Clergy for Convicts: Religion, Emigration and the Convict Probation System in Van Diemen's Land, 1842-1853

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter in a book


From 1788 to 1874 the British government transported over 180,000 prisoners from Great Britain and Ireland to penal colonies in Australia, Bermuda and Gibraltar. While their main function was to be part of the unfree labour force that 'opened up' the colonies to British settlers, the moral welfare of the prisoners was not entirely neglected. To implement an ambitious programme of reform, the prisoners were supplied with chaplains and religious instructors, tracts, Bibles and chapels to moralise them into submission. This chapter examines just one group of religious emigrants, namely the Protestant and Catholic clergy who were recruited to support Lord Stanley's 'probation system'. The Probation scheme was in operation from 1842 until the abandonment of Transportation in VDL in 1853 but continued in other forms in Western Australia. This paper examines the religious aspects of Lord Stanley’s probation system and its impact on the anti-Transportation campaign. It begins by examining regulations devised for Pentonville, which put the probation system in place and made it the ‘portal to the penal colonies’. It considers how the religious provisions of the probation system were staffed and implemented by the new class of religious prison officers, many of whom were pious laymen attracted to the reformative aspects of the system (and the relatively generous salaries). It asks how the religious professionals recruited to the convict service viewed their role and to what extent they were able to make careers and permanent homes for themselves and their families after the Probation system terminated.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationColonial and Wartime Migration, 1815-1918
EditorsMarie-José Ruiz
PublisherAnthem Press
Publication statusSubmitted - 2020

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