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.


Published January 2002
Co-publisher Oxford University Press Inc (USA) and Hawkins Press
ISBN 9781876861070
Australian RRP $45.00
International Price $40.00