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, Benoît, (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.

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