Penal Convict Slavery in Colonial Australia

It’s pretty much a commonplace that Australia was founded as a penal colony. What is surprising is how close the penal servitude of the convicts transported to that great continent actually came to real slavery. Before the government built barracks for them, convicts were expected to find their own accommodation. Some built huts for themselves, others worked for government officials or free citizens for their board.

And some were assigned to free citizens as servants. The government owned the services of all the convicts, and so its official had first choice when selecting which of them should they should employ as servants. Those rejected by the officials were to be assigned, under proper regulations, to private employers. These had to house them and pay them for work done outside the formal working hours. The order of two magistrates was required before they could be flogged or returned to the government. They did have the right to complain if the regulations were broken, but there was no process by which they could leave an abusive employer.

See Douglas Pike, Australia: The Quiet Continent (London: Cambridge University Press 1970) 49.

The Tories have effectively reintroduced a form of slavery in workfare and the welfare to work industry, especially as the unemployed may be required to perform it, even after their benefits have been stopped. And as one of the previous blog posts shows, at least one Tory down on Torbay council is nostalgic for the day when the unemployed could be safely banged up in the workhouse.

So I thought I’d post this, just to show how close penal servitude can be to real slavery, and just how thin the line between mandatory state labour and real, personal slavery is.

Our freedoms are fragile, and very, very precious.

And after the punitive attitude to the employed espoused by RTU, Fester McLie and the rest of the whole, squalid, putrescent government, does anyone not believe they’d try to reintroduce this, if they could get away with it?

No wonder there are Ozzies who want their independence!

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2 Responses to “Penal Convict Slavery in Colonial Australia”

  1. Sasson Hann Says:

    And of course they may not get a flogging, but certainly, one foot wrong and they are sanctioned which leads to the torture of no food/heat etc.

    Unfortunately, there are many accounts of abusive managers who know this full well (along with other staff\), and continually use the threat of removal of benefits to bully.

    Yes, Australian citizens may well want their independence, but from what I’ve read in the news their unemployed and disabled are suffering too, in fact this government has looked to the Australian social security model, likely to see how much more pressure they can exert over the poor and vulnerable here.

    Sasson Hann

  2. Jenny Hambidge Says:

    REad ” For the Term of His Natural LIfe ” by Marcus Clarke an early novel about the horrors of convict life in Eastern Australia

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