Convict Workers: Reinterpreting Australia's Past
Cambridge University Press
Publication Date :
1 Jan 1988
Convict Workers offers a radical new interpretation of Australia's convict past. It is based on an exhaustive and detailed analysis of records of 20,000 male and female convicts - one in three of those transported to New South Wales between 1817 and 1840. The convicts sent to Australia were not professional criminals, but ordinary British and Irish men and women. They brought with them a diverse range of useful work skills, essential to the forging of a new economy and society. Both the state and private employers in New South Wales recognised the convicts' previous occupations, and employed a large proportion of them in the same occupations they had held at home. The women convicts - often classified as prostitutes - in fact brought a range of occupational skills equally as important for the economic development of Australia as those of the male convicts. Once settled in Australia, the convicts consumed a diet, and experienced housing, superior to that received by free men and women at home. The organisation of their work was not very different from that in Britain and Ireland and, while cruel treatment did exist, the likelihood of numerous floggings during their term of sentence is shown to be a myth. Convict workers is a study in comparative history, noting the resemblances and the contrasts with indentured labour, slavery and punitive communities elsewhere. By illuminating the contribution of the convict workers to Australia's economic and social development, a fresh historical understanding of Australia's convict past emerges. This book affords new insights into the history of British, Irish and Australian history and society in the nineteenth century.