Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Pre-famine Irish transportation: Van Diemen’s Land and elsewhere

Transportation to NSW ended in 1840, by which time a total of 150,000 convicts had been sent to the colonies from Britain and Ireland. Strictly speaking, no convicts were transported directly to the Port Phillip District of NSW. However, convicts did find their way to the District in one of four ways. First, convict labourers were sent down, about 100 at a time, to provide government labour between 1836 and 1842, but most of these men were sent back to Sydney after relatively short terms and there were complaints that more were needed. Secondly, a number of squatters from central NSW brought down some of their ‘assigned servants’ who were convicts. How many is uncertain but there were probably about 550 in the district in 1842 and many of these remained in Port Phillip when their sentences expired. Thirdly, and most importantly, were time-expired prisoners from VDL and NSW. The number is tentative as no records were kept as they were moving within the same colony, though probably they were fewer than those from VDL. These are thought to have numbered over 3,000 in 1846, about 15% of the male population. Probably another 2,000 had arrived by 1848, and after a temporary decline, many more came after the gold discoveries in 1851. Though often described as scoundrels, villains and ruffians, these men provided an important supply of labour to squatters in the 1840s. But they also committed 40% of the district’s crime between 1841 and 1846 and their presence produced strong criticism of the imperial authorities for trying to block the colony’s attempts to stop their arrival. [1]

Finally, between 1844 and 1849, nine ships arrived in the Port Phillip District carrying 1727 ‘exiles’ known as ‘Pentonvillians’ with tickets of leave amongst the passengers.[2] The Royal George arrived on 16 November 1844 carrying 21 convicts and their arrival met with a mixed reception.

It is a resumption of the transportation system, without its discipline, with all its evils, and none of its benefits. We are to have British convicts like the Vandiemonians, but we are not like them to have the balancing advantage of a British Government expenditure of half-a-million annually. We are in short to have cargoes of felons palmed off upon us as genuine immigrants....There exists no law to justify one country pouring out the sweepings of its jails upon another, and when it is attempted we should not be inclined to look to the tedious and expensive delays of the law for a remedy. We should duck the scoundrels if they attempted to set foot in a country of freemen, and send them back as they came to the greater scoundrels who dared send them hither.[3]

Many people saw it as transportation by another name, ‘It will scarcely be believed – and yet such is the fact – that transportation to New South Wales is revived...’.[4] The last of the nine ships, the Eden arrived on 21 February 1849 with 199 convicts. Unlike earlier convicts who were required to work for the government or were hired from penal depots, the ‘Pentonvillians’ were free to work for pay, but could not leave the district to which they were assigned. All of the ‘Pentonvillians’ were male, with an average age of 22 years; the youngest was 11. Nearly all were literate and many came from trade and manufacturing backgrounds. Most of their offences were crimes against property, for which they received sentences of seven years or more. They were given pardons on condition they did not return to Britain until the completion of their sentences.

VDL was first settled in 1804 with a penal settlement established at Sullivan’s Cove, later Hobart and free settlers began to come to the island in 1816. Initially convicts were sent from NSW but from 1817 they were sent there directly from Britain. The Macquarie Harbour penal colony on the West Coast of Tasmania was established in 1820 to exploit the valuable timber Huon Pine growing there for furniture making and shipbuilding. Convicts sent to this settlement had usually re-offended during their sentence of transportation, and were treated very harshly, labouring in cold and wet weather, and subjected to severe corporal punishment for minor infractions. In 1830, the Port Arthur penal settlement was established to replace Macquarie Harbour, as it was easier to maintain regular communications by sea. Although known in popular history as a particularly harsh prison, its management was far more humane than Macquarie Harbour or the outlying stations of NSW. Experimentation with the so called model prison system took place in Port Arthur. Until the late 1830s most convicts were either retained by Government for public works or assigned to private individuals as a form of indentured labour. From the early 1840s the Probation System was employed, where convicts spent an initial period, usually two years, in public works gangs on stations outside of the main settlements, then were freed to work for wages within a set district. Between 1803 and 1853 approximately 75,000 convicts served time in VDL. Of these 67,000 were shipped from British and Irish ports and the remainder were either locally convicted, or transported from other British colonies. This represents about 45 per cent of all convicts landed in Australia. Transportation to VDL ended in 1853.

It has been suggested that the southern colony received the worst of the convicts and therefore its experience was notably different from that of NSW.[5] There appear to be three reasons for this view. First, that in the early years of settlement VDL was used as an unofficial dumping ground for ‘difficult’ convicts by the colonial administration in NSW. Little evidence supports this. Indeed, in numerical terms, VDL benefited considerably from the additional infusion of labour that colonial shipping indents show was largely composed of convict mechanics.[6] Secondly, that following the establishment of Macquarie Harbour and Port Arthur penal stations, VDL received a disproportionate number of re-transported secondary offenders. This charge has more merit, although the overall numbers were relatively small and were to some extent outweighed by convicts re-transported from VDL to mainland settlements. Thirdly, before 1840 relatively few convicts were transported direct from Ireland, VDL received a disproportionate number of urban convicts from the slums of industrialising mainland Britain. However, there is an alternative way of looking at this. As convicts from Britain were significantly more skilled and literate than those from Ireland, the lack of Irish transportees was an economic advantage not a disadvantage.

The Irish community was small before the 1840s when transportation to NSW ceased. Between 1840 and 1853, 7,248 Irish male and 4,068 Irish female convicts arrived in the island, 20 per cent of all convicts. They committed relatively fewer local offences than others. After release, many convicted during the Famine of 1845-1849 settled in humble occupations or followed the gold rushes on the mainland. Despite mythology, few Irish were transported for purely political offences. Some Irish belonging to secret societies, such as the Whiteboys, were marginally political, and several United Irishmen and Defenders from the insurgency of the 1790s reached VDL.

Richard Dry, a radical Protestant and owner of a cloth factory was one of the more significant Defenders in the Dublin area.[7] He was arrested in county Roscommon in February 1797, was tried at the Cork city assizes in September and sentenced to be transported for life. Dry had spent nine months in Cork city jail when the outbreak of Rebellion in May 1798 further delayed his transportation and he did not reach NSW until 11 January 1800.  After four year in Parramatta, where he remained aloof from United Irish intrigue, Dry accompanied Lieutenant-Colonel William Paterson to the site of Port Dalrymple [Launceston], VDL, in November 1804. Having worked as a storekeeper Dry was pardoned in 1809 and appointed commissariat clerk of the town four years later.74  Freedom and business acumen enabled Dry to begin amassing livestock to the number of 7,000 sheep and 300 cattle within a few years, enabling his emergence as one of the island’s most respectable immigrants. By contrast, Michael Rogers’ experience of VDL ultimately proved fatal. He had been sentenced at Meath on 26 February 1844 to transportation for life on a charge relating to ribbonism, was detained at Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin, in March 1844 and transported on the Cadet arriving in VDL in late August. The convict records show his involvement in a sequence of offences escalating from misdemeanour to crime over a period of two years that culminated in the wilful murder of Joseph Howard, a police constable, in February 1848. The Hobart Town Courier reported that Rogers had been bush-ranging with Patrick Lynch and John Riley in the Sorrell district and referred to them as the ‘Fingal bushrangers’.[8] Tried in December 1848, Rogers was executed on 3 January 1849. [9]

The leaders of the failed Young Ireland 1848 Rebellion obtained tickets-of-leave: William Smith O’Brien, John Martin, Kevin O’Doherty, John Mitchel, Thomas Meagher, Patrick O’Donohoe, Terence MacManus. The last four escaped to America, while their colleagues were pardoned and returned to Ireland. W.P. Dowling, a Young Irelander working with Chartists in London, remained in VDL as an artist and photographer.[10] Seven humbler working men, transported after an attack on a police barracks at Cappoquin in 1849, worked their way through the convict system to relative freedom.[11]

In 1829, Western Australia was established initially as a convict-free colony when the Swan River settlement was founded in Perth with the landing of the first settlers at Garden Island and later at Fremantle.[12] However, during the 1840s the lack of skilled and unskilled labour threatening to cripple the colony and there was growing pressure for convicts to provide much needed cheap labour for building the infrastructure necessary to service the colony. Between 1845 and 1847, York Agricultural Society, supported by several merchants lobbied the colony’s Legislative Council to petition the British Government to send convicts.[13] For convicts who were nearing the end of their sentence, a system of ticket of leave was also introduced that helped provide labour for the development and expansion of agriculture. In 1849 by Governor Captain Charles Fitzgerald sent the Colonial Office a set of resolutions from a public meeting held in Perth on 23 February calling for the introduction of transportation. Earl Grey, Secretary of State for the Colonies in London accepted this proposal and by Order in Council allowed the Governor to declare the colony ‘a place to which convicts could be sent’. [14] The first shipment of 75 transportees arrived aboard the chartered barque Scindian on 1 June 1850. Early convicts were men selected because they had almost finished their sentences and were therefore less difficult to control. No female convicts were sent to Western Australia. Transportation of convicts from UK to Western Australia (and to Australia) officially ended in 1868 and ‘It is believed that 9,721 convicts stepped onto Western Australian soil alive.’ [15]

There were important differences between Western Australian convicts and those transported to the eastern states.[16] The men sent to Western Australia were more often convicted of more violent crimes: 19 per cent burglary usually with violence; 13 per cent crimes against the person and 9 per cent robbery. The men in the eastern states more frequently came from rural areas, they were older and a there was a larger proportion of agricultural workers. Within the Western Australian system, as well as being convicted of more violent crimes, the men arriving in the later years were more likely than earlier transportees to have come from an urban background. Consequently, they were more artisans than agricultural workers and they tended to be literate and married: 38 per cent were artisans compared to 8 per cent agricultural labourers; 64 per cent were literate or semi-literate; and 24 per cent were married.


[1] Serle, pp. 126-127.

[2] Clarke, Keith M., Convicts of the Port Phillip District, (K.M. & G. Clarke), 1999 and Wynd, Ian, The Pentonvillians, (Ian Wynd), 1996.

[3] Port Phillip Patriot, 21 November 1844.

[4] Port Phillip Patriot, 26 December 1844.

[5] See, for example White, C., A history of Australian bushranging, Vol. 1, (Lloyd O’Niel), 1970, p. 2; ibid, Giblin, R.W., The early history of Tasmania, p. 130; and ibid, Robson, L.L., The convict settlers of Australia, p 157

[6] Dyster, B., ‘Public employment and assignment to private masters, 1788-1821’, in ibid, Nicholas, Stephen, (ed.), Convict workers, p. 145

[7] Ibid, O’Donnell, Ruán, ‘‘Desperate and Diabolical’: Defender and United Irishmen in early NSW’.

[8] Hobart Town Courier, 26 February 1848.

[9] http://www.jcu.edu.au/aff/history/articles/kennan.htm Keenan, Mel, ‘The Armagh Five: Irish Ribbonmen in Tasmania 1840-1850’, The Electronic Journal of Australian and New Zealand History, (1996-1999) contains valuable material on Rogers.

[10] Davis, R. and Petrow, S., (eds.), Ireland & Tasmania 1848, (Crossing Press), 1998

[11] Meredith, David and Oxley, Deborah, ‘Contracting convicts: the convict labour market in Van Diemen’s Land 1840-1857’, Australian Economic History Review, Vol. 45, (1), (2005), pp. 45-72 examines the problem of declining labour supply.

[12] In 1826, convicts from NSW were sent to King George Sound to establish a settlement and their presence was maintained until 1830 when control of the settlement was transferred to the Swan River Colony. Early in 1839, John Hutt, Governor of Western Australia received a circular from the Colonial Office asking if the colony would be prepared to accept juvenile prisoners who had first been reformed in ‘penitentiaries especially adapted for the purpose of their education and reformation’. After seeking comment from the Western Australian Agricultural Society, Hutt responded that, ‘The Majority of the Community would not object to boys not above 15 years of age....’ but that the labour market could not support more than 30 boys per year. 234 juvenile prisoners were subsequently transported from Parkhurst Prison to Western Australia between 1842 and 1849. These Parkhurst apprentices were then ‘apprenticed’ to local employers. As Western Australia was not a penal colony, contemporary documents scrupulously avoided referring to the apprentices as ‘convicts’. Most historians have maintained this distinction. Gill, Andrew, Convict Assignment in Western Australia 1842–1851, (Blatellae Books), 2004, however, argues that they were convicts and that their apprenticeships constituted convict assignment. See also Stannage, C. T., (ed.), A New History of Western Australia, (University of Western Australia Press), 1981, especially Statham, Pamela, ‘Swan River Colony 1829-1850’, pp. 181-210.

[13] Statham, Pamela, ‘Why Convicts I: an Economic Analysis of the Colonial Attitude to the Introduction of Convicts’ and ‘Why Convicts II: the Decision to Introduce Convicts to Swan River’, in Stannage, C.T., (ed.), Studies in Western Australian History, 4: Convictism in Western Australia, (University of Western Australia Press), 1981, pp. 1-18.

[14] Hasluck, Alexandra, Unwilling Emigrants: a study of the convict period in Western Australia, (Oxford University Press), 1959, pp. 28-29

[15] O’Mara, Gillian, Convict Records of Western Australia, (Friends of Battye Library), 1990, p. 1; see also O’Mara, Gillian and Erickson, Rica, Dictionary of Western Australians, Vol. 9: ‘Convicts in Western Australia 1850-1887’, (University of Western Australia Press), 1994. See also, Reece, Bob, (ed.), Studies in Western Australian History, 20: The Irish in Western Australia, (University of Western Australia Press), 2000.

[16] Taylor, Sandra, ‘Who were the convicts? A statistical analysis of the convicts arriving in Western Australia, 1850-51, 1861-62 and 1866-68’, in ibid, Stannage, C.T., (ed.), Studies in Western Australian History, 4: Convictism in Western Australia, pp. 19-26. See also the papers in Sherriff, Jacqui and Brake, Anne, (eds.), Studies in Western Australian History, 24: Building the Colony: The Convict Legacy, (University of Western Australia Press), 2006.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Pre-famine Irish transportation: New South Wales

John Dunmore Lang noted that the Irish were sent almost exclusively to NSW. He went on to observe that no less than one-third of the total population of the colony of NSW in 1837 was composed of Irish Catholics, of whom nineteen-twentieths were convicts or emancipated convicts.[1] One observer noted the difference between national groups: Scottish convicts were considered the worst and Irish the best in VDL and NSW. He thought that this was because English law was more severe for minor crimes: ‘A man is vanished from Scotland for a great crime, from England for a small on, and from Ireland, for hardly no crime at all.’ [2]

The first ship to sail directly from Ireland carrying convicts under sentence of transportation was the Queen that arrived in Port Jackson on 26 September 1791.[3] From 1791 to 1798, most offenders were petty criminals from Dublin and Cork but with some representatives of ‘Defenders’, a largely Catholic movement in the rural counties bordering Ulster.[4] 200-300 Defenders landed in Port Jackson in the pre-Rebellion period and comprised at least half of all Irish political prisoners who arrived in NSW before 1806. [5] After the 1798 and 1803 rebellions, many of the 500-800 individuals transported were political prisoners, members or supporters of the revolutionary Society of United Irishmen. In 1801, Governor King described the Irish political prisoners who arrived on the Anne and those that had preceded them and ‘desperate and diabolical’[6] and a year later he asked the British government not to send any more Irishmen there and

...as few as possible of those convicted of sedition and republican practices, otherways, in a very short time this colony will be composed of a few other characters, which must necessarily draw on anarchy and confusion...[7]

His concern was borne out two years later when Irish convicts, many transported for their part in the 1798 Irish Rebellion, played a leading role in the Castle Hill Rebellion.[8]

From 1803 until the 1820s, there was a return to the predominantly urban emphasis of the early phase. From the late 1820s to the onset of famine migration many of those transported were rural offenders, some members of agrarian organisations such as the Whiteboys and ‘Terry Alts’.[9] Robert Holmes, a farm servant, for example was transported for life in 1819 for attacking and robbing the house of Pat Roche of Kilmallock, County Limerick. In 1829, Peter Gray, a twenty-seven year old ploughman was transported for life at Sligo for administering unlawful oaths. The following year he was hanged at Bathurst for bush-ranging and participating in an uprising in the town.[10] Between 1821 and 1840, 636 people from County Clare were transported to NSW, principally for petty crime, stealing bread, butter, clothing, killing sheep for meat, done largely in the name of survival. More serious crimes, including the stealing of cattle, earned life sentences. These convicts sent home word about the superior kind of life available in the colonies setting the pattern for subsequent emigration especially from Tipperary, Clare and South East Galway. [11]

Many of the early convicts eventually became established members of their communities. John Grant is a good example of Irish success in NSW.[12] Born in 1792 in Moyne, County Tipperary, in August 1810 he was sentenced to transportation to Australia at Clonmel for the attempted shooting of his landlord’s son. The man had apparently seduced, with her apparent consent, John’s sister Mary, and he, perhaps falsely, claimed that John had tried to shoot him. Apparently the courting couple heard that John and his brother Jeremiah were after them, and fearing the consequences, decided on a plot to remove John and Jeremiah. The landlord’s son fabricated a story that John had fired a loaded gun at him on 22 March 1810 and had missed. However, their sister had a change of heart and murdered her lover, as he was the only man who could testify against John. So the ‘justice of mercy’ was dispensed. The sister was hanged in the Spring Assizes, John was sentenced to life transportation to Australia and Jeremiah got away with 12 months in prison.

John left Falmouth on 21 January 1811 on the Providence, arriving in Sydney on 2 July. He had the good fortune to be assigned immediately to William Redfern[13], an emancipated assistant surgeon and worked on his farm at Campbelltown, rising to the position of overseer by 1817. Soon afterwards he petitioned Governor Macquarie for ‘mitigation of his sentence’ stressing that he was a family man and a trusted servant of Redfern. His petition was successful, he was granted his ticket of leave, and on 31 January 1820 was granted a pardon conditional that he stayed in Australia. He seems to have been accepted by the community, as he was appointed constable of Campbelltown within three months of becoming a free man. Twice in 1821, there are references to the government paying him to do work; for example he was paid £75 for tree felling and burning off. But like many of his contemporaries he looked west to the Blue Mountains for fame and fortune. Macquarie promised him 50 acres and in March 1821 he settled on land at the foot of Mount Victoria naming his property Moyne Farm, after his home in Ireland. The government assigned him a considerable number of convicts to clear the land. He is found selling wheat to a government store in Hartley in 1823. Over the years he acquired land to the west, and the 1828 census shows him occupying 150 acres (25 cleared, 11 cultivated) at Hartley where he also had 10 horses, 370 cattle and 2,440 sheep. In addition at Belabula, near Bathurst he had 5,500 sheep on 4,000 acres under an annual licence with 56 convicts and ticket of leave men working for him. Over the next thirty years, he acquired a considerable quantity of land. In 1853 his eldest son John married Julia Finn of Hartley and he gave them Moyne Farm plus 160 acres as a wedding present. He lived on his estates at Merriganowry on the Lachlan River where he owned several thousand acres. He died on 13 December 1866, aged 74, after several years of illness leaving an estate worth £3,000


[1] Lang, John Dunmore, Transportation and Colonization; or The Causes of the Comparative Failure of the Transportation System, (Bell and Bradfute), 1837, pp. iv-v, 471. Sir Richard Bourke to Lord Stanley, Secretary of State for the Colonies, 30 December 1833, cit, Burton, William Westbrooke, The State of Religion and Education in New South Wales, London, 1840, Appendix X, pp. lx-lxi, thought the figure was ‘a fifth’.

[2] Henderson, John, Observations on the Colonies of New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land, Calcutta, 1833, p. 9.

[3] Ibid, Reece, Bob, Irish convicts: the origins of convicts transported to New South Wales, pp. 231-273 considers Irish transportation to 1795. For the early transportees, see, Donohoe, James Hugh, Convicts and exiles transported from Ireland, 1791-1820, (J.S. North Pub.), 1997 and The Catholics of New South Wales, 1788-1820 and their families, (Archives Authority of New South Wales), 1988.

[4] On radical Irish politics in the 1790s see, McDowell, R.B., Ireland in the Age of Imperialism and Revolution, 1760-1801, (Oxford University Press), 1979, Smyth, Jim, The Men of no property: Irish Radicals and popular politics in the Late Eighteenth Century, (Macmillan), 1998, Dickson, David, Keogh, Daire and Whelan, Kevin, (eds.), The United Irishmen: Republicanism, Radicalism and Rebellion, (Lilliput Press), 1992 and  Elliott, M., Partners in Revolution: the United Irishmen and France, (Yale University Press), 1982. Pakenham, Thomas, The Year of Liberty; the great Irish Rebellion of 1798, (Hodder & Stoughton), 1969 and O’Donnell, Ruán, Robert Emmet and the Rising of 1803, (Irish Academic Press), 2003 provide accounts of the two rebellions.

[5] 519 male prisoners were disembarked from the four ships carrying Defenders to NSW between 1793 and 1797.  Kiernan, T.J., The Irish Exiles in Australia, (Clonmore & Reynolds), 1954, p. 9. See, http://members.tip.net.au/~ppmay/defenders.htm: O’Donnell, Ruán, ‘‘Desperate and Diabolical’: Defender and United Irishmen in early NSW’.

[6] King to Portland, 10 March 1801, HRNSW, Vol. 4, p. 319.

[7] King to Portland, 21 May 1802, HRNSW, Vol. 4, pp. 764-766.

[8] Silver, Lynette Ramsay, The Battle of Vinegar Hill: Australia’s Irish Rebellion, (Doubleday), 1989, revised ed., (Watermark Press), 2002; the 1804 Rebellion is often called by Australian historians an Irish rebellion or ‘Australia’s Irish rebellion’. This is misleading as the group of rebels on Vinegar Hill included convicts and free men of many nationalities. Of the leaders hanged, several were English convicts. It is true, however, that the Irish convicts were punished more heavily for the rebellion than the English convicts. See below, pp. 495-526.

[9] Peter Mayberry’s database on Irish Convicts to NSW 1791-1835 identifies 754 individuals transported for agrarian unrest after 1816.

[10] He was evidently part of the Ribbon Gang that took part in an insurrection in late 1830. It was not widespread despite the wild rumours that circulated at the time nor was it popular with convict servants in general. The number of the gang (twelve in total) was exaggerated and reports of convict uprisings in other places all proved unfounded. It might correctly be called a rebellion because the main object of the insurgents was to wreak revenge for past injustices, not to seek personal freedom.

[11] Curley, S., ‘Clare Convicts before and after the Famine’, in Rees, Bob, (ed.), Irish Convicts: The Origins of Convicts Transported to Australia, (University College Dublin), 1989, pp. 81-112.

[12] For genealogical information on the Grant family and their emigration to Canada and Australia, see, http://www.grantonline.com/index.htm

[13] William Redfern was a leading surgeon in early colonial NSW and had been transported in 1801 four years after the Spithead naval mutiny; Ford, Edward, ‘Redfern, William (1774-1833)’, ADB, Vol. 2, pp. 368-371.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Australia: Pre-famine Irish emigration

The First Fleet settled at Sydney Cove on 26 January 1788 and NSW became a British penal colony. Convicts greatly outnumbered free settlers and most prisoners were transported for terms of 7 or 14 years, but some went for life. [1] The new colony was a curious hybrid: a military colony that was run by naval officers but with a civil justice system largely because this was the system under which convicts had been sentenced. Initially settlement was confined to the new colony of NSW. VDL was settled in 1803 as a military outpost of the Sydney prison colony largely to limit French interest in NSW’s southern approaches. [2] Between 1788 and the termination of the system in 1868, Australia received over 160,000 convicts, approximately 40,000 of whom sailed from Ireland. A sense of belonging to a new nation was encouraged in 1817 when Macquarie recommended adopting the name ‘Australia’ for the entire continent instead of New Holland. Continued colonial expansion[3] resulted in the separation of VDL from NSW in 1825 followed, four years later in 1829 with the addition of Western Australia. There was further subdivision of NSW to create South Australia in 1836[4], the genesis of the Port Phillip district from 1835 into Victoria in 1851[5] and in 1859 the northern parts of NSW became Queensland.[6]

The history of Irish settlement in Australia has been called ‘ambiguous’ and ‘often shadowy’. Because of the distance involved and the logistics and cost of the journey, Australian emigration did not develop as a mass movement until the 1820s. Unlike the United States after independence in 1776, some travelled to the southern hemisphere as convicts but the transportation system was progressively withdrawn from 1840 onwards. There were government-assisted schemes such as the emigration of workhouse inmates to Australia. Emigrants who arranged their own travel to Australia were generally better off than those who emigrated from Ireland to North America and Australia attracted a larger proportion of emigrants who had the resources to purchase land or set themselves up in business.[7]

Legislation permitting transportation from Britain to NSW was passed in 1784 and the Irish Act followed two years later. The Irish Statute provided for ‘removal to some of His Majesty’s plantations in America, or to such place out of Europe’ while the British legislation did not name the destination, merely saying ‘beyond the sea, either within His Majesty’s dominions or elsewhere outside His Majesty’s Dominion’s’. This difference appears to have allowed transportation to Australia from England to start in 1787, while there were problems with the Irish Act. Further legislation passed in 1790, designed ‘to render the transportation of such felons and vagabonds more easy and effectual’ and this resolved matters.

When a transportation sentence was handed down, the prisoner was normally returned to the local gaol. Southern prisoners were housed in the city gaol at Cork while those brought to Dublin were mostly placed in Newgate and Kilmainham gaols. The removal of the male convicts to hulks in 1822 meant that conditions at the Cork depot improved considerably.[8] From 1817, a holding prison was provided in Cork to house the convicts and in 1836 a depot was provided in Dublin for female convicts, who had previously not been segregated. Temporary depots were opened, prior to the opening of Mountjoy Convict Prison, at Smithfield (Dublin) and Spike Island in Cork Harbour, for male convicts. Convicts often had to wait up to two years before they were actually transported to Australia.

As soon as a ship arrived in Australia, it notified the port if there were male or female convicts on board. The port authorities inspected the ship and the convicts. The convicts were brought up on deck and inspected by the colonial secretary. Within a few days they were interviewed and asked about their qualifications and previous work history. The convicts were usually assigned soon after this and there was a demand for farm workers and mechanics. The more dangerous prisoners were usually sent to road gangs of up to 300 men guarded by the military. The assignment system had many critics who felt it was corrupt, and too severe. However, convicts from Ireland, especially if they were labourers, were often better clothed and fed than the poor back home. [9]

Convicts only accounted for 12 per cent of the Irish to settle in Australia in the nineteenth century but their influence in shaping subsequent migration from Ireland to Australia far outweighed their numbers. During the 62 years of transportation from Ireland to eastern Australia and VDL, O’Farrell suggests that approximately 40,000 Irish men and women (29,466 men and 9,104 women) were transported to Australia and many more followed their loved ones as free settlers to a new life in the colony. Of those sent from England, estimates suggest that about 8,000 were Irish born and perhaps a similar number of Irish descent. For example, Thomas Wade wrote to his wife in 1826 encouraging her to come to NSW as a free settler and stated that he has permission for her to join him.[10] In 1839, James Stewart was transported for fourteen years for burglary while his father was convicted of receiving stolen goods. His mother, Mary Stewart, residing in Omagh, County Tyrone, requested a free passage to NSW.[11] Peter Cunningham commented in the late-1820s

The Irish convicts are more happy and contented with their situation on board than the English, although more loth to leave their country, even improved as the situation is for a great body of them is by being thus removed...while the burden of another was ‘Many a Mac in your town, if he only knew what the situation of a convict was, would not be long in following my example!...I was never better off in my life...’[12]

O’Farrell estimates about 1.5% of these were unambiguously sent out as political offenders or participants in rebellion or conspiracy, with the great bulk of these coming in the aftermath of the 1798 Rebellion. [13] If crimes of agrarian discontent and social disaffection are included under the heading of ‘political crimes’, then the proportion of Irish political transportees rises to about 20%. The great majority of Irish convicts were, therefore, sent to Australia largely for petty crimes. John Ahern, for example, was tried at Limerick in April 1849 and sentenced to 15 years transportation for cow stealing[14] while earlier that year Pat Ahern was tried at Cork was transported for 7 years for stealing a cloak.[15] Certainly United Irishmen, Young Ireland and Fenian leaders were transported, but both in Ireland and Australia the myth that many, if not most convicts were sentenced for political offences is unfounded.

Transportation from Ireland to Australia effectively came to an end in 1853. The last ship to carry convicts directly from Ireland to Australia was the Phoebe Dunbar that sailed from Kingstown (now Dun Laoghaire) near Dublin and arrived in Western Australia on 30 August 1853 and as far as is known, nobody convicted of a crime committed in Ireland was transported to Australia between 1853 and 1868. The sentence of transportation was abolished in July 1857 under an Act of that year, but the Act allowed for convicts sentenced to penal servitude to be sent ‘beyond the seas’. By this means, transportation continued from England until 1868. In 1868, 63 Irish Fenians who had been convicted in Ireland but imprisoned in England were transported from England. They arrived in Western Australia on 9 January 1868 on board the Hougoumont, the last convict transport ship to sail from England to Australia.[16]


[1] Keneally, Thomas, The Commonwealth of Thieves: the story of the founding of Australia, (Chatto and Windus), 2006. See also, Bernard, Michel, La colonisation penitentiaire en Australie 1788-1868, (Harmattan), 1999.

[2] Foster, Colin, France and Botany Bay: The Lure of a Penal Colony, (Melbourne University Press), 1996, considers French interest in Australian settlement and its influence on the development of their own penal policy. Giblin, W. R., The Early History of Tasmania, Vol. 2, 1804-1828, (Melbourne University Press), 1939, Shaw, A.G.L., (ed.), and West, John, The History of Tasmania, (Angus & Robertson), 1971, ibid, Robson, Lloyd, A History of Tasmania: Vol. I, Van Diemen’s Land from the Earliest Times to 1855, pp. 137-315 and Boyce, James Van Diemen’s Land, (Black Inc.), 2008, pp. 63-250 provides material on VDL’s development.

[3] For discussion of this territorial expansion, see, ibid, Brown, Richard, Three Rebellions, pp. 120-136.

[4] South Australia never accepted convicts directly from England but accepted ex-convicts from other colonies. In the early days of settlement, South Australia was plagued with problems attributed to ‘bolters’ or escaped convicts from the penal settlements in the east of the continent. A significant, but unknown number of ex-convicts also chose to settle in South Australia.

[5] Ibid, Shaw A.G.L., A History of the Port Phillip District: Victoria Before Separation, is an excellent study of the period to 1851.

[6] Evans, Raymond A History of Queensland, (Cambridge University Press), 2007, pp. 51-77, considers the creation of Queensland in 1859.

[7] On the Irish in Australia, see Hogan, J.F., The Irish in Australia, (Ward & Downey), 1887, reprinted (Echo Library), 2006, McConville, Chris, Croppies, Celts & Catholics. The Irish in Australia, (Edward Arnold), 1987, O’Farrell, Patrick, The Irish in Australia: 1788 to the Present, (University of New South Wales Press), 1987, 1993, 2000, Ronayne, Jarlath, The Irish in Australia: rogues and reformers, First Fleet to Federation, (Viking Press), 2002 and Jupp, James, (ed.), The Australian People: an Encyclopaedia of the Nation, Its People and Their Origins, (Cambridge University Press), 2001, pp. 443-486.

[8] Elizabeth Fry inspected the state of Irish gaols in 1826; see comments in Fry, Elizabeth and Gurney, Joseph John, Report addressed to the Marquess Wellesley, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, respecting their late visit to that country, London, 1827, pp. 21-22. She was not convinced, however, of the need for such depots, and seemed more in favour of the English method of bringing the convicts straight from the county and city gaols to the transport ships for embarkation.

[9] Ibid, Shaw, Alan, Convicts and the colonies and Robson, L.L., The Convict Settlers of Australia, (Melbourne University Press), 1976, examine the process and the participants. Costello, Con, Botany bay: the story of the convicts transported from Ireland to Australia 1791-1853, (Mercier Press), 1988 generally considers Irish transportation while Robson, Lloyd, ‘The origins of the women convicts sent to Australia 1787-1852’, Historical Studies of Australia and New Zealand, Vol. 11, (1963), pp. 43-53 and Robinson, Portia, ‘From Colleen to Matilda’, in Costello, Con, (ed.), Ireland and Australia: Bicentenary Essays 1788-1988, (Gill & Macmillan), 1986, pp. 96-110 look at the role of women.

[10] National Archives of Ireland: PPC 3030, letter dated 8 February 1824.

[11] National Archives of Ireland: FS 1840 18.

[12] Cunningham, Peter, Two Years in New South Wales, 2 Vols. London, 1827, Vol. II, p. 235. Peter Miller Cunningham (1789-1864) was a Scottish naval surgeon who made four voyages to NSW after 1817 as surgeon-superintendent on convict ships without of loss of any of the 600 convicts. See also a favourable review in the Quarterly Review, January 1828, pp. 1-32 and Fitzhardinge, L. F., ‘Cunningham, Peter Miller (1789-1864)’, ADB, Vol. 1, pp. 267-268.

[13] Ibid, O’Farrell, Patrick, The Irish in Australia: 1788 to the Present, pp. 23-24.

[14] National Archives of Ireland: TR 9, P 107.

[15] National Archives of Ireland: TR 8, P 38.

[16] Pickering, Paul, ‘Loyalty and Rebellion in Colonial Politics: The Campaign Against Convict Transportation in Australia’, in Buckner, Phillip A. and Francis, R. D., (eds.), Rediscovering the British world, (University of Calgary Press), 2005, pp. 87-107 is a recent discussion of the end of transportation.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Regionalism and political power: an unresolvable conundrum

One of the casualties of the reorganisation of local government in the early 1970s was the Isle of Ely absorbed within a much extended Cambridgeshire.  While there may have been a logical and administrative case for this, it still rankles with many older residents in the now expunged shire.  Yet even in the Isle there were differences largely between those who regarded themselves as Fen people and those who did not, a distinction based on whether you were a Fen person born and those regarded as ‘foreigners’ (and that included those born in the old shire of Cambridge).  The Fens was not an administrative unit but covered parts of the Isle, Norfolk, smidgeons of Suffolk and Lincolnshire.  The trick is to find a structure that marries individual identity with historical traditions (and myth) and administrative necessities.

This is indicative of the problems involved in creating a regional structure in England—or in fact in Scotland or Wales.  People, even in these days of global social networking and global awareness, still have an intense attachment to ‘their’ localities.  In part this is a consequence of how the English state developed before 1945.  Although that state was already centralised with most political power and decision-making (at least at the level of policy) made in Westminster, how people experienced those policies was mediated through local institutions—face-to-face contact with ‘government’ was through the vestry, parish council, the shire structures rather than with Westminster and declining involvement is politics can be explained by the breakdown in this personal contact with those institutions.  If all key decisions are made in London, why should people really bother about what’s going on in their own localities?  This is reflected in the paltry number of voters in local elections—why bother to vote for something that really has little control over your destinies—and this has had a debilitating effect on national elections with a progressive decline in turnout.  Today, no political party in local or national government has a majority mandate for its actions.  What we are witnessing is the de-democratisation of politics and the creation of technocratic conceptions of government in which elections do not really change anything but essentially tweak policies.

The question is whether an English parliament—for which there is a strong case within a federal structure—or establishing self-governing regions will put the ‘demos’ back into democracy.  If not, then all we will have is another administrative reorganisation that will bring about ‘cosmetic change’—it will seem to address the constitutional concerns of the people (well at least that will be what politicians in Westminster say: ‘we’re listening’!) but all it will do is create another tier of ambitious, self-important and self-obsessed, if well-meaning politicians who lack any real popular legitimacy.  The truth is that we cannot go back to the regionalism of the Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy or the early-modern notion of the ‘commonweal’—England is no longer a rural, democratic idyll, something that has long been discarded in the dustbin of history.  Yet, for some people at least, nostalgia for a ‘lost past’—that is reality did not exist—lies behind their support for regionalism.  Yes there are differences between the different parts of England—a diversity that should be celebrated—but whether regional constitutional structures resolve those differences rather than magnifying them is a moot point.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Little Englands or the dangers of fragmentation

Watching Newsnight yesterday evening, I was struck by a discussion of whether or not London could seeks independence from the United Kingdom.  It could, one of the participants suggested, become a city state like those of the Hanseatic League, the medieval commercial powerhouse of northern Europe.  I was surprised that he did not mention the Athenian polis as well.  The argument was essentially that London is different from the rest of the UK…it is wealthier (anger at the mansion tax proposals from Labour as it will particularly hit Londoners), more diverse ethnically and culturally and less concerned by immigration and more pro-Europe than the rest of the country.  Well, yes.  Could London survive as a separate ‘state’, probably yes.  Is it an appealing idea for Londoners, almost certainly yes.  Should the proposition be seriously considered, definitely no.  That the idea of London as a city state is being touted as a constitutional solution is indicative of the mess we have got ourselves into since the Scottish referendum. 

For good or ill, one of the strengths of the British constitutional system has been its centralised nature.  I remember being told by a medieval historian several decades ago that one of the reasons why centralised constitutional solutions worked in Britain but not in other countries was that Britain was just the right size.  This combined with responsive local government meant that the writ of central government ran effectively across the country.  Before the twentieth century and the emergence of the massively centralised welfare state, Parliament reflected this bifurcation of power in spending much of the time discussing local legislation rather than, as it does today, pondering national policies.  While it is certainly the case that constitutional change is now unavoidable, there seems to be no consensus on what that change should be and the mechanisms through which change should be accomplished.  The danger we have now is that different political groupings for different and often contradictory reasons seem intent on fragmenting this constitutional settlement. 

There are three issues that need to be resolved.  First, what should the relationship be between the four parts of the United Kingdom?  For this we need to look to a federal solution…what may be called home rule for the nations.  This means that everything that is not a union issue, such as defence, should be devolved to the four nations.  We already have this in several areas: in education, for instance, policies in Scotland and Wales already diverge from those that apply in England.  Each nation would have its own parliament or assembly to deal with these issues…it would be simply wrong not to have an unicameral English parliament to deal with English laws.   Secondly, within the nations there are also calls for greater regional autonomy.  Though the debate has focussed on England, the same pressures are evident in Wales and Scotland…the Shetland Islands, for instance, are as far from Edinburgh and Edinburgh is from London.  Finally, there is the question of Europe.  I agree with David Milliband’s statement today:

I have this residual faith in the common sense of the British people that generally they don't do stupid things. And it would be unbelievably stupid to walk out of the European Union.

By focussing attention of the question of the free movement of labour within the EU…something that concerns other EU members as well as the UK…there is a danger that we will forget the benefits of membership.   Much better p…..g out of the tent than p….g in! 

The problem with my neat solution to the constitutional mess we’ve got ourselves into is that it requires the different political parties to agree even if they are disadvantaged by the solution.  So Labour has to accept that the West Lothian question has to be resolved and that, in future, Scottish MPs should not vote on English issues.  Similarly, the Conservatives need to accept that an element of proportional representation is necessary in electing members to the four national parliaments even if first past the post remains the norm for elections to the UK Parliament.  Above all we need to have a constitutional settlement that all political parties can buy into whether they like all its elements or not.  Only by doing this can a constitutional referendum be won…in reality you probably wouldn’t need a referendum simply a General Election with all parties committed to the settlement meaning that whoever won, it would be implemented. 

Not doing this leaves the danger of further fragmentation as a potent threat and a further weakening of Britain’s global position.  Little Englands is not a viable option in the twenty-first century.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Shaping a historiography: bringing separate stories together?

A string of recent publications with ‘Australia and New Zealand’ in their titles purport to bring the two countries’ historical experiences together, but continue to address shared issues separately and do not go far beyond the making of comparisons[1]. Bob Catley, an Australian who was Professor of Politics at the University of Otago, attempted to address the age-old question of whether New Zealand and Australia have a united future, but his analysis tends to the polemic[2]. Finally, James Belich in his grand synthesis of New Zealand history, Paradise Reforged, re-emphasises British at the expense of Australian connections and argues that New Zealand departed its ‘old, Tasman world’ in 1901 for a re-colonial relationship with Britain[3].

Since the publication of W. Pember Reeves’ State Experiments in Australia and New Zealand and T. A. Coghlan’s Statistical Account of the Seven Colonies of Australasia in 1902, few historians have been bold enough to discuss both countries together as a continuing community of interests[4]. The problem is that, a century later, there remains a significant gap in vital knowledge of the sustained nature of shared experiments in the twentieth century, the extent of continuing trans-Tasman ties and interactions, and their impact on both nations’ respective identities. Historians always write for their generation, so it is unsurprising that they should want to fill this gap when scholars internationally are seeking historical explanations that focus on interactions, trans-national flows and transfers, the stuff of globalisation.

In New Zealand, the tide is gradually flowing towards a renewed interest in the importance of what are now its closest ties, with Australia. At the University of Canterbury, the New Zealand Historical Association conference in December 2001 ran a dedicated panel discussion on the teaching of Australian history in New Zealand. At the Australian Historical Association conference in July 2002, participants enthusiastically sought ways of better understanding Australia and New Zealand’s shared histories and Jill Roe, President of the AHA, used her welcoming address to call for a new CIR agreement with New Zealand: her term for Closer Intellectual Relations.

One highlight of this trend was the publication in May 2002 of the New Zealand parliamentary report on the country’s economic and trade relationship with Australia that foreshadowed the twentieth anniversary of the free trade agreement known as CER (Closer Economic Relations) in 2003[5]. This report shows a refreshing lack of romanticism in assessing the real nature of the Australia-New Zealand relationship. In summing up the contemptuous familiarity with which New Zealanders and Australians sometimes treat one another, the New Zealand select committee quoted Simon Upton, who is currently at the OECD:

The truth may be, however, that the one-liners paper over a serious awkwardness that has grown, not narrowed, over the years. Australia is a big country that has to be taken seriously. We are, well … in another league shall we say. But that shouldn’t prevent a serious engagement. In fact, from New Zealand’s point of view, it makes it even more imperative. Yet in my time as a parliamentarian, I had far more extensive contact with North American, Asian and European politicians, writers and business people than I did with Australians. It was assumed that Australia was a place you went on sporting missions or winter holidays and that all that inherited fluency would take care of itself. Well it doesn’t.

The report concluded it is time that New Zealand made a twenty-year investment to build a generation of New Zealanders ‘whose fluency with Australia extends beyond good-natured insults and cut-price weekends in Sydney’[6]. The government’s response to this report, in October 2002, puts the onus back on universities to do something about this deficit in knowledge and understanding. The government agrees that it ‘is vital that this most important of New Zealand’s external relationships is underpinned by rigorous analysis’ and declares itself ready to encourage New Zealand tertiary institutions ‘to increase their research capability and effectiveness on trans-Tasman issues in collaboration with Australian counterparts’[7]. It intends to discuss with the Australian government how that country might support these objectives. Such sentiments raise a fundamental problem with research on the trans-Tasman relationship. Australians will not take the initiative; New Zealand will have to do it. The trans-Tasman relationship is not on Australian radar screens because geopolitics dictates that Australia will always look to the United States as its logical comparator.

This brings us back to the ‘Anzac Neighbours’ research project, designed to capture this critical moment. It has been funded to carry out a three-year, multidisciplinary study of the trans-Tasman relationship on a series of fronts, during what we call the ‘long twentieth century’, from the 1880s to the end of the twentieth century. It started from the premise that, whatever singular historical paths Australia and New Zealand took, these are undercut by continuing exchanges at levels of institutional organisation and public policy and through mutual professional, intellectual and cultural influences. The ‘Australian Settlement’ was in fact a shared Antipodean settlement, centred on ethnic solidarity of the ‘white races’, oriented against aliens (especially blacks and Asians) and assuming that indigenous peoples were to die out or amalgamate with settler society. It was also a gender-based settlement, rendering women dependent on the state and with labour policies oriented towards male breadwinners. In this context, both countries were tied early into global economic strategies because they came late to European settlement and were isolated from their imperial founder, Britain. The project considers why an Australasian model of state development, including continuous, interactive flows both ways across the Tasman in public policy and cultural relations, evolved in distinctive ways during the twentieth century and why this model was abandoned in both countries towards the end of that century. There are a set of propositions that are at the heart of the relationship:

· The ‘Tasman world’ that thrived at the end of the nineteenth century did not end with federation of the Australian colonies.

· There have been significant linkages in the ‘Antipodean response’ to the restructurings of the world economy that have taken place during the crises of the 1890s, 1930s and 1980s.

· The ways in which ideas and policies have transferred across the Tasman has been historically conditioned by the ‘density’ of institutional and cultural factors on each side.

· In the construction of their separate national identities, New Zealanders and Australians influenced each other’s to a greater degree, through common stories than has been historically conceded (such stories including the Anzac legend, sporting contests, migration experiences and intermarriage).

· Gender and race dynamics have been mutually informed and influenced by historical transfers of people and ideas since the days of colonial interaction in the nineteenth century and through a common Anglo-Celtic ancestry.

This trans-Tasman project does not re-tell the well-known story of the defence relationship or differences in each country’s foreign policy, although these will be necessary background. Instead, it has focused on cultural relations since the 1880s and on issues of public policy transfer and private commercial networks. Discovering where ties were weak is just as significant for the process of explanation as discovering where and why they were strong. Size and remoteness suggest that New Zealand will be the larger beneficiary of this research, but the hope is that both Australian and New Zealand histories will be the richer for more awareness of each other and their exchange of people and ideas.


[1] T. Brabazon Tracking the Jack: a Retracing of the Antipodes, University of New South Wales Press, 2000 is a cultural studies text that sees Australia and New Zealand as a combined Antipodean space. Yet Brabazon does not deal with them as interactive spaces and notes that the trans-Tasman relationship is ‘astonishingly under-defined’ (p. 161). There is a cartoon history from a New Zealand viewpoint: I. F. Grant The Other Side of the Ditch: a Cartoon Century in the New Zealand – Australia Relationship, New Zealand Cartoon Archive, in association with Tandem Press, 2001.

[2] B. Catley Waltzing with Matilda: Should New Zealand Join Australia?, Dark Horse, 2001.

[3] J. Belich Paradise Reforged: a History of the New Zealanders from the 1880s to the Year 2000, Allen Lane, 2001, pages 46–52.

[4] W. P. Reeves State Experiments in Australia and New Zealand, 2 Vols., Grant Richards, 1902; T. A. Coghlan A Statistical Account of the Seven Colonies of Australasia, 1901–1902, 9th issue, Government of the State of New South Wales, 1902.

[5] Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee Inquiry into New Zealand’s Economic and Trade Relationship with Australia, Wellington, 2002.

[6] Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee Inquiry into New Zealand’s Economic and Trade Relationship with Australia, Wellington, 2002, page 12.

[7] Government Response to Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee, October 2002.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Evidence, research and professionalism

Both Conservatives and Labour have now made raising the professional standing of teachers a priority in the lead-up to the General Election next May.  For Tristram Hunt, this is linked to a teachers’ ‘Hippocratic oath’ while the Conservatives now propose to establish a College of Teaching to protect standards and to raise the status of the teaching profession. Education Secretary Nicky Morgan says she wants teaching to be seen as having a similar status as professions such as medicine and law and will ‘allow teachers, like other professions, to set their own high standards for their members; to take a lead in improving the profession's skills and abilities; and to champion higher standards for children.’

The government says that it will set up a fund to provide ‘evidence-based professional development, led by a network of more than 600 outstanding teaching schools’.  For those of us who were involved in this sort of research when we were teaching, this is a welcomed move.  But, evidence-based research is neither easy to do nor something that can be directly linked to improvements in standards even if that was its intention.  Having spent two years doing an Advanced Diploma in Education with John Elliott at UEA and a M.Phil at Cambridge, I found that effective evidence-based research is something that takes time and does not lead to immediate solutions…it is a process that creates a way of thinking about teaching and learning rather than simply an administrative tool to achieve change.  Unless this distinction is recognised and the problematic nature of the notion of ‘evidence’ in evidence-based research is recognised then is is probable that it will lead to ‘cosmetic’  results or action without change…change in slow motion. 

It has been my experience that teachers fall into three broad categories: those who embrace change, those who resist change and the majority who fall between the two and hope to continue what they’re doing and for whom change is less a challenge more an obstacle to get over.  When my much-maligned generation went into the profession many of us did so because we saw teaching as a life-long vocation…we were never going to get rich teaching as many of our colleagues did who entered the legal or medical professions.  Few teachers did any research and those who did were regarded as somewhat exotic beings…I remember being told by a prominent head teacher in the late 1980s that doing research into teaching would get me nowhere and that it was of little value.  In fact, for most teachers it was what has been called a ‘quiet billet’ involving little planning…many teachers wrote their lesson plans once and then used them for the remainder of their careers…with an liberal use of coercion to enforce authority.  The assumption was, something I was told in my first professional development session as a teacher…and this statement was the whole of the session…if you assume that you have a class of disruptive idiots in front of you, you’ll never be disappointed.

We have come a long way from that antediluvian view and it is to be hoped that a College of Teaching will further develop the excellent classroom-based research that has been a feature of good professional development since the 1990s but, despite all the attempts to establish a well-paid cadre of excellent teachers, we still do not have an administrative cadre in the profession.  The inevitable route for the excellent teacher and middle-manager is out of the classroom and into educational administration and there is a considerable attitudinal and intellectual difference between being an excellent teacher and being an excellent manager…managing finances is very different from managing children.   

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Shaping a historiography: separate national stories

Australia and New Zealand ignore each other when telling their national stories. A research project at the University of Canterbury is seeking to address this problem by exploring the Australia-New Zealand relationship on multiple levels, political, intellectual, cultural, social and economic from the 1880s to 2000. Entitled ‘Anzac Neighbours: 100 years of multiple ties between New Zealand and Australia’, this project by three University of Canterbury colleagues, two historians and a political scientist has received a grant from the Royal Society of New Zealand’s Marsden Fund to hunt for an answer as to why the two Southern Hemisphere countries share various pasts but neglect their common history and to disclose the continuing ties and flows between them. There remains a remarkable similarity in their flags. They share the same stubborn commitment to the Union Jack and the same reference to their common place under the Southern Cross.

Together, Australia and New Zealand once wore the name ‘Australasia’, and the ‘Anzac Neighbours’ team seek to confirm the continued existence of this region even though the collective label has fallen into disuse. In part, this project was the result of the Blackwell History of the World volume, A History of Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific, where Donald Denoon and Philippa Mein Smith found that they were, indeed, writing about a coherent region, even though it no longer had a name[1]. Their history argues that the naming of places is a political act. Australasia emerged as a political and cultural entity with European settlement and regional relations survive despite its submergence; if anything, Australasia has resurfaced as an idea as globalisation has gathered force.

In a keynote address at the Australian Historical Association Conference in 2002, Donald Denoon argued that the Australasian dimension of their joint pasts is a ‘repressed memory’ that historians have airbrushed out of both Australian and New Zealand historiographies[2]. The term ‘Australasia’ was first used in the eighteenth century, even before Captain James Cook by de Brosses in 1756 and entered the English language as referring to the lands south of Asia. By the late nineteenth century, its purview had shrunk to the sphere of British influence in the South Pacific, and Australia and New Zealand were commonly referred to as ‘the seven colonies of Australasia’. Historians since have erased this name and the connections associated with it from both Australian and New Zealand history, as if they wanted to forget that New Zealand and the Australian colonies were part of ‘Australasia’ before 1901. Yet this community of interests was ‘real’, as James Belich has recognised, even if it was a bit vague or fuzzy around the edges[3]. By ‘fuzzy’ he means that contemporaries were unclear over whether the place and community called Australasia included ‘all the colonies in the southern seas’, the British ones as well as New Zealand and the Australian continent[4].

The problem is that neither country’s historians have given due credit to the influence of the other. For a hundred years, historians on both sides of the Tasman Sea have produced national histories that ignored their shared pasts and neglected the historical parallels. From W. K. Hancock in 1930 through to the ten-volume ‘slice’ history written for Australia’s bicentenary in 1988, the Australian national story has excluded any mention of a common history with New Zealand[5]. This can be explained by a general historiographical shift from imperial to national history in the second half of the twentieth century[6].

The one exception is the debates in 1901 about whether New Zealand should join the Australian Commonwealth and even the history of these has been treated separately on each side. It is only in the latest Australian literature that John Hirst, for instance, relates Keith Sinclair’s cultural interpretation from the 1980s that ‘most New Zealanders did not want to become Australians’ to the Australian national story, to support the case that sentiment dominated over business in the creation of Australia[7]. In the process, The Sentimental Nation opened up debate about cultural connections. Pacific history tackled a more regionalist agenda in the early work of C. Hartley Grattan, but this reflected an interested American’s perspective that saw the Pacific as a region including the large rim countries and treated Australia and New Zealand as its south western quadrant[8].

The kind of Pacific history that evolved out of the Australian National University tradition under New Zealander J. W. Davidson after the Second World War concentrated on the oceanic islands and their contact histories. It left persistent boundaries between Pacific, Australian and New Zealand history, despite the direct explanatory relevance of New Zealand to an understanding of relations between indigenous peoples and new immigrant settlers and of Australia to the experience of Papua New Guinea. There have been some attempts to make Australasian comparisons, such as Kerry Howe’s 1977 Race Relations in Australia and New Zealand: a Comparative Survey, Simon Ville’s Rural Entrepreneurs about the stock and station agent industry and other thematic studies that share an interest in colonialism[9].

Shaun Goldfinch is the author of a political science monograph that compares the refashioning of the two countries’ economic policies[10]. His thesis complements that in the Blackwell history, that identities in the region are created and transformed locally, though often shaped by ideas generated elsewhere: Goldfinch highlights institutional density as an influence. Environmentalists, too, have no difficulty in seeing Australasia as a region; for instance, Tim Flannery in his ‘future eaters’ thesis, and Jared Diamond in Guns, Germs and Steel[11]. It is historians who prefer the boundaries of the sovereign nation–state, producing separate Australian and New Zealand books or separate chapters for books that supposedly discuss the two settler societies together. As A. G. Hopkins reflected at the end of the twentieth century, ‘the tradition of arranging history so that it fits within national borders surely needs to be revised’, with the passing of the age of empires[12].

This may seem odd to the rest of the world that is accustomed to considering Australia and New Zealand together, but polite, mutual ignorance is the norm in local historical and opinion-making circles. The well-regarded End of Certainty: the Story of the 1980s, by Australian journalist Paul Kelly, talks of ‘the Australian Settlement’ that endured for eight decades after Federation[13]. Its five planks – White Australia, arbitration, protection, ‘state paternalism’ and ‘imperial benevolence’ – are represented as unique and distinctively Australian. From the ‘foundation idea’ of White Australia to its ‘bedrock ideology’ of protection, arbitration is assumed to be an Australian institution based upon an Australian idea, the ‘fair go’ principle[14]. John Rickard also claims arbitration as a distinctive Australian institution, expressive of the national psyche[15]. In 2002, the concluding volume from the Australian National University’s ‘Reshaping Australian Institutions’ Project reiterated that Australia was unusual for its system of tariff protection that underpinned the ‘Australian Settlement’[16]. Yet the New Zealand historian Erik Olssen and others have demonstrated that these ‘experiments’ are as fundamental to New Zealand as to Australian history[17]. The social scientist Francis Castles describes industrial conciliation and arbitration as ‘this most peculiar of Australian institutions’, yet he argued in notable earlier work that the core concepts of the ‘wage earners’ welfare state’ and the politics of ‘domestic defence’ also applied to New Zealand[18].

At the July 2002 conference in Brisbane of the Australian Historical Association, the umbrella organisation for historians in Australia, an occasional whiff of disdain floated in the air as Kiwi papers were welcomed and Australian scholars expressed polite wonder at the richness and diversity of New Zealand historical scholarship. It was as though New Zealand continued to be marginal to the core business of Australian history. Again in September, a major international conference of the Association for Canadian Studies in Australia and New Zealand (ACSANZ) met in Canberra on the subject of possible converging futures, without a mention of New Zealand in either the conference’s title or its agenda[19].

The continuing ignorance of New Zealand fictional literature in Australia compared to that from India or Canada is a phenomenon that regularly draws bemused comments from reviewers. New Zealanders are just as guilty. They have absorbed the myth that New Zealand’s ‘Better Britons’ are superior to the Australian Britons. New Zealanders lacked the taint of convictism, they were moulded by a vigorous, cooler climate, and they enjoyed relations with a superior type of ‘native’[20]. New Zealand scholars have underwritten this tale of separate histories. The country’s nationalist historian Keith Sinclair chose to focus primarily on the nineteenth century when writing for his edited collection Tasman Relations. He stridently demonstrated New Zealand’s ‘destiny apart’, especially in respect to the country’s allegedly better race relations[21]. Closer to our time, the New Zealand Journal of History chose to shape its millennium edition of 2000 around New Zealand in the Pacific as the theme for the twenty-first century. Remarkably, Australia was omitted entirely[22].


[1] D. Denoon and P. Mein Smith, with M. Wyndham A History of Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific, Blackwell, 2000.

[2] D. Denoon ‘Alternative Australias’, Keynote session, AHA conference, Brisbane, 3rd July 2002; see also his Eldershaw Lecture, ‘Re-membering Australasia’, Hobart, Tasmania, 12th May 2002.

[3] J. Belich Paradise Reforged: a History of the New Zealanders from the 1880s to the Year 2000, Allen Lane, 2001, pages 46–7.

[4] New Zealand Federation Commission Appendices to the Journal of the House of Representatives, Report, Appendix 4, 1901, pages 558 and 682.

[5] W. K. Hancock Australia, Ernest Benn, 1930; A. D. Gilbert et al. (eds.) Australians: a Historical Library, 10 volumes, Fairfax, Syme and Weldon Associates, 1987.

[6] See, for example, S. Macintyre ‘Australia and the Empire’, pages 163–81 and J. Belich ‘Colonization and history in New Zealand’, pages 182–93, in Oxford History of the British Empire, volume 5: Historiography, ed. R.W. Winks, Oxford University Press, 1999.

[7] J. Hirst The Sentimental Nation: the Making of the Australian Commonwealth, Oxford University Press, 2000; K. Sinclair ‘Why New Zealanders are not Australians: New Zealand and the Australian Federal Movement, 1881–1901’, in Tasman Relations: New Zealand and Australia, 1788–1988, ed. K. Sinclair, Auckland University Press, 1987, pages 90–103.

[8] C. H. Grattan The Southwest Pacific Since 1900: a Modern History; Australia, New Zealand, the Islands, Antarctica, University of Michigan Press, 1963.

[9] Monographs include: K. R. Howe Race Relations in Australia and New Zealand: a Comparative Survey 1770s–1970s, Methuen, 1977; H. R. Jackson Churches and People in Australia and New Zealand 1860–1930, Allen & Unwin, 1987; W. D. Borrie The European Peopling of Australasia: a Demographic History, 1788–1988, Australian National University, 1994; and, S. P. Ville The Rural Entrepreneurs: a History of the Stock and Station Agent Industry in Australia and New Zealand, Cambridge University Press, 2000. Edited collections of importance are: F. Castles, R. Gerritsen and J. Vowles (eds.) The Great Experiment: Labour Parties and Public Policy Transformation in Australia and New Zealand, Allen & Unwin, 1996; K. Neumann, N. Thomas and H. Ericksen (eds.) Quicksands: Foundational Histories in Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand, University of New South Wales Press, 1999; and, B. Attwood and F. Magowan (eds.) Telling Stories: Indigenous History and Memory in Australia and New Zealand, Wellington and Sydney, Bridget Williams, 2001.

[10] S. Goldfinch Remaking New Zealand and Australian Economic Policy: Ideas, Institutions and Policy Communities, Victoria University Press, 2000.

[11] T. F. Flannery The Future Eaters: an Ecological History of the Australasian Lands and People, Chatswood, Reed, 1994; J. M. Diamond, Guns, Germs and Steel: a Short History of Everybody for the Last 13,000 Years, Jonathan Cape, 1997.

[12] A. G. Hopkins ‘Viewpoint: back to the future: from national history to imperial history’, Past and Present, volume 164, (1999), page 243.

[13] P. Kelly The End of Certainty: the Story of the 1980s, Allen & Unwin, 1994, page 1.

[14] P. Kelly The End of Certainty: the Story of the 1980s, Allen & Unwin, 1994; see also B. Birrell Federation: the Secret Story, Duffy and Snellgrove, 2001.

[15] J. Rickard Australia: a Cultural History, 2nd edition, Longman, 1996, chapter 6.

[16] G. Brennan and F. G. Castles (eds.) Australia Reshaped: 200 Years of Institutional Transformation, Cambridge University Press, 2002, page 11.

[17] E. Olssen Building the New World: Work, Politics and Society in Caversham 1880s–1920s, Auckland University Press, 1995; J. Holt Compulsory Arbitration in New Zealand: the First Forty Years, Auckland University Press, 1986.

[18] F. G. Castles The Working Class and Welfare, Allen & Unwin, 1985; and his Australian Public Policy and Economic Vulnerability, Allen & Unwin, 1988.

[19] Association for Canadian Studies in Australia and New Zealand Converging Futures: Canada and Australia in a New Millennium? National Convention Centre, Canberra, 12th-15th September 2002.

[20] P. Mein Smith ‘New Zealand Federation Commissioners in Australia: one past, two historiographies’, Australian Historical Studies, volume 34, (2003), pages 305-325; see also J. Belich Paradise Reforged: a History of the New Zealanders from the 1880s to the Year 2000, Allen Lane, 2001.

[21] K. Sinclair (ed.) Tasman Relations: New Zealand and Australia, 1788–1988, Auckland University Press, 1987; and his ‘Why are race relations in New Zealand better than in South Africa, South Australia or South Dakota?’, New Zealand Journal of History, volume 5, (1971), pages 121–7

[22] New Zealand Journal of History, volume 34, (2000): see editorial introduction.