THE PENTONVILLIANS


Pentonville, Millbank and Parkhurst were the prisons from which the exiles came. Their arrival met with a mixed reception, but this article from the Port Phillip Patriot of 21 November 1844 left its readers in no doubt as to where it stood on the matter:

REVIVAL of TRANSPORTATION It will scarcely be believed - and yet such is the fact - that transportation to New South Wales is revived, and that Australia Felix, hitherto uncontaminated, save from its contiguity to the penal settlement, is the chosen field for this new experiment in convict colonization.

The "Royal George" which arrived on Saturday last brought us a bunch of seven-years men from the New Model Prison, Pentonville, who, after two years durance in that establishment, have been forwarded here at the expense of the British Government, and are, it seems, to be landed among us under the guise of immigrants of the first water! There is some understanding between the Government and the convicts that the latter are not to return to Britain until after the expiry of five years, but beyond this agreement which, we presume, is upon honour, there is not the slightest restraint upon these worthies, nor the slightest distinction drawn between honest men who have come here to work their way in the world, and these 'True patriots all, for let it be understood - They left their country for their country's good'.

This is a resumption of transportation with a vengance, not the old 'white slave' system our friend Councillor Fawkner talks about, but a regular letting loose upon us of the felonry of the mother-country, without check or hindrance. It is a resumption of the transportation system, without its discipline, with all its evils, and none of its benefits. We are to have British convicts like the Vandiemonians, but we are not like them to have the balancing advantage of a British Government expenditure of half-a-million annually. We are in short to have cargoes of felons palmed off upon us as genuine immigrants.

It takes a great deal to rouse the people of Port Phillip to a sense of what is due to themselves, and this Lord Stanley knew or he never would have dared to be concerned in such an outrage. But even the worm will turn when it is trodden upon, and there are some occasions when the still more cold-blooded money-seeker will endure no longer, and this is one of these. A strong feeling of indignation has been aroused throughout all classes of the community, and a warm remonstrance to the Legislative Council will, no doubt, be the result. We confess we should scarcely be inclined to wait for such a constitutional mode of redress. There exists no law to justify one country pouring out the sweepings of its jails upon another, and when it is attempted we should not be inclined to look to the tedious and expensive delays of the law for a remedy. We should duck the scoundrels if they attempted to set foot in a country of freemen, and send them back as they came to the greater scoundrels who dared send them hither. A public meeting must be held, and that forthwith, for a matter of this kind will brook no delay.

But for all this indignation, nothing was done and in fact about 1,700 of these exiles were eventually landed. Most were sent up country to work as pastoral labourers. Pat Larsen continues her story:

It was while I was researching my great-grandfather, William Brazure Bennett, that I came across the 'exiles'. ". . . exile - transporting of prisoners after prison discipline at home." Surely two years silent and solitary 'meditation' on their past sins and reading the Bible, religious tracts and sermons, would produce a new man, even if in time it appeared that mental deterioration was as likely as reform. Pentonville was 'the portal to a penal colony' when that great institution was opened in 1842; if the prisoner there was 'moulded for a better frame of mind' he would be sent out with a ticket-of-leave.

In the 1840's there was a great scarcity of cheap manual labour in Australia and it was hoped that employers would be happy to have convicts/exiles sent regularly . . . the colonists refused to believe 'exiles' were not just convicts under another name. After the cessation of transportation to New South Wales in 1840, Britain could not send convicts. Between 1844 and 1849, 1751 exiles arrived in Australia. They were all tradesmen or had learned a trade in prison. Altogether nine ships arrived, the "Royal George" being the first in 1844 with 21 men and the "Eden" the last in 1849 with 203.

The warrent covering the transport of the exiles from Pentonville shows that 21 'immigrants' were sent to the Colony by the Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners, under the care of W. H. Yaldwin, Esq., to whom they were delivered from Pentonville and who arrived with them at Port Phillip aboard the "Royal George" on 16 November 1844. William Bennett was amongst this group.

The pilot group was merely the result of a fortuitous arrangement with W. H. Yaldwin, squatter of Barfold run near Mount Macedon, who, on hearing that the exile scheme was afoot, undertook to bring the men with him on his return. The arrival of these 'immigrants' caused a great deal of discussion . . . an edition of the Geelong Advertiser carried the following paragraph:

It was currently reported in Melbourne that several of the steerage passengers by the "Royal George" were probationers from the Pentonville penitentiary, assigned to one of the cabin passengers. At present we feen constrained to with hold our belief, although the thing is not improbable. The home Government has lately indulged in some very strange vagaries in experimenting upon the science of secondary punishments.

Contributed by Patricia Mary Larsen ( PPPG Member No. 1135 )


List of Newsletter Articles  |  Back to Home Page