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Maconochie's Gentlemen

Maconochie's Gentlemen

The story of Norfolk Island and the roots of modern prison reform

By Norval Morris


A leading authority on crime and punishment recounts the inspiring life of an early advocate of humane prison conditions.

In 1840, Alexander Maconochie, a privileged retired naval captain, became at his own request superintendent of two thousand twice-convicted prisoners on Norfolk Island, a thousand miles off the coast of Australia. In four years, Maconochie transformed what was one of the most brutal convict settlements in history into a controlled, stable, and productive environment that achieved such success that upon release his prisoners came to be called "Maconochie's Gentlemen".

Here renowned criminologist Norval Morris offers a highly inventive and engaging account of this early pioneer in penal reform, enhancing Maconochie's life story with a trenchant policy twist. Maconochie's life and efforts on Norfolk Island, Morris shows, provide a model with profound relevance to the running of correctional institutions today.

Using a unique combination of fictionalised history and critical commentary, Morris gives this work a powerful policy impact lacking in most standard academic accounts.

In an era of "mass incarceration" that rivals that of the settlement of Australia, Morris injects the question of humane treatment back into the debate over prison reform. Maconochie and his "Marks system" played an influential role in the development of prisons; but for the last thirty years prison reform has been dominated by punitive and retributive sentiments, the conventional wisdom holding that we need 'supermax' prisons to control the 'worst of the worst' in solitary and harsh conditions. Norval Morris argues to the contrary, holding up the example of Alexander Maconochie as a clear-cut alternative to the "living hell" of prison systems today.


Part 1 Norfolk Island, 1840-1844

Part 2 Maconochie and Norfolk Island after 1844

Part 3 Why do Prison Conditions Matter?

Part 4 Contemporary Lessons from Maconochie's Experiment

Fixed or indeterminate sentences and "good time"
Graduated release procedures and aftercare
"The worst of the worst"
Punishment and the mentally ill
Deterrence, rehabilitation and prison conditions


If Maconochie's methods worked under such extreme conditions, wouldn't they work today in our supposedly enlightened times? Highly recommended for crime collections in public and academic libraries.

Library Journal (USA)

Maconochie's Gentlemen displays Norval Morris's large gifts as a fine narrative writer and a pre-eminent social scientist. This is a book that fits Aristotle's directive that fine art should enlighten and entertain. It is, in the first instance, an illuminating story, told through the eyes of Captain Maconochie and the family and colleagues he brought with him to Norfolk Island in 1840, of Western society's first efforts at penal rehabilitation.
The fiction is followed by incisive reflections by Morris in his role as one of America's leading criminologists, relating Maconochie's experiment to the circumstances today.
The book is engrossing in both modes and is thoughtful, moving, and revealing at all points. My hat is off to Norval Morris.

Scott F Turow

... Maconochie's Gentlemen is a fascinating story. As Australian governments continue to bow to pressure to lock criminals up and throw away the key, this book serves as a reminder of our long history as a penal colony, and the basis of early prison reform.

Reform, Issue 83, 2003


Published January 2002
Co-publisher Oxford University Press Inc (USA) and Hawkins Press
ISBN 9781876861070
Australian RRP $45.00
International Price $40.00
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Criminology & Policing - Criminal Justice History
Criminology & Policing - Penology & Sentencing
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