University of Tasmania
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Convict assignment and prosecution risk in Van Diemen's Land, 1830-1835

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posted on 2023-05-28, 12:12 authored by Rebecca Read
Focussing primarily on the years 1830 to 1835, this thesis investigates the inner workings of the convict assignment system in Van Diemen's Land by examining its record-keeping practices, the rationale for labour allocation within the private sector and the functioning of the magisterial system. It also assesses private-sector demand for convict labour, examines urban assignment, and compares the turnover and prosecution risk of convicts assigned to residents of an urban and a rural area. The aims are to enhance understanding of the assignment system, counter misconceptions, and improve the ability to contextualise individual convict and settler experiences. The detailed reconstruction of the initial distribution of all 10,653 men and boys and 1,490 women and girls who arrived in Van Diemen's Land as convicts between 1 January 1830 and 31 December 1835 underpins this study. This constitutes a sample comprising about one-sixth of all convicts known to have arrived in the fifty-year period of transportation to the island colony. The very high concentration of surviving archival records strongly influenced the choice of study period, and electronic access to high quality images that the Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office and the ARC-funded 'Founders & Survivors' research group had already indexed and cross-referenced greatly facilitated the research. The thesis argues that the allocation of convicts was rational and well-organised, that the system facilitated access to magistrates, that many townspeople depended on assigned servants as much as their rural counterparts did, and that the frequency with which convicts appeared in court charged with an offence depended in part on their sex, occupation and assignment location.


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