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The Argus, Mon 16 Feb 1863 1


    The Australian colonies have long been asking the mother country to send them a share of her surplus population, and it would seem that a disposition exists in England to send us, in answer, a class of emigrants whom we have no desire to see landed on these shores. Philanthropy, it appears, has made an egregious failure—at least so far as England is concerned—in endeavouring, by means of tickets-of-leave, to convert the notorious breaker of the laws into a good and repentant member of society. It has made the prison more tolerable than the work-house. It has cared more for the criminal than the innocent poor, dependent on the bounty of the parish. It has opened the gates of the penitentiary for the exit of dissembling thieves and burglars,, long before the expiry of the period for which the law demanded theirs separation from society, which they had outraged. But it has failed utterly to reclaim those whom it has favoured, and the only effect of the system has been to let loose on society thousands of the worst class of convicts, whose outrages have at last become intolerable. The English journals, especially those of the larger cities, are seldom free from records of daring assaults and robberies, accompanied with violence, by ticket-of-leave men. Special courts have been held for the trial of these “garotters.” Long sentences have been imposed upon those who have been found guilty. But the alarm caused by the operations of these gangs of liberated convicts seems to have become so general that no measure short of a return to the old system of transportation beyond seas is likely to appease the excitement under which the English public laboured on this subject in December last. The Times argues that the only question left for discussion is, to which of the colonies this unwelcome class of emigrants is to be sent. And that one or other of the Australian settlements may have the undesired distinction of selection may be apprehended, not only from the tone of some of the journals, but from the fact, that MR HERBERT, who represents Queensland in emigration matters, has seen fit to put in an energetic protest against that young colony being made the receptacle of the worst class of the criminal population of the mother country.

    In that protest the whole of the Australasian colonies, with the exception of the Western settlement, will at once join. It is impossible to believe that the Imperial authorities can for a moment listen to the proposition, that the utterly irreclaimable portion of their criminal classes should be expatriated to the most wealthy dependencies of the Crown. It was fit enough, when there colonies were in their infancy—when little was known, and almost as little hoped, of the Australian settlements—that those who left their country for their country’s good should have been afforded an opportunity to return to ways of honesty in lands where there was small temptation for a repetition of the crimes which had led to their deportation across the sea, and where the scarcity of servants and workmen made convict labour valuable. But circumstances have so entirely changed the face of affairs, that such an immigration is now not merely undesirable, but could not be borne. In these colonies, there is now not only abundance of wealth, but it exists in such forms, and is possessed by a community so scattered, and already so exposed to the attempts of thieves and burglars, that any addition to the number of those desperadoes would be a most serious affliction upon hg community. We still suffer from the evils thrown upon us by the system of transportation, long as it is since it was abandoned. In all parts of the colonies there are “old hands” whose neighbourhood is not considered desirable by those who know them best. How many of the more violent and atrocious crimes that have been recorded from transports, and those who have profited by their example and instructions? As it is, we have quite enough to do to keep our criminals in proper subjection. The “ticket-of-leave” system has been only less fruitful of crimes and outrages here than at home. If matters do not speedily improve in this respect, indeed, it may come to be a question whether our best course will not be to transport to the mother country the convicts whom we are unable to improve by prison discipline here. Nor are the neighbouring colonies more likely to hail with satisfaction a return to the old system. At this moment, New South Wales is almost at the mercy of her convict population. Mail robberies are of daily occurrence, and on more than one occasion the gold escort has been stopped and pillaged by armed bands, composed, it is believed, of convicts, or the descendants of such men. The influence old settlers of this kind have over the young in their neighbourhood, is too well known. It is openly stated that the leaders in the more daring of the late outrages on the Sydney side of the border, would have long ago been in the hands of the police but for the shelter and assistance afforded to them by settlers and their descendants having the taint of the chain-gang upon them. Nor is Tasmania more fortunate. Her repressive and sever laws have not sufficed to prevent the occurrence of some of the most diabolical crimes on record. One of the most beautiful islands of the Southern Ocean has been materially injured, as a colony, by the presence of numerous settlers of this convict class. The burden of the support of such transportees from England has indeed fallen heavily upon the free colonists, who are thus punished for crime in which they had no part. They are compelled to provide for the maintenance in old age of a class of the population who have at no time contributed by their labour to the wealth of the colony, and whose presence in it has seriously retarded its growth in prosperity.

    We can have no more convicts from England in these colonies. If a return to the system of transportation is felt by the mother country to be an uncontrollable necessity, some prison-island can be found remote from these shores. Western Australia may, if she chooses, continue to receive a limited number of that class of immigrants; but we must protest against the north-west coast, or the shored of Carpentaria, being selected—as some of the journals have proposed—for new convict settlements. The time is not far distant when free settlers will find their way with flocks and herds to those portions of the continent, and it is not desirable that they should meet there a race of outcasts, who would unwholesomely leaven society in after days. There are other lands where prisons may be built, and islands where convicts may be employed, and where they would not be brought into contact with free settlers. The Times proposes Labrador, and the Falkland Islands have been suggested. To the first, there are many objections; and it is not probably the islanders of that lonely group off Cape Horn would prize highly the gift proposed for them. In Southern waters, however, there are islands—such as St Paul’s and Kerguelen’s—where no settlements exist, which are seldom visited, and from which there could be no escape. One or other of these islands would hold all the criminal population of Europe, and their presence there would not outrage any body of self-expatriated Englishmen. Under any circumstances, however, the southern and eastern colonies of the Australian group must refuse to assent to a revival of transportation to them; and we trust we shall hear no more of such a proposal.
    Sentence of death has been recorded against a prisoner, named James Thomson, who has been found guilty at Maryborough Circuit Court, of having committed a serious crime, [sodomy], at Korong.


1  The Argus, Mon 16 Feb 1863, pp. 4, 5. Emphasis added.