Eardley-Wilmot as governor

During Eardley-Wilmot’s tenure as governor, the colony experienced further depression and he tried to reduce the expense of the public service without seriously affecting the police.[1] He courted Stanley’s anger by intimating that the colony would require some help with police costs in future to deal with the large influx of convicts from Britain, NSW and other British colonies. Police numbers would increase as prisoners graduated from punishment gangs to become probationers, ticket of leave men and conditional pardon men. This freedom would provide greater opportunities ‘to indulge in vice and to commit crime, with little or no means of Employment’.[2] While under punishment, they were a charge of the British government, but when free on licence they became an expense of the colony, increasing the cost of the police and courts. These developments called for an increase not decrease in police numbers and improvement in the means of ‘surveillance and control’.[3] Police expenditure had to be further increased to meet the growth of bushranging.[4]

File:John Eardley Wilmot.jpg

Photograph of Sir John Eardley-Wilmot

Colonists became increasingly angered by Stanley’s refusal to help. The Legislative Council rejected the imposition of new taxes in the Highway and Lighting and Drainage Bills until the British Government paid for the police.[5] A placard supporting the rejection exhibited ‘an inflammatory tendency, if not directly leading to riot and violence’, Eardley-Wilmot informed the Colonial Office but Stanley was unmoved merely expressing dissatisfaction with the growing budget deficit and warned against future excess.[6] Opposition grew. The first public petition pleading for justice from the Colonial Office was sent to England in late 1845.[7] On 1 November 1845 six non-official members of the Legislative Council, who became known as the Patriotic Six – Swanston, Dry, Kermode, Gregson, Kerr, and Fenton – resigned their seats rather than vote for the police estimates.[8] Eardley-Wilmot regarded this as an ‘improper and unconstitutional’ act disrupting all public business. The disaffected members should have prepared their own Estimates and he would have sent them with his for decision by the Colonial Office.

Eardley-Wilmot’s representations had some effect and on 18 July 1845 Lord Stanley, speaking during the second reading of the Waste Lands Amendment Bill, admitted that Britain had financially mistreated VDL by forcing it to bear a large sum for police and gaols.[9] The Bill transferred to the British Government the meagre proceeds of land sales and relieved VDL of police and gaol costs. Not long afterwards, the new Secretary of State William Gladstone provided further details. After discussions with the Treasury, the British Government agreed to pay two-thirds of the current police costs of £32,923 5s 2d or £24,000 per annum: in return, his government would assume control of the Land Fund and expected closer fiscal control.[10] Gladstone hoped this decision would be seen by the non-official members of the Legislative Council in ‘a Spirit of Liberal Justice’ towards VDL and would end ‘a controversy which could not be continued without serious injury to the interests of the Colony’. Eardley-Wilmot’s critics did not allow him to claim the credit for Gladstone’s concession. The Hobart Town Advertiser saw it as ‘the first instalment of our rights’, which owed little to the Governor’s efforts.[11] The Courier thought the petition from the people of VDL was the crucial factor because it ‘roused equity from its slumber’.[12] Although the problem of financing police costs has been resolved, Eardley-Wilmot was dismissed later in 1846.[13]

[1] CO 280/167, Eardley-Wilmot to Stanley, 9 February 1844.

[2] CO 280/179.

[3] CO 280/171, Eardley-Wilmot to Stanley, 26 August 1844.

[4] CO 280/184, Eardley-Wilmot to Stanley, 25 September 1845.

[5] CO 280/184, Eardley-Wilmot to Stanley, 26 August 1845.

[6] CO 280/184, Colonial Office to Eardley-Wilmot, 20 April 1846.

[7] Hobart Town Advertiser, 1 August 1845.

[8] CO 280/185, Eardley-Wilmot to Stanley, 5 November 1845.

[9] Colonial Times, 11 November 1845

[10] AOT GO1/61, p. 211, D.67, Gladstone to Eardley-Wilmot, 14 March 1846; AOT GO 33/55, p. 1332, D.124, Eardley-Wilmot to Gladstone, 24 August 1846.

[11] Hobart Town Advertiser, 7 August 1846

[12] Hobart Town Courier, 12 August 1846

[13] On this see, Fitzpatrick, Kathleen, ‘Mr Gladstone and the Governor: The Recall of Sir John Eardley-Wilmot from Van Diemen’s Land, 1846’, Historical Studies: Australia & New Zealand, Vol. 1, (1940), pp. 31-45 and Gilchrist, Catie, ‘“The Victim of his own Temerity”? Silence, Scandal and the Recall of Sir John Eardley-Wilmot’, Journal of Australian Studies, Vol. 84, (2005), pp. 151-161, 250-254.

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