Thursday, 31 January 2013

Settler Australia, 1780-1880, Volume 1


Settlement, Protest and Control examines the way in which Australia developed. It is divided into two parts: establishing a colonial state and violence and protest. Uniquely in Britain’s growing empire, the colonies in New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land were established as penal settlements. Why the British government decided to settle Australia and the problems encountered by the first three fleets in transporting convicts to the other side of the globe demonstrate the scale of the endeavour. Between 1788 and 1823, the two colonies were ruled by a naval and then military autocracy unaccountable for their actions to the growing number of free settlers and the emancipists, convicts who had completed their sentences and, because of their distance from London, accountable with difficulty to the Colonial Office in London. This was, for instance, evident in the Rum Rebellion in 1808 not a populist uprising but a coup within the governing elite for whom Governor William Bligh’s ‘tyranny’ challenged its political and economic hegemony.

By the 1820s, there were calls from the British Parliament for a more responsive system of government for New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land that reflected demands from settlers in Australia. The result was a gradual process of constitutional evolution away from an autocratic system of government towards one that was more responsive to local inhabitants, a process completed in the 1850s with the introduction of responsible government, a devolved system of rule that combined local hegemony over colonial issues within an overarching and developing notion of imperial sovereignty. This process of constitutional change occurred at the same time as the territories of New South Wales were divided and new colonies founded: Western Australia in the late 1820s, South Australia from 1836, belatedly Victoria in 1851 and Queensland in 1859. The ways in which the land was settled concludes the first part of the book.

State violence accompanied the birth of New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land and was a constant presence during the following century. Nowhere was this more evident than in the punishment settlement on Norfolk Island, ‘Hell in Paradise’ as it was termed by contemporaries, where those already transported were re-transported for further transgressions. So brutish was it that convicts in New South Wales often preferred to be hanged than submit to its regime. Convict society was often volatile and resistance to the arbitrary character of colonial rules was widespread as the attitude of women prisoners amply demonstrates. Rebellion or the threat of rebellion was infrequent although New South Wales experiences a spate of rebellious conspiracies in the first decade of the nineteenth century including the rebellion at Castle Hill in 1804 and rebellion on Norfolk Island was an endemic problem. Those convicted of political offences such as Swing rioters in 1830 and Chartists in the 1830s and 1840s were, from the 1790s through to the end of transportation in 1868, frequently dispatched to the Australian colonies. This was particularly the case with political prisoners from Ireland with Young Irelanders and later Fenians exiled to the colonies to serve their sentences. The violent and militarised character of New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land was gradually diluted with the establishing of the rule of law and the emergence of colonial policing though this could be as arbitrary and harsh as the use of the military to control the population.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Terra nullius and Australia

When the British settled at Sydney Cove in 1788 the colonial government in Australia claimed all lands for the Crown from the formal declaration of annexation on 7 February 1788.[1] The notion that Australia was terra nullius was used as justification for it being settled not invaded and that the Aboriginal population had no territorial rights over it.[2] The first test of terra nullius in Australia occurred with the decision of R v Tommy[3] indicating that the native inhabitants were only subject to English law where the incident concerned both natives and settlers and not where the case concerned only natives. The rationale was that Aboriginal tribal groups already operated under their own legal systems, a position supported by the decision in R v Ballard. Chief Justice Forbes stated that

I believe it has been the practice of the Courts of this country, since the Colony was settled, never to interfere with or enter into the quarrels that have taken place between or amongst the natives themselves.  This I look to as matter of history, for I believe no instance is to be found on record in which the acts of conduct of the aborigines amongst themselves have been submitted to the consideration of our Courts of Justice.  It has been the policy of the Judges, & I assume of the Government, in like manner with other Colonies, not to enter into or interfere with any cause of dispute or quarrel between the aboriginal natives.  In all transactions between the British Settlers & the natives, the laws of the mother country have been carried into execution.  Aggressions by British subjects, upon the natives, as well as those committed by the latter upon the former, have been punished by the laws of England where the execution of those laws have been found practicable.  This has been found expedient for the mutual protection of both sorts of people; but I am not aware that British laws have been applied to the aboriginal natives in transactions solely between themselves, whether of contract, tort, or crime.[4]

Although these judgements recognised the legal status of Aborigines as subject to English law but also to tribal law, they did not address directly the question of Aboriginal sovereignty with regard to the land. However, they did recognise that the Aborigines had a primitive form of legal system in relation to resolving disputes within and between tribal groups. This did not, however, void the principle of terra nullius.

In 1835, John Batman, one of the founding pioneers of Victoria, first settled at Port Phillip and made an attempt to buy the land from the Aboriginal people through a ‘treaty’.[5] His treaty was signed on the banks of a creek on 16 June 1835 and was an agreement with eight Aboriginal leaders to transfer 100,000 acres of prime farming land in the Port Phillip area to Batman. However, this transaction was not as straightforward as it appears. Batman’s claim to this territory was based on the European idea of land ownership and legal contracts, a concept that was completely foreign to the indigenous people of Victoria. For them land was not about possession, but belonging. Territories may belong to different groups, but land cannot be bought or sold. Batman also claimed that he had negotiated with Aboriginal ‘chiefs’ who were in charge of this land. But he was actually negotiating with tribal elders who were not in a position to sell their people’s land, even if they had wanted to, and it is probable that none of the ‘signatories’ thought that this was what they were doing. The local Aborigines were as unable to comprehend the idea of selling their land as Batman was of appreciating the value it held for them. The exchange that took place that day, and the ‘treaty’ that marked it, was at best the result of a cultural misunderstanding by both sides. Inconsistencies in Batman’s accounts of how the ‘treaty’ was signed throw his claims of legitimate purchase into doubt. The story on the treaty deeds differs from the story in Batman’s journal and his report to Sir George Arthur, the VDL Governor. Historians now question whether the eight Aboriginal chiefs signed their ‘marks’ on the contract and Batman’s journal describes how he actually made the chiefs ‘signatures’ on the deeds himself.

Both the transfer to a person rather than the Crown and its implicit recognition of indigenous ownership and occupation of the land prompted Bourke to act. He effectively quashed the treaty with his Proclamation on 26 August 1835 and its republication on 3 May 1836 restating the doctrine of terra nullius upon which British settlement was based, reinforcing the notion that the land belonged to no one prior the British Crown taking possession of it in 1788.

Whereas, it has been represented to me, that divers of His Majesty’s Subjects have taken possession of vacant lands of the Crown, within the limits of this Colony, under the pretence of a treaty, bargain, or contract, for the purchase thereof, with the Aboriginal Natives; Now therefore, I, the Governor, in virtue and in exercise of the power and authority in me vested do hereby proclaim and notify to all His Majesty’s Subjects, and others whom it may concern, that every such treaty, bargain, and contract with the Aboriginal Natives, as aforesaid, for the possession, title, or claim to any lands lying and being within the limits of the Government of the Colony of New South Wales, as the same are laid down and defined by His Majesty’s Commission; that is to say extending from the Northern Cape, or extremity of the Coast called Cape York, in the latitude of ten degrees thirty seven minutes South, to the southern extremity of the said territory of New South Wales, or Wilson’s Promontory, in the latitude of thirty nine degrees twelve minutes South, and embracing all the country inland to the westward, as far as the one hundred and twenty ninth degree of east longitude, reckoning from the meridian of Greenwich, including all the islands adjacent, in the Pacific Ocean within the latitude aforesaid, and including also Norfolk Island, is void and of no effect against the rights of the Crown; and that all persons who shall be found in possession of any such Lands as aforesaid, without the license or authority of His Majesty’s Government, for such purpose first had and obtained, will be considered as trespassers, and liable to be dealt with in like manner as other intruders upon the vacant lands of the Crown within the said Colony. [6]

Its publication in the colony meant that people found in possession of land without the authority of the government would be considered trespassers.[7] Although some contemporaries recognised that the Aboriginal occupants had rights in the lands, something confirmed in a House of Commons report on Aboriginal relations in 1837[8], the law followed and almost always applied the principles expressed in Bourke’s proclamation. Glenelg supported Bourke’s position completely rejecting the view that Aborigines had any rights to dispose of their land. Any recognition of Batman’s treaty would have had a catastrophic effect of Australian land policy and would have amounted to recognition that Australia was not the property of the Crown but of its indigenous population. It would have been an admission that since 1788 the British had been freely disposing of land that did not belong to them.

There is no reason to assume that the British government would not have entered into treaty arrangements with the Aboriginal people as it did in New Zealand and elsewhere had it recognised their ‘ownership’ of the land. William Blackstone, who was regarded as authoritative on the matter in subsequent cases in several countries with legal systems based on English common law, drew a clear distinction between colonies won by conquest or treaty and those where ‘lands are claimed by right of occupancy only, by finding them desert and uncultivated (though he was unclear on whether they were uninhabited), and peopling them from the mother countries.[9] This ambiguity enabled later commentators to argue that only cultivated land was in actual possession and that in colonies of settlement English law was ‘immediately there in force’ on the assumption that no prior legal code and no land tenure had ever existed’: in other words it was terra nullius. The words of the Privy Council in Vajesingji v Secretary of State for India in 1924 are among many other pronouncements that defined the concept of terra nullius unambiguously: ‘territory hitherto not occupied by a recognised ruler’.[10] New Holland was considered a paradigm case of terra nullius because the British could identify no territorial units with a recognisable form of government, not because there had been no Aboriginal inhabitants. It is the High Court that was mistaken in believing that British explorers, Whitehall officials or Australian colonists held the false belief that Australia was uninhabited or nearly so. The consistent legal doctrine from 1788 was that the original British claim of sovereignty extinguished all prior rights to property and that after 1788 ‘all titles, rights, and interests whatever in land which existed’ were the ‘direct consequence of some grant from the Crown’. This would not change until the Australian High Court’s decision in the Mabo Case in 1992.[11]

[1] The principle of British sovereignty over Australia was asserted on four occasions: in 1788, 1824, 1829 and 1879.

[2] See Reynolds, Henry, Aboriginal sovereignty: reflections on race, state, and nation, (Allen & Unwin), 1996, pp. 1-15, 86-107 and especially Attwood, Bain, Possession: Batman’s Treaty and the Matter of History, (Melbourne University Press), 2009.

[3] Monitor, 28 November 1827.

[4] Sydney Gazette, 23 April 1829.

[5] Brown, P.L., ‘Batman, John (1801-1839)’, ADB, Vol. 1, pp. 67-71. See also, Bonwick, John, John Batman, the founder of Victoria, (Fergusson and Moore), 1868, pp. 66-83.

[6] Public Record Office: PRO: CO 201/247 ff 411 r + v. It was published in the New South Wales Government Gazette, 2 September 1835.

[7] In practice, although Bourke’s action had voided any ‘treaty’ that was made, it did not prevent significant movement of settlers of the Port Phillip Association from VDL and from other parts of NSW into the Port Phillip District from late 1835 onwards. In his despatch of 10 October 1835, Bourke recommended that the settlement should be recognised and, though initially the Colonial Office had doubts about doing so, Lord Glenelg supported Bourke’s recommendations and on 9 September 1836 a notice recognised the existence of a settlement that had already existed for a year.

[8] Report from the Select Committee on Aborigines (British Settlements): with the minutes of evidence, appendix and index, 1837, pp. 10-15

[9] Prest, W., ‘Law for Historians: William Blackstone on women, colonies and slaves’, Legal History, Vol. 11, (2007), pp. 105-115, especially pp. 109-111.

[10] Law Report, 51 Ind. App. (1924) at 360, cit, Dawson J. in 107 Australian Law Report, 1, p. 94.

[11] The Mabo case radically altered this position and increasingly historians view Australian colonisation as ‘conquest’ rather than ‘settlement’. Stephenson M.A. and Ratnapala, Suri, (ed.), Mabo: A Judicial Revolution, The Aboriginal Land Rights Decision and its impact on Australian Law, (University of Queensland Press), 1993.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Elitism, democracy and the European Union

The Algerian hostage crisis has resulted in David Cameron delaying his speech on the EU today in Amsterdam and, as yet, no new date for the speech has been set.  However, it appears that what he intended to say was that he wanted to set out a ‘positive vision’ of Britain’s future role in Europe but that, unless  Britain’s concerns about the direction the EU appears to be moving down are not resolved then Britain could ‘drift towards’ exit.  Gavin Hewitt is right in his blog that whatever Cameron says ‘he will inevitably disappoint’.  It is clear that he will not call an in-out referendum, so he’ll disappoint UKIP and those with a Eurosceptic stance but he will persevere with trying to re-negotiate Britain’s position disappointing those with a federalist agenda.  If there is a referendum it will be on the terms renegotiated: so, do you agree with the terms or not?  Either way, Britain would still be in the EU: if the vote was in favour of a revised membership then we stay in the EU; if it was a no vote, then it will be presumed that people are happy with the existing situation even if, in reality, it means that people are not happy with the EU at all.  For Mr Cameron if the public gave their consent to any changes in membership, then the issue would be settled ‘once and for all’.  So, at least as far as the political elite were are in the EU and will remain in the EU irrespective of the outcome of a referendum.  All the public is being asked is about the detail of membership not the the broader principle of whether we should be in the EU at all.

Across Europe, the political elite have for centuries shown scant regard for the ‘wishes of the people’ and this remains the case despite the democratic nature of modern European politics.  It’s not that there is simply a democratic deficit at the heart of the EU but at the heart of European politics.  It’s a case of giving people the right to vote for their representatives every four or five years but then failing to take account of what that vote actually means between elections.  This, as much as anything, explains why people have become disillusioned with politics and have, in some countries, turned to extreme parties of the right or left that offer a more aggressive expression of what people believe or want.  It also explains the upsurge of support for UKIP in Britain.  David Cameron appears to recognise this when he says:

‘People are increasingly frustrated that decisions taken further and further away from them mean their living standards are slashed through enforced austerity or their taxes are used to bail out governments on the other side of the continent.’

He also says that ‘more of the same’ is not an option but is under pressure from business leaders (it will be an economic disaster and jobs will suffer), the United States with pressure from President Obama (the US values a strong UK in a strong EU) and other EU leaders.  He may also be right that he has allies in other EU members who share his view about the need to reform institutions and alter the balance of power between Brussels and national capitals but it’s still a position that is based on tinkering with the EU system for Britain’s advantage.  The problem with institutional change is that the institutions involved will resist proposed changes with vigour and for the EU, the institutions have always at the heart of the system.  They will resist any power being taken away from them and restored to national governments and institutions.  The issue, as it has been since the 1980s, is one of the popular legitimacy of the EU and the unwillingness of the federalist elite to acknowledge that they need to carry the people with them if there is to be any enthusiasm for the European project.  It is no longer sufficient to call a constitutional change a treaty as in the case of Lisbon and deny the European citizenry any say in whether it is introduced or not.  Tinkering with the system by Britain renegotiating its role is no longer enough if Europe is to become a strong economic and political force in today’s global society.  What we need is not an elitist vision of Europe but a democratic one that is legitimised by referendums in all member states at the same time about whether they want to be in or out. 

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Turning the clock back or the problem of referendums

The issue of Britain’s membership of the European Union has bedevilled British politics since the 1960s.   There was the initial failures to gain entry into the Common Market during the 1960s largely because Charles de Gaulle said ‘non’.  Then there was the final agreement to enter under Heath’s government in 1973 and a referendum confirming this decision by a significant majority in 1975.  Why people voted in favour of the EU in 1975 was a combination of things: for some who had been fought or been brought up in the aftermath of the Second World War, it was about establishing European security; for others in was about the potential for British economic development within a free trade area, a truly ‘common market’; what it was not for the overwhelming majority of people was support for a federal vision of Europe and therein lies the problem.  As the EU expanded, the argument for greater federalism became stronger, reinforced by the introduction of the euro while Britain stubbornly held on to its notion of the EU as a free market for Britain’s goods.  The result has been an increasing mismatch between what Britain wants from the EU and what the overwhelming majority of countries now in the EU want.  While Britain’s economy was growing, despite calls from some for withdrawal, had there been a referendum on continued membership it is likely that it would have been won.  The benefits of membership outweighed its disadvantages but the banking crisis after 2008 changed that.  Britain had become increasingly sceptical about the EU and the unwillingness of the Labour government to do what it promised in terms of a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, a fundamental constitutional change in all but name and the chaos within the euro-zone reinforced this. 

PM David Cameron in Brussels, 19 Oct 12

Not only do we now have a mismatch between the political classes in Britain and the developing European project but we also have a growing mismatch between the views of the general public and the political classes who appear unwilling to do what the public has long called for, a referendum on the issue.  This is hardly surprising since the three main political parties in Britain are all committed, in one way or another, to continued membership of the EU with only UKIP taking the alternative view.  The mainstream politicians do not like referendums unless they know they will get the answer they want and this explains why, despite fulsome promises in the past, no government since 1975 has been willing to carry their promises into practice.  In fact, many argue that referendums do not sit well with representative government: we elect politicians every five years on the basis of their manifestos and if we do not like what they do we have the opportunity to vote them out at the next election.  But Europe has become such a corrosive issue within all political parties, despite the focus on divisions within the Conservative party, that a referendum on Europe now seems almost inevitable in the next five years.

The difficulty is what will the referendum be about.  Broadly, the political classes and the public generally fall into one of three positions on Europe: those who want to leave; those who want to re-negotiate membership but want to remain in the EU; and those who take a more federalist stance.  Those who want to leave call for an in-out referendum to settle the issue; those who want to re-negotiate are willing to accept a referendum on the terms agreed; while those with a federalist position want no referendum at all.  As David Cameron prepares or revises his speech on the EU, the harbingers of doom have emerged from the woodwork with the American government, British business leaders, politicians ‘close’ to the German Chancellor and today Michael Heseltine all warning about the consequences of leaving or re-negotiating Britain’s place in Europe.  But, as committed Europeans, they would say that wouldn’t they just as those in favour of leaving say that this would provides opportunities for Britain to exploit and would not result in an implosion of Britain’s economy.

The critical question is whether re-negotiating Britain’s position in the EU will actually work.  Looking at the issue from continental Europe, why should other members of the EU allow Britain to re-negotiate its role at all?  European politicians are becoming increasingly and justifiably irritated by Britain’s position and could easily turn round and say you’re either in or out…a view with which I entirely sympathise.  Alright, you don’t have to go down the federalist route if that’s what you want to do but, if you want access to the ‘common market’ then you have to accept that this comes with existing obligations.  If not, we can do perfectly well without you.  So have your in-out referendum and make up your mind. 

The problem is that it isn’t as simple as that despite all the rhetoric from UKIP and other politicians.   You can’t turn the clock back to 1973 and unpick all those directives, regulations and statutes that have come from Brussels or that have been produced by the British Parliament and if you cannot do this, then concrete links with Europe will remain but without any of the benefits we do gain from membership.  Those who seek exit see the issue as one of constitutional sovereignty while those in favour tend to look at the matter from an economic perspective and, of course, both are right.  If we do have a referendum and, despite different pronouncements on the issue I am yet to be convinced that we will, whatever the question I have grave doubts that it will resolve the issue: if we voted to leave, then those in favour of remaining will still be calling for this and vice-versa.  My own view for what it’s worth is this: we made a decision in 1975 and, despite the way in which the EU has evolved since them, I still think this was the right decision. 

Monday, 7 January 2013

Richard Oastler and factory reform

John A. Hargreaves and E. A. Hilary Haigh, (eds.)

Slavery in Yorkshire: Richard Oastler and the campaign against child labour in the Industrial Revolution

(University of Huddersfield), 2012

238pp., rrp £24 paper , ISBN 978-1-86218-107-6. The book is also available at £20 from


In Kirkheaton churchyard near Huddersfield there is a fifteen-foot stone obelisk topped by a flame that commemorates ‘The dreadful fate of 17 children who fell unhappy victims to a raging fire at Mr Atkinson’s factory at Colne Bridge, February 14th 1818.’ All the dead were girls; the youngest nine, the oldest eighteen. The fire started when at about 5 am a boy aged ten was sent downstairs to the ground floor card room to collect some cotton rovings. Instead of taking a lamp, he took a candle that ignited the cotton waste and fire spread quickly through the factory turning it into a raging inferno. The children were trapped on the top floor when the staircase collapsed. The entire factory was destroyed in less than thirty minutes and the boy who had inadvertently started the fire was the last person to leave the building alive. It is not surprising that child labour and the need to regulate it became a national issue in the early 1830s. There had been factory acts in 1802 and 1819 and further agitation between 1825 and 1831 but the legislation was too limited in scope and its enforcement proved difficult. There were, for instance, only two convictions while the 1819 Act operated. It was at this stage that Richard Oastler, a Tory land steward from Huddersfield, burst upon the scene when his celebrated letter on ‘Yorkshire Slavery’ was published in the Leeds Mercury on 16 October 1830.

It is over sixty years since Cecil Driver published his study of Richard Oastler and fifty years since Ward’s study of the factory movement in the twenty years after 1830 appeared. This excellent volume, a fitting conclusion to the University of Huddersfield Archives’ Heritage Lottery-funded Your Heritage project, re-examines Oastler’s impact and draws parallels between the campaign to abolish transatlantic slavery and the campaign to restrict the use of child labour in Britain. Written by some of Yorkshire’s leading historians, the collection of essays provides a rounded assessment of the contribution of Richard Oastler to both the emancipation of children from the horrors of factory labour and the broader emancipation of society from the evils of slavery whether in Britain or in its Empire. The book is introduced by University of Huddersfield historian and Pro-Vice Chancellor Professor Tim Thornton and the foreword is from the Methodist minister Revd Dr Inderjit Bhogal OBE, who chaired the initiative Set All Free that marked the bi-centenary of the act to abolish the transatlantic slave trade. The volume begins with an elegantly written introduction by John A. Hargreaves who positions Oastler and the subsequent chapters within the context of the four decades from the abolition of the slave trade in 1807 and the passage of the Ten Hours Act for factory workers in 1847. This is followed by James Walvin, the doyen of the abolition movement, on William Wilberforce, Yorkshire and the campaign to end transatlantic slavery from its inception in 1787 to the end of the apprenticeship system in 1838. It is a succinct, synoptic analysis not only on what happened and why but also an acute critique of the prevailing historiography especially in its discussion of the impact of the abolition movement on reforming movements from factory reform to Chartism. It was Oastler who maintained that the cause of anti-slavery and Chartism were ‘one and the same’.

The remaining chapters focus on Oastler and provide important reappraisals of different aspects of his life. D. Colin Dews examines Oastler’s Methodist background between 1789 and 1820 demonstrating that his association with evangelicalism stimulated and sustained his commitment to the ten-hour movement while John Halstead explores the Huddersfield Short Time Committee and its radical associations between c1820 and 1876, a particularly valuable discussion of generational differences with Huddersfield radicalism. Edward Royle considers the Yorkshire Slavery campaign between 1830 and 1832 through a close consideration of coverage in the regional press. Janette Martin examines Oastler’s triumphant return to Huddersfield in 1844 after he had served more than three years in jail for debt relating this to Oastler’s skills as an orator and the importance of processions to nineteenth century radicalism; for instance, John Frost’s equally triumphant return to Newport in 1856 after over a decade as a transported felon. The volume ends with a chapter reassessing Oastler and his impact on the factory movement and on radical politics more generally.

Oastler and other reformers may have been successful in their campaign for the ending of child labour but coerced labour remains an important problem in a global economy where labour costs need to be kept low to meet consumer demands for affordable products. The ‘Yorkshire Slavery’ that Oastler so eloquently exposed can still be seen not just in the developing world but, as recent cases of ‘slavery’ brought before the courts demonstrate, in Britain as well. This excellent volume, beautifully illustrated and presented by the University of Huddersfield Press shows not simply the contribution Oastler made to achieving a sense of childhood largely devoid of economic exploitation but that the campaign he initiated in late 1830 remains a campaign that has yet to be concluded. After nearly two centuries as a global community we have yet to eradicate economic inhumanity and exploitation for profit.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Three Rebellions: an interview

This interview was originally published on Mark Crail’s excellent Chartist Ancestors Blog (  As the trilogy of books that stemmed from it is now complete, I thought it might be worthwhile reprinting it.

Three Rebellions final cover Jan 010

Mark Crail: Three Rebellions is a monumental work of over 1,100 pages. What inspired you to write it – and how long did it eventually take?
Richard Brown: The inspiration for the book came from a comment made by a sixth form student in 2004 who asked, I think to get me off the subject of the Plug Plugs, ‘I don’t suppose Chartism was exported was it?’  It was one of those off the cuff comments that gets you thinking.  In truth, I didn’t really know the answer but remember saying that as many people emigrated to the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand in the 1840s and 1850s, they would have taken their beliefs with them and that presumably Chartist principles would have been part of their intellectual baggage.  What began as an off-hand remark led me to spend the next four years exploring the question.  I found that, although there was a widely held assumption that Chartism had played a role in the democratising of the Australian colonies, little had been written on the subject from a global perspective.  It was this that led me to explore the issue of rebellion in the colonies to see how far Chartist ideas contributed to the development of colonial reformist and radical thinking.   I did much of the research, drafting ideas and working out the structure for the book in my final two years of teaching when I was increasingly relieved of worrying about the next educational initiative.  Once I retired I was able to focus on the writing that took about eighteen months.

Mark Crail: Your book deals with events that took place on three separate continents and spread over a period of nearly two decades. What is the common theme or central argument that makes sense of bringing them together in a single book?
Richard Brown: The reasons why I chose to consider three rebellions in different parts of the British Empire fall into two categories.  First, in each of three areas there were tensions between the colonial authorities and the ways in which they wished to govern and reformers who sought a greater say in the ways in which they were governed.  Secondly, it was the abject failure by the authorities to recognise the depth of anger on the part of reformers and its unwillingness to introduce some form of responsible government that led to rebellion.  Violence was born of frustrated dreams turning individuals such as Papineau, Mackenzie, Lalor and John Frost from supporters, even if critical, of the existing system of government into increasingly radical individuals who concluded that ending the existing despotism of the colonial state, if necessary by direct action, was justifiable.  It is this which is central to the book and brings together South Wales, the Canadas and Australia into a common political and constitutional context.  Once I had decided this, then the structure of the remainder of the book fell into place.  Before explaining the causes of the rebellions, they needed to be placed within a chronological context.  After the rebellions had failed, their aftermaths, links and how they were and are remembered needed to be considered.  Finally, I wanted to place the rebellions within some sort of overall framework and this forms the basis of the final chapter.

Mark Crail:  Is this a book aimed squarely at specialist historians, or is it accessible to a wider readership? What would you hope non-specialists would take away from reading it?
Richard Brown: As I see myself as a teacher as well as a historian, I would hope that my book will appeal to both specialist historians and to a more popular readership.  I’ve always believed that a good story is the best way to engage people with the past and this is a great story.  It has its heroes and villains and its martyrs to the cause.  It raises questions about ‘what if the rebellions had succeeded?’  It is also about how people remember the past and how the past is constructed and reconstructed across time.  The events happened but the ways in which we see them today is very different to how they were regarded by contemporaries.    Through reading the book I would hope that non-specialist readers would know about rebellions in Canada and Australia as well as in Newport and that they would recognise that though the rebellions ended in failure they played a critical role in the development of the democratic systems of government that we have today and that people were then as now prepared to stand up and fight for the democratic principles in which they believed against the heavy-handed dictats of the state.

Mark Crail: In closing the book you talk about the tension between heritage and history and to the later interpretations we put on Chartism (and the Canada and Ballarat rebellions), what part do you think the growth of interest in family history has played in that?
Richard Brown: There is no doubt that the growth of interest in family history, especially through the Internet, has played a seminal role in the burgeoning development of interest in and understanding of people’s heritage.  I remember talking to a history lecturer who saw this as a ‘dumbing down’ of his subject and that the heritage of the past was history itself.  Though his second point may be debatable, his view of ‘dumbing down’ missed the point big time.  The study of history has always had its populist dimension and family history is part of this search for understanding where we are now by seeking to understand where we’ve come from.  It was for that reason that I included the chapter on remembrance in the book.  If history is simply what happened without considering how what happened impacts on us today and how our view of events changes, then it is simply a good story but little more.  The key to the development of the subject is establishing the connections between the past and the present, not in a pedagogical sense of learning lessons, but as an essential part of understanding what humanity is and was.

Mark Crail: Finally, as a history teacher, you will doubtless have ended up covering everything from the Romans to the fall of the Berlin Wall. What brings you back time after time to Chartism? Have your students been particularly drawn to the period – or is it just we obsessives?
Richard Brown: My interest in Chartism and those who supported the Charter comes from two sources.  First, I was brought up as a Liberal radical in a family with a long tradition of political activity.  My father had fought, as a teenager in the Spanish Civil War and then against Hitler from 1939 though to 1946 (he always said his war did not end until he had finished the process of denazification in Germany).  His mother, my paternal grandmother came from a very political family.  Her sister was a suffragette; her brother a trade union official.  As I was growing up, I was told stories (fascinating to an eight year old, though rarely fully accurate) about the emergence of the labour movement and of the need to fight injustice wherever and whatever it was.  My own political apprenticeship was served in the student protests against Vietnam in the mid-60s and continued during the next four years at university.  Then teaching rather than politics, a decision I never regretted.  Secondly, I was brought up in a village where there had been major riots in 1816 after which my great-great-great-great uncle had been hanged for sedition.  Weaned on the tales of his sacrifice (in fact it appears he was in the wrong place at the wrong time), I turned both to history and to the question of what motivated people to act in the ways they did.  Was it need, greed or circumstance?  How far were people driven by ideals and principles or was pragmatism the key to understanding people’s experiences? Studying Chartism ticked all the right boxes for me...and if that’s obsessive, then and I’m certain my students would agree, I’m a dyed in the wool obsessive!