Sir John Eardley Eardley – Wilmot was born in
England on 21
February 1783. He was educated at Harrow and
was called to the bar in 1806 and was created a baronet in 1821. He was a
member of the House of Commons for some years and in March 1843, was appointed
lieutenant-governor of Tasmania, and arrived
at Hobart on 17
August. He probably owed his position to the interest he had taken in the
subject of crime. His plea that prisoners under the age of 21 should be
segregated and a special endeavor made to reform them suggests that he was in
advance of his period. Soon after his arrival he came into conflict with one of
the judges by reprieving a prisoner sentenced to be hanged. His justification
was that he would not inflict death for offences not on the records of the
court, and that in this case only robbery had been proved.
He visited various parts of the island and seemed likely to be a popular governor. Many prisoners were arriving, expenses were rising, and the governor was much hampered by instructions received from the colonial office. He endeavored to raise the duties on sugar, tea and other foreign goods, but the opposition from the colonists was great and the new taxes were withdrawn. The colonial office was unable to understand that convict labour could not be made to pay its way, and Wilmot was made responsible for the faults of a system he had no power to amend. He endeavoured to save expenses by reducing salaries of officials, but the chief justice for one denied the power of the council to reduce his salary. Six members of the council objected to the form of the estimates and withdrew from the council which reduced the number present below a quorum, and much public feeling arose against the governor.
In April 1846 Wilmot was recalled. The official statements relating to his recall were of the vaguest character, such as that he had not shown "an active care of the moral interests involved in the system of convict discipline". Privately Gladstone, the new colonial secretary, informed Wilmot that he was not recalled for any errors in his official character, but because rumours reflecting on his moral character had reached the colonial office. There was no truth in these charges nor was there time for Wilmot to receive any reply to his indignant denials, and requests for the names of his accusers.
He died in
Hobart on 3 February 1847 worn-out by worry
and anxiety. Wilmot was a victim of his period. He endeavored in every way to
carry out his duties, but the time was ripe for responsible government and he incurred
much ill-deserved widespread hatred for acts that were part of the system he
was endeavoring to administer. The colonial office had little conception of the
real difficulties of the convict situation in the colonies and Gladstone's ill-judged action was the final
blow. His grave site and memorial can be viewed in St David's Park in Hobart.
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Australian Dictionary of Biography – Sir John Eardley Eardley - Wilmot
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