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what is commonly designated by the name of the Hulks, and Botany Bay. In
every point of view this is a most important object of contemplation, whether we consider the amount of the human beings whom it immediately affects, or the consequences which it distributes over the morals, and hence the peace and happiness of society. On the treatment which is bestowed upon vice and crime, depends altogether the discouragement of vice and crime, and to a great dogree the encouragement of morality and virtue. On the adaptation therefore of the Hulks, and of Botany Bay, to the ends which they are destined to serve, will to a considerable degree depend the character and behaviour of the great hody of the people. So deeply is the nation concerned in possessing a clear knowledge of the nature and tendency of insti. tutions to which so much of the important work of discouraging vice and criminality is consigned !
It is miserable to think in what a vulgar and undiscerning state of mind we generally view this great concern.
If we can only hustle the offender out of the way, into any hole, into a distant country, or into liis grave, so that our eyes may no longer be hurt by his presence, or our fears excited by exposure to his crimes, we desire no more. The passions of the moment are stilled, Short-sighted selfishness is restored to its ease.
We consider not how closely human beings are linked to one another. We consider not by what insensible gradations the minds of those who fall the victims of penal justice are united to the rest of the community; how necessarily one order of minds is melted into another ; how necessarily the minds which are lowest and most corrupt operate upon the order which is nearest to them, that again upon another, and so on, till the baneful influence reaches even the highest of all.
As in an ordinary mixture, the nature of the whole compound is affected, and is rendered better or worse by the nature of every ingredient of which it is composed, so does it of necessity happen with the morals of society.
It is surely not difficult to understand the force of what is so properly called the contagion of human manners. It is astonishing how far man is an imitative animal ; how strongly he is led to do whatsoever he sees done by other people. It is astonishing, for example, how much the sight of other men despising any danger leads the spectators to despise it also. The sight of men despising the danger of punishment for lawless acts, leads other men to despise that danger. The sight of men setting a high value upon the pleasures aimed at by vicious conduct, leads
others to set a high value upon those pleasures. To set a high value upon the pleasures aimed at by forbidden conduct, and a low value upon the danger of punishment, is all that is necessary for the propagation of crime.
It is, therefore, not the mere deliverance from the person of the evil-doer that constitụtes the chief matter of consideration to the enlightened legislator. With him the main question is, What is that species of behaviour dealt out to the evil-doer, which will have the best possible effect upon the morals and character of the rest of the society? How can his example be converted, out of an instrument of corruption, into an instrument of cure? What sort of conduct should be observed towards the class of those by whom society is injured, to destroy most effectually their power of contaminating the general morals, and to raise out of them a discipline of morality to the rest of the people?
With these few prefatory observations, we shall proceed to those summary reflections of which alone our limits will admit, upon the state of that class of prisoners who are immured in the hulks, and that class who are still prisoners, or at least bondmen,
in a desert island. In one respect, these places of confinement differ from ordinary prisons, and agree with bridewells and houses of correction, in this, that they are not destined for those in the case of whom safe custody is the only object in view; but for those who have already undergone the sentence of the law, and are placed under its penal operation. The question is, whether they are places well contrived to answer the ends for which the penal operation of law is designed ?
The chief sources to which we have been indebted for information on this subject are the Reports of certain committees of the house of commons. The first of these is the Twentyeighth report of the select committee on finance, in 1798, that committee of which the right honourable Charles Abbott, the present speaker of the house of commons, was the chairman, and which under his able auspices became a source of the greatest instruction, that is, of the greatest utility to the nation, of all the committees, perhaps, that ever sat. The subjects included in that Twenty-eighth report were the police, and the establishments for convicts, meaning thereby the Hulks, and Botany Bay. Besides this Report, we have some instruction on the same subject, in a Report from a committee of the same house on the laws relating to penitentiary houses in 1811. And there is a Report from a select committee on transportation in 1812. The private publications from which information
on one part of the subject may be derived, some of them from pretty elevated quarters, are, as the public are apprised, sufficiently numerous. Respecting the Hulks, but little is known except to those who have access to parliamentary sources.
Hard labour, on board the hulks, and transportation to Botany Bay, are at present the assigned punishments for all that class of offences which are intermediate between the slightest order of transgressions, and the most atrocious—those to which the punishment of death is applied. A proportion endure the punishment of the 'hulks, without proceeding to Botany Bay; but of the male convicts destined for Botany Bay, the greater portion undergo the previous discipline of the hulks, because to them they are dispatched after conviction, to wait convenience, or the period when a sufficient cargo is collected to freight a vessel for the voyage.
In the year 1797, the total number of persons confined on board the hulks, under sentence of transportation, was 1449. The expense to the nation was enormous. After full allowance made for it, the value of their labour was so far from defraying the expense of their maintenance, that it fell short of that expense by more than 151.
per annum. For deriving benefit from the labour of the convicts, no trifling consideration, a worse devised expedient than the hulks can hardly be conceived. On this we shall for the present content ourselves with the information communicated by Mr. Abbott to the house of commons. " It is stated,” he says, “in the returns from Portsmouth, that the convicts cannot be employed but in clear, fine weather, because in dark foggy weather, which happens very often, but particularly in Cumberland fort, there would be great danger of their effecting their escape : that a great number of convicts on board were rejected as unfit to proceed to Botany Bay; many from the gaols so emaciated by long confinement, and debilitated by former debaucheries, as to be unable to work : that when to these are added the number necessarily employed in keeping the ships ani vards clean, they will amount to nearly one third of the whole number.
66 This account,” the report adds, “is corroborated by a return since made by the board of ordnance, in which it is said, that on account of rain, fog, high winds, and other occurrences, the convicts are sometimes prevented from leaving their hulk till late in the morning. For the same reason, they are early on board, Thus, in winter, or in continued ill weather, they work but a few hours in the day, encumbered by chains ; frequently labouring under the effects of disease. Even were they constantly diligent,
they are by no means equal to hired workmen: but to add to these disadvantages, some are averse to labour, and only work while the eye of their overseer is particularly upon them.”
There is another consideration which Mr. Abbott overlooks not, though he deemed it advisable for himself to touch it but slightly. Not only is the quantity of labour which these men perform comparatively small, and inadequate to their maintenance, if it were bestowed upon the most useful objects. It is still further true that it is expended upon objects of little utility; and instead of 151.
per annum, if the real loss by each were stated at 201. or even 25 l., it would probably be nearer the mark.
« Precarious,” says Mr. Abbott, “as must at all times be the value of labour under such circumstances, it is obvious that the possession of so many idle hands will sometimes be a temptation to engage in works, which, but for this inducement, would not recommend themselves by their intrinsic utility.”
So much with regard to the expense, which, since it must, as in all public disbursements, be extracted from the pockets of the people, that is, be deducted from the comforts or the necessaries of the greater part of them, is a most serious consideration, a consideration of far deeper import than most observers are as yet in any tolerable degree aware. But this is not all. The effect of the hulks is deplorable in a moral as well as an æconomical point of view.
“We shall find the system of the hulks,” says Mr. Abbott, 6
pointed out as a principal cause of that corruption of morals which is the source of every species of criminality. This," he adds, “is much enlarged upon in the evidence given by Mr. Colquhoun, in which that observing and experienced magistrate remarks, that he had seldom or ever known an individual discharged from the hulks, who had ever returned to honest industry; but that the indiscriminate mixture of criminals, which takes place in those establishments, renders them a complete seminary of vice and wickedness.”
It is stated in the return to the order of the committee respecting the hulks, “That the reason why so- large, a number of convicts remain in them under sentence of transportation is, because it has been found inexpedient to send a greater number of convicts than have been already sent to New South Wales, until that settlement shall have attained a greater degree of cultivation; and that the transportation thither has always been gradual, and according to the advices, received from the settlement, of the capability of receiving them.”
The intelligent writer of the committee's report subjoins :
« Under these circumstances, there remains but little hope that the individuals who have been exposed to the contagion of such immoral example, whether they shall finally be sent to New South Wales, or the periods of their sentences shall be suffered to expire here, will ever again become useful members of society ; but, on the contrary, it is to be feared that, whenever they shall be again discharged on the public, they will come more expert in fraud, and more hardened in guilt.”
What then are we to think of the capacity for legislation, of the sort of men by whom a system like this, for the discouragement of crime and the reformation of the offender, was devised and carried into execution ? Of the men consigned to the hulks, the far greater portion, according to the terms of the law, are destined for restoration to society. Think of the circumstances of the case: they are placed in a situation out of which they must issue far greater pests of society than they went in! Of the discipline to which it is good that convicted offenders should be subjected, one object is, to reform the offenders, and make it at any rate safe for society to intrust thein again with power over their own actions, The notable expedient to which our legislature has recourse is—to submit offenders to a discipline under which they can hardly fail to become more thoroughly depraved, more dangerous to society, and then to turn them loose to make their pray! Were men to act in the spirit of enemies of society, with a formed intention to doit mischief, is this not the sort of course which they would naturally pursue ?
Offenders who are placed under coercion are so placed, because it is unsafe that they should be at large; otherwise their confinement is an injury to society. After being confined when they are less dangerous, men are so dealt with in the hulks, as to be rendered more dangerous, and then they are set at liberty. Surely, if any man
is put on board the hulks, he never should be allowed to come out. This would not only be mercy towards society, but mercy towards the individual--the ill-used individual himself:-unless it be true, as it possibly is, that it is better to be hanged than put in that deplorable state of confinement; for the probability is, that being disciplined to a higher degree of depravity, he will speedily einploy his liberty in the commission of a crime which will consign him to the fatal tree.
If we look beyond the present life, and really do believe in the destination of these wretched beings to another ; what account shall be given, to the Lord of that future life, of that preparation for heaven to which we submit the prisoners in the hulks? Is it really possible for human beings to do more to shut the gates of salvation - upon a class of their fellow men, and render them fit