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The Past and Present Of New Zealand With Its Prospects for the Future



The true proof of civilization is turning all things to account, and allowing nothing to be lost. The Chiffonier presents an emblem of it; there is something for him to gain out of every refuse heap—rags, paper, iron, all are worth his collecting, and when sorted and classed, go to their several depositories, to be re-produced in a new form. Even the sweepings of our streets are valuable, and though in England given away, in Paris produce a considerable revenue to the Government. The waste in this respect of the London sewerage has been at last seen; the costly and extensive embankments of the Thames are undertaken, not only to purify the stream and ornament the metropolis, but with the page 179 intention of utilizing the immense refuse of this emporium of the world.

It is also the duty of Government to seek to do the same with the refuse of the State. The law demands the offender’s punishment, but does not sound policy require that that punishment should not be a loss or burthen to the State? In this respect China is before England; by making its convicts maintain themselves, and try to refund their debts by labor, in so doing both sides are benefitted. With us, on the contrary, the bad are worse than they were before, the idle become more superlatively idle. There is a system of equalization of crime going on in the prison, which renders the inmates all but incorrigible. This is sadly the case in penal settlements; still it might be avoided, and the present object is to point out how it may be done, so that the convict may have a chance given him of regaining caste, and being restored as a useful member of society.

Good Mr. Marsden used to say, that it was wonderful how God had raised up a church in New South Wales to His praise and glory out of the scum of the empire—from the very dregs of society. If there be joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons that went not astray, surely it will be a noble effort of a Government, and a proof of its being a truly paternal and patriotic one, if it can regain and recover any of its felons from their lost state, and restore them to that from which they have fallen.

The treatment of convicts should have a salutary end in view, which would render it evident it was intended for their good, and thus encourage them to be obedient to it. There should be no undue severity, or unmeaning kindness, by which the true object in view would be lost.

In New Zealand it was reported that a jailor took all his prisoners with him to see the races, and threatened that if any of them stayed out beyond the given time, they would be locked out. In another place, a prisoner thought himself very ill treated because he was not always allowed to go out and dine with his friends, which he had been occasionally page 180 permitted to do; but New Zealand is at the antipodes. It has had even a superintendent of one of its chief provinces, who, being considered worthy of a temporary sojourn in prison, actually proclaimed his own house one, and committed himself to it.

In New South Wales, even the iron gangs were so well fed and lightly worked, that it was a well-known fact, the soldiers who were employed in guarding them, thought their state preferable to their own, and envying the easy life of the felon, not unfrequently committed some crime to become one of them.

The assigned servants had little to remind them of their position, or to make it feel irksome to them; thus the true object for which they were expelled from their native land was lost, the only convicts who were benefitted were those who acquired great wealth, and with it a certain, status in society, which compelled them to act according to its requirements. Thus they were obliged, outwardly at least, to live as others did, and in their commercial concerns maintain a certain degree of rectitude, to hinder them again losing their newly-acquired caste, and keep the Government from confiscating their property, which was not unfrequently done.

The disposal of convicts is a subject of national interest and much perplexity in the present day. The future location of them in a large empire is one, therefore, of great importance, especially when it is viewed with so much disfavor by those colonies which have for so many years been made the receptacle of them.

The remembrance of the evils of a penal colony by those who knew them, and the anticipation of such by more recent settlers, from the exaggerated statements of the older residents, will account for much of the opposition now given to the re-introduction of the system in Australasia. And yet it may be shown, that with certain modifications and provisions this opposition might be withdrawn, and a conviction raised that such establishments could be rendered a positive benefit to such infant states as our colonies now are.

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The danger of a large and constant influx of convicts swamping the morality of a small and widely-scattered population is evident, especially where the conditions of society can scarcely be said to have become established. Whilst the fear of such a result speaks well for the community from which it proceeds,—however evident it may be that the diseased member should be amputated to save the life of the body,—it is the policy of the parent state not to press a measure whilst it continues to be so unpopular, and likely to diminish the affection of her offspring.

When the subject is duly weighed, it is more than doubtful whether the Australian colonies will be found to offer the most suitable locality for a penal settlement; the primary object of which must naturally be, punishment and safekeeping of convicts combined, as well as entire separation from that population which has cast them out.

The enjoyableness of an Australian climate is not calculated to insure the first, or the facility of escape the second. Even though an entirely new penal settlement were to be founded on the northern coasts of the Australian continent, or in New Guinea, it would be impossible, with all the cost and care which could be given, to avoid frequent escapes; and the successful attempts of the few would buoy up the hopes of the many, that their efforts likewise would one day or other be crowned with similar success.

This feeling largely pervaded the convict population of Australia in former days. Not a few tried to cross that unexplored continent, with the insane idea of reaching China on foot; but it is a sad fact, that numbers did effect their purpose, and reached New Zealand or some of the Polynesian Isles, where they became the leaders and abettors of crimes far exceeding even the heathen themselves in atrocity.

Several localities appear to have engaged the attention of Government, such as the Falkland Isles, Guiana, Hudson’s Bay, or even some of the Scottish Isles. No reformatory at home can be made on a sufficiently extended scale to meet the necessity, without an enormous outlay and a corresponding degree of risk.

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Fully to answer the requirements of the case, it will be necessary—

1.To have a place at a sufficient distance from home.
2.One of which the climate is not so good as to make it desirable; or,
3.From which an escape can be easily effected.
4.Where the establishment can be made self-supporting, by rendering the labour of the convict available both for the Government and his own benefit.
5.Where good service to the Empire at large can likewise be gained.
6.Where the convict can have a reasonable chance of amendment given him, and his keepers of testing its genuineness.
7.Where sufficient inducement can be given of good conduct securing an amelioration of condition and final restoration to the rights of a free subject.

To meet all these requirements, Kerguellen’s Land may be brought forward as one of the most suitable spots for a penal settlement. Its size is quite sufficient for the purpose, its position could not be better, being nearly equi-distant from America, Australia, and the Cape; its latitude is lower than that of the most southerly part of Great Britain, and its climate, though bad, cannot be extreme, and is rather characterized by the absence of summer heat than the presence of extreme winter cold. It has excellent harbours, and what is of the utmost importance, it possesses abundance of good coal, which crops out in several places. This fact was established by Sir James Ross’s expedition, and its position in the direct course to Australia would make it an admirable coaling station, and a place from whence other similar depots could be far more readily and cheaply supplied than they are now. In the working of coal, therefore, there would be abundant employment for the convicts, and according to their industry, the means of reward given, and the power of rendering it, in a great measure, self-supporting. Convicts who by their industry and good conduct had thus acquired a claim for further indulgence, might be con- page 183 sidered eligible for employment in other and more desirable localities.

The great drawback to the prosperity of infant colonies is the want of a labouring class. In no part has this been felt more than in New Zealand; at this very time it is scarcely possible to get a day’s labor for less than from six to eight shillings per day of eight hours; to remedy this evil the colony has incurred great expense in importing labor. Our Provincial Governments have thus brought out laborers by the thousand; the concern of their agents has been number rather than quality; and though many estimable characters have thus been imported, the majority have been drawn from the union workhouses, where those gentlemen have been welcomed as the means of getting rid of the most worthless and troublesome characters; the addition thus made to the colonial population has sensibly affected the general tone of society; this is especially seen at elections, many of the voters having scarcely been six months in the land before they became entitled to that privilege.

Thus whilst our Provincial authorities have loudly raised their voices against the introduction of the penal system, they have, in fact, introduced elements of a far more demoralizing tendency; for whilst it is possible to keep a convict population under restraint by strict discipline and stringent measures, here is a body of individuals introduced, some of whom only differ from the former in being unconvicted, who are let loose on society, not only without restraint, but with means furnished by the facility of acquiring property, of effecting the greater injury.

But still the want of labor remains: the expense and difficulty of obtaining it is so great, that many instances might be adduced where it has cost more in labour than the crops have produced, and the harvest could not be gathered in without military aid. It is, however, particularly in public works that this want has been experienced; roads, bridges, &c., are only made at a ruinous expense, and on this account such important works are of necessity limited. Thirty years ago, the traveller who visited New South page 184 Wales was greatly struck by the excellence of the roads and public edifices, though coming direct from England; twenty years later he would be still more surprised by the deterioration which had taken place in this respect, although then only going from the infant colony of New Zealand. It was convict labor which accomplished the first state, and it was the want of a substitute for it which accounted for the retrograde condition.

The first and only improvement of our public ways for years in New Zealand was effected by what are called Hard labour men, viz., the inmates of the gaol, and little as they effected, for their name was quite a misnomer, still it was all the colony had to depend upon for local improvements, and very probably would have continued to be so up to this day, had not heavy taxes been imposed and great debts incurred, for it is a fact that nearly all our public roads were made with borrowed money, which now forms the nucleus of a national debt which no settler will ever live to see liquidated.

This subject, then, leads to another closely connected with the present enquiry, how can labor be obtained for public purposes in our colonies? It is evident that the present way of meeting it by constant loans cannot last; it is not a healthy way, it must be a ruinous one, and although it is urged that the rapid progress of the colony will enable it to repay them without difficulty, still principal and interest go on quietly increasing and must continue to do so, or nothing of a public nature for the improvement of the country can be done.

But what is wanted?—roads, bridges, court houses, rivers rendered navigable, harbours approachable by wharves, piers, lighthouses, &c., &c. To effect all these improvements labour must be obtained; five hundred men for each of the nine provinces would not be too much; were there colonial prisoners to that extent they would be used for this purpose, and no outcry raised about such convict labour being employed, any more than there is now about hard labour men. Supposing that each province could be supplied from the grand establishment at Kerguellen’s Land, with a page 185 certain amount of labour for public purposes, drawn from those who have gained a ticket for good conduct, with the further prospect of progressive advancement, and after a fixed period of time from improvement in Government service of receiving a free pardon. The grand establishment should be open to receive convicts from colonies as well; and those drafted from it be consigned solely to the charge of the General or Provincial Governments in such proportion as they may severally require. This assuredly would be a benefit to the convict and be conferring one on the colonies which would greatly aid their advancement, without endangering the moral tone of their inhabitants, and were such an establishment to be formed as is here advocated, it would not be long before a change of feeling on this subject would take place, and the advantages to be derived from it would be so apparent that it would soon meet with general favour, to say nothing of the benefit commerce would gain by such an establishment in its chief highway.

The shrewd and politic Napoleon has not overlooked the advantage of having vast coal depots in all his insular possessions; no French vessel is allowed to trade with any of them without bringing a fixed amount of coal to keep up the proper quantity in all his numerous depots, so that in case of emergency he may be prepared to visit our colonies either as a friend or foe.

This subject is, therefore, almost equally important to our colonies as it is to the Home Government itself, and invites the serious attention of both.