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The Felonry of New South Wales

Date: 1837
Overall: 212 x 135 x 26 mm
Medium: Ink on paper, cloth and leather bound, gilt edges
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Classification:Books and journals
Object Name: Book
Object No: 00047681
Place Manufactured:London

User Terms

    This book written by former magistrate and colonial landholder James Mudie explores the convict system in New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land in the early 19th century. In the book Mudie claims that changing government attitudes to convict transportation and the criminal justice system would eventually lead to a total breakdown of law and order in the colonies. Published in England, the book caused a sensation in the colonies with its passionate denouncement of the NSW Governor in 1837 Sir Richard Bourke.

    The book features a foldout lithograph scale map of Sydney in 1836, including public and private buildings, as well as proposed sites and street developments.
    SignificanceIn the 1830s the colony of New South Wales was split into several political and social classes - non-convict wealthy landholder, free settlers and former convicts - who constantly vied for power and influence with the British and colonial government. Mudie's The Felonry of New South Wales is a bitter attack on the rising power of the former convicts, and provides a historical snapshot on the changing attitudes towards convict transportation in the 19th century.
    HistoryAlthough the principal reasons behind the European occupation of Australia and the establishment of a settlement at Sydney Cove in 1788 were primarily of a militaristic and penal nature the colony quickly became popular with people seeking land and opportunity away from Europe and the Americas.

    Opportunities to prosper were also available to some of the colonies' former convicts and in New South Wales a complex class system developed between the non-convict wealthy landholders, free settlers, former convicts and convicts. As the system developed and changed over time vocal members of the various classes fought for political, social and financial status - sometimes supporting and sometimes in direct opposition to the Colonial and British government.

    James Mudie (1779 - 1852) was the son of John and Margaret Mudie of Forfarshire, Scotland. In 1799 he was appointed Second Lieutenant in the 69th Company of Marines in Portsmouth and served in the English Channel and on board HMS LEDA. In 1805 he was promoted First Lieutenant and sent to Scotland where he got into significant trouble over his accounts and was subsequently dismissed from the Marines in August 1810.

    Unemployed and short of money Mudie persuaded a bookselling company to join him in making commemorative medals of events and heroes in the Napoleonic wars. Through lack of support and alleged misdealing over 10,000 pounds were lost in the venture and Mudie and the bookselling firm were forced into insolvency. Cashiered out of the Marines and now an insolvent, thanks to the benevolence of Sir Charles Forbes and the Colonial Office, Mudie with his three daughters and a step-daughter were given free passages to New South Wales arriving in Sydney in July 1822.

    Mudie was given a land grant of 2,150 acres (870 ha) on the Hunter River, which he named Castle Forbes after his patron. He also began a ladies' school at Parramatta; when it failed to win support he moved with his family to Castle Forbes. In 1825 Mudie expanded his estate by an additional 2,000 acres (809 ha) and with the assistance of many assigned convicts and the services of his future son-in-law John Larnach, turned the estate into one of the finest agricultural establishments in New South Wales producing large quantities of wool, wheat and meat.

    Mudie was a harsh disciplinarian and treated his assigned servants and convicts severely under exacting rules. He was appointed a Justice of the Peace under Governor Ralph Darling in 1830 and served on the bench at Maitland where he quickly gained a reputation for his excessive use of flogging for minor offences and his outspoken views on the convict transportation system.

    With the arrival of Governor Sir Richard Bourke in the colony in December 1831, Mudie, along with other non-convict wealthy land holders campaigned with the conservative newspaper The Sydney Herald against what they saw as Bourke's weak stance on crime and punishment. Governor Bourke had proposed the introduction of trial by jury, legislation restricting the power of local magistrates to inflict capital punishment, and believed in Catholic emancipation and planned for non-denominational public schools.

    In 1833 during Mudie's absence from his estate six convict servants mutinied, robbed the store, attempted to kill Larnach and then took to the bush before being captured and brought to Sydney for trial. During the trial the convicts stated that they were forced to mutiny because of the harsh living conditions on Mudie's estate and the brutality of Larnach and Mudie towards the convicts. All six convicts were found guilty, three were executed in Sydney, two at Castle Forbes and one was sent to Norfolk Island.

    Governor Bourke appointed Solicitor-General John Hubert Plunkett and Police Superintendent Frederick Hely to investigate charges made at the trial against Mudie and Larnach for degrading treatment of their assigned servants. Their report considered Larnach 'imprudent' in striking one convict and 'reprehensible' in bringing another before the local bench twice on the same day for the same offence so as to obtain two sentences of fifty lashes each but Mudie and Larnach were subsequently exonerated of ill treatment although heavily criticised for the quality and quantity of the rations they supplied to convicts.

    Angered by the report, Mudie and Larnach prepared a joint protest and asked Bourke to send it to London. The Governor refused because of its improper form, so in September 1834 with help from another of the colony's conservative, pro-exclusive newspapers The Monitor, they printed 'Vindication of James Mudie and John Larnach, from Certain Reflections … Relative to the Treatment by Them of Their Convict Servants'. They sent this pamphlet direct to the Colonial Office in London but the Governor's action was fully upheld.

    At the same time William Watt, a ticket-of-leave convict employed as a sub-editor in The Sydney Gazette, attacked Mudie for his cruelty to convicts in a pamphlet 'Party Politics Exposed', signed by 'Humanitas'. Mudie in turn charged Watt with serious misdemeanours, and also attacked Roger Therry for defending Watt and the six convict mutineers at court and Bourke for showing favouritism to convicts.

    In 1834 Mudie and his fellow exclusives sent a further petition to London (The Hole and Corner Petition) criticising Bourke. Later that year the mistatements and inhuman attitudes of the petitioners were denounced in a pamphlet by 'An Unpaid Magistrate', thought to be Roger Therry - the Catholic, Irish born judge, lawyer, convict advocate who later became the Attorney General of New South Wales.

    Ineffectual in these tactics Mudie found revenge by inducing the colonial treasurer, Campbell Riddell to stand against the Governor's nominee, Roger Therry, for election to the chairmanship of the Quarter Sessions. Riddell's victory by one vote, later shown to be irregular, was upheld by the Colonial Office. Governor Bourke already considering resignation over the 'exclusives' opposition to social reform - confirmed his resignation with the Colonial Office in protest over their actions.

    However in 1836 Mudie was not reappointed to the Commission of the Peace and disgusted with colonial affairs he sold Castle Forbes for £7,000 and in March sailed for England determined to seek redress against those who had not supported him. In London in 1837 he published The Felonry of New South Wales, an attack on all whom he believed had opposed him in the colony - including many of his original supporters amongst the 'exclusives'.

    The arrival of several copies of his book in the colony in August 1837 was a sensation and it became the topic of the town for several months due to Mudie's personal attacks on some of the colony's leading citizens. In 1840 Mudie returned to Sydney, where he found himself no longer welcome, for his vindictive comments had lost him many friends. John Kinchela Jnr, son of the former Attorney General in the Colony of New South Wales who had been maligned in Maudie's book, publicly horsewhipped Mudie in Sydney, and when Mudie sued him, the £50 damages imposed on Kinchela were promptly paid by public subscription. In 1842 Mudie returned to London, where he lived until his death on 21 May 1852 at Tottenham.

    The Felonry of New South Wales, edited by Walter Stone, was republished in Melbourne in 1964, complete with the marginalia of Sir Richard Bourke and Dudley Perceval - both of whom were targets of Mudie's for their pro-convict, emancipist stance.

    Additional Titles

    Primary title: The Felonry of New South Wales: being a faithful Picture of the Real Romance of Life in Botany Bay

    Web title: The Felonry of New South Wales

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