Convicts, Black Markets and Settlers
The first 20 years of settlement saw a semi-lawless frontier culture develop. This coincided with the arrival of the emancipated Norfolk Islanders, and attempts by the newly arrived Governor Lachlan Macquarie to curb self interest of the more rapacious military settlers.
Productivity from convicts was gained through the task work system, whereby prisoners were encouraged through incentive payments self interest to produce articles on their own time which were bought by the colonial government, for building churches, houses etc. This led inevitably to black-markets & corruption.
Severe punishment stations were established at Maria Island & Macquarie Harbour.
The Government had to purchase a constant supply of meat for the Commissariat and it was very difficult to ensure that it came from a legal source. Peter has written an account of this murky trade in his book Stock Thieves and Golfers, available here.
During the Probation period, road gangs lives isolated lives in tough conditions, but with the whole wide bush and neighbouring farms available to them when they could ‘slip the leash’. The Grass Tree Hill Road Gang who operated near Richmond to advantage where they could find it.
Convicts with specialist skills could (and did) game the system. The Government sawing stations had great difficulty in meeting their quotas for quality timber while at the same time providing a system of punishment for the convicts.
British Military in Van Diemen’s Land
Military engineers had a long history of involvement in British warfare; Cromwell’s army included six engineers. Constituted under the Board of Ordnance, the designation Royal Engineers was nominated in 1787, second only to the Royal Artillery in precedence. Unlike other requirements, the Royal Engineers required educational training and competence.