Sir William Thomas Denison (1804-1871), governor-general, was born on 3 May 1804 in London, son of John Denison and his second wife Charlotte, née Estwick. Like his brothers Evelyn (Viscount Ossington) and Edward (bishop of Salisbury) he went to Eton; he later entered the Royal Military College, graduating in 1826 as a lieutenant in the Royal Engineers.
In April 1846 Gladstone dismissed Sir John Eardley-Wilmot from Van Diemen's Land and appointed Denison as lieutenant-governor. Earl Grey, who succeeded Gladstone, endorsed Denison's appointment and had him knighted. After five months in the Colonial Office Denison sailed from Spithead and reached Hobart Town on 25 January 1847. He came with preconceived notions about punishment. To him its purpose was to deter: convicts were evil-doers and talk of their reform was 'maudlin sentimentality'. Since he believed that 'idleness … is at the root of ninety crimes out of a hundred', he wanted imprisonment to be accompanied by enforced labour, the prisoners to be encouraged by the prospect of tangible rewards with provision for their separate confinement when not at work or meals or during their instruction.
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