Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

ble example of persons in elevated life, on every public occasion, attended with important advantages; and under the auspices of some members of the present Administration, who have lent the aid of power to this great undertaking, the all-interesting cause of morality is firmly and rapidly advancing. It is not for the writer of this, perhaps, to indulge in eulogium, though, in the present instance, the cause would strongly invite to grateful and liberal expression.

The same benevolence which shed a ray of celestial light over the poor African's horizon, has also held up the Gospel beacon to the benighted sinner of its own climes, and forbidden despair. Mercy, commuting capital punishment for transportation, had snatched the criminals froin the vengeance of the statute law ; and it then becaine matter of inquiry, whether imprisonment in Hulks, or Houses of Correction, or mere transmission to distant colonies, was not the ultimate and only good, which, in due regard to the permanent security of society, could be fitly provided for those degraded and unhappy persons. But that wakeful care which ever attends the proceedings of the truly good, sought out with anxiety a further means of relieving their miserable condition; and thus that useful em. ployment on board the Hulks, and, latterly, a better regulated management in the Houses of Correction, have originated and tended to produce the present visible beneficial effects.

The societies for the propagation of the Scriptures,

and of moral and religious tracts, have opened the ready means of putting useful publications into the hands of the prisoners, which have also so much tended to soften down their obduracy, and generally to meliorate their disposition and manners. The lot of the convicts meanwhile under sentence of transportation was not quite so happy.

Cooped up in prison, waiting for the period at which they were to be shipped off, these hapless creatures of either sex remained immersed in all the turpid influence of that guilt which had brought them to such a state, and still wholly occupied their minds, The listlessness of mind resulting from their escape of capital punishment, the dreadful suspense of death removed, and their poignant oscillations of hope and fear subsided, produced a calm and satisfaction bor, dering on pleasure; and to the unrestrained indulgence of this they freely gave way. But their thoughts long inured in the ways of wickedness, and too willingly withdrawn from reflection on their recent danger, presented no other mental employment than again traversing in idea the schemes they had practised, the gains they had successfully secured, and the merry scenes which those guilty gains enabled them to enjoy. No friendly counsel was near to hold up to their view the enormity of their crimes; even the humane admonitions of the venerable judge who found relief in assigning to their offences the mild punishment of transportation,-all was forgotten where no sort of

industrious employment was found to fill up the wasteful vacuum of imprisonment till the time of their departure.

Their conversation and conduct became thus daily more depraved and corrupt. The same inclination to riot and licentiousness continued unabated, and in most instances seemed refined to a more subtle and pernicious degree. The voice of admonition, if its warnings reached them, was received with insult or contemptuous derision; and every means and opportunity was sought for the indulgence of the wildest depravity. The suggestion of religious reflection only excited impious raillery, or blasphemous mockery; and in this polluted state did they remain contaminating and corrupting each other, until the order from Government ultimately came for their departure.

This was an event always desired by the keepers, yet in a certain degree dreaded on account of the disorders which the convicts usually committed on the occasion. It was their practice then to give a fling to all kinds of frantic violence, tearing down every thing within their reach, destroying their beds, breaking the prison windows, and with hideous clamour effect. ing as much mischief as possible. Handcuffs and chains became indispensable to restrain their fury; and thus secured they were conveyed on board the transport ship, in a manner truly more like ferocious wild beasts than human beings. This latter regulation was invariably observed in male convict ships, and has never yet been departed from. With regard to

female convicts, the precaution of a military guard was not thought necessary : yet, in some instances of daring violence, it has been held out as a threat in case of continued non-subinission.

In the latter end of 1817, I received orders to take charge of the Neptune, as Surgeon and Superintendent of the male convicts put on board for transportation to New South Wales, and entered on the duties of that situation immediately, though at the time fully aware of its embarrassing and difficult nature. It was indeed generally known and acknowledged, that a convict ship presented such constant scenes of violence, and even systematic insubordination, that the management was not without extreme hazard, while all idea of producing a moral change amongst these unhappy beings was utterly hopeless. This, however, was not a representation capable of causing me to shrink from the attempt: I was strongly actuated by a desire to exert my humble endeavours to put in practice a system which I had devised long before, for bettering the condition of convicts generally; on which account I the more eagerly acted upon the commands of Government.

On my return from this first voyage, I found a great many of my friends and acquaintances anxious to obtain information respecting the general management of convicts during transportation, which the opportunities of ordinary conversation would not permit me fully to satisfy. Glad to observe such interest evinced by persons whose opulence and well-known

worth must give weight and respectability to any cause they may espouse, I determined that my humble inite should not be withheld, where the great and desirable object in view was to meliorate the condition, and to resuscitate the forgotten virtue, of wretched beings, for whom philanthropists had long indulged in, feelings of commiseration. I therefore formed the resolution that, whatever inconvenience might arise to my private affairs, from loss of time or otherwise, I

ould give to the public all the information I had acquired on the subject.

My private representations on this subject having proved to the satisfaction of all those of my friends who find pleasure in doing good, and experience having furnished evidence abundantly, that even convicts are not dead to the feelings of gratitude, or destitute of many other estimable qualities, evincing that vice has not always an indissoluble tie upon the heart, I was very warmly urged to try what could be done towards improving the deplorable condition of female convicts. To this solicitation I consented with the less reluctance, as it would afford the best opportunity of proving unequivocally, to what extent hope might be indulged as to the possibility, from due exertion, of lessening the wretchedness of their lot, and allowing them to become again useful in society. I was influenced also by a desire thus to have the ability of gratifying the promoters of this design, with an impartial account of the management of female as well as male convicts. For this reason only was the ac

« AnteriorContinuar »