A cargo of wretches was sent out to New South Wales, and out of these several, after landing there, committed fresh crimes, and were therefore deported to Norfolk Island. It is not left altogether to our imagination to picture what was the state of things which began to prevail in this penal settlement of a penal settlement. The indefatigable philanthropists of Great Britain and Ireland began to rouse public opinion at home to some sense of the horrors of the whole system. By this time we had got a reformed House of Commons and something like a system of popular representation. The House of Commons in 1837 accepted a motion for the appointment of a committee to consider our whole system of transportation. We find some illustrious and many eminent names on the list of that committee; Sir Robert Peel and Lord John Russell were among its members, and so were Mr. Charles Buller, Sir William Molesworth, one of the small party known as philosophical Radicals, and Lord Howick, who afterwards succeeded his father as Earl Grey. The committee made a report, which proved to be one of the most interesting and at the same time one of the most startling and shocking reports ever submitted to the House of Commons. If it had been generally read at the time it must have aroused public feeling to such an extent as to make an instant reform of the whole transportation system unavoidable. But the public in general do not read Blue Books, as they are called, and it took much energy and patience on the part of philanthropic reformers before they could succeed in arousing public attention to the horrors of Norfolk Island and of New South Wales. In Norfolk Island the population was almost altogether composed of the prison officials and of those outcasts of the outcasts, the transported criminals who were found unendurable in New South Wales and were sent to the deeper depths of the settlement in Norfolk Island. Order there was only maintained by the lash; the men worked in chains; they were roused from their sleep at daylight, sent to the fields to work in their fetters, and driven back to their dens at night. One can easily understand what utter brutes, brutish indeed far below what we usually call the brute creation, these men soon became under such a system. One of these unfortunate wretches said to a magistrate before whom he was brought for further punishment, "Let a man be what he will when he comes out here, he is soon as bad as all the rest; the heart of a man is taken from him and there is given to him instead the heart of a beast." It was a life of perpetual profligacy, perpetual quarrelling, and perpetual flogging. The gaolers who had these wretched creatures in charge soon ceased to regard them as human beings, and treated them as if they were brutes of the most senseless order, amenable to no discipline but that of the lash.
This, of course, was the worst illustration of the whole system; but in New South Wales, although the condition of things was modified by the fact that the convicts were living among a civilised population, yet the effect of their presence created a social horror such as civilisation had hardly seen before. When the convicts arrived in the colony they were subjected to a certain period of penal discipline, and then were turned loose among the civilised and respectable inhabitants. Each convict, after he had served an appointed time, received what may be called a ticket-of-leave, which allowed him to obtain domestic employment among the settlers. The convicts were free to hire themselves out as workers or domestic servants to the colonists; and to maintain themselves by their wages. A settler who wanted agricultural labourers or artisans or domestic servants, had only to apply to the local authorities in order to obtain the services of whatever number of convicts he desired to have. Women convicts as well as men were disposed of in this way. Therefore in such a town as Sydney, which, although not the great city it is now, was even then a busy and a thriving place, convict labour was a regular social institution. Men and women were going about every day in the ordinary life of Sydney, working in trades, in business, in gardens, on the fields, and in indoor domestic service, to all appearance like the working class of any European city; but there was a ghastly difference. To begin with, the workers were criminals who did not as a rule even profess to be reclaimed; and in the next instance they had to be kept in something like order just as slaves were on the plantations of Georgia or Tennessee in the old days, by the frequent application of the lash.
The whole system was, in fact, one of slavery in a new form. The local magistrates had the power, on the complaint of any master or mistress, to order a man to be flogged with as many as fifty lashes, for any disobedience of orders or any breach of discipline. Men were flogged for threatening a fellow-worker, for neglecting to groom a horse, for failing to keep a carriage or a cart clean or in proper order, for any act that showed an insubordinate spirit, or even a negligence in attending to their duties. The magistrates in most cases, if not in all, would naturally be inclined to sympathise with masters and mistresses; and, indeed, one can imagine a magistrate at that time asking himself what else was to be done but to terrify such creatures into obedience by the liberal use of the lash, since the Mother Country had thought fit to send their cargoes of convicts over to the colony. Therefore, in point of fact, the masters and mistresses could have their convicts flogged as often as they thought fit. The only restriction put on any magistrate was the rule that he must not adjudicate in his own case - that is, he must not sit on the bench and try his own convict labourer and order the labourer to be flogged. But it need hardly be said that no magistrate found the slightest difficulty, when he made a complaint against a convict servant, in getting some other magistrate to decide the case in his favour, and order the accused man to be flogged. Many Englishwomen, whose husbands had been convicted and transported to New South Wales, went out and settled in the colony; set up some business or some farming work of their own, and had their husbands assigned to them as farm labourers or as domestic servants. It would seem an incredible story, but it is told in the cold black and white of the Parliamentary Report, that in some instances, not a few, the wives, possibly smarting under the sense of old injuries, took advantage of the opportunity to have their husbands flogged. The women convicts in the colony almost all went utterly and hopelessly to the bad; they probably reasoned, if they argued the matter out at all, that society offered them no chance of reclamation, that they could not be much worse off than they were, and that they could do nothing better than to get hold of a little money by theft or in other ways, and so supply themselves with tea and sugar - great luxuries at that time in the Australian settlements - or with intoxicating drinks.