Those who have read Captain Thunderbolt and his Lady will know that Chapter 14 covered Fred’s return to Cockatoo Island in 1861 through to the riots in 1863. The following was originally included near the end of that chapter.
How should we deal with the problem of prison discipline? asked the newspapers in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne in the aftermath of the Cockatoo Island riots. Melbourne’s Argus reported that recent Irish attempts to rehabilitate prisoners were proving successful and should serve as a guide. Other suggestions were less enlightened. ‘The lash,’ was the most common. ‘Some weak-minded people pity the prisoners,’ wrote a Brisbane Courier correspondent, ‘and say that the desperation of their case ought to be some palliation, but flogging is the only resort in cases like these.’
One Sydney Morning Herald letter-writer remarked that the government continued to ignore the maxim that prevention was better than cure. The study of phrenology* had determined that criminals had badly-shaped craniums, the correspondent reminded the Herald’s readers, and that their vicious propensities were evident by the age of seven. So the government should fund phrenologists to examine the heads of all seven year-olds and, if they found criminal propensities, the children should be smothered.
‘It might be somewhat difficult to carry into practice on account of angry parents and weeping mothers,’ the facetious correspondent added, ‘but it is not one whit more absurd than the theories now endeavouring to be carried out at Cockatoo.’
*Phrenology is the belief that skull configurations reflected mental acuities and character traits, and that these could be mapped and used to assess future behaviour.
Great stuff, wasn't it. One of the joys of researching true stories is finding delightfully facetious remarks -- or those reflecting a biting wit. When researching another book I came across a Punch observation about capital punishment that I think of whenever I hear people advocating an eye-for-an-eye solution as a punishment for murderers:
"We hire the hangman to preach the sanctity of human life."