Smith & Singer

Letter signed by Duke of Portland dated 1796

Estimate $5,000 – $7,000


Alternate Views

  • Lot Sold SOLD

Show Catalogue Notes

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


Alison Alford


Arts & Design
T: +61 (0)2 9302 2402
E: Alison Alford

Ann Roberts

Consultant, Asian Art

Arts & Design
T: +61 (0)3 9509 2900
E: Ann Roberts

Harley YoungHarley Young

Specialist, Arts & Design

Arts & Design
T: +61 (0)3 9509 2900
E: Harley Young

Anthony Hurl

Specialist, Arts & Design

Arts & Design
T: +61 (0)8 7225 7836
E: Anthony Hurl

Philip A. Gore

Consultant, Clocks, Barometers & Scientific Instruments

Arts & Design
T: +61 (0)3 9509 2900

Fine Asian, Australian & European Arts & Design

AU0786  |  15 Apr 2014  |  Sydney
6 PM

We use our own and third party cookies to enable you to navigate around our Site, use its features and engage on social media, and to allow us to perform analytics, remember your preferences, provide services that you have requested and produce content and advertisements tailored to your interests, both on our Site as well as others. For more information, or to learn how to change your cookie or marketing preferences, please see our updated Privacy Policy & Cookie Policy.

By continuing to use our Site, you consent to our use of cookies and to the practices described in our updated Privacy Policy.