Were the early years of Australia a ‘golden age’ for convicted criminals? An examination of social pressures on criminal law, legal administration, and punishment with a discussion on the incarceration of offenders in Britain and Australia from 1789 to 1830

Leslie Taylor

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

78 Downloads (Pure)

Abstract

The thesis builds upon and questions the extensive research by scholars who have studied crime, criminals and social pressures in Britain and the Australian colonies but particularly New South Wales. It points to eminent authors such as Douglas Hay, B. L. Fiennes, Norma Landau, Bruce Kercher and Mark Finnane, all of whom have written widely about criminals and criminality in British society. Articles, newspapers, journals and contemporaneous literature also add to the discussion of sentencing and the thesis argues that a great deal of data exists to show that the lived experience of criminals in the two jurisdictions differed from the time of colonisation until the middle of the 1800s much of this, it will be shown, can be explained by the different character of the respective societies.
When looking at data for the society and economy of Britain and the colony attention is paid to the employment available to workers in each country consideration is also given to the demographic changes associated with both the industrial and agricultural revolutions. By contrast to Britain, the colonial experience was relatively benign with food provided by a trained professional government which had a more compassionate tone than that of Britain. A result of this was a reduced incidence of vagrancy offences in the colony and the beginning of an egalitarian outlook. Britain, on the other hand, underwent stark change and civil unrest ensued which saw more draconian outcomes for criminals. In particular Britain suffered food shortages as a result of poor weather or poor management of crop levels and the hardship this created led to numerous violent riots. Policing and riots are explored as riot in Britain was answered by military intervention which led to violence, but the colonial individual was less likely to rebel but when this occurred, it was less violent in nature.
The thesis relies upon peer reviewed articles as texts on the subject mainly focus upon only one of the jurisdictions. Articles can be found which contrast the society in Britain and the Australian colony and others may look at law in each place. Primary sources such as newspapers and government gazettes are examined as are court records and the Hansard of each jurisdiction.
The conclusion recounts the experience of Australian convicts typified by William (Billy) Blue who was an American slave, a Thames lighterman, a thief and transported convict who came to be one of the most well-known, yet unrecognised, of Australia’s convicts. Not long after Billy’s death in 1834, Australia began to return to British regimes and systems, so he was one of the last to benefit from the ‘golden age’ of convicts. The Australian system acted to reform criminals and give them valued work which allowed them to live full and useful lives in an accepting society.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Charles Sturt University
Supervisors/Advisors
  • Van Duinen, Jared, Principal Supervisor
  • Taylor, Therese, Co-Supervisor
Award date28 Jan 2022
Place of PublicationAustralia
Publisher
Publication statusPublished - 2022

Fingerprint

Dive into the research topics of 'Were the early years of Australia a ‘golden age’ for convicted criminals? An examination of social pressures on criminal law, legal administration, and punishment with a discussion on the incarceration of offenders in Britain and Australia from 1789 to 1830'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this