Homosexuality among Convicts in Australia

Wednesday 6 May 1840

[From a Parliamentary debate on transportation to Australia:] [The noble Lord] proposes that convicts sentenced to more than seven years' punishment shall be transported to Norfolk Island, where they are to undergo the severer portion of their punishment; subsequently they are to be removed to the public works in New South Wales. This plan is liable to the same objections which have bene urged agaisnt the existing system of transportation; . . . Why, I ask, have you lately appointed inspectors of prisons in this country, and directed them annually to report to Parliament? Because you have become aware that without constant inspection you cannot enforce proper penal discipline even at home, that you cannot trust to unobserved authority even at your own doors. Have you any reason for placing greater confidence in gaolers in Norfolk Island, or will you send inspectors yearly to the antipodes? And even then a year must elapse before a remedy can be applied to the best proved abuse. Aain, will you send women to Norfolk Island (hear, hear), or is it to be inhabited only by men? Have you well considered this matter? Is it necessary to repeat the statements of the highest authorities, that wherever large numbers of male offenders are collected together in the penal colonies, there unnatural crime are fearfully prevalent. The only means of preventing those crimes is by the complete separation of prisoners; and this cannot be effected till gaols are built (hear, hear, hear). In my opinion, the ultimate and permanent substitute for transportation should be one or more forms of the penitentiary system. Experience has shown that the best form is that which was first suggested by Mr. Bentham, and recommended by him in preference to the formation of the penal colony of New South Wales (hear, hear). I mean the separate system. According to that system, offenders are kept entirely apart, and never allowed to associate together, or to become acquainted; they are visited by persons appointed for the purpose, whose duty it is to afford them religious and moral instruction, and they are permitted – not compelled – to work. This description of punishment has most of the qualities of a good punishment. It produced a great degree of terror; it is certain and equal; it is easily apportioned to various degrees of crime; it renders the commission of crime during the period of punishment almost impossible. . . . (Evening Chronicle)

Thursday 7 May 1840

[From the Parliamentary debate on transportation:] The extremes of misery and immorality met in Norfolk Island, and rendered it without a parellel in the world, except in Port Arthur, in the penal settlement of Van Diemen's Land, of which Sir George Arthur stated that he had known convicts commit murder in order that they might be removed to Hobart Town for trial, though they knew that death would follow in a fortnight: and in Norfolk Island it had been stated, on the best authority, that three-fourths of the convicts were guilty of unnatural offences. . . . (Dublin Monitor)

Saturday 2 April 1842

In 1838, a Parliamentary Committee was appointed, on the motion of Sir W. Molesworth, to examine witnesses and documents, as to the whole system of transportation. – That committee collected a vast body of information on the question; and, it is from their Report that we are about to take our facts. . . . The population of Van Dieman's Land, in 1834, was 40,000, of whom 16,000 were convicts, 1,000 soldiers, and 23,000 free inhabitants; yet, according to Sir George Arthur, "in this small community, the convictions amounted to about 15,000 in one year! . . . Of the 15,000 convicted, 11,000 were transports;" that is, nearly three-fourths of the transports, instead of mending their lives, continued their evil practices in Van Dieman's Land. And, as to new South Wales, it appears that "the number of summary convictions was nearly the same, in proportion to the population, as in Van Dieman's Land." But Norfolk Island was even worse. An official report, from the resident Protestant chaplain there, states, that "blasphemy, rage, mutual hatred, and the unrestrained indulgence of unnatural lust, are the things with which a short residence in the prison-wards of Norfolk Island must necessarily famililarise the convict." Another Government functionary reported, that "it is much to be feared that the horrible crime which brought down the fire from heaven on those devoted cities of Scripture, is practised here to a great extent." And what is, if possible, still more horrible, the colonial surgeon stated, that, "actually incredible as it may appear, feelings of jealousy are exhibited by those depraved wretches, if they see the person with whom they carry on this abominable intercourse, speak to another!" Dr. Ullathorne, a Catholic clergyman, who knew Norfolk Island well, believed that "two-thirds of the convicts were guilty of unnatural offences." And two Quakers, who spent five years in the penal colonies, examining the transportation system, declare that, "by the acknowledgment of the persons themselves, those crimes are extremely prevalent among them." As to Port Arthur, "the description of Norfolk Island is applicable to it." The disproportionate number of females and males – an almost necessary consequence of transportation – is a main cause of this and other abominations. It seems that Sydney and Hobart Town were "crowded with prostitutes," and "the Penitentiary of New South Wales was little better than a brothel and a lying-in hopsital."
          And, good God! is it to places where such terrific atrocities are of incessant repetition, that we will send criminals, in order to make them wiser and better men? Bah! you might as well send persons to the region "where no order, but everlasting horror dwells," in the expectation of making them saints. Absolutely, the frightful and disgusting excesses committed by the wretched transports, equal those attributed to the pagans by St. Paul, in his letter to the Romans. . . . (Vindicator)

SOURCE: Various newspapers, dates as given.

CITATION: If you cite this Web page, please use the following citation:
Rictor Norton (Ed.), "Homosexuality among Australian Convicts", Homosexuality in Nineteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook, 12 July 2016 <http://rictornorton.co.uk/eighteen/1840aust.htm>.

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