Evils of Convictism

Introduction of Convicts in Western Australia

Time brought no material change in the prospects of the little colony to the west, until, in 1848, a message was received from Earl Grey, asking the settlers if they were willing to receive convicts in their midst. Opinions were divided as to the reply which ought to be given: while some were averse to the idea, others believed that the money sent out by the British Government to maintain the convicts and soldiers would originate a trade which might give to the colony new life and fresh prospects. These arguments prevailed ; and in 1849 the first shipload of convicts arrived. From time to time new gangs were received and the place began to be much more populous than before. The shopkeepers in Perth became rich and the farmer squatters of the surrounding districts found a ready market for their produce. Yet this success was only partial and there was nothing which might be said to constitute general prosperity. In the little town of Fremantle, the few and scattered houses had still a rural aspect and the streets echoed to the sound of no commercial bustle. In Perth the main street was still a grassy walk, shaded by avenues of trees and even in the busiest quarter the houses stood, each in the midst of its spacious garden.

Evils of Convictism

Western Australia had now to suffer the consequences of having become a penal settlement. Many of the convicts, on being liberated, took up their abode in the colony ; but their characters were seldom either amiable or virtuous and from the vices of these men the population began to lose character in the eyes of other countries.

The prisoners were no sooner liberated than they set off for the gold fields in the eastern colonies, which thus began to share in the evils of convictism. These colonies were not inclined to suffer long in this manner and to defend themselves, they refused admission to any person who came from West Australia, unless he could show that he had never been a convict. Thus the colony ar Swan River was branded  and held to be contaminated. No free immigrants sought its shores and many of its best inhabitants departed.

This stigma continued to rest on West Australia until the year 1868, when the transportation of crimianls from Great Britain ltogether ceased and the colony no longer received its periodical supply of convicts. SInce that thime it has , in a great measure, retrieved its character ; it is now doing what it can to attract free immigrants and offers large tracts of pastoral land at a rental of 10 shillings per thousand acres. It has constructed a short railway and several telegraph lines; and at Albany, the town on King George's Sound, it has established a coaling depot for the mail steamers on their way to Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney. But West Australia is still waht it was called twelve years ago, "the giant skeleton of a colony", consisting of about thirty thousand people, scattered over a 100,000 square miles of territory, behind which stretches a vast region of unexplored wilderness.

 

History of Australia