Page images


Convict Discipline. Ordered by the House of Commons to be printed, 3 April, 1843.

Copy of a DISPATCH from Lord Stanley to LieutenantGovernor Sir John Franklin.

Downing-street, 25 November, 1842. SIR, I AvAIL myself of the departure from this country of the newly appointed secretary at Van Diemen's land, as the most convenient opportunity I could find for conveying to you those instructions on the subject of convict discipline, which you will for some time past have been expecting to receive. The delay which has occurred in settling a question at once so arduous and so important, has been inevitable; and even yet it is not in my power to announce the completion of the measures requisite for enabling you to carry into effect the views of the ministers of the crown. But I do not regret a postponement which has enabled me and my colleagues carefully to examine the ground we propose to occupy, aided by all the information to be drawn from the Report of the recent Committee of the House of Commons, and from the evidence on which that report proceeded; and from other channels of intelligence which have been opened to us since the close of the labors of that committee. In proceeding to signify to you the conclusions to which Her Majesty's Government have been led by this course of inquiry, I propose to sacrifice to perspicuity every object which would interfere with it; and to that end I will state at the outset what are the topics to which I propose to address myself, and what is the order in which I am about to notice them.

First, then, I will endeavor to state what are the general principles by which Her Majesty's Government will be guided in the management of the convict population in the penal colonies. Secondly, I will consider, in their order, each of the five stages through which a convict will have to pass from the commencement of his sentence until he shall attain (as often as it may be attainable) a pardon either absolute or conditional. Thirdly, I will indicate what are the legal instruments to be completed, and what the official appointments and arrangements to be made before those general principles can be carried entirely into effect; and those specific rules fully executed. Hence you will readily collect to what extent this dispatch can be taken as an instruction for your immediate guidance, and how far it is to be understood as merely preparatory to the introduction of the new system of convict discipline. Reverting to this distribution of the topics to be noticed, I shall first explain what are the general principles by which her Majesty's Government propose to be guided in the management of the convict population in the penal colonies. You will readily anticipate that I am not about to enter into any abstract or speculative inquiries on the subject of the punishment of crime, or as to the particular form of punishment administered in our penal colonies. My object is merely to state some broad conclusions which it is necessary to premise, in order to render intelligible the objects of the more minute regulations which will follow. Her majesty's government, then, regard it as indispensable, that every convict transported, whether for a longer or a shorter period, should actually undergo that punishment without either pardon or mitigation for some prede: termined period, bearing, in each case, a proportion to the length of the sentence. We further think that it should be reserved to the queen herself to make any exception from this rule; and that the royal prerogative of mercy should not be delegated to the governor of the colony in such terms as would enable him to relax it. We do not, however, contemplate a state of things in which the convict, suffering under the sentence of the law, should ever be excluded from the hope of amending his condition by blameless or meritorious behavior, or from the fear of enhancing the hardships of it by misconduct. On the contrary, to keep alive an invigorating hope, and a salutary dread at every stage of the progress of the prisoner from the commencement to the close of his punishment, appears to us to be an indispensable part of the discipline to which he should be subjected. Further, we contemplate the necessity of subjecting every convict to successive stages of punishment, decreasing in rigor at each successive step until he reaches that ultimate stage in which he shall be capable of a pardon either absolute or conditional, though not ever entitled to demand that indulgence of right. It is, moreover, our opinion that the transition from one stage of punishment to another less severe should be withheld from any convict who, by misconduct, may have forfeited his claim to such mitigation. On the other hand, we think that a course of meritorious or blameless conduct in any one stage should entitle the convict in any future stage of punishment to such proportionate relaxations of the severity of his condition as ma be compatible with his continuance in it; and that suc good conduct should ultimately have a favorable effect whenever the question of granting a pardon may be ripe for decision. To these general principles it is to be added, that in the case of certain classes of convicts sentenced to transportation for not more than seven years, her majesty's government propose that the first stage of punishment should be undergone, not in the colony, but in a penitentiary in this country; and that the convicts should, at the expiration of a given time, be sent to the colony, there to enter on such stage of penal discipline as may in each particular case be indicated by the Secretary of State for the Home Department. I should leave unnoticed the most important of all the general principles to which the ministers of the crown look, so far as respects the convict himself and the society in which he is to live, if I omitted to add that we anticiate from a systematic course of moral, and religious instruction, which the congregation of the convicts in masses will afford, the means of applying such salutary influences as may best qualify them for entering on the temptations of an independent course of life, and may induce them to betake themselves to industrious and useful pursuits. . Secondly, such being the general principles by which her majesty’s government propose to be guided, I will next consider in their order, each of the five stages through which a convict will have to pass. For the sake of distinctness, they may be described as follows: 1. Detention at Norfolk Island. 2. The Probationary Gang. 3. The Probation Passes. 4. Tickets of Leave; and, 5. Pardons. 1st. Detention in Norfolk Island will be the invariable consequence of all sentences of transportation for life; and will also be applied to the more aggravated cases of convicts sentenced to any term not less than fifteen years. Four years will be the longest period, and two years the shortest period, for which any convict will be sentenced to detention at Norfolk Island. In each case the Secretary of State for the Home Department will, between these limits, indicate the length of time for which the convict is to be detained at that place. This statement is, however, applicable only to the cases of convicts transported direct from the United Kingdom. It will be left to the discretion of the Governors of New South Wales and of Van Diemen's Land respectively, to transport convicts under similar colonial sentences, either to Norfolk Island, or to the penal settlement of Port Arthur in Van Diemen’s Land, of which the regulations and discipline will be nearly similar. Arrived at Norfolk Island, the convict will be employed at hard labor. No authority except that of the queen herself will be competent to abridge the time of his detention there. On the other hand, the misconduct of the convict in Norfolk Island may have the effect of prolonging his detention there indefinitely, within the limits of the term of his original sentence. But although even good conduct on the part of the convict cannotabridge the duration of this part of his sentence, yet any one who, by a course of blameless or meritorious behavior at Norfolk Island, shall have established a claim to favorable consideration, will have the benefit of that claim in the future stages of his career. : To estimate at the end of four years, or even two years, the good or the bad conduct which a convict may havé observed through so long a period, would hardly be practicable, unless some system were adopted of daily or weekly notation of the conduct, whether meritorious or culpable, of each. At this distance, I do not propose to enter on topics so minute as these; they are more fitly matter for local regulation. But whatever regulation may be made, should have for its object to leave as little as possible to general and indistinct recollection, and to make the attestation of good or of bad conduct as much as possible a matter of cotemporary record. efore I pass from the subject of detention at Norfolk Island, it will be convenient that I should notice in what manner it is proposed to encounter some of the difficulties which would seem to oppose this part of the general deSign. At present, the whole convict discipline of Norfolk Island is under the charge of an officer engaged in the trial of a series of experiments suggested by himself. For reasons in no degree incompatible with the respect due to that gentleman, it is proposed to relieve him from that charge. An officer to be called the superintendent or commandant of Norfolk Island, will proceed to that place as soon as may be practicable, and will be the bearer of detailed instructions for his guidance in the discharge of his official duties. This officer will, however, be placed under the immediate authority of the Governor of Van Diemen's Land. For that purpose the island will be detached from the Government of New South Wales, and annexed to the Van Diemen’s Land Government. To make clear room for the commencement of the new system at Norfolk Island, it will be necessary to remove from that place to Van Diemen's Land a large proportion of the prisoners who are already in confinement there. Such of them as were convicted in the United Kingdom should be thus disposed of, together with so many of

« PreviousContinue »