Transportation & Slavery  

The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser

24 July 1834

Thursday, July 24, 1834.

We intended before this to have noticed a long article in the Edinburgh Review on the subject of transportation, but a variety of circumstances have, from time to time, obliged us to abandon our resolution.

It is very evident, from the tone and manner of the Reviewer, that he reasons upon a theory of his own creation, and assumes that opinions are facts, and that representations of the extraordinary advantages of transportation, or dishonesty over honesty, operate as an actual bounty to crime.

The Right Reverend Prelate Whateley, whose animadversions have principally induced the discussion to which we allude, has unquestionably no other sources of information for his guidance than those which he has the honour to derive from our excellent contemporaries, whose orthodoxy is either based upon deliberate and deep rooted prejudice, or guided by men of influence, who wish to render imputed errors in the system of transportation here, the grounds for grave charges against a Governor whose only crime is, that of proportioning punishment to offences, and averting, as far as possible, a (recurrence to that excessive ferocity of discipline, which brutalise the better feelings, and actually accelerate that in corrigibility of disposition, which its idolaters profess the desire to foil.

There are, at this moment, a variety of experiments in vogue regarding the prevention of crime.

It is no doubt a wide field for the exercise of a philanthropic mind; but there is more danger to society from the premature encouragement, or adoption, of enthusiastic theories, than even the temporary endurance of any system, the operation of which is at least understood.

The question of solitary confinement, or the efficacy of that highly lauded system in the United States, may be ascertained from the following practical proof of the opinions formed of it by a Committee of the House of Commons:

"Experience in the jails of the United States proves that solitary confinement, enforced and amounting to a total seclusion from all society, if continued for any length of time, is attended with the worst consequences, that it destroys the physical, and frequently the mental powers of its victims; and that instances have occurred of their resulting to suicide to escape its horrors."

Upon this point there are cases on record in our colony, and fully detailed by Commissioner Bigge, which present confirmatory evidence of the authenticity of the preceding conclusion.

The Auburn plan is distinguished, not by the absolute physical separation of the prisoners, but by preventing any intercourse while at labour, to enforce which the whip is used with unsparing liberality.

The Pensylvanian system admits of no corporal infliction, its chief object in punishment being attained by solitary confinement and labour, and, when refractory, by deprivation of light. Upon the latter the French Commissioners passed many panegyrics.

The Archbishop of Dublin is, however, averse to any fixed principle: he says try all the systems, forgetting that what will produce despondency, and dire suffering in one, will not move another criminal, and that a temporary adoption of any particular plan would be no proof of its superiority, until it had been tested with all kinds of offenders, and for a number of years.

What compensation, in a moral point of view, could the British nation derive from an abolition of transportation, and the periodical infusion into society of the very dregs of the community which this plan would naturally foster, who, without the hopes of employment, chilled by the contamination of jails, and the mockery of the world, will seek the association alone of their old confederates, and relapse into that monstrous course of criminality which starvation might imperiously present for their dernier acceptance.

The Reviewer's theory is ingenious, and in some respects appears to possess feasibility.

He would not desire compulsory transportation as now practised, but he would stipulate that each offender should be confined in gaol, in England, for a few years for punishment, and enter into a bond to proceed to these colonies, and out of the money acquired by labour, reimburse the Crown for $10 expense of passage, &c.

There is one erroneous data upon which many talented men proceed in their enquiries on this subject, viz., to create terror in England by suffering here.

This object can never be attained, whilst a convict is able to forward to England high coloured statements of a felicity which he is never perhaps destined to experience.

The primary objections to the present system seems more directly based upon the letters of "the Berkshire rioters," and "Wiltshire convicts," as also upon the representations of Mr. Macqueen "on the effect produced on the minds of the labourers in a village of Bedfordshire," when perusing the vauntings of a convict.

If this gentleman will take the trouble of enquiring into these several cases on the spot, he will, we dare predict, discover the falsehood of most, if not all those men thus held up as wealthy and comfortable.

He may look around and see some whom "good conduct," - in fact "reformation" has effected much, and paved their way to a return to society, but surely this is not criminal, a man may reform without offence 

We do admit that there is room for improvement in the system of secondary punishments,- but to whatever results all the present agitation may lead, we do trust, for the sake of humanity alone, that any punishment will be rational, and that a stimulus will be held forth to such as exhibit a disposition to reform.

Let all approach however to slavery be studiously avoided, for the following is the true product of this brutalizing habit: "According to the present practice, the convict, on his arrival in New South Wales or Van Diemen's Land, becomes the assigned servant, that is, in fact, the slave of the settler: a condition in which, as we know, from the experience of all ages a good disposition is much more likely to be corrupted than a vicious one to be reformed. T

he fruits of slavery in this remote part of the world have not been different from those which it has been elsewhere."

Ed Review.