Writing the Empire: Scribblings from Below
An international & interdisciplinary conference
Phillipe de Vigors, ‘Convicts letter writing at Cockatoo Island, New South Wales, 1849’
Reproduced by kind permission of the State Library of New South Wales, Sydney
Event Dates: 25 June 2010
Clare Anderson – (University of Warwick)
Speech, Silence, Love and Longing: the power of words in nineteenth-century colonial jails
This paper will explore the power of words in British colonial jails in the nineteenth century. Drawing on research from across Empire, with a special focus on India and Mauritius, I will reveal something of the significance of speech and silence in the everyday life of colonial jails – exploring inter alia whistling, song, laughter, whispers, rumours, insults and abuse. I will explore a range of themes: prisoner/ guard literacy as social capital; the relationship between the spoken and printed word, communication and moral reformation; and the nature and significance of verbal complaints and written petitions. But above all I will centre on the 1874 discovery of an illicit letter in the Mauritian Central Jail at Port Louis, to provide insights into heterosexual love, longing and intimacy – and the sexual life of the prison.
Clare Anderson, University of Warwick, email
Clare Anderson is Associate Professor (Reader) in the Department of Sociology, University of Warwick. Her research centres on punishment and penal colonies in the Indian Ocean, including Convicts in the Indian Ocean (2000), Legible Bodies (2004), The Indian Uprising of 1857-8 (2007), and most recently articles in History Workshop Journal (2009), Slavery and Abolition (2009) and Modern Asian Studies (2010). She is currently completing the project Marginal Centres: subaltern biographies of the Indian Ocean world. An edited collection of papers on this theme will appear as a special issue of the Journal of Social History at the end of 2011 (also including papers by conference presenters Ian Duffield and Devleena Ghosh).