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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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