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.

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