University of Tasmania
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A pauper establishment is not a jail: Old crawlers in Tasmania 1856-1895

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posted on 2023-05-26, 00:07 authored by Hargrave, J
The history of the convict system in Van Diemen's Land records that transportation oficially ceased in 1853. The event was marked by celebration, by a name change of the colony to Tasmania and with a spirit of optimism about the future. The demographic legacy of the convict period has been well documented and the intellectual aftermath analysed. In addition to the intellectual rejection of its past and despite initial optimism about the future the next forty years were marked by the continuation of a de facto convict system in which former prisoners were subjected to treatment akin to that which they would have received under an Imperial government in Van Diemen's Land. The \old crawlers\" were a reminder of the past and the reaction of Tasmanian governments was to reassert the responses of the convict era. This in itself led to some limited conflict in society as these responses clashed with the nascent liberalism of the 1880s. However even at this time the issues of an inappropriate and outdated system of social supports was not cause for great concern amongst the new liberals. The reaction in the 1870s and 1880s was led by old style anti-transportationists advancing humanitarian arguments and objecting to the continuation of a convict system. This response did not succeed in significantly altering the nature of the support system. Change did not occur until after the demise of the majority of the ex-convicts and their wardens in the 1890s. There was therefore at the end of the nineteenth Century a well established system of assistance for aged paupers which was based on social control institutional care and the legacy of convictism. Research into this area was made more difficult by the incomplete nature of the records of both the benevolent organisations and the Administator of Charitable Grants. This may be explained by an entry in the Minute book of the Hobart Benevolent Society for 20 November 1879. It is noted that \"some papers have been purloined from the Depot that were never intended to be made public.\" As a consequence of this the Hobart Benevolent Society resolved to destroy all records of invalids more than two years old. The adoption of a similar standard by other agencies could explain the gaps in existing records. These gaps however are not so great that they detract significantly from the understanding of the situation of aged paupers in late nineteenth Century Tasmania."


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