Eras Journal – Gilchrist, C: Abstract

Abstract of Gilchrist, C .”Space, Sexuality and Convict Resistance in Van Diemen’s Land: The Limits of Repression?”

Reading through the plethora of official reports, convict memoirs, government despatches, and colonial observations, I was struck by the regularity, indeed ubiquity, of contemporary descriptions of convict spaces and, in particular, the sleeping quarters.

Formulaic and repetitive, these observations display a remarkable constancy over time and place. It is a constancy of descriptive detail, but also a near consensus surrounding perceptions of what constituted sufficient (moral) or defective (immoral) accommodation. These sources have been read as distinctive sexual scripts.

Influenced by the recent ‘spatial turn’ of history, this paper examines the probation system of convict discipline in Van Diemen’s Land during the 1840s. The analysis concentrates on two particular sites in the colony to reveal the real and imagined ‘sexualised geographies’ of convict space.

Reading the convict system through this lens suggests a new understanding of power relations because the spatial-sexual anxieties that were produced by the penal system shaped and informed a particular expression of convict resistance.