Island Chains: Carceral Islands and the Colonisation of Australia, 1824-1903
thesisposted on 20.02.2018, 14:34 authored by Katherine Ann Roscoe
This thesis is about the transportation of European, Indigenous and non-white immigrant convicts to islands off the coast of Australia. It argues that carceral islands were defined not by isolation but by connection. They were part of local, colonial and imperial networks through which people, goods and ideas travelled. Through these connections, carceral islands played a key role in the colonisation of the vast Australian mainland. They acted as sites to remove those who resisted conquest or disrupted settler economies and then convict labour was re-utilised to benefit the colonial project. Using prison records and colonial office correspondence as its primary source material, it shows that islands were systematically used within the Australian convict system to isolate and extract labour from convicts. The study turns on three case studies – Melville Island (Yermalnear) in the Northern Territory, Rottnest Island (Wadjemup) in Western Australia and Cockatoo Island (Wa-rea-mah) in New South Wales – to demonstrate that carceral islands were vital for the success of colonisation. The first two chapters focus on how officials and magistrates ‘imagined’ these islands as secure, bounded ‘natural prisons’, which they used as destinations for absconders and Indigenous peoples who they deemed to be ‘escape risks’. The second half focusses on how convicts experienced island geographies in their everyday life, examining how proximity to the sea shaped the labour regimes convicts underwent, particularly building maritime infrastructure, and the forms of agency convicts undertook, particularly how they used access to sailors and the sea to smuggle and escape. Collectively the chapters show that islands were ‘differentiated spaces’ that served punitive and economic roles within the broader convict system.