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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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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
Authors/Creators:Mickleborough, LC
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

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