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Rev Thomas Beagley Naylor, Norfolk Island report and correspondence, c. Apr 1846 1

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No. 11.
Copy of a DESPATCH from Earl Grey to Lieutenant-Governor Sir William Denison.

(No. 4.) 

Downing Street, September 30, 1846.

Sir,    
    THE accompanying letter from Captain [Alexander] Maconochie, and the paper it incloses from the Rev TB Naylor, have reached me on the eve of your departure from Van Diemen’s Land. Mr Naylor’s letter depicts a state of things as existing in Norfolk Island, which, if the picture be not overcharged, would justify the most lively indignation as well as the deepest concern. I earnestly trust that under the natural excitement of feelings provoked by the contemplation of the actual condition of society in the island, Mr Naylor may have unconsciously viewed and described it in darker colours than the simple facts would altogether require or admit. It is impossible for me, however, to read a detail of so much guilt, wretchedness and mismanagement—to the accuracy of which a clergymen has pledged his name and character—and at the same time to observe that this statement has all the character and appearance of truth; that it is in itself but too probable a result of the existence of a convict establishment of such a kind in such a situation—without at once coming to the conclusion, that Her Majesty’s Government would not be justified in incurring even the chance of the possible prolongation of evils so fearful in their nature. I have therefore to instruct you, with the least possible delay, to take measures at once to break up the establishment at Norfolk Island, and withdraw the whole population of that settlement to Tasman’s Peninsula,

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where you will without loss of time make the necessary preparations for their reception.

    It is a subject on which I must necessarily devolve a large discretion and consequent responsibility on you. I do so in the full assurance that it is a discretion which will be wisely exercised, and a responsibility which will be firmly borne, in the conviction which you are so well entitled to entertain, that every reasonable allowance will be made for the difficulties of your position, and the most favourable construction put on whatever may be imperfectly understood with regard to your motives and your conduct.

    I am, &c.
    (Signed)           Grey

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Inclosure 1 in No. 11.
Copy of a LETTER from Captain Maconochie, RN, to B Hawes, Esq.

London, September 22, 1846.

Sir,    
    MRS NAYLOR, wife of the Rev Mr Naylor, late Chaplain of Norfolk Island, has just arrived from Sydney, bringing with her the inclosed paper, which it was her husband’s directions that she should print and publish here as a pamphlet.
    On showing it to me, however, I can entertain no doubt of the extreme impropriety there would be in adopting such a course, without previously, or rather preferably, laying it before Hr Majesty’s Government.
    I have taken it on myself, therefore, now to inclose it to you, with a request that you will bring it under Earl Grey’s notice. And though I can have no personal knowledge of the facts stated in it, my acquaintance with the island would enable me to explain, qualify, and in some cases corroborate its allegations, if required.

    I have, &c
    (Signed)      A Maconochie   

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Inclosure 2 in No. 11.
EXTRACT 2 of a Paper by the Rev TB Naylor, addressed to Lord Stanley.

My Lord,
    I HAVE just left an important and interesting sphere of duty as Chaplain of the penal settlement at Norfolk Island, where, during some years past I have closely observed the working of its management. In resigning my office I feel it to be a duty I owe to your Lordship, as head of the Convict Department, to the community at large, and to the unhappy prisoners especially, thus publicly to direct attention to the existing state of things on that island; for I feel that there are evils which demand instant and effectual remedy.

    I am persuaded, my Lord, that you are sincere in the wishes you have repeatedly expressed about the reformation of our Penal System. I am also led to believe that a large portion of the thinking public in England is awakening to a conviction of the importance of this subject; and I am sure that the interests of the empire are intimately blended with it. I make therefore no apology for adding this humble contribution towards the elucidation of the question. It may, perhaps, help towards the attainment of truth, or, at least, of some better result than has, I regret to say, yet attended our convict experiments.

    I have lived, as it were, in a large gaol, and have been in hourly communication with prisoners and their comptrollers. The advantage such a position has afforded me may entitle my opinions about them to some consideration. It is not my intention, however, now to enter upon the subject at all abstractly. I am too well acquainted with its difficulties to attempt to discuss them in a pamphlet; and your time, my Lord, must be too thoroughly occupied to allow me to hope that you would read it, if I wrote more. They are pressing and practical evils to which I direct your attention, and I would fain hope that you will give it. Without further preface I proceed to show—

    1.    That Norfolk Island is, in almost every essential requisite, unfit for a Penal Station. It has no harbour and no safe anchorage, it has a treacherous and dangerous reef bar. The island itself is of very limited extent, incapable of producing a tenth part of the food required for the convicts on it. Large supplies of maize and all the animal food issued for their rations are imported from New South Wales. Wheat will not grow there, the maize crop is very uncertain. The labour of nearly 2000 convicts in it is dwindled away most unprofitably. Gangs of them are indeed employed in making roads,

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in erecting public buildings, in agricultural and other labour, but all to no profitable purpose, beyond the present and actual exigencies of the settlement. No remunerative return is made. The climate, delicious for those persons who are not exposed to its semi-tropical sun, is much too warm for English prisoners. They are unable to work hard in it; as a consequence, they acquire indolent habits, or, if they face the work, they suffer fearfully from, dysentery. It is on this account a bad place of training for men who are to gain a livelihood in the colonies to which they are afterwards to proceed. Few persons would conceive it possible that such a number of men, all apparently employed, could contrive by any ingenuity to do so small an amount of work. It is about 1000 miles distant from New South Wales, and 1500 from the penal colony of Van Diemen’s Land. This complete isolation is admitted to be its chief recommendation for the purposes to which it is applied; yet the evils arising from even this supposed advantage, are infinitely greater than any real benefit it confers. The immense distance from head quarters in Van Diemen’s Land, where everything of the slightest importance has to be referred for decision, is attended with highly injurious and mischievous effects upon the discipline of the settlement. Three months usually elapse before any question can be decided; and cases may, and do constantly occur, which show how fatal the consequences of such a delay must prove. There is no Criminal Court on the island in which felonies can be tried; so that, whenever any offence is committed in which the local magistrates have no summary jurisdiction, the offender is sent to prison, there to await the arrival of a barrister, selected in Van Diemen’s Land as a temporary judge; who, with a crown prosecutor, and five officers of Her Majesty’s land or sea forces, constitute a court of criminal session. Not to mention the deviation from constitutional practice which marks this proceeding, or the difficulty which a judge so appointed must find in maintaining the independence and impartiality which is the honourable boast of the English bench; not to mention the almost impossibility which officers in military charge of prisoners must find, in divesting themselves of their previous impressions when trying them; to say nothing of the hardships to the prisoner, who is deprived, even in matters which affect his life, of the advantages everywhere else afforded men under such circumstances; bad as all this is, the end is infinitely worse. When sentence of death is passed, the wretched man’s fate has to be decided in Van Diemen’s Land. A lingering suspense of two or three months follows, during which the condemned man’s mind is in the least degree in a state to enable him to derive benefit from religious advice or duties; and when at length, the warrant for his execution comes, there is no appeal from its mandate, however informal or defective the instrument may he be.

    2.    There is no system of Discipline maintained in the Island. A code of regulations founded upon the old island orders and your Lordship’s instructions were prepared in Van Diemen’s Land, and are professedly acted upon: but indeed they are not carried out. Some slight conception of the nature of a reformatory system of penal discipline ought at least to find a place in the mind of the Commandant of such a station. It is not sufficient that he should be good-humoured or good-natured. He should at least also be tolerably intelligent. With higher thoughts than the mere profits of his appointment, he ought at all events to be so far removed from the charge of evasion himself, as to enable him with decency to secure the honest obedience of his subordinates to the ordinary regulations; and since so great a personal responsibility rests upon him, he ought, without doubt, always to be a man whose authority should be respected. But if, instead of this, interest or patronage should send to such a Government an officer whose profession has kept him out of the way of acquiring information, and whose capacity and natural disposition have unfitted him for study; if instead of a generous philanthropy, narrow and selfish views alone are acted upon; if his indecision should lead him to falter, when firmness is peremptorily necessary; if the head of such an establishment should bluster in public, and chuckle at his own evasions sub rosa;—who could wonder, my Lord, if the most lamentable results should follow? One might feel amused in a less serious matter, by the quackeries of such a man; but in a case like this, one’s only feeling would be one of sorrowful regret for the mistake under which such an appointment must have been made, and a trembling anxiety about its termination. I repeat it, my Lord, there is really no fixed system of convict discipline, either conscientiously or intelligently carried out, scarcely anything, indeed, beyond the daily feeding, clothing, and nominal employment of the prisoners, just as the necessities of the station may require. It is not in formal tabular returns, or straight lines, closely cut hair, and clothes regularly numbered, that an enlightened process of criminal discipline consists; and yet at Norfolk Island there is little beyond this. There are highly intelligent persons in office, who see all this and lament it, who would be considered disaffected if they were to complain, and who have been quietly removed if they have ventured to do so. I cannot refrain from adding, that the most flagrant violations of even the existing regulations are tolerated. I select a few illustrations in proof.

    By the 38th Clause of the Regulations it is declared, that “no convict shall be employed as clerk in the Commandant’s or any other office, or have access to the records kept therein.” At the moment I write, there is no office in the island where convicts are not so employed; and the greatest unfairness is shown in the selection of these men.    *    *    *    *    *    The Clauses 3rd, 4th, 6th and others are also systematically disregarded. All this mischief is, however, insignificant, compared

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with one other misfortune springing from the extreme isolation of this Gomorrah. Many innocent men are suffering upon it, and must continue to suffer, without the chance or possibility of escape from the horrors inflicted upon them. I assure you, my Lord, most solemnly, that this is the case. You have yourself admitted it in signing the authority for the return of more than one injured man, whose innocence has been established. Years of anguish may have been endured; the eye and every sense may have been outraged by exhibitions of vice; and notwithstanding the conviction of perfect innocence, the wrong has been irremediable. I have most painfully felt the excessive difficulties which the prisoner in Norfolk Island labours under in this respect—difficulties infinitely greater than can occur elsewhere. Not a soul is allowed to land on the island except its officials; not a letter can the prisoner write; not a complaint can he utter, not a single step can he take towards his extrication, without the consent of the authorities about him; and how difficult it is to obtain this, I shall yet have occasion to point out. This much I know, that almost insuperable obstacles are placed in the prisoner’s way. 3

    3.    An amount of Crime inconceivably enormous, is produced, by herding together so large a body of men in such a place. I do not intend to pollute these pages with the abundant evidence of this awful fact, which in the discharge of my duties in Norfolk Island, has been forced upon me. I would gladly escape from the horrible recollection, nor would I have referred to it, had I, in fulfilling the task I have undertaken, dared to be silent. As a clergyman and a magistrate, I feel bound to tell your Lordship, that the curse of Almighty God must sooner or later fall in scorching anger upon a nation which can tolerate the continuance of a state of things so demoniacal and unnatural. Having stated this fact, and to its literal accuracy I pledge myself, I proceed to another with which it stands intimately connected.

    4.    Convicts of every grade are indiscriminately mingled on the Island. Your Lordship cannot be aware of this, or it would not so long have been tolerated. There are on the island prisoners who have been transported and re-transported, who have, after this, passed through every grade of crime and punishment, in hulks, chain-gangs, and penal stations—human beings whom I can scarcely call men, and whom, but that I would not limit the power or mercy of God, I should pronounce to be hopelessly lost. Many of these convicts I have seen removed from Norfolk Island to New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land, and again brought back after fresh careers of crime. 4 Batches of them continue to be landed in the intervals between the arrival of vessels direct from England with first-convicted prisoners. A parade of separation is kept up; but the communication is complete, and at times unrestricted: the comparatively innocent and the thoroughly degraded are thus thrown together; novices are at once initiated into the “adyta penetralia”, to learn the mysteries of crime. The fresh feelings of the English prisoners—and, my Lord, many of their histories are most touching ones—are insulted by the language and demeanour of these miscreants. Youths are seized upon, and    *    *    *    *    *    * There are flash men on the island who keep it in awe, and beard the Commandant himself. 5 With these scoundrels the English farm labourer, the tempted and fallen mechanic, the suspected but innocent victims of perjury or mistake, are indiscriminately herded. With them are mixed Chinamen from Hong Kong, the aborigines of New Holland, West Indian blacks, Greeks, Caffres [Kafirs], and Malays; soldiers for desertion; idiots, madmen, pig-stealers, and pickpockets. In the open day the weak are bullied and robbed by the stronger. At night the sleeping-wards are very cess-pools of unheard-of vices. I cannot find sober words enough in which to express the enormity of this evil. During the year 1845 the ships “———,” “———,” and “———,”

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have landed prisoners from Millbank. 6 I saw these men at once surrounded by the old prisoners, I watched the process of degradation.    *    *    *    And I asked if this was to be allowed, if it was to continue, and I was told that there was no remedy. It was lamentable, but that it could not be avoided. Can you wonder, my Lord, that I was impatient to escape from such scenes, or that I think it right to bring them under your thoughtful consideration? 7

    Under this head I may as well add an abstract [see table below] lately made from the Police histories of thirty-five prisoners landed recently from Van Diemen’s Land.

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Police Histories of Thirty-Five Prisoners Transferred From VDL to Norfolk Island c. 1845

Nos.

No. of Offences.

Sentence.

Remarks.

1

11

Sentence of death commuted

2

3

Ditto

3

4

Ditto

4

27

Transportation for life

5

12

Ditto

A prisoner since 1826.

6.

18

...........

Notorious bushranger.

7

8

Death commuted

Surgeon’s report very bad.

8

8

Ditto

Ditto

9

12

...........

Convicted in 1828.

10

29

Transportation for life

Originally transported very young; often in gaols; bushranger.

11

29

Ditto

Prisoner since 1830.

12

25

Ditto

Prisoner since 1821.

13

11

Death.

Gaol report, insubordinate and treacherous; a most refractory prisoner.

14

...........

Death commuted

15

...........

Ditto

A most revolting case; struck off books of Probation Department.

16

...........

Ditto

Ditto.

17

13

Ditto

Passed one period of transportation, and became free; again tried in 1844, and sentenced to death.

18

6 times tried in courts of justice; 18 offences summarily tried

7 years. 18 months. 7 years. 3 years. Death.
2 years

Notorious bushranger

19

...........

To be hanged

Commuted to transportation for life.

20

17

Ditto

Ditto

21

...........

Ditto

Ditto

22

...........

Transportation for life

23

14

Ditto

Prisoner since 1833.

24

33

Ditto

A very bad case.

25

...........

Ditto

Bushranger.

26

37

14 years. 3 years. To be hanged; commuted
to transportation for life

27

...........

Ditto. Twice sentenced to death

28

13

Death (in England) commuted to transportation
for life. Again transportation for life in Van Diemen’s Land

29

44

Transportation for life

30

...........

Death.

Many summary convictions.

31

...........

7 years in England , 1827. Death, Van Diemen’s
Land, 1832. Death, Van Diemen’s Land, 1844

32

34

Death commuted

Wretched character. Robbery, with violence, &c.

33

...........

Original sentence, life. Death in New South Wales. Ditto in Van Diemen’s land

A most desperate character; several times on Norfolk Island.

34

...........

Death in New South Wales. Ditto in Van Diemen’s Land

35

34

To be hanged

Tried and convicted of two separate charges.

 

    I may be permitted to add the following extract from an official letter addressed by me to the Colonial Secretary on this subject:—

    “It will be a hopeless work, if such a state of things be permitted to continue. Every fresh batch of English prisoners will, in succession, be landed in a vitiated moral atmosphere, and their degradation will increase as a matter of course.”

    By clause 35 of the Printed Regulations, it would appear that the old and new convicts are distinguished by their dress, “the old being dressed in yellow, the new in grey clothing;” and that there can be little or no communication between them;—the two classes, moreover, being entirely separated: and from clause 46, a distinct classification would be inferred.

        “No. 46. The second convicts will be divided into three classes, to be called,—
                The Advanced Class.
                The Ordinary Class.
                The Retarded or Degraded Class.”

    All this looks well in print; but unless it has some practical enforcement, your Lordship will excuse me if I apply to it an expressive word I have heard in both hemispheres,—it is a sad humbug. There is absolutely no classification of the prisoners. They are all subjected to the same Procrustean process—the same bed for all. You may in Downing Street conceive that such distinct regulations are really carried out, and with a happy consciousness that you at least have done your duty; you may silence objectors by referring them to the “Standing Regulations.” Very unwillingly do I furnish your Lordship with a less pleasing, though truer, view of the case. I have sat down a hundred times to my present ungracious task, and have as often risen from it in disgust. Forgive me, my Lord, if I at length feel that I ought not to remain silent. I should justly be blamed by others, and worse than all, I should be tormented by self-reproach, if I were any longer to shrink from the task. From the time the convict leaves England, there is absolutely no classification whatever. After six months’ confinement in Millbank Prison, in a solitary cell, he is conveyed to the transport ship, where he is at once restored to the society of others in like condemnation. The transition is far too sudden. Delighted to find their tongues no longer under restraint many of the convicts vie with each other in the use of profane and obscene language, and the indulgence of depraved habits. I have been repeatedly assured by decent men, that any conception of the licentious and demoniacal practices in the prison of a convict ship, especially during the earlier part of the voyage, would fall far short of the hideous reality. No classification is usually attempted; just as they happen to pass over the ship’s side, the men are numbered on the back like sheep, and each takes his place in numerical order. The indiscriminate association thus formed is not only a wanton and painful infliction upon the better disposed, but it is calculated to make the comparatively good irreclaimably wicked. There are occasional exceptions I believe, and honourable ones; but commonly nothing in the shape of classification is attempted in this part of the prisoner’s progress. The voyage terminated, the convict arrives at Norfolk Island, where the defect works still greater evils. Here there is, as I have shown, a heterogeneous mass of moral pollution painful to contemplate. That criminals of every grade would be found in a place set apart for the reception of the prisoners of a great empire might be expected; but the people of England will nevertheless be astonished to learn that offenders for the first time, suffering often for offences of a comparatively venial character,—nay, sometimes undeservedly suffering, are immediately on their disembarkation

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thrust among the veriest monsters of crime, from the cold-blooded murderer trebly convicted, to the wretch whose enormity Blackstone characterizes as “inter Christianos non nominandum,” without a possibility of escaping from the pestilential mass, for the work of contamination has infected, far and wide, the whole body. And these men are professedly placed under a system of probation! and the nation has their restoration to society at heart! Admirable consistency! nay, I cannot waste words, my Lord,—rank hypocrisy rather, all this undoubtedly looks like. Recently a show of separation has been got up. Some of the late arrivals have been sent from the settlement to stations distant a mile or two away; but they are as constantly brought into contact with the old hands—actual separation only lasting during a parade on Sunday mornings. In every part of the works, in gaol and hospital, they are constantly brought together. This leads me to show that

    5.    The Moral Condition of the Convict is totally disregarded—his Reformation and Restoration to Society altogether overlooked. No adequate incentive to exertion for good is supplied. The prisoners are just so many slaves, and their superintendents and overseers so many drivers; for although, under your Lordship’s directions, certain prospective advantages are promised as a reward for good conduct, these advantages are far too distant and these promises have too often been broken, to have the slightest beneficial hearing upon the present conduct of the prisoner. He obtains nothing by right; he is absolutely without motive, for he soon learns to disregard punishment. Fear, believe me, my Lord, is a far less operative principle than is commonly supposed. It may produce cunning and deceit, but no more generous offspring. The convicts are in fact slaves, and of course, like slaves, indolent and listless, perpetually endeavouring to avoid work, until evasion becomes habitual. Men of originally industrious habits seldom retain them long here. With very few exceptions, the prisoners leave the island confirmed shirks—idle, and useless to the community. It is the very essence of slavery to produce this disposition of mind and body. Is it to be wondered at that the worst possible feeling also exists between the prisoners and those placed over them—a feeling so strong, in the convict’s mind at least, as to render nugatory the best intentions of individual officers? Nothing but constant vigilance, aided by the treachery of the prisoners towards each other, prevents at any moment an outbreak that would astonish the civilized world. When I add, that extensive conspiracies have more than once been formed between the soldiers and large bodies of the prisoners, your Lordship will perceive that the possibility of the bursting forth of such a volcano is no vague subject of apprehension. Not only are the prisoners without motive for virtuous exertion—they are also without instruction. Deference to your Lordship’s directions led to the promulgation of the following Order, numbered 27 in the “Regulations for Norfolk Island.”

    “There will be daily school from six to eight o’clock pm, under the care of the religious instructors at the several stations.” By Clause No. 17 of the same Regulations, it is directed that “the convicts are to be steadily and constantly employed at hard labour, from sunrise to sunset, an hour being allowed for dinner, &c.” Am I not right in saying, my Lord, it is rank hypocrisy to talk about affording school instruction to men who are voluntarily to attend after such a day’s work as is here required from them? The plain fact is, comparatively few men ever avail themselves of the permission. When the gangs are mustered at night, any man who may feel disposed is allowed to enter the school-room, instead of at once proceeding with others to the sleeping-wards; but what a strength of mind and purpose it requires to lead him thus to struggle against wearniness [sic] and example, for the attainment of a moral or intellectual benefit? Such, however, is the desire to receive instruction—or, it may be, to escape even for an hour from the horrors of the night-wards in some cases, that a few are usually found willing to avail themselves of this privilege: but even then there is no schoolmaster. Teachers are selected from the prisoners themselves; and for this act of self-denial, performed after their regular and full day’s work is ended, they reap no advantage; whilst a common bullock-driver, for his ordinary day’s work, is rated an overseer, and enjoys the attendant privileges; an illustration but too apt, of the comparative regard manifested for the cattle and the prisoners.

    Again, by Clause No. 28 of the Regulations, “The religious instructors,” it is said, “will read morning and evening prayers to the convicts of the several gangs, who are to be assembled for this purpose.” A curious correspondence in my possession, which I am unwilling to transcribe, would show that, in practice, a sad trifling with honesty takes place in this respect also—to such an extent, indeed, as to lead to a suspicion that the form, rather than any real benefit, is intended, as a sort of respect for common decency. “A few minutes”—“a collect or two”—“not exceeding in all ten minutes,” is the whole amount of “religious instruction” the convict at labour is allowed during the week, and even this time taken from his resting hours. If this farce is to be continued, my Lord, it is useless to send religious instructors, and especially if they are to be the mere subordinates of the civil Commandant. 

    6.    The Physical Condition of the Convict in Norfolk Island is as wretched as his Moral, and as much requires amelioration.
    The daily ration of food throughout the year is as follows:
                        1 pound of salt meat.
                        1½ pound maize meal.
                        1 ounce of sugar.
                        ½ ounce of salt.

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    My Lord, the men cannot live upon this. This scantiness of diet aided by the constant use of salt meat (often very inferior in quality), yearly carries off numbers by dysentery—a disease from which I have not known one free person to die during my residence on the island. The men were formerly permitted to cultivate gardens—this is no longer allowed; they are promised, instead, a ration of sweet potatoes, but they have not yet received it, and I fear the issue will always be uncertain. I am convinced that the numberless cases of sheep-stealing, accompanied often by violence and murder which occur, are mainly attributable to this insufficient diet. It would astonish the criminals of England if they saw the miserable dinners of these men served out, after the loss sustained in various ways, and in passing through many hands. It is difficult to understand how human life can be sustained by it. I am no mawkish sentimentalist, my Lord. I know that these men are undergoing punishment; but I am not ashamed to confess that it has excited my strongest compassion to see the ravages this fare has made on strong and hearty Englishmen. You can scarcely recognise the same men within a few weeks after their arrival. It is the more cruel, too, in their case. The old hand prisoners have lived through the process, and are acclimatized; but the convicts from home, after a voyage of months, almost wholly land with more or less of scurvy in their constitutions, and it maybe imagined what the effects of such a diet in such circumstances must be. I have made repeated official representations on this subject. The medical officers in charge have been zealous and skilful men, indefatigable in the discharge of their duties; and they, in addition to their reports against this ration have also represented in the strongest manner the wretched hospital accommodations for the prisoners. There are always a considerable number of patients under treatment, and a large proportion of these usually dysenteric ones. The building used for them is altogether disgraceful. Other buildings have been erected; an elegant and spacious house for the Commandant, houses for the various officers, admirable military barracks and hospital, commissariat stores, &c.; but the convict hospital has been, in spite of remonstrances, allowed to remain literally “a whited sepulchre.” Nor is the gaol a whit better. It was originally a badly-built public-house, and upon the resumption of the island in 1825 it was converted into a gaol. It is far too small for its present purpose, very damp, wretchedly ventilated, and altogether the most wretched place I ever visited. 8 It is dangerously insecure, and so constructed as to afford ready facilities for communication between the prisoners confined and those without its walls, the turnkeys being also convicts. The barracks of the prisoners by day are in keeping with the hospital and gaol, and so constructed as to afford the fullest facilities for the ruffianism, gambling, and villany, of which they are the chosen scene.

SRNSW: NRS13859, [Map 6321], Part of Norfolk Island map – “Transmitted to Colonial Secretary, Circular No. 44/12, 31 Jan 1844”
SRNSW: NRS13859, [Map 6321], Part of Norfolk Island map – “Transmitted to Colonial Secretary, Circular No. 44/12, 31 Jan 1844”

        Still the greatest of these evils, my Lord, arises from the mode in which prisoners are herded together at night. They are then locked up in the dark, in sleeping wards holding from 40 to 100 men. As long as I live I shall never lose the impression made upon me by the horror I have seen expressed in the countenances of English prisoners when they have been let out of these

    ——— “High capitals
    Of Satan and his peers,”

the morning after their landing, nor shall I ever forget the agony of mind endured by ——— and ——— when forced into their dens. I would not intrude even the thought of these things upon your Lordship’s mind, were it not that I may by it awaken public inquiry, and hasten a remedy.

Norfolk Island plan of prisoners barracks
Norfolk Island plan of prisoners barracks

    7.    And yet the expense of the Establishment is enormous. Ships are constantly required for the transport of men to and from the island, as well as for the conveyance of supplies. Freight, in consequence of the inconvenience, danger, and detention attendant upon the voyage, is very high. I have known vessels lying off and on for weeks, unable to discharge their cargoes. The establishment, both civil and military, is unusually large; and although the pay and allowances of officers are very inadequate to the discomforts and privations of such a post, the amount is still enormous compared with the number of prisoners in charge. Examine, my Lord, the total expense incurred—I mean both on the island and the incidental expenditure—and you will find the account a startling one.
    I find, my Lord, that in this brief enumeration of defects peeuliar [sic] to Norfolk Island, I have exceeded the short limits within which I would willingly have confined myself; and yte, [sic] at the risk of being thought tiresome, I will refer to one subject more. I cannot well overrate its importance. I mean

    8.    The urgent necessity which exists for the establishment in England of a Court of Appeal in Criminal Cases. In matters affecting property, however small its amount, many courses are open, by any one of which, the real or supposed wrong done to an individual, may be remedied. New trials are granted; suspected evidence is sifted; additional links are supplied; appeal after appeal may be made, until the foot of the Throne is reached. Such

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care is taken that perjury or wrong may be detected, and justice be maintained. But these rights of the subject do not extend to criminal cases; and yet it must be confessed, that an infinitely greater evil may be done to a man’s fame—his liberty—nay, his life, against which there is no remedy, and from a dictum once pronounced, absolutely no appeal. I need not suppose a case, in which an innocent man may be reasonably suspected, apprehended, overpowered by apparently irresistible evidence, condemned, and consigned, after much previous suffering, to the horrors of Norfolk Island. Stnnned [sic] by such a misfortune, the unhappy being may, for a time, lie prostrated by the blow. No copy of the indictment is allowed; no traverse is permitted in felonies, although, strangely enough, in misdemeanours. The accused may not have known what witnesses were to be brought against him, until they appear in the box. It is too late then to instruct counsel, to show that they are not to be believed. He may suddenly be called upon to plead to a perfectly new charge, wholly differing from the one on which he was committed. These are fearful odds against innocence itself, and if convicted, as in such a case the probability is that a man would be, there is no appeal. Friends may petition, and judges may recommend: some commutation of the sentence may perchance be the reward of persevering assiduity; but the injured man has no remedy for the wrong he suffers, whatever evidence may afterwards be found to prove his integrity. If such a man had been tried in Scotland a list of all the a witnesses against him, with tbeir [sic] addresses and occupations, would, in good time, have been furnished him as a right. He would have been entitled to receive a copy of the indictment three weeks before the trial. If he had been tried and convicted in Germany, and had disputed the justice of the verdict, the execution of the sentence would have been suspended, until every means he could have suggested for his vindication had been exhausted. In Scotland there is, in every case, a known public prosecutor, while in England, when the Crown prosecutes nominally, the jury are ignorant of the real prosecutor, who may secretly be at work acting from the most nefarious motives. Such things do occur, my Lord, and, I fear, more frequently than they once did. A man, ——— tried, whose honest front always convinced me that his fervent assertions of innocence were true, is just leaving the island, under an authority from the Home Government for his immediate liberation. His innocence has been accidentally discovered. What can compensate this man for his fears of degradation and insult? His friends had tried every effort within their humble power for him; they knew he was innocent, but there was no appeal. This is no solitary ease. I know others as painful.

    My Lord, I have glanced at some few of the defects to be found in one section of the field where penal labour is wasted; and surely there is enough in them to show the necessity of some radical change. But in all I have stated, I have made reference to details rather than principles. After an experience of upwards of ten years, I may be allowed, in conclusion, to hint that the whole thing is wrong: that British money has been wasted, British sinews sadly misapplied, the recovery of British criminals woefully overlooked; and, worse than all, if worse there can be, the penal policy of the British nation deservedly execrated by the world at large for her slovenly attempts at penal colonization.

    At this moment, oue [sic] half of this hemisphere is morally ruined by the pest of neglected convicts; and very soon the subject will assume an intense importance, and from a thousand quarters the question will reach you, “What is to be done with your convicts?”

    When that moment does come, my Lord, perhaps you or those who may succeed you, may be induced to try a wiser course—one which will far less expensively promote the good of the convict, while it will attain more efficiently all the legitimate objects of punishment. The principle upon which such a system should be based, is a very simple one: but it would work a change in every feature of the present mode of dealing with convicted offenders.

    Let the criminals of England; whether employed at home in national works, or transported to other regions, be required to repay the injury they have done to the community, not by undergoing a sentence measured by time alone, but one to be determined by a fixed amount of industrial labour, assisted by good conduct. In other words, commute the sentence of a term of years into a proportionate amount of useful labour. You will thus inflict a penalty upon crime far more dreaded than the present one; and you will secure a guarantee that the offender is prepared for society by a habit of self-control before he can enter it again.

    Let a man feel that he is the arbiter of his own fate, and he will soon cease to think and act as a slave. Give him a definite prospect of liberty, to be earned by his own exertions, and you will change the whole current of his motives and emotions. If he feels that the duration of his ignominy depends upon himself—that it will be lengthened or diminished as the balance of good or evil preponderates—that industry and virtue bring to him an hourly recompense—if he but once feel this, that which was begun perhaps in hypocrisy or mere selfishness, will acquire the strength of habit, and be engrafted within him as a virtue; for he will have passed through a training which can scarcely fail to restore him to society a better and more useful man.

    You will, by such a change, require less coercion,—less police,—less expenditure in any way. You will make this description of labour remunerative. The minds and hearts of men undergoing such a reformatory process will be more approachable by the ministers of religion; and, if the incorrigibly idle and profligate are left upon your hands, the deserving will escape from their contamination; and you and your successors in office will escape the reproaches of people outraged by the crimes of the present race of convicts.

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    Make the trial fairly, my Lord, and be sure of success; for it has a foundation resting upon the assurances of eternal truth. “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all other things shall be added unto you.” Seek primarily and honestly the good of man, and the rest will follow. It is not a vindictive system, but one of gentleness; it will be to the idle and dissolute, one of terror;—but it will give hope and exertion to the penitent.

    Living now in the “far west” of Australia, I have no opportunity of entering upon the details of such a system; they would, however, be very simple ones. I am certain that a self-supporting Penal Station might even be formed of convicts, to whom their wives and families might, after a short time, be sent. Make the trial of this principle, however, my Lord, in any way. Send out, if you will, 2000 or 3000 convicts, to make rail or other roads in this country, under sentences thus commuted;—place them under proper management—the colonists would ration them,—and the amount of labour they would perform, and the benefit they would confer upon a country kept back only by want of the means of intercommunication, would astonish you as much, as would the diminished cost and increased morality of the convicts themselves.

    At all events, my Lord, you must do something. Norfolk Island cannot remain the plague-spot it is much longer. I shall take the earliest opportunity I can secure, of showing you that the present state of convict discipline is, both in principle and practice, as wrong as it well can be in every other sphere of its operation, and in the meantime,

    I am, &c.,
    (Signed)    T BEAGLEY NAYLOR.


1  BPP, Transportation vol. 7, 1843-47, pp. 522-32. Pagination without brackets, at the left hand margin, is that of the IUP BPP publication while the centred bracketed pagination is that of the original BPP. Emphasis added.

2 This letter bears no date. It is stated to have been written about the month of April last, but it must have reference to a period prior to September 1846, at which date Mr Naylor is reported to have left Norfolk Island.

3  “Facilis descensus Averno,” &c. Letters addressed by me to your Lordship and Sir Robert Peel, on behalf of an individual of whose innocence I felt convinced, and detailing facts which had fallen in my way as Chaplain of the island, connected with his case, I have just discovered were detained, and the chance of the prisoner’s extrication has been by this illegal detention, I will not say how cruelly, delayed.

4  “The number of the prisoners departed from the colony in the first trip of the Lady Franklin to the ultra-penal settlement at Norfolk Island, is nearly one hundred, and not seventy, as stated in our last. These are the most desperate and depraved offenders ever landed upon our shores, indeed, the very refuse of even the criminal part of our population—men utterly irreclaimable, and steeped in as the crime to the very lips.”—(Extract from Van Diemen’s Land newspapers.) 

5  Bodies of men, from 70 to 100 in number, have recently been in mutiny, openly refusing to work, and submitting only when terms had been arranged to their satisfaction. The island is kept thus in perpetual alarm; houses are robbed in open day. By one of these men the Commandant was, on the 9th of November last, deliberately knocked down (his secretary had previously been served in a similar manner), and received severe contusions from the blow. Some of the worst characters on the island were, a short time since, out for seventeen days, and this on an island containing in all about 9000 acres of land. The state of the island at this time may well awaken alarm. No moment should he lost in taking efficient steps for the prevention of a catastrophe of the most frightful kind. As a proof of the fearful demoralization resulting from this admixture, I would instance the case of ———, who came on the island direct from England, a fine manly fellow, but who, after successive steps in crime, has recently been convicted and condemned to death for the second time within two years, of * * * . From the last conviction, however, he has derived a positive advantage. His previous sentence to death had been commuted to one of transportation for life in chains. The next sentence, which takes effect first, is simply transportation for life, so that by a repetition of the offence he loses his chains. 

6  I am glad of an opportunity of bearing public testimony to the general good conduct of prisoners from that institution. There is a sobered feeling about them very opposite to the bearing of most other convicts; and from the repeated conversations I have had with them on the subject, I attribute the difference to the pains taken with them by the chaplains and officers of that penitentiary. 

7  From the opportunities I have had of conversing with men of all dispositions, I have arrived at the conclusion that they are one and all losing that conviction of moral and religious responsibility which, in a greater or less degree, they possessed during the voyage. “I observe the associations they form with fellow-prisoners—the messmate of the voyage is forgotten, and I see them constantly apart in friendly talk with the old hands. They were new on the island, unable to eat the maize-meal ration, and could not procure better food. But the ‘old hand,’ versed in the ways of the island, taught the ‘new chum’ how to procure fresh supplies. The tyros became adepts; and when the colonial prisoners are removed from Norfolk Island, they can leave it with the fiendish satisfaction that among the English prisoners enough are still left among the ‘old hands’ to perpetuate the abominations which should make this penal settlement a bye-word in language, and a curse in morals.”—(Extracted from a letter addressed to me by a prisoner on the island, of exemplary character.)

8  “Sir— In visiting the gaol to-day I was assailed with complaints from the prisoners confined in it, whose haggard looks proved the injurious effects of the confinement to which they are subjected. The ward No. 7 was so suffocatingly hot and offensive, that I could not remain in it many minutes: and although many of the men are in a state of entire nakedness, the perspiration ran in streams from their bodies.” — (Extract from a letter addressed to the Civil Commandant.)