Global regional and local networks: archaeological investigation of the Western Australian penal colony 1850-1875

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[Truncated abstract] The Western Australian penal colony, enacted in 1850 and lasting until the mid-1870s, has typically been examined as the end product of a larger pan-Australian process of convict transportation. As such Western Australian convictism has been viewed as essentially the same as that enacted in the Eastern Australian penal colonies, but on a much smaller scale, and crucially, as unimportant within the greater story of Australian convictism. This view has been exacerbated by a concerted effort in Western Australia itself to erase the convict period from colonial memory. In comparison with New South Wales and Tasmania, there has been very little archaeological or historical research conducted into the Western Australian penal system. Consequently we know very little about the operation of the system, the lives of the convicts within it and the impact it had on the development of Western Australia. This view that Western Australian convictism was basically the same as that in the eastern Australian colonies is problematic because the system existed within a penal paradigm that was fundamentally different to the one which inspired the settling of New South Wales 60 years earlier. In 1850 British transportation occurred within a legislative and ideological framework that was focussed on reform and incarceration, rather than the simple removal of unwanted criminals. Transportation was no longer considered an effective punishment and the practice was only continued by the British government to advance specific strategic interests and operated within a global administrative and legislative framework applied equally in different penal colonies. Modelling of this global framework demonstrates that the form and operation of the Western Australian system had as much in common with contemporary penal colonies in Bermuda and Gibraltar, as with earlier systems in New South Wales and Tasmania. Physically, Western Australian convictism was designed to meet both the needs of the British penal system and those of the colony. Fremantle Prison, the central hub of the network, operated under the same legislation as any other British prison within the Empire and was intended for the reform, control and punishment of newly arrived and recalcitrant convicts. However the "ticket-of-leave" system, a limited form of parole, was extensively used outside the prison to mobilise convict labour and ticket-of-leave men were dispersed throughout a network of eight regional convict depots and subsidiary work stations. Archaeological and historical investigation of three convict depots, at York, Toodyay and Guildford, demonstrate that away from Fremantle, traditional penal concerns of security, control and reform were low priority. Instead, these places were designed to allow settler access to convict labour and to reinforce traditional British class hierarchies...
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Publication statusUnpublished - 2013

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