Forced Labour, Indenture and Convict Transportation: A Case Study of the Western Australian Pastoral Industry, 1830–50

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This article analyses Western Australian pastoralists’ agitation for, and their expanding reliance upon, forced labour in the Avon valley in the 1830s and 1840s. I argue that coercive labour practices were already well established by the time the York Agricultural Society began lobbying for convict transportation in the late 1840s, and that this effort reflected a desire to intensify already existing patterns of unfree labour rather than a brand-new intervention. The shift to forced labour occurred soon after the settler conquest of Ballardong Noongar country facilitated the establishment of a profitable pastoral industry. Pastoralists struggled to hire sufficient numbers of free white workers to work their fields and stations, and to pay the exorbitant wages demanded by them; and they turned instead to Noongar workers, often using coercive methods to maintain labour discipline. Even so, it was clear by the mid-1840s that the settler and Aboriginal labour pool was too small to secure the pastoral industry’s long-term success; and initiatives to augment the colonial workforce by sending out juvenile offenders from Parkhurst prison, and by recruiting Chinese and Indian indentured labourers, were insufficient to meet demand. The Avon valley pastoralists therefore mounted a vigorous campaign to introduce convict labour to Western Australia.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)31-54
Number of pages24
JournalLabour History
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 25 Oct 2023

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