Friday, 29 July 2016

Laurence Flynn - The Assignment and Probation Systems in Tasmania (NON FICTION)

The Assignment and Probation Systems:

Since the first days of settlement in the Australian colonies convicts had been transported under the assignment system.  Contrary to general assumption, convicts were not automatically sent to labour gangs, or the penal settlements such as Maria Island. Macquarie Harbour, and later, Port Arthur.  Transfer to these establishments was usually as punishment for further offences committed after arrival in the colony.  Under the assignment system convicts were assigned to work for free settlers or sometimes to the public works department as unpaid labourers.   

The majority of assigned convicts worked on the land but some were also employed as domestic servants.  Assignment of convicts occurred aboard the transport ship when it arrived in Hobart Town. Convicts were required to remain in the service of their assigned masters until either formerly transferred, their sentence had expired, or they were granted a ticket-of-leave or pardon (conditional or absolute).  Initially the government favoured this method of convict management because costs were limited to the administration of the system.  The costs associated with providing convicts with clothing, food, shelter and medical attention were borne by the settlers they were assigned to .  

However, by the 1830s, resistance to the assignment system was gaining momentum in Britain.
The system was becoming regarded as little more than slavery, ineffective for either reform or deterrence (Brand, 1990: 1). In addition, it was deemed to be an inconsistent form of punishment because convicts could be treated either harshly or laxly depending on the character or individual circumstances of the master. The assignment system had been the very basis of Lieutenant Governor Arthur’s penal code. Probation was a result of the 1837-38 Molesworth Committee.
Arthur’s replacement, Sir John Franklin, was instructed to implement the trial system in early1839.

Under the probation system, convicts were subjected to five stages of punishment, decreasing in severity as time and good conduct progressed (Brand, 1990: 17). The first stage was served in a penitentiary or in hulks in Britain prior to transportation to either Norfolk Island or Van
Diemen’s Land, which had by now become the only destinations in the Australian colonies for transportees.
In the second stage, convicts were placed in a system of probationary gangs in which they would work with up to 300 men, with a superintendent in charge. To overcome potential problems arising from large numbers of prisoners congregating together, they would first be strictly classified and initially confined using the separate system, a system whereby convicts were housed in individual cells or apartments where they would eat, sleep and work. This is a different concept to solitary confinement, where prisoners were confined in small dark cells as an extra form of punishment for misconduct though this rarely happened in practice. In addition, they were subjected to a program of moral and religious instruction in the belief that this would engender reform.
In the probation gangs, prisoners were worked at hard labour, but the gangs were split into three divisions with differing levels of severity of labour. Under a regime of reward and penalty, prisoners could be moved between divisions to undertake lesser or harsher forms of labour. In addition, each prisoner was awarded daily credits or debits for good or bad behaviour. As their level of credits increased, their period of confinement could be reduced, or conversely, extended if the debits mounted.

As perceived merit decreed, a prisoner could move on to the third stage – the attainment of a probation pass with which he might gain paid work. There were three classes of pass that differed primarily in the proportion of wages that the convict received with the rest being held in account by the Government. The probation pass could be revoked for misconduct, and the convict returned to the probation gangs. Gaining a ticket-of-leave was the fourth stage, which was valid only within the colony. The final stage was the pardon (either conditional or absolute).
The system had various shortcomings, and several modifications were made to the system by Secretary of State for the Colonies, Lord Stanley, and his successors, Gladstone and Earl Grey.

The system was eventually abolished in 1853 with the cessation of transportation to Van
Diemen’s Land.

Convict Probation and the Evolution of Jetties in Tasmania
Rick Bullers
2007, pp.1-3

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