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THE DIVORCE ACT.
divorce, and setting up a regular court of law, the Divorce and Matrimonial Causes' Court, to deal with questions between husband and wife. The passing of the Divorce Act was strongly contested in both Houses of Parliament, and indeed was secured at last only by Lord Palmerston's intimating very significantly that he would keep the Houses sitting until the measure had been disposed of. Mr. Gladstone, in particular, offered to the bill a most strenuous opposition. He condemned it on strictly conscientious grounds. Yet it has to be said, even as a question of conscience, that there was divorce in England before the passing of the Act; the only difference being that the Act made divorce somewhat cheap and rather easy. Before it was the luxury of the rich ; the Act brought it within the reach of almost the poorest of her Majesty's subjects. We confess that we do not see how any great moral or religious principle is violated in the one case any more than in the other. The question at issue was not whether divorce should be allowed by the law; but only whether it should be high-priced or comparatively inexpensive. It is certainly a public advantage, as it seems to us, that the change in the law has put an end to the debates that used to take place in both Houses of Parliament. When any important bill of divorce was under discussion, the members crowded the House, the case was discussed in all its details as any clause in a bill is now debated ; long speeches were made by those who thought the divorce ought to be granted and those who thought the contrary ; and the time of
Parliament was occupied in the edifying discussion as to whether some unhappy woman's shame was or was not clearly established. In one famous case, where a distinguished peer, orator, and statesman sought a divorce from his wife, every point of the evidence was debated in Parliament for night after night. Members spoke in the debate who had known nothing of the case until the bill came before them. One member, perhaps, was taken with a vague sympathy with the wife ; he set about to show that the evidence against her proved nothing. Another sympathised with husbands in general, and made it his business to emphasise every point that told of guilt in the woman. More than one earnest speaker during those debates expressed an ardent hope that the time might come when Parliament should be relieved from the duty of undertaking such unsuitable and scandalous investigations. It must be owned that public decency suffers less by the regulated action of the Divorce Court than it did under this preposterous and abominable system. We cannot help adding too that the Divorce Act, judging by the public use made of it, certainly must be held to have justified itself in a merely practical sense. It seems to have been thoroughly appreciated by a grateful public. It was not easy after a while to get judicial power enough to keep the supply of divorces up to the everincreasing demand.
Lord Palmerston then appears to be furnished with an entirely new lease of power. The little Persian War has been brought to a close ; the country is
not disposed to listen to any complaint as to the manner in which it was undertaken. The settlement of the dispute with China promised to be an easy piece of business. The peace party were everywhere overthrown. No one could well have anticipated that within less than a year from the general election a motion made in the House of Commons by one whom it unseated, was to compel the Government of Lord Palmerston suddenly to resign office.
The year 1857 would have been memorable, if for no other reason, because it saw the abolition of the system of transportation. Transportation as a means of getting rid of part of our criminal population, dates from the time of Charles II., when the judges gave power for the removal of offenders to the North American colonies. The fiction of the years coming immediately after took account of this innovation, and one of the most celebrated, if not exactly one of the finest, of Defoe's novels, deals with the history of a convict thus sent out to Virginia. Afterwards the revolt of the American colonies and other cases made it necessary to send convicts farther away from civilisation. The punishment of transportation was first regularly introduced into our criminal law in 1717, by an Act of Parliament. In 1787 a cargo of criminals was shipped out to Botany Bay, on the eastern shore of New South Wales, and near Sydney, the present thriving capital of the colony. Afterwards the convicts were also sent to Van Diemen's Land, or Tasmania ; and to Norfolk Island, a lonely island in the Pacific, some eight hundred miles from the New South Wales shore. Norfolk Island became the
penal settlement for the convicted among convicts; that is to say, criminals, who, after transportation to New South Wales committed new crimes there, might be sent by the Colonial authorities for sterner punish. ment to Norfolk Island.
Nothing can seem on the face of it a more satisfactory way of disposing of criminals than the system of transportation. In the first place it got rid of them, so far as the people at home were concerned ; and for a long time that was about all that the people at home cared. Those who had committed crimes not bad enough to be disposed of by the simple and efficient operation of the gallows, were got rid of in a manner almost as prompt and effective by the plan of sending them out in shiploads to America or to Australia. It looked, too, as if the system ought to be satisfactory in every way and to everybody. The convicts were provided with a new career, a new country, and a chance of reformation. They were usually after a while released from actual durance in the penal settlement, and allowed conditionally to find employment, and to make themselves, if they could, good citizens. Their labour, it was thought, would be of great service to the colonists. The Act of 1717 recited that ' in many of his Majesty's colonies and plantations in America there was a great want of servants who, by their labour and industry, might be the means of improving and making the said colonies and plantations more useful to this nation. At that time statesmen only thought of the utility of the colonies to this nation. Philanthropy might therefore for a while