One evening in 1849, a British soldier stationed in Wellington, New Zealand, robbed a man at gunpoint. The villain, strangely, did not run off with his booty, which amounted to little more than loose change, but insisted – at gunpoint – that his victim report him to the authorities immediately. The soldier was arrested, tried, and sentenced to 17 years transportation to an Australian penal colony.
We could assume the soldier had a mental breakdown and this outrageously disproportionate sentence was the tragic result. But then it happened again. Different soldier, similar crime.
From the New Zealand Spectator and Cook’s Strait Guardian. Wednesday 4 July 1849.
On Monday night, Connolly, a private in the light company of the 65th regiment, having armed himself with his musket, proceeded about 10 o’clock to Mr. Townsend’s house on the Tinakori Road and having obtained admittance demanded money from the inmates. With the view of intimidating them he discharged his musket, and eventually obtained from Mr. Lowe, a lodger at Mr. Townsend’s, a coat and the sum of four shillings.
He then went to Te Aro, between 12 and 1 o’clock to the house of a carpenter named Levy, in the neighbourhood of the barracks on Mount Cook where he obtained a pair of trousers and two shillings. Information was given to the police the next morning at daylight, and on sending to the barracks it was found that Connolly, who had committed the offence for the avowed purpose of getting transported, had given himself up and was in custody of the guard.
It appears that some months ago some soldiers belonging to the regiment were transported to Van Diemen’s Land [Tasmania, Australia] and shortly after their arrival received tickets of leave ; these men have written to their comrades representing their present way of life as being in every way so preferable to their former condition, that several soldiers have lately committed offences with the express intention of getting transported.
This is a subject of grave importance and one that calls for strong representations from the proper authorities to the governor of Van Diemen’s Land. In the administration of convict discipline, it is understood that tickets of leave are usually granted to criminals who, after having served a portion of their time, have shown themselves, by their good conduct, deserving of this indulgence. But if convicts are to receive tickets of leave almost immediately after their arrival in a penal settlement, transportation ceases to be a punishment, and in cases of this kind the practice becomes subversive of military discipline by holding out a premium on insubordination and a temptation to the commission of crime.