Petition for Discontinuance of Transportation

The Colonist

6 August 1835

Colonial Politics.

The discontinuance of transportation to this colony desirable.

The present is doubtless the most important crisis, in regard to the future welfare of this colony, that has ever occurred since the British flag was first hoisted at Sydney Cove, on the famous twenty-sixth of January, 1788.

And if ever the real friends of this colony were called on to bestir themselves for the advancement of its best interests, it is now.

The three subjects of overwhelming interest at the present moment are Immigration - its extension or restriction; Transportation to this colony - its permanence or discontinuance; and a House of Assembly - how and when it is to be got.

These subjects are all intimately connected with each other; and our position in regard to any one of them will, in great measure, determine our position in regard to the others.

On the subject of immigration we have already expressed our opinion repeatedly, and we shall probably returns to it again very shortly.

Our old friend, Mr. Marshall, seems determined that it shall not get stale upon us; for His Excellency, the Governor, has just received an announcement from the Right Honourable the Secretary of State, that he is about to favour us with three more of his valuable cargoes, as a sequel, doubtless, to the David Scott and the Layton.

But the question is not so much now respecting the character of the immigration with which we are henceforth to be favoured, as respecting its amount or extent.

For if the present Government of Great Britain should confirm the last words and dying testimony of their predecessors, and quarter the maintenance of the Police and Jail establishments of this colony on the Revenue arising from the sale of its waste land, we must bid adieu to the hopes we had entertained of the speedy and entire renovation of the moral character of the colony, and make up our minds to live and die in a jail.

The amount of immigration with which the Land Revenue could supply us, if judiciously expended, would even at this moment much more than compensate for the supposed loss which the colony would sustain from, the immediate discontinance of the transportation system.

But the abstraction of a large portion of that Revenue from its legitimate object - the encouragement and promotion of immigration - for the avowed purpose of supporting and continuing the latter system, is a consummation devoutly to be deprecated by all right-minded men.

The permanence or discontinuance of the Transportation System is also intimately connected with the question as to whether we are likely or not to obtain a House of Assembly. For the instant that the Transportation System is discontinued, we shall have a Representative Legislature as a matter of course; if not sooner.

And with the further importation of criminals discontinued - with a large and yearly increasing influx of virtuous families and individuals - and with free institutions to remove the dead weight which at present bears down and represses exertion, to afford the requisite stimulus to the spirit of enterprise and improvement, and to enable our colonial system to work off its scum - the rate of our advancement in all that is great and good would be accelerated tenfold, and we should soon be universally acknowledged the first colony of the British Empire.

The importance of a House of Assembly to this colony is not likely to strike people at home; but we are most happy to observe that the importance of the colony itself begins to be seen and felt in high quarters, and the discontinuance of the Transportation System is already recommended by one of the highest literary authorities of the age.

The following quotation is taken from the last number of The Quarterly Review, (for February last), and forms part of a review of Bennett's Wanderings in New South Wales.

On colonial politics he does not say much; and here we shall follow his example.

 It is, however, his well-considered opinion, after all that he saw and heard, that convicts should no longer be sent to New South Wales otherwise, than "for the purpose of being employed on the public works," and that free emigration ought to be strenuously encouraged.

We are much inclined to believe that the time is come when the society of this colony should be delivered, if possible, from further influx of moral pollution, and a new penal settlement established on some other part of that vast continent.

The population of the existing colony is now a large one; and it is the duty of Government to give it the best chance of entirely shaking off the lamentable taint of its original formation, which it can scarcely be expected to do so long as a constant succession of fresh blackguardism is infused into the system.

Who can doubt that this is a country which must make a great figure in the world, either for good or for evil, before three generations more shall have passed away? - or contemplate without alarm the existence of a powerful nation born and reared amidst such a moral atmosphere as at present shocks every new visitant of  Sydney, and is but too apt to corrupt, and harden the whole, being of anyone who protracts his residence there?

We believe that, if it were consistent with our feelings of duty to lay before our readers a, detailed picture of real life, as it exists even among the upper class of society in that, colony, - of the domestic crimes and tragedies which have been brought to light there even within the last few years - it would be readily allow that no fiction could surpass the horrible truth of such a statement.

The exceptions are, we well know, many, and we consider them as, among the most honourable exceptions in the world; but the prevalent tone of that society in which incidents that we might particularize could have taken place, must be something quite beyond the reach of an unsophisticated English imagination.

The picture, with which the Reviewer has thus favoured us, is not altogether a correct likeness.

It is not a little overcharged and exaggerated; for even grave reviewers are occasionally apt to paint a moral and adorn a tale. It must be confessed, however, that it is "ower true a tale."

But The Quarterly Reviewer is not singular in the view he has thus taken of the impropriety of continuing the Transportation System, as far as relates to this colony.

He merely speaks the language of a large portion of the British press.

"Whatever may have been the wisdom or folly of the original experiment," - says The Eclectic Reviewer, in reviewing Dr. Lang's Historical and Statistical Account of New South Wales, in August last, - "the present circumstance's of the Australian Settlements render it alike unjust and impolitic to make them the drain of our Jails, by a mode of punishment which operates, in many cases, as a bounty upon crime."

Entertaining these views, we beg leave to submit to our readers the following draft of a Petition to the House of Commons, praying for the discontinuance of Transportation, to this colony, and for the exclusive appropriation of the Revenue arising from the sale of waste land to the encouragement and promotion of emigration:-

Petition to the Commons.

Unto the honourable the Commons of Great Britain and Ireland, in parliament assembled.

The Petition of the undersigned Members of Council, Magistrates, Ministers of Religion, Landholders, Merchants, and other free Inhabitants, of His Majesty's Colony of New South Wales - Humbly sheweth, That the Territory of New South Wales was originally taken possession of by the British Government in the year 1788, with a view to the formation of a penal settlement, for the reformation, as well as for the safe custody and coercion, of transported felons.

That the Settlement which was thus formed, retained the character of a mere penal settlement for thirty years after its original establishment, or until the year 1818; the number of persons who had arrived in the territory as free emigrants, prior to the expiration of that period, being exceedingly small, in comparison with the whole amount of the population, and the great majority of' the convicts in the Settlement being employed at public works in the immediate service of Government.

That about the year 1818, the Settlement, which had thus been formed on this coast, underwent a great change in its general character, and began gradually to assume the, character and aspect of a British Colony; the number of free emigrants having been steadily increasing from that period to the present timed and the great majority of the convicts throughout the territory having gradually passed from the service of Government into that of private settlers.

That it appears to your Petitioners that great, lamentable and irremediable errors - arising partly from the unprecedented character and object of the Settlement, and partly from the inexperience and the moral incompetency of in any who occupied important and influential situations under the Government - were committed during the first thirty years of the existence of this Settlement; and that habits of' intoxication and of general profligacy, which under better management might in great measure have been counteracted or prevented, were consequently formed and fostered among the lower classes of the colonial population.

That the unexampled prosperity which this colony has enjoyed during the short period in which it can be said to have existed as a British Colony, and notwithstanding the serious evils which it has had to encounter during that period, has tended rather to increase than to diminish the prevalence of these ruinous habits, by furnishing the lower and viciously disposed portion of the colonial population with the means of vicious and criminal indulgence; in proof of which your Petitioners beg to direct the attention of your Honourable House to the lamentable and alarming fact, that with a population of sixty-five thousand souls, the quantity of ardent spirits consumed in this colony during the year 1834, amounted to 334,303 gallons, or upwards of five gallons for every man, woman and child in the colony, while the Revenue from that article alone amounted to 117,863l. 6s. 7d., or 1l. 16s. 3d. for every person in the colony.

That it appears to your Petitioners, that the general reformation of the convict population of this colony - of which numerous individuals are annually acquiring their freedom and the command of money - is in such circumstances utterly hopeless; and that the continuance of the system of transportation to this Territory will, therefore, inevitably tend to increase and to perpetuate the moral degradation of its general population.

That the system of giving free grants of land, and of assigning the services of convict labourers, to respectable free migrants, who had evidently a direct interest in promoting their moral welfare, as well as in exacting from them a due amount of labour, tended in no small degree, notwithstanding the evil influence to which your Petitioners have adverted, to improve the character of the colony, by dispersing the convicts over a wide extent of territory, and thereby withdrawing them from scenes of dissipation.

That this system, under which the colony had been favoured with a large amount of voluntary emigration, through which its vast resources had begun to be developed, and its importance to the mother-country to be seen and felt, was discontinued by His Majesty's Government in the year 1831, and a new and untried system established, agreeably to which all Crown-land was thence forth to be sold by public auction, at not less than five shillings per acre; the proceeds of such sales to be appropriated exclusively to the encouragement and promotion of emigration.

That, although the discontinuance of the system of free grants of land operated in the first instance as a check to emigration, while the amount received from the sale of Crown-land was for some time necessarily small, and most unhappily expended; your Petitioners looked forward with intense interest to the gradual increase and the judicious appropriation of' the fund derivable from that source, as a means unexpectedly afforded by Divine Providence of enabling this Colony to counteract and to surmount the enormous moral evils entailed upon it by the Transportation System, by gradually introducing into its territory a numerous, industrious, and virtuous free emigrant population.

That at the time when the reasonable expectations which your Petitioners were thus enabled to entertain, of the moral renovation of their adopted country, had amounted almost to certainty, in consequence of the Land Revenue having amounted to upwards of sixty thousand pounds, for the year ending on the 30th of Jun, 1835, they were overwhelmed with regret, disappointment and alarm, at the announcement of an order, emanating from the Right Honourable Spring Rice, late Secretary of State fort the Colonies, to effect that a large portion of the Revenue, arising from the sale of Crown land in this colony should thenceforth be devoted to the maintenance of its Police and Jail Establishments.

That your Petitioners beg leave most respectfully to represent to your Honourable House, that the measure which has thus been enforced by authority, is not only ruinous to the moral welfare and prosperity of this colony, in depriving it of the benefit and advantage of the large amount of free emigration that would otherwise have been directed to its shores - to develop its vast resources, and to improve the character of its present population and in degrading it forever to the rank of a mere jail for Great Britain and Ireland; but detrimental also to the mother country itself, inasmuch as the Land-Revenue of this Colony would otherwise have been exclusively expended in relieving the mother-country of a portion of its insufficiently employed and superabundant population.

That while it is therefore the deliberately formed opinion, and the earnest desire, of your Petitioners, that the system of transportation to this colony should be entirely and speedily discontinued, and that the whole amount of the Revenue arising from the sale of Crown Land should be appropriated to the encouragement and promotion of a well regulated immigration; it is nevertheless the opinion of your Petitioners that, in a new penal settlement, organized expressly for the purpose, and in which the errors of the last fifty years might be guarded against from the outset, transportation might be rendered conducive in the highest degree to all the ends of punishment, and consequently to the peace and happiness of the Empire; and that such a settlement might be formed at comparatively small expense on the North coast of this island.

Trusting, therefore, that your Honourable House will be graciously pleased to take the case of this important dependency of the Empire into early and favourable consideration, your Petitioners as in duty bound, will ever pray; &c. &c &c.

Sydney, New South Wales, August 6, 1835.