Norfolk Island pine prevailing, but the timber, though used for building and general purposes, has little durability, fencing of posts and rails, after the manner followed in Van Diemen=s Land, not lasting more than three years; it is to be regretted that this wood should be so appropriated. Lemon, lime, and guava trees abound throughout the island, as if indigenous, so also the Cape gooseberry and castor-oil plant, which last I apprehend might be turned to advantage were the nuts, known officinally [sic] as mirabolans, collected and exported, rather than the expressure of the oil attempted in the absence of one who thoroughly understood the process.
There are produced on the island, oranges, grapes, figs, loquets, [sic] bananas, peaches, pomegranates, melons, pine-apples. The coffee-tree is also grown, each shrub producing about three pounds of the bean annually: about one acre has been this year planted at Longridge, but there do not appear to have been any means of calculating the expense, afforded by past practice, so as to test the probable advantage of the culture.
The chief object of agriculture is the growth of Indian corn, or maize, for the supply of meal to the convicts. Barley and oats are also grown, yielding tolerable crops; the growth of wheat is now attempted, but past experience can afford little expectation that it can be attended with success.
There are at present on the island nearly 2000 convicts, [see table below] of whom 523 are from Van Diemen's Land or New South Wales, labouring under second or more convictions; the remainder (1425) arrived direct from England; these men are located at three stations on the island as under;
Number of Convicts on Norfolk Island From England, VDL and NSW, c. 1845
At the Head Quarters in the Settlement:—
From England................................................................................................................ 541
From England............................................................................................................... 556
From England............................................................................................................... 328
The settlement, or "King's Town," the head quarters or principal station, is situated on the south side of the island, facing the sea, on the shore of Sydney Bay, and little above the level of the sea. Opposite to it are Nepean and Philip Islands; the former a barren rock about a mile to the east, the latter to the south, about six miles distant, partially wooded, and presenting a bold headland to the southward. A coral reef prevents the near approach of vessels to the settlement; and, as the anchorage is insecure, loading and unloading ships are tedious, being effected by boats, and crossing the bar, over which a very heavy surf generally rolls, is attended with great danger, as well from the surf on the bar, as from the intricacy of the passage, to avoid being thrown on a ledge of rocks immediately in front. This danger, I think, might be diminished, were the surface rocks diminished as far as the low-water mark, in the immediate vicinity of the passage, from the character of the rock; the work, I apprehend, would not be attended with much expense or labour.
The only other landing place in use on the island is at the Cascade, and this is resorted to when the sea on the bar at the settlement is so high as to be dangerous for boats.
The principal buildings at the settlement for the accommodation of the convicts are:—
The prisoners' barracks, in which they sleep;
The lumber-yard in which they mess;
The hospitals; and
The gaols, old and new.
The prisoners' barracks, on a foundation of limestone, at about eighty yards from the beach, stand on an area of about three acres, surrounded by a lofty wall, a road, bounded by a low wall, intervening between it and the sea.
The barracks are three stories high, and consist of a centre and two wings, substantially built of limestone, and contains 22 wards, calculated to accommodate 790 men, as follows, viz., centre, 9 wards, 430 men; right wing, 9 wards, 192 men; left wing, 4 wards, 168 men. The largest wards contain 100 men; the smallest 15, with the exception of one
fitted with 7 separate divisions under lock, in which are placed certain men addicted to * * * *
The wards are about eighteen feet wide, the depth of the building, and have windows on each side, affording a means of thorough ventilation, very desirable during the day, but liable to objection at night which is frequently very cold, when the ward is filled and heated, the men=s heads being close under the windows. Each man is furnished with a hammock and two blankets; the hammocks are spread between stout wooden rails, extending the whole length of the wards, in two lines on either side, with a passage of about four feet between them. Tubs are placed for use at night.
A permanent wardsman, chosen by the men, is appointed to each ward, who is said to be responsible for its cleanliness and the orderly conduct of the men.
On the west side of the barrack-square, under the enclosing wall, are the chapel of the Church of Rome, the sleeping-wards for the sub-overseers, and the Protestant choir above, and below them an hospital ward, for men exempted and kept, on half diet, the entrance being in the barrack-yard, and a ward for convalescent patients from the hospital, with an entrance from a separate enclosed yard at the back; there is room for twenty-four beds in the ward; the flooring is of stone, and the ventilation not good for an apartment for such a purpose.
The windows open into the barrack-square and afford an easy means of communication between the patients and the prisoners outside, which is very objectionable. There is no convenience for either cooking or washing; men=s meals are conveyed from the hospital kitchen, which is at some distance: this is a most uncomfortable arrangement.
On the east side of the barrack-square is the chapel of the Church of England, and also the barrack stores, likewise the school-room, capable of containing about eighty scholars, used as the court-house when the Commission for the trial of offenders visits the island; above the stores are the shoemakers' and tailors' workshops.
The lumber-yard, so called, in which the convicts mess, is an enclosure within high walls, separated from the prisoners= barracks by a roadway leading to the military quarters, the carpenters' workshops being at the west side; two sides of the interior are roofed over and furnished with tables and benches, many of rude construction, being substitutes provided by the convicts themselves from any description of wood they can obtain, affording accommodation of very objectionable character, and insufficient amount for messing the convicts on the settlement.
The cook-house, with its only entrance in the lumber-yard, is at one side of the gateway, and on the other is a store, from which sugar and soap are issued by an overseer nominally in charge of the lumber-yard; adjoining this, with an entrance external to the yard, is the mess-room of the sub-overseers; and next to this, very indecently exposed to the mess-shed, to which it is immediately contiguous and continuation, is a large privy; an uncovered soil-pit is at the rear outside, and an open drain, communicating with the settlement creek, not far below the water-hole whence water for the supply of officers on the settlement is drawn. Much disgusting annoyance is, of course, felt from the exhalations from this nuisance, and I can easily imagine, when the creek is flooded, that the contents of the water-hole are rendered impure and offensive.
About 600 men may be able to mess at the tables, six men to a mess.
The cook-house is divided into two compartments, each having large coppers; there is also a sleeping-ward for the cooks, who slept here instead of in barracks—an objectionable arrangement. The open area of the lumber-yard is about half an acre, whither resort upwards of 700 men.
“——,” a convict, sub-overseer of the kitchen, receives daily the meat and meal as it is drawn by the free overseer, “——,” from the Commissariat, and to the former is entrusted its detail issue. There is no efficient continued supervision over this place; that of Mr —— is merely nominal; peculation is carried on to a great extent, and it is a matter of notoriety that meat at the kitchen is sold at 1d. per lb.
The daily allowance of meal is twenty-four ounces per man; six ounces each morning and evening are reserved for hominy, and the remaining twelve are issued to the men by measure, assumed to contain the weight. From this they prepare their bread, after sifting in the lumber-yard, and carry it, all hours, to the bakehouse at some distance from the place. This is a most comfortless, irregular practice, and is liable also to serious objections; viz., sale of the siftings, encouragement to the theft of, and barter for, sweet potatoes to mix with the dough; pies are also made, containing surreptitiously obtained meat—for there is no scrutiny at the bakehouse; and lastly, provisions are collected preparatory to absconding, and in order to afford means of supplying men while at large.
The yard and its buildings are generaly [sic] filthy, the accommodation and general arrangements defective and wretched in the extreme.
The gaol is an old stone building, standing near the sea, not far from the landing place. It contains two wards, about 15 by 20 feet, one cell between them 5 by 14, and three cells 42 by 9. Adjoining in another building are four cells, 5 by 15. These buildings, connected by a wall about 7 feet high, form an enclosure; the wards and the cell between them have entrance from the central area, a very confined space not exceeding 50 feet square; while in front of the cells is a space of about 30 feet by 7 feet, formed by a front wall about 7 feet high, within which space, covered overhead by stone framing, the prisoners are permitted to take exercise for about one hour daily.
At the entrance stands, external to the gaol, the gallows; so placed, that you cannot pass the doorway without coming almost in contact with this engine of death. It is never
removed, on account of some difficulty having been experienced in obtaining a mechanic at the settlement, who would undertake its erection.
This gaol is generally crowded, is badly ventilated, low, and damp; the prisoners have each a thick straw mat, and a blanket, which forms a bed on the stone floor. At some short distance to the eastward of the old gaol is the new, of pentagonal form, each radiant intended to contain eighteen cells, 9 by 9, back to back, and opening to their respective partitioned yards, the whole standing on an enclosed parallelogram of some extent; only one set of eighteen cells has yet been completed; they are light, well ventilated, and appear to be dry.
This gaol stands on low ground, which affords some room for objection as to drainage; it is also built of the porous freestone, the only building material of that description the island affords, which may in such a situation eventually cause damp.
There are now confined in the old gaol, awaiting trial before the Criminal Court; twenty-one prisoner; some having been committed upwards of eleven months; they are confined in seven cells, three of smaller size, about 42 by 9 feet, are allotted to three men, the remaining eighteen prisoners being distributed in the four larger cells, about 5 by 15, whereof two contains four, and two five men each. The two wards occupied by the gaol-gang, the cell between them, used as a lock-up for men awaiting trial before the magistrate, and the seven cells last described, with the eighteen used for solitary confinement at the new gaol, are all the prison accommodation, available for the control of upwards of 1000 men at the settlement, more than 500 of whom are felons convicted twice and oftener, and of the worst character, both from New South Wales, and Van Diemen's Land. In addition to this, twelve cells for solitary confinement at Longridge, where there are nearly 600 men, and three at Cascade, with upwards of 300 men, are all that the island affords, an amount fearfully inadequate to meet the urgent, perplexing, and painful necessities of this extreme penal establishment, at which are stationed 2000 men.
On visiting the gaol, I observed that men awaiting trial before the magistrate, and others undergoing solitary confinement, not labouring under sentence in chains, were wearing very heavy irons. On inquiry, I learned from the gaoler, that it was the ordinary practice there to iron men under such circumstances. Six gags had also been prepared for use in the gaol, which I thought objectionable, as indicating a practice liable to serious objection, which matters, in the suggestions I offered to Major Childs, I brought under his notice.
The hospital is a low stone building, containing three wards, two of them accommodating five beds each, the other ten; but they are too confined for this number. The mode of ventilation is objectionable, as a thorough draught cannot be avoided; the wards are exceedingly hot in summer, and cold and damp in winter. They open under a narrow verandah into an enclosed yard of about 80 feet by 20: this is the only place in which the patients can take exercise. Opposite the verandah is a wall with a privy mid-way, the smell from which is always very offensive, in consequence of the want of a proper sewer; but during the hot season, when the wind prevails from the northward, the stench is excessive. There are a dispensary, office, and attendant's sleeping-room at one end of the yard and kitchen; store-room and dead-house at the other. The dispensary and office show symptoms of damp, from which cause I believe the medicines and instruments become injured. The contiguity of this building to the beach, on which a heavy surf is constantly rolling is the cause of the dampness, the air being charged with saline particles.
This building affords quite insufficient hospital accommodation for the settlement only, and the deficiency will appear much greater when it is remembered that there is no other accommodation for the patients from Longridge and Cascade stations, containing 1000 men in addition; in short, twenty beds, and a detached, cold, convalescent ward, are the extent of hospital accommodation for 2000 men, on an island wherein, during summer, attacks of dysentery of epidemic character, occasionally assuming a malignant type, are common.
I would introduce, as incidental to my report, the opinion of the medical officer in charge that the maize-meal, though not unwholesome as an article of diet is yet injurious to new arrivals, especially from England, in the hot season; from its coarse quality it acts mechanically on the coats of the stomach, and, if not inducing attacks of dysentery directly, yet predisposes to them, and aggravates their character. An allowance to new arrivals of at least a proportion of wheaten bread, and of fresh meat, under the direction of the medical officer, for a few months, until the hot season be passed, or the men acclimatised, is strongly recommended by the medical officer; for though climate cannot he said to be positively inoperative, especially in the hot season, as an exciting cause, yet there appears to be no question that it is far less influential than diet, more particularly when only a very small quantity of vegetables, if any, is included in their daily ration.
The bakehouse is an old stone building in a dilapidated state; it is unenclosed, and far removed from the lumber-yard, or messing place: four bakers are employed, two English and two colonial convicts, sleeping in a small, close room at the back. No responsible overseer is stationed here, nor is there any efficient inspection; peculation is common, and the clandestine removal of flour or meal to the quarter of a subordinate officer, was, on one occasion, detected by the police, and its seizure prevented by Mr Overseer ——, who ordered its release.
Their bread is made by the prisoners themselves, generally in the lumber-yard, and brought here to be baked; the ovens are heated four times a day. The only bread made
here is for the gaol-gang, except that for officers and the hospital; great irregularities prevail here for want of supervision, both in peculation by the bakers themselves, and in the cooking of provisions surreptitiously obtained.
Water is supplied to the settlement plentifully from a creek, but is unfit for use until filtered, as it runs through some of the gardens, stock and poultry yards, unless indeed taken from the water-hole very early in the morning, before the poultry have had access to it. There are springs in the neighbourhood of the settlement, or wells could easily be sunk, of which there are some already, whence a supply of pure water might easily be obtained.
The crank-mill is used to grind maize, when the supply of water is insufficient for the water-mill, and the want of wind consigns the windmill to be but partial work; indeed the last is worn out, and nearly useless, at any rate performing its work in a very indifferent manner.
A gang of ninety-six colonial convicts (though until a few weeks past consisting of English and colonial indiscriminately, even bringing in men from Longridge and Cascade, for the purpose of this promiscuous assemblage) is then told off to work the crank-mill by hand, and is divided into two parties, the one working from breakfast, the other from dinner time. They give motion to a pair of stones, and are tasked to grind twenty bushels of maize each per day. Half the men are thus idle half the day, and as much more of it as elapsed after the completion of the task (which can be finished in about three hours, if they exert themselves properly), during which time they are either lounging about in the lumber-yard, or loitering within the boundaries; occasionally being employed by the subordinate officers, for their private benefit, of course, surreptitiously. Breach of regulation in this respect appears almost habitual, detection having hitherto been unattended by any other consequence than remonstrance, rather even than reprimand; not to mention fining, or suspension from office.
The men work on the ground-floor of a low, damp, and dilapidated building, and a more disorderly, riotous, and unseemly exhibition than that which they offer at their labour, I never witnessed; so far from silence being preserved, the men are engaged in one incessant alternation of shouting, whistling, yelling, hooting, screeching, &c., of the loudest description, and the use of the most offensive and disgusting language! they can see through the windows all the passers-by, and these, especially officers (as the Commandant's office is immediately contiguous), are greeted either by excessive shouting and cheering, or by hooting and yelling, ad libitum. Not any attempt appears to be made to subdue this unseemly indulgence; indeed, the practice appears established and excused, as the manner in which the men incite each other to exertion. This is the explanation Major Childs afforded me.
A convict sub-overseer is within the building, whose duty it is to see that the men exert themselves, and an assistant-superintendant, [sic] who is charged to preserve order, appears to satisfy himself with parading in peace outside, though his ears are assailed by the incessant disturbance I have attempted, but very inadequately, to describe, I am given to understand that smoking, until lately, was indulged here with impunity.
This mill might be constantly worked by refractory, bad characters, as a means of a effectual punishment, if a protecting railing of adequate strength for the superintending officer was erected; the whole gang should then be present, and working and resting alternately. At present, however, this mill is only resorted to occasionally and from necessity, and the men, not of the description I have suggested, are selected.
The gaol-gang consists of upwards of twenty of the worst men on the island, all colonial convicts, they are lodged in the wards of the old gaol, from which place they are marched, under a military escort, to a small stockade close by, commanded by the sentry at the military guard post, near the landing. There they are worked under a convict sub-overseer (occasionally accompanied by one of the boat's crew, ——, when he is unemployed in the latter capacity), who stands outside the stockading.
The life of the convict sub-overseer is without doubt in imminent jeopardy; indeed, on my visiting the gaol on one occasion, this gang were in their ward, and making serious complaints to me of the conduct of the sub-overseer (for which on inquiry I found there was no foundation); one of the convicts observed, that if the sub-overseer were not removed, there would be murder, an observation which seemed to receive general assent, and another "——" immediately rejoined, he himself would kill him, if he could get an opportunity (this man is a very violent, refractory character, apparently a leader amongst them, who would, I doubt not, carry stealthily his threat into execution, yet I firmly believe would, like others of a similar stamp, quail under a firm and determined opponent, or under a rigorous discipline). The gang are employed stone-breaking; this mode of punishment Mr Barrow, after some persuasion, was permitted to adopt. It is very efficient, and therefore it is to be regretted, that the sentences of the men, bad characters, are so frequently remitted by the Commandant after a short portion only of a lengthened time has expired.
The blacksmith's shop, a small decayed wooden building, unenclosed, stands within the boundaries assigned to the men. There is no adequate check to either ingress or egress, and as the supervision on the part of the overseer of the Engineer Department is only of the most transitory and temporary nature, there can be no doubt that work to a great extent is constantly clandestinely carried on; here, no doubt, are made the knives, which are carried to a formidable amount by the prisoners on the settlement.
The carpenters' shop is between the prisoners barrack-square and the lumber-yard, being attached to one side of the latter. There is certainly a convict gate-keeper, who may act as a partial check to undue ingress on the part of the men.
There is no continued supervision by any overseer: the station-officers do not visit; and the occasional inspection of the overseer of the Engineer Department is quite unequal to check the surreptitious performance of private work by the mechanics, fifteen in number, therein employed, which is carried on to a very great extent, in the manufacture of work-boxes, writing-desks, cigar-cases, &c., of the ornamental wood of the island, highly polished. Scarcely a house but contains specimens. Since the arrival of the free police, seizures have been made of these articles (particularly when vessels have visited the island), as they are being sent off for barter or shipment.
I would observe, that the ordinary and safe course for the shipment of these and other clandestinely made articles, is, in the permission to ship for return to Van Diemen's Land, so called empty package cases, by the inferior officers. The permission readily granted by Major Childs, should, I venture to think, be absolutely withheld.
These evils, both at the blacksmiths' and carpenters' shops, result especially from the purposed abstinence from visitation on the part of the station-superintendents and their officers.
The shoemakers' shop is in the prisoners' barrack-yard. Here are employed seven men as shoemakers, under a convict sub-overseer, and from the causes hereafter described, combined with the total absence of supervision of the men while at work, much abuse prevails with regard to the performance of private or unauthorised work, as well as pecalation [sic] of materials.
To a convict sub-overseer (not of shoemakers) named ——, and to the convict writers in the office of the superintendent at the settlement, seems to be deputed practically the determination of what repairs shall be undertaken for applicants among the men.
The boots to be mended are then ticketed with the names of the various owners, which are registered, and handed over to the overseer of shoemakers, who applies with them to the overseer in charge of the station-store, for leather, hemp, &c.
This officer not having any experience, the sub-overseer takes the quantity of leather he may determine to be necessary, the leather for each pair is not insisted to be cut off separately, but is permitted to be taken in one piece. The consequences of this are evident; boots, also scarcely worn at all, are clandestinely remade, thus causing an unnecessary expenditure of material.
A practice prevails at Norfolk Island of hiring a tradesman, say shoemaker or tailor, for fourteen days or one month nominally as servants, at the rate of 6d. per diem. This may not be contrary to regulation, where the man so hired is not employed at his trade by the Government, or not intended to be employed at his trade by the hirer, though I believe it to be so.
But one man particularly, employed in the shoemakers' shop, is permitted on application to be employed by private individuals on these terms, taking with him the government tools, &c.; and in this way facility is afforded for working up leather, and other materials purloined from the government shop; which, from the low moral standard of some of the officers, is carried on to some extent; thus a fraud is practised on the government of 1s. 6d. a day, 2s. being the authorised charge for a mechanic.
Tailors are also employed on the terms above stated, and others, either tradesmen or handicraftsmen employed as wardsmen in the barracks, whose duties are over by half-past nine or ten in the morning, occupy themselves in any way they can during the remainder of the day.
On inspection during the day time, I found them generally in a cleanly state. I observed the hammocks are slung in actual contact with each other: there are not any separation boards, nor division of any kind whatever between them.
The hammocks and blankets are not numbered at all; one important check to plunder is thus omitted, in neglect of positive regulation, and much peculation is the consequence. Both hammocks and blankets are not unfrequently missed, the former are taken for the purpose of canoe building, &c., and the latter for conversion into frocks and trowsers [sic].
It has been recommended by the medical officer, that those men who work at what is called the "Wet Quarry," should wear frocks of this description, which are made of condemned blankets. Bullock-drivers are also very unnecessarily, I think, permitted to wear them, and thus their use has very much extended, and the plunder of blankets is the consequence. I am given to understand that frocks and trowsers of this description are occasionally offered in exchange for clothing and blue shirts on board the ships; and certainly at muster on Sunday inspection, by the Commandant, on the days I was present, I saw several men wearing such articles, of which no notice was taken by Major Childs. Were the hammocks and blankets numbered as they should be, detection would be easy, should theft be attempted.
While I was at the island the police captured an intended casing for a canoe in course of removal from the settlement. It consisted of twelve or fifteen apparently new hammocks sewn together; there was also a quantity of new cord, similar to that used as hammock lashing in the prisoners barracks; these hammocks not being numbered, it could not be determined whence they had been stolen, whether from the store or from the wards.
At the head of very many of the hammocks throughout the wards, were boots and bundles, the contents unknown to the superintendent, officers, or wardsmen; they appeared to be recognised as the property of the convicts, and were allowed to pass unnoticed, though it is distinctly laid down in the regulations, that men shall not he permitted to retain in this possession anything beyond the articles they may receive from the Crown, nor of them beyond the stipulated number.
There are three wards in the central devision [sic], containing two of them 100 men each, and the third 80; the other wards in the barracks contain from eighteen to forty-six each, but in these last you have to pass hrough [sic] one to a second beyond it. The wardsmen are selected by the men of the ward, and some of them, particularly colonial prisoners, are of the worst character.
These men are charged to keep the ward clean, to preserve order, and report any irregularities.
They are, with the men, locked into the ward at night, in which lights are not kept burning—a state of affairs that renders anything like an honest discharge of their duty on the part of the wardsman personally dengerous [sic], as, in the event of their making themselves obnoxious to the men; they would be exposed, without the slightest protection, to the retaliation which would unquestionably follow.
The men are mustered in their wards at 6 o'clock, after prayers, which I regret to say are very frequently omitted, and when said, attended optionally, but by a very limited number of men, the remainder lounging about the barrack-square.
There is no regularity whatever at this muster. Great disorder prevails, some men answering to their name, others not; some persisting in going into wards to which they do not properly belong, and too frequently succeeding, in open defiance of the irresolute attempts of the officers to prevent them.
There is the greatest difficulty in prevailing on some of the men to go into the barracks at all. They are not mustered by wards outside, and marched regularly to their hammocks, but the men having entered one ward, and placed themselves in their hammocks, dressed or undressed, the names are called out by an assistant-superintendent. If an answer be returned to each name, and on counting a corresponding number of men he found in the ward, all is deemed correct. It is notorious, however, that under this lax numeral rather than personal muster, men in fact change from ward to ward with impunity, attracted by a vile all-pervading motive, hereafter referred to.
On these occasions the superintendents are very seldom present; but present or absent, it appears to be the practice not to report these irregularities.
Lieutenant —— superintendent of English prisoners informed me, that on one occasion an arrangement had been made between himself and Mr Forster, superintendent of colonial prisoners, to make a different distribution of the men of one ward. Some opposition was expected, and a notice to the men, announcing the intended alteration was pasted by the superintendent at the gates of the barracks; notwithstanding which, at night, the men intended to be removed very resolutely walked to their own ward, and persisted in retaining it, where they now continue. Not a man was punished, and I believe that no report was made to the Commandant.
At 8 o'clock, servants, bullock-drivers, and the men who have the privilege of remaining out of barracks till that hour, are let into their wards; the others are not again mustered nor inspected at this time. The wards and outer doors are now locked, and the keys given to the serjeant of the guard, who calls from the outside to extinguish the lights, and the men are no more seen until the morning.
I visited the wards unexpectedly at night, at 8 o'clock, and found them for the most part oppressivly [sic] hot, the only means of ventilation being opening windows, immediately at the heads of the sleepers, against which many, especially those having ophthalmic affection of the eyes, loudly protested.
To some wards called the scholar's wards, oil for lights was allowed, but in others, lamps, how obtained I could not learn, were burning, and in others candles—no such articles being issued.
On the doors being opened, men were scrambling into their own beds from others, in a hurried manner, concealment being evidently their object. It was very evident that the wardsmen, not being liable to supervision, nor having any external support, did not exercise any authority and were mere passive spectators of irregularity, which prevails here at night to an enormous amount. How can anything else be expected? Here are 800 men immured from 6 o'clock in the evening until sunrise on the following morning, variously by hundreds, sixties, forties, thirties, &c., without lights, without visitation by the officers, or the check that even liability to, these would produce. It is my painful duty to state that I am informed, and of the truth of the information I entertain no doubt, that atrocities of the most shocking, odious character are there perpetrated, and that * * * is indulged in to excess; that the young have no chance of escaping from abuse, and that even forcible violation is resorted to. To resist can hardly be expected, in a situation so utterly removed from, and lamentably destitute of, protection. A terrorism is sternly and resolutely maintained, to revenge not merely exposure but even complaint; and threats of murder, too likely to be carried into effect from the violent desperate characters here associated, are made more alarming by the general practice of carrying knives.
The prisoners' barracks is a building quite unfit, in its present atate [sic], for the purpose to which it is applied, especially for men with the shocking propensities of the convicts, particularly of those from the penal colonies.
The width of the building throughout is only eighteen feet—the wards extending from side to side; there are no lateral passages external to them, so that efficient inspection, in its present state, is impossible, not merely from the situation of the doors not admitting of a survey of the interior from the outside, but from the size of most of the apartments. To inspect you must unlock and enter; it is true there is a small grated opening in each door,
but these are fitted with a movable shutter inside, which can easily be kept closed: on trial they were almost invariably found fast, and could only be opened with much difficulty from disuse.
The necessity is urgent for an immediate alteration in the building so as to remove partially these serious defects.
I consulted the engineer officer, — ——— who, at first, considered the structure did not admit of improvement in this respect; but eventually he approved the plan I submitted, and prepared the drawing I have the honour to enclose, forwarding me also the accompanying letter. I beg most respectfully to recommend this suggestion (or some other that may be considered more effectual), to sanction and adoption, and that it may, with the least delay, be carried into effect, for it is most distressing and mortifying to feel, that here, unchecked, are confining themselves habits shocking to, and an outrage on, humanity, in our fellow creatures, who will be eventually spread over this land, and the adjoining extensive territory, and that in future years a moral stain of the deepest dye may be impressed, perhaps immovably, on its people, and thus become attached to the name of Englishmen.
I have the honour to enclose a communication I received from Dr Everett, [see Inclosure 4 in No. 14 below] medical officer in charge, in reply to a letter I addressed him on the subject, in consequence of his opinion not coinciding with that entertained generally on the island, as to the extent to which the evil under reference exists there; but from all I could learn, and the matter received my most anxious, serious attention, and was the subject of my most cautious and temperate inquiry; from the detestable language the convicts habitually use to each other; the subject of their conversation frequently overhead; the form of abuse in which they frequently indulge; and from the frequency of men being brought forward for indecent conduct in situations, leaving no doubt of the criminal nature of their intentions; no doubt can, I apprehend, be entertained, that a most shocking state of affairs prevails in this respect among the convicts.
In the morning at daylight, the men are summoned, by bell-ringing, to rise, but many remain behind in the wards; there is much irregularity in men passing from ward to ward at this time, often for the worst purpose. The only check is the wardsmen, who are too frequently inoperative.
The assistant-superintendents and overseers are in the barrack-yard, now containing between 600 and 700 men, lounging and sauntering about, waiting either the arrival of the clergymen, to say morning prayers, or the commencement of the muster, should he not attend.
If he should arrive, which very frequently he does not, never on Saturday, and generally not more than three times a week, only a few of the men (from ten to twenty) proceed to the chapel, and no attempt is made by the officers to cause the attendance of the body. The superintendents are seldom or never present on these occasions, and the officers seem perfectly indifferent, if not disinclined, to attempt to resist the evident will of the men.
I dare say the prisoners from England would go into chapel at the ordinary command, were it not for the jeers, scoffs, abuse, and threats of the colonial convicts, whom nothing but the most firm, determined resolution, even the preparation of extreme military means, would compel. This state of the case—a climax—has now arrived from the gradual relaxation of the orders on this point during the last twelve months. On pointing out the subject to Major Childs, I was perfectly astonished to find him wholly unaware of the state of the case. Even to the habitual absence of the clergymen on some days, and the irregularity of their attendance on othersCno report having been made to him by the superintendents of the absence of the religious instructors, or by them of the amount of attendance on the part of the men.
Prayers having been said or, if unsaid, the time having elapsed, the muster, so called, commences, and a more unseemly, disorderly apology for that form I cannot pourtray, [sic] it is, in fact, the mere nomination of the members of a promiscuous crowd.
The men, instead of being orderly, ranked up in classes and messes, in silence, according to regulation, are sauntering and wandering about according to pleasure. English and colonial prisoners intermixed, some lounging about with folded arms, others standing with their hands in their pockets, all either in conversation, uninterrupted, or otherwise engaged at their pleasure. There are two assistant-superintendents appointed to call the names for the two divisions of convicts respectively, but very frequently this really important duty must be performed by deputy, the convict-writers from the Superintendent's Office being occasionally so employed, certain assistant-superintendents being quite unable to read writing fluently, or at all unless in a text hand; the roll is not called in classes, but, as the men are selected for working gangs without reference to classification; the men, as their names are called, emerge from the crowd, sauntering for the most part with hands in pockets and bundles under their arms, and take a stand opposite the mustering officer, near the barracks-gate; as the names of each gang are finished, the men, dispersing, leave the yard and proceed to the lumber-yard, either in groups or straggling at their pleasure, to breakfast.
This was the course followed on the mornings when I attended, but I learned that in even more than ordinary regularity was observed on those occasions.
The wards are then examined, and the men who may not have answered to their names at muster are sought and ejected from the barracks, but no report is made, and they go unpunished to repeat the offence at will.
From this time access to the wards is not permitted, nor to the barracks-yard, except to the shoemakers and tailors, whose workshops are within the walls, and to the wardsmen, who have free ingress and egress at all hours, notwithstanding that their work is completed by 10 o'clock in the morning.
Instances of irregularity with regard to the observance of this order are of common occurrence; men occasionally succeed in obtaining clandestine entrance to the wards, I am told, for a detestable purpose, and fastening the doors inside, for a time deny entrance.
During my stay at the island the "——" from England, arrived, and on landing the prisoners, those intended for removal to Cascade Station were, for protection, placed during the daytime in one of the wards; the ward was entered by a body of twenty or thirty convicts, the lock having been picked, and the work of plunder, of ordinary occurrence, I may say almost invariable on such occasions, commenced. Knocking down the men and rifling them had commenced, when assistance arrived in time to check it at the beginning, but, strange to say, not one of the offenders was secured, or even identified, though the barracks stands in a square enclosed by walls, and two watchmen are stationed at the gates. The convicts newly arrived were then locked up in the school-room, which, from motives of precaution and protection, was also their dormitory for two nights, until they were removed to their station.
On the occasion of the landing of the convicts, per "——" they were ordered to bathe, and were marched to the sea-side for that purpose, escorted by constables. A considerable number of men from the settlement rushed upon them, seized their clothes, and plundered them notwithstanding the efforts of the constabulary.
They escaped punishment on account of their number, not even a selection for the sake of example being made.
From morning muster at the barracks, I proceeded to the lumber yard, where the whole body were at breakfast, consisting of hominy, a thick sort of paste, prepared from maize-meal; and a more ill regulated exhibition cannot be seen. The mess-sheds, though crowded, are quite unequal to accommodate nearly the whole of the men; more than 100 had neither seats nor tables, but are obliged to sit on the ground in the open air, exposed to all inclemencies of the weather. I found the men, instead of eating the hominy at this time, used but a very small portion of it, having reserved from the previous day some of their bread for breakfast, in order to leave the hominy for mixing with their dough for baking.
I have said they one and all receive 12oz. meal daily, in a raw state, and make their own bread, carrying it to the bakehouse at all hours of the day, where the ovens are heated four times daily.
You may at all hours of the day see them employed in sifting their meal, the siftings so obtained being the subject of traffic with any person who may desire to buy, (using sieves, not the property of the Crown, and belonging to no one, so far as I could learn,) some kneading dough, others carrying it to the bakehouse in their tin plates and dishes, issued for a very different purpose. Everything, in short, appeared in the greatest confusion and discomfort, particularly at meal times.
When fresh pork is issued from the commissariat, all the men receive their allowance in a raw state, and the whole afternoon, generally Sunday, is one continued course of cooking. Outside the cook-house door is piled the fire-wood, and here, contiguous to the heap, on the ground, is a fire surrounded by numbers of the men, busily engaged frying steaks of fresh pork in pans, to whom belonging I could not learn. On the occasion of my visit, fish was also in process of cooking, and on my asking some of the officers to whom it belonged, I was informed, after inquiry, that it was not owned, with which they appeared satisfied, no further notice being taken. Tea was also boiling at the fire; it was evidently intentionally unobserved.
On another occasion of my visiting the lumber-yard kitchen, at dinner time, an allowance of fresh beef, in excellent condition, having been issued, the convict sub-overseer, —— made answer to my inquiry, in a manner of assumed satisfaction, that the one pound allowed to each man would, after boiling, yield nine ounces! The Commandant was present. —— was in concert with the boat=s crew, who some time since seized a launch in her way from the shore to a ship in the offing, and threw the military guard overboard. —— being at a mill, or some other convenient position, with the supply of provisions. For this offence, under some form he was tried, but from insufficiency of evidence, rather than any moral doubt of his participation, he was discharged. The selection of such a character for an office of any description, seems to be very unhappy.
On the first of my morning visits to the Lumber Yard, accompanied by ——— Superintendent of English prisoners, I observed on our entry a man very deliberately smoking, standing among a crowd round the fire inside the cook-house. Mr —— saw that this exhibition attracted my notice, and pointing out the circumstance to an assistant-superintendent, ———, desired him to take the pipe away, for which purpose he advanced to the smoker; he was received with a look of the most ineffable disdain, and very quietly addressed the man, who with hands in pocket, turned from him and walked away to that part of the mess shed called "the Ring," where all the worst of the prisoners associate. I was not aware until Mr ——— announced it to Mr ——, that the man had "refused to surrender his pipe;" it was very evident that Mr —— made not the slightest attempt to take it. Mr —— now ordered the man to be taken to gaol, no one stepped forward for a few seconds, until Mr ——, acting Chief Constable, who
had been standing in the rear advanced, and with admirable coolness and determination proceeded to the spot. The whole yard was now like a disturbed hive and Mr — expressed his conviction that there would be a riot, for that the men would not suffer the offender to be taken into custody; however, after a short time had elapsed, the culprit was seen emerging from the dense crowd by which he had been surrounded, with hands in pockets, attended by, rather than in custody of, the acting chief constable of the island. He deliberately advanced to Mr ——, who was standing close by my side, and in the most insolent manner said to him, "What have you ordered me to gaol for?" Mr —— very coolly expostulated with him, and advised him to go quietly, when he deliberately struck him two violent blows in the face, and using some very opprobrious expressions, fiercely rushed upon him and nearly threw him on the ground. —— now seized him, and with assistance released Mr ——, Constable —— desiring to know if he should shoot him. The fellow now withdrew to another part of the shed, followed if not borne along by a dense crowd, —— still with him. Mr —— rejoined me, and soon afterwards looking round said, "We had better retire, Mr Stuart, I see them getting out their knives," and withdrew from the yard. I looked round but did not observe any knives, though it is possible there might have been, for the crowd round us was considerable. Some short time elapsed before ——— and the prisoner advanced; he, however, with hands in pockets, at length made his appearance, and after passing close by me raised his hand, seemingly to rectify the position of his straw hat, or to offer a tardy apology for salute. A more wanton, unprovoked, and flagrant outrage than that of which this man was guilty, I never witnessed. On inquiry I learned from —— , that to secure him he was compelled to use the language of expostulation; that he dared not have seized him and compelled his surrender, which indeed was very evident, and that but for the presence of an officer, accredited by his Excellency, he dared not have acted as he had done; his attempting to advance singly into the Lumber Yard for the purpose of arresting a prisoner, would have been attended with the greatest risk and personal danger. This was not the first time Lieutenant —— had been assaulted, and I was informed that subordinate officers have on several occasions been attacked. The use of opprobrious language to the officers is habitual, more especially among the colonial convicts, to which a deaf ear is usually turned, and Lieutenant —— assured me that on several occasions, when he has been expostulating with the men of his division (English prisoners), for some comparatively trifling breach of discipline in the presence of some of the colonial convicts, the latter have addressed the former in Mr ——'s presence, recommending their resistance and threatening them if they conformed.
The association of two classes of convicts, especially in the Lumber Yard, is most mischievous in its effect; the place is evidently regarded, more particularly by the colonial convicts, as an Alsatia or sanctuary.
The want of proper separation in the barrack at night; the promiscuous muster; and the communication within the boundaries, are sufficiently objectionable. But here the confusion of 800 men in so small an area, when from the desperate character of many, the officers have ceased to control, or even supervise them on account of the alleged and actual personal danger attending the discharge of that duty, gives the hardened and depraved an absolute power, which is exerted in the most tyrannical manner over the majority, many of whom, I firmly believe, desire to conduct themselves becomingly, but have not sufficient courage to enable them to defy the threats, rendered more alarming by the almost hourly exhibition of their being carried into effect, or to resist the determined, vicious, confederacy, by which they are oppressed. There are no means of protecting a man who may have brought on himself odium on account of good conduct, or perhaps supposed communication of information, or having given evidence against any member of the so called "Ring." A more miserable position than that of such a man cannot be conceived, and, under these circumstances, what wonder is it that the English prisoners at the settlement soon become as disorderly and depraved as those with whom they are thus unfortunately associated.
The Return of Sentences passed by the stipendary [sic] magistrate, shows the effect very exactly: during the months of February, March, and April, the number of colonial convicts at the settlement was 484; the number of convictions, 260, or 58 per cent, nearly in three months, the number of English convicts at the settlement during that period was 489, number of convictions, 147, or 30 per cent; during the same period, while those from England at Longridge were 494, with 105 convictions, or 213 per cent, and at Cascades, 252, with 40 convictions, or not quite 16 per cent. The effect of association at the settlement is thus apparent.
Conviction Rate Comparison of Colonial — VDL and NSW — Convicts and English Convicts, Feb, Mar and Apr c. 1846
Origin of convicts
Number of convicts
Number of convictions
Colonial convicts (Van Diemen=s Land and New South Wales) at the settlement............................................................................................
. 58 [53.72]
English convicts at the settlement.........................................................
English convicts held at Longridge........................................................
English convicts held at Cascade..........................................................
. 16 [15.87]
I account for the difference between Longridge and Cascades in this way: there is at Longridge a smaller proportion of free officers, and a more frequent association with colonial convicts there, employed as bullock-drivers and in various ways by the superintendent of agriculture. Another cause probably not inoperative, is that while at the Cascades the men are lodged and mess in wards containing generally only 10 each; at Longridge each class is in one ward, and the whole body are assembled in one mess-room.
It is much to be regretted that Major Childs has not made any arrangement for, I will not say overcoming, but merely modifying the evils of this deteriorating communication. Merely a wall across the lumber yard would have been very salutary. On the occasions when the men have refused to work, Lieutenant —— assured me that his men (English prisoners) would have obeyed, many of them gladly, but dared not break through the determination of the colonial prisoners.
As the buildings connected with the management of the convicts were on the departure of Captain Maconochie, so they are at this day. It is evident that alarm deters the officers from the performance of their duty in checking any irregularity and insisting on obedience. This is openly and unhesitatingly avowed, though the effect is sufficiently palpable.
Again, the frequent remission of sentences by the Commandant appears to operate to deter the officers and even the constabulary from exhibiting complaints, for the consequence of remission is sure to be the growth of ill feeling against the officious complainants.
Remissions are frequently made immediately after trial, but more often of considerable portions of sentences to either solitary confinement or chains, even in cases where men are of such bad characters as to be ordered to the Gaol Gang.
It would be wrong to deny or even question the exercise of this power by the Commandant, falling as it does within the limit of his discretion; but the judgment of the remission may be disputed when we look round and see the disorganization every where conspicuous, from the reins of authority having been not merely relaxed, but almost relinquished.
Instances of the most gross insubordination and resistance to authority are also permitted to pass altogether unpunished; for instance, on the 20th, 22nd, 23rd, 26th, and 27th of January last  the whole of the convicts at the settlement refused to go out to work on the plea of the objectionable quality of their meal and housings, and on two of these occasions, they remained in the lumber yard all day; at Longridge also, the whole gang there refused to work on the 21st of January, and, on the 22nd, 100 men did the same thing.
On these occasions not a man was punished, not even brought to trial for having participated in such inexcusable offence: the effect of which omission can only be viewed as a compromise of authority, even though the men should have had valid ground to complain of a portion of their food, which in several instances it was proved they had not.
On the 25th February the men at the settlement refused to proceed to labour, on the plea that Ash-Wednesday was a holiday, and persisted until a military party under the personal command of Major —— were on the point of firing on them. On this occasion one man received thirty-six lashes on the spot, having been seized by Major —— for making use of some insolent expression while passing him on his way from the lumber yard, but no further notice was taken of the matter.
On all these occurrences the stipendiary magistrate was present, endeavouring to quell the spirit of insubordination, but the Commandant appears not to have considered it necessary to attend.
Since the arrival of Mr Barrow, the stipendary [sic] magistrate, many judicious measures have been adopted, and among the results are,Cthat sheep-stealing has been put down, which used to be of constant occurrence to a great extent. The convicts, escorted by others awaiting their arrival at the confines of the settlement, bringing into the lumber yard, and there cooking the stolen meat.
The convicts, instead of being able to rove about the island at will, are now restricted to boundaries on the settlement, guarded by men appointed at Mr Barrow=s suggestion, as acting-constables, selected from the best-conducted English prisoners, a very fine body, and deserving every encouragement consistent with regulations. The practice of trafficking with the prisoners by the subordinate officers has been much checked, though it still exists to a great extent. Open robberies of officers' quarters at the settlement, which were of frequent occurrence, especially on Saturday afternoons, when the men do not work, have not lately occurred.
From my own observations, confirmed by the expressions of Major ——, — Regiment, in command of the troops, and others, whose opinions are deserving consideration, I am justified, nay called upon to report, that Mr Barrow has proved himself a most efficient and determined officer.
The convicts are confirmed to a certain extent in the habit of disobedience of, and resistance to, the commands of the superintendents and their officers. To compel their strict obedience would now evidently require the adoption of very serious measures, even frequent recourse to the presence of the military, and therefore instances of gross insubordination are frequently allowed to pass altogether unnoticed; and a degree of caution and of hesitating indecision is manifested in the demeanor of the officers to the men, and in the orders they give, quite fatal to the vindication and maintenance of authority.
The spirit of disobedience thus strengthened in the refractory is, from impunity, reflected by the many, and almost provokes imitation.
The habitual absence of visitation of the convicts when at work, on the part of the superintendents, the men proceeding to and remaining at their labour unaccompanied by any free officer (being attended only by convict sub-overseers, and visited at intervals only by the overseer of the engineering department) is a practice which has had the effect of breaking, as it were, the connection of the men with their officers, obedience to whom is not now familiar; of course great latitude of conduct cannot but be indulged in by the gangs while at labour, and the interference of the officers, on their return from work, if attempted, is felt by the men as an irritating intrusion.
Their most important duties are thus neglected by the officers, that of admonishing, advising, and in fact tutoring those who are placed under their charge; and when superadded
is the loss of moral influence resulting from the traffic of the subordinate officers with the men and their surreptitious employment of many, disorganization is scarcely a matter of surprise.
Tea, sugar, and tobacco seem to be the principal subjects of trade, there is not one of the subordinate officers at the settlement, with the exception of probably Messrs Turnham and Gabbott, whose name is not connected with the prosecution of this serious breach of regulations, fatal to the retention of personal respect, on which authority so much depends.
During the administration of Captain Maconochie, trafficking was not only encouraged among the prisoners themselves, but to a certain extent permitted between them and their officers, and with the shipping on their arrival at the island, one unhappy feature in a system unquestionably fatal in its results, however interesting it may have been as a theory of intended benevolence wherein with the view of inducing the developement [sic] of the better features of man's dispositions, and affording scope for their exercise, facilities for the commission of crime, were afforded too tempting for the power of resistance and self-control of human beings habituated to self-indulgence to a vicious extent.
Several men who were officers under Captain Maconochie, are still on the island, and covertly but rather extensively carrying on the practice of dealing; others who have relinquished their appointments, or been removed, have still left the practice to their successors; and it is rather remarkable that not one officer has been either dismissed or suspended for positive delinquency of this kind. The extent to which the practice was at one same time carried, may be judged from the circumstance that Mr —— (lately suspended from his duties as gaoler, for drunkenness), and Mr —— still an assistant superintendent, actually freighted, a short time before Captain's Maconochie's departure, a vessel from Sydney with goods for disposal at Norfolk Island, and the former was permitted to make an addition to his quarters outside the gaol wall, for the convenience of his wife attending the shop. It is natural that men, long accustomed to such a profitable pursuit, should be reluctant to relinquish this by far most lucrative, though positively forbidden contingency of their office.
I think that all who have indulged in, or are pursuing the practice, are unlikely ever to recover the position in the estimation of the convicts, that men, armed with authority, should enjoy; or to be in the least degree influential in any attempt, under any authority or administration whatever; to restore order and re-establish discipline and regularity.
Longridge Station is situated about one mile or a mile and a half from the settlement inland, towards the south-west of the island; it is an agricultural establishment, and the Superintendent of this department resides there.
Passing through the farmyard, with appropriate barns, stores, sheds, &c., you enter a large square, the sides of which are formed by weather-boarded cottages of the officers, the prisoners' barracks, or sleeping wards, the cookhouse, bakehouse, store, and the gaol, a stone building containing twelve airy and dry cells, with the entrance from above.
The barracks are in three separate buildings, and are calculated to hold, the largest 300, and the other two 150 each.
The men sleep in hammocks, in two tiers, spread from stout wooden frames running on either side, with a passage down the centre as at the settlement.
The barracks are constructed of single weather-board only, and are very objectionable as sleeping apartments, especially during the rains in winter; the windows are large, not glazed, but fitted with wooden shutter blinds. The external chill, acting on the over-heated interior, is productive of much illness, catarrh, diarrhoea, dysentery, ophthalmia, and rheumatic complaints; indeed, Dr Everett, the Medical Officer in charge, assured me that mortality at this station is to some extent the result of this seriously defective sleeping accommodation.
The mess-room is underneath the largest barrack, and is a low comfortless place; the accommodation in tables and seats, as well as space, is not sufficient for more than half the number of men (600) on the station; the dimensions are about 120 feet x 20. In wet weather a considerable number of men are necessarily exposed to its inclemency, as in the lumber yard at the settlement. The privies are filthy open sheds, without seats; with soil pits exposed.
The bakehouse and cookhouse are small but convenient, and appeared cleanly.
The station is visited daily by a medical officer; there is a dispensary, a prisoner the acting as dispenser, but any patient requiring hospital treatment is removed to the hospital at the settlement, as there is not one at Longridge.
There is a well of good water at the station; troughs are provided for personal ablution, and each man washes his own clothes.
The Superintendent of the station, Captain —— lives at the settlement; the stone foundation of a house at the station for his occupation, has been laid for some time, but its progress has been arrested for want of timber: great inconvenience results from the absence of the superintendent from the station. He visits it every morning, returning to the settlement at 9 am, offering the distance, about one mile and a quarter, as a reason for this almost nominal, but certainly inadequate, supervision of the station duties, and the total absence of visitation of the gangs.
One of the Assistant Superintendents, —— from an injury of some standing in his leg, has been pronounced unable to do duty beyond the precincts of the stations and is not competent to discharge the duties of station officer during the continued absence of the superintendent, so that the services of a valuable, active, and intelligent officer, Mr ——, now doing the duty of station officer, are comparatively lost.
STRENGTH OF OFFICERS:—
3 Assistant-Superintendents, and
to the charge of 600 men.
The gangs at work are not attended by the officers, being all under convict sub-overseers; even the men at work at the barns, workshops, pig-yards, &c., on the station are not visited by the officers of the station.
The Cascade Station is on the north side of the island, nearly equi-distant from the settlement and Longridge; it is partially sheltered from the sharp southerly winds, which sweep across the island in winter, and invalids have derived benefit when removed to it from other stations.
The prisoners are quartered in three ranges of close weather-boarded huts, divided so as to contain some twenty men, but generally ten men in each; two of these ranges front each other, and with a stockade enclosure, connecting their ends, form a square. There is not a mess-room: the men of each hut mess in it. The cookhouse, although small, is neat and orderly, the bakehouse, recently finished, is of good size, and well kept. There is not any gaol, and there are only three cells for solitary confinement; their size is rather small, the ventilation scarcely sufficient, as at Longridge. There is not an hospital, but a dispensary, a convict acting as dispenser; the medical officer visiting daily from the settlements, whither any patient requiring hospital treatment is of necessity removed. There is not any school, nor lending library at the Cascades; a small inconvenient weather-board outhouse has been used as a chapel, for which it is in every respect unfit, not even affording sufficient room.
There is a well, affording a good supply of excellent water, and troughs are provided for the use of men in washing, each man washing his own clothes.
A chaplain, the Rev Thomas Rogers, resides at Cascades.
No station wash-houses:—No towels for the use of the men; they wash their clothes either during the time allowed for meals, or during the hours of labour.
The rations of the men were the subject of general complaint.
The administration of their duties by the religious instructors at the settlement, Rev — — Church of England, and the Rev — — Church of Rome, is very unsatisfactory. On visiting the gaol, I learned that, though the regulations require they should visit the men undergoing solitary confinement, and those in hospital, daily, yet that their visits were both irregular and unfrequent, occurring sometimes only once, and rarely more than three times a week, seldom occupying more than five minutes, and never exceeding a quarter of an hour, though the gaol contains eighteen men committed for trial, besides a gang of about twenty-four men, who, on account of many of them having been guilty of very irregular conduct at church, tending to general disturbances, have been prohibited from further attendance. The hospital is rarely visited by either of these gentlemen.
The morning and evening daily prayer, as I have stated before, is very frequently omittedCon Saturday invariably, on Monday usually, and on other days occasionally;—I deemed it my duty to seek an interview with Mr —— on the subject. He explained, in answer to my inquiry, that he had not any regular days for visiting either the gaol, cells, or hospital; that he did so as often as circumstances admitted; that he had never read prayers in the gaol; that with regard to the habitual omission of the morning and evening prayers on Saturday, or the early Sunday prayer, he had followed the example of his predecessor; and he attempted to excuse his absence on other occasions, by stating that the attendance of the men was not regular, and he seemed at the same time to question the policy or consistency of enforcing it. He stated also that from 10 to 25, or 30 men, out of 600, attended. On my inquiring if he had made any report to the Commandant of this omission or neglect on the part of the superintendent, he replied that he had not, for that the regulations did not require that he should do so; that much unpleasantness had resulted from making reports; and that he did not wish to embroil himself, I explained that he was charged with most important duties, the very foundation of a reformatory course of discipline; and that if the men were not brought within his influence by those who had the more immediate control of them, he could not faithfully discharge those duties; and that it was but rational to expect that he should report the fact to the representative of supreme authority on the spot. He replied, he had not before seen the matter in that view.
The Right Reverend Dr Willson, Roman Catholic Bishop, being at the island, I represented the state of the case with reference to the Rev Mr ——— and saw Mr —— in presence of the Bishop, to whom he admitted the omission to which I have alluded, saying that he had followed the course of his predecessor. I pointed out the very explicit, definite regulations, of the tenor of which he appeared to be aware. The only excuse he offered was, that the hospital arrangements did not admit of his seeing the members of the Church of Rome separately.
The schools at the settlement are neither numerously attended by the men, nor regularly by the religious instructors. There are only voluntary schools, the scholars not exceeding 75 at that of the Church of England. The Roman Catholics do not attend this school, though mere secular instruction only is offered.
Great irregularity used to prevail at the schools,Ceven smoking was indulged in; but this is not now of such frequent occurrence. Mr —— represented that the schoolroom was frequently required by the superintendent for temporary purposes connected with the marking and issuing clothing, &c.; that the school at these times was necessarily relinquished; and that the scholars, after these interruptions, were always some time before they resumed their regular attendance. Major Childs was not aware of this till I represented the case. The school had been unattended for nearly a week, while I was on the island, the cause of which was stated to be, that the room had been used for two nights as a sleeping ward for some men lately received from England, per "China;" but no report had been made to the Commandant of an omission which he had not sanctioned, and of which he was not aware.
The Rev — —— resides at the Cascades; the prayers are regularly said, and cells visited, but there is not, and never has been, any school whatever. The building, or rather shed, in which service is performed, is a wretched substitute for a chapel; there are benches, but scarcely sufficient to accommodate all the men: the want of tables, desks, and school furniture, is the reason of the omission of school. Mr —— has brought the matter under the notice of the Commandant, but the engineer department has been unable hitherto to supply the necessary articles. Still, I think a school might have been established, at least, that reading might have been taught, to which desks and tables are not indispensable.
At Longridge, morning and evening prayers are read by the station officer, but for some short time the evening prayer had been discontinued, under plea of the late hour to which the men were kept at agricultural labour.
The school is frequently visited by the Rev T —— from Cascade: it is voluntary, about 80 men attending. I would observe, that at the settlement also the attendance at school is voluntary (even among the prisoners from England, who are supposed to be treated under regulations for probation discipline), and not in accordance to the practice in Van Diemen's Land, where all who cannot read and write fluently have not an option, which is extended to those only who do not stand in need of elementary instruction.
I beg to enclose copy of the entire contents of a Visiting Book I observed at the Old Gaol; it appeared that the Commandant, through Mr Barrow, had desired that the religious instructors would enter their visits. This appears to have been regularly complied with for a few days, until an entry made by Mr —— respecting the Gaol Gang not being permitted to attend church, when it was discontinued. On inquiry, I learned from Mr —— that he did not consider he was intended to record his visit merely; he thought the book was for the purpose of entering any remark he might see occasion to offer, and could not discover any use in merely entering his name. Its use had been discontinued, of which Major Childs appeared not to be aware on my submitting the matter to his notice. The omission of the Religious Instructors to give their regular attendance both at the Hospital and at the Gaol, especially to the men undergoing solitary confinement, is very serious, for it is here where they can have access to them individually, under circumstances favourable to the reception of salutary impressions—that a foundation should be attempted for an influence to be continued and improved eventually, where their efforts are much more likely to be favourably received, and yielded to, than when offered in public ministrations; for many the majority of the men appear to be sustaining a character among their fellows, which when separated from them, they readily, though perhaps but temporarily, relinquish, and are then disposed to allow their true feelings and the better features of their characters to appear. These, when in the company of their fellows, they cover or subdue, with the view of maintaining a consistency and apparent hardihood, highly unfavourable to their receiving, or concession to, any such salutary influence. No excuse was offered by either Mr —— or Mr ——, for their non-conformity to regulations in these points.
The Agricultural Establishment is worked under the direction of Mr —— Superintendent, who resides at Longridge, the principal farm. I beg to enclose Returns furnished to me, of the quantity of cattle and sheep on the island, and the disposition of the land under tillage. The former appeared in high health and condition, the latter in a favourable state generally, for the approaching sowing season; the quantity of land already sown, and that to be planted with maize, &c., appears in the Return No. 1. I learned from Overseer —— who had been resident on the island for many years, and appeared a naturally intelligent man of much experience, that the best season for sowing extended from about the end of July until the end of October, and that dependance for a crop, particularly of maize and sweet potatoes, which may be considered the staples, could he placed only on that planted at that season, although later sowing might possibly be productive if seasonable rain should fall, which was not to be calculated upon with any degree of certainty under ordinary circumstances. The island appeared to me well able to support its present population in both grain and fresh meat, according to the scale of rations at present issued; but the contingencies of season to which it is liable are such, that disappointment in this respect may be at all times expected. I transmit a manuscript book, found amongst the official papers at Norfolk Island by Major Childs, who permitted me to bring
it for submission to his Excellency, on promise that it should be returned. It contains some valuable as well as interesting information relative to the island.
A great part of the land now under culture appears to have been so for many years. The soil is naturally very fertile, but being generally of a light character, requires good management, in order that its incessant vegetation may not injure it. Much ground is being cleared to be brought under culture, an equal area requiring rest will then be pastured with sheep.
I found in Mr —— the superintendent, an apparently strong disposition to view practically this branch of the service, or the agricultural labour of the convicts, quite distinct from what he termed the "discipline department," and to consider that it might be conducted with too little reference to the standing regulations.
He expressed to myself when pointing out the absence of the officers of the station from their men (who were worked under convict sub-overseers) during the hours of labour, a desire that they should be present: yet they have been, in effect, I may say relieved from the performance of the most important part of their duties, the continued supervision of the convicts while at labour, in consequence of his disposition to view any interference on their part with the men while at work, as an invasion on his authority, or an impediment to his operations.
His practice seems in effect to indicate that, as soon as the men were "handed over to him" after morning muster on the station, he became responsible for them, and that the "discipline officer" accompanying them to work and there remaining with them, would be an interference with his management of his department, while the conclusion is evident that the appointed officers could as readily carry into effect directions with regard to labour as convict sub-overseers, and that their virtual supercession [sic] is inexcusable.
This selection of convicts for petty officers called "billets," seemed to be made without reference to the superintendent of the station, and as a general rule, without regard to eligibility, in respect of either character or length of service.
On referring the matter to Major Childs, I found he was reluctant to check the practice of Mr —— from an expression in a letter from the Comptroller-General, under date 20th July, 1845,— "The convicts, whilst at work, to be classed in such a manner as the Superintendent of Agriculture may direct, as being most conducive to productive labour," admitting some latitude of interpretation under which discretionary power was vested in himself, should its exercise be demanded for the advantage of public service in agriculture, but I apprehend not to such an extent as almost sanctions practice inconsistent with adherence to standing regulations; and to the terms of the Comptroller-General's preceding letter, 15th March, 1845, which announces to the Civil Commandant that the duties with which Mr Robertson was charged are to be conducted so as not to infringe on discipline. Selections in accordance with regulations are the more necessary, as the men chosen are at once introduced to so, considered, indulgence, viz., in being detached from the station, as in the case of herdsmen and shepherds, in sleeping out of barracks in some cases, and messing by themselves, though employed on the station, receiving their rations in a raw state, in not unfrequent issues of fresh meat when it is not served to the men generally, and in continuing in the occupation of gardens, though the privilege has been withheld from the body of convicts,
The accompanying Return, No. 2, will show, that of Colonial convicts at the settlement, (who are prohibited by regulations from holding any billet,) 26 were employed on the 25th May by the Superintendent of Agriculture, of whom 19 received their rations in a raw state, 4 sleeping out of barracks.
At Longridge, on the 16th May, Return No. 3 will show that 113 men, employed in various offices under the Superintendent of Agriculture, received their rations in this state, 37 shepherds, &c., sleeping out of barracks, while at Cascade, on the 20th May, Return No. 4, 36 of the men employed in this department, received raw rations, of whom 26 slept out of barracks, 56 being the total number employed in the care of stock.
A circumstance occurred lately which might have been attended with very serious consequences, showing one effect of virtually superseding responsible officers from their duties and charging convicts with superintendance [sic].
Mr —— returned the crop of maize in the granary at Longridge as upwards of 8000 bushels; the Commissariat officer, to enable him to give accuracy to a report of moment he was about to forward to the Deputy Commissary-General, requested the Civil Commandant to cause the maize at Longridge to be remeasured, as he had reason to believe that the quantity returned by the Agricultural Superintendent could not be relied on, which application was complied with; but to give effect to which Mr —— demurred, addressed Major Childs a very lengthened letter on the subject, pointing out the non-necessity, in his opinion, of the proceeding, the care that had been observed on the previous measurement, the delay and inconvenience, &c. that would result, and that by such interruptions to the due course of his operations, his efforts for the public service were paralyzed; after much hesitation, Major Childs issued orders on the subject. On remeasurement the quantity was found not very much to exceed 6000 bushels.
Mr —— subsequently informed myself that he had found the men at the firsts measurement bringing into the granary bags half full, returned as full, &c., and that they had been punished; an admission quite inconsistent with the strenuous remonstrance he made against any remeasurement, on the ground of extreme accuracy of the former. Had Mr —— charged a discipline officer, or any responsible person, with the supervision of the men, while at that work, such a serious mistake would not, in all probability, have been made.
The superintendent at Longridge and his officers do not visit the mechanics, nor any men in barns, or elsewhere, even on the homestead, employed under Mr —— The men employed as herdsmen and shepherds are still allowed to retain gardens at their huts, notwithstanding that the order was general to discontinue, on the 1st of January last, a privilege fraught with so much mischief. Some of the gardens are really extensive, and produce much more than the two or three men at the hut, to which they are attached, can possibly require; traffic is the consequence, and another ill effect is the contrast in indulgence between these men and the acting constables, selected on account of good conduct, and the performance of whose duty exposes them to much obloquy, and, under present circumstances, no little personal danger, especially those employed on the settlement, who have not this, nor indeed any indulgence, not to mention that the free constable, whom, as well as the acting constables, it is necessary to keep quite beyond the liability to receive considerations of any description from the convicts, and several subordinate officers, have not gardens. Of course, all the men selected as watchmen, &c., on that station, are without them, while the bullock-drivers (colonial convicts, not even in the advanced class,) have been permitted by Mr —— to retain a garden at Longridge, of which Major Childs was not aware.
There is another, I believe, in the neighbourhood of the Black Rock, in the occupation of some men employed under Mr —— of which I incline to think the Commandant is ignorant. Overseer —— can point it out.
A very deserving man, named Berry, sub-overseer of stock, has I believe nearly an acre of garden-ground in two or three detached pieces, contiguous to the Sucker Ground, where he is stationed. This man has himself captured eighteen bushrangers, and is in every respect a meritorious character; but still such an indulgence as this is inconsistent, and positively mischievous. Though while I was at Norfolk Island, vegetables formed no part of the daily ration to the prisoners, yet in the lumber yard, sweet potatoes were to be seen at all times, the parings lying about undisguised. I pointed them out to the officers, who semed [sic] to take no notice whatever; they are openly carried by the convicts to, and cooked at the bakehouse, and they are mixed with the bread taken there to be baked, which is easily detected by its improved quality; nor are the convicts the only consumers of potatoes, and vegetables produced at these gardens. They are purchased or received in exchange for tea, sugar, and tobacco, by some of those officers who have pigs, &c., these transactions being usually carried on through the servants.
The first time I observed the sweet potatoes in the use of the convicts was at the bakehouse. Some hesitation was exhibited to answer my enquiry, to whom they belonged, and where they had been obtained? The owner at length stepped forward, and admitted that he had bought them from a bullock-driver, a colonial convict, who was allowed a garden at Longridge by Mr ——. On my requesting Mr —— to point out this garden to me, he did so, offering some perfectly inadmissible excuse for so serious, and considering the ignorance of the Commandant, clandestine breach of positive orders.
The principal dairy is at the Government-house, under charge of a convict sub-overseer. There is also one at Longridge, under similar superintendence; and six milch cows are kept at Cascades, for the convenience, Mr —— informed me, of the officers at that station. Several reports were made to me of the reputedly inequitable manner in which the dairy produce, butter more particularly, was distributed, while some persons, for instance Overseers —— and —— regularly received butter, free of charge, from Longridge dairy, in contravention of regulation. Others could not obtain a supply who were desirous to pay for the same, and I was also informed that the convict overseer of the dairies have been known to offer butter for sale in the settlement. With such a herd of cattle, the dairy might be made a source of return to a considerable extent, if superintended by a responsible person with that view.
I regretted to observe the want of combined action in the superintendent of agriculture with the superintendent of stations, more particularly of Longridge, and of these with the police, amounting almost to opposition, and was founded apparently in a jealousy of interference, so called, or encroachment on the peculiar claims of their respective offices. The result of my enquiries leads me to conclude that this would be checked were the civil Commandant to rule promptly and with decision in the comparatively trivial matters arising out of this state of feeling, which are constantly referred to him, and to issue general orders with reference to them, rather than deciding each isolated case. The interference of the police in any matter connected with the probation stations seems most jealously watched by the superintendents, and is almost resisted, occasionally even when the constables are acting directly under order of the stipendary [sic] magistrate. So also with regard to the superintendent of agriculture.
Again, there is frequent collision, more particularly at Longridge, between the superintendent of the station and the superintendent of agriculture, on account of the alleged interference of each with the duties of the other.
An adherence to the definition of the relative duties, as laid down in the Comptroller-General's letters, 30th and 31st July, 1845, seems all that is necessary to prevent occasional objectionable exhibitions.
The superintendent of agriculture appears to regard too little the regulations for the discipline of the convicts, as is shown in almost habitually, or at any rate frequently, encroaching on the hours appointed for meals or cessation from labour, and for attendance at muster, in applications for absence of men at undue hours, almost invariably accompanied
by a requisition that they may receive their rations in a raw state, notwithstanding that their services may be required for some very temporary purpose, in the very frequent transfer of men from one station to another, and sometimes in appointing to petty offices men not of good character.
I must also observe that the terms in which several memoranda addressed by Mr —— to the superintendent of the Longridge station, which I saw and which were written by a convict, are couched in terms not consistent with the relative positions of those officers; with that concert that should be maintained between officers whose duties are necessarily blended, or with the courtesy or respect that should be observed in ordinary official communications. Such indications excite criticism in the convicts and produce a bad effect.
The superintendent at Longridge appears anxious to observe the regulations and requires authority for permitting any deviation from them, feeling that he properly has not a discretionary power. This course Mr —— evidently feels a restriction on his proceedings, and seems disposed to resist, instead of endeavouring to conform to regulations in conducting the duties of his office, and the facility with which Major Childs is prevailed on to sanction applications involving infractions of standing orders is to be regretted.
The superintendent of agriculture furnishes the superintendent of the station, a daily state or distribution of the men at work, as the latter officer is charged with the duty of making out and transmitting the "Tabular Return," and yet having received this "State," though he should see men employed not in conformity to this return, yet the practice here in operation would actually question the right of the superintendent of the station to interfere, as it is his evident duty to do, especially if the labour should be so misappropriated for the benefit of a private individual.
It would be desirable, I submit, that the tabular return should be countersigned by the engineer officer, as to the men employed under him, and by the superintendent of agriculture, as to those employed in that department.
At Longridge and the Cascades, occupied by prisoners from England exclusively, with the exception of certain colonial convicts employed under the superintendent of agriculture, the rules laid down for the conduct of probation parties are observed, and a different state of discipline prevails from that at the settlement.
The result of my inquiry at Norfolk Island leads me to the conclusion, that at the settlement where the colonial convicts and those from England are associated, a confirmed insubordinate spirit exists among them, constantly exhibiting itself in threats of personal violence towards subordinate officers, towards the constabulary if they resolutely do their duty, and towards their fellow prisoners if they should be suspected of having given any information or assistance to their officers, which threats are rendered more serious and alarming from the general practice among the convicts of carrying knives, and from their having been fulfilled in instances of stabbing, of assaulting by beating to a cruel and nearly mortal extent, and of personal injury in attempted disfiguration by biting off the nose, and in other overt acts of such a character as to produce a most serious effect in deterring all, holding subordinate authority, from the vigorous and prompt performance of their duty. That this state of affairs has arisen from the introduction of convicts of the worst description from Van Diemen's Land to an immediate association with men on the island accustomed to, and in the enjoyment of, the latitude and indulgence of a previous system, by this means propagating the licentious fruit, of which the experiment of a former system gave promise, and which Major Childs, the Civil Commandant, was intended, but has been unable to eradicate, a task that would have been found difficult, had it been committed to an officer of much experience, judgment, decision, and firmness. That an intended new system has been in fact, to a certain extent absorbed by, rather than had the effect of modifying, much less eradicating, the result of that which it was intended to supersede.
That the want of suitable buildings has been an opposing cause, to overcome which, even partially, no steps appear to have been taken, or attempted—that the separation of the old from the new convicts, in obedience to positive instructions, upon which success depended, has been at the settlement stations completely lost sight of.
That the corrupt practices of the subordinate officers at the settlement, in trading with, and employing the convicts surreptitiously, has completely destroyed any claim to respect, with which official character might be supposed to invest them, in the estimation of those over whom they are to exercise authority, from the vindication of which they have been deterred by fear of exposure, probably not less than alarm, at threats of violence—a timidity and irresolution being now conspicuous, nay, a marked feature in their demeanour towards the men, favourable to the confirmation in the latter of a spirit of insubordination.
That the consequences are, standing orders of prime character have been permitted to fall into disuse, and disorganization to a painful degree has usurped the place of order and regularity.
With a view of remedying to a certain extent the state of affairs, I have attempted to pourtray [sic], I would most respectfully suggest, and in doing so, trust I do not arrogate beyond the limits prescribed by my instructions, that the timber necessary to complete the new gaol, and to carry into effect the plan I have now the honour to submit, intended to modify the defects of the prisoners= barracks, should his Excellency the Lieutenant-Governor
be pleased to approve that means of endeavouring to mitigate the frightful consequences of its present state, be without delay forwarded to Norfolk Island from Van Diemen's Land.
That the Lumber Yard be subdivided by walling, so as to afford means of separating the convicts resorting thither, whether at messing or any other time, into classes, in order to defeat the combination in disobedience of between 700 and 800 convicts, and to render recourse to a military demonstration a scarcely possible necessity to enforce an obedience which should be habitual.
That as the present windmill is nearly unserviceable, a tread-wheel he furnished for Norfolk Island with as little delay as possible, offering, as that description of incessant compulsory labour does when combined with separate treatment, a means of effectually coercing and subduing the hardened and turbulent.
That those officers, to whom the imputation of corrupt practices in trading with the convicts attaches, be dismissed or removed from the island, their places being supplied by others of approved character, firmness of disposition, and practically familar [sic] with the regulations for the management of convicts as pursued in Van Diemen's Land.
That a blacksmith shop be built in such a situation, and on such a plan as to prevent improper access to it, and that continued responsible supervision be appointed over the workmen. So also with regard to the carpenter=s shop, though there is less immediate necessity for its removal, however desirable such a step may be, yet the continued presence of an overseer, competent to superintend the works, is highly requisite, in order to check the abuses that are here carried to some extent in the performance of private work clandestinely.
That additional hospital accommodation be provided as early as possible.
That a cookhouse and bakehouse be constructed in a situation contiguous to each other, and convenient to the mess yard, to be under an overseer appointed to the special duty of superintending this department, in order that all means of continuing the present irregular practices, both in cooking and baking, may be carefully removed, and the messing placed on a proper system.
That a new station on the separation plan be formed on the island in the direction of Steele=s Point, so as to admit of the eventual removal of the English convicts from the settlement station, which will then be devoted to colonial convicts exclusively.
That as the state of the barracks at Longridge and Cascades stations is such as to render their removal in a year or two inevitable, arrangements be made, as early as possible, to introduce the separation system, at least in the sleeping wards, instead of as at present at Longridge congregating 800 men in one barrack-room in hammocks actually in contact with each other, to the end that at least an attempt should be made to check an indulgence in practices, which has attached to every station on the island an odious reproach.
These suggestions would, if their adoption be approved and sanctioned by his Excellency the Lieutenant-Governor, I humbly conceive, meet the prime necessities of the establishment in this respect, and place the Commandant in a position to meet and grapple with promptly and successfully the present state of affairs, and substitute one consistent with the control, coercion, and discipline of convicts, under which condition the application of moral means, and religious influences of a reformatory character, which now are, I fear, perfectly inoperative, might be expected to be practically beneficial.
I feel aware, Sir, that the picture I have presented of the present condition of Norfolk Island involves a serious reflection on the administration of the Civil Commandant; I cannot however forbear from saying that that officer has had very serious obstacles to contend against in the absence of suitable buildings, and in the want of agreement, combined action, and due subordination among those filling prominent situations under him; but still these difficulties were not of an insuperable character, even with the comparatively limited means at his disposal.
The duty of making a report of the complexion this presents, is necessary most painful; but as his Excellency the Lieutenant-Governor has been pleased to commit to me so important an inquiry, and as, when I reflect on and trace to its possible ultimate consequences one sad section of my investigation, I discover that the subject may excite eventually even a national interest, I cannot permit myself to shrink from the trust confided in me, which demands my avowing the opinion, and I do so with the deepest regret, as not being inconsistent with the sincere and high estimation of the personal claims of a most amiable benevolent gentleman, and honourable officer, that had the charge committed to Major Childs devolved on an officer of experience in, or capacity for government, judgment, energy, decision, and firmness, the present almost inverted order conspicuous at the settlement station at Norfolk Island could not have arisen.
I have, &c.,
(Signed) Robert Pringle Stewart.
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Inclosure 4 in No. 14.
Copy of a LETTER from Mr Everett to Mr Stewart.
Norfolk Island, May 22, 1846.
In reply to your letter of the 19th date, received yesterday, requesting my opinion as to the prevalence of * * * on the island, and as to the existence of disease resulting therefrom, I have the honour to acquaint you, that were I to judge from the vague rumours and general indeterminate allegations emanating from the convicts themselves, I should be disposed, as I formerly was, to consider the crime as one of very common occurrence here; but when I remember the disposition of this class of men to vilify and traduce one another, to magnify evil for its own sake, and the readiness with which the better sort are likely to give their assent to any amount of crime amongst themselves, I am disposed to put but little confidence in opinions based upon this foundation.
As to the existence of disease originating in this cause, I am unable to give any positive opinion. Since I first took medical charge of the island, seven cases of a suspicious character have occurred, five from the Settlement, and two from Longridge. The impression on my mind, with regard to some of these cases, hardly admits of a doubt that they have originated from vicious intercourse; but considered simply in a medical point of view, it is right I should state that no one symptom has presented itself in any of them which might not have originated in other causes.
I have, &c.
(Signed) Geo Everett.
RP Stewart, Esq.
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Copy of a DESPATCH from Earl Grey to Lieutenant-Governor Sir W Denison.
Downing Street, January 13, 1847.
I Have received Sir Eardley Wilmot=s despatch of the 6th July last, No. 97, 5 inclosing a report which he had received from Mr Stewart, whom he had despatched to Norfolk Island, to investigate the state of that settlement, and stating that with the advice of the Executive Council of Van Diemen=s Land, he had suspended Major Childs from the office of Civil Commandant of Norfolk Island. He also reports having sent Mr Price (the police magistrate of Hobart Town) to Norfolk Island, as Civil Commandant, until Her Majesty's pleasure should be known. The account given in Mr Stewart's report of the state of affairs at Norfolk Island, would vindicate (if vindication were necessary) the instructions which I have conveyed to you for breaking up that establishment; I have nothing at present to add to those instructions.
I abstain at present from expressing any opinion on the propriety of the suspension of Major Childs from his office, because sufficient time has not hitherto elapsed for my receipt of any appeal which he may have made, or may be proposing to make, against that measure.
In the meantime I approve of the arrangement made by Sir E Wilmot for the performance by Mr Price of the duties of the office of Civil Commandant of Norfolk Island.
I am, &c.
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Copy of a DESPATCH from Sir E Eardley Wilmot, Bart., to the Right
Hon WE Gladstone.
Van Diemen's Land,
Government House, July 10, 1846.
A DESPATCH, written by Lord Stanley in September 1845, 6 and laid on the table of the House of Commons in February 1846, addressed to me, but not transmitted, has been published in this colony; and as, at the conclusion of the despatch, Lord Stanley does me the honour to inform me that he will wait with solicitude my opinion on the subject (of the New Settlement in Australia), I think it my duty to address you without delay, on the important subject to which his Lordship refers. And although neither the despatch itself, nor the Parliamentary documents, have reached me officially, yet, as it has been published throughout the colony, and created much excitement, and as no ship for England is likely to leave this colony for some months, I take the opportunity of one leaving Sydney for England to address you.
It is a great satisfaction for me to know that Lord Stanley declares, in his above-mentioned despatch, that the details of the Probation System have been given in Mr Forster's reports, and frequent despatches from myself connected with the financial difficulties of the colony, because it is alone to those financial difficulties that I have attributed any deficiencies in the working of the Probation System, in my despatches to Lord Stanley; and never did, nor do now, consider any defects in that system to have shown themselves beyond those deficiencies in working it which I have already mentioned, and which were the result of causes unforeseen and unprovided for. Lord Stanley has alluded to an expression of opinion contained in Mr Forster's report of January 1845, in which Mr Forster says,
That notwithstanding the difficulties experienced in this part of the system (the hiring of pass-holders), I have no hesitation in saying, that as a whole it is vastly superior to any that has preceded it; and had the colony continued in a prosperous state, I feel convinced it would have worked well throughout, provided always there had been an outlet afforded to keep down too great a supply of convict labour.
In this remark I did at the time, and do now, most cordially and conscientiously concur.
It has been supposed by the opponents of the Probation System, that because they have denounced it as a failure, that therefore it is a failure; and that though I may think it not a failure, and have not, in my communications to Lord Stanley, stated it a failure, nor enumerated other deficiencies in its working (not defects in the system) than those to which I have drawn his attention to, therefore defects do exist, and have been unnoticed and uncommunicated by me to the Home Government.
Had these defects existed in my opinion, I should have felt it imperative on me to have mentioned them to Lord Stanley, with the same frankness and earnestness with which I have always addressed his Lordship, on this and other important subjects; and respectfully pointed out what I conceived to be a remedy.
I now address you with the deliberate and conscientious declaration, that beyond deficiencies in the working of the system, already mentioned to Lord Stanley in my numerous despatches; and beyond some minor alterations, which I have adopted in the practical working of the machinery, I believe the Probation System to be the best that has been or can be introduced to obtain the end contemplated.
The main feature in the Probation System, and the pivot on which the success of it turns, is the continuous employment of the pass-holders during their transit from probation to ultimate freedom, and thus fixing those habits of industry and subordination which are hoped to have been instilled into them while they were in probation gangs. It was useless to inculcate habits of industry, and sow the seeds of amendment in the punishment gangs, if, after having left them, and become pass-holders, they were to [etc., etc., etc.]
1 BPP, Transportation vol. 7, 1843-47, pp. 532-55. Pagination without brackets, at the left hand margin, is that of the IUP BPP publication while the bracketed centered pagination is that of the original BPP. Emphasis added.
2 No. 11, p. 66.
3 No. 62, November 15, 1846, p. 8.
4 No. 132. June 3, 1844. No. 180. August 13, 1844. No. 10. March 5, 1845. No. 113. August 5, 1845.
5 Mn: Page 77.
6 Mn: For Lord Stanley's Despatch, September, 1845, vide Papers ordered by the House of Lords to be printed, 9th February, 1846, No. 16, page 3. Do. Do. by the 9th February,1836. No. 36, page 3.