Charles Joseph La Trobe, VDL A/Governor Report, 31 May 1847–Enclosure 5–Unnatural crime 1
It will have been concluded from the various reports both official and unofficial that will have reached the Home Government within the last twelve months, that “Unnatural Crime” under one form or other, has either been proved, or suspected upon good grounds to prevail at this time, to a great extent among the Convict population of Van Diemen’s Land and its Dependencies. It may further have led to the conclusion that the increase of this vice is in a great measure a consequence of the Probationary System introduced about the year 1842. This subject has been investigated as far as I could command opportunities and the means of doing so.
It is to be observed at the outset, that no doubt cases of unnatural crime whether sufficiently clear to justify committal or otherwise, have been remarked at all times among the prisoner population of Van Diemen’s Land, and that circumstances have occasionally transpired to induce a belief, that abuse of this character, which could not be openly detected, did prevail to a greater or lesser extent at certain stations, or amongst certain individuals. The character of the crime in question renders the attainment of positive and undoubted proof as to the extent to which it may in reality be practised exceedingly difficult.
It must be observed also that similar impediments to those which interpose in the way of direct proof, stand in the way of disproof; and that as soon as suspicion is roused, and a belief admitted that it may and does prevail to a great extent, it is no easy matter to determine the bounds between a reasonable and well grounded apprehension, and a degree of suspicion, which may be both unnecessary and unjustifiable.
The subject is so distressing and abhorrent, that while some certainly are found who willingly under one impulse or other open their ears to every tale or statement often promulgated by interested parties conscious of the difficulty of proof or disproof in favour of the view which they may have adopted, others may well be permitted to hesitate, before they concede, that the imputation of the wide prevalence of such fearful pollution is justly cast upon the Colony; or can, in fact, be the growth and fruit of any arrangements devised and sanctions by a Christian people.
A very general impression of the existence and increased prevalence of the crime, however, appears at the present time to be entertained amongst the better class of the Colonists, and especially amongst those whose professional functions bring them more or less in contact with the prisoners of certain classes, or with those directly placed in charge of them. The belief also, that the Government was unwilling to take cognisance of it, or to adopt proper measured for its repression, not infrequently accompanies this general impression.
Notwithstanding this, but little satisfactory proof can be extracted from this popular belief, when the grounds upon which it rests are sifted.
I have had to make ample experience of the difficulty of grappling with statements bearing upon this subject, communicated by unofficial persons, however respectable. Such have been addressed to me by men whose personal character and intentions, were beyond question: but, beyond the communications of a suspicion of its existence, or the details of circumstances that had been divulged to them on respectable authority, few if any could be brought to assist the Government in coming to a clear conclusion to the existence or extent of the vice in question. Then the means and opportunity of arriving at certainty were required by the Government, by a revelation of names of persons, and localities, and times; the answer was almost always in denial, or an evasion, and it was soon found that if the truth were to be attained, it must be by another process.
Positive proof it may be conceded can only be secured by the trial and condemnation of the suspected; or perhaps in certain cases, by the voluntary confession of the parties.
The records of the Police Courts show that at all times the occurrence of the crime in question has been noticed amongst the prisoner population, although until recently the number of actual committals would not appear to be in a larger proportion, considering the character of the population, than that observable in the Mother Country. A return of the actual committals for the last eleven years gives the following results.
VDL, Unnatural Crime Committals for 1836-1846
The attention will be immediately arrested by the apparent great increase in the number of committals recently, and especially within the last twelve months. However it has been ascertained that the convictions consequent upon them are comparatively few. In certain instances the evidence did not support the charge. In others the Attorney General, foreseeing that whatever were the presumptive merits of the charge, such would inevitably be the result, has declined prosecuting,—very properly considering, that the useless production in open court of a tissue of disgusting evidence, was unjustifiable.
It might also be urged, that an actual increase in the prevalence of the crime latterly, was not to be fairly deduced—from the apparent proof furnished by the records of the Criminal or Police Courts taken singly, as circumstances may have operated recently to induce the Authorities to bring forward cases which in former years would have been smothered or passed over.
It has been ascertained by subsequent confession, that in more than one instance, accusations of this character have been trumped up by convicts against their fellows either from feelings of private malice or from the expectation of bettering their own condition.
Thus, were there no further or more decisive proof as to the existence and prevalence of the crime than that which the Courts of Law have furnished, the justice of the impression that has gone abroad might still be fairly questioned.
The confession of individuals in prison, or in hospital, or under sentence of death even,—however conclusive in certain instances,—must in many others, viewing the circumstances under which such confessions may be elicited, be looked upon with great suspicion.
But passing over this description of evidence it may be at once admitted that the character and weight of presumptive evidence, showing the prevalence of unnatural crime under one form or other amongst the prisoner population to a far greater extent than can be supposed under any circumstances to exist elsewhere, are such as to defy rejection.
The fact of its comparatively recent increase to a most alarming extent, whatever may be the cause of such increase is also, I fear, to be fully admitted.
Perhaps the strongest and most presumptive evidence of a general character of the prevalence of the crime amongst certain classes of the convicts when taken in connection with other circumstances, may be drawn from the “Medical Reports” furnished periodically from each station and from the result of the medical examinations occasionally instituted with a special view to the detection of this vice. [For c. February 1846 details see p. 6285]
It is not believed, that there are any morbid appearances, however suspicious in their character, resulting solely and alone from the commissions unnatural crime. When however, certain diseased appearances are found to exist in parties to whom strong suspicion of the offences has been brought home by other evidence; strengthened as it has been in many cases by unwilling confession or when these are found on the person of an individual marked by common report among his fellows as addicted to such practices, a strong presumption arises, that the diseased appearances, wherever detected may be, or really are the result of the commission of the crime in question.
The nosological 2 Returns from the Convict Stations show, that for the first nine months of the past year, no fewer than seventy nine cases of diseased appearance such as have been alluded to, had occurred, fifty having been under treatment as out patients, and twenty nine admitted into the various hospitals.
It is true, that many of these cases may have originated in causes distinct from the offence under consideration, but if the connexion between certain diseased appearances and unnatural crime be allowed:—further, that as far as present experience goes, only those who passively pander to the passions of others suffer from the consequences; and lastly, that only a small proportion of those addicted to such practices are detected or even become diseased, some idea may be formed of the probable prevalence of this offence amongst the prisoners at this time; especially when these facts are taken in conjunction with the apparent increase as shown by an augmentation in the number of committals, and of suspicious cases that come under the notice of the Visiting Magistrates.
Moreover it has been found upon strict enquiry, that the persuasion that the crime is, or has been of frequent occurrence is very general—amongst the higher grade of officers of every class engaged in the Convict Department. Though many have been obliged to confute sweeping and general statements, or reports of alleged abuses broadly asserted to have occurred at this or that station, few are found who hesitate to admit their belief in the fact, although unable except in particular instances, to advance satisfactory proof.
This belief is found to be mainly induced, by the casual observance of suspicious circumstances in the conduct of certain prisoners under their charge; the general character attributed to individual convicts by their fellow prisoners; the hints or confessions of some; the results of examination by the Medical Officers, or before the Visiting Magistrate; and lastly perhaps, in no small degree, by the conviction that men are bent upon its perpetration certain and absolute prevention of the crime has been, at least under past arrangements, quite impossible.
As a body the Officers of the Convict Service require that their character should be vindicated from the charge of the improper connivance at, or indifference to the crime, which has been so unhesitatingly laid to their charge.
In no instance has backwardness to tell the truth, as far as it could be surmised, come under my observation. It must always be held in mind, that accusations brought forward by one abandoned man against another must be received with the utmost caution and that nothing but evidence or suspicion of the most decided character would justify the reception of a charge, or the committal of an individual for such imputed offence.
In perhaps by far the greater majority of instances enquiry into such charges, or suspicious circumstances, either by the Superintendent of more formally by the Visiting Magistrate, has been followed by necessary rejection of the evidence on account of manifest insufficiency; and the award of a punishment, if the case admitted of punishment at all, for the infraction of some regulation of which the accused might be undoubtedly guilty, though nothing graver could be proved against him.
It is, however, very probable that in many instances—natural disgust, added to a conviction of the general impossibility of attaining proof sufficient to convict or even of a satisfactory disproof, may have led many of the class of Officers to which I allude to throw cold water upon charges and suspicions of this character, rather than show a disposition to invite them, and yield them ready investigation.
There can be no doubt, but when relaxation of discipline and negligence in any particular, is firstly chargeable upon the superior Officers of a Station, the chances of immoral indulgence on the part of the convicts are greatly increased.
In the inferior classes of discipline Officers no such confidence as that which I have expressed above can be experienced. Many of them, until recently were of the Prisoner class themselves, and too closely linked, even in interest, with those nominally under their supervision, to be considered beyond the reach of either seduction or intimidation.
The result of personal investigation at the close of 1846 into the state of the respective Convict Stations of every description, with reference to the class of crimes in question, afforded the most painful evidence of the possible, if not probable wide diffusion of the evil in one form or another and of its probably recent, if not present occurrence.
An enquiry into the past history of each station in this respect, was scarcely necessary, and, in fact, in most cases, could not have been satisfactorily met, in consequence of the frequent changes amongst the discipline Officers of every grade.
That instituted was therefore directed to elicit facts coming within the personal knowledge, or experience of the Officers and into the state of each station at the time.
The following as a brief summary of the result.
Prisoners Barracks Hiring Depot, Launceston:—No certain grounds can be discovered for suspecting the existence of unnatural crime among the Male Prisoners in the Hiring Depot at Launceston; but perhaps nowhere in Van Diemen’s Land are greater facilities afforded and with but little danger of detection.
There are two large sleeping wards each calculated to contain one hundred and five men formed by three rows of berths without any partitions, and the upper one such a height, that it would be impossible for a person on the floor to perceive any irregularity in the part of those sleeping in it.
The Mess rooms are converted into Sleeping Wards. Whenever as is constantly the case, there are more than two hundred men in barracks, the prisoners then sleep in the floor without any separation, and until lately without lights.
The same remark as to the absence of positive proof but of the facility of the commission of irregularities of the description in question applies to all the Convict Establishments here whether Male or Female.
Notwithstanding the absence of any facts bearing upon the subject, it is the opinion of the Medical Officers that unnatural crime does exist, but not to the same extent that common rumour would lead one to suppose to be the case.
The Clergy and Ministers of Religion connected with the various Establishments appear to have no hesitation in considering such to be the case, even at present. These impressions are gathered chiefly from the confessions of prisoners awaiting trial for Capital offences, or under sentence of death.
According to these, the crime is of common occurrence and the fact that it is so, is notorious among the convicts in the gangs.
These revelations have been generally made either by those who denied being personally participators or youths averring their being unwilling, but passive instruments.
Westbury Hiring Depot:—During the past two and a half years, six cases of suspicious character have come under the notice of the Medical Officer at Westbury: in two cases the parties were to a certain extent imbecile.
At a rigid examination of the men at the Depot, made in February last by order of the Principal Medical Officer, three cases of a suspicious character were discovered out of one hundred and eighty eight. The appearances were, however, such as might equally have arisen from “masturbation.”
The Assistant Surgeon is of opinion that the crime does not exist to any extent; a conclusion perhaps which appears somewhat hastily arrived at; when the numerous facilities for its commission, with but little if any risk of detection, are taken into consideration.
Moreover when the comparatively rare occurrence of disease resulting as it is supposed from unnatural crime, is taken into consideration and the admission has to be made that six cases of a suspicious character have come under observation within the last two and a half years in the Hospital and that in examining the men in the Depot in February last three cases also of a suspicious nature were discovered, it may be presumed to prevail to a considerable extent.
Deloraine Punishment Station:—Appearances of a suspicious character were detected in one instance in February last at Deloraine, but no proof could be attained.
At this station, in common with many others at the present time the opportunities of perpetrating the crime while in Barracks are but rare, and to a certain degree attended with hazard; But no certainty as to the absence of it can be entertained especially amongst the working and detached parties in the Bush.
Fingal Hiring Depot; St. Mary’s Pass Punishment Station:—No circumstance leading to the suspicion of unnatural crime has occurred either at Fingal or St Mary’s Pass; and on inspection of the men by the Medical Officer in February last, no diseased appearances were detected.
The Medical Officer has but rarely met with disease of a suspicious character; and believes the crime to be of rare occurrence in this quarter.
Ross Punishment Station:—The Assistant Surgeon at Ross speaks confidently as to the existence of unnatural crime amongst the convicts. On examining the men in February last the appearances presented in three individuals were such as to leave little if any doubt, as to their cause. In several other instances also, the appearances though less marked, were of a very suspicious character.
Oatlands Hiring Depot:—On careful examination of the men at Oatlands, Jericho, and Antill Ponds in February last no appearances of a suspicious nature could be discovered by the Medical Officer who nevertheless asserts his belief in the existence of unnatural crime at these stations.
In 1844 the names of eight men, then at Jericho Station, were returned to the Comptroller General’s office as individuals suspected of unnatural crime.
Coal Mines Punishment Station:—It would appear from the Medical Returns from the Coal Mines, that unnatural crime has been more then ordinarily prevalent for some time past—not less than twenty one prisoners having been under treatment within the preceding twelve months for diseases in all probability resulting from its habitual perpetration.
The impression has prevailed that this fearful state of things, was quite as much the consequence of the particular occupation of the men and of the facilities that this was presumed to give, as to the degraded character of the particular class of prisoners at this Station: and this impression has doubtless been strengthened by an atrocious case of comparatively recent occurrence. Had a thorough examination of the Station and of the character of the underground labour prescribed for the men, justified this conclusion, the immediate abandonment of the mines would have been directed. But that examination produced a conviction that the above impression was founded in error. The fact is that under present arrangements the chances of irregularity are far weaker below the surface, than above ground, where unfortunately they are, and must I fear continue in spite of the adoption of every practicable measure for its repression, equally great with those seen to exist at every station, more or less.
Impression Bay Invalid Station; Cascades Punishment Station:—The Assistant Surgeon resident at Impression Bay who also attends the Cascades, reported the existence of disease in all probability resulting from unnatural crime in September 1846. During that month he forwarded a report, also a table showing the amount of disease supposed to have been brought on by unnatural crime.
From this statement it would appear, that at Impression Bay eight men had recovered from the disease, eleven others were still under treatment.
At the Cascades one man had been cured, eight remained under treatment, showing a total of twenty eight cases of disease, in all probability the result of unnatural crime.
Port Arthur Penal Station:—In July last the Medical Officer at Port Arthur reported to the Commandant the admission into Hospital of two men suffering from disease in his opinion resulting from the commission of unnatural crime. This report led to an inspection of all men on the Settlement.
Besides many suspicious cases, fourteen men were found diseased—making, with the two men already in Hospital, a total of sixteen.
The boys at Point Puer were also carefully examined but found free from disease.
Brown’s River Hiring Depot:—In January 1846, two men were detected in the commission of unnatural crime at Brown’s River Station, and immediately after, the men generally were inspected by the Medical Officer when three cases of a suspicious character were detected. In February one hundred and forty men who had arrived at the Station, subsequent to the first examination, were carefully inspected, when one very bad case was brought to light. The subject a lad stated that he had been suffering from disease for more than twelve months. The origin of the disease was traced to violence upon his person at Southport, while classed with older convicts.
Oyster Cove Punishment Station:—On inspection of the men at Oyster Cove but one case of a suspicious character was discovered—the subject being a boy.
Port Cygnet and Dover Punishment Stations:—The Assistant Surgeon in charge of Port Cygnet, and Dover Stations stated, that after a careful examination of the men made in February last, he had no positive or presumptive proof, of the existence of unnatural crime at either of these stations. In May last, a man was however committed for trial from Port Cygnet, for unnatural crime.
Southport and Port Esperance:—The Assistant Surgeon confirmed by his report of March last the general belief in the existence of unnatural crime amongst the prisoners. He stated, that after a careful examination of the men at both Stations, he believed that its effects could be trace in the proportion of three to one hundred.
Darlington and Long Point Probation Stations:—The Medical Officer on Maria Island who has been ten years employed in the Medical Department states, that unnatural crime has always been more or less spoken of as existing among the prisoners; but nothing tangible came under his notice until within the last three years. Three cases of a suspicious character have been within that period brought before the Visiting Magistrate, and the parties punished, for indecent exposure.
It has frequently happened that men, as many as nine or ten in one morning, have been punished under suspicious circumstances. Two men have lately been committed for trial upon morally indubitable evidence; but discharged upon the Attorney General’s certificate; the evidence probably not sufficing to ensure conviction.
Rocky Hills Probation Station:—The Medical Officer at Rocky Hills has been only twelve months at this Station but seventeen years in the District as a Surgeon. The men on this Station are probationers recently arrived in the Colony without any admixture of the older classes of Convicts. But one case of a suspicious character has occurred and that unsupported by any satisfactory evidence. It was not believed that the crime existed among the men of this Station. In the district to his knowledge, two or three cases had occurred, but none recently.
Jerusalem Hiring Station:—The Assistant Surgeon at Jerusalem states, that beyond mere rumour, he was not aware of the existence of unnatural crime, until he came to this Station about twelve months ago during which period three cases had come under his notice. Local disease of a highly suspicious character in one instance confirmed by the confession of the party. The subjects of two of these cases were boys:—one from Point Puer. The facilities afforded at a Station of this description are very great at all times; and until the withdrawal of an order which left the men to wander beyond the Station at certain hours without any control, were unchecked.
Broadmarsh Punishment Station:—The Assistant Surgeon at Broadmarsh has been on this Station five years since its formation—He states that he has never had professionally the slightest reason to suspect the existence of unnatural crime among the men, who are all under second sentences. But his evidence as to its non-existence, could not be considered conclusive.
Prisoners Barracks Hiring Depot, Hobart Town:—It was asserted on all hands, that no suspicion of the prevalence of unnatural crime in the Prisoners Barracks Hobart Town, at the present time, existed.
Brickfields Female Hiring Depot, Hobart Town:—There can be no doubt from the evidence received, that unnatural practices existed amongst the women at the Brickfields Hiring Depot Hobart Town, notwithstanding the utmost care and vigilance displayed by the Matron in charge. To what extent, the evil exists it is however difficult to say. This conclusion has been arrived at not so much from what has been divulged by the women themselves, as from observations made in many instances of the extraordinary and unnatural link existing between individual women. One absconds the other follows immediately; one receives punishment for misconduct the other commits some offence with the hope of rejoining her companion.
Many among the women, who do not resort to these various practices, speak of it with abhorrence, but give their testimony as to its existence.
Cascades Female Factory, Hobart Town:—With regard to the Cascades Female Factory Hobart Town, whatever may have been the case formerly and there can be no doubt but unnatural practices have prevailed, there exists at present no reason to suspect the existence of this vice within the walls of the Establishment. Indeed in the present improved state of the Building, and under the excellent discipline observed, it would be difficult to imagine how anything of the kind could happen.
Orphan School:—Among the children of tender age who are maintained at the Orphan School near Hobart Town it might appear absurd to suspect inclination to unnatural practices. Yet a case which occurred recently has shown, that nothing but the most unwearied vigilance can secure the institution from the introduction of the most abominable practices, evidently suggested by the acquaintance which all of the lower classes in the Colony, young and old, possess with the existence and character of the class of crime in question.
Macquarie Harbour Probation Party:—The state of the Settlement at Macquarie Harbour from its distance, could not be personally enquired into.
The intelligence, however, that reached me in the course of the month of December as to the general state of morals amongst the passholders employed there in cutting timber in detached parties in situations beyond all control, impelled me to order the immediate abandonment of the Station and withdrawal of all the parties engaged at it, at every sacrifice. I fear that there can be little question that the perpetration of crime, uncontrolled amongst these probationers, has been the result of an arrangement which has signally failed in every point of view.
Norfolk Island:—From this Island no detached or special report upon the subject reached me, but Her Majesty’s Government must be aware from the character of the various general reports received and sent home within the last ten or twelve months, that however deficient the local Authorities may be in the attainments of absolute proof, a belief in the wide prevalence of unnatural crime, principally amongst the doubly convicted, but not wholly confined to them, is almost universal; and rests upon such sufficient grounds as to be considered beyond dispute. While on the one hand the confessions of the condemned criminal in one shape or other, broadly assert the fact; the observations and the admissions of every Government Officer I have seen, shew, that under the recent arrangements it could scarcely be said that there was a check interposed to its gratification, and that it must prevail to a very great extent.
It still remains to advert to the state of division of the prisoner population not hitherto alluded to viz:- those whether belonging to Punishment Gangs, or “Probation Men”, or Passholders who, under present arrangements, are taken from under the immediate charge of the Convict Department, and placed under charge of a Colonial Officer for the repairs of the Roads and Bridges.
I am not in possession of any evidence as to the amount of the crime in question, real or suspected, that may prevail amongst these widely dispersed parties, but when it is acknowledged, that every crime in question, real or suspected, that may prevail amongst these widely dispersed parties, but when it is acknowledged, that every arrangement connected with them, their housing, and their supervision by day and night is necessarily more imperfect than under the Convict Department while the very character of the works upon which they are employed give every facility it must be felt that there is no security, and that the absence of proof that the crime does not exist is none against the fact of its occurrence.
It is then presumed, that the crime not only really exists, but may be suspected to be pretty generally diffused amongst certain classes of the prisoner population.
The result of enquiry into the particular classes amongst whom it may be suspected to predominate, or to which the vice, whenever detected, is generally with more or less probability traced, points at once to the “doubly convicted”, the felons of Port Arthur and Norfolk Island.
Both presumptive and actual proof show that it is more widely prevalent in these classes, than in any other. The suspicion of the probable existence of the crime to any extent, becomes weaker and weaker, as we scrutinize the state of the various classes of prisoners whom circumstances permit to be kept more or less distinct from the “doubly convicted” in any stages of punishment for probation, till it may be rejected altogether in the case of the new arrivals, as was the case in the Southport and Rocky Hills Stations, where such circumstances had favoured the complete isolation of the prisoners who reached Van Diemen’s Land from the United Kingdom in 1846 from the older Convicts of any class.
Insofar as this vice may now justly be enumerated amongst those to which the prisoner is habituated or exposed, there can be no doubt but it is to be traced, and attributed to the unhappy association of the dregs of even the prison population in large gangs, their vicious reckless character as individuals and as a mass; the seemingly hopeless form of trial under which they were called to expiate their crimes; and the imperfection of the arrangements to which they have, both formally, and up to the present time, been subjected.
Without morality or religion or the power of fixing the mind upon a point in the future, when alleviation of condition if steadily aimed at might arrive, with animal passions, chafed and unsubdued, they have grasped at any vice within their reach, and that which was perhaps originally the concealed crime of the few, becomes under various impulses, and by various stages the crime of the many.
The admission that the existence of this crime in its present form must be the fruit of the faulty system and discipline to which the “doubly convicted” has been so long subjected, must be followed by one yet more painful and humiliating.
Objectionable as many points of the “Probation System” may appear, it is not to be considered that the arrangements which its adoption involved, need have originated the practice of this vice; but it must be conceded that once introduced from without, they have been but too favorable to its further spread, and that to the imperfection of the arrangements under which the “Probation System” has been carried out, the wider diffusion of the crime must be justly attributed.
The impossibility of carrying into effect from the very outset, a proper system of classification, and of isolating the new comer from the older prisoner, who either had been once of the doubly convicted classes, or unfortunately at one period or another been brought in contact with them, has exercised fatal influence upon the general character of the convict in this respect also, as in many others: The causes of that disregard to classification are adverted to elsewhere.
In addition to the absence of a proper classification amongst the prisoners, it must further be observed, that until lately the character of the internal arrangements of the station have been, in the main, so imperfect and so objectionable, that suspicion being once roused, no assurance could be felt that such irregularities were not of frequent and easy perpetration either by night or day.
At present with general attention directed to this very point, the employment of a better class of subordinates as overseers and watchmen by night within the Station Walls and Stockades; the adoption of a plan, which simple as it is gives to each convict, however large the number under the same roof, the advantages of a separate berth, the further check of maintaining light at all times in the wards, and a system of nocturnal visit by the Officer at irregular hours; it may be satisfactorily asserted, that within doors, so to say, the commission of the crime is hardly possible, if the Officers are of a class to perform their duty steadily and connive at no departure from rule.
But no such security can be felt in regard to the conduct of the prisoners comprising detached parties at a distance from the station, the nightly accommodation and arrangements for which is in by far the majority of cases, very imperfect. Nor in the case of individuals employed in out of door labour, either in large bodies under the immediate supervision of assistant Superintendents or Overseers, or for the performance of given duties connected with the Station under some petty Officer, who has most generally until recently been of the prisoner class himself.
Reference to the columns of the enclosed schedule not under the head of “Hard Labour” and “Barrack Duties” show how very large a number of prisoners, under the present system, must of necessity be placed in positions, which from the character of the duties that they are called to perform, remove them for a longer or shorter period from any responsible supervision whatsoever. And the more narrowly the subject is scanned, the stronger the persuasion becomes, that the most active surveillance could never suffice to produce a conviction, that if the determination to commit the crime possesses any individual, time and opportunity if watched for will not be found sooner or later.
There can be no doubt, but to whatever extent the crime in question be perpetrated, it is, at this time perpetrated in the bush. Almost all the evidence that has been received goes to prove this.
The impossibility of prevention under the circumstances thus brought under notice, and of arriving at a certainty that the crime is eradicated now that it has taken a certain root amongst the convicts, must be evident; and were there no other argument to be adduced in favour of an abandonment of the present system involving as it does the necessary accumulation of the convicts in large masses, this appears to me to be a full and sufficient one, and one that must command respect and attention.
The credit of the Government and of the Mother Country; the future welfare of both the Convict, and the free population of the Colony, admits no other alternative.
There are many respectable men to be found in the Colony who in their anxiety to see an end put to what they consider, under one point of view or other, a vicious and obnoxious system, unhesitatingly assert the demoralising influence, which the acknowledged or presumed existence of this detestable vice amongst the convicts, does and must exercise upon the character of the Colony in general.
One may be unable to go to the full extent of their belief as to present effects, or to grant the soundness of their anticipations for the future, as far as the whole community as a free Community is concerned, that is to say if that Community is true to its own real interests and does its duty.
It is nevertheless true, that its existence is a stigma upon the Colony; and that there are classes upon which it does exercise an influence, and that, undoubtedly, a most degrading one, even at this day.
It is not only at the door of the wards into which the prisoners have retired and consider themselves for the time unheard and in security; or that if the watch-house in which the sweepings of the road, or the township— suspected thieves, apprehended runaways, or travelling passholders may be found thrust without order or decency to pass a miserable night; or in a tavern brawl; that the ear may be stunned with shameless language the most disgusting and abhorrent, nor to convicts and those connected with it, is confined.
The matter has become so as to say common talk with the lower classes. A full and crowded Court, and a curious and shameless auditory may always be secured, whenever the Calendar contains such blot upon its columns.
There can be no doubt but that to a certain extent, the public mind has become familiarised to the idea and mention of it, and consequently tainted. That this is an evil that may well cause disgust and apprehension, is not to be denied.
CJ La Trobe
1 The complete La Trobe report to the British Secretary of State for the Colonies, 31 May 1847, is held at AOT GO 33/60, p. 1311 and AOT CO 280/206/551 . The La Trobe report printed for the House of Commons excluded enclosures 5 or 6, which deal, respectively, with homosexuality among the convicts, and the dismissal of a number of officials (see BPP, Transportation, vol. 8, pp. 41-87). James Boyd’s report on the Darlington probation station was also published (see BPP, Transportation, vol. 7, pp. 409-15.). The BPP, Transportation vol. 8, p. 68: “Enclosure No. 5 and 6 are not printed.” Emphasis added.
2 “nosology 1. the systematic classification of diseases. 2. the knowledge of a disease. The Macquarie Dictionary, 3rd ed, 1997, p. 1473.