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Colonel William Sorell Lieutenant-Governor of Van Diemen’s land 1817–1824: an examination of his convict system and establishment of free settlement

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Mickleborough, LC (2002) Colonel William Sorell Lieutenant-Governor of Van Diemen’s land 1817–1824: an examination of his convict system and establishment of free settlement. Research Master thesis, University of Tasmania.

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Abstract

Set against the background of a British penal colony established for less than fifteen years, this thesis examines Van Diemen’s Land during the administration of Colonel William Sorell who was appointed Lieutenant-Governor in 1817 to replace Thomas Davey. The early history of Van Diemen’s Land has been dominated by the extensively documented rule of George Arthur who succeeded Sorell in 1824, and whose vast and occasionally self-promoting correspondence tended to diminish the achievements of his predecessor. The main features of Sorell’s administration, ranging from his immediate need to restore order due to a bushranging crisis, his sponsorship of a vigorous expanding pastoral economy as well as the impact of that economy on a declining Aboriginal population, and what steps Sorell took to ameliorate that impact, or to advise the British Government of the consequences of the impact, will also be examined. The major purpose is to investigate Sorell’s convict administration system, and it will be demonstrated that he established a system of convict control with an emphasis on incentive as well as punishment, on which Arthur was later able to base his system of ‘Black Books’. Sorell employed convicts in public works and successfully facilitated the assignment of other convicts to settlers. As a result of his resourcefulness and organisation, he established Macquarie Harbour as a place of secondary punishment. An influx of convicts followed the first direct shipment from Britain to the colony in 1818, and the same year free settlers also started arriving in large numbers, mainly due to a change of policy in Britain. Sorell’s encouragement of entrepreneurialism, and his vigorous economic leadership meant the colony began to compete economically with New South Wales. As a result of a concern that transportation might no longer be an effective object of apprehension in Britain nor the means of reformation in the settlement, a commissioner, John T. Bigge, was sent by the Colonial Office to enquire into the situation in New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land. Bigge was also directed to enquire into Sorell’s private life, as shortly after Sorell’s arrival it was disclosed that it was not his own wife with whom he was living. Sorell was permitted to continue in his position for almost seven years following the disclosure, possibly indicating satisfaction with his leadership. However, as morals and the balance of free settlers in the colony began to change, it prompted the essential recommendation of Bigge for Sorell’s recall, which was finally sent to him in 1823. Sorell received no further imperial appointment. The contradictory circumstances of this recall, set against a background of administrative success, has, perhaps, limited historical appreciation of the extent of Sorell’s achievement of bequeathing an effective convict system and strong economy to his successor.

Item Type: Thesis (Research Master)
Keywords: convicts; Van Diemen's Land; Sorell; free settlers; assignment
Additional Information: An edited version of this thesis was published in 2004 by Blubber Head Press of Hobart, see publisher's website above
Date Deposited: 13 Sep 2011 02:12
Last Modified: 15 Sep 2012 01:21
URI: http://eprints.utas.edu.au/id/eprint/11816
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