The Courier Wednesday 27 September 1854 p. 3.
|We publish the following letter, received by a
Member of Council, in reference to the Masters and
Servants' Act. now under the consideration of the
Hobart Town, September 21st, 1854.
'Tis now fifteen months since I left the shores of
Britain to seek a new home in this colony, and I had a
hope, notwithstanding the unfavourable reports in circulation, that on the abolition of transportation, the
penal character of the island would be changed—that
penal laws, which for many years had cast a terrible
gloom on one of the fairest spots of God's creation, would
be succeeded by measures of a more hopeful, a more
genial and encouraging nature. But, alas ! with inexpressible sorrow, disgust, and indignation, I find that
those who, from supposed patriotic motives, clamoured
so loudly for the discontinuance of this, as a receptacle for the banished, are exhibiting as much patriotic zeal in forging chains for the free sons and
daughters of toil, who, untainted by crime and disposed to habits of industry, are allured here by
reports grossly exaggerated, and by hopes never to be
The debates which have taken place on the aforesaid Act exhibit so much heartless cruelty that, as a
free servant, my heart aches when I reflect on the
condition to which my class will be subjected when
the said enactment is in operation. Punishment,
" more severe by far," is to be inflicted on helpless,
friendless girls, for what is termed " minor offences,"
than is inflicted at home on the ruffian who commits
an unprovoked and brutal assault—punishment equal
to that inflicted on the common felon is to be meted
out to the industrious daughters of England, Ireland,
and Scotland, on the commission of what is termed
"minor offences." And may I not enquire, Sir, what
is to constitute minor offences ? A servant finds herself in the employ of a hard master or mistress;
galled by tyranny she leaves her employ, is arrested,
and thrown into a prison among the vilest of the vile.
at the expiration of her sentence she is returned to
her tyrant master to complete the terms of her
engagement ; her bondage becomes harder, she again
leaves, and is again committed to prison.
broken in spirits, and indifferent to future prospects,
she becomes reckless of character, and another name is
added to the already long list of outcasts that scourge
society. In such a case, the fact of leaving a heartless,
tyrannical employer is, I suppose, a " minor offence,"
punished by a maximum penalty of twenty pounds, or
three months' incarceration in a felons' gaol. On the
other hand, an employer finds that his servant is not
equal to his wishes ; he rids himself of his engagement by discharging her against her wish. What
remedy does the law provide? The poor, untutored,
friendless girl is told to seek her remedy in law proceedings for the recovery of her wages
supposing any to be due ; but no provi-
sion is made to enable her to recover for the
whole period of her engagement, at least as far as I
am informed. Now if the girl who violates her agreement is to be punished by imprisonment, surely the
employer, with larger means and larger powers, ought
to meet with similar punishment on breach of his
agreement. Were the scales of justice fairly balanced,
such would be the case; but—but—
Sir, what will not constitute a " minor offence "
against the penal statute known as " The Masters
and Servants Act?" To complain of ill-treatment is
to meet with a charge of insolence. The power of
wealth preponderates over poverty—the servant is
adjudged guilty of a minor offence, and in default of
penalty is committed for three months. But, says
one of our legislators, good servants need not fear the
consequences of severe laws. Would it be wise to make
a simple breach of agreement a capital offence,
because good servants would not, make any such
breach ? If so, the highest offences at present
known would more frequently be committed. Dis-
proportionate punishment leads to higher crimes.
This has been felt at home. The criminal code has
been modified, and crime has diminished.
The barbarous character of the ACT in question
places every servant, completely in the power of their
The slave owner, in the Southern States
of America, inflicts a certain number of lashes for disobedience. The employers of servants can subject
those placed in their power to long periods of close
confinement in this lovely island. Yes ! in a Legislative Assembly, in a civilized country, the question
was debated " whether female-free female-servants,
found guilty of a breach of agreement with their employers, should, or not, be adjudged and sentenced to
solitary confinement during the period of their incarnation ! "
Sir, such punishment is inflicted only on
the most hardened offender at home, and the people
of England will learn with astonishment that such a
suggestion was mooted in an assembly which has
exhibited so much anxiety to change the penal
character of this colony.
The mitigated form of the clause relating to female
servants, and the introduction of a pecuniary penalty,
is nothing more, nothing less, in my opinion, than a
farce. For how can servants newly-arrived in the
colony meet such penalty ? A penalty of £5 was the
highest that could be inflicted by a police magistrate
in England when I left for an aggravated assault ;
but £20 here is a mild penalty for a poor servant
guilty of a. " minor offence," or in default, three
'months' imprisonment. In short, there is so much
to alarm even the best disposed servant, that every
one that can escape from the colony where so barbarous an enactment exists, will do so speedily.
myself and wife, we are at present in the hands of an
honourable employer, who would shrink from an un-
worthy action. We are held by no bonds ; no engagements, save and except those mutual obligations which should ever be held sacred, both
by employers and the employed. But in the
course of events, should we leave our employer,
we will shun, as we would Satan himself, any and
every engagement which may present in this colony.
A special agreement of a civil character is the only
one into which we shall enter.
Sir, in the midst of all my despondency, I am cheered
by a conviction that few, very few employers will
take advantage of the cruel power which the measure
in question places in their hands. I have a more
exalted notion of the character of employers in Fair
Tasmania, than to suppose that they will use that
power unfairly. But Egypt had a Pharoah, and so
may Tasmania; and power in such hands only
produces instruments of torture, to be used on those
subjected to their control.
A meeting of the serving
class ought to be held, and the details of the measure
submitted to consideration. An earnest protest
against its enactment would doubtless be the result.
I remain, Sir,
Yours very humbly and obediently,
A FREE SERVANT.