Evidence Type: Newspaper Report
14 July 1837
TREATMENT OF CONVICTS IN NEW SOUTH WALES.—No.2
MR. EDITOR—In my first letter I gave you an account of the treatment of male convicts; I will now lay before yoiu [sic] a specimen of that which female convicts are subjected to. On a ship containing females arriving in Sydney, the inhabitants are apprised of the circumstance by advertisement, requesting them to apply, if in want of servants, to the Superintendent of Convicts, stating the description of servants required. On the landing of the females they are forwarded to the applicants, and if any remain they are sent to the first class of the Female Factory in Parramatta. This factory is considered a place of punishment, but it is a total failure in that respect, as two-thirds of the women would prefer being immured in it (where they live a life of comparative idleness, and subsist on coarse and scanty diet), to being at service. The factory is under the immediate inspection of a matron, who is guided by a committee of gentlemen appointed by the Governor for that purpose. The inmates are composed of three classes:—the first class consists of women that are always assignable on application for them; the second class comprises women who have served any terms that are inflicted by the Magistrate on the third class, from which by good conduct they get into the first class. The third class contains the worst of characters, women destitute of every good feeling and a disgrace to society. If a woman is taken before a Magistrate for any misconduct, and the offence is proved on oath, the Magistrate then sentences her to remain in the third class for what term he thinks the nature of the offence requires; also to have her head shaved, which latter punishment is the only mode that has ever struck terror into the ladies, and it keeps many of them in their services. The factory alone never gives them them [sic] the least uneasiness; females in service in the interior will commit some offence on purpose to be sent to the factory, where, after undergoing their punishment, they stand a chance of being sent to Sydney, the principal object of their desires, where very few for any length of time remain long out of trouble. The mode of sending them down the country to the factory is disgraceful; they are given into the charge of a constable, who travels with them until he arrives at the residence of another, who then takes them forward, and so on, until they arrive in Parramatta. The scenes that take place on the road, by constables and others, with the women, beggar description. It may be imagined; but the particulars are too indecent to meet the eye of the public. The Magistrates are entirely ignorant of these doings, care being taken to keep them as secret as possible. The women that are sent from Sydney to the factory, after serving their times, are mostly sent to service up the country. The generality of the female convicts are so base a set, and their punishment so trifling, that reformation is almost hopeless—although there is no country in the world where a female, by good conduct, would have a chance of being respected, and of becoming a good member of society; the population being so much larger on the male side, there is no difficulty in a well-behaved woman getting a husband, and being comfortably settled.
All females convicted at the Criminal Sessions are sent to the factory or a penal settlement, but not to Norfolk Island (alias Gomorrah!), no women being allowed to go there. On the whole, the treatment of female convicts is not so bas as might be expected from their depraved dispositions. Of course, the authorities could not inflict the same mode of punishment as they do on the men; yet there are numbers of masters and mistresses who would be happy to see it: such people are often the cause of a women that is inclined to do well turning out bad; and be assured there are plenty of bad masters and mistresses.—G.C.—Weekly Dispatch.
We believe that the statement of “G.C.,” relative to the “Treatment of Convicts in New South Wales,” may be relied upon. The author is wholly unknown to us; but his letters are forwarded to us under a sufficient guarantee for his veracity. And it should be borne in mind that Judges and Magistrates have stated from the Bench that the severities of our penal settlements have been greatly increased of late. In fact, the statements of “G.C.” are in strict accordance with the representations made on this subject by the authorities above referred to. We fully agree with “Humanitas”* that nothing can justify the remorseless horrors of Norfolk and Goat Islands, as described in our last week’s paper. Only think of men being condemned to labour for life in irons, locked up every night, twenty in one heap, in a dungeon only twelve feet square, and most cruelly flogged “by the tap of the drum” for the slightest offence! The mind recoils in horror from the contemplation of such hopeless slavery—such reckless barbarity. Why, it is solemnly alleged that so unbearable is the lot of these miserable wretches, that not a year elapses without one or more of them murdering a fellow sufferer, in order to get hanged, and thus escape from unbearable existence. The object of all punishment—save in the case of murder—is twofold, viz., to reform the offender and to deter others from crime. Neither of these objects can be attained by the Algerine horrors of Norfolk Island. If you treat men with such ruthless severity that they commit murder to get out of the world, there is of course no hope of their improvement. And what a wretched system is this which precludes the slightest chance of reformation among a large number of our criminal fellow-creatures, and destroys, not the body alone, but the soul also! But it may be urged that the convicts sent to the extra-penal settlements—the Botany-bay of Botany-bay—are desperate and incorrigible wretches, upon whom correction has already been tried in vain. It would be better, then, to hang them out of the way at once than to keep them in the hell upon earth described by our correspondent. Death would be mercy compared with the life of torture in Norfolk Island. As to the second object of punishment—that of deterring others from crime—the human cattle-pens, and chains, and whips of the Island are resorted to in vain, for the example is unwitnessed; the condition of the sufferers having been hitherto almost wholly unknown to the dissolute in the mother country.—Weekly Dispatch.
See Original: “EXTRACTS. TREATMENT OF CONVICTS IN NEW SOUTH WALES.—No 2,” The Australian (Sydney, NSW : 1824 – 1848), Friday 14 July 1837, p.4