Collection W10 - Maconochie : Convict System

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Maconochie : Convict System


  • 1837 (Creation)

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Extent and medium

1 manuscript

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Name of creator


Biographical history

Alexander Maconochie (11 February 1787 – 25 October 1860) was a Scottish naval officer, geographer, and penal reformer.
In 1840, Maconochie became the Governor of Norfolk Island, a prison island where convicts were treated with severe brutality and were seen as lost causes. Upon reaching the island, Maconochie immediately instituted policies that restored dignity to prisoners, achieving remarkable success in prisoner rehabilitation. These policies were well in advance of their time and Maconochie was politically undermined. His ideas would be largely ignored and forgotten, only to be readopted as the basis of modern penal systems over a century later in the mid to late 20th century. In 1836 he sailed to the convict settlement at Hobart in Van Diemen's Land (now Tasmania) as private secretary to the Lieutenant-Governor Sir John Franklin. Here he wrote a report strongly critical of the state of prison discipline. The convict system, being fixated on punishment alone, released back into society crushed, resentful and bitter expirees, in whom the spark of enterprise and hope was dead. Maconochie's report “can be said to mark the peak and incipient decline of transportation to Australia” when it was given to Lord Russell, the Home Secretary and ardent critic of transportation, claims Robert Hughes. Although this report was used by the Molesworth Committee on transportation in 1837-38, the criticism of this work forced Franklin to dismiss him. For more information see

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

Deposited on indefinite loan by the Friends School 1955

Content and structure area

Scope and content

Consists of a copy of Alexander Maconochie's report on convict discipline made by George Washington Walker and sent by him to Margaret Bragg, in a volume titled: "Original Essays on convict discipline by Capt. Alexander Maconochie R.N. 1837 with some letters etc in further illustration of the same subject by James Backhouse and George W. Walker 1837".
Contents include Maconochies's report to Sir John Franklin, further observations, summary of papers addressed to British Government, Dr. Turnbull's objections to changes in convict discipline and observations by James Backhouse and George Washington Walker and index. The volume is in George Washington Walker’s handwriting.
At the front is a note on the origin of the manuscript and its presentation to Friends' School by descendants of Margaret Bragg, Roger Clark and John Bright Clark who visited the School in 1898.

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Open for consultation

Conditions governing reproduction

This material is made available for personal research and study purposes under the University of Tasmania Standard Copyright Licence. For any further use permission should be obtained from the copyright owners. For assistance please contact

When reusing this material, please cite the reference number and provide the following acknowledgement:
“Courtesy of the UTAS Library Special & Rare Collections”

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Dates of creation revision deletion

HE May 2018




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