Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Vol 35 no. 10. 24 May 1972
Out of Sight..
Out of Sight...
Transportation was the ideal system for the English government to handle the crime problem. Not only was it extremely cheap, it was also exterminatory, freeing the country forever of criminals as no other method but the death penalty could. Initially the system was run on the basis that the captains of the ships which took the convicts to America were paid 5 pounds per convict taken on board. Later it was found to be cheaper to pay nothing and allow the captains to sell the convicts for what they could get. By the last voyage the captains of the ships were receiving 8 pounds for females, 10 pounds for unskilled male labourers, and 15-25 pounds for an artisan, sometimes the captains had to pay "humane personages" to take the senile and crippled convicts off their hands. Judging by the death rate on the voyage to America there cannot have been many of these left.
The main consequence of the end of Transportation to America was that Parliament had to take steps for the first time to reform criminals, for when they would once again be let loose on the English people. The new emphasis on reformation came not through choice but through necessity, and the opening up of the Australian colonies meant that any real attempt at reformation could be built the temporary expedient of the Hulks was introduced initially run by one of the captains of the ships involved in transportation to America. The convicts were housed in vessels anchored in various rivers, and the system was run on a contract basis, the contractor receiving 38 pound per convict for their upkeep and for providing the living facilities, and the government receiving the profit from the convict's labour. In the first two years 176 convicts died aboard the hulks, but Parliament, still embued with the idea of extermination, saw no faults in the system until the conditions improved, and the death rate began to drop. Then it became obvious that an improvement was needed to remove the threat to siciety from unreformed criminals. If Australia had not been opened up to transportation, some efforts might have been made to institute a system of real reform; in fact there was little real need to do this, and so began what Playfair calls the "punitive obsession."