Conviction Politics: a digital history of the convict roots of Australian democracy

Associate Professor Tony Moore will presenting a seminar, Conviction Politics, on April 30 at UCL Laws, University College London. He will examine the digital humanities approaches in the ARC linkage project,

This seminar will draw on Tony Moore’s monograph Death or Liberty, and the documentary of the same name.

Few realise that transportation was a common punishment for protest, agitation, rebellion, dissent and riot directed against the British Crown and others in authority. In all, approximately 3,600 political prisoners were transported. They included the machine-breaking Luddites; 500 rural Swing Rioters from southern England; the Tolpuddle Martyrs who formed one of the first agricultural trade unions in 1834; Canadian and American insurgents from the 1837-39 revolutions in the colonies of upper and lower Canada; the Chartists from 1839 to 1848; Maori and Khoi resistance fighters; and over 2,000 Irish rebels from 1798 to 1868, such as the United Irishmen, Young Irelanders and the Fenians. Transported radicals became celebrated martyrs venerated by their political movements back home, and they left a mark on the emerging political culture of the Australian colonies.

This seminar will draw on Tony Moore’s monograph Death or Liberty, and the documentary of the same name, to explore the place of transportation in a radical, transnational public sphere linking liberal, labour and anti-colonial political movements in the UK, Ireland and Canada with the early advancement of democracy and workers’ rights in the Australian colonies. Special attention will be given to Conviction Politics, a new international digital history project led by Moore, drawing on coded archives to map, and communicate to the public, patterns of collective resistance by the mass of ordinary convict workers and the political activity of transported protestors and rebels. To understand the contribution of convicts to Australian political and social democracy it is necessary to move beyond a narrow national focus for a transnational lens that captures the mobility of people, ideas and media within and beyond the British Empire, not least the involuntary journeys of the exiled radicals.

The ideas of Jeremy Bentham were influential in this reform programme. Notable political prisoners played a key role in the anti-transportation movement, drawing on Bentham’s critique of transportation to strengthen a successful campaign for its cessation, hastening responsible and representative self-government in the eastern colonies. Chartist leaders transported for treason were vocal critics of labour exploitation and lack of political rights in the colonies, and the achievement of manhood suffrage and most of the Chartists' ten points in New South Wales and Victoria by the 1860s owes much to the influence of Bentham’s work on democracy. The seminar will also discuss Conviction Politics’ innovative use of digital online ‘transmedia’ to communicate its research into these still potent ideas to a wide audience. As well as hosting 100 short video stories, the transmedia hub curates in one place a diversity of protest media (songs, stories, cartoons, banners poetry, badges, posters, novels, memoirs); international archival collections; and materials for a travelling digital exhibition.

Please visit to register for free.