Tasmania 1837-1890

Governor Franklin. Sir John Franklin, the great Arctic explorer,

arrived in 1837 to assume the Governorship of Tasmania. He had been a

midshipman, under Flinders, during the survey of the Australian coasts,

and for many years had been engaged in the British Navy in the cause of

science. He now expected to enjoy, as Governor of a small colony, that

ease and retirement which he had so laboriously earned. But his hopes

re doomed to disappointment. Although his bluff and hearty manner

secured to him the good-will of the people, yet censures on his

administration were both frequent and severe; for during his rule

commenced that astonishing decline of the colony which continued, with

scarcely any interruption, for nearly thirty years.

Flood of Convicts. After the cessation of transportation to New

South Wales, in 1840, hopes were entertained that Tasmania would

likewise cease to be a penal settlement; and, under this impression,

great numbers of immigrants arrived in the colony. But, ere long, it

became known that Tasmania was not only to continue, as before, a

receptacle for British felons, but was, in fact, to be made the only

convict settlement, and was destined to receive the full stream of

criminals, that had formerly been distributed over several colonies.

The result was immediately disastrous to the free settlers, for convict

labour could be obtained at very little cost, and wages therefore fell

to a rate so miserable that free labourers, not being able to earn

enough for the support of their families, were forced to leave the

island. Thus, in 1844, whilst the arrival of energetic and hard-working

immigrants was adding greatly to the prosperity of the other colonies,

Tasmania was losing its free population, and was sinking more and more

into the degraded position of a mere convict station.

Lord Stanley, the British Colonial Secretary, in 1842, proposed a new

plan for the treatment of convicts, according to which they were to pass

through various stages, from a condition of absolute confinement to one

of comparative freedom; and, again, instead of being all collected into

one town, it was arranged that they should be scattered throughout the

colony in small gangs. By this system it was intended that the prisoners

should pass through several periods of probation before they were set at

liberty; and it was, therefore, called the Probation Scheme. The great

objection to it was that the men could scarcely be superintended with

due precaution when they were scattered in so many separate groups, and

many of them escaped, either to the bush or to the adjacent colonies.

Franklin's Difficulties. The feelings of personal respect with which

the people of Van Diemen's Land regarded Sir John Franklin were greatly

increased by the amiable and high-spirited character of his wife. Lady

Franklin possessed, in her own right, a large private fortune, which she

employed in the most generous and kindly manner; her counsel and her

wealth were ever ready to promote prosperity and alleviate sufferings.

And yet, in spite of all this personal esteem, the experience of the new

Governor among the colonists was far from being agreeable.

Before the arrival of Sir John Franklin, two nephews of Governor Arthur

had been raised to very high positions. One of them, Mr. Montagu, was

the Chief Secretary. During his uncle's government he had contrived to

appropriate to himself so great a share of power that Franklin, on

assuming office, was forced to occupy quite a secondary position. By

some of the colonists the Governor was blamed for permitting the

arbitrary acts of the Chief Secretary; while, on the other hand, he was

bitterly denounced as an intermeddler by the numerous friends of the

ambitious Montagu, who, himself, lost no opportunity of bringing the

Governor's authority into contempt. At length Montagu went so far as to

write him a letter containing--amid biting-sarcasm and mock courtesy--a

statement equivalent to a charge of falsehood. In consequence of this he

was dismissed; but Sir John Franklin, who considered Montagu to be a

man of ability, magnanimously gave him a letter to Lord Stanley,

recommending him for employment in some other important position. This

letter, being conveyed to Lord Stanley, was adduced by Montagu as a

confession from the Governor of the superior ability and special fitness

of the Chief Secretary for his post. Lord Stanley ordered his salary to

be paid from the date of his dismissal; and Franklin, shortly after this

insult to his authority, suddenly found himself superseded by Sir

Eardley Wilmot, without having received the previous notice which, as a

matter of courtesy, he might have expected. In 1843 he returned to

England, followed by the regrets of nearly all the Tasmanians.

Two years afterwards he sailed with the ships Erebus and Terror to

search for a passage into the Pacific Ocean through the Arctic regions

of North America. He entered the ice-bound regions of the north, and for

many years no intelligence regarding his fate could be obtained. Lady

Franklin prosecuted the search with a wife's devotion, long after others

had given up hope; and, at last, the discovery of some papers and ruined

huts proved that the whole party had perished in those frozen wastes.

Governor Wilmot. Sir Eardley Wilmot had gained distinction as a

debater in the British Parliament. Like Governors Bligh and Gipps, in

New South Wales, Wilmot found that to govern at the same time a convict

population and a colony of free settlers was a most ungrateful task. A

large proportion of the convicts, after being liberated, renewed their

former courses: police had to be employed to watch them, judges and

courts appointed to try them, gaols built to receive them, and

provisions supplied to maintain them. If a prisoner was arrested and

again convicted for a crime committed in Tasmania, then the colony was

obliged to bear all the expense of supporting him, and amid so large a

population of criminals these expenses became intolerably burdensome. It

is true that colonists had to some extent a compensating advantage in

receiving, free of charge, a plentiful supply of convict labour for

their public works. But when Lord Stanley ordered that they should in

future pay for all such labour received, they loudly complained of their

grievances. "Was it not enough," they asked, "to send out the felons of

Great Britain to become Tasmanian bushrangers, without forcing the free

settlers to feed and clothe them throughout their lives, after the

completion of their original sentences?" To all such remonstrances Lord

Stanley's answer was that Tasmania had always been a convict colony; and

that the free settlers had no right to expect that their interests would

be specially consulted in the management of its affairs. Sir Eardley

Wilmot found it impossible to obtain the large sums required for the

maintenance of the necessary police and gaols, and he proposed to the

Legislative Council to borrow money for this purpose. Those of the

Council who were Government officials were afraid to vote in opposition

to the wishes of the Governor, who, therefore, had a majority at his

command. But the other members, six in number, denounced the proposed

scheme as injurious to the colony; and when they found that the Governor

was determined to carry it out, they all resigned their seats. For this

action they were honoured with the title of the "Patriotic Six".

About this time Mr. Gladstone succeeded Lord Stanley in England as the

Secretary of State for the Colonies; and as he had shortly afterwards to

complain that, in reporting on these and other important matters, Sir

Eardley had sent home vague statements for the purpose of deceiving the

Imperial authorities, the Governor was recalled. But he was destined

never to leave the scene of his troubles; for, two or three months after

his recall, he became ill and died in the colony.

Denison and the Transportation Question. On the arrival of the

next Governor, Sir William Denison, in 1847, the Queen reinstated the

"Patriotic Six"; and the colonists, encouraged by this concession,

vigorously set to work to obtain their two great desires--namely,

government by elective parliaments, and the abolition of transportation.

It was found that, between the years 1846 and 1850, more than 25,000

convicts had been brought into Tasmania; free immigration had ceased,

and the number of convicts in the colony was nearly double the number of

free men. In all parts of the world, if it became known that a man had

come from Tasmania, he was looked upon with the utmost distrust and

suspicion, and was shunned as contaminated. On behalf of the colonists,

a gentleman named M'Lachlan went to London for the purpose of laying

before Mr. Gladstone the grievances under which they suffered; at the

same time, within the colony, Mr. Pitcairn strenuously exerted himself

to prepare petitions against transportation, and to forward them to the

Imperial authorities. These representations were favourably entertained,

and, in a short time, Sir W. Denison received orders to inquire

whether it was the unanimous desire of the people of Tasmania that

transportation should cease entirely. The question was put to all the

magistrates of the colony, who submitted it to the people in public

meetings. The discussion was warm, and party feeling ran high. There

were some who had been benefited by the trade and the English subsidies

which convicts brought to the colony, and there were others who desired,

at all hazards, to retain the cheap labour of the liberated convicts.

These exerted themselves to maintain the system of transportation; but

the great body of the people were determined on its abolition, and the

answer returned by every meeting expressed the same unhesitating

sentiment--Transportation ought to be abolished entirely. Accordingly,

it was not long before the Tasmanians were informed by the Governor that

transportation should, in a short time, be discontinued. But Earl Grey

was now preparing another scheme for the treatment of convicts: they

were to be kept for a time in English prisons; after they had served a

part of their sentence, if they had been well conducted, the British

Government would take them out to the colonies and land them there as

free men, so as to give them a chance of starting an honourable career

in a new country. It was a scheme of kind intention for the reformation

of criminals that were not utterly bad, while the English Government

would keep all the worst prisoners at home under lock and key. But the

colonies had no desire to receive even the better half of the prisoners.

They were afraid that cunning criminals would sham a great deal of

reformation in order to be set free, and would then revert to their

former ways whenever they were let loose in the colonies. But Earl Grey

was resolved to give the criminal a fair chance. Ships filled with

convicts were sent out to the various colonies, but the prisoners were

not allowed to land. In 1849 the Randolph appeared at Port Phillip

Heads; but the people of Melbourne forbade the captain to enter. He paid

no attention to the order, and sailed up the bay to Williamstown. But

when he was preparing to land the convicts, he perceived among the

colonists signs of resistance so stern and resolute that he was glad to

take the advice of Mr. Latrobe and sail for Sydney. But in Sydney also

the arrival of the convicts was viewed with the most intense disgust.

The inhabitants held a meeting on the Circular Quay, in which they

protested very vigorously against the renewal of transportation to New

South Wales. West Australia alone accepted its share of the convicts;

and we have seen how the reputation of that colony suffered in


The Anti-Transportation League. The vigorous protest of the other

colonies had procured their immunity from this evil in its direct form;

but many of the "ticket-of-leave men" found their way to Victoria and

New South Wales, which were, therefore, all the more inclined to

assist Tasmania in likewise throwing off the burden. A grand

Anti-Transportation League was formed in 1851; and the inhabitants

of all the colonies banded themselves together to induce the Home

Government to emancipate Tasmania. Immediately after this, the discovery

of gold greatly assisted the efforts of the league, because the British

Government perceived that prisoners could never be confined in Tasmania,

when, by escaping from the colony, and mixing with the crowds on the

goldfields, they might not only escape notice but also make their

fortunes; and there was now reason to suppose that banishment to

Australia would be rather sought than shunned by the thieves and

criminals of England.

End of Transportation. In 1850 Tasmania, like the other colonies,

received its Legislative Council; and when the people proceeded to elect

their share of the members, no candidate had the slightest hope of

success who was not an adherent of the Anti-Transportation League.

After this new and unmistakable expression of opinion, the English

authorities no longer hesitated, and the new Secretary of State, the

Duke of Newcastle, directed that, from the year 1853, transportation to

Tasmania should cease.

Up to this time the island had been called Van Diemen's Land. But the

name was now so intimately associated with ideas of crime and villainy,

that it was gladly abandoned by the colonists, who adopted, from the

name of its discoverer, the present title of the colony.

Sir Henry Young, formerly Governor of South Australia, was appointed to

Tasmania in 1855, and held office till 1861. During this period

responsible government was introduced. When the Legislative Council

undertook the task of drawing up the new Constitution, it was arranged

that the nominee element, which had now become extremely distasteful,

should be entirely abolished, and that both of the legislative bodies

should be elected by the people.

After Sir Henry Young, the next three Governors were Colonel Browne, Mr.

Du Cane, and Mr. Weld--all men of ability, and very popular among the

Tasmanians. After the initiation of responsible government in 1856,

various reforms were introduced. By a very liberal Land Act of 1863,

inducements were offered to industrious men to become farmers in the

colony. For the purpose of opening up the country by means of railways,

great facilities were given to companies who undertook to construct

lines through the country districts; and active search was made for gold

and other metals. But, in spite of these reforms, the population was

steadily decreasing, owing to the attractions of the gold-producing

colonies. No great amount of land was occupied for farming purposes, and

even the squatters on the island were contented with smaller runs than

those in the other colonies. They reared stock on the English system,

and their domains were sheep-farms rather than stations. Indeed, the

whole of Tasmania wore rather the quiet aspect of rural England than the

bustling appearance of an Australian colony. But the efforts to throw

off the taint of convictism were crowned with marked success; and, from

being a gaol for the worst of criminals, Tasmania has become one of the

most moral and respectable of the colonies.

Of late years Tasmania has made great advances. Her population has risen

to about 150,000, and her resources have been enormously increased by

the rapid development of her mineral enterprise. Tin mines of great

value are now widely spread over the west of the island, and gold mines

of promising appearance are giving employment to many persons who

formerly could find little to do. There is room for a very great further

development of the resources of Tasmania; but the colony is now on the

right track, and her future is certain to be prosperous.

The Tasmanian natives were of a different type from those of Australia,

having more of the negro in them. They were even ruder and less advanced

in their habits, although not without qualities of simplicity and

good-humour that were attractive. When white men first landed in their

island there were about 7,000 of them roving through the forest and

living upon opossums. But by the year 1869 all were gone but a man and

three women. In that year, the man died, and one by one the women

disappeared, till at last with the death of Truganina in 1877 the race

became extinct.