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
Tina Picton-Phillipps University of Edinburgh
Petitioners and Petitions, 1810-1820: who wants what and why
Mary Daniels addressed the newly arrived Governor of New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land explaining why she should be permitted to make use of the pardon which had been granted by the previous administration: “that petitioner has aged parents and relatives in England, from whom she has considerable expectations; That during the time she has been in this colony she has born an upright and honest character…” . (SRNSW 4/1846, Colonial Secretary, Petitions (1810), fiche number 3164, p.60)
In January 1810 the incoming governor of New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land, Lt.-Col. Lachlan Macquarie instructed those in the possession of ‘indulgences’ issued by the previous administrations to surrender their pardons, conditional or absolute. This was just one of the administrative tasks resulting from the constitutional confusions of the “military junta” responsible for the deposition of Governor Bligh in 1808.
In surrendering the precious pardons, emancipations or tickets-of-leave a significant number attached petitions to their certificates. These explained firstly the circumstances in which the original pardon had been issued and secondly why it was important that the incoming Governor should recognise their particular claims. These documents form a mosaic of personal testimonies covering a broad range of experiences. The formulaic approach to the majority of these petitions is one consistent feature although not all went as far as John Thomas who ‘most humbly kneels at the throne of mercy’. [SRNSW 4/1846, Colonial Secretary, Petitions (1810), Fiche No. 3168, p.218]. Nor, indeed did all the petitioners express a wish to return to Britain.
Between 1810 and 1824 the administrations of Lachlan Macquarie and Sir Thomas Brisbane received petitions from transported convicts. There has been an increased scholarly engagement in the textual analysis of the inherent power relationships between the individual who has petitioned and those who promoted the petition in the first instance. Whilst this paper takes the power relationship as a ‘given’ it demonstrates the various concerns expressed by the petitioners him – or herself. Thus although some broad categories can be discerned there are distinctions to be made within those as to what the petitioners actually wanted. Additionally there are the micro-histories offering further evidence of what transportation meant at an individual level.
The sources for the paper will draw on archival material collected and collated by the State Records of New South Wales as well as correspondence either from or to the Colonial Secretary.
Tina Picton Philipps, University of Edinburgh, email
Tina Picton Phillipps is a Teaching Associate in the Department of History at the University of Edinburgh. She completed her doctorate at the Edinburgh in 2002: ‘Convicts, communication and authority: Britain and New South Wales, 1810-1830’. Her research focuses on the convict transportation to the Australian colonies and she has published a range of articles in the that area.