Friends or foes?
Regrets and floggings
Very odd laws
Myall Creek Massacre
How to use history?
Dying for liberty
Rasputin meets Ned Kelly
Mary Anne Bugg
Our Ned Kelly
A story heard and considered
Not a good fence builder
Humanising a Convict
The Stanford Prison Experiment (1971) was a study of the psychological effects of becoming a prisoner or prison guard. 24 undergraduates were randomly divided into the categories of guards and prisoners and proceeded to act out their roles. Although it had been planned to last for 14 days, the experiment had to be cancelled after 6 days after one third of the guards exhibited genuine sadistic tendencies that had caused extreme emotional distress in the prisoners.
In less than six days, the experiment showed how easy it was for ordinary people to dehumanise others once they had an ideology and institution to support them. The Australian penal system lasted far longer than six days, and the institutionalised ideology evolved to justify the infliction of some of the worst human rights violations the world has ever seen.
To an extent, the dehumanisation of Convicts lingers as few contemporary Australians have any desire to find out the type of people they were, or remember them in any shape or form. To the inquisitive mind, however, Convict stories are a gold mind of human emotion, and lateral thinking. Those who do consider their stories gain an insight into the humanity of those who were stripped of it.
From J.F Mortlock, Experiences of a Convict. Sydney University Press 1965. (First published 1864-5.)
On fellow Convicts
"I encountered, on different days, two shepherds, who, both under the impression of my being destitute, wished me at parting to accept some money. I cannot forget those two good Samaritans. One of them called Philpot, a frank, cheerful young fellow, possessing a powerful voice and a fine musical ear, had, on Norfolk Island with his melodious songs often beguiled away an hour in the evening when we were locked up and not drowsy enough to go to sleep; the other a quiet, orderly shipmate, named George Gibbs, came from Eversden, near Cambridge. The first person in the land could not have shown more delicacy or generosity than those two poor convicts displayed to one not seen for years, and possibly never see again."
"I could not help liking him- he was a soldier- and felt very sorry when he was hanged for striking his overseer with an axe. Of those benevolent people every one spoke in language of regard. I shall ever remember the goodness of them all, and how much they sweetened my cup of bitterness. "
"Our society therefore, did not prove so dull as the same number of a more fashionable class."
"He declared, confidently, that an immense number of women were dying for his diminutive highness, but became terribly angry, when an ugly, red-nosed publican with a hump-back, pretended to recognize him as an organ grinder strolling about with a monkey."
"Some exhibit an incredible power of enduring all these inflictions, which however, killed or greatly debilitated many of them."
"Ignorant folks often speak most absurdly of the Irish- behind their backs. Defamation commonly pursues the ill-treated.
"Certainly, "misery does make us acquainted with strange bedfellows." Who knows whether Shakespeare was not ever in a little" trouble.""
"Many innocent persons have been doomed to death, or years in bondage, through the agency of unprincipled villains pretending to discover upon premises property by themselves secreted. Hundreds of wretched convicts scorned that baseness, and preferred a life of misery to liberty bought with such a horrid price. "
"Men betraying their companions or accepting authority over them, are often called "dogs", and sometimes have their noses bitten off- the morsel being termed "a mouthful of a dog's nose."
"Dog must not rob dog"
"In Australia , silent composure under suffering is strictly prescribed by convict etiquette."
"They have seldom been guilty of outrages on women, and sooner or later are invariably killed or taken or hanged. Some, unarmed, prowl about, watch the inmates of a dwelling away, and then pilfer. These are called "frying-pan" bushrangers, being looked upon with much contempt."
"The foul disgraceful language, uttered with increased zest in the presence of anyone supposed to retain a spark of decency, quickly disgusted me."
" Whether the difficulty in disposing of criminals, and whether the production of so many denote an unsound condition in the mother country, must now be determined by the wiser heads now occupied with the subject. Nevertheless, one cannot help fancying that the necessity for cure, in a certain measure, be economically superseded by prevention."
"Indeed I am not certain that every individual in the two English Houses of Parliament would be the worse for seven years, "lagging"; it would make practical men of them. "
"All the evil in his nature (and who is without any) had been developed and nourished by harsh and cruel treatment, kindling, perhaps, a revengeful feeling against all mankind - a feeling, often the cause, in Australia at a future period, of the barbarous murder of innocent individuals."
"To plunder is at first as natural as to eat. How readily children lay their little hands upon every tempting article they see, until taught that it is not proper to do so. "
"What is the measure of the guilt of those transported for killing game, or goaded to robbery by famine and destitution? Then, there are innocent men in the position of criminals, who have been erroneously found guilty upon obscure or implausible evidence or misdirection, or who have been made to appear guilty by the false oaths and artful devices of wicked persons interested in effecting their ruin or destruction."
"In what way does the moral guilt of such banditti differ from that of our present armies in the East, who are shooting, robbing and stabbing the natives of Asia, because they resist invaders taking their country from them- because they are so blind as not to perceive the blessing of being ruled by foreign white Christians - in their eyes, infidels! Will some pious, intellectual person point out the difference?"
"Moreover, was the innocent Saviour of the world a convict, and executed as such! Therefore, O ye, conscious of immaculate purity and ye whose backslidings have never been found out; harbour no feelings of anger and disdain; regard not too sternly the errors and crimes of your less fortunate and more frail mortals."
"I sympathized with a few unfortunate aborigines, transported hither from New South Wales, for resenting the intrusion and aggression of the English, by some of whom they have been known to be shot as food for the dogs. Nothing but a mixture of prudence and quiet energy could enable me to steer a course offensive neither to the authorities nor to a class of persons among whom fate had cast me on terms of equality - or rather inferiority- for these desperadoes looked with much contempt upon new-comers, who did indeed live far more wretchedly (unless mechanics or officers,) than men accustomed to existence in the bush."
"One dignified individual who, his nudity being scarcely hidden by a very short coloured shirt, preserved all the self possession of a person in full dress, while he, leaving his friends in the middle of the road, composedly walked into a substantial inn to pay his respects to the rather stylish barmaid. As she did not seem to be at all shocked, it would have been hardly polite in me to have looked out of countenance, yet I found it difficult to refrain from a hearty laugh at his gravity and entire unconsciousness. How clearly does the behaviour of that unlearned heathen prove that shame is an artificial sentiment resulting from education alone; and that different communities measure propriety, nay even right and wrong, by various standards established under the operation of dissimilar circumstances."
White Australia Policy
From Convicts to Chinese
What to celebrate?
Science and survival
The father of the blitzkrieg
He died so others may live
Desert Rats defy Hitler
The White Mouse
Never giving up
Which side would Convicts choose?
A history of "no"
Skeletons in the closet
Australia's engagement with Asia