Design a site like this with
Get started



This blog and podcast series will bring to you the life story of convicts who, after being transported to Australia and released from servitude, went on to die in pauper establishments. They will be known as pauper-emancipists.

This series will extend beyond the life-narrative to engage with the social and economic aspects of the colony and issues surrounding the criminalisation of poverty and vagrancy.

Why this population?

This blog will focus on the lives of pauper-emancipists; tracing them from cradle-to-grave. Thus the plight of those convicts who struggled after freedom and in old age will be highlighted. The very existence of this overlooked population challenges the enduring belief that convicts who were transported to Australia were ‘better-off’ and that Australia was a ‘working man’s paradise’. Such re-emerging glorification of empire has been repeatedly challenged within academia, and this blog series will build on that work.

Early seminal work on convict history focused on the endurance and contribution (Oxley 1996; Nicholas 1988) of convicts. However, Piper (2010), (who’s thesis inspired this work) explored the pauper institutions and its connections with the convict system. There has also been insightful work carried out on old age and imprisonment in Victoria (Nagy 2019; Nagy & Piper 2019; 2020). This research hopes to build on such seminal works by considering the long term impact of the convict system of those who struggled later in life. The role of these early pauper and invalid institutions will be explored within the context of the post-penal identity of VDL, and the individuals themselves will be the focus. On a bi-monthly basis I will be bring to you what I find out.

What was a typical pauper-emancipist?: ‘[the] typical inmates of a colonial Tasmanian charitable institution were male, unmarried (or if female Widowed), aged at least 55 years but more likely to be aged closer to 70. In addition to being old, they almost certainly suffered from age-related illnesses, such as dementia, rheumatism or chronic ulcers. They would have been born in Britain or Ireland, and have arrived in Tasmania as transported convicts. While they may have been able to read and write, their literacy standard was low when compared to that of the rest of society. This meant they would have experienced restricted vocational opportunities and would have primarily been employed in unskilled labouring or domestic service positions.’ (Piper 2004, 54)

It is this population which this blog and podcast series will uncover. Pauper-emancipists are individuals who were in need of, or receiving, charitable assistance and who were also former convicts (Piper 2004, 54-55).

How has this been done?

This research has explored the records of pauper and invalid establishments. Pauper-emancipists have been traced back through their lives to uncover where they came from and what crimes resulted in their sentence of transportation to Australia. This was done by nominally linking (tracing their names and information) through the criminal justice records, civil records (including birth, death and marriage records) (1), and newspapers. The variation of such sources ensures that both their criminal and non-criminal lives are uncovered (2). As such, the crimes, punishments, familial lives, employment and deaths of these women and men have been explored. This allows an understanding of their shared experiences, their divergent pathways, and why their lives ended within pauper or invalid establishments.

What will we cover and when

  1. December 2020: Introduction
    • Including: useful historical background information; an outline of why and how the research has been done; an introduction to the pauper establishments themselves; and lastly, a case study of an individual pauper-emancipist, Frederick Oddy.
  2. February 2021: Agency & complaints
    • This blog post and connected podcast is all about the agency of pauper-emancipists. From the avoidance of those institutions, to the complaints they made about the conditions they lived in within them, to breaking the rules and causing disruption. Despite spending much of their lives within institutions, or perhaps because of it, they knew how to push back against the system!
  3. April 2021: Men & Women: How did the experience differ?
  4. June 2021: Social Mobility: Jobs and the economy
  5. August 2021: The Changing Charitable System
  6. October 2021: De-institutionalisation & Changing Perspectives


  1. The Founders & Survivors project databases (access provided by Prof Maxwell-Stewart) was used in conjunction with physical and digital archival records. Without such access this project would have taken a considerably longer period of time. Thank you!
  2. This approach follows research by: Godfrey et al 2007; 2010; 2017; Watkins & Godfrey 2018; Watkins 2018; 2020.


Damousi, J. (1997) Depraved and Disorderly: Female Convicts, Sexuality and Gender in Colonial Australia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

Godfrey, B S., Cox, D J. & Farrall, S D. (2010) Serious Offenders: A Historical Study of Habitual Criminals (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

Godfrey, B S., Cox, D J. & Farrall, S D. (2007) Criminal Lives: Family, Employment and Offending (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

Godfrey, B., Cox, P., Shore, H. & Alker, Z. (2017) Young Criminal Lives (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

Nagy, V M. & Piper, A J. (2020) ‘The Health and Medical Needs of Victoria’s Older Female Prisoners, 1860–1920’, Health and history, 22: 1, pp.67-85.

Nagy, V M. & Piper, A J. (2019) ‘Imprisonment of Female Urban and Rural Offenders in Victoria, 1860-1920’, The International Journal for Crime, Justice and Social Democracy, 8(1) pp.100-115

Nagy, V M. (2019) ‘Women, Old Age, and Imprisonment in Victoria, Australia 1860–1920’, Women &Criminal Justice 3 pp.155-171

Nicholas, S. (1988) (ed.) Convict Workers: Reinterpreting Australia’s Past (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press) pp.180-198.

Oxley, D. (1996) Convict Maids: The forced migration of women to Australia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

Piper, A. (2010) ‘“Mind-Forged Manacles”: The Mechanics of Control inside late-nineteenth century Tasmanian Charitable Institutions’, Journal of Social History (IV) pp.1046-1063.

Smith, B. (2008) A cargo of Women: Susannah Watson and the Convicts of the Princess Royal, Second Edition (NSW: Allen Unwin).

Strutt, W T. (1887) Statistics of the colony of Tasmania for the year 1886 (Hobart Town: Government Press).

Watkins, E D. (2020) Life Courses of Young Convicts Transpsorted to Van Diemen’s Land, (London: Bloomsbury).

Watkins, E D. & Godfrey, B. (2018) Criminal Children: Researching Juvenile Offenders 1820-1920, (Pen & Sword).

Watkins, E D. (2018) ‘Transported Beyond the Seas: Criminal Juveniles’, In Nineteenth Century Childhoods in Interdisciplinary and International Perspectives, Series: Childhood in the Past Vol 6 (eds.) Baxter J E. & Ellis, M. (Oxford: Oxbow).

Watkins, E D. (2018) ‘Juvenile convicts and their colonial familial lives’, The History of the Family, 23(2) pp.307-328