AGY-2103 | Port Macquarie Penal Settlement

NSW State Archives Collection
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In 1820 Governor Macquarie wrote to England explaining that if many more convicts were transported he would be at a great loss to employ them. He explained that the Government Gangs were sufficiently numerous and 'cannot with due regard to their care and superintendence be much more increased'. Under these circumstances, Macquarie felt that it was necessary to form a new penal settlement. Macquarie favoured the site at Port Macquarie as he had been given a favourable report on the area from the Surveyor General, and its distance from Sydney made it ideal as a second place of punishment for convicts of the worst character (1).

In March 1821 Francis Allman was appointed commandant of the new penal establishment at Port Macquarie (2). The Governor's instructions to Allman informed him that the principle object in establishing a settlement at Port Macquarie was to secure a secondary place of punishment for the worst description of convicts, especially those convicted of crimes after their arrival in the colony (3). He was authorised to try, investigate, and punish all petty crimes and misdemeanours committed within the settlement (4)

By October 1821 there were 92 convicts at Port Macquarie (5). When Captain Rolland succeeded Allman in April 1824 there were 1100 convicts at Port Macquarie (6). Most convicts were employed in government activities divided between government projects or directly for officials under supposed government orders. Convict employment was grouped according to the level of skill and the severity of punishment. Those assigned to hard labour were part of chain gangs, or employed in agricultural work and public works construction (7). Rolland died in 1824 and was succeed by Lieutenant Carmac, who was in turn replaced by Henry Gillman in January 1824. At this time there were 1300 convicts at Port Macquarie. By 1825 the number had increased to 1500 (8).

By 1825 Governor Brisbane felt that Port Macquarie was no longer suitable as a penal settlement due to the ease of escape from the establishment, and he also believed that the area was ready to be opened to free settlers (9).

The effort to close Port Macquarie was taken up by Brisbane’s successor Governor Darling in 1828. Governor Darling informed England that only 530 convicts remained at Port Macquarie, and that that number would decrease further by the expiry of the sentences of convicts who remained at Port Macquarie. Darling estimated that by 1829 there would only be 290 convicts remaining (10). The Governor believed that the opportunity to open Port Macquarie to free settlers should be taken and that the penal establishment should be abolished. (11).

In 1828 the Commissioners of Inquiry at Port Macquarie also recommended that it cease to be a penal settlement as soon as possible. In November 1828 Governor Darling was given the authority to abolish the penal settlement at Port Macquarie and open it up to free settlement (12).

On the 15 August 1830 a proclamation was issued inviting free settlers into the area. (13)

Port Macquarie continued as a convict settlement after it was opened to free settlement, when it was maintained as a centre for invalids, specials, and lunatics through the 1830's and 1840's (14). When the transportation of convicts to NSW ceased in 1840, the military detachment was removed from Port Macquarie in 1847 and the invalids and lunatics were removed to the Liverpool Asylum (15).

Footnotes and References:
(1) HRA 1.10.366
(2) HRA 1.10.480
(3) loc., cit
(4) HRA 1.10.484
(5) HRA 1.10.575
(6) HRA 1.11.649
(8) loc., cit
(9) loc., cit
(10) HRA 1.18.522
(11) loc., cit
(12) HRA 1.14.480
(14) loc., cit
(15) loc., cit

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