Barry, John Vincent
- The Life and Death of John Price
Melbourne University Press, Carlton South Vic., 1964.
Octavo; hardcover, with gilt spine titling; 204pp., with a monochrome frontispiece and many plates likewise. Minor wear; offsetting to the half-title page and mild spotting to the text block edges. Well-rubbed dustwrapper with lightly browned spine; some slight insect damage to front flap-turn and spine panel; mild edgewear; now professionally protected by superior non-adhesive polypropylene film. Very good. "This study of John Price admirably complements the earlier study of Alexander Maconochie. Having told the story of one of the legendary humanitarian heroes of what Sheldon Glueck has called 'one of the blackest chapters in the lexicon of man's inhumanity to man', it is fitting that Sir John should complete the picture by giving the other side of the story. And in John Price, who fathered a legend of an altogether different kind, what were in fact the dominant principles of Nineteenth Century penology were vividly embodied. Yet, just as with Maconochie, Sir John conscientiously acknowledged and analysed his weaknesses, so with Price he scrupulously presents the evidence in his favour. Thus, he cites such contemporary witnesses as the Military Commander of Norfolk Island, who asserted that Price 'was the finest character I have met with in a wide experience', and the ex-convict who wrote of Price as 'temperate, strict and judicious'. Moreover, he is careful to point out - what is too often, ignored by historians regaling their readers with the horrors of the past - that, in exercising harsh disciplinary control, Price was carrying out an allotted task and, as Sir John says, 'it is idle to censure him for doing what his superiors required of him'. But, after all this has been said, there remains incontestable evidence that Price not only far exceeded what was required of him but also exceeded the law. For the law conferred on him no authority to torture, or torment, the prisoners in his charge. And, as Sir John says, 'the evidence that he did both is too massive to be ignored'. So there will be few readers who will question the final verdict that 'on the whole of the record, John Price was a cruel man'. Furthermore, Sir John Barry confesses that, having long been fascinated and disturbed by human cruelty, Price holds for him 'more than an historical, or legendary, significance'. So, in the concluding chapter, he sets down what he refers to as 'my puzzled reflections on the enigma of this aspect of man's nature'. It is an illuminating, if inevitably inconclusive, essay; and it illuminates more than its subject matter. For it tells us something about the author, that it is cruelty which he finds puzzling. Others, more misanthropic perhaps, may feel that it is Maconochie's benignity rather which needs explaining. However that may be, this is a scholarly, lucid and fascinating work and a welcome addition to the available literature about an era which has, until recently, been badly neglected by serious historians." - Gordon Hawkins.
Click here to order