Kellie Moss and Katherine Roscoe – (Dis)connected Convict Systems: The Transportation of Imperial and Indigenous Convicts to and within Western Australia


Event Dates: 13 – 16 September 2015
College Court Conference Centre
Knighton Road,
Leicester LE2 3UF

The Carceral Archipelago: Transnational Circulations in Global Perspective, 1415-1960

Kellie Moss and Katherine Roscoe (Leicester) – (Dis)connected Convict Systems: The Transportation of Imperial and Indigenous Convicts to and within Western Australia

This paper will explore the connections and disconnections involved in the transportation of two distinct types of convicts to West Australia: those sent from across the British Empire and those transported from within the colony itself. By exploring these inter-imperial flows, we will show how one ‘remote’ Australian colony was able to use transportation of imperial and Aboriginal convicts as a means to secure West Australia’s future, long after the large scale transportation of convicts to New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) had ceased. By exploring inter-imperial flows we draw attention to the flexibility of transportation on three levels – as operating across vastly different scales, as the forced movement of different kinds of convicts, and serving as concurrently a means of punishment and a way of mobilising labour in the West Australian context.

In an attempt to suppress resistance and prevent frontier conflict, the Nyoongar were transported to Rottnest Island from 1839 onwards, as West Australia adapted ‘domestic transportation’ for secondary offenders long in use in the rest of Australia. Over the course of the next decade, initial hopes of establishing a colony free of the ‘convict stain’ died and West Australia turned to transportation from elsewhere as a solution to their economic and labour problems. From 1850, convicts were transported from across the vast expanse of the empire, including Britain, Bermuda and India. Initially working in gangs within the environs of Perth and Fremantle, the convicts constructed public buildings, roads and jetties. After a specified period of good conduct a ticket-of-leave would be granted allowing the men to be hired by settlers throughout the colony. However, the 9,670 transported convicts were not enough to sustain the colony’s labour demands. With the discovery of pearls and gold in the latter half of the nineteenth century, indentured labour became increasingly important to the expansion of European settlement to the remote districts of WA. This resulted in increased incarceration of Aboriginal convicts, who were then (ironically) used to supplement indentured and waged Aboriginal labour workforces.

Thus this paper maps the coming together of initially quite separate forms of transportation into a rapidly diversifying convict system, involving a vast array of convicts (British, Bermudan, Indian, Aboriginal) as well as links to indentured labour at large.


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