History Department
History Department

IHS Workshop: "To Fill Dishonoured Graves?: Death and Convict Transportation to Colonial Australia"

Thu, March 25, 2010 | GAR 4.100

3:00 PM - 4:30 PM

The Institute of Historical Studies (IHS) presents a talk by Dr. Hamish Maxwell-Stewart, University of Tasmania, Australia, entitled, "To Fill Dishonoured Graveds?: Death and Convict Transportation to Colonial Australia" in Garrison Hall, Room 4.100.

According to the 19th century convict ballad, Jim Jones at Botany Bay, the prisoners exiled to Australia toiled for ‘day and night in irons clad like poor galley slaves’—a cycle only terminated by death whereupon their bodies were used ‘to fill dishonored graves.’

In all some 139,000 male and 26,000 female convicts were transported to the Australian penal colonies between the years 1787 and 1868. While these involuntary exiles form only a small proportion of the estimated 5,300,000 unfree migrants carried on British vessels in the period 1520-1930, they are interesting for a number of reasons.

Importantly, their lives were peculiarly well documented making it possible to reconstruct their experiences in some detail. They also undertook one of the longest ocean going voyages that any unfree migrants were subjected to in the age of sail.

Finally, in stark contrast to popular perceptions, their death rates appear startlingly low, both during the long voyage to Australia and while they were worked under sentence.In other words, whereas they may have filled dishonoured graves, the majority only did so long after their sentence to penal labour had expired.

In this paper I will outline some attempts to use the records for those convicts transported to the colony of Van Diemen’s Land (later renamed Tasmania) to explore ways of explaining how a coercive and exploitative system produced, at least in terms of health impacts, such benign outcomes.

Prof. Maxwell-Stewart's University of Tasmania, Australia faculty page

Responder: Prof. Daina Berry, professor of history at The University of Texas at Austin

Sponsored by: Institute for History Studies, History Dept.

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