Monday, 30 December 2013

Before Chartism: Exclusion and Resistance

AVAILABLE FROM 1ST JANUARY 2014

'An accessible and illuminating study based on an impressive range of reading and with footnotes which in effect provide a critical bibliographical guide to the most relevant... sources, which enhances the utility of the book for students at all levels seeking to engage with the vast literature on Chartism and its antecedents which shows not signs of diminishing. The book is well structured and clearly signposted by headings and sub-headings which are always fresh and entirely fit for purpose, e.g. ‘politics of the Excluded’, ‘Rebellions of the Belly’ etc. The index entries are clearly differentiated. Bibliographical references are invariably balanced and informative, for example, the balanced references to the sources for the life of Robert Peel. Hitherto neglected texts are utilised such as R.I. Moore’s Sir Charles Wood’s Indian Policy which reinforces Brown’s facility for discussing themes in a broad global context...It is also refreshing to see such a strong emphasis on regional and local studies in a work of synthesis of this kind...' Dr John A Hargreaves

Chartism was the largest working-class political movement in modern British history.  Its branches ranged from the Scottish Highlands to northern France and from Dublin to Colchester.  Its meetings drew massive crowds: 300,000 at Kersal Moor and perhaps as many as half a million at Hartshead Moor in 1839.  The National Petition in 1842 claimed 3.3 million signatures, a third of the adult population of Britain.  At its peak, the Northern Star sold around 50,000 copies a week, more than The Times.  This was a national mass movement of unprecedented scale and intensity that was more than simply a political campaign but the expression of a new and dynamic form of working-class culture.  Across Britain, there were Chartist concerts, amateur dramatics and dances, Chartist schools and cooperatives and Chartist churches that assaulted the political hegemony of the wealthy, the conservative and the liberal.  For over a decade, Chartists led a campaign for the franchise with a mass enthusiasm that has never been imitated.

Chartism 1 book cover front

Before Chartism: Exclusion and Resistance acts as a preamble to the four volumes in the Reconsidering Chartism series and seeks to summarise current thinking.  The prologue examines the nature of economic networks in the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth century. The first chapter explores the ways in which society changed in the decades leading up to the beginnings of Chartism and confronts the central issue of how far society was a class-based. Chapter 2 considers the radical legacy from the 1790s to the collapse of the Whig government in 1841 and surveys key questions such as the ways in which working people responded to economic change.  Chapter 3 looks at the ways in which working- and middle-class radicals confronting the question of reform from the 1790s through to 1830. The importance of the radical press and the ‘war of the unstamped’ is explored in Chapter 4.  The politics of inclusion and exclusion and the role of repression by the Whig governments in the 1830s is examined in Chapter 5 while the dilemma faced by radicals provides a short conclusion to the book.

Friday, 27 December 2013

Bushranging and public order

The Police Act first passed in 1833 and amended in 1838, provided police with considerable discretion and ample opportunity to make money. It contained seventy-two sections, with ‘a multitude of rules and directions relative to the regulation of the Police, and the removal and prevention of nuisances in Hobart Town and Launceston’.[1] Forty-four sections dealt with the recovery of penalties from 2s 6d to £20, half of which went to informers. The Cornwall Chronicle admonished magistrates for imposing the highest penalty when wilfulness was not proved. For example, if a constable was assaulted when attempting to stop thieves escaping, the maximum penalty of £10 for such an assault was justified.[2] But in cases of drunkenness, the Chronicle thought clear evidence of assault occasioning bodily harm and not an accidental blow should be demonstrated before imposing £10. The Chronicle was prepared to allow an informer part of the fine only in cases of sly grog selling, smuggling and illicit distillation.[3] The Police Act 1838 gave some protection to colonists. Section 64 held that where an informer was examined to prove the offence, he did not receive half of the fine and if the penalty for summary conviction exceeded £5, the aggrieved person could appeal to the Court of Quarter Sessions.[4]

Two of Arthur’s major achievements were to counteract the threat to public order and life from Aboriginal attacks and bushrangers. But not all Aborigines were transported to Flinders Island and as late as 1841 the Van Diemen’s Land Company at Circular Head in the north-west complained of numerous ‘depredations’ by ‘a small Party of Natives still at large in the Colony’.[5] The party of two men, a woman, and a youth attempted to murder and wounded some of the company’s servants, stole from huts and speared sheep and horses. Constables later reported seeing a white man with the Aborigines. These attacks were confined to a small area and, although serious for the company’s workers, did not threaten social order.

Under Franklin and Eardley-Wilmot, bushranging still posed a major threat. In 1838, Franklin reported ‘several daring outrages, attended with personal violence, robbery, and murder’ committed by four armed convicts.[6] Reacting to the ‘alarm’ of settlers, Franklin took ‘the most vigorous measures’ to catch the bushrangers. He sent all able-bodied constables in pursuit and offered ‘extraordinary rewards’ for their capture and free pardons to convict servants who defended their masters. Convicts who helped capture bushrangers were liable to be killed for their betrayal and were thus given free passage to England.[7] Franklin encouraged settlers to defend themselves resolutely, to tell the nearest Police Magistrate of the appearance of bushrangers as quickly as they could, and to scour the country for signs of bushrangers.[8] Four bushrangers were captured, but magistrates remained vigilant.[9] Most landholders willingly defended themselves but had farms to work and relied on ‘the protecting care of the Government’.[10] This protection was weakened by the withdrawal of military troops. Franklin protested that, as the convict population increased and spread throughout the island on public works and roads, absconding would increase unless the military could be located at each probation station.[11] In November 1840, Franklin reported that he had three companies of infantry men less than he had in May 1839.

In 1843, bushranging reached especially dangerous levels. The Cornwall Chronicle identified seven gangs of bushrangers comprised of from two to fifteen men operating in the north alone.[12] Three ‘very determined’ bushrangers, including Martin Cash and Laurence Kavenagh, escaped from Port Arthur, committed various acts of robbery, and eluded capture.[13] Cash had experience as a splitter in ‘the most intricate and impenetrable districts’ and knew where to hide. [14] Kangaroo hunters and shepherds allegedly harboured bushrangers and supplied them with ammunition and provisions.[15] Cash used a telescope to watch from the hills and attacked farms at the most vulnerable times, when men were in the fields or constables were not in the vicinity.[16] Bushrangers laughed at the ineffective efforts of convict constables to find them and their ‘overweening confidence’ encouraged others to abscond to the bush. According to the Hobart Town Advertiser, colonists faced a more numerous, desperate, and dangerous breed of convicts than the petty thieves of the past. The most desperate were the ‘dark, stern, and determined’ Irish prisoners, whose crimes had imperilled the lives of others and risked their own.[17] Convicts who had spent time at Norfolk Island and who were ‘anxious for plunder, and, if necessary, bloodshed’, were especially feared.[18]

Franklin was sensitive to charges of inefficiency and despite the large numbers of convicts dispersed throughout the colony and a relatively small police force, he pointed out that few convicts absconded and, when they did, committed a ‘small amount of crime’ and were usually captured quickly.[19] Only Riley Jeffs and John Conway, who shot District Constable Ward at Avoca and the Cash gang retained their freedom for long periods. From 1 January 1843 to 9 January 1843, 594 males absconded, of whom 505 were arrested, leaving 89 at large; 148 females absconded, of whom 113 were arrested, leaving 35 at large. In July 1844, Burgess reported that, during the first half year of his tenure, the average period of freedom was twenty-four days.[20] The police adopted various measures to recapture bushrangers. In July 1843, each magistrate selected four constables as Field Police, men of ‘good conduct’ and knowledge of the bush. They were stationed at the headquarters of each district ready for immediate deployment and were trained in the use of firearms by the military stationed in their districts. Between January and March 1844, ninety constables were taken from other stations to pursue absconders.

In the late 1830s, the weakness of police numbers in the interior led landholders to provide their own means of protection against criminals. The Northern Association for the Suppression of Felonies offered rewards for the capture of murderers, sheep stealers, embezzlers and petty thieves. Sheep and cattle stealing lay behind the formation of the Southern Association for the Detection and Suppression of felonies and Misdemeanours in 1838.[21] In the early 1840s, absconding probationers stole sheep, pigs, poultry, clothes and tools with seeming impunity, but, with the high price for wool, large scale sheep stealing was also common.[22] For example, in Evandale a gang of sheep-stealers drove hundreds of sheep to yards that were ‘purposely built’ to slaughter sheep and pack wool.[23] Before their capture, the gang had slaughtered about 1,500 sheep.

Despite the concentration of convicts and ex-convicts in the main towns of Hobart Town and Launceston, there were few signs of concern over levels of crime before 1840. The Austral Asiatic Review saw most robbery as of ‘the most pitiful, pilfering, food-hunting description’, but serious crime was strikingly rare for a sea port.[24] However, from around 1844, newspapers began to report more robberies and thefts. In Launceston, police numbers were too small to protect remote streets at night and robberies became more frequent.[25] Most crime was blamed on ‘[t]he appalling state of misery and destitution’ and the large numbers of unemployed probationers ‘let loose upon the community’.[26] But crime was no longer just driven by need. The Colonial Times noted the increasing incidence of ‘large, systematic and well concerted robberies’ by men more or often than not armed with guns, bludgeons and tomahawks.[27] The port area of Wapping in Hobart Town was the preferred haven for many thievish rogues and vagabonds.[28] The Hobart Town Advertiser claimed that, since the introduction of the probation system, the number of crimes had ‘vastly and disproportionately increased’[29] while the Cornwall Chronicle suggested that criminals belonged to ‘a “new school” of villainy’ produced by the probation system.[30] According to the American political prisoner Linus W. Miller, the convicts leagued together ‘under a systematic plan’ using ‘a vulgar language of their own’ to ‘plunder whatever comes their way’ and it was very difficult for the police to detect them.[31] Although Burgess introduced new arrangements to prevent crime at night dividing Hobart Town and Launceston into police districts under the command of a sergeant, he simply lacked the numbers to deal with the criminal population and town residents needed to develop their own methods of protection. The frequent robberies compelled the major merchants and shopkeepers to employ ‘armed confidential persons’ to protect their goods at night. The Colonial Times urged residents to form ‘a volunteer force’ of special constables to patrol their districts in liaison with the ordinary police, especially when detachments from Hobart Town were sent in pursuit of bushrangers and were replaced temporarily by Norfolk Islander convicts trained by Price.[32] The Cornwall Chronicle advised citizens to arm themselves and take turns in walking the streets ‘in search of bad characters who infest them’.[33] Residents should also get sturdy shutters and bolts and burn chamber lamps through the night.

According to the anti-transportationist solicitor Robert Pitcairn and others, some officials doctored criminal statistics to conceal actual levels of crime. Eardley-Wilmot unsurprisingly disagreed. He regarded the protection of life and property as his most important duty and claimed that his critics exaggerated the level of insecurity. He argued, not altogether convincingly, that magisterial and judicial records showed that crime had decreased. The number of persons brought before Police Magistrates decreased from 19,062 in May 1844 to 17,338 in May 1846 at a time when the convict population increased at a time when some 5,000 new convicts arrived in the colony.

The policing of VDL from its origins in the first decade of the nineteenth century to 1850 proved problematic. VDL was an often brutal and brutalised society in which transported convicts or emancipists made up a substantial proportion of the population. Free settlers were in a minority and often viewed themselves as a society under siege threatened by the indigenous Aboriginal population as well as by absconded convicts, bushrangers and by criminals in general. It is hardly surprising that security was a major issue and raised fundamental questions about the nature of the judicial system and how society should be policed. Successive governors had to try to marry their need to make VDL a penal colony in which those transported were punished with the demands of free settler society for judicial and political liberty and, from the late 1830s with calls for an end of transportation. The development of an effective police force was part of this process.


[1] Colonial Times, 13 October 1840.

[2] Cornwall Chronicle, 23 September 1843.

[3] Cornwall Chronicle, 15 November 1843.

[4] 2 Vict. No. 22 sections 64 and 65.

[5] AOT GO 1/45, p. 187, D.57, Stanley to Franklin, 26 February 1842, Curr to Directors, 12 August 1841, Curr to Colonial Secretary, 3 October 1839, Curr to Archer, 27 July 1841.

[6] AOT GO 33/28, p.785, D.43, Franklin to Glenelg, 14 May 1838; AOT POL 318/5, Forster to Colonial Secretary, 25 April 1838.

[7] CO 280/158, Franklin to Stanley, 21 July 1843.

[8] Hobart Town Gazette, 18 May 1838.

[9] AOT POL 319/2, Forster to Police Magistrates, 6 July 1838.

[10] CO 280/97, memorial from landholders at Swanport, 25 August 1838.

[11] AOT GO 33/34, p.825, D.44, Franklin to Russell, 3 April 1840; AOT GO 33/36, p.546, D.157, Franklin to Russell, 18 November 1840.

[12] Cornwall Chronicle, 6 May 1843

[13] CO 280/157, Franklin to Stanley, 3 June 1843

[14] Cash, M., Martin Cash: The Bushranger of Van Diemen’s Land in 1843-4, (Walch and Sons), 1870.

[15] Launceston Advertiser, 14 September 1843

[16] Hobart Town Courier, 17, 24 February, 31 March 1843

[17] Hobart Town Advertiser, 28 March 1843; compare this claim with an analysis of offences by Irish convicts in VDL, see Williams, J., Ordered to the Island: Irish Convicts and Van Diemen’s Land, (Crossing Press), 1994.

[18] Colonial Times, 2 April 1844.

[19] CO 280/157, Franklin to Stanley, 3 June 1843; Hobart Town Courier, 12 May 1843

[20] AOT GO 33/49, p. 11. D.185, Burgess to Colonial Secretary, 22 July 1844.

[21] Hobart Town Courier, 9 November 1838; Tasmanian Weekly Dispatch, 22 November 1839, 7 February 1840.

[22] Hobart Town Advertiser, 19 November 1844; Examiner, 25 December 1844; Hobart Town Courier, 6 February 1845; Syme, J., Nine Years in Van Diemen’s Land, (Dundee: The Author), 1848, p. 147.

[23] Cornwall Chronicle, 12 August 1844.

[24] Austral Asiatic Review, 22 December 1840.

[25] Cornwall Chronicle, 27 April 1844; Examiner, 13 July 1844; Launceston Advertiser, 9 August 1844.

[26] Colonial Times, 5 March 1844; see also Launceston Advertiser, 25 April 1844.

[27] Colonial Times, 2 April 1844.

[28] Colonial Times, 26 December 1845.

[29] Hobart Town Advertiser, 19 November 1844.

[30] Cornwall Chronicle, 11 May 1844.

[31] Miller, L.W., Notes of an Exile to Van Diemen’s Land, 1846, (S.R. Publishers), 1968, p. 284.

[32] Hobart Town Advertiser, 10 August 1844; Colonial Times, 29 April 1845; Spectator, 8 December 1846.

[33] Cornwall Chronicle, 24 May 1845.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Ambivalence to policing: Franklin and Eardley-Wilmot

The debate over who should fund police costs in VDL demonstrated the difficulty of the Colonial Office making strategic decisions for colonies at considerable distance from London. Though there may have been a good case for the British imperial decision, it placed Franklin and Eardley-Wilmot in an untenable position caught between the diktats of the Colonial Office and the opposition of the Legislative Council and colonists. The coincidence of economic depression in Britain and in VDL meant that in both countries there were significant reductions in government revenue and while transferring the cost of policing from Britain and VDL made good economic sense to British governments, the additional colonial taxation that was necessary to fund this was unacceptably high. By the mid-1840s, when economic prosperity had returned to Britain, government was more amenable to the division of funding between London and Hobart.

Franklin and Eardley-Wilmot used the police in various ways. The main police duties were to preserve the public peace, to prevent and detect crime and to enforce convict discipline.[1] But their use for other duties saved the government much money. The police mustered pass-holders once each month and ticket of leave men three times a year, sending a report to the Comptroller General after each muster. Ticket of leave holders had to register their address with the police. The police escorted convicts to and from their road gangs and ‘keeping the necessary check’ on convicts occupied much time. The police protected Crown interests in various ways reporting trespasses on Crown land and seizing timber cut by unlicensed people. The police enforced the ban on distilling prosecuting offenders and issued permits for the sale of wines and spirits. They prepared jury lists, took census returns and obtained information on the amount of land under cultivation, the amount of crops produced, the number of factories, mines and mills in operation and the average rate of wages paid by employers. In addition to these administrative duties, the police investigated the character of individuals applying for convict servants and for pauper relief or entry into the hospital.

From the late 1830s, Chief Police Magistrate Forster received numerous and urgent requests from across the colony to increase police numbers.[2] He believed that the ‘proper discipline’ of convicts could not occur if settlers lived too far from police protection and supported the formation of new police stations and argued that the colony could never ‘prosper’ without security for life and property. Franklin agreed on the need ‘to maintain discipline and good order’, responding especially to calls for police protection of economic interests.[3] He established police stations at Evandale and Great Swan Port to stop cattle and sheep stealing.[4] When businessmen engaged in Bay Whale Fishing at Recherche Bay had problems controlling the behaviour of their employees and offered to pay the salary of a Police Magistrate, Franklin agreed to pay the salaries of constables and support this valuable industry.[5] As George Town developed as a major trading port, especially for stock, to the Australian mainland and became a growing town, Franklin improved police protection there.[6] By 1844, there were seventeen police districts under the control of Police Magistrates or Assistant Police Magistrates.[7] By 1846, nine Police Magistrates and ten Assistant Police Magistrates controlled 517 police and four Mounted Police.[8] Although the colonists were not as heavily policed under Franklin and Eardley-Wilmot, police numbers were still high. The population of VDL was 70,164 in 1847, giving a ratio of one policeman to every 134.7 people compared with a ratio of 1 policeman to every 88.7 people in 1835. In NSW, the ratio was 1 policeman to every 324 people.[9]

Most colonists argued that higher levels of pay would attract free and respectable individuals into the police force and that this would result in greater vigilance and efficiency. Franklin and Eardley-Wilmot were, however, financially constrained by the Colonial Office and this had an effect on who became police officers. If pay was increased, then there would be a reduction in police numbers because the colony could not bear the additional expense. Franklin chose a less expensive option. From 1840, convicts sentenced to seven year’s transportation would be admitted to the police after three years in VDL and could receive a conditional pardon after one year in the police; convicts sentenced to 14 year’s transportation, with four years in the colony, could receive a conditional pardon after two years; and a life transportee with five years experience in the colony could receive a conditional pardon after three years police service. In February 1842, Franklin attempted to attract ticket-of-leave men to the police by allowing those sentenced to seven year’s transportation with four years served in the colony to receive a conditional pardon after six months good conduct in the police, after one year for those sentenced to fourteen years and six years in the colony, and after fifteen months for those sentenced to life after eight years in the colony.[10] These incentives, which the Launceston Advertiser thought would purify the force and induce good conduct, remained in place until April 1843, when police shortages were less of a problem.[11]

The ambivalence of colonists towards convict policemen remained. According to the Hobart Town Courier, ‘the great body of the people’ considered the ‘partial employment’ of convicts as constables as ‘absolutely necessary’ to deal with transported criminals.[12] According to William Gates one of those transported following the rebellions in the Canadas in 1837 and 1838, policemen were regarded

...by all classes as a sort of degraded being, scorned and contemned by the freeman, and hated and despised by the lower orders.[13]

However, the Tasmanian Weekly Dispatch thought it wrong to allow convict constables to treat the free inhabitants as ‘only one remove from the laws and regulations of a chain gang’.[14] It was, the paper argued, ‘an illegal and unconstitutional delegation of power’ to appoint convicts as constables, though this was never successfully tested in the courts. The appointment of convicts as policemen deterred the immigration of free labour because VDL was seen as fit only for slaves and slave-holders.[15]

How the convict police operated in practice shaped views on their acceptance. Abuse of the power of arrest caused most debate especially as the Cornwall Chronicle argued that the convict police operated

...much more efficiently in the coercion of the free than in the subjugation of the bond, the apprehension of felons, or the prevention of crime.[16]

Convict constables enjoyed arresting respectable citizens whether they were guilty of an offence or not, and placing them overnight in the watch-house with ‘the scum and refuse’ of society, who reeked of rum and tobacco, ‘the nauseous symbols of the Saturday night’s dirty debauch’.[17] Arresting innocent respectable citizens was ‘the safest and easiest road to liberty and preferment’ and preferred to attempting to capture ‘an armed and desperate offender’.[18] Anyone arrested, but especially the working classes and convicts were liable to be ‘knocked down and handcuffed in the public streets’ and then dragged to the watch-house.[19] In England, handcuffs were only used for ‘the greatest ruffians’, but in VDL they seem to have been used even for trivial offenders. [20] In addition, one ex-Police Magistrate claimed that anyone arrested was presumed guilty until proven innocent contrary to the prevailing presumption in England.[21]


[1] AOT POL 319/6, Burgess to Finance Committee, 23 December 1844.

[2] AOT POL 318/5, Forster to Colonial Secretary, 20 April 1837.

[3] CO 280/81, Franklin to Glenelg, 21 December 1837.

[4] AOT POL 318/5, Forster to Colonial Secretary, 20 April 1837; CO 280/81, Franklin to Glenelg, 21 December 1837.

[5] AOT GO 33/29, p. 263, D.72, Franklin to Glenelg, 16 July 1838.

[6] CO 280/104, Franklin to Glenelg, 12 January 1839; Launceston Advertiser, 28 June 1838

[7] AOT POL 319/6, Burgess to the Finance Committee, 23 December 1844.

[8] Papers of the Legislative Council of Van Diemen’s Land 1846, Estimate of the Expenditure of the Government of Van Diemen’s Land for 1846, pp. 8-12

[9] Ibid, Sturma, M., Vice in a Vicious Society, pp. 74, 188

[10] Hobart Town Gazette, 25 February 1842.

[11] AOT POL 526, Forster to Police Magistrates, 10 April 1843; Launceston Advertiser, 25 June 1840.

[12] Hobart Town Courier, 6 January 1837; see also Cornwall Chronicle, 3 March 1838 and Dixon, J., The Condition and Capabilities of Van Diemen’s Land as a Place of Emigration, (Smith, Elder & Co.), 1839, p. 46.

[13] Gates, William, Recollections of Life in Van Diemen’s Land: By William Gates, one of the Canadian patriots, (D.S. Crandall), 1850, (D.S. Ford), 1961, Part 2, p. 20.

[14] Tasmanian Weekly Dispatch, 6 December 1839

[15] Tasmanian Weekly Dispatch, 8 May 1840

[16] Cornwall Chronicle, 23 September 1843, emphasis in original

[17] Colonial Times, 27 August 1844; see also Cornwall Chronicle, 28 March 1840.

[18] Cornwall Chronicle, 4 November 1837, letter by ‘An Inhabitant’.

[19] Tasmanian Weekly Dispatch, 8 May, 5 June 1840.

[20] Morning Advertiser, 10 December 1841.

[21] Anon. [A Late Colonial Police Magistrate], ‘Notes of a Residence in Van Diemen’s Land in 1842-43’, Simmond’s Colonial Magazine, Vol. 3, (1844), p. 165; see also Marsh, R., Seven Years of My Life or Narrative of a Patriotic Exile, (Faxon and Stevens), 1847, pp. 92, 167.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Who really wants to be a teacher today? Further thoughts.

So eight out of ten schools are good or outstanding, according to the annual Ofsted report from Sir Michael Wilshaw, while the publication of League Tables for primary schools today shows that hundreds of schools in England have failed to hit tougher literacy and numeracy targets brought in this year.  Targets were missed by 767 of more than 15,000 schools in which final-year pupils took national SATs tests. Individual schools are now deemed to be below target in fewer than 60% of their pupils do not achieve Level 4 or higher in reading, writing and maths and pupils are not making the expected progress in these three subjects between the ages of seven and 11. Those falling below targets could be put under new leadership, turned into academies or closed down.  There are large swathes of England where below 58% and between 58 and 62% of schools fail to achieve the national average of 63% especially in East Anglia and the South-East, Yorkshire and the North-East and along the Welsh Marches while London—previously regarded as an education ‘black spot’ scored above average in all but three boroughs.  Sir Michael Wilshaw said the regional gap was like ‘two nations’.
For those teachers in the blighted areas, this will all be dispiriting and it is hardly surprising that schools in these areas have problems recruiting good staff.  Sir Michael said there needed to be a fairer distribution of good teachers and school leaders across the country, with incentives to encourage the best teachers to move to the areas of greatest need.  He also said on Newsnight yesterday evening that he felt that the probation period for teachers should be extended from the current year to three or even five years before full teacher status should be awarded.  This may well be a good idea since many weak or failing teachers are ‘persuaded’ to leave one school by heads offering to write good references so they can get a job elsewhere—the evidence for this is apocryphal and its extent unclear though in my experience it does happen.  I have never understood why teachers who fail with students year in year out and whose daily experience must be one of continual stress don’t make the decision to leave the profession anyway.  In some cases I’ve seen, it’s simply a case of self-delusion—things can only get better—while for others they simply keep battling on and failing.  Better for them and definitely for their students that they leave the profession as soon as possible and if Sir Michael’s proposal aids that process so much the better.
It seems that, although bad behaviour in schools is declining, low level disruption remains a critical issue for many teachers.  When I started teaching I remember being told by a very successful senior teach that ‘if you think you have a class of absolute bastards in front of you, you’ll never be disappointed’.  At the time I thought this was remarkably cynical but experience showed its truth.  The vast majority of students want to learn but they can be held back by those students who chatter, go off task or won’t participate in the lesson.  This means establishing clear and unequivocal rules within the classroom with known sanctions for those who breach those rules.  When I was teaching I would, at the beginning of each term, lay down the rules that operated in my classroom—I also had them pinned to the wall—don’t talk unless I tell you to, do the work you’re asked to do to the best of your ability and ask for help if you need it, and contribute to discussions when asked and if you don’t know the answer say so.  Clear and simple.  Similarly the sanctions: extra help for those not working to the best of their ability during break or lunch for 15 minutes rising to 30 minutes for those with particular problems; zero tolerance of chatting with daily silent detention at lunchtime for up to 30 minutes.  This was applied across my departments and within a term we had very few students in silent detention and, though there are always students with difficulties these decreased as well.  Students knew where they stood, what was expected of them and what they could expect from us and it worked—outcomes in class improved, results improved, student self-esteem improved and lessons became what they should always be, a joint learning experience for teacher and student that was focused, enjoyable and led to student success.  We also used student questionnaires at the end of each term to gauge student attitudes and identify areas where individual teachers or the department as a whole could do better and fed its conclusions back to the students.  Giving students a voice and respecting that voice is central to any joint learning experience.
But what about those students for whom this didn’t work?  Well, for a few it didn’t matter what you did, what sanctions you employed or threatened, they were always going to be a problem.  I’ve put students in my office with the work to remove them from the class so that they did not disrupt others and sometimes this had the correct effect—no audience, no problem.  My department moved students across classes to see whether they would be better with a different teacher, again with some success.  However, you’re unlikely to win with every student and then your aim must be to minimise their effect on other students and hope that other teachers in other subjects will do better than you do.  There is a point at which banging your head against the wall becomes enduringly painful! 

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Who really wants to be a teacher today?

The ‘battle against mediocrity’ must be fought to improve school standards across all parts of England, says the head of education watchdog Ofsted. Launching Ofsted’s annual report, chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw said the regional gap was like ‘two nations’.  The report showed that eight in 10 schools were now good or better, the highest in Ofsted's history but there were still nearly 250,000 pupils being taught in inadequate schools and 1.5 million in schools that require improvement.  Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt said the ‘postcode lottery’ of regional differences needed to be tackled and he accused the government of weakening rather than improving standards.  The solution seems to be calls for greater accountability and more assessment—because that’s what countries who scored well in the recent global Pisa tests. 

Central to improving school results, it is generally agreed, is having good teachers and good school leadership.  But why would you really want to be a teacher today?  If things go well then clearly you’re coasting and need to do more, get even better results and if not, we always knew that teachers were rubbish anyway.  Well if you have a good degree, the chances are that you wouldn’t.  Whatever the incentives—financial or in terms of rapid promotion—teaching lacks the advantages or status that people who go into financial or commercial services or the law gain.  This is not to say that all those with good degrees do not enter teaching but often do so as part of a career plan that frequently takes them out of the profession.  For those who do become teachers, there is no guarantee that having a good degree will make them into ‘good’ teachers anymore than having a lower degree will make them ‘poor’ teachers.  Although teachers can be trained to be better teachers, I have always believed—and my experience in teacher training sustains this—that individuals can either teach or they can’t and no matter what the training you can’t turn someone who can’t teach into someone who can.  Yes, you need to know your subject but if you can’t communicate your enthusiasm for that subject in ways that appeal to students, then you’re never going to be an effective teacher.  In reality, you’re not going to be a teacher at all. 

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Eardley-Wilmot as governor

During Eardley-Wilmot’s tenure as governor, the colony experienced further depression and he tried to reduce the expense of the public service without seriously affecting the police.[1] He courted Stanley’s anger by intimating that the colony would require some help with police costs in future to deal with the large influx of convicts from Britain, NSW and other British colonies. Police numbers would increase as prisoners graduated from punishment gangs to become probationers, ticket of leave men and conditional pardon men. This freedom would provide greater opportunities ‘to indulge in vice and to commit crime, with little or no means of Employment’.[2] While under punishment, they were a charge of the British government, but when free on licence they became an expense of the colony, increasing the cost of the police and courts. These developments called for an increase not decrease in police numbers and improvement in the means of ‘surveillance and control’.[3] Police expenditure had to be further increased to meet the growth of bushranging.[4]

File:John Eardley Wilmot.jpg

Photograph of Sir John Eardley-Wilmot

Colonists became increasingly angered by Stanley’s refusal to help. The Legislative Council rejected the imposition of new taxes in the Highway and Lighting and Drainage Bills until the British Government paid for the police.[5] A placard supporting the rejection exhibited ‘an inflammatory tendency, if not directly leading to riot and violence’, Eardley-Wilmot informed the Colonial Office but Stanley was unmoved merely expressing dissatisfaction with the growing budget deficit and warned against future excess.[6] Opposition grew. The first public petition pleading for justice from the Colonial Office was sent to England in late 1845.[7] On 1 November 1845 six non-official members of the Legislative Council, who became known as the Patriotic Six - Swanston, Dry, Kermode, Gregson, Kerr, and Fenton - resigned their seats rather than vote for the police estimates.[8] Eardley-Wilmot regarded this as an ‘improper and unconstitutional’ act disrupting all public business. The disaffected members should have prepared their own Estimates and he would have sent them with his for decision by the Colonial Office.

Eardley-Wilmot’s representations had some effect and on 18 July 1845 Lord Stanley, speaking during the second reading of the Waste Lands Amendment Bill, admitted that Britain had financially mistreated VDL by forcing it to bear a large sum for police and gaols.[9] The Bill transferred to the British Government the meagre proceeds of land sales and relieved VDL of police and gaol costs. Not long afterwards, the new Secretary of State William Gladstone provided further details. After discussions with the Treasury, the British Government agreed to pay two-thirds of the current police costs of £32,923 5s 2d or £24,000 per annum: in return, his government would assume control of the Land Fund and expected closer fiscal control.[10] Gladstone hoped this decision would be seen by the non-official members of the Legislative Council in ‘a Spirit of Liberal Justice’ towards VDL and would end ‘a controversy which could not be continued without serious injury to the interests of the Colony’. Eardley-Wilmot’s critics did not allow him to claim the credit for Gladstone’s concession. The Hobart Town Advertiser saw it as ‘the first instalment of our rights’, which owed little to the Governor’s efforts.[11] The Courier thought the petition from the people of VDL was the crucial factor because it ‘roused equity from its slumber’.[12] Although the problem of financing police costs has been resolved, Eardley-Wilmot was dismissed later in 1846.[13]


[1] CO 280/167, Eardley-Wilmot to Stanley, 9 February 1844.

[2] CO 280/179.

[3] CO 280/171, Eardley-Wilmot to Stanley, 26 August 1844.

[4] CO 280/184, Eardley-Wilmot to Stanley, 25 September 1845.

[5] CO 280/184, Eardley-Wilmot to Stanley, 26 August 1845.

[6] CO 280/184, Colonial Office to Eardley-Wilmot, 20 April 1846.

[7] Hobart Town Advertiser, 1 August 1845.

[8] CO 280/185, Eardley-Wilmot to Stanley, 5 November 1845.

[9] Colonial Times, 11 November 1845

[10] AOT GO1/61, p. 211, D.67, Gladstone to Eardley-Wilmot, 14 March 1846; AOT GO 33/55, p. 1332, D.124, Eardley-Wilmot to Gladstone, 24 August 1846.

[11] Hobart Town Advertiser, 7 August 1846

[12] Hobart Town Courier, 12 August 1846

[13] On this see, Fitzpatrick, Kathleen, ‘Mr Gladstone and the Governor: The Recall of Sir John Eardley-Wilmot from Van Diemen’s Land, 1846’, Historical Studies: Australia & New Zealand, Vol. 1, (1940), pp. 31-45 and Gilchrist, Catie, ‘“The Victim of his own Temerity”? Silence, Scandal and the Recall of Sir John Eardley-Wilmot’, Journal of Australian Studies, Vol. 84, (2005), pp. 151-161, 250-254.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Looking at History blog passes milestone.

BLOG PASSES 500,000 ‘HITS’

Since I starting working on my blog several years ago, its audience has increased significantly.  Each month it receives between 15,000 and 20,000 hits from across the globe.  Unsurprisingly, given its content, the largest audience lies in Britain, the United States, Canada and Australia but growing numbers of readers come from France, Germany, Spain, Poland, Russia and India. 

Pensions, personal responsibility and the state

The issue of the state pension looms large in today’s Autumn Statement by Chancellor George Osborne. The current state pension age was set to change from 65 to 68 in 2046 but that date will now be brought forward to the mid-2030s.  The pension age could rise again to 69 in the late-2040s, he will add, meaning people now in their 20s may have to work until they are 70, a return to the starting age when pensions were originally introduced in 1909.  The debates on pensions in 1907 and 1908 raised questions that remain pertinent.  For instance, W. H. Lever commented on 10 May 1907:

All the Government ought to do was to see that the methods of taxation were fair and just to every section of the community, and that every citizen had equal opportunities by the application of the principle of payment of taxation in accordance with ability to pay, and in proportion to the wealth of the individual…There were duties devolving on the State, which were that the State should do for the individual citizen what it was out of the power of the individual citizen to do for himself.

The problem with pensions is that individuals tend not to think about how they will fund their retirement until later in life.  When you’re twenty you’re more concerned about having fun than putting money aside for your old age.  You might think that you are putting money aside through taxation for your state pension but other than that most people do not begin their own individual pension plan and save accordingly.  The escalating age at which individuals are entitled to their state pension—justified by the government because of increasing life expectancy--may well act as the catalyst for this now to occur.  It may well be the case that raising the state pension age is justifiable in those terms though there is clearly a political narrative in the Chancellor’s decision.  However, does society really want to rely on emergency services peopled by individuals or people working in manual occupations in their 60s?  Is it morally justifiable in a highly developed and wealthy society that individuals should have to trudge to and from work until they reach 70?  Although some people may be quite happy to work until that age—and there’s no reason why they should not do so if that is what they choose to do—but we have to ask whether everyone should be compelled to work until they are 70?

Take individuals who today have just left university.  They will have student debts of perhaps £35,000 to be paid off.  They are in a steady relationship and want to set up house with their partners so they need to raise a deposit for a mortgage—currently around £40,000.  They are aware that they will need to save for their retirement and take out pension insurance—industry estimates suggest that up to a quarter of income will need to be invested to ensure a liveable pension.  They also want to have a ‘life’ as a consumer to gain access to the products that appear central to many people’s lives—the latest phone, tablet etc.—and they want to have disposable income to spend on leisure activities.  Is it any surprise that, when adding up the figures, they decide that the thing they can do without is a pension plan.  This may be a short-sighted decision but human nature dictates that people seek the pleasure of consumerism than the pain of perpetual saving.  Yet, if people want to retire before they are 70, they will need a private pension that allows them to do so and do so at a level that makes their old-age financially manageable.  Therein lies the problem.  Left to their own devices, individuals will not put aside sufficient for their old age so, in Rousseau’s terms, should they be ‘forced to be free’?  Should the state take more of individuals’ incomes and invest it for them to provide sufficient for their old-age or should individuals take control of their own futures and be compelled to invest a proportion of their income for their old-age?  The answer is probably both though I would prefer to be making decisions about my own future than leaving it to the state that is hardly a reliable user of the public purse if last experience is anything to go by. 

Whatever decision individuals and governments make, the current pension regime is unsustainable and that has been the case for several decades.  What we need is a new model that allows individuals to retire when they choose even if they do not receive their state pension until later in life. 

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Franklin and policing

On his arrival in the colony, Franklin found that the police force was in a ‘very efficient state’ and effectively managed by Chief Police Magistrate Forster.[1] With the spread of population to remote areas, Franklin appointed new Assistant Police Magistrates and police, for example at Morven, Avoca, and Spring Bay. This resulted in unpopular increases in the cost of policing; in 1838, this was estimated at £24,836 2s 6d. However, many colonists were unhappy about paying escalating police costs to control the increasing number of British criminals. Every time the police estimates were debated in the Legislative Council, the unofficial members supported the vote only in the belief that, after paying for emigrants, the revenue from land sales and rents would cover police and gaol expenses.[2] Both the Whig government and Peel’s Conservative administration that came into power in 1841 needed to reduce the ‘cost of empire’. Economic depression in Britain from the mid-1830s necessitated a reduction in government spending and, from the perspective of London if not Hobart, it did not seem unreasonable to transfer the cost for maintaining public order to the colonies and that colonists should bare the cost of their own security. Franklin and his successor grappled with this problem but it was not resolved until 1846 when the Colonial Office finally agreed to pay two-thirds of the cost of police and gaols.

The major problem with the Colonial Office’s policy was that Franklin also faced declining revenue since economic prosperity in VDL had declined with the fall in the price of wool on the English market, banks limiting their discounts and settlers disinclined to speculate in purchasing Crown lands. The sales of Crown land no longer produced significant revenue because much of the best land had been granted or sold and a recent distribution of 25,000 acres to applicants for secondary grants further reduced the amount of land available. The emigration of farmers and stock to Port Phillip further diminished revenue and deprived the colony of potential land buyers.[3] In May 1838, Franklin faced with a budget deficit told the Colonial Office that since revenue from land was falling he would be unable to pay the expenses of emigration, let alone the police. He had little choice but to transfer £5,000 from the Military to the Colonial Chest to meet the expenses of police and gaols. Franklin suggested two ways to resolve his budget deficit. He proposed either that the Commissariat should pay for police and gaols and the expenses of emigration or that police and gaols should be paid out of the land revenue with any deficiencies paid by the Commissariat. He conceded that the British Treasury would not pay the total police costs, but if it paid two-thirds of the cost, then the Legislative Council would vote for the remaining one-third. Previously, Franklin’s casting vote had defeated a resolution to this effect in the Legislative Council. Given the large number of 18,000 British convicts, Franklin now judged that the Legislative Council and residents would consider one-third as ‘a fair and reasonable charge’. He informed Glenelg that far from reducing police numbers the need to ‘discipline and control of the Convict population and for the prevention of Bushranging’ meant that the number of police needed to increase. Glenelg reprimanded Franklin for defraying the expenses of the police from the Military Chest that was devoted to convict purposes.[4] Those funds had been part of the Estimates approved by the House of Commons and could not be used for other purposes without parliamentary consent. This response inflamed the situation.

In 1839, Franklin’s Estimates included police costs of £24,471 2s 6d for 1840, but the Legislative Council voted by seven votes to six to pay only £8,247 6s 10d.[5] In their resolution against the Estimates, the Legislative Councillors stated that they did not think the costs were ‘too large’ for the needs of the colony or that the police were ‘inefficient’ but they wanted the British Government to treat them fairly and pay a fair share of policing costs. However, the Legislative Council knew that if Franklin reduced police numbers to the equivalent of one-third their cost, the convicts could not be controlled and VDL would be ruined. Franklin left it to the experience of Legislative Councillors ‘to decide upon the Force requisite to preserve that security of life and property which, so happily for us all, exists throughout society’.[6] This ploy worked and the non-official members of the Legislative Council passed the full police estimates.[7] But Franklin wanted to stop the annual ‘struggle’ between his government and the Legislative Council by ‘appropriating a fixed amount of the Land Fund in and of the Local Revenue yearly’, allocating the rest to immigration. The Colonial Office praised his handling of the Legislative Councillors and sanctioned the use of 25 per cent of the land revenue for the police in 1841, but thought his financial resources adequate to pay for the police and, at it had in NSW, urged Franklin to impose local taxation to fund the police in the expanding rural districts.[8]

Relations between VDL and the Colonial Office cooled during Lord Stanley’s tenure as Secretary of State from 1841 to 1845. Stanley ruled the colonies with ‘a rod of iron’[9] and wanted ‘the most rigid economy’ exercised in the public service.[10] In 1843, Franklin was reprimanded after establishing a Water Police to stop convicts escaping and to detect smugglers, who deprived the colony of revenue.[11] As the Water Police were employed on imperial work, Franklin charged only a part of their expenses to colonial funds. Stanley did not agree and stated that imperial funds should not be used for colonial purposes based on the argument that the arrangement would improve security and prevent convict irregularities.[12] As the British Government funded the significant costs of the Marine and Port Departments, Stanley instructed the Commissariat to cease payments for the Water Police and to reclaim payments already made. Declining land revenue, a great increase in convicts and a wider use of probation gangs placed great pressure on police resources.

Franklin pointed out to Stanley that the argument that the British Government should pay all police expenses was never stronger.[13] No doubt angered at rumours of his imminent recall, he argued that the interests of VDL had been made ‘sufficiently subservient to those of Great Britain by the mere fact of its having been rendered the almost sole Depository of British Felons’. He expected a budget deficit of £17,907 in 1843 or worse if the Land Fund did not meet moderate expectations. He had investigated ways of economising, but almost every public department was ‘much more extensive than it would be were this not a Penal Colony’. John Eardley-Wilmot, the new Governor, received Stanley’s sharp response: ‘you must dismiss from your mind all expectations’ that the British Government would resume payment of the police and that it was not ‘unfair’ to expect the colonists to pay for their police.[14] Stanley hoped that ‘a searching revision of the public expenditure’ would reveal ways to economise. If money could not be found to fund the colonial public service, then it would be Eardley-Wilmot’s ‘duty to discontinue their employment instead of looking to this Country for assistance’.


[1] CO 280/79, Franklin to Glenelg, 10 August 1837.

[2] Ibid, Fitzpatrick, K., Sir John Franklin in Tasmania, 1837-1843, pp. 99-100, 215-217.

[3] CO 280/94, Franklin to Glenelg, 17 May 1838; AOT GO1/32, p. 158, D.383, Stephen to Spearman, 26 April 1838; and Launceston Advertiser, 19 July 1838.

[4] AOT GO1/32, p.158, D.383, Glenelg to Franklin, 9 November 1838

[5] CO 280/109, Franklin to Glenelg, 10 July 1839, minute by Franklin, 8 June 1839.

[6] Hobart Town Gazette, 21 August 1840.

[7] CO 280/121, Franklin to Russell, 15 October 1840, minute by Franklin, 17 August 1840

[8] AOT GO 1/39, p. 523, D.142, Russell to Franklin, 25 September 1840; CO 280/121, CO to Trevelyan, 25 June 1841; AOT GO1/43, p. 603, D.302, Russell to Franklin, 31 August 1841.

[9] Cornwall Chronicle, 8 March 1845.

[10] AOT GO1/51, p. 529, D.95, Stanley to Eardley-Wilmot, 22 September 1843.

[11] CO 280/153, Franklin to Stanley, 12 January 1843.

[12] CO 280/153, Stanley to Eardley-Wilmot, 10 September 1843.

[13] CO 280/153, Franklin to Stanley, 24 February 1843.

[14] AOT GO1/51, p. 529, D.95, Stanley to Eardley-Wilmot, 22 September 1843.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Immigration: a split personality

Britain has always had an ambiguous relationship with the notion of immigration.  There is a long tradition of Britain welcoming immigrants escaping from religious and political persecution in their own countries but this has been tempered by a fear of immigration as a threat to employment, impact on services and effects on British ‘values’.  The free movement of labour within the European Union and the global movement of population evident since the 1990s had exacerbated the issue and immigration has increasingly become a divisive issue in British politics.  The difficulty for politicians has long been that any discussion of immigration and its effects is quickly transmuted into whether that discussion is racist or not. 
Take, for instance, Attorney General Dominic Grieve’s statement that politicians need to ‘wake up’ to the issue of corruption in some minority communities and that it must be made ‘absolutely clear’ that a ‘favour culture’ is unacceptable in Britain.  Apart from the fact that Britain has its own ‘favour culture’—the ‘old boys’ network’—and the Attorney General was quick to point out that corruption was found in the ‘white Anglo-Saxon community’—one only has to look at the continuing question of MPs’ expenses—what he points out if that different communities in Britain have different views of what is and is not acceptable behaviour that reflect the sorts of behaviour that are and are not acceptable in their countries of origin.  The problem is that whether that behaviour is acceptable or not in countries of origins, that may not be the case in Britain. 
The question is not whether immigration is a good or bad thing—in my view it has throughout history in Britain almost invariably been a good thing even if this was not recognised as such at the time—but how quickly those immigrants become part of Britain’s society.  This has often been a fraught process—the experience of Irish migrants before and after the Famines in the 1840s illustrates this.  What has changed in the last twenty years is the rapidity and scale of immigration leading to the belief that some communities are being swamped by migrants, the unwillingness of some immigrants to integrate into mainstream British society because they wish to replicate the societies they left within Britain and the often economic reasons for migration.  Tolerance of immigration by people in search of religious or political asylum has been replaced by growing intolerance of immigration in its totality.  This has been caused primarily by the unwillingness of politicians in the last few decades to address the question of immigration lest they be accused of being racists—the silence has been deafening—leaving the field open to those who are racists to attack immigration in often combustible terms and to the growing and frequently misinformed disquiet among the general public.
The point about immigration is that it is not going to go away.  The ethnic composition of Britain is changing and changing very quickly.  Now that may be a good thing and certainly not something to be feared.  Why do people want to come to Britain?  Well for most, it’s not for the welfare benefits; it’s because they believe that they will have a better life—economically, politically, spiritually and culturally—in Britain than in their native countries.  It’s not that they should leave behind their heritage and values and language but immigrants need to accept that they also have to accept the basic and always changing precepts and values of Britain—adherence to the rule of law, tolerance, democracy, individual rights, a belief in justice and fairness and equality between peoples and genders.  They should be a part of, not apart from Britain’s society.  If they are unwilling or unable to achieve this, then you have to ask with some justification why they came to Britain in the first place. 

Friday, 15 November 2013

From Arthur to Franklin

After Arthur’s departure[1], the economic and social situation in VDL deteriorated and this had an impact on policing. First, Arthur’s successors, Sir John Franklin[2] and Sir John Eardley Eardley-Wilmot[3] lacked his autocratic personality and the administrative ability to make the convict system run effectively.[4] Secondly, from 1 July 1836 the British Government refused to fund the heavy police costs and required Franklin and Eardley-Wilmot to pay for the police and gaols from local taxation and land sales. This created tension with both the Legislative Council and the colonists and made police funding a controversial issue. Thirdly, there were changes in the management of convicts. Under the assignment system convicts were usually assigned to work for private employers, who provided shelter, food, clothing, and food according to government regulation.[5] In response to criticisms that this was too lenient, the British Government introduced the probation system in 1842.[6] At the same time, the British Government flooded the colony with convicts, including those from NSW where transportation ended in 1840. The annual population of convicts increased from 17,661 in 1836 to 30,279 in 1846.[7] This had a marked effect of levels of crime in the colony and bush-ranging, subdued under Arthur, became a much greater threat. Fourthly, in the 1840s VDL experienced an economic depression and the large numbers of convicts on release and the increasing numbers of free immigrants found work scarce. All sources of public revenue, especially land sales, withered and by 1844 the colony was virtually bankrupt. There was market for neither the produce nor the labour of pass-holders.[8]

Sir John Franklin

Franklin had no experience of civil government when he arrived in Hobart in January 1837. Faced with ‘the Arthurite clique’, entrenched in key positions throughout the colony, Franklin reported to the Colonial Office that he intended to break it. This he notably failed to do and the day-to-day running of VDL devolved to John Montagu who had been both colonial treasurer and secretary in the latter years of Arthur’s administration.[9] Montagu’s continued influence resulted in opposition to the penal ideas of Alexander Maconochie, Franklin’s private secretary that, had they been implemented, might have led to significant penal reform in the colony.[10] Maconochie wrote a Report on the State of Prison Discipline in Van Diemen’s Land published in1838, at the request of the English Society for the Improvement of Prison Discipline and with the approval of the British authorities. It was sent by Franklin (who was aware that it was condemnatory of the system) to the Colonial Office, which transmitted it to the Home Office. It was published as a parliamentary paper and used by the Molesworth committee on transportation (1837-1838). There is no justification for criticisms levelled at Maconochie over the publication of this report, but the storm it aroused in Hobart left Franklin with little alternative but to dismiss him.[11]

The other major change was the appointment of Francis Burgess previously a successful Chief Commissioner of Police in Birmingham as Chief Police Magistrate in September 1843.[12] Burgess imported his ideas on policing, especially the prevention and detection of crime and the training of police to VDL.[13] During the 1830s, ideas for reforming the police were heatedly debated and Burgess injected new perspectives into a locally devised policing system.[14] In response to these changes, an anti-transportation movement emerged and railed against convict immorality.[15] Widespread homosexuality, crime and even cannibalism were attributed to convicts, demonstrating that the probation system did not reform, merely hardened. These claims were extreme. Although homosexuality existed and cannibalism may have occurred, anti-transportationists magnified their allegations for political purposes, as Sturma has shown NSW colonists did in 1844.[16] By building an atmosphere of crisis, the anti-transportationists in VDL extracted major concessions from the British Government. In 1846, transportation was suspended indefinitely.


[1] Petrow, Stefan, ‘After Arthur: Policing in Van Diemen’s Land 1837-46’, in Enders, Mike and Dupont, BenoĆ®t, (eds.), Policing the lucky country, (Hawkins Press), 2002, pp. 176-198 looks at the period from 1837 in greater detail.

[2] Fitzpatrick, Kathleen, Sir John Franklin in Tasmania 1837-1843, (Melbourne University Press), 1949 and ‘Franklin, Sir John (1786-1847), ADB, Vol. 1, pp. 412-415.

[3] Roe, Michael, ‘Eardley-Wilmot, Sir John Eardley (1783-1847)’, ADB, Vol. 1, pp. 345-346; Shaw, A.G.L., ‘Three Knights: Sir James Stephen, Sir John Franklin, and Sir John Eardley-Wilmot’, Tasmanian Historical Research Association Papers and Proceedings, Vol. 36, (1989), pp. 141-153.

[4] Ibid, Boyce, James, Van Diemen’s Land, pp. 213-235 considers the late 1830s and 1840s.

[5] Shaw, A.G.L., The Origins of the Probation System in Van Diemen’s Land’, Historical Studies, Australia and New Zealand, Vol. 6, (1953), pp 16-28 and ‘Sir John Eardley-Wilmot and the Probation System in Tasmania’, Tasmanian Historical Research Association Papers and Proceedings, Vol. 11, (1963), pp. 5-19; ibid, Shaw, A.G.L., Convicts and Colonies, chapters 11-14

[6] Under this system male convicts worked in probation gangs scattered throughout the penal colony for at least two years. For the following two years convicts received a probation pass, allowing them to work for wages while reporting to the police. If well behaved, they became eligible for a ticket-of-leave and later a conditional pardon. See, Brand, Ian, The Convict Probation System: Van Diemen’s Land, 1839-1854, (Blubber Head Press), 1990.

[7] Eldershaw, P.R., Guide to the Public Records of Tasmania, Section Three: Convict Department Record Group, (State Library of Tasmania), 1966, p. 64.

[8] Ibid, Hartwell, R.M., The Economic Development of Van Diemen’s Land 1820-1850, chapter 3.

[9] Reynolds, John, ‘Montagu, John (1797-1853)’, ADB, Vol. 2, pp. 248-250.

[10] Barry, John V., ‘Maconochie, Alexander (1787-1860)’, ADB, Vol. 2, pp. 185-186. See also, Ward, Gerard, ‘Captain Alexander Maconochie, R.N., K.H., 1787-1860’, Geographical Journal, Vol. 126, (4), (1960), pp. 459-468.

[11] Maconochie claimed then and later that he arrived in VDL with no preconceptions against the convict system and no acquaintance with penological theories. However, in 1818, in his A Summary View he had formulated several propositions about ‘penal science’ in a discussion of penal conditions in NSW. Although some of these were contrary to the views he advanced from 1837 onwards, two remained always basic in his proposals: punishment should aim at the reform of the convict and a convict’s sentence should be indeterminate, with release depending not on the lapse of time but on his own industry and exertions during incarceration. Ward considers this discussion in A Summary View scarcely sufficient to invalidate Maconochie’s assertion that before his arrival in VDL he had ‘not previously studied the subject of punishment’.

[12] O’Brien, G.M., ‘Burgess, Francis (1793-1864)’, ADB, Vol. 1, pp. 180-181.

[13] Weaver, M., ‘The New Science of Policing: Crime and the Birmingham Police Force, 1839-1842’, Albion, Vol. 26, (2), (1994), pp. 289-308.

[14] For the proposals for police reform in England see Philips, D. and Storch, R.D., Policing Provincial England, 1829-1856: The Politics of Reform, (Leicester University Press), 1999.

[15] Morrell, W.P., British Colonial Policy in the Age of Peel and Russell, (Oxford University Press), 1930, pp. 387-426; ibid, Robson, L., A History of Tasmania, Vol. 1, pp. 491, 497-499.

[16] Sturma, M., Vice in a Vicious Society: Crime and Convicts in Mid-Nineteenth Century New South Wales, (University of Queensland Press), 1983, pp. 51-63.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

The end of Arthur’s rule: more corruption, the courts and the police

Other cases where political differences intersected with allegations against the police involved editors Henry Melville[1] and Gilbert Robertson[2]. They gave much space in their Hobart Town newspapers to the meetings of the Political Association, which was formed to organise opposition to Arthur and took up the abuses of the felon police at its first meeting in November 1835.[3] Melville, who had spent time in jail for contempt of court when defending Robert Bryan, edited the Colonial Times that published damning commentaries on the faults of Arthur’s administration.[4] He used colourful language to condemn ‘the detestable system of employing Janissaries, ready and willing to swear anything to gratify their corrupt motives,’ roaming the streets like wolves ‘daily destroying every thing human.’[5]

Melville suffered as a result. In March 1836, two of his assigned servants, who worked as printers, accepted an offer of a drink from a former employee called John Gibson.[6] Gibson took them to a bake-house adjoining a pub where they talked and illegally drank rum. After Gibson left the bake-house on the pretext of getting more money, constables arrived to arrest Melville’s printers, who were sentenced by Chief Police Magistrate Forster to four months each on a road gang. The publican was fined, but Gibson went unpunished despite being implicated in the drinking. Melville alleged that Gibson had had a long career as an agent provocateur for the police and was seeking to injure him. Printers were scarce in Hobart Town and without the help of his convicted servants Melville found it difficult to publish his newspaper. Melville prosecuted Gibson for enticing his servants away, but the case was dismissed.[7]

In November 1828, Arthur appointed Gilbert Robertson chief district constable at Richmond and rewarded him with 1,000 acres of land for his services against the Aborigines. But in 1832, he dismissed him for neglecting his duties and disobeying the directions of the police magistrate.[8] After Robertson allowed his assigned servants to join convict constables in long drinking sessions, they were withdrawn. Thereafter Robertson bore a grudge against Arthur and, as a journalist or editor of the Colonist and True Colonist newspapers, mounted a ‘malevolent’ attack on the governor and his supporters, which Arthur felt created ‘a prejudice’ in England against his government. For libelling Arthur and others, Robertson spent some time in jail.[9]  The convict police were a particular object of Robertson’s contempt, especially following his second arrest for drunkenness after he intervened to stop constables beating a suspect in early 1836.[10] Robertson, placed in the watch-house overnight, was incensed at being denied his right to communicate with his family or a solicitor. Ultimately, the magistrates dismissed the case without allowing Robertson to call witnesses in his defence. Claiming his case was typical of many others, Robertson demanded that Arthur review the evidence. Arthur acquiesced, but concluded that Robertson was lucky to have had the case dismissed.[11]  In October 1836, Robertson was arrested for letting off fireworks on the day of Arthur’s departure and was beaten as the police dragged him to the watch-house.[12] The case was dismissed after Robertson produced three military witnesses to prove that some of the constables had committed perjury. In the True Colonist, Robertson made much of the fact that one of the constables, Nicholas Clark, had already been dismissed twice from the police but was allowed to keep his ticket of leave.[13] An enquiry instigated by acting Lieutenant Governor Kenneth Snodgrass resulted in the discharge of two constables and the removal of three others from Hobart Town.[14]

Postcard: Hobart c1843

As the Robertson case showed, recourse to the courts could act as a break on arbitrary power and the rule of law was not extinguished under Arthur’s autocracy. When convict discipline was not an issue or evidence from respectable witnesses could be presented, aggrieved colonists had a greater chance of obtaining redress for police misconduct or spite. But magistrates usually placed the onus on the accused to prove that the police had acted illegally. This was hardly surprising. Magistrates exercised judicial and executive functions, but their predominant duty was to enforce convict discipline by supporting a vigilant police not to ensure that justice was impartially dispensed. Their freedom of manoeuvre was limited by the close surveillance of Arthur and the chief police magistrate over their actions. Some chafed at this surveillance, but most magistrates enjoyed the power and authority they possessed, and very few questioned the need for a powerful central authority in a penal colony. Self-interest was a powerful motivation.

Attitudes to the police were shaped by the geographical context of policing and by how police actions affected particular interests. In the interior, settlers welcomed the security and order imposed by Arthur’s measures against bushrangers and Aborigines, which enabled them to concentrate on developing their land holdings. Policemen in rural areas were scattered and the chances of clashing with settlers were minimised. Settlers might complain if police interfered with their property or failed energetically to stop stock stealing, but they did not normally attack the management of the convict system or question Arthur’s authority. Their prosperity depended on the imposition of order and, fearing the loss of convict servants, they did not want to alienate Arthur or his magistrates.

Typical views were expressed by the landholders and other inhabitants of Hamilton, fifty miles north of Hobart Town. In 1836, hearing news of his departure from the colony, they thanked Arthur for ending the dangerous attacks of bushrangers and Aborigines and for organising ‘a very complete and efficient’ police, which protected their lives and property.[15] These actions, they said, were supplemented by his wise laws and his support of ‘moral and religious’ measures, which transformed the colony from ‘a state of comparative poverty and immorality to that of affluence and respectability.’ Religious leaders appreciated Arthur’s repression of ‘vice and licentiousness’ and promotion of ‘the interests of social order and morality,’ thereby largely contributing to ‘the general welfare and permanent prosperity of the community.’[16]

Criminal statistics, compiled by Colonial Secretary John Montagu[17], could be interpreted to demonstrate that the interests of order and morality were protected under Arthur.[18] Montagu revealed a gradual decline of convictions for ‘heinous’ crimes against person and property. Table 3 shows that murder, burglary, housebreaking, stealing in a dwelling house, stealing in a dwelling house and putting in fear and sheep-stealing all decreased. It appeared that convictions for assault remained steady, but larceny increased. Police vigilance probably accounted for the decline in burglary and housebreaking, but fear of punishment probably deterred potential murderers.[19] Many convicts had been transported for committing larcenies and probably found the habit hard to break, especially if they had no work, and the police could do little to stop them.

The police were, thought Montagu, more obviously responsible for ‘the increased detection and punishment of all the minor offences committed by convicts’. [20] Cases involving general misdemeanours by convicts, the main targets of police, increased from just over 11 per one hundred of the population in 1824 to over 43 by 1832. In the same period, drunkenness involving both the free and convict population rose from over 3 per hundred in 1824 to nearly 10 by 1832, with the free rate alone rising to over 14 per hundred in 1835. Colonial Secretary Montagu thought increased drunkenness was partly due to the growing number of convicts who had become free by servitude. But the primary reason for the increase was police initiative. Drunkenness was visible to the police, who derived part of the fine levied for this offence. VDL enjoyed a period of prosperity under Arthur that probably had a significant impact on crime rates than his police reforms.

New Norfolk c1834

Critics of the police were not convinced by criminal statistics and remained sceptical of the effectiveness of police work. The Colonial Times claimed that Tasmania was not as free of crime as some boasted because many crimes were ‘assiduously hushed up’ by the police. The decline in convictions for property crime could be attributed to police inability to deal with criminals or to their concentration on offences where convictions were more easily obtained, which explained the rise in cases involving misdemeanours.[21] The Hobart Town Courier suggested that most misdemeanours were of ‘a very light and venial character,’ brought by constables for mercenary reasons, and did not indicate that the community habitually broke the law.[22] The low rate of drunkenness among the convicts compared with the free population might have had little to do with police action, but much to do with the severity of convict regulations. The long sentences imposed on convicts inconvenienced masters, who were not inclined to prosecute their convict servants and risk losing their services. This interpretation received some support from Forster’s claim that one quarter of assigned convicts had never been brought before a magistrate for misconduct, but misbehaved badly once released from the convict system.

Attitudes to the police in the larger towns differed from those of settlers in the interior. The most vociferous opponents of Arthur’s police system were in Hobart Town. This occurred for a number of reasons. As bushrangers and Aborigines rarely attacked towns, urban residents did not benefit as much as isolated settlers from the containment of these threats. Urban residents were less reliant on convict servants and less likely to be affected financially by opposing Arthur’s policies. Police numbers were more concentrated in towns, where the population density was greater and urban residents found it harder to avoid contact with policemen. Free residents wanted the large convict and ex-convict population of Hobart Town and Launceston to be well regulated, but complained when they were intimidated by convict policemen armed with legislative powers.

Intimidation included making false arrests, often accompanied by violence, instigating unnecessary summonses, demanding the payment of bribes, prosecuting citizens for offences which gave them part of a fine and manufacturing crimes against opponents of the government in order to gain a ticket of leave or a pardon. Convict constables also encouraged crimes and committed perjury and had a reputation for doing or saying anything to escape punishment or secure a reward. Hobart Town was presided over by the chief police magistrate, a key figure in the convict bureaucracy. Many dubious practices were committed there because policemen tried to impress the magistrate with their energy and vigilance, even to the point of harassing the regime’s most outspoken critics. Free settlers naturally bridled at the police powers given to convicts still serving their sentences and felt that Arthur had taken his analogy of the colony as a jail too far by letting the criminals superintend the warders. While the theory of using a criminal to watch a criminal might be seductive, they argued that in practice this experiment was bound to fail as the free population increased in size.

Urban residents attacked the powers of the police as part of a broader assault on the transportation system. Settlers in the interior tended to be more conservative than urban residents and their fortunes were linked to the continuance of transportation. Urban residents tended to have a greater ideological attachment to the concept of the freeborn Englishman and his rights. They wanted to transform the penal colony into a free society, even if this meant losing the economic benefits associated with transportation. They believed that their civil and political rights would be withheld as long as VDL remained a penal colony and as a result they highlighted abuses of the convict system, claimed that transportation did not reform convicts and used examples of convict police abusing their powers as evidence of this claim.

However, the British government praised Arthur’s rule and, although the anti-transportation campaign grew in strength, convicts were sent to VDL until 1853. Nor did the British government change Arthur’s convict police system, which, with some modifications, remained until VDL became the self-governing colony of Tasmania in 1856. In 1858, the colonists, scarred by nearly thirty years of a centralised police system, adopted a decentralised English model. Police forces were controlled by municipal councils and lay magistrates replaced paid magistrates. Local accountability did not necessarily herald the end of arbitrary government. The elites who controlled the councils and the local courts used their power to protect their own interests, often to the detriment of the rule of law and, haunted by the Arthur years, they resisted the intrusions of the central government for the rest of the century.


[1] Flinn, E., ‘Melville, Henry (1799-1873)’, ADB, Vol. 2, pp. 221-222.

[2] Godfrey, Margery, ‘Robertson, Gilbert (1794-1851)’, ADB, Vol. 2, pp. 384-385.

[3] Colonial Times, 10 November 1835.

[4] AOT EC 4/3, 645, 6 June 1836; Morris Miller, E., Pressmen and Governors: Australian Editors and Writers in Early Tasmania, (Sydney University Press), 1973, pp. 43-53, and ibid, Melville, Henry, The History of Van Diemen’s Land From the Year 1824 to 1835, pp. 182-184.

[5] Colonial Times, 29 March, 5 April 1836.

[6] True Colonist, 8 April 1836; Colonial Times, 8, 19 April 1836. In an earlier incident constables abducted two of Melville’s dogs and charged him with not keeping his dogs under control. See Colonial Times, 25 August 1835.

[7] Colonial Times, 19 April 1836.

[8] ML: Arthur Papers, Vol. 50, Gilbert Robertson correspondence, Arthur to Glenelg, 29 October 1836; Hobart Town Gazette, 8 November 1828, 28 April 1832; AOT EC 4/2, 300, 16 March 1832.

[9] Ibid, Melville, Henry, The History of Van Diemen’s Land From the Year 1824 to 1835, pp. 166-169.

[10] True Colonist, 4 March 1836.

[11] AOT CSO 41/3, Burnett to Forster, 22 April 1836.

[12] True Colonist, 11 November 1836; Bent’s News, 12 November 1836.

[13] True Colonist, 11 November 1836, AOT POL 315/1, Montagu to Robertson, 2 December 1836.

[14] Lea-Scarlett, E.J., ‘Snodgrass, Kenneth (1784-1853)’, ADB, Vol. 2, pp. 454-455.

[15] ML: Arthur Papers, Vol. 52, Addresses, land and householders of Hamilton, 12 August 1836, inhabitants of Hamilton, August 1836.

[16] ML: Arthur Papers, Vol. 52, Addresses, Price to Arthur, 5 August 1836

[17] Reynolds, John, ‘Montagu, John (1797-1853)’, ADB, Vol. 2, pp. 248-250.

[18] CO 280, Arthur to Franklin, 29 October 1836, Statistical Returns of Van Diemen’s Land from 1824 to 1835, 10 October 1836; Hobart Town Courier, 28 October 1836.

[19] Maconochie, Alexander, Thoughts on Convict Management and Other Subjects Connected with the Australian Penal Colonies, (J.C. MacDougall), 1838, pp. 145-146.

[20] CO 280, Arthur to Franklin, 29 October 1836, Statistical Returns of Van Diemen’s Land from 1824 to 1835, 10 October 1836; Hobart Town Courier, 28 October 1836.

[21] Colonial Times, 3 May 1836.

[22] Hobart Town Courier, 4 May 1834.