The New Zealand Evangelist
The Exile Question
The Exile Question.
A numerously attended meeting of the members and friends of the Evangelical Alliance, was held on Monday Evening, the 18th ult., in the Scotch Church, for the purpose of considering the Exile question, the Rev. James Watkin in the chair. After the meeting had been opened by prayer, the chairman said—“We are met on an important occasion. The meeting is aware that it is proposed to send to this country some of the unhappy offenders against the law of the realm—in a word, convicts, though under the softened name of Exiles. There is something in that name to excite our sympathies: “forced from home and all its pleasures,” sad is the case of such. But let none be deceived, our exiles would prove to be veritable convicts; and we should soon have the miserable sight of a chain gang, with its horrible clank, clank. It is not out of hatred to our miserable fellow countrymen, but in self-defence that we offer opposition to the proposed measure, which would be one of unmixed evil to our community. Employers would be plagued by such servants, and if they would work, then there would be an injurious rivalry with the honest and well conducted labourers and artizans already here. It is hoped that all will lift up their voices against the introduction of this unhappy class of men, for page 28 it would be the introduction of a horrible system of caste among us, and which has been found to operate so injuriously in the neighbouring colonies; every unknown person would be suspected, and if, as is not unlikely, bush-ranging were to become the resort of some of these exiles, evils greater than those we suffered and feared when war raged among us would ensue. Our sense of security so pleasant to enjoy, would be destroyed. It is matter of rejoicing that so many remonstrances are being forwarded from this place against the proposed measure. The Grand Jury has spoken out. The Legislative Council has or will take the subject into consideration, and it is to be hoped will speak unambiguously upon what we conceive to be the right side of the question. We had hoped to have united all the religious bodies in one effort in this matter, but have not been able to succeed. This is said not in the way of reproach, but in the spirit of regret. This, however, we rejoice in, though not acting with us, they are acting; and it is hoped that so many protests going from Wellington will not be destitute of effect, but that the Colonial Minister, seeing how much the thing is dreaded and deprecated, will not by perseverance blast the character of our young and rising colony—undo what has been done in the way of civilizing and christianizing the natives (whose interests as well as our own are involved), and prevent the introduction of honest, moral, and religious immigrants to this colony, for which class it is so well fitted. It is hoped that all here will co-operate in preventing the threatened infliction, for it is evil, and only evil.”
The Rev. J. Inglis proposed the following resolution:—
“That this meeting solemnly and earnestly protest against the introduction of Exiles into New Zealand, as proposed in Earl Grey's despatch, being fully persuaded that such a measure would have the most ruinous effects upon the Colony, by bringing in an overwhelming amount of irreligion, immorality, and crime; it having been clearly established, that in almost every conviction for serious crimes in this settlement, the criminals have been page 29 persons of this very description from the neighbouring colonies.”
In support of this resolution, he said—That had this been merely a question of labour, as Earl Grey's despatch would lead one to suppose, he, as a Minister of the Gospel, would never once have interfered, but as the subject of labour was the least important element in the question, as its moral and religious bearings both upon the colonists and the natives were likely to be of the most ruinous character, he felt bound in duty to use every effort in his power to oppose such a measure. The class of men to be sent here are all offenders who have been sentenced to transportation. They are to undergo separate imprisoument for a period of from six to eighteen months at home, followed by labour on public works either in Britain, or at Bermuda, or at Gibraltar, (it is not said how long,) these men will be furnished with tickets-of-leave, will be free to labour within certain districts, but bound to pay their passage money, which money is to be applied for the purpose of emigration. Such is the class of men, and such is the reforming process through which they are to pass. But unless all history is a fable, and all experience a delusion, this hotbed process of reformation will leave them on the whole much as it found them. Individual cases of thorough reformation there may be; but as a class, with equal and increased facilities there will be an equal disposition to return to their former habits. As a class they will be irreligious; regardless of and opposed to the Bible, the Sabbath, public worship, and scriptural education; they will be infidels in sentiment, and profane scoffers in practice. I am speaking to religious men, who know the value of religious principle in a community, and that those who do not fear God seldom regard man. As a class they will be immoral; they will be intemperate, licentious, prone to falsehood and quarreling; with a fair but false tongue they will corrupt and seduce the young, the thoughtless, and the unwary. As a class they will be addicted to crime; roguery in all its forms, page 30 stealing, robbery, incendiarism, and murder will be of common occurrence; life and property will become fearfully insecure. Existing evils will be aggravated, and new evils will be introduced, hitherto altogether unknown. One of our greatest social evils at present is the disproportion of the sexes; exclusive of the military, our adult population, speaking in round numbers, is 2,500; of these 1,500 are males and only 1,000 females, giving us thus three men for every two women. Let a few hundreds, it may be, of this class of men be introduced, and the consequences would be fearful to contemplate. Such a measure would at once introduce caste; these men, their descendants, and all connected with them, would be branded for generations to come. Those who have seen the effects of this distinction in the neighbouring colonies are best able to estimate its evils. The introduction of such a class of men would have a most injurious effect upon the natives. The laborious and expensive efforts for their evangelization and civilization would be sadly neutralized, and no one step would tend more directly to hasten the extirpation of the aborigines.
There is only one argument in behalf of the introduction of Exiles that seems worth noticing, which by appealing to the best feelings of our nature may prevail with some. It is said that a great many have been led to commit crime through the want of employment and the force of circumstances, and that if they were placed in circumstances where there is plenty of employment, and where they should be free from former temptations, they would be good and useful members of society, and that it is harsh and cruel to deny these men a chance of reformation. There they are, and they must be sent somewhere, and they would have a better chance here than almost any where else. This is humanity, but greatly mis-directed; the humanity of the simple countryman that took the frozen serpent into his bosom, and was afterwards stung to page 31 death. It is sacrificing the interests of the many innocent to the interests of the few guilty. The primary intention of public punishment is the safety of society, the security of life and property, not the reformation of the offender; that is a secondary consideration. Every humane mind must feel for that unhappy class, but there are higher interests at stake than theirs that must be attended to,—The Government have, no doubt, great difficulty in dealing with the convicts; but that is their question, not ours, we did not create it; and if the convicts are so much reformed as they say, why not give them tickets of leave to return home. We have certainly not sinned so against our fatherland that we must be selected as a scape goat and the sins of the community at home laid on our head to be borne away into a land not inhabited. We have another mission here amply sufficient for all our extra resources; the evangelization and civilization of the natives, and the reformation of runaway convicts from the neighbouring colonies, is more than sufficient for our utmost efforts. But the great work to which the settlers in this colony are called, is to prepare and preserve a country that will be at once safe and inviting for the moral and religious portion of the surplus population at home. Character is power, and ‘Like draws to like.’ The very small amount of crime, and the high testimony that is borne by all candid and competent witnesses to the general character of the colonists in this settlement, is telling, and will tell, in leading the best description of emigrants to prefer this to others, especially the Australian colonies. “Righteousness exalteth a nation,” By using every lawful means to promote true religion and pure morality, and opposing vigorously every measure that would prove injurious to these, we are at once laying the surest basis for national prosperity, and by providing a safe and advantageous outlet for the honest, industrious, and well conducted surplus population at home we shall be securing a far greater advantage page 32 to the British Empire than would arise from all the convicts we could ever reform. Prevention is better than cure. Let there, therefore, be a solemn, earnest, and unanimous protest against the introduction into this colony of a class of men who would irretrievably damage its character, and would sow in it the seeds of evils that would be bearing their bitter and deadly fruits when this generation are mouldering in their graves.
The Rev. H. Green, in a few appropriate remarks, seconded the resolution which was carried unanimously.
Mr. Woodward in moving that the Memorial which he read should be adopted, said—That he would only add that, from the mitigated character of judicial punishments in England, the probability would be that the so-called “exiles” would include persons convicted of the heaviest possible offences short of murder. Missionaries had already proved that the fact of a few fugitive convicts having found their way among the natives had been productive of most injurious and lamentable effects, and were “Exiles” introduced, the same consequences would follow to a much greater extent, while in addition to the mischief that might be done by the natives at the instigation of these men, probably much more evil to the settlers would ensue, in the shape of retaliation by the natives for injuries done to them. He (Mr. W.) farther observed, that Lord Grey having asked for our opinion, ought to be met by a distinct, clear, and explicit reply. His Lordship assumed that it would be a boon to the colony. It therefore became incumbent on that meeting—being purely a religious one—to tell his Lordship that it would be no boon but an evil, and that were it a boon ever so great, still they would not purchase it at the expense of the peace and morals of their children—of the religious welfare of both the Europeans and natives.
To The Right Honourable, The Earl Grey, Her page 33 Majesty's Principal Secretary of State for the Colonies.
The Memorial of the Undersigned Members and Friends of the Evangelical Alliance, in Wellington, New Zealand,
That your Memorialists have been and still are engaged in various ways, in efforts to promote the moral and religious welfare of the inhabitants of this settlement, and the aboriginal population in the vicinity thereof, both in connexion with Missionary operations and otherwise.
That your Memorialists do therefore regard with the utmost regret and alarm the proposition made by your Lordship, to send hither persons with characters stained by crime, and who, in consequence of the stigma attaching to them, would experience great difficulty in procuring an honest livelihood, and would almost of necessity be driven to resume their predatory habits, either directly in their own persons, or indirectly through the natives, who would be initiated to crime by them, both by precept and example, an effect which your Memorialists know to have been produced by fugitives from the neighbouring’ colonies, who have occasionally found their way hither.
That your Memorialists were greatly encouraged to become settlers in this colony with their families, by the promise of Her Majesty's Government that convicts should never be sent here, and your Memorialists gratefully record the fact that they have enjoyed such security that, excepting in the town, locks and fastenings are almost unknown; that not one-third of the shops in the town are provided with shutters; and that up to this period nearly all the graver offences that have come before the Supreme. Court in this settlement for trial, have been committed by persona whose sentence had expired, convicts escaped from neighbouring colonies, or others not settlers. The arrival in Auckland of a class of convicts younger than those now proposed to be sent out, and who had also passed through a term of probation, added largely to the number of offenders in the colony.
That your Memorialists do also regard the matter as peculiarly fraught with danger to the native race, from the fact that there is already a great disparity in the numbers of the sexes, the number of males being greatly in excess, an evil which the proposed measure would necessarily increase.
Your Memorialists also suggest, that while by the proposed measure the benevolent exertions of many years would be neutralized, and the large sums of money expended thereon be nearly or altogether wasted, a vastly increased expenditure would be incurred for the protection of property and the administration of justice, by which the public resources would be drained and your memorialists left with diminished means and lessened hopes to attempt that which would become increasingly necessary, more expensive, and more discouraging.
Your Memorialists therefore earnestly deprecate the proposed page 34 Measure, at the same time thanking your Lordship for the opportunity of expressing their opinions, before a step was taken which would prove so injurious to the community.
Mr. Hart, in seconding the adoption of the Memorial, said:—That there are in the Mother Country many honest, hard-working persons, whose condition would be greatly improved if they were enabled to reach the settlements in New Zealand, the expense of whose passages would not exceed the cost of transport of Exiles, and from whom the repayment of some part of the expense might with more reason be expected. The advantage proposed to be bestowed upon the convict Exiles would operate as an additional temptation to the industrious and needy by holding out the prospect of obtaining a free passage to the colonies at the price of a conviction and limited imprisonment for crime, in addition to which it must be remembered that persons of good character had been, induced to come to this colony because of its freedom from convicts, it might therefore be reasonably assumed, that every “Exile” would prevent, at least, one respectable person from settling here.
Mr. Roberts proposed, seconded by Mr. Marshman, and carried unanimously,—
“That copies of the resolution and Memorial proposed be forwarded to the Wesleyan Missionary Society,
The Rev, J. Inglis closed the meeting with prayer, and those present attached their signatures to the Memorial.
As the Memorial is about to be forwarded to the Governor for transmission, it is desirable those intending to sign it should do so without delay.