Life and Death after Sentence: the human toll of Convict Transportation to Van Diemen’s Land
03 Oct 2017, 17:30 to 03 Oct 2017, 19:30
IHR Peter Marshall Room, N204, Second Floor, IHR, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU
Janet McCalman , University of Melbourne
The Founders & Survivors’ Life Course (Ships) project began with two fundamental demographic tests of convicts’ lives: survival, or length of life and formation of a lineage. The ability to rear a generation that in its turn could rear a family was a test not just of individuals’ capacity, but also of the capacity of the host society to enable people to thrive.
The results of the study of a sample of just under 25,000 men, women and children transported between 1812 and 1853, revealed a series of demographic penalties: First that a more refractory minority, paid a penalty that resulted in death under sentence, but those men who survived sentence did much the same as their compatriots back in England, Ireland and Scotland, and only a little worse that the general population of the colony.
Women, however, suffered a severe gender penalty in mortality compared to free women, suggesting their higher level of psychological and biological damage throughout the life course. As for family formation, just 12% of our sample of men were found to have married and produced surviving families after transportation, as much due to the shortage of women as to their destitution on release from servitude. In contrast, nearly all women married, but suffered an abnormally high rate of acquired secondary infertility so that only around 40% of our sample of reproductive age had three or more children. Convicts’ places of birth were associated with wide variation in this measure of demographic success: with village-born Irish and English women being twice as likely to found a lineage as the London-born. Moreover, while having children was associated with greater longevity in men, that effect was not apparent in women until they had grandchildren. The Australian population of descendants of convicts, comes from these two relatively small survivor groups of men and women: people whose experience under sentence tended to be more benign and who suffered less punishment.
Chair: Simon Sleight
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