Dr Katy Roscoe

Convicts as Empire-Builders: unfree labour in Bermuda and Gibraltar’s dockyards

Katy’s research sits at the intersection between histories of punishment, British imperial expansion and maritime environments.

Katy was awarded her PhD in History at the University of Leicester in December 2017. Her doctoral research explored the use of islands off the coast of Australia for the incarceration of Aboriginal and European convicts. Sitting at the intersection of maritime, colonial and convict history, it demonstrates the essential role islands played in colonial governance and imperial expansion. She completed her doctoral research as part of Professor Clare Anderson’s European Research Council project ‘The Carceral Archipelago’ which examined the global extent of convict transportation and penal colonies.

As the 2017-18 Alan Pearsall Fellow in Naval and Maritime History at the Institute of Historical Research, Katy researched the role of convicts in building Britain’s imperial dockyards at Bermuda and Gibraltar. She investigated the use of coerced labour for imperial expansion, how convicts accrued skills in naval trades throughout their carceral journey and how convicts interacted with sailors and free-workers in dockyard spaces. This research challenged presumptions about skilled free labour as the driving force of globalisation.

In October 2018, Katy took up an ESRC Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Department of Sociology, Social Policy and Criminology at the University of Liverpool, working on her project ‘“Criminals Incapable of Reform?': Reassessing the population of Cockatoo Island Prison (Sydney), 1839-69'. It will create a publicly-available database of the inmate population to understand how New South Wales’ transition from ‘penal’ to ‘free’ colony was reflected in prison demographics and post-release outcomes. The database, and accompanying digital resource, will be a valuable resource for family historians to trace their convict descendants.

Katy has also worked as a Research Assistant for The Bentham Project (UCL) from 2016-18, working on philosopher Jeremy Bentham’s critiques of the transportation system in a forthcoming volume ‘Writings on Australia’. She has been awarded a Hakluyt Society Research Grant (2018), Tomlin Bequest from the Society for Nautical Research (2018), National Archives of Australia/Australian Historical Association Postgraduate Scholarship (2016) and the Australian Bicentennial Scholarship from the Menzies Centre of Australian Studies (2014).


K. Roscoe (2018) “A natural hulk”: Australia’s Carceral Islands in the Colonial Period, International Review of Social History, 63:S26, pp. 45-63.
K. Roscoe (2016) ‘“Too many kill’em. Too many make em’ill”: The Commission into Rottnest Prison as the context for Section 70’, Studies in Western Australian History, 31 (2016), pp. 43-57.
C. Anderson, E. Henrich, S. Longair & K. Roscoe (2017), ‘Empire and Its Aftermath in Four (Post)Colonial Settings’ in J. Wilson et al. (eds), The Palgrave Handbook of Prison Tourism (Palgrave Macmillan), pp. 609-629.
G. Curless, S. Hynd, T. Alanamu, & K. Roscoe (2015), ‘Editors Introduction: Networks in Imperial History’, Journal of World History, 26:4, pp. 705-32.
C. Anderson et. al (2015), ‘Locating Penal Transportation: punishment, space and place’ in D. Moran & K. Morin (eds), Historical Geographies of Prisons: Unlocking the Usable Carceral Past (Routledge), pp. 147-67.