Monday, 31 December 2012

Jericho Probation Station

The convict system had two main advantages in that it emptied the British prisons of criminals and that it was provided a low cost system of labour for the establishment of the colony of Van Diemans' Land. It was the means by which roads, houses, bridges and all law enforcement buildings such as prisons, courthouses and military barracks were built. It was an authoritarian system where punishments such as flogging, solitary confinement and hard labour were common. For the first ten or so years of settlement there were far more convicts than free settlers so that 'trusties' and convicts holding 'tickets' cleared land and established farms of between four and forty hectares. Many of these people had a good deal of freedom and were criticised by the free settlers for being ' drunk and immoral.' Convict skilled tradesmen and artisans were in great demand as were those with literacy skills who acted as clerks and bookkeepers. Convicts were assigned to settlers who often treated them as virtual slaves. There was no accountability on the part of settlers as the government was relieved of the burden of housing, feeding and general management .

Isolated as Tasmania was, the penal system was the subject of much debate in England with the followers of philosopher Jeremy Bentham urging reform. It was said that ' the condition of the transported convict is a lottery' and was 'slave labour.'

However, it wasn't until the 1830s that the system of Probation established nineteen Stations throughout the state. In the Southern Midlands region, building was commenced on a Probation Station at Jerusalem ( later Colebrook) in 1834. The Jericho Probation Station was established in 1841 and was constructed to house the 200 convicts who were used to construct the road linking Hobart and Launceston.

The Probation system was divided into three stages with
Stage 1) convicts serving 2 -4 years either at Port Arthur, Norfolk Island, Macquarie Harbour etc. The first stage could also be served in England on the 'hulks' or in a prison.
Stage 2) would be served in public works with wages of tea and sugar.
Stage 3) meant that convicts could virtually work like free men at fencing, stock keeping and cultivating land.

Settlers and pastoralists would be required to pay the sixpence- ninepence per day for their labour.
Following the three stages of probation the convict could receive a ticket of leave, a ‘probationary and revocable pardon’ only valid in the colony in which it was granted. Finally, the convict could receive a conditional or absolute pardon. Each convict had to go through each stage and could be reverted back a stage for bad behaviour.But the Probation system did not work. The settlers and pastoralists were reluctant to pay for labour which they had previously obtained freely, many refusing outright to have anything to do with the system. Stations soon became choked with convicts waiting to be employed. Nor could the colony afford wages for public works due to lack of capital and the refusal of the Colonial Office in England to increase money for the colony.. The convicts were soon seen to be 'out of control' with escapes, fights and 'unnatural crimes.' Charles La Trobe said the Probation system . . . (had been ) a fatal experiment . . . and the sooner it is put an end to the better, for the credit of the Nation and of humanity.'

The probation system was implemented in 1839 as an experiment but continued as a major phase of convict management until after transportation to Van Diemen’s Land ceased in 1853. It was a uniquely Australian approach to convict management, intended to provide punishment to ensure that transportation remained a deterrent, but also to provide opportunities for reform and betterment. Probation stations existed only in Van Diemen’s Land, although Norfolk island also participated in the probation system.
These walls are all that remain of the station which was built to house convicts under the probation system in 1841. It was in operation until late in 1845 when the buildings were taken over by the roads department and used to house convicts working on the main road. The buildings were closed in 1848. The superintendent lived in a stone house a 1/4 mile to the north.