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"Branded D on the left side" : a study of former soldiers and marines transported to Van Diemen's Land: 1804-1854


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Hilton, PJ 2010 , '"Branded D on the left side" : a study of former soldiers and marines transported to Van Diemen's Land: 1804-1854', PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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In 1838 Sir George Arthur admitted that the criminal status of a court-martialled
soldier was problematic as a soldier was actually transported for a class of offences
(such as striking a noncommissioned officer) for which a citizen would incur a trifling
penalty. This observation was pertinent. Transportation needs to be understood in
relation to other coercive institutions, including both slavery and military service. A
small number of convicts had experienced multiple forms of coercion. Three African
soldiers, for example were court-martialled and transported from the Caribbean by the
West India Regiments. All had quintessential British names but bore country marks
on their faces suggesting that they had been born in Africa. While a small number of
former convicts had experience of slavery, the number who had served before the
colours was substantially larger. Despite this, most convict historians have shunned
soldiers. Robson, for example claimed that 'only a handful of men were transported
by courts-martial.' Apart from several thousand who were transported to New South
Wales and Western Australia, over 3,000 former soldiers were shipped to Van
Diemen's Land alone.
Transported soldiers occupy an almost unique position in convict historiography.
Apart from former slaves, soldiers were the most substantial convict sub-group to
have experienced a coercive disciplinary regime comparable with the convict system.
Emerging from this coercive disciplinary regime transported soldiers carried
permanent visual reminders of their confrontations with state power. Furthermore, this
occurred during a period generally regarded as an era of penal reform. Soldiers'
bodies represent this transitional discourse on the changing nature of ritualised state
violence. Their experiences are illustrated upon their bodies, perhaps to a greater
extent than other convict sub-groups. Hundreds had already been flogged and their
bodies carried 'marks of punishment'.
This thesis will provide a brief contextual analysis of the two systems of convict
labour management, assignment and probation, which operated in Van Diemen's
Land. It will also detail how former soldiers were assimilated within those systems.
One of the principal themes to emerge from this research was how extensively the system used former soldiers in helping to control the broader convict body by
exploiting their most valuable commodity, their military experience, in their
employment as police and overseers. Commissioner John Thomas Bigge had urged
that the fruits of convict labour be assiduously manipulated. He demanded that
transportation had to become a more terrifying deterrent in order to dissuade poor
British people from believing that exile in New South Wales was no real punishment
at all. Many settlers were overly ambitious and their exaggerated expectations often
impacted negatively on assigned workers. Skill was a critical determinant of convict
experience and, accordingly, behaviour was an important contingency in determining
a convict's progress or lack thereof. As convicts in Van Diemen's Land, many former
soldiers were relatively unskilled as a result they were disproportionately punished in
the chain gangs, penal stations and on the gallows.

Item Type: Thesis - PhD
Authors/Creators:Hilton, PJ
Copyright Holders: The Author
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Copyright 2010 the Author

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