Smith & Singer
124

Letter signed by Duke of Portland dated 1796

Estimate $5,000 – $7,000

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Catalogue Notes

William Henry Cavendish Bentinck, 3rd Duke of Portland, was George III’s Secretary of State for the Home Office, the man responsible both for British convicts in general and the penal settlement of New South Wales in particular.  Early in the governorship of John Hunter, the British government had formed a general intention to expand levels of transportation to Port Jackson, but due to insufficient data was unable to quantify its plans.  While full criminal registers had been established for the City of London and the County of Middlesex as early as 1791, such detailed penological data was not consistently maintained elsewhere in the country. Accordingly, in May 1796 Portland wrote not only to the gaolers of the metropolis – Newgate Prison, Cold Bath Fields, the Thames hulks – but also to county sheriffs across the kingdom, requesting a tally of prisoners then being held under sentence of transportation.
The present document is the copy of Portland’s circular which was sent to John Tyndale Warre, Sheriff of Somerset.  The requisite information was evidently provided promptly – a response to Portland’s request (from the gaoler of Newgate) is preserved amongst the Duke’s papers at the University of Nottingham (1) – and a decision on further transportation as quickly taken; just one month after the initial enquiry Hunter was informed ‘that it is intended to send about 300 convicts to New South Wales in the course of the next autumn.’ (2)
As an 18th century letter with specific Australian colonial relevance, the present document is a rare and intriguing item, and sheds new light on penal planning and management processes during the early tears of the colony of New South Wales.
 Dr David Hansen
(1) Letter, John Kirby to the Duke of Portland, n.d., Papers of William Henry Cavendish Bentinck, 3rd Duke of Portland, Part 19 (Miscellaneous Correspondence), Pw F 9933/1-2, University of Nottingham, United Kingdom
(2) Despatch, Duke of Portland to Gvernor Hunter, 8 June 1796, quoted in F.M. Bladen (ed.), Historical Records of New South Wales, Vol. 3 (Hunter 1796 - 1799), Government Printer, Sydney, 1895

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