Punishment and colonial society: a history of penal change in Queensland, 1859-1930s

McGuire, John. (2002). Punishment and colonial society: a history of penal change in Queensland, 1859-1930s PhD Thesis, School of History, Philosophy, Religion & Classics, The University of Queensland.

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Author McGuire, John.
Thesis Title Punishment and colonial society: a history of penal change in Queensland, 1859-1930s
School, Centre or Institute School of History, Philosophy, Religion & Classics
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2002
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Evans, Raymond
Total pages 446
Language eng
Subjects 390305 Law and Society
430101 History - Australian
180110 Criminal Law and Procedure
Formatted abstract
This thesis has two main goals: to present a history of penal change in Queensland from 1859 to the 1930s, and to contextualise this history in terms of broader issues in the history and sociology of punishment. It is argued that scant attention has been paid to investigating the existence of a distinctive colonial penality in the historiography of colonial penal systems, and that it may be useful for future studies to be oriented in this direction. The present study commences this project by seeking to determine the distinctive features of punishment in the context of colonial Queensland.

The introduction argues for a synthetic approach to the theory of punishment in colonial settler societies, and surveys the major theoretical traditions that have informed the research undertaken in the preparation of the thesis. This is followed by a comprehensive review of the historiography of punishment, and other criminal justice, studies in the Australian context. The present study is distinguished within this historiography as one of the first to offer a theoretically informed history of a colonial penal system following the era of transportation.

Chapter one is the first of two chronological chapters. It is concerned with the period from 1859 to 1890, in which the colonial state sought to cast aside its convict origins and replicate the policies and practices of mid-Victorian penality. It was in this period that the Queensland authorities established an enduring principle of colonial penality: any process of replication would occur within certain limits and imperial policy would be implemented only insofar as it was consistent with the aspirations of the colonial state. Much of this chapter is concerned with the development of Queensland's penal system as it struggled to keep pace with a rapidly expanding colony. In its effort to reform a penal apparatus that was becoming increasingly unable to cope with the dramatic population growth and associated increase in committals to prison, the colonial state continued to demonstrate its commitment to classical penality. At a time when other jurisdictions were gradually reorienting their systems of punishment towards rehabilitation and the individual treatment of offenders, the Queensland authorities remained preoccupied with the fundamentals of classical penology, such as how to establish uniformity in punishment regimes and to what extent should punishment be deterrent or reformative.

Chapter two extends the chronological analysis beyond 1890 and into the 1930s. It begins with an examination of the outcomes of the movement for penal reform in the late 1880s and early 1890s. This is followed by an examination of the changes that took place in the penal realm around the tum of the century, both internationally and in Australia, and how these came to impact upon penal policy and practice in the Queensland context. It is argued that the various ideological and structural changes in the penal realm in this period were essentially the result of a process of pragmatic borrowing from other jurisdictions, a process that was continually subject to the desire of the colonial state to minimise expenditure on its penal system. The result was a slow transition from classical penality to a new paradigm in which the individual characteristics of offenders became the primary concern of Queensland's penal administrators.

Chapter three is the first of five chapters devoted to particular themes in the history of punishment in Queensland. It is focussed on the actual experience of imprisonment in the period under analysis, and is organised around a number of central themes which provide an insight into the material conditions and interpersonal relationships that characterised life in Queensland's penal institutions. The chapter argues that prisoners were not simply 'docile bodies' but were consequential actors in the daily life of Queensland's penal institutions, and that any comprehensive understanding of penal history must take into consideration the largely hidden role of the inmates themselves in negotiating the structures and processes of institutional life.

Chapter four focuses attention on the specific histories of the women and youths who were subject to distinctive institutional treatment in Queensland's penal sphere. The chapter begins with an examination of the development of the reformatory and industrial school movement in Queensland, highlighting the specific institutional strategies devised to accommodate the particular requirements of offending boys and girls. This is followed by an analysis of the, specific strategies deployed in the process of punishing women offenders, and the alternative experiences of female inmates in the penal system. Queensland may well have followed international precedent by establishing discrete institutions for the punishment and rehabilitation of juvenile and adult female offenders. Yet the implementation of this policy of separation did little to distinguish it as a model jurisdiction in the institutional treatment of female and young offenders. Administrative neglect was a recurring feature, and the conditions of confinement continued to suffer as a result.

Chapter five examines the decline in use and gradual privatisation of both corporal and capital punishment in Queensland. It is argued that the recent trend to embrace the techniques of cultural history at the expense of a political analysis is inadequate to explain the process of transition from public to private physical punishments. In colonial Queensland, the modes of physical punishment were modified to address the priorities of punishing two distinct categories of offenders, both of which were perceived as representing particular threats to colonial social order. Firstly, colonial race relations motivated a change in the execution procedure for non-European offenders convicted of capital offences during the mid-century transition from public to private executions. Secondly, the use of corporal punishment was modified in the case of juvenile delinquents convicted of violent offences. The chapter concludes with an examination of the final stage in the movement toward the complete privatisation of physical punishments.

Chapter six examines the distinctive penal practices employed for the punishment of Aboriginal and Islander offenders. It is demonstrated that a desire on the part of the authorities to identify an appropriate punishment for this class of offender resulted in the development of some informal penal strategies. The era of protection brought with it the establishment of a more rationalised and bureaucratic system for the control of the Aboriginal population. As part of this process, confinement on island reserves was substituted for imprisonment in the case of many convicted and time-expired Aborigines, establishing a lasting association between the punishment of Aborigines and the persistent regulation of their lives on reserves and missions.

Chapter seven examines the relationship between the fiscal concerns of the state and penal change. It is argued that it was essentially economic considerations which were most influential in determining the contours of penal change in Queensland. By focusing on the history of 8t Helena Penal Establishment in particular, it becomes clear that in Queensland economic factors should retain a high degree of primacy in any explanation of penal change. The authorities were perpetually constrained by the tension between three competing goals of imprisonment - economy, punishment and reform - yet it was the desire for economy, or a self-supporting penal system, that remained the dominant force.

The thesis concludes with a brief discussion of the distinctive features of penality in colonial Queensland.
Keyword Penal colonies -- Queensland.
Additional Notes The author has given permission for this thesis to be made open access.

Document type: Thesis
Collection: UQ Theses (RHD) - UQ staff and students only
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Created: Wed, 26 May 2010, 12:01:16 EST by Muhammad Noman Ali on behalf of Social Sciences and Humanities Library Service