In the nineteenth century, many people believed that there was a certain criminal class. These people either lived among us, hidden in the mass of the population, or they inhabited certain sections of the towns and cities. It was believed that if this class of person was removed or eradicated from society, crime could be eradicated, or at least severely restricted.
In order to do this, the authorities sent criminals as far away as possible; they banished law breakers to Australia, to live out their lives in the Antipodes, sometimes in conditions that would make a Nazi concentration camp guard blanche. Some of these penal settlements were worse than death.
There was no thought for the respectable people of Australia: once the transport ships sailed beyond the ken of the British pubic, the men and women on board were forgotten. Lost to the world. Sympathy, rehabilitation, pity were not strong in the minds of the law makers.
Was there any truth in this belief of a criminal class?
It is hard to say. Certainly there were some areas in every town that had a higher proportion of people who broke the law, and these people were often members of the same family. It was not uncommon for wives to follow their husbands to the Australian penal colonies, and for sons and daughters to later join them. But was this because of their class? Or because of an unfortunate upbringing and bad environment. Nurture or nature?
My own feelings are that it was a combination of both. But crime is classless; the great and the powerful from the highest classes can be criminals as well as the unfortunates who scrape a living from the lowest hovels and basements in the slums. I do not think the respectable judges who sent their victims thousands of miles away even considered that.
Is there a crime gene,perhaps? Or are we all capable of breaking the law given the right, or the wrong, circumstances?
It is worth thinking about