The Fertility of the Unfit

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The Fertility of the Unfit


W.A. CHAPPLE, M.D., Ch.B., M.R.C.S., D.P.H.



Melbourne: Christchurch, Wellington, Dunedin, N.Z., and London



The problem with which Dr. Chapple deals in this book is one of extreme gravity. It is also one of pressing importance. The growth of the Criminal is one of the most ominous clouds on every national horizon. In spite of advances in criminology the rate of increase is so alarming that the “Unfit” threatens to be to the new Civilization what the Hun and Vandal were to the old. How to deal with this dangerous class is perhaps the most serious question that faces Sociologists at this hour. And something must be done speedily, else our civilization is in imminent peril of being swamped by the increasingly disproportionate progeny of the Criminal.

Various methods have from time to time been suggested to ward off this danger. In my judgment one of the most effective has yet to be tried in the Colony—the system of indeterminate sentences. Nothing can be more futile than the present method of criminal procedure. After a certain stated period in gaol, we allow Criminals—even of the most dangerous character—to go out free without making the slightest effort to secure that they are fit to be returned to society. We quarantine the plague-stricken or small-pox ship, and keep the passengers isolated till the disease is eradicated. But we send up the Criminal only for a definite time, and at the end of that, he is allowed to go at large even though we may know he is a more dangerous character than when he entered the gaol. This is egregious folly.

Dr. Chapple’s treatise, however, takes things as they are. He proposes to save society from the multiplication of its Criminals by a remedy of the most radical kind. When he was good enough to ask me to write a preface for his book I hesitated somewhat. I read the substance of it in MS.S. and was deeply impressed by it. But still I am in some doubt. I am not quite prepared to accept at once Dr. Chapple’s proposed remedy. Neither am I prepared to reject it. I am simply an enquirer, trying to arrive at the truth regarding this clamant social problem. The time has certainly come when the issues raised in Dr. Chapple’s book must be faced. It is very desirable therefore, that the public should have these put before it in a frank, cautious way, by experts who understand what they are writing about, and have a due sense of the grave responsibilities involved. Dr. Chapple’s contribution seems to me very fully to satisfy these requirements. No doubt both his premises and conclusions are open to criticism at various points. It is, indeed, not unlikely that the plan whereby he proposes to limit the “fertility of the Unfit” may come with a sort of shock to some readers.

It is, perhaps, well that it should, for it may lead to thought and criticism. In any case, this policy of drift must be dropped and Dr. Chapple’s remedy, or some other, promptly adopted. A preface is not the place to discuss the pro’s and con’s of Dr. Chapple’s treatise. My main object in this foreword is to commend to the public who take an interest in this grave problem a discussion of it, which is alike timely and thorough and reverent. And this, I believe, readers will find in the following pages.

Rutherford Waddell.


Dec. 9th, 1903.

From Dr. J.G. FINDLAY, M.A., LL.D.

Dear Dr. Chapple,—

You are aware that I gave your Treatise on the “Fertility of the Unfit” a very careful perusal. It is a subject to which I have devoted some attention, both at College and since I left College, and I feel competent to say that no finer work on the subject has been accomplished than that contained in your Treatise. I consider it of value, not only from a statistical point of view, but also from a point of view of scientific originality.

I have no doubt that if the work were published in New Zealand it would be read and bought by a large number of people. I may add that I discussed your views with competent critics, and they share the opinion which I have expressed in this letter. I sincerely hope that the volume will be published, and need not add that my friends and myself will be subscribers for copies.

Yours sincerely,



Dear Dr. Chapple,—

I am pleased to hear that your MS. is to be published. The subject is one that must attract an increasing amount of attention on the part of all who have the true interests of the state at heart. There can be no doubt that the Parliamentary machine has failed, lamentably, to grapple with the problems you have referred to. At the present time, when some of our most earnest statesmen and greatest thinkers are discussing the supposed commercial decadence of the nation, the publication of such a treatise as you have prepared is opportune, and a perusal of it prompts the thought that the main remedy lies deeper, and may be found in sociological even more than in economic reform.

I do not profess myself competent to express any opinion regarding the remedy you propose. That is a matter for a carefully selected expert Royal Commission. The whole question, however, is one that might with advantage be discussed, both in the Press and the Parliament, at the present time, and I feel sure your book will be welcomed as a valuable contribution on the subject.

Yours sincerely,


From SIR ROBERT STOUT, K.C.M.G., Chief Justice.

My Dear Dr. Chapple,—

I have read your MSS., and am much pleased with it. It puts the problem of our times very plainly, and I think should be published in England. I have a friend in England who would, I think, be glad to help, and he is engaged by one of the large publishing firms in England. If you decide on sending it to England I shall be glad to write to him, and ask his assistance. The subject is one that certainly required ventilation, and whether your remedy is the proper one or not, it ought certainly to be discussed.

Yours truly,

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