Lauren Bell – Murder, Torture and Pain: A Comparative Analysis of Punishment Onboard Slave and Convict Ships, 1787 – 1807

 

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

Lauren Bell (Hull) – Murder, Torture and Pain: A Comparative Analysis of Punishment Onboard Slave and Convict Ships, 1787 – 1807

Separately, both the slave trade and convict transportation have proved rich grounds for analysis in the annals of history. However limited work has been done to highlight potential areas of comparison between these two coerced migration systems. This paper seeks to provide a comparative study of the shipboard experience of convicts and enslaved Africans through an analysis of punishment and resistance. The period under investigation will span from when the First Fleet set sail in 1787 to the abolition of the slave trade in 1807, a period when both systems coalesced in British history. Through a discussion of the various punishments meted out to both enslaved Africans and convicts during their respective voyages, this paper will demonstrate that punishments, especially those inflicted upon the body, show marked similarities in that they were implemented in an often brutal manner. Additionally, while the excessive cruelty of slave ship captains is a pervasive theme in the historiography of the slave trade, this paper will show that the punishments inflicted upon convicts were often comparable in their severity, especially in response to potential threats to the safe passage of the vessel. In analysing acts of resistance to authority, this paper will then compare why enslaved Africans and convicts chose to rebel and demonstrate the differing attempts they used to reclaim a form of power on board. These acts ranged from small scale resistance such as the refusal to follow orders to open insurrection. The analysis of punishment and resistance therefore provides a basis for an interesting comparative analysis.

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