Penal Settlements, Constitutional Reform
British treasury, Tasman Peninsula, Derwent River, George Arthur, new colony
Macquarie’s government was expensive, and his policy of encouraging emancipists did little to deter British criminals or stem the flow of convicts. In 1819 the British government sent Judge John Thomas Bigge to inspect and report on Macquarie’s administration. He recommended cuts in expenditures and an increase in the severity of punishment. The effect of his report was to shift the balance of power from the autocratic governor toward the wealthy settlers, whose enterprises were sustained by the well-disciplined convict labor and lifted the burden of support from the British treasury. Bigge’s reports also brought a change in the constitution of New South Wales. An act of parliament in 1823 curbed the autocratic power of the governor by the appointment of a nominated legislative council.
In 1825 the island settlement of Van Diemen’s Land, until then part of New South Wales, became a separate colony. The island had first been settled in 1803 at Hobart on the Derwent River, partly out of fear that France might claim it. The lieutenant governor of the new colony, George Arthur, was faithful to Bigge’s policies. He strongly supported the continuation of convict transportation, and in the early 1830s he established a bleak penal settlement at the foot of the Tasman Peninsula. Named Port Arthur, it became the most notorious of Australia’s penal settlements.
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