James Boyd, Darlington Probation Station, Maria Island report, 31 Dec 1845 1 2
52, Ebury-street, Pimlico, 8 May 1846.
I do myself the honour to enclose my late assistant’s description of the probation sation at Maria Island.
I have, &c.
(signed) JS Hampton .
The Right hon WE Gladstone,
&c &c &c
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Darlington Probation Station, Maria Island,
31 December 1845.
Agreeable to your request, I herewith send you some account of the working and internal discipline of this probation station, together with my opinion and observations thereon.
In furtherance of this, I conceive it will be advisable, in the first place, to give you a brief outline of the routine of discipline, moral and religious instruction, employment, &c, and then review the several features of the system, in order that a correct estimate may be formed of its merits or demerits, as compared with the discipline of the Pentonville prison.
The buildings in which the prisoners are located comprise six large rooms, each containing 66 men; 210 huts, holding from three to 24 men each, and 102 separate single apartments.
The gang, which usually musters about 600 men, is divided into four classes, the first being composed of the best behaved prisoners; the second, of the tolerably good; the third, of the indifferent; and the fourth is the chain-gang and crime class. These are located as follows:—The best men of the first class in the out-huts; the remainder of the first, whole of the second and third in the six large rooms, and the chain-gang and crime class in the separate wards or apartments. Men specially ordered to be kept separate on account of unnatural propensities also occupy separate wards.
The convicts mess in the following manner, viz, men belonging to the out-huts, at the same; those of the first and second classes, who sleep in the large wards, take their meals in a spacious mess-room; the third class in the open yard, but they have no tables or seats; and the fourth class mess in their respective apartments. The first and second classes only are allowed knives and forks, but the whole have plates and drinking pots.
The gang musters every week-day morning at an early hour for work; before going off to which prayers are read by the religious instructor and Roman Catholic Catechist to the Protestants and Roman Catholics respectively; this service seldom occupies more than eight or ten minutes.
The hours for labour vary according to the season of the year; at present they are from half-past five am till six pm, allowing one hour for breakfast, dinner and supper respectively.
The gang is again assembled at a quarter before six pm when the evening prayers are read, after which the prisoners are marched off to school, where they remain until eight pm.
At eight o’clock the convicts are mustered into their several wards for the night, and at nine a bell rings as a signal for the prisoners to retire to rest, after which no more talking is allowed until next morning.
On Sundays the entire gang assembles for divine service at eleven and three. One full service is performed and sermon preached by the religious instructor, but, owing to his having another station to attend to, the other service is conducted by the superintendent.
The Roman Catholics are attended by the catechist.
In addition to the other duties, the men are allowed the whole of the afternoon on Saturdays to repair their clothing and clean themselves properly. On the last Saturday afternoon in each month the whole gang is inspected by the visiting magistrate, superintendent and surgeon. On this occasion the prisoners produce their bedding and mess utensils, any of which being deemed unserviceable are then exchanged.
The convicts have clean shirts twice a week, on the days for receiving which they are also shaved.
The bedding is taken out every morning at unlocking for air, where it remains until evening muster.
Night Duties.—From the hour of locking at night until unlocking in the morning, watchmen (convicts) are planted in and about the station for the security of the stores, surveillance
of the wards, cells, &c, &c. They call “all’s well” every half hour during the night, and are responsible for the safety and security of their respective charges.
The senior assistant superintendent (myself) visits the various dormitories ever night at uncertain hours, and ascertains that the watchmen are alert on their posts.
I may here mention that the out-huts, containing upwards of 200 men, are not locked during the night; the only check upon irregularity in these is the occasional visit of the constables, which is by no means effectual.
The officers composing this establishment are the visiting magistrates (paid), superintendent, senior assistant superintendent, religious instructor, surgeon, catechist, RC, three assistant superintendents, six overseers and one clerk, who is also storekeeper.
Having thus gone over the outline of the arrangements, discipline, &c &c, I shall now proceed to review and inquire into the several features and details of the system.
Buildings.—These, with the exception of the 102 separate apartments, are extremely ill adapted for the location of convicts. The large rooms, as has been observed, contain each 66 men. The berths are arranged in three tiers, and are divided by separation boards, about 13 inches deep. Until very recently the partition boards were not more than half the depth of the present ones, so that when the bedding was unrolled no division was perceptible. At very few, if any, of the other stations, I am told, are the partition boards deeper than they formerly were here.
No officer or other person in authority remains in these dormitories during the night, and, in consequence, the prisoners are left to themselves. A watchman patrols the yards, but, although he were disposed to prevent irregularity, his means of doing so are very limited. I, as the senior assistant superintendent, visit the sleeping rooms every night at uncertain hours; but I cannot be answerable for misconduct when not present. From all that I can learn, unnatural crimes prevail to an alarming extent on the mainland; but from the difficulty of proving actual commission, the capital charge is seldom sustained, or, indeed, exhibited—I say seldom, as compared with the number of suspicious offences which are punished.
I have heard the most disgusting evidence on this subject; in fact, so much so, that I have been perfectly shocked at the horrible depravity exhibited by the convicts.
But to conclude my observations on the dormitories. A lamp is kept burning during the night, and a night-tub stands in the centre of the floor. I need not tell you that such an indecent practice must be ruinous to morality, and, unless I am greatly mistaken, decidedly injurious to health.
Smoking tobacco, although strictly prohibited, was a frequent occurrence in the wards; and even now I sometimes detect the smell of it in visiting them.
As to language, I must say that the most disgusting is commonly used, especially in the wards, before the hour of retiring to rest.
There is another circumstance which I cannot refrain from mentioning, viz, espionage. A man known to give officers information is designated by the epithet of “Dog,” and in the ward he meets with dreadful usage. I have known men to get their heads cut open from missiles thrown at them under these very circumstances.
From what I have seen and heard of in these large rooms, I am sure that immorality and crime must reign triumphant, and reformation under such circumstances cannot be otherwise than a hopeless expectation.
The out-huts, notwithstanding the smaller number of prisoners domiciled, are, in many respects, more objectionable (if possible) than the large wards. Several of them are at a considerable distance from the station, and, consequently, are exempt, in a great measure, from the surveillance of the officers; and many of the wholesome restraints imposed upon men at the station are in these dispensed with.
The hut men are generally employed on taskwork, and usually complete their allotted portions by two o’clock; thus they have the whole afternoon to roam about, planning and not unfrequently (as I shall hereafter show) committing serious depredations.
With reference to the separate apartments, in which the separate system is said to be carried on, they are unquestionably the best adapted for the location of the convicts, but they, too, are very defective. First, they are very small, being but nine feet long, nine feet high, and about four feet wide. The floors and ceilings are boarded, so that they cannot be deemed very secure; there are no fittings whatever; the prisoners lie on the floor, and off which they also take their meals. There is no regular system of ventilation, the air being admitted by an opening over the door, which opening supplies the place of a window. There is no counter aperture for the extraction of the foul air.
As regards the separate system in operation here, it differs widely from that mode of convict management as established at Pentonville. In short, it merely consists in the prisoners being kept apart when not at labour; but, as convict watchmen have the immediate charge and supervision of these apartments, I need scarcely say that intercommunication is frequent, as well as many other abuses of discipline. It is a common occurrence for the prisoners to knock at the doors of their apartments, and call out for “Bill” or “Tom” the watchman.
From a suggestion of my own, index tablets are being fitted, which will in some measure put an end to the latter absurd method of summoning the person on duty. I regret, however, that no bells can be procured, which would complete this arrangement to my satisfaction.
In expressing my opinion as to the good produced upon the prisoners by separation as here in force, I am grieved to state, that it is but trifling, if any at all; for the good resolutions
formed in solitude are quickly effaced and forgotten in the company of men dissatisfied with their treatment, and whose conversation is in general of the very worst description.
Separation to be effectual must, in my opinion, be strict and uncompromising.
Classification of the Convicts
The gang which, as before stated, numbers about 600, is divided into four classes, viz, the first, or best behaved; the second, or tolerably good, &c &c.
In this arrangement present conduct alone is bad in consideration, so that the perpetrators of capital crimes and the hoary habit and repute thieves are found place indiscriminately with the military deserters and other novices in crime, together with lads scarcely more than mere boys; this I believe, to be one of the greatest errors in the system.
No specific time is laid down for the prisoners to remain in either of the two intermediate classes in their progressive advancement; but if they keep clear of offences, two months is about the usual period of their detention in each.
Prisoners on arrival from home, unless specially ordered otherwise, are placed in the third class along with men who have been degraded from higher classes for misconduct, and with such as have completed their sentences of punishment, and are returning to the higher classes; thus the newly-arrived are thrown, as it were, into the very cesspool of the gang; for it is a fact notorious to all connected with the station, that the third class is composed of the very worst men on it. This is easily accounted for; for when a man is sentenced to hard labours in chains (having been some time in the first or second classes previously, and, as it may be supposed, become somewhat amended in his conduct and habits), the class of prisoners (chain gang) with whom he is compelled to associate, and the degradation to which he becomes accustomed during a period of six, nine or 18 months, cannot fail, in my opinion, of rendering him a much worse character at the expiration of his sentence than he was on quitting the higher classes; such are the men who compose the third class.
Another fact, admitted by all, is, that the convicts on their first arriving from home are in much higher moral condition than the great majority of those who have been for some time undergoing gang labour.
A circumstance illustrative of this occurred a short time ago. Fifty men had arrived from England, and were placed in the third class. They were well supplied with neckerchiefs, stockings, &c, from the ship, but as no such articles of dress are issued to probationers, scarcely any of the “old hands” were in possession of the like.
Some men of the first and second classes commenced a traffic with the new comers, giving them for their stockings, &c, a liberal allowance of tobacco, which, however, on examination, turned out to be a dark description of sea week, twisted so as to resemble beautiful negrohead.
The newly arrived convicts are decidedly the best on this station; in fact, I cannot conceive a better school for the propagation of criminal knowledge and habits than a probation gang. I remember, some time after my arrival here, a prisoner being sent to this place, from some station on the mainland. On his being cautioned by the superintendent against breaking the rules, he said, “He did not believe that he would ever do any good on probation, as there were such strong temptations and inducements to commit crime thrown in his way, as he had so found on the mainland to his cost (having been frequently punished), but had he been permitted to stay at Millbank prison he might have become a better man.”
Such are the sentiments of many with whom I have reasoned. Some men who were sent here from Pentonville, upon medical grounds, and of weak intellect, have told me that they found the utmost difficulty in keeping out of trouble, from being placed amongst such “bad characters.”
From what I have thus said upon classification, it must be obvious to the most uninitiated, that the rule of placing newly arrived convicts in the third class is an evil fraught with the worst consequences.
Religious Instruction.—The whole gang, except those at the out-huts, hear prayers read on the muster-ground morning and evening, before going to and after returning from work. The Protestants and Roman Catholics are attended by the religious instructor and catechist respectively.
No lesson or scriptural exposition is ever given on week-days, and the selection of prayers from the Liturgy are gone over in the most formal manner, and I greatly fear produce but little good on the hearers. The service in general lasts about eight or ten minutes.
On Sundays the whole of the prisoners attend divine service morning and evening,—Protestants in the chapel, the Roman Catholics assemble in the school-room.—(Vide page 73.)
The sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is never administered to bond or free.
With the exception of the sick, and men undergoing solitary confinement, the convicts are not individually instructed in religion.
A few months ago a robbery was committed one Sunday evening immediately after divine service; and I may safely assert, that few indeed ever take books into their hands during the Sabbath, except while at chapel. How different was the case at Pentonville! Often have I, when inspecting the prison during the Sunday evenings, seen the prisoners deeply engaged in their devotional exercises, and this, too, when no mortal eye was supposed to be witnessing their secret meditations.
And again, how truly gratifying was the conduct of the same men when associated together on board the “Sir George Seymour,” the Sunday was really a season of sacred enjoy-
ment on board; there I have frequently seen the men assembled in small groups, reading their Bibles or practising some of the hymns for the day, and not a few of them retiring into the quietest and most secluded parts of the deck, eagerly employed in rehearsing the portions of Scripture given out for committal to memory.
In effecting upon this subject, it seems almost incredible that difference of system and treatment can produce such opposite effects on men who formerly have moved in the same sphere of vice and crime. What a blessing would it be to society, as well to the unfortunate convicts themselves, if the thousands of prisoners subjected to the demoralising influence of gang association, were instead brought within the pale of reformatory prisons such as Pentonville.
Scholastic Instruction.—All the convicts, except those deemed sufficiently educated, attend school from 6 to 8 pm on every week-day, Saturday excepted.
The whole superintendence of the school devolves on the religious instructor. The RC catechist does not attend.
Classes are formed with monitors to each; these consist of men learning to read, write and cipher; all of which branches of education are of the simplest order.
The system of instruction is, in my opinion, very bad, or rather there is no system at all. The classes are furnished with Testaments (New), spelling-books (Mavor’s), disentangled reading on cards, and an unusually large proportion of copies of the alphabet. Some slates and a few copy-books are the writing means furnished. The whole of these books, cards, &c &c, are in the most wretched condition from dirt, being torn and defaced to a shameful extent.
The convicts are seated at tables, where they are attended by the monitors, who go from one to another throughout the respective classes. No prisoner reads aloud for the edification of the others; nor do the teachers ever address their classes collectively for general instruction. The most dull and monotonous practice of keeping men poring over their cards, &c, prevails; the prisoners frequently drop off asleep, or amuse themselves by conversing together in order to “kill the time.” Many of them who have been upwards of two years on probation cannot read more than words of three letters, and not a few who have been almost as long are still occupied with words of two letters. The school here, as compared with that at Pentonville, on board the “Sir George Seymour” or at Millbank five years ago, is decidedly useless; there is not the slightest analogy between the dull and sickening routine of this school and the animated exercises and valuably interesting lectures delivered at those of the former establishments.
There is one arrangement connected with the scholastic instruction, which must, however, seriously affect its success; viz, the practice of compelling men to attend afer having been at labour during the day. No other time is set apart for this important duty, and the consequence, as may be expected, is, that little or no improvement takes place amongst the convicts. The monitors, too, by whose diligence and zeal much good might be done, have no inducement whatever to exert themselves; they are exempt from no part of the ordinary gang labour, nor is there any ulterior advantage or reward held out to them for meritorious exertion; and as they are directed to perform the duties of teachers, their additional labour is not even voluntary.
Labour.—The hours of labour, as has been stated (vide page 73), vary according to the season of the year. The convicts are generally employed in clearing and cultivating the land, making and repairing roads, erecting buildings &c &c; they work in large parties (sometimes as many as 60 being together), under the supervision of overseers or sub overseers (convicts), to which last they are obliged to yield the same obedience as to officers.
The first and second classes are chiefly employed on taskwork, as an indulgence; these men usually complete their allotted portions of labour by two o’clock in the afternoon, thus having the remainder of a long summer day to roam about. Here I must express my conviction that taskwork, independent of its giving the prisoners too much time to themselves, which is frequently seriously misapplied, is wrong in principle. Men, on getting a task, work in the most laborious manner to complete it; but order them to do the most trifling service afterwards, and you find the utmost difficulty in having the order obeyed.
They become restless and impatient whilst at work, and occasionally indolent and dissatisfied when unemployed; consequently when these men leave the probation gang obtain private service, the habits of impatience, indolence and dissatisfaction acquired from being accustomed to taskwork must undoubtedly render them anything but good servants; some of the best qualifications of whom should be diligence, perseverance and unvaried attention to their master’s interests.
Sub-Overseers and Watchmen.—These occupying in all respects the position of subordinate officers, and on them devolves a great deal of the minor superintendence of the convicts, as well as the watching of the station during the night.
They are convicts; the former being changed daily, that is, holding the situation but one day at a time, are not required to possess unexceptionable character. It often happens that men are appointed sub-overseers who may themselves have been frequently punished for offences committed during their gang labour; they take charge of parties at work.
Watchmen are selected from amongst the oldest prisoners; they must have performed two-thirds of their period of gang labour, bear an unexceptional station character, and be exempt from attendance at school. It is difficult to find them.
Their situation or billet, as it is termed, is permanent during the remainder of their gang labour.
The watchmen have to keep watch during the night, attend to the men in separation and solitary confinement, maintain order and regularity in the mess-room, watch the sick to and from hospital, attend the trials at the police court, exercise prisoners in solitary confinement, lock and unlock the wards &c &c. Prisoners are punished for disobeying the orders of, or for being insolent to watchmen and sub-overseers. This astonished me very much when I first came here, it seemed so totally at variance with prison discipline at home; but although I must ever condemn the practice as being ruinous to convict management, where anything like correct discipline is aimed at, still, under the existing arrangements of probation gangs, such men are absolutely necessary, for the number of officers is by far too limited to ensure sufficient supervision.
The situation of watchman or sub-overseer is not an enviable one, inasmuch as these men have not only to bear a great deal of abuse and annoyance from their fellow convicts, but run great risks of losing their character and perhaps probation-pass for some neglect or disobedience of the various unpleasant duties assigned to them. There is no reward or inducement whatever to stimulate zeal and diligence in the performance of their duties. Other well-conducted prisoners have the same ulterior advantages as them.
A short time ago a watchman was found away from his station, and in the act of stealing carrots from the public garden, for which offence he is now undergoing sentence of hard labour. Another was sentenced to the same punishment for having tobacco in his possession, and being suspected of picking one of the ward locks during the night.
Conduct of the Prisoners, Offences and Punishments.
In reference to these points I must at once acknowledge that the conduct of the convicts at the station is very unsatisfactory; and if my opinion be given of it, as compared with the same feature at Pentonville, or indeed at any other penal establishment of which I have become an officer, I cannot hesitate in confessing that it is decidedly bad.
But in considering this subject, in order to arrive at a correct estimate of the prisoners’ behaviour, the number of offences and punishments herein shown, large although that number be, must not be deemed a just criterion to go by, inasmuch as nearly an equal numerical amount of offences are never recorded, either from want of sufficient legal proof, or because they are deemed of too trivial a nature to be brought before the visiting magistrate for adjudication.
The nature of offences here committed will throw more light on the subject of conduct, when viewed in comparison with the complexion of those recorded at Pentonville, than any other standard to which I can refer. But I must observe, that many of the offences deemed too trifling for magisterial adjudication are of much greater magnitude than the majority of those exhibited in the 2d Report, pp.
The criminal habits of the convicts appear to remain unbroken by their detention and treatment in the probation gang; and as corrupt association without sufficient corrective influence is the great evil of the system, there can be no doubt as to the mutual deterioration which takes place among these unhappy men.
Offences.—These are in general of a grave nature. The following are some of the principal crimes committed:—
Attempt to murder; insubordination and disarming the military sentinel; sheep-stealing; housebreaking; housebreaking and theft; robbery under very aggravated circumstances; plotting and conspiring to murder the officers and carry off the station boat; sleeping together under suspicious circumstances, and absconding, with violence.
The commoner and every-day offences are—Disobedience of orders; insolence to officers; theft, under a variety of circumstances; destroying Government property; idleness; refusing to work; smoking tobacco; disobedience of, abusing and obstructing watchmen; cursing and swearing; indecent exposure of person; prevarication upon oath; holding intercommunication in solitary and separate confinement, very recently taken cognizance of; absence from huts at night under suspicious circumstances; making false statements; wilfully aggravating disease for the purpose of escaping hard labour; also feigning disease for the same purpose; and as to petty pilfering, there seems to be a general mania amongst the gang; the most trifling articles are stolen and secreted about the prisoners’ persons; for example, pieces of old bones, rags, nails, knives, bits of leather, &c &c. these, with the addition of riotous and irregular conduct in the wards and mess-room, and neglect of duty by watchmen and sub-overseers, form our catalogue of offences, or nearly so.
Punishments.—The punishments awarded are—Extension of transportation; extension of probation; hard labour in and out of chains; corporal punishment, from 25 to 100 lashes; solitary confinement on bread and water from three to 30 days, and degradation from higher to lower classes.
Extension of transportation is in general limited to 18 months or two years; that of probation seldom exceeds six months; hard labour in chains from two to 18 months; hard labour out of chains is usually for a period of from one to six months. The maximum of these punishments is the full extent of sentence legally awarded by two magistrates. The intermediate periods, or amount of corporal punishments, may be given by one.
Some of the graver crimes are submitted to the Supreme Court.
Of all the punishments here inflicted, that of solitary confinement, although it has been very ineffectually carried out for want of proper dark cells, has produced the best effect upon the prisoners. Extension of transportation is deemed one of, if not the greatest, punish-
ments in the power of the magistrates to award, and is generally given for very serious offences. But, in my opinion, it does no good whatever, for a convict sentenced to this punishment is almost in every instance of reckless and incorrigible character, and cares little or nothing for a sentence which he never intends to complete. Many of these sentences, I am creditably informed, have been abridged by the gallows.
It is no uncommon thing for prisoners here to say, on receiving sentence, that they “would sooner, or might as well, be hanged.” Others in the office have made use of the most opprobrious epithets to the magistrate himself, and openly threatened to murder some of their officers. I remember an instance of this, when the prisoner was so outrageous that he received three close successive “thirty-sixes,” before he became subdued. As to the other punishments, I do not believe that any of them deter from decommission of crime; but with reference to corporal punishment and hard labour in chains, I can only say that the former is not dreaded; and as the infliction of it is frequently repeated upon the same convicts, I cannot but conclude that it only tends to harden their minds and extinguish every latent feeling of their better nature.
There have been upwards of 30 cases of corporal punishment at this station during the last six months, and upon two recent occasions only have I heard the prisoners utter the slightest cry of agony during the infliction. They pride themselves in being termed “bricks,” that is, because they do not flinch at the lash. This punishment is frequently inflicted in the most indecent manner.
And as to hard labour in chains, a very frequent punishment, I must at once admit, that of all the means of coercion I ever saw in use, this is certainly the least effective in reclaiming the criminal. It is notorious that the men undergoing this sentence become complete devils. The degradation of wearing chains makes no salutary impression, either upon themselves, or on the other prisoners of the gang, who are constantly witnessing the disgusting spectacle of 40 or 50 men dragging their clanking irons, and yoked to carts like brute beasts.
The most serious crimes committed here, since my arrival, have been by the chain gang. One man attempted to murder the officer in charge of the gang by striking him on the head with a bludgeon. There were eight prisoners working at the cart with the villain, and not one of them, although called upon to seize him, offered the least assistance to the officer. He was sentenced to be hanged, but was afterwards reprieved and sent to Norfolk Island. Several of the chain gang have absconded, some of whom returned to the station at night, armed with sticks, and intending to attack the officers’ houses; they were all taken before they had time to commit any depredations. Numerous conspiracies have been formed for the purpose of attacking the officers and getting their fire-arms, and absconding; these plots have almost invariably been disclosed by some of the guilty parties themselves, before they were ripe for execution.
The last two deserve notice. About a month ago a plot was discovered, in which the prisoners (seven of the chain gang) had conspired to get the fire-arms belonging to the constables, attack several of the officers’ houses, shoot myself, and having got a supply of provisions, seize the station mail-boat, and abscond to New South Wales.
These men were tried, but sufficient legal proof not being found, they were acquitted. Since then some of the parties confessed their guilt.
The second conspiracy was discovered about a fortnight ago. An anonymous letter was dropped into the bread store, addressed to the superintendent. It stated that the writer did not wish to come forward openly to accuse the conspirators, but he was anxious to save the officers. He then detailed the plot, which was as follows: the prisoners tried about the boat had got possession of poison, which they intended to convey into the officers’ food and water; if this failed, their emissaries in the huts were to fire the ripe corn, and whilst the officers would be engaged in extinguishing the flames, these villains were to rush into the officers’ houses, get their arms, and seize the boat. The writer adds, “For God’s sake take care, as they are a blood-thirsty set;” “they (meaning the conspirators) say the officers are b-----y tyrants, and the sooner rid of the better.”
As no evidence could be produced against the accused, nothing has been done to them, except that they are placed under close surveillance until the Comptroller-general decides upon the case.
Many other similar plots and excesses might be told of the chain gang; but I think sufficient has been stated to prove, that hard labour in chains, although under separate treatment, must be a punishment ruinous to the convicts and highly injurious to the public interests.
I must therefore repeat that solitary confinement, well inflicted, cannot fail in producing more good on the minds and dispositions of the convicts than any other punishment here awarded.
But solitary confinement has never been properly carried out; first, because there are no dark cells; this, I understand, is also the case throughout the probation department; and secondly, owing to its infliction having been entrusted to watchmen, some of whom are now in chains for misconduct while so employed. There are now, however, 16 dark cells in course of erection; they will, I trust, be found more effective as a punishment, and being ventilated in the same way as the Pentonville cells, there is not a ray of light admitted. Trap-doors and index tablets are also added, which will render them the most complete specimens of prison construction in this colony. I have also submitted the plan of an exercise ground, on the Pentonville principle, as there is no way of giving prisoners, in solitary confinement, exercise, except by taking them out one at a time which would
occupy a great deal of the day, supposing there to be as many undergoing that punishment as the cells will maintain, which is not at all improbable.
Prisoners, owing to their frequently long sentences, are allowed one hour’s exercise per day.
The following are the numbers of offences recorded against the whole gang, and of those which have been committed during the last five months:—
As you will have observed, I have not given any account of the discipline of other stations, but confined my observations to this; and almost every word stated has been proved to me by ocular demonstration of the facts.
But although the picture I have drawn is unquestionably bad, yet I have reason to believe, without a shadow of doubt, that the present discipline of this station, and general conduct of the convicts here, are much more satisfactory than at any other in the whole department. This I might have proved to your satisfaction, had I given passing statements and accounts of other station, but I have deemed it preferable to confine myself to personal observations, knowing that sufficient errors existed here to condemn any system whatever in which facts may be found.
There are a few observations which I cannot omit, in concluding this paper, viz, 1st That the superintendent has no power to award punishment, notwithstanding he alone is responsible for the discipline of the station; the utmost he can do is to remove men from a higher to a lower class. Every case is examined in the form of a trial before the visiting magistrates. To this practice there are many strong objections, amongst which I may mention, the great loss of time, nearly every forenoon being occupied in magisterial adjudication, the dreadful amount of false swearing, and the injurious consequences of lessening the superintendent’s authority. The second is, that the officers carry arms privately, a practice which I at first thought very absurd; recent events, however, have convinced me that it is absolutely necessary; but still I cannot concur in the practice, as it evidently weakens moral force and confidence in the managements of the convicts.
Another thing is, that little or no advice and admonition is given to the prisoners; they are in a great measure left to their own inclinations, and the better feelings of their nature are seldom, if ever, appealed to.
The officers, generally, are men who have had little or no experience in discipline of any kind, having been formerly employed in farming or mercantile pursuits, and from embarrassed circumstances have become public officers. There are others, however, who have served in the army and navy, but their ideas of discipline savour of the olden school, when rigorous coercion was the order of the day.
In reference to the depredations committed by the men at the out huts, as alluded to in page 74, I have to mention the following case. About two months ago a very serious robbery was committed at a cottage belonging to the contractor’s servant. Two men having their faces and exposed parts of their bodies blackened, and their clothes turned in order to prevent recognition, entered the cottage whilst the servant was absent. They were armed with bludgeons, and threatened to murder the man’s wife if she made the least noise, while they ransacked the rooms, boxes, &c; several articles were carried off, amongst which was a gun loaded and capped. After a great deal of searching and watching, the perpetrators were discovered; they belonged to different huts, and were assisted by some others, all hut-men, who had planned the deed and shared the booty.
I must now conclude these observations, hoping they may, however faulty, be of some use to you in forming a correct estimate of probationism.
I am, &c
(signed) James Boyd,
Senior Assist. Superintendent.
JS Hampton, Esq, RN.
1 BPP, Transportation vol. 7, 1843-47, pp. 409-15. 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 Boyd’s complete report also appears in the Launceston Examiner, Wed 30 Dec 1846, p. 7; and concludes in the following edition of the Launceston Examiner, Sat 2 Jan 1847, p. 7. The report, in the former edition, starts with the following heading and introduction: “CORRESPONDENCE ON CONVICT DISCIPLINE. The last extract we shall make from the parliamentary papers before us, is a letter from James Boyd, the Assistant Superintendent on board the Sir George Seymour, to his then superior and present chief, Dr Hampton, now Comptroller- General of Convicts. It is so important that we give the communication entire; it is si methodically arranged and clearly expressed, that we shall not clog it with a single comment. It deserves the careful and serious consideration of every colonist:—”
3 * The whole of these have been punished, and the period embraces the expired parts of the convicts’ gang labour, varying from one month to three years.