Thomas Bunbury (penal administrator)

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Major Thomas Bunbury (born c1791), soldier and penal administrator, of the 80th Regiment, was commandant of the second convict settlement at Norfolk Island, from April to July 1839. He joined the army in 1807 and fought in the Peninsular War.

As commandant, he was confident in his ability to manage the hardened convicts under his command. He wrote that he could not understand why “a villain who has been guilty of every enormity, should feel shame at having his back scratched with the cat-o-nine-tails when he felt none for his atrocious crimes.” He also claimed that “if a man is too sick to work he is too sick to eat” and claimed that the queue at the hospital was halved. Although his punishments were harsh, he replaced hand hoeing with ploughs, rewarded good behaviour with improved jobs and gave older convicts lighter work.

He earned the ire of the soldiers on the island by ordering the destruction of huts built on the small gardens they kept for their own use and for trafficking with the convicts. The soldiers mutinied, a warship was sent to restore peace and Bunbury was recalled in July 1839.