Joseph Childs

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Major Joseph Childs (1787–1870) was a British Royal Marines officer and penal administrator; he was commandant of the second convict settlement at Norfolk Island, from 7 February 1844 to August 1846.

He was commissioned in the Plymouth Division of the Royal Marines on 21 April 1809 and served in the Napoleonic Wars and the War of 1812.[1] During this latter conflict, he served with the 1st Battalion, Royal Marines commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Richard Williams. [2] He also served in Syria in 1840. [3]

He was reputed to be a strict disciplinarian, and in 1844 arrived as commandant of Norfolk Island to replace Alexander Maconochie whose progressive views on penal administration were thought to be unsuitable for this establishment. However, Childs proved to be no match for the convict 'old hands'. His 'strict discipline' may have worked on the thoroughly disciplined men of the Royal Marines, but he had no experience of life in a penal settlement. General discipline was poor, and left to subordinate guards and overseers who had little control over the prison which was ruled by the 'Ring' of hardened convicts. A visiting magistrate reported that while Childs was "a most amiable benevolent gentleman and honorable officer" what was needed to avoid anarchy and insubordination was "an officer of experience in, or capacity for, government, judgement, energy, decision and firmness". Childs was recalled but, before he left, a group of convicts revolted in July 1846, murdering four officials. Thirteen convicts were convicted of murder and hanged by Childs' successor, John Price, who considered Childs responsible for the state of affairs that led to the revolt. A newspaper report at the time blamed the situation on Childs' "utter imbecility".

Childs returned to England and continued to serve in the Royal Marines. He retired in 1857 and died in Cornwall on 2 January 1870.


  1. ^ Navy List 1814, p30
  2. ^ NICOLAS, p272
  3. ^ NICOLAS, p332