Monday, 28 October 2013

Blue plaque for E. P. Thompson

It’s been half a century since Edward Thompson’s seminal study The Making of the English Working Class was published.  I first read the book not long after it was published…my father who occasionally bought me books purchased a copy that I still have.  I read it quite quickly and was struck by three things: how little of the theory behind the book I understood; its monumental scale and particularly its style and use of language.  It is a literary as well as a historical masterpiece whether you agree with Thompson or not.  It is appropriate I think twenty years after his death and fifty years after Making was published that a blue plaque will be unveiled on 16 November on the house where he and Dorothy lived in Halifax and where he wrote Making.  Dr John A. Hargreaves, the doyen of Halifax historians, is currently preparing a free booklet and guided history trail to mark E.P. Thompson's association with Halifax.

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Saturday, 26 October 2013

Corruption and policing in the 1820s and 1830s

In 1829, Arthur noted that, although his police system had been introduced ‘chiefly with the view of controlling’ convicts, it also ‘necessarily operates upon the Community generally’ and he was ‘most vigilant’ in keeping the department, ‘as far as possible, free from imputations.’[1] He did this by correcting any abuses that came to his attention, as illustrated by the examples of three London policemen, who had been appointed in 1826 to set an example to the local constables and to report on their conduct.[2] Their performance ‘dissatisfied’ Arthur: instead of ‘raising the character of our Police, they have rather degraded it.’[3] Rumoured to owe money, Joseph Hewitt appropriated for his own use property placed in his charge as a policeman and received money from a convict who had been charged with an offence. Arthur dismissed him. Richard Hinksman had been reprimanded for ‘habitual falsehood and insubordination,’ but he continued to act improperly, ‘abandoned’ his police work, was absent without leave and published a newspaper advertisement critical of the chief police magistrate. He was also dismissed.[4]

To minimise ‘imputations’ against his force, Arthur periodically issued instructions on the kind of behaviour to avoid. For example ‘no fees, emoluments or perquisites, even of the most trifling kind’ could be accepted unless ‘expressly recognized by law or sanctioned under authority.’[5] Official instructions were no guarantee of good conduct, but they had a symbolic force in indicating that policemen must not abuse their powers and in gaining public acceptance of the police. In 1836, Forster drafted standing orders regulating the conduct of the police. These were based on those of the London Metropolitan Police and modified to incorporate colonial legislation.[6] By giving each constable a copy of the standing orders, Forster hoped to establish a uniform system of conduct in every district and restore confidence in the police. These regulations advised constables not to make any unnecessary arrests, not to use unnecessary violence, and to use their powers with discretion.[7]

File:John Glover - Mr Robinson's house on the Derwent, Van Diemen's Land - Google Art Project.jpg

John Glover, Mr Robinson’s house on the Derwent, c1838

This was too little too late. The police often used their discretion unwisely and allegations of corruption had been regularly levelled at the police since 1828. Much corruption arose from the enactment of numerous statutes designed to raise money for the treasury by licensing various trades and containing either fees or penalties for non-compliance with their provisions.[8] Offering rewards, pardons, and part of the fines to informers for information on offenders had been an established practice in England since at least the seventeenth century.[9] Although this practice encouraged more people to use the legal system, it also acted as an inducement to malicious prosecutions.[10] In VDL, informers could gain half of the penalties for non-compliance and for the police these laws were ‘like so many gifts from Jupiter to Pandora.’[11] Required to supervise the various licensed trades, the police made the most of their opportunity to supplement their meagre incomes by exploiting and stretching the laws to their limit or by entrapping colonists in order to gain fines and rewards. Since this involved arresting normally law-abiding citizens for petty offences, it undermined respect for the law.

The obsessive application of fines was prevalent throughout the ranks. The chief constable of Bothwell allegedly prosecuted ‘the most trifling and inadvertent circumstance that can be construed into a breach’ of the statutes, and his constables preferred to seek fines rather than chase sheep-stealers and Aborigines.[12] Arthur directed the assistant police magistrate, Captain Wentworth, to prevent constables from instigating ‘vexatious proceedings which may be productive of gain to themselves though altogether at variance with the spirit and intention of the Law, of which they avail themselves of the letter.’ Arthur also did not condone chief district constables laying information in their own name and receiving part of the fine when the actual informer was a petty constable, who was used as a witness.[13] This practice, he thought, would deter petty constables from laying information and result in ‘very few convictions.’ Believing that constables should be rewarded for their good work, Arthur directed that the actual informers be granted their share of the fine.

The police exploited any statute allocating fines to an informer, but some statutes, such as the Dog, Impounding and Licensing Acts, were particularly lucrative and their vexatious enforcement intensely annoyed citizens. The Dog Act aimed to halt further increases in the numbers of dogs that roamed the colony ravaging sheep and annoying town residents.[14] Owners who did not pay a duty on all dogs, failed to describe their dogs correctly, or failed to control their dogs, could be heavily fined up to £25, with a moiety of fines going to informers. In 1831, Captain Clark of Bothwell claimed a constable provoked a dog to break its chain, laid information against the owner for letting his dog off the chain, and secured part of the fine.[15] A number of landed proprietors, stockholders, and inhabitants of Bothwell petitioned for the repeal of the Dog Act because of its misuse by constables. Colonial Secretary Burnett[16] responded by directing the Bothwell police magistrate to take ‘strong measures’ against ‘improper and vexatious’ proceedings.[17]

In Hobart Town, constables allegedly walked down the street, each with a bitch on a lead and a number of ropes with nooses, which they threw around the neck of any dogs that stopped to make acquaintance with the bitches.[18] After thirty minutes, the constables had caught thirteen dogs. Their owners preferred to pay the constables £1 or £2 rather than appear in court, where they could not prove their dogs had been ‘seduced’ by the policemen’s bitches.[19] Constables also enforced the provision that rewarded them with five shillings for every dog destroyed for indiscriminately killing valuable sheep and cattle dogs.[20] Discovering that a few days elapsed between the expiry of a dog license and the recording of payment for a new one, constables charged owners for holding their dogs without a license.[21] Some policemen, such as Constable Endger, known as ‘the dog seizing constable,’ was renowned for his detailed knowledge of the laws benefiting informers.[22]

The Impounding Act of 1830 also proved a great temptation for constables and others to rob under ‘the cloak of law.’[23] The legislation was designed to stop cattle and sheep from wandering aimlessly in heavily populated parts of towns and country areas where they destroyed crops, were easy prey for thieves, and provided food for runaways, thus undermining convict discipline. In practice, the police sought out stock left unattended in any location as the penalty for seizing cattle was 5s each and for sheep 2s each. In Launceston, the police operated as follows. One on-duty policeman arranged with an off-duty colleague to drive cattle to a prearranged destination.[24] The duty policeman reported the straying cattle to his district constable and drove them to a pound, making a tidy sum. In some areas, such as Westbury, the pound-keeper was the district constable and stock was usually impounded by his petty constables. In 1835, one Westbury stockowner lost £50 in three weeks from the ‘legalized plunder’ of impounding.[25] To recover their losses, stockowners increased the price of stock sold to butchers, who in turn increased the price of meat to consumers. Neither this unfortunate consequence nor the rare conviction for illegal impounding deterred policemen from exploiting the law.[26]

Wishing to reduce drunkenness, in 1828 Arthur brought liquor wholesaling and retailing under tighter regulation by, for example, the Sale of Liquors by Retail and Promoting Good Order in Public Houses Act and the Licensing of Wholesale Dealers in Wine and Spirits Act.[27] Exploiting Arthur’s desire to reduce drunkenness, the constables set out to entrap publicans for selling spirits on Sundays by sending one of their number to order a drink. Two constables, Jonas Lancashire and Edward Visick, were allegedly employed by a district constable, who owned a pub under an assumed name, to visit unlicensed drinking holes and manufacture cases against the owners.[28] The constables were paid from the proceeds of the fines. In Hobart Town, some of the worst pubs allegedly had policemen on their payrolls, and thus escaped fines and convictions, while other pubs were continually harassed on one pretext or another, usually for harbouring absconders. Yet other constables were paid hush money by the keepers of sly or illicit grog shops.[29]

The Police Act of 1833 gave constables a moiety of the fines for convictions for drunkenness, and thus encouraged them to make more arrests than strictly necessary for public order. While the police supplemented their pay, the government did well too, deriving, somewhat hypocritically given Arthur’s temperance views, an estimated two-thirds of total revenue from liquor licenses, duties on spirits and tobacco, and fines for drunkenness and other statutory breaches. The wholesale wine and spirit merchant J.W. Bell represented many in the liquor trade in viewing informers with ‘disgust and abhorrence,’ criticising magistrates for assisting their ‘dirty and degraded calling’ and making no enquiry into the substance of their allegations.[30]

Some commentators saw a role for informers. The Colonial Times thought informers who sought to stop crime or ‘flagrant and wilful disorderly conduct’ or promote ‘the public good’ were ‘a public benefit.’[31] But it also thought that informers who took advantage of ‘a mere legal quibble’ for ‘filthy lucre’ were a danger to society and quoted the law of evidence that no man’s testimony should be taken or received in a case where he was an interested party. Apart from increasing the pay of constables, imposing nominal fines, giving magistrates some discretion over the amount the informer should receive and giving all fines and penalties to the Crown were suggested as ways of reducing frivolous and vexatious prosecutions. But because gaining part of a fine was an inducement to vigilant police work, none of these options were taken up by the government and colonists remained prey to informers whether constables or others.

Policemen also generated revenue by seeking bribes or unofficial fees. It was rumoured that constables patrolling the Launceston wharves levied a small charge on merchants for packages left unattended and for the use of public scales. In Launceston, some alleged that an accused could be released from the watch-house without appearing before a magistrate by tipping a constable £3.[32] In Hobart Town, Constable Rickie arrested a ticket-of-leave man in a pub just after 8 p.m. and on the way to the watch-house accepted £1 to let him go.[33] It was also sometimes alleged that convict police were responsible for midnight robberies. Two convict constables at Campbell Town allegedly did no police work, but ran a butcher shop and lived on government land next to the public pound, using the yard for their stock rent free. It seems hard to believe police magistrates would tolerate such practices, but they, too, were also accused of dubious acts. One was said to use his police to deliver parcels to friends, chop his wood, dig his garden, and clean and exercise his horse.[34] Settlers in the district did not complain lest the magistrate prevent them from obtaining assigned servants and injure them in other ways. This was an effective way of stifling complaints from the interior.

Rewards or indulgences offered for the arrest of criminals and absconders also stimulated corrupt practices. In August 1834, the improbably named Constable Howell of Bothwell was consigned to Port Arthur for three years imprisonment with hard labour for inducing a convict to abscond from a road party so he could obtain the reward for his arrest.[35] When a felony was committed, alleged the Colonial Times, the convict constables endeavoured ‘to get up a case to convict some one or other,’ who could plausibly be accused of the crime.[36] Perhaps the most blatant example involved the murder of Captain William Sergeantson at Campbell Town. Constable Drinkwater tried to pin the murder on an innocent free man named Taylor and obtain a free pardon for himself, but was undone when an accomplice revealed his plan to a magistrate. Drinkwater was sentenced to two years hard labour at Port Arthur that the Cornwall Chronicle thought inadequate for ‘conspiring against the life of a free British subject.’[37]

Charges of false or unnecessary arrest were regularly made by free citizens. In 1835, a respectable tradesman called Augustus Kramer was accused by two constables of exposing himself as two women were passing, saying ‘can you do anything with this?’[38] As the women and other free witnesses testified that neither Kramer nor his companions spoke to them or exposed themselves, the case was dismissed. The memoirist James George remembered his arrest when a young boy for stopping to watch a crowd surround a New Zealander and not moving on when directed by a constable.[39] George was knocked down, hit with a baton, handcuffed when he struggled, dragged to the watch-house, and locked up for the night. He was convicted of helping to create a riot and bound over for future good behaviour. On the day Arthur left the colony, George, now a young master baker, joined the crowds celebrating on the streets, was arrested, and charged with striking a policeman.[40] Although he denied committing the act, George did not specifically deny the policeman’s claim that he had called out ‘pigs, pigs, pigs,’ a derogatory term for a policeman used since 1811.[41] George, who was fined 40 shillings, saw constables as ‘a fearful lot of wretches,’ keen to arrest anyone for money, promotion, or from spite, especially at night.

The night police in Hobart Town and Launceston deserved George’s label and were often cited for brutal behaviour. In April 1834, two respectable businessmen, both named John Brown, saw a constable subdue a drunken convict by excessively beating him over the head with his staff.[42] Seeing the convict covered in blood, the Browns separated him from the constable and returned him to his master’s house. The constable charged the Browns with ‘rescuing a prisoner from the custody of a constable.’ But after the constable gave contradictory evidence, the case was dismissed, with the magistrate lamenting the repeated failure of the public to assist the police. The Browns’ lawyer responded that constables were ‘too fond of what is technically called club law’ and alienated the public.

Another example of police brutality, combined with an invasion of privacy, occurred in Launceston in November 1834. A band of constables burst in on a dinner held in the private room of a tavern and, when asked to leave, indiscriminately bludgeoned the male guests and injured the mistress of the tavern and two other females.[43] Believing the constables’ charge that they were assaulted in the execution of their duty, the magistrate fined two of the male diners £5 each. According to the Cornwall Chronicle, respectable citizens willingly assisted the police in exercising their ‘lawful duty’ but all reprobated ‘an undue exercise of authority’ and found it increasingly difficult to tolerate ‘shameful acts of oppression’ by the convict police.[44] Equally objectionable was to subject individuals of ‘all ranks, high and low, the knowingly culpable and the unintentionally negligent, to the same painful ordeal of a police summons, and a humiliating interrogation from the magistrate.’[45] Colonists preferred constables to warn any individuals seen ‘unwittingly infringing’ new laws rather than ‘vexatiously’ dragging them to court for the sake of a fine or exulting in their power to march ‘a respectable well dressed person through the streets with prisoners in irons.’ All too often magistrates accepted the evidence of the constables, ‘even when contradicted by free, respectable persons.’[46] Indeed, Solicitor-General Alfred Stephen[47] was reported to have said in open court that he could get ‘sufficient evidence in this Colony, with no trouble,’ to convict any man of any offence of which he might choose to accuse him.[48]

Another culpable practice was to confine free men for a night in the watch-house on a false charge of drunkenness or obscene language. Even if the case was dismissed, detention cast a slur on the man’s character, while the constable was merely reprimanded or fined for his perjury. Some argued that the detention and certainly the conviction of a master weakened his moral authority over his servants and helped to subvert prison discipline.[49] On the other hand, Arthur probably approved of arrests for immoral conduct because this showed that such behaviour would not be tolerated and set a good example for convicts. According to the True Colonist, Chief Police Magistrate Forster cared little for the liberty of free subjects and he protected policemen by hearing all charges against them without listening to evidence from the complainants.[50] The True Colonist suggested that respectable men should take turns spending a night at the watch-house and be endowed with special authority to scrutinise charges brought by constables, dismissing charges if the arrest appeared false or taking bail if the case was doubtful.

Of course, not all police sought financial gain from dubious practices or enjoyed harassing free citizens or convicts with their arbitrary powers. Constable Robert Fleming refused to manufacture cases. James George recalled that a Constable McCann let parties off if they bought him half a pint of beer, but would arrest them if he found them offending again.[51] According to one convict at Pittwater, District Constable Laing was ‘the prisoner’s friend’ and often let convicts on the streets after 8 p.m. pass without arresting them.[52] In Launceston, similar leniency was in evidence. In 1832, the Launceston Advertiser complained that convicts roamed the streets at night ‘at nearly all hours’ and that to ask for their pass was ‘to be laughed at in some cases, and in others to excite surprise.’[53] It might be that convict constables wanted to restore friendly relations with their erstwhile colleagues or to show that they had the power to ignore laws directed at convict discipline. Even the anti-Arthur Colonial Times conceded that not all policemen were unscrupulous villains in disguise. It cited the example of two constables who, finding a drunken sailor in the streets with eleven sovereigns in his pockets, took him to the watch-house with his money intact.[54]

Arthur’s political enemies sometimes exploited the abuse of police powers to undermine confidence in his government. They claimed that Arthur’s ‘vindictive’ pursuit of opponents encouraged convict constables to seek government favour by manufacturing charges against them.[55] There were also allegations of more clandestine practices. Some charged that magistrates, constables, public servants, assigned servants and neighbours reported private conversations with colonists to Arthur and that he used their reports to determine who deserved his patronage.[56] This resulted in distrust and treachery in the community, making friends wary of speaking openly to each other.[57] For the Launceston Independent, this system was redolent of ‘the reign of terror’ induced by the lettres de cachet during the French Revolution and was ‘incompatible with the genius of Britons.’[58] According to the Colonial Times, the constables who policed the streets were supplemented by ‘a secret Police on a small scale, somewhat resembling that carried on in France under the celebrated Fouche.’[59] There was, of course, a certain amount of hyperbole, if not paranoia, about these claims, but it is clear that some convicts did become the secret agents of government for specific purposes, the best known being the Danish adventurer and one-time British agent Jorgen Jorgenson.[60]

In 1834, the wealthy and prominent settler, William Bryan[61], was implicated in cattle stealing, attempting to pervert the course of justice, bribing a policeman and browbeating a magistrate.[62] After Arthur withdrew his assigned servants and removed him from the commission of the peace, Bryan turned the allegations into a political issue to divert attention from his actions and left for England to pursue his cause with influential men. According to Bryan, no man was safe in VDL because convict policemen would say anything to receive pardons, tickets of leave, or other indulgences or to avoid penal stations, chain gangs, extra years added to their sentences, or the loss of indulgences. Bryan’s nephew Robert, who stayed in the colony, was sentenced to capital punishment, later commuted to six years at the Port Arthur penal settlement, for sheep stealing. Robert Bryan levelled various allegations against the convict police.[63] Convicted on the evidence of convict constables, he claimed that they ‘planned and carried into execution a Conspiracy’ against him to obtain rewards from the government. But despite a long campaign by William Bryan and his clique, Lord Glenelg absolved Arthur of wrongdoing though the campaign may have led to Arthur’s recall.[64]


[1] AOT GO 33/6, Arthur to Murray, 30 November 1829, HRA, Resumed Series III, Vol. 8, pp. 757-758.

[2] AOT GO 33/1, Arthur to Bathurst, 3 July 1825; AOT GO 1/4, Bathurst to Arthur, 14 December 1826; AOT GO 33/2, Arthur to Bathurst, 25 August 1827.

[3] AOT GO 33/5, Arthur to Twiss, 30 April 1829, HRA, Resumed Series III, Vol. 8, pp. 336-337; AOT CSO 37/1, Burnett to Arthur, 6 November 1829; AOT EC 4/1, 465-67, 11 November 1829; Hobart Town Gazette, 13 December 1828, p. 210, 21 November 1829, p. 271.

[4] The third officer, Richard Newman, appears to have been appointed chief constable at Port Arthur in May 1833. See Heard, Dora, (ed.), The Journal of Charles O’Hara Booth: Commandant of the Port Arthur Penal Settlement, (Tasmanian Historical Research Association), 1981, pp. 257 n. 262. But earlier he seems to have been dismissed: ML: Tasmanian Papers 265, Police Office Hobart Letterbooks 1831-32, Forster to Burnett, 8 and 29 February 1832 and Hobart Town Gazette, 24 August 1832, p. 454.

[5] Ibid, Forsyth W.D., Governor Arthur’s Convict System: Van Diemen’s Land, 1824-36, pp. 53-54.

[6] AOT POL 318/4, memo by Forster, 9 June 1836.

[7] For the regulations, see ibid, Report from the Select Committee on Transportation, Vol. 2, Appendix, pp. 326-31.

[8] Some of the Acts were listed in True Colonist, 14 May 1833; Launceston Advertiser, 10 July 1832.

[9] Gaskill, Malcolm, ‘The Displacement of Providence: Policing and Prosecution in Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century England’, Continuity and Change, Vol. 11, (1996), pp. 348-349.

[10] Hay Douglas, ‘Prosecution and Power: Malicious Prosecution in the English Courts, 1750-1850’, in ibid, Hay, Douglas and Snyder, Francis, (eds.), Policing and Prosecution in Britain, 1750-1850, pp. 343-395.

[11] Morning Star, 23 December 1834.

[12] AOT CSO 41/1, Burnett to Wentworth, 18 February 1831, re allegations by Captain William Clark.

[13] AOT POL 318/3, memo by Forster, 18 June 1835.

[14] AOT EC 4/1, 494, 21 December 1829; Hobart Town Gazette, 20 February 1830, p. 62; Morgan, Sharon, Land Settlement in Early Tasmania: Creating an Antipodean England, (Cambridge University Press), 1992, pp. 62, 118.

[15] AOT CSO 41/1, Burnett to Wentworth, 18 February 1831, Burnett to Police Magistrate, Bothwell, 4 March 1831; AOT EC 4/1, 634-65, 14t March 1831.

[16] Eldershaw, P.R., ‘Burnett, John (1781-1860)’, ADB, Vol. 1, pp. 182-183.

[17] AOT CSO 41/1, Burnett to Police Magistrate, Bothwell, 4 March 1831.

[18] Cornwall Chronicle, 12 December 1835.

[19] Cornwall Chronicle, 12 December 1835; emphasis in original.

[20] True Colonist, 22 April 1836.

[21] Tasmanian, 5 May 1832.

[22] Colonial Times, 15 September 1835.

[23] Hobart Town Courier, 10 October 1829; Hobart Town Gazette, 10 April 1830, pp. 107-118; for a succinct account of the general evils of impounding, see Colonial Advocate, 1 May 1828; Melville, Henry, The History of Van Diemen’s Land From the Year 1824 to 1835, (Horwitz-Grahame), 1965, pp. 88-89.

[24] Cornwall Chronicle, 24 December 1836, letter by ‘A Poor Bullock Driver’.

[25] Cornwall Chronicle, 30 May 1835; see also Hobart Town Gazette, 1 March 1828, 10 October 1829.

[26] Hobart Town Gazette, 14 December 1832, 11 January 1833; Launceston Advertiser, 8 November 1830; Hobart Town Courier, 17 May 1833.

[27] HRA, Resumed Series III, Vol. 7, pp. 528-545, 556-559.

[28] Colonial Times, 8 September 1835.

[29] Launceston Advertiser, 7 March 1832.

[30] Cornwall Chronicle, 6 February 1836, letter by J.W. Bell.

[31] Colonial Times, 21 September 1831, 4 May 1834.

[32] Launceston Independent, 28 September 1833, 22 November 1834, letter by ‘Observer’.

[33] True Colonist, 29 January 1835.

[34] Colonial Times, 27 May, 17 June 1834

[35] AOT POL 321, memo by Forster, 11 August 1834; Hobart Town Gazette, 15 August 1834, p. 563.

[36] Colonial Times, 21 July 1835.

[37] Cornwall Chronicle, 2n January 1836.

[38] True Colonist, 11 September 1835; Colonial Times, 15 September 1835.

[39] AOT NS 1044/1, Reminiscences of James George, pp. 108-116.

[40] AOT NS 1044/1, Reminiscences of James George, pp. 190-195. George was apparently one of many arrests on the day of Arthur’s departure. See Colonial Times, 1 November 1836.

[41] For uses of the term ‘pig’, see Partridge, Eric, The Wordsworth Dictionary of the Underworld, (Wordsworth), 1995, p. 511.

[42] Hobart Town Courier, 25 April 1834.

[43] Launceston Independent, 15 November 1834.

[44] Cornwall Chronicle, 21, 28 May 1836.

[45] Hobart Town Courier, 25 April 1834; Launceston Independent, 22 November 1834, letter by ‘Observer’.

[46] Cornwall Chronicle, 2 January 1836, letter by ‘A Colonist’.

[47] Rutledge, Martha, ‘Stephen, Sir Alfred (1802-1894)’, ADB, Vol. 6, pp. 180-187.

[48] Tasmanian, 14 January 1832; Colonial Times, 3 November 1835.

[49] Hobart Town Courier, 4 May 1834.

[50] True Colonist, 8 January, 26 February, 22 December 1835.

[51] AOT NS 1044/1, Reminiscences of James George, p. 167.

[52] AOT NS 1116/1, The Alexander Laing Story, p. 22.

[53] Launceston Advertiser, 24 July 1832.

[54] Colonial Times, 24 September 1833.

[55] True Colonist, 11 September 1835.

[56] Launceston Independent, 3 November 1832, letter by ‘A Ghost of the Celebrated E B’, 12 January 1833, 11 January 1834; Colonial Times, 7 June 1836; The Colonist, 24 December 1833; Launceston Advertiser, 23 May 1832.

[57] Tasmanian, 18 June 1831. The theme of distrust has been considered by MacFie, Peter, ‘Dobbers and Cobbers: Informers and Mateship Among Convicts, Officials, and Settlers on the Grass Tree Hill Road, Tasmania 1830-1850’, Tasmanian Historical Research Association Papers and Proceedings, Vol. 35, (1988), pp. 112-127.

[58] Launceston Independent, 11 January 1834.

[59] Colonial Times, 1 November 1836; see also the True Colonist reference to ‘a regularly organized body of spies in every district’, 1 July 1836.

[60] True Colonist, 27 November 1835; Jorgenson, Jorgen, A Shred of Autobiography, (Sullivan’s Cove), 1981, pp. 61-63, 85-88; Clune, Frank and Stephensen, P.R., The Viking of Van Diemen’s Land: The Stormy Life of Jorgen Jorgenson, (Angus and Robertson), 1954, pp. 339-40, 370-386, 421-422. See also, Dally, James, ‘Jorgenson, Jorgen (1780-1841)’, ASB, Vol. 2, pp. 26-28.

[61] ‘Bryan, William (1801?-1837)’, ADB, Vol. 1, pp. 172-173.

[62] CO 280, Arthur to Hay, 6 March 1834, Arthur to Stanley, 24 October 1834, Arthur to Hay, 28 October 1835; AOT GO 1/22, Glenelg to Arthur, 23 June 1836, Bryan to Grey, 20 June 1836; AOT Solicitor General’s Department (SGD) 4/1, Ross to Arthur, 27 November 1833.

[63] AOT GO 33/24, petition from Robert Bryan, 7 June 1835; CO 280, Macdowell to Montagu, 29 December 1835; AOT POL 779/1, Booth to Forster, 28 May 1836.

[64] AOT GO 1/25, Glenelg to Franklin, 1 January 1837.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Coping with Change: British Society, 1780-1914

JUST PUBLISHED

There are many parallels between Britain today and Britain during the ‘long’ nineteenth century.  Both societies were coping with substantial and sustained population growth and the tensions this creates between different ethnic groups.  Both had to cope with profound changes.  Our current fixation with the environment was paralleled by the Victorians who sought, and largely failed, to take remedial action necessary to counter the impact of industrial change and urban growth on society.  Education, crime and the nature of leisure are equally issues on which the attitudes of Victorians have much in common with our anxieties today over educational standards, knife-crime and binge-drinking.  We are still almost as psychotically fixated with our position in society as Victorian working men and women and those from the middle- and upper-classes.

Coping with Change 

Victorian preoccupations with how to manage the problems created by economic and demographic change were largely unresolved by 1914.  There may have been some improvements in people’s quality of life but these were small and unevenly distributed.  For most people, life remained a constant battle for survival to keep above the poverty line especially for the very young and the old.  The ‘arithmetic of woe’ was all-pervasive.  Only through hard work, self-help and a modicum of luck could most people maintain any semblance of quality in their lives.  The fear of poverty and yet the recognition that poverty was inevitable at some stage in the individual’s life was ever-present.  Today, in an increasingly digitalised society, it is not difficult to find similar circumstances.  Poverty has not been eliminated; in fact, if anything, in the last two decades it has worsened with growing concerns about a ‘benefit culture’, ‘fuel poverty’, the problems associated with an increasingly aging population and the economic crisis of ‘credit-crunch Britain’ and fear of austerity and recession.  The poor it appears are getting poorer and the rich richer, a return to something like the ‘two nations’ of Disraeli’s England.   In many respects, the social and political agenda thrust on to the Victorians remains unresolved.  Statements about a ‘broken society’ that periodically punctuate contemporary political debate would have been familiar to many Victorian social commentators. 

Coping with Change examines the changes that occurred in Britain during the late-eighteenth, nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. The economic revolutions that began in the mid-eighteenth century, especially an inexorable rise in population, marked the point when Britain began the often painful process of change from an early-modern to a modern society.  Many of the structures and ideas in which society was grounded were challenged by this process as society navigated its transition to ‘modernity’.  This book examines how that occurred as people, as individuals and groups, sought to make sense of the changes that occurred and what those changes meant to them in terms of challenges and opportunities.  This was something that lasted throughout the ‘long nineteenth century’ from the 1780s through to the outbreak of war in 1914.  This substantial volume is divided into twenty-four chapters that look at different aspects of those changes and takes account of recent thinking on the subject:

Preface

1. A contextual overview

2. An industrial revolution

3. Agriculture and industry

4. Communications

5. Birth, Marriage and Death

6. Regulating work

7. Urban growth and housing

8. The public’s health

9. Poverty and the Poor Laws

10. Voluntary action

11. Literacy and schooling, 1780-1870

12. A state system of education, 1870-1914

13. Crime

14. Punishment

15. Policing

16. Leisure

17. Government

18. Churches under pressure

19. Religion in decline?

20. Class

21. The working-classes

22. The middle-classes

23. The upper-classes

24. The end of the nineteenth century

Further reading

Index

Policing and the Police Act

Arthur’s police numbered 254 in August 1828, increasing to 346 in December 1833 and 453 in April 1835.[1] In 1835, the population has been estimated at 40,172, giving a ratio of one policeman for every 88.7 people; in Sydney and the settled districts the ratio in 1836 was 1 policeman for every 133 people.[2] In rural England, the ratio was not more than 1 to every 1000 people. The ratio in VDL was not only much more than the colonists had been used to in England but was also significantly higher than in the heavily policed society of NSW. This meant that convicts and colonists were always under the surveillance of the police and made collision with them difficult to avoid, especially in the towns. The police were more concerned to enforce order than protect liberty and were generally supported by the magistrates. The police could use their discretionary powers to harass and arbitrarily arrest free citizens, who were required to buy their freedom with bribes or other favours. On the other hand, if properly supervised, the police were a protection against property crime and violence and many colonists welcomed their protection.

Arthur was always willing to protect the settlers from crime and was susceptible to arguments for more police if funding allowed. But Colonial Office directions to limit spending acted as a barrier to extending police protection in response to the calls of colonists. In September 1835, Forster pointed out the urgency of appointing an assistant police magistrate at Morven near Launceston where ‘a great many expirees’ had settled because of the absence of police.[3] In England from the second half of the eighteenth century, dissatisfaction with measures against criminals prompted the propertied class to form associations for the prosecution of felonies, which attempted to track down criminals, sometimes to arrange patrols to prevent crime, and to share the cost of prosecution.[4] After repeated calls for police protection, the inhabitants of Morven and Breadalbane decided to follow the example set in England and, with land and stockholders in other districts, formed an Association for the Suppression of Felonies in October 1835.[5] How successful this association was is unclear, but its existence indicates that colonists saw Arthur’s police as efficient protectors of their property and took direct action only after this protection was not forthcoming.

Settlers in the interior without police protection had good cause for complaint, but in 1836 virtually the whole colony was in an uproar after the British treasury decided that police costs should be funded from local revenue.[6] Arthur knew that this would be unpopular and had postponed implementing the Colonial Office’s instructions for two years by seeking a reconsideration of the decision. Six members of the Legislative Council protested that the large costs of the police and jails stemmed from the presence of British convicts and should be paid by the British government.[7] The colonists had already paid £14,464 17s 6d for the judicial establishments and for the food and clothing of more than 7,000 convicts. With a mere 12,000 free adults, the economy could not afford an increase in taxation of £24,283 1s 9d. The British government dismissed such arguments and stuck to its decision.

In addition to strengthening police numbers, Arthur was amenable to increasing their powers, even where this might infringe individual liberties. He argued that the demands of convict discipline left him no choice. For instance, he attempted to stop the increasing seizure of vessels by convicts.[8] He strengthened the coastal police, empowered them to stop all boats and ships suspected of hiding convicts, restricted the movement of small crafts on the rivers, and required all owners of vessels to keep them under ‘proper surveillance.’ The most contentious measure was section 61 of the Police Act that enabled constables to arrest between 9 p.m. and sunrise any sailor found in a pub or on the street without a pass whom they suspected of being a convict in disguise.[9] The Australian Courts Act of 1828 stated that English statute law was operative in VDL and empowered the Supreme Court judges to protest that a particular section or sections were repugnant to English law. Reflecting a widely held opinion, the judges invoked their power of judicial review and held section 61 to be repugnant to the laws of England because it deprived a free man of his liberty without good reason.

After prolonged delay, the English Crown Law Officers concluded that the governor with the advice of his Legislative Council could pass such a section if the circumstances of the colony necessitated it.[10] Lord Glenelg mildly rebuked Arthur for allowing conflict with the judges to arise, as they were the acknowledged local experts on legal and constitutional matters. Glenelg doubted that the evil demanded such an ‘extreme remedy’ and thought conflict could have been avoided by inserting a preamble explaining the need for the section. Arthur wanted to avoid a preamble indicating that he had ‘to place any class of free subjects under a particular restraint,’ as this would have given ammunition to the nascent anti-transportation party. After Arthur declined to repeal the section, Glenelg let the matter drop, praising Arthur’s ‘habitual foresight and circumspection.’ Some sailors were arrested under section 61 and this exacerbated tensions between Arthur and the free population in the ports of Hobart Town and Launceston.[11]

The Police Act contained seven other sections dealing with police powers over disorderly or criminal conduct[12]. These included arresting convicts out after 8 p.m. without a pass, drunk and disorderly persons, and persons acting indecently. These sections gave constables ample discretionary power to harass, if not arrest, free citizens. Masters of vessels could request the police to bring disorderly persons ashore. Anyone who assaulted a policeman or publicans who harboured a policeman on duty were liable for a fine. The Police Act said nothing about appointing or disciplining police, about their pay and conditions, about funding police forces, or under whose authority they acted. Arthur had control of these matters and did not need to seek legal authority for their implementation or to give the Legislative Council an opportunity to debate such issues. Some powers in the Police Act benefited the colonists. At this time municipal government was not contemplated, so most of the act’s seventy-two sections were designed to improve the health, amenity, and convenience of residents in Hobart Town and Launceston. These included prohibitions against obstructing paths, damaging buildings, polluting streams, disposing of rubbish and night-soil, and causing nuisances. The police cared little for the comfort and convenience of town residents and merely enforced those provisions of the Police Act and other legislation that brought them part of the fines.

Arthur’s enemies expressed their distaste for his statutes by comparing them to the actions of despotic foreign governments. Thus the Colonial Times referred to ‘the Algerine Police Act—the Turkish Dog Act’ and the ‘Persian’ Sunday trading clauses, while the hated Forster was called the ‘Aga Khan’ and the police ‘Janissaries,’ the Turkish foot guards ‘formed originally of renegade prisoners.’[13] However, police enforcement of these statutes antagonised colonists by threatening their liberty and undermined support for Arthur’s police system.


[1] AOT CSO 51, Police Serving on 1 August 1828; CO 280, Return of Police Establishment in Van Diemen’s Land, 31 December 1833, and Quarterly Return of Police in Van Diemen’s Land, 1 April 1835.

[2] Population figures for VDL might have been underestimated. See ibid, Hartwell, R.M., The Economic Development of Van Diemen’s Land, 1820-1850, p. 68; ibid, Neal, David, The Rule of Law in a Penal Colony: Law and Power in Early New South Wales, pp. 54, 155.

[3] AOT POL 318/4, memo by Forster, 29 September 1835.

[4] Philips, David, ‘Good Men to Associate and Bad Men to Conspire: Associations for the Prosecution of Felons in England, 1760-1860’, in Hay, Douglas and Snyder, Francis, (eds.), Policing and Prosecution in Britain, 1750-1850, (Clarendon Press), 1989, pp. 113-170.

[5] Hobart Town Courier, 6 November 1835; Launceston Advertiser, 26 November 1835, letter by George Palmer Ball; Cornwall Chronicle, 14 November 1835; Colonial Times, 27 October 1835.

[6] Hobart Town Courier, 13 May 1836; Launceston Advertiser, 1 September 1836; Colonial Times, 15 November 1836.

[7] Launceston Advertiser, 1 September 1836.

[8] CO 280, Arthur to Hanley, 4 April 1834.

[9] AOT GO 33/22, Arthur to Glenelg, 10 May 1836, Forster to Arthur, 17 December 1833, Pedder and Montagu to Arthur, 12 December 1833; AOT GO 1/19, Glenelg to Arthur, 8 November 1835; CO 280, minute by unidentified author, 8 November 1836; Launceston Independent, 4 January 1834; Cornwall Chronicle, 29 August 1835; Colonial Times, 31 December 1833.

[10] AOT GO 1/19, Glenelg to Arthur, 8 November 1835.

[11] Cornwall Chronicle, 14 May 1836.

[12] Hobart Town Gazette, 13 December 1833, pp. 801-24; ibid, Shaw, A.G.L., Sir George Arthur, Bart, 1784-1854, pp. 148-149.

[13] Colonial Times, 15 March 1836; True Colonist, 27 November 1835.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Convict constables in Tasmania

As in NSW, suitable men were hard to find and most of Arthur’s police were convicts under sentence.[1] A committee of senior public servants appointed in 1829 to enquire into the cost of the police concluded that convict police were ‘influenced by the two most powerful motives of fear of punishment and hope of reward’ in gaining their liberation.[2] Their appointment destroyed ‘the feeling of Convict fraternity’ in committing and concealing crime and created a feeling of ‘common distrust and suspicion of treachery.’ But this should not be taken to suggest that policemen were always appointed from convicts who had spent some time in the colony and gained some knowledge of their colleagues’ characters. A number were appointed directly from the convict ships. The surgeon superintendent recorded everything that occurred on the ship, especially the behaviour of convicts, to add to the previous details about their crimes and character.[3] On the arrival of a ship, government departments requiring men applied first to Arthur and later to the assignment board that he established in 1832. At least some men, who were thought to have gained a good knowledge of their companions, were selected from each ship to be policemen.

In 1831, Josiah Spode[4] admitted that the system of appointing convicts as constables ‘immediately on arrival’ on convict ships, begun when he was assistant police magistrate in 1828, had defects.[5] He had great difficulty persuading assigned convict servants to volunteer for police work and their masters would not recommend them without getting ‘efficient farming servants’ in return. The shortage of recruits also stemmed from the increased demand for convict labour by new settlers and the reduced number of ‘useful’ convicts sent to VDL since 1828. On reflection, Spode thought that the system of appointments direct from convict ships was ‘anything but a good one.’ Originally, he intended to appoint as policemen convicts with ‘extremely good character either from home or by the recommendation of the Surgeon Superintendent.’ But he estimated that five-sixths of the convicts with the desired character were either artisans needed for public works or physically incapable of performing police work. Consequently, policing was in the hands of ‘a set of unworthy fellows which counteracts in a great degree the excellent Police arrangements laid down.’ Despite the defects, Arthur’s evidence to the Molesworth parliamentary committee on transportation indicated that the practice of appointing policemen directly from the convict ships continued until his departure.[6]

Hobart Town, Van Diemen's Land, 1811-1837, by RG Reeve.
National Library of Australia

Arthur defended the appointment of convicts. He claimed that the police were ‘always the best convicts; men who are sent out with the best characters, active and intelligent.’[7] But he conceded that many thought to be ‘good characters’ had shown themselves ‘very bad ones’ and that, when faced with pressure to fill vacancies, he appointed ‘characters who ought on no other account to have been admitted.’ Generally, he felt the convict constable system was ‘a good one’ because, with a chance of getting a ticket of leave or emancipation, ‘they have all very strong inducement to give information’ and ‘to do their duty in a very watchful and careful manner.’ He admitted that there had been some false charges, but ‘I would not say to such an extent as might be supposed from such a class of persons.’ Of course, not all false charges were exposed in court, but Arthur here indicates that he expected a certain number of false charges in return for a high level of surveillance.

For convicts, police work held certain attractions. Although not ‘very well paid,’ they obtained ‘a great deal of freedom’ and ‘a great deal of authority.’[8] However, far too many abused their power. Colonists in the major towns regularly complained that convict constables (‘the offal of British depravity’) could not be trusted with legal powers to ride ‘rough-shod over the liberties and rights of free British subjects’ and justified their complaints by reference to English practice.[9] One colonist pointed out that the office of constable was an old and honourable one and a constable should perform his duties honestly ‘without malice, hatred, affection, or partiality’ and ‘with utility to the public, whose sworn servant he is.’[10] Convict constables, however, did not serve the public; they served the convict system while lining their own pockets. Another colonist asserted that in England criminals were not accepted as ‘competent witnesses’ and argued that it was therefore wrong to rely on convict constables in VDL.[11] Their appointment, thundered the True Colonist, destroyed

...the bonds of society by removing the distinction between crime and virtue’ and ‘elevating the convicted criminal above the unoffending citizen.[12]

In other words, to send a thief to catch a thief might be a sensible practice in some cases, but the thieves had to be more carefully selected and closely supervised than they were in VDL.[13] This criticism was true up to a point, but it ignored the number of dismissals of convict policemen showing that Arthur’s control of the police was strict, as well as demonstrating ‘the unreliable nature of many of the personnel of that service.’[14]

41 per cent of convicts, whose appointments as policemen between 1828 and 1836 can be verified in the Hobart Town Gazette, were dismissed, compared to 25 per cent of free settlers appointed policemen. Table 2 shows that between 1828 and 1831 about 40 per cent of dismissed convict policemen were removed for drink-related offences and another 34 per cent for misconduct of various kinds. After Forster, who had served in the military in Ireland, was appointed chief police magistrate in 1832, a more rigid discipline was introduced and policemen were expected to adhere more closely to orders and the law. Between 1832 and 1835, about 40 per cent of convict policemen and 40 per cent of free policemen were dismissed for breaches of duty. Drink-related offences ended in the dismissal of 23.7 per cent of convict policemen and 43.4 per cent of free policemen. Arthur was more likely to dismiss policemen for behaviour that weakened convict discipline and control than actions that infringed the liberties of colonists.


[1] Ibid, King, Hazel, ‘Some Aspects of Police Administration in New South Wales, 1825-1851’, p. 221.

[2] AOT CSO 1/60 1258, report by committee of public servants, 15t October 1829.

[3] Ibid, Report from the Select Committee on Transportation, Vol. 2, pp. 282, 300-301; Hobart Town Gazette, 21 November 1829, pp. 270-271.

[4] Green, F.C., ‘Spode, Josiah (1790-1858)’, ADB, Vol. 2, p. 466.

[5] AOT CSO 1/252/6040, Spode to Burnett, 21 February 1831.

[6] Ibid, Report from the Select Committee on Transportation, Vol. 2, pp. 300-301.

[7] Ibid, Report from the Select Committee on Transportation, Vol. 2, pp. 302-303.

[8] Ibid, Report from the Select Committee on Transportation, Vol. 3, p. 127.

[9] Cornwall Chronicle, 29 August 1835, 2 January 1836.

[10] Letter by ‘Z’, Tasmanian, 12 October 1832.

[11] Tasmanian, 16 November 1832, letter by ‘Justice’; it was true that in England incompetent witnesses included those ‘whose crimes had rendered them infamous’ and those ‘who were interested in the event of the suit.’ See Jervis, John, Archbold’s Summary of the Law Relating to Pleading and Evidence in Criminal Cases, 10th ed., (Sweet and Stevens), 1846, p. 143. This situation changed with the English Evidence Act 1843, section 1

[12] True Colonist, 11 September 1835.

[13] True Colonist, 13 January 1835.

[14] Ibid, Forsyth, W.D., Governor Arthur’s Convict System: Van Diemen’s Land, 1824-36, p. 156.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Sir George Arthur and his police

Arthur made a number of changes. His first task was to suppress bush-ranging and win the confidence of settlers. In 1826, he selected a number of convicts to serve as armed field police, under the direction of respectable settlers and military officers. Induced by a pardon for good service, the field police arrested runaways from private service or public works, ended bush-ranging and succeeded in making the settlers of the interior feel more secure.[1] One important result was that, by appointing convicts to the field police, ‘a mistrust and jealousy’ was ‘infused into the Prisoner Population,’ and, seeking a pardon for themselves other convicts applied for admission to the police. In 1827, the field police numbered eighty-three and a small band of four military mounted police was also formed.[2]

Once bush-ranging been contained, the field police were called on to deal with the threats posed by Aboriginal attacks on settlers.[3] The ‘outrages’ committed against Aborigines by absconding convicts, isolated convict stock keepers in the interior and sealers in ‘remote’ parts of the coast excited ‘the strongest feelings of hatred and revenge’ and Aborigines waged guerrilla war against white settlers.[4] Arthur was torn between his belief in ‘justice’ for the Aborigines and his duty to protect the settlers. Having failed to conciliate the Aborigines, Arthur proclaimed martial law, hoping to drive Aborigines away from the settled districts for their own protection as well as that of the settlers.[5] In 1829, Arthur placed as many military parties in the interior as he could spare and detached small parties to protect the more remote settlers.[6] The field police and six parties of five well-behaved convicts under constables of ‘respectable character,’ under the control of Thomas Anstey a wealthy settler, conducted more active operations to expel or capture Aborigines.[7] These roving parties were kept ‘continually on the move’ in the most threatened districts and killed many Aborigines. In 1830, soldiers, settlers and convicts traversed the island (the so-called Black Line) in an attempt to confine the estimated three hundred remaining Aborigines to the Tasman Peninsula. Despite capturing only two Aborigines and killing two others, Arthur’s efforts won the admiration of most landholders.[8] Physical force was followed by George Augustus Robinson’s policy of conciliation leading to the transfer of Aborigines to Flinders Island northeast of VDL.[9] By August 1834, the Aboriginal problem, as the colonists saw it, had been settled, since all but a handful of natives had been removed from the mainland to the Flinders settlement.

After introducing ‘a more coercive system’ of disciplining convicts and dealing with bushrangers, in early 1828 Arthur devoted more attention to general police arrangements, believing that on the efficiency of the police hinged ‘the effect of Transportation.’[10] Arthur aimed to make the police ‘infinitely more effective’ without increasing costs by establishing a ‘powerful engine’ to discipline convicts ensuring

...the most minute attention and incessant watchfulness of the conduct of every convict after his arrival in Van Diemen’s Land.

They would especially keep ‘a steady surveillance’ over the expirees and ‘the lower order of settlers.’[11] The expirees were ‘chiefly pick-pockets and other London vagrants,’ drunks ‘beyond redemption,’ who had been more corrupted than reformed by a lifetime of punishment in England and who became free men at the end of their seven-year sentences in VDL.[12]

Under the new system, the chief police magistrate, based in Hobart Town headed the police.[13] Nine police districts were headed by a police magistrate, each with an annual salary of £350, and divided into divisions as appropriate. Magistrates sent weekly reports to the chief police magistrate sitting at Hobart Town, who in turn sent a weekly summary to Arthur.[14] Arthur periodically issued instructions to ensure that magistrates were not too lax or too severe and maintained control of their police forces. He thus instituted a centrally directed system of policing and magistrates deviated from his instructions at their peril.[15] Arthur’s centralised management irritated some independent magistrates. Constables were appointed, dismissed or transferred without reference to these officials, who often felt that they were ciphers in the hands of Arthur’s henchman, the chief police magistrate. When hearing a case, their ‘whole thoughts were necessarily directed to know what Colonel Arthur or the chief police magistrate, would think of it; not to what was the just sentence.’[16] A chief constable, always a free arrival, was appointed to superintend the police in each district and lived near the police magistrate, to whom he would report. Each division was not to be more than five miles from the chief constable’s residence. Division constables, who were also usually free arrivals, supervised convict policemen in remote districts. The number of field police and petty constables, appointed from the convict population, varied with the needs of the district. They were paid nine-pence per day instead of rations, sixpence per day as salary and were given bedding and clothing.[17]

More important than salary was the opportunity provided by police service to gain freedom from convict sentence. After three years, any convict policeman receiving ‘a certificate of good conduct’ from his police magistrate would earn a ticket of leave.[18] If he remained a policeman for another three years and received another certificate of good conduct, he became entitled to a conditional pardon, although some additional conditions might be imposed. Another three years with good conduct would earn a free pardon. Arthur perhaps relied too heavily on the desperation of convict policemen to secure their freedom. However, these low-paid men were tempted by bribes to turn a blind eye to illegalities or to use their powers to arrest innocent or defenceless colonists increasing their wages by unscrupulous means.

Hobart in 1825

For free men appointed policemen, the rates of pay varied according to the importance of a district.[19] In Hobart Town, the chief constable was paid £182 per annum, in Launceston £100, and in other districts £75 or £50. District constables, who were at first appointed only to the two main towns, received a minimum of £50 rising to £75. A division constable received £25 and a petty constable £20. Arthur also appointed clerks to help police magistrates with paper work allowing them to spend more time supervising the police. The existing police cost, including rations, clothing, and salaries, was £12,605 19s 4d, but his new scheme would only require an extra £311 8s 2d. The Legislative Council approved the changes, but thought the salaries ‘the lowest which can be allowed’ and doubted that many ‘competent’ men would be attracted to police work. After 1828, the pay and conditions of policemen came under scrutiny and attempts to increase pay and lessen the impact of corruption were undermined by Colonial Office directions to reduce convict expenditure.

For all their power and responsibility, the pay of convict constables was hardly excessive and was thought by many to be the cause of their corrupt practices. Taking into account rations, bedding, clothing, and a salary, the total cost of a petty constable was £36 9s 6d per annum.[20] A committee of senior public servants, cautioning against reducing this sum unless the term required to earn an indulgence was lessened, thought that policemen should receive only monetary payments and that quarterly payments should be abolished. They recommended that policemen be paid two shillings daily in a monthly advance. This would prevent them incurring debts and remove the ‘temptations’ associated with receiving ‘a comparatively large disposable sum’ every three months, namely wasting their pay on drinking and gambling instead of paying their creditors. Arthur agreed to increase police pay to two shillings daily from 1 January 1830.[21]

Regularly directed by the Colonial Office to reduce administrative costs, in March 1832 Arthur asked the Chief Police Magistrate Matthew Forster[22] to investigate the possibility of reducing police pay by three-pence per day.[23] Pointing out that the pay was barely adequate as it was, three of the five magistrates whose opinion Forster sought counselled against any reduction because of the ‘unusual personal expenses’ the police financed from their own pockets, the importance of their duties, the difficulty of keeping ‘trustworthy good’ men in the police after they received their ticket of leave or pardon, and the increasing cost of ‘the necessary articles of life.’ Despite this advice, Forster told Arthur that the proposed reduction would not disadvantage the police and their pay was reduced to 1s 9d per day.

Critics thought the change would aggravate the practice of bribery and corruption.[24] Estimating the weekly cost of food at seven shillings, of lodging at three shillings and of washing clothes at one shilling, the Launceston Advertiser claimed this left a constable £5 17s a year, but clothing alone might cost nearly seven pounds.[25] The deficit and other expenses could only be made good by receiving bribes, conjuring up false information, conniving with thieves or stealing themselves. Believing that no ‘honest’ man could live on a constable’s salary, the Advertiser urged that the police should be ‘sufficiently paid, in order to prevent the abuse of the power which they are entrusted to wield.’ Even in NSW where, in 1835, the Sydney police were paid 3s 9d per day and the rural police received 2s 9d, the pay was considered too low and an incentive to corrupt practices.[26] Whether policemen acted with propriety depended on the quality of the men appointed to the police, but they were generally not of high quality and low pay proved a disincentive to join.


[1] AOT GO 33/1, Arthur to Bathurst, 11 April 1826, Arthur to Huskisson, 21 April 1828; CO 280, Arthur to Murray, 25 May 1829, HRA, Resumed Series III, Vol. 8, pp. 367-371; ML: Arthur Papers, Vol. 5, letters from Arthur, Arthur to Wilberforce, 9 October 1828; Hobart Town Courier, 29 December 1827, 10 September 1831, letter by ‘A Constant Reader’; Colonial Times, 12 June 1829.

[2] Arthur to Huskisson, 1 May 1828, HRA, Resumed Series III, Vol. 7, p. 303; O’Sullivan, John, Mounted Police of Victoria and Tasmania, (Rigby), 1980, p. 182.

[3] Windschuttle, Keith, The fabrication of Aboriginal history: Vol. 1, Van Diemen’s Land 1803-1847, (Macleay Press), 2002 has generated a protracted and heated debate on the nature of the colonial attack on the Tasmanian Aborigines. See particularly, Moses, A. Dirk, ‘Moving the Genocide Debate Beyond the History Wars’, Australian Journal of Politics & History, Vol. 54, (2), (2008), pp. 248-270, Shipway, Jesse, ‘Modern by analogy: modernity, Shoah and the Tasmanian genocide’, Journal of Genocide Research, Vol. 7, (2), (2005), pp. 205-219, Reynolds, Henry, ‘Genocide in Tasmania’, in Moses, A. Dirk, (ed.), Genocide and settler society: frontier violence and stolen indigenous children in Australian history, (Berghahn), 2004), pp. 127-149, Grimshaw, Patricia, ‘The fabrication of a benign colonisation?: Keith Windschuttle on history’, Australian Historical Studies, Vol. 35, (2004), pp. 122-129 and Manne, Robert, (ed.), Whitewash: on Keith Windschuttle’s fabrication of Aboriginal history, (Black Inc. Agenda), 2003.

[4] ML: Arthur Papers, Vol. 5, Letters from Arthur, Arthur to Franklin, 29 October 1836; CO 280, Arthur to Murray, 15 April 1830, HRA, Resumed Series III, Vol. 9, pp. 164-168; see also AOT Non State (NS) 1044/1 and Colonial Times, 29 September 1826; AOT GO 33/4, Arthur to Murray, 4 November 1828. Arthur’s Aboriginal policy has been fully analysed in ibid, Reynolds, Henry, Fate of a Free People and HRA, Resumed Series III, Vol. 8, pp. xxxvi-xlv and HRA, Resumed Series III, Vol. 9, pp. xxi-liii for the context to the Black Line operation in 1830. See also, Ryan, L., The Tasmanian Aborigines, 2nd ed., (Allen & Unwin), 1996, pp. 101-173.

[5] Connor, John, ‘British frontier warfare logistics and the ‘Black Line’, Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania), 1830’, War in History, Vol. 9, (2), (2002), pp. 143-158.

[6] CO 280, Arthur to Murray, 12 September 1829, HRA, Resumed Series III, Vol. 8, pp. 610-624; AOT GO 33/5, Arthur to Murray, 28 April 1829, HRA, Resumed Series III, Vol. 8, pp. 334-336; ibid, Levy, M.C.I., Governor George Arthur, pp. 106-124.

[7] ‘Anstey, Thomas (1777-1851)’, ADB, Vol. 1, pp. 19-21.

[8] Tasmanian and Austral-Asiatic Review, 31 December 1830.

[9] Ibid, Reynolds, Henry, Fate of a Free People, chapter 6; Launceston Advertiser, 9 May 1832; see also, ‘Robinson, George Augustus (1791-1866)’, ADB, Vol. 2, pp. 385-387 and Plomley, N.J.B., (ed.), Friendly Mission: The Tasmanian Journals and Papers of G.A. Robinson 1829-1834, (Tasmanian Historical Research Association), 1966.

[10] AOT GO 33/3, Arthur to Huskisson, 21 April 1828; Arthur to Huskisson, 1 May 1828, HRA, Resumed Series III, Vol. 7, p. 292.

[11] CO 280, Arthur to Hay, 24 November 1829 HRA, Resumed Series III, Vol. 8, pp. 724-727; Hobart Town Gazette, 25 January 1833.

[12] Arthur to Goderich, 31 December 1827, HRA, Series III, Vol. 6, pp. 421-422; Report from the Select Committee on Transportation, Vol. 2, pp. 290, 311.

[13] AOT GO 33/3, memo by Arthur, 28 February 1828, minute by Arthur, 26 February 1828; CO 280, Arthur to Goderich, 27 February 1833, memo by Forster, 1 January 1833.

[14] Ibid, Arthur, George Defence of Transportation, in Reply to the Remarks of the Archbishop of Dublin in His Second Letter to Earl Grey, pp. 33-34; ibid, Forsyth, W.D., Governor Arthur’s Convict System, p. 57.

[15] Shaw, A.G.L., Sir George Arthur, Bart, 1784-1854, (Melbourne University Press), 1980, pp. 71-73.

[16] Ibid, Report from the Select Committee on Transportation, Vol. 3, pp. 116-17.

[17] AOT Colonial Secretary’s Office (CSO) 1/199/4743, minute by Arthur, 29 February 1828, minute by Arthur, 1 August 1828; AOT Executive Council (EC) 4/1, pp. 286-287, 9 April 1828

[18] AOT CSO 1/199/4743, minute by Arthur, 29 February 1828.

[19] AOT CSO 50/5 and 50/10.

[20] AOT CSO 1/60/1258, report by committee of senior public servants, 15 October 1829, Lyttelton to Burnett, 7 June 1830.

[21] AOT CSO 1/60/1258, report by committee of senior public servants, minute by Arthur, 1 December 1829; CO 280, Arthur to Hay, 24 November 1829, HRA, Resumed Series III, Vol. 8, pp. 724-727.

[22] Shaw, A.G.L., ‘Forster, Matthew (1796-1846)’, ADB, Vol. 1, pp. 404-405.

[23] AOT CSO 1/545/11870, Forster to Burnett, 30 March 1832, Police Magistrate, New Norfolk to Forster, 16 March 1832, Police Magistrate, Launceston, 21 March 1832; AOT EC 4/2, pp. 321-322, 2 April 1832.

[24] Launceston Advertiser, 18 April 1832; Launceston Independent, 28 September 1833.

[25] Launceston Advertiser, 9 May 1832.

[26] Ibid, Neal, David, The Rule of Law in a Penal Colony: Law and Power in Early New South Wales, p. 159.