‘Decentring Australia’ in the History of Convict Transportation

Head and shoulders

Keynote speaker, Professor Clare Anderson of the University of Leicester.

When considering the history of the transportation of convicts we should ‘de-centre’ Australia and consider Empire-wide transportation argued Professor Clare Anderson in her keynote talk yesterday morning. Anderson moved from the story of the Bussa Uprising in Barbados in 1816 to Sierra Leone and then to British Guiana deftly working in the story of convict transportation throughout the Empire. Her talk demonstrated the complex use of scale to weave a compelling and coherent account of convict transportation which captivated her audience.

For so long the Australian colonies have dominated historical analysis of the transportation of convicts but Professor Anderson pointed out that the British colony of the Andaman islands received more convicts than any one of the Australian colonies. In an article that she has written in Australian Historical Studies she argues:

…the conceptual myopia that separates the Australian colonies from the Indian Ocean is unsustainable when for the first time the numerical scale and geographical extent of pan-imperial Asian convict flows is brought together, to reveal a transnational imperial history of transportation within the British Empire.

Continue reading

Pause, Reflect and Share… and a note to publishers

Peter Stanley standing on the, left, holding his book. I am standing on the right.

Peter Stanley and I at his book launch earlier this month.

Tomorrow I am driving to Canberra and will be in Melbourne at the end of the week. I am looking forward to researching at the State Library of Victoria and the Public Records Office of Victoria as well as catching up with family and friends. I have identified some key soldiers for my book and will be doing further research into the lives of a couple of the Victorian soldiers.

While World War I will be the focus of my book, I want to write about some of the experiences of the soldiers in their families and schools before the war as well as looking at their lives after the War. Soldiers brought the culture and learning they had received as children to war with them. The War stayed with them for the rest of their lives.

As you can imagine I am reading a lot of books about World War I. Most are well written but the one I am reading at the moment is infuriating because of the lack of referencing. I have done a bit of my own research to try to substantiate some of the author’s claims but cannot find proof of major claim about a statistic of the War. Humph! If a history is not properly referenced unfounded claims can be passed as truths. For all we know these books can be a mix of fiction and history, a member of the ‘faction’ genre.  Poorly referenced histories are not good sources. I have found another book on the topic which I am hoping is properly referenced.

Publishers – if you want your history books to be taken seriously then allow your authors to publish their fully referenced work! Why should we believe unsubstantiated claims?

As my then seventeen-year old daughter observed several years ago, footnotes (or endnotes) are ‘sneakily important’. Read that post for more about the problems of lack of referencing and the rise of ‘faction’.

I will step off my soap box now. Continue reading

Indian Soldiers Fought at Gallipoli

Group of soldiers wearing turbans gathered on top of a hill around a gun barrel on wheels.

The Australian War Memorial says of this photo, “A group of gunners from the 7th Indian Mountain Artillery Brigade with one of their guns, which was used to support the Australian and New Zealand troops on the Gallipoli Peninsula. The guns of this brigade were the first shore at Anzac Cove on 25 April 1915; from then on they won, and kept, the admiration of the infantry.”

The Anzac Day that was bigger than ever has been and gone. Returned soldiers from Australia and New Zealand have marched for another year, remembering wars past and present. This year was the centenary of the event that started it all – the landing of British forces at Gallipoli. Australians and New Zealanders were there.

And so were many Indians.

New Zealand journalist, William Hill landed as a soldier with the Auckland Infantry Battalion. While in hospital later that year he wrote a letter in which he recalled:

The first realisation of what the war really is like came to us as we stumbled across the beach, which was just littered with wounded men – English, French, Indians, New Zealanders and Australians.

29/8/1915

On Saturday Indian soldiers marched at Anzac Day events around Australia. The presence of Indians in the Anzac Day marches is an important reminder of the nature of World War I. It was a war of empires. The imperial overlords mustered the colonials to battle the armies of other empires. At Gallipoli the armies of the French and British empires fought the Ottoman forces on their home soil. The British forces included soldiers from England, Scotland, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, the India subcontinent and Newfoundland which is now part of Canada.

One hundred years after the first landing of troops at Gallipoli Australians hear very little about the Indian soldiers who played an important part in the fighting at Gallipoli. Yet there are many references to the Indians at Gallipoli in the diaries of the Anzacs. Continue reading

Review: A Long Way Home

A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley, (Melbourne: Penguin, 2013).

A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley, (Melbourne: Penguin, 2013).

Do you remember becoming separated from your parents by accident as a child?  That moment when you realised that you could not find your parents and were lost in a strange place was terrifying.  You may have been rooted by fear, or madly dashed around. You probably called out for them in between sobs.

Perhaps you have lost one of your own children.  My husband recalls the panic he felt when the tram he had just boarded started moving and he realised that our five-year old was still at the tram stop.  He yelled at the tram driver to stop but the tram kept going.  Hubble left the tram at the next stop and vividly remembers his mad sprint down the road to the tram stop where our daughter was still standing.

Fortunately for most of us that moment is transitory.  Parents find their children after a couple of minutes or kind strangers take the child to the store manager or police who find their parents.  Parents and the child resolve to be more careful in future and life resumes.

The nightmare for five-year old Saroo and his mother was not transitory.  Saroo was lost on the streets of Kolkata and his desperate mother was unable to find him.  The separation became permanent. Yet while kind strangers were unable to reunite the child with his mother they were able to provide the care he needed. Now an adult, Saroo Brierley tells his story in A Long Way Home. Continue reading

East of India: Forgotten Trade with Australia

East of India logoMany Australians would be unaware of how much Indians have contributed to this country.  Indians have traded with Australia since the first European settlement; they have lived and worked here for over two hundred years.  Yet we don’t often hear about this aspect of Australian history.  The exhibition, ‘East of India: Forgotten trade with Australia’ currently being held at the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney is a welcome opportunity to learn more about this.

Understanding historical context is vital in good histories and this exhibition provides plenty of that.  The items shown in ‘East of India’ weave a story of power, wealth, violence, culture and everyday life.  The visitor is first immersed in the history of colonial India starting from the time when the Portuguese adventurer, Vasco da Gama, became the first European to find a sea route to India, to the Indian Rebellion in 1857.  During the age of empire it was the sea, not the land which provided the transportation through which European nations dominated the globe.

‘East of India’ has some stunning exhibits, among which is a map on a parchment from 1599 with a section of the northern coast of Australia labelled as ‘beach’. I couldn’t help thinking how appropriate that label is! I was also attracted to a tiny locket commemorating the wedding in 1662 between Charles II of England and Catherine of Braganza, Portugal.  What struck me as remarkable about the locket was not its form, but the enormity of what it represented.  Catherine’s dowry included the Portuguese territory of Bombay (now Mumbai).  I found it staggering that the wedding between two people could have such great repercussions for people who lived in a place that required months of arduous travel to reach. Continue reading