masha (masha) wrote,


"... Much ink has been spilt by Australian historians arguing whether or not convicts in general not only sympathized with one another but also brought these sympathies, tempered by mutual suffering, to the point of "class solidarity". Did they stick by one another as members of an oppressed class? Or were their loyalties so atomized by self-interest as to have no collective reach at all?

The official Strategy of breaking down their trust in one another by encouraging convict informers undoubtetly worked in these places. Nevertheless, most convicts lived under conditions that sustained and often increased their sense of mutual oppression; so that from the earliest days of the settlement, whole groups of prisoners would stand mute rather than surrender one of their number to authority, whatever the promised bribes and rewards.

When someone in the late 1790s burned down the only church in Sydney, Governor John Hunter offered the colossal incentive of a free pardon, a passage home and 50 pounds to anyone, even a lifer, who informed on the culprit.
"One would have thought that irresistible," he recalled some years later. "But it brought no evidence".

The church was Anglican and the arsonist was undoubtedly Irish. The Irish convicts had brought a "primitive" collectivism with them on the transport ships, a common will to stick together that had nothing to do with ideology (although it would greatly affect the tenor of socialist movements in Australia a hundred years later) but everything to do with kin and clan.

They were seen, and despised, by English authorities in Australia as tribal people whose allegiances were not touched by the work-ethic of Protestant individualism."

THE FATAL SHORE by Robert Hughes
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