When Sir John Franklin arrived in Van Diemen’s Land to take up the position of Lieutenant Governor in January 1837, the shadow of twelve year’s autocratic rule by Sir George Arthur loomed ominously over the future administration of the Island. Franklin inherited an entrenched bureaucracy, the personal power base created by Arthur, which consisted mainly of family and friends appointed in crucial positions. As far as Arthur was concerned Van Diemen’s Land was essentially a penal colony and, following his departure, the Arthur faction was determined to see the new Lieutenant Governor maintain the status quo. Set against this was the unrealistic expectation of the anti-Arthur faction that Franklin would take a more reasoned approach to their concerns about restrictions to their civil liabilities. From the outset there was little chance of a happy ending to the story.
The finances of the Colony also contributed to Franklin’s ability to govern effectively. Prior to 1828 the finances of Van Diemen’s Land were quite simple: the Lieutenant Governor could levy taxes which he considered necessary, and from 1831 received the revenue from crown land sales. The UK Government paid the rest of the Colony’s expenditure. Just six months before Franklin arrived in Hobart, the British Government instructed that the costs of maintaining police and gaols were to be transferred from the Colonial Establishment and become a charge on the fund arising from the sale of colonial lands. The expense of erecting gaols and police offices, maintaining mounted and foot police, the Marine Department Board of Assignment, salaries of the Director General of the Assignment System and his staff were now to be charges on the local colonial revenue. Given that all these expenses were a direct result of England being relieved of paying for convicts after they were shipped off to Van Diemen’s Land, it seems a very unfair financial impost on the Colony’s Treasury.
A further complication for Franklin was that Arthur, as well as being Lieutenant Governor, had also been the military officer commanding the troops stationed in the Colony. Sir John was a naval man and could not succeed Arthur in this dual role. This created a situation where initially army officers were communicating directly with their senior officers in England, and not through the Lieutenant Governor. It took a directive from the Secretary of State for the Colonies to confirm that “the supremacy of the Governor over all officers, Civil and Military, should be acknowledged in the most clear and simple terms”. It was not the most auspicious start for an easy relationship between Franklin and the Army.
By inclination Sir John was a maritime explorer, his exploits the stuff of Boys’ Own adventures. Newspapers lauded his achievements and there was genuine optimism when it was announced he would be the next Lieutenant Governor of Van Diemen’s Land. However during his six years in the Colony there was very little plain sailing, beset as he was by the storms and tempests of warring interests in the colony along with the unpredictable nature of the instructions sent from England. While his achievements were considerable, it is not surprising that the skulduggery of local and English officials that led to his ultimate downfall made a far more sensational and memorable story. Future posts will look at his success as well as his failures and hopefully provide a more balanced picture of his time in Van Diemen’s Land