Matthew Forster

Matthew Forster (1796–1846), Chief Police Magistrate of Van Diemen's Land from 1833 to 1846, was described by Governor George Arthur as 'one of the most competent officers in the service of the government'. Primarily responsible for the penal establishment in Van Diemen's Land, Forster's influence was generally felt in the colony, and together with his brother in law, Colonial Secretary John Montagu, dictated colonial policy and opinion in Britain as well as in the colony.

Following the introduction of the probation system of punishment in Van Diemen's Land however, the colony was increasingly saturated with unemployed convicts, and having failed to report clearly on the crisis, Forster was accorded some of the blame for the mismanagement of the whole convict establishment after 1841. A memorial stands at New Town as a testimony to his contribution to penal policy in Van Diemen's Land.

Further reading: J Franklin, Narrative…, Hobart, [1967]; A Shaw, Sir George Arthur, Bart, 1784–1854, Melbourne, 1980; ADB 1; C Joel, 'Party politics and penalism, an analysis of the role of John Montagu in the penal politics of Tasmania, 1836–1845', MA thesis, UT, 1971.

Craig Joel