University of Tasmania
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Beyond the Convict System: the Aged Poor and Institutionalisation in Colonial Tasmania

posted on 2023-05-26, 06:14 authored by Piper, AKS
Colonial Tasmania's aged poor were initially managed through incarceration in government institutions under strict discipline and supervision. Essentially regimented penal environments, they were founded as a means to isolate, seclude and control pauper emancipists who were perceived as a social contagion. The incipient charitable institution housed an undifferentiated pauper population in which all inmates were seen as undeserving. This thesis investigates the mechanisms by which one constituent, the aged poor, transcended its mid-century categorisation to join the, ranks of the deserving. At first the agencies which dealt with invalids were ad hoc and marked by incompetence. As administrators learnt from their mistakes and came to - better understand the scale of the problem confronting them, new approaches were implemented. These may be characterised as refined inmate classification, institutional specialisation, centralisation of administrative power, bureaucratic professionalism and medicalisation of institutions. These tools, along with other measures, particularly coerced labour, strict discipline, confinement, surveillance, regimentation and punishment were used increasingly to control the lives of pauper invalids. They were also the means which led to reformers fighting for progressive invalid management regimes. Invalids were not passive participants in these events. They resisted the control measures imposed upon them and they proved to be proficient adversaries in manipulating the charitable system to their advantage. Classification, specialisation and surveillance resulted in a greater understanding of the issues confronting invalids. As the middle class involved themselves directly with invalids, the significance of the issues which had alienated them waned. Increasingly they were perceived as a medical rather than a moral problem. Coupled with this there were many changes in the conditions of institutional life which by our modern standards we would judge as progress. While there continued, and continues, to be unsavoury aspects to the management of the aged poor, what differed in 1901 when compared to earlier periods was that a greater number of people were prepared to involve themselves in changing the system for the better. Part of this was the result of increased knowledge. Foucault has drawn our attention to the link between knowledge and power. While he has focused attention upon the use of this power to discipline and punish this thesis demonstrates that knowledge can also be used as a vehicle for progressive reform.


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