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Victim of an ‘extraordinary conspiracy’? : Sir John Eardley Eardley-Wilmot Lieutenant-Governor of Van Diemen's Land 1843–46


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Mickleborough, LC 2011 , 'Victim of an ‘extraordinary conspiracy’? : Sir John Eardley Eardley-Wilmot Lieutenant-Governor of Van Diemen's Land 1843–46', PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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This study examines the career of Sir John Eardley Eardley-Wilmot MP and Chairman of the Quarter Sessions, and his 1843 appointment as Lieutenant-Governor of Van Diemen’s Land by Secretary of State Lord Stanley, despite Stanley’s claim three months earlier, that Eardley- Wilmot was a ‘muddle brained blockhead’. This comprehensive study first re-evaluates Eardley-Wilmot’s extensive public career in Britain (which has been much neglected by Australian historians), especially his contribution to the reform of juvenile crime and the slavery controversy. Secondly, it explains his role and importance in the development of the probation system of convict management in the colony.
Significantly, in 1846 Sir James Stephen admitted it was the British Government’s ‘illadvised’ and ‘non-considered pledge’ to abandon transportation to New South Wales in 1840, and to throw the ‘whole current’ of convicts into Van Diemen’s Land, which caused the colony’s constitutional crises in which private members of the Legislative Council expressed their hostility and obstructed financial measures. Coinciding with the cessation of transportation to New South Wales, Britain replaced the assignment of convicts with the probation system and Eardley-Wilmot was required to place the annual arrival of between 4,000 and 5,000 convicts into probation gangs and stations. The expenses and demands of probation also impacted on the female houses of correction, hiring depots, orphan schools and Point Puer.
This thesis provides a study of the British Empire’s organisation as the system of convict administration and transportation changed, and supports Eardley-Wilmot’s claim that he did not receive adequate Colonial Office support and was treated unfairly. It also reveals he was appointed, not only because of patronage and experience, but because he antagonised Stanley and Sir Robert Peel over his determination to end British slavery. Also challenged is William Ewart Gladstone’s claim that Eardley-Wilmot failed to report problems with the convict system and incidences of ‘unnatural’ crime, and discusses information supplied to Gladstone which was influential in his decision to send both a public despatch and a ‘Secret’ letter advising Eardley-Wilmot of his dismissal.
Eardley-Wilmot died in February 1847, eight days after the arrival of his successor, Sir William Denison, and on 3 June when news of his death reached England, his dismissal received further prominence. The matter was raised in the House of Commons and a vigorous and powerful debate exonerated him from the ‘cowardly and malicious charges’, and was ‘ample proof’ of the ‘moral assassination of a good and worthy gentleman’.

Item Type: Thesis - PhD
Authors/Creators:Mickleborough, LC
Keywords: Eardley-Wilmot, Van Diemen's Land, probation, convicts, anti-slavery, royal society of VDL, patriotic six
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Copyright © 2011 the author

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