Racial Punishment from Slavery to Settler Colonialism: John Picton Beete in Demerara and Swan River

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The career of Captain John Picton Beete (1799–1886, later John Picton Picton), an officer of the 21st Regiment of Foot (North British Fusiliers), maps some of the continuities between slavery and settler colonization. While military punishment was practiced across a wide imperial field, by focusing on the links between slavery and the new settler colonies we see how black bodies remained vulnerable to violent techniques well after they had been abolished elsewhere. Beete’s status was owed largely to his family’s extensive business interests in slavery, and he spent his career furthering the empire’s appropriation of Indigenous land and the exploitation of black labour. Beete and the 21st Regiment played a prominent role in quelling one of the largest slave uprisings in history, the landmark Demerara Rebellion of 1823. A decade later, shortly after arriving in Swan River, Western Australia, Beete and the 21st led the most intense phase of violence between colonists and Binjareb Nyungar, climaxing in the infamous 1834 Pinjarra Massacre. The common role of spectacular punishment represents the shared strategies of legal violence that maintained racial hierarchies across the empire, and points toward the continuities between British slave and settler colonies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-25
Number of pages25
JournalSlavery and Abolition. A Journal of Slave and Post-Slave Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2023


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