University Of Tasmania

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The Politics of Writing Convict Lives: Academic Research, State Archives and Family History

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-17, 11:30 authored by Lucile FrostLucile Frost
In colonial Australia, descendants of 150,000 men and women transported to New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land between 1788 and 1853 created alterative stories to explain their ancestors' arrival, stories intended to conceal a ‘convict stain’. On a governmental level, a willed amnesia that changed the name of Van Diemen's Land to Tasmania helps to explain why the historical importance of convict records was ignored for a hundred years until a state archivist was appointed in 1951, and records not already destroyed were brought under state protection. Then, in the 1960s, the convict records were closed to the general public, and academic researchers were forbidden to publish names from the documents. At last in the final decades of the twentieth century a shift in ideology combined with advances in technology to democratise the archives, and family historians could join with academic researchers in a project of re-writing plebeian lives. The story of Amelia Hedsman, a convict woman transported on the Atwick in 1838, serves as an example of the fruitful interconnections between researchers inside and outside the universities in contemporary Australia.


Publication title

Life Writing








School of Humanities


Routledge Taylor & Francis Group

Place of publication

Oxon, United Kingdom

Rights statement

Copyright 2011 Taylor & Francis

Repository Status

  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Expanding knowledge in language, communication and culture

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