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Historical Records of New Zealand


When I conversed with Lord Sydney on this subject it was observed that New South Wales would be a very proper region for the reception of criminals condemned to transportation. I believe that it will be found that in this idea good policy and humanity are united.

It will here be very pertinent to my purpose to give an extract from the report of the committee appointed to consider the several returns relative to goals [gaols].*

1st Resolution:—“That the plan of establishing a colony or colonies in some distant part of the globe, and in new discovered countries, where the climate is healthy, and where the means of support are attainable, is equally agreeable to the dictates of humanity and sound policy, and might prove in the result advantageous to navigation and commerce.“

2d. Resolution:—“That it is the opinion of this committee that it might be of publick utility if the laws which now direct and authorize the transportation of certain convicts to his Majesty’s colonies and plantations in N. America were made to authorize the same to any part of the globe that may be found expedient.“

The following facts will particularly corroborate the second resolution:—

Seven hundred and forty-six convicts were sent to Africa from the year 1775 to 1776. The concise account of them given into the committee exhibits an alarming expenditure of human life. 334 died, 271 deserted to no one knows where, and of the remainder no account could be given. Governor O’Hara, who had resided in Africa many years, was of opinion that British convicts could not for any time exist in that climate.

The estimate of the expence, given in by Mr. Roberts, necessary to establish a settlement there, to receive them, amounted page 42 to £9,865. Afterwards the annual charge to the publick for each convict would be about £15 14s. Government pays annually to the contractor for each convict who is employed in the hulks £26 15s. 10d. The annual work of each man is valued at a third of the expence.

I am informed that in some years more than 1,000 felons are convicted, many of whom are under 18 years of age. The charge to the publick for these convicts has been increasing for the last seven or eight years; and, I believe, now amounts to more than £20,000 per annum.

When the convicts were sent to America they were sold for a servitude of seven years. A proposal has been made for the alteration of this mode, respecting those sent to Africa, by condemning them to some publick work there. They were to be released from servitude, and some ground was to be given them to cultivate in proportion as a reformation was observed in their conduct.

Neither of those plans can I approve.

Give them a few acres of ground as soon as they arrive in New South Wales, in absolute property, with what assistance they may want to till them. Let it be here remarked that they cannot fly from the country, that they have no temptation to theft, and that they must work or starve. I likewise suppose that they are not, by any means, to be reproached for their former conduct. If these premises be granted me, I may reasonably conclude that it is highly probable they will be useful; that it is very possible they will be moral subjects of society.

Do you wish, either by private prudence, or by civil policy, to reclaim offenders? Show by your treatment of them that you think their reformation extremely practicable, and do not hold out every moment before their eyes the hideous and mortifying deformity of their own vices and crimes. A man’s intimate and hourly acquaintance with his guilt, of the frowns and severities of the world, tend more powerfully, even than the immediate effects of his bad habits, to make him a determined and incorrigible villain.

By the plan which I have now proposed a necessity to continue in the place of his destination and to be industrious is imposed on the criminal. The expence to the nation is absolutely imperceptible, comparatively, with what criminals have hitherto cost Government; and thus two objects of most desirable and beautiful union will be permanently blended—economy to the publick, and humanity to the individual.

James M. Matra.

* Committee of the House of Commons, appointed in 1777.