Conviction Politics

Death and Liberty - Roar Film

Conviction Politics asks how is it that the Australian penal colonies, some of the most unfree jurisdictions on Earth at the beginning of the nineteenth century, had by the 1850s and 1860s become democracies

Traditionally this transformation has been attributed to the wave of free migrants that arrived following the discovery of gold in 1851— an influx that provided the impetus for a succession of democratic innovations and state interventions to civilise capitalism, cementing Australia’s post-1901 reputation as the social laboratory of the world. Yet, as recent work by CI Quinlan (2017) has shown, there is evidence that the roots of this democratic tradition developed long before 1851.

Robust unions emerged, for example, as early as the 1820s and there was extensive unfree worker mobilisation in the convict transportation era.

This four-year interdisciplinary project brings together four Australian universities (3 state- based, 1 national), 2 leading international universities (UCD Ireland; USW UK), and 9 industry partners (6 in Australia, 3 in the UK), to advance our knowledge of collective political protest, resistance and organisation in convict and post- convict colonial society.

The project will utilise large-scale searchable digitised datasets to examine the pattern and extent of collective bargaining to improve pay, conditions and control over labour within the convict workforce of the nascent economies of New South Wales (NSW) and Van Diemen’s Land (VDL).

The project aims to:

  • Create digital media to map the extent and nature of collective protest in convict-era Australia.
  • Re-evaluate the contribution of convicts transported for political offences to that pattern of collective action and to building a reform constituency.
  • Investigate convict and emancipist contributions to the formation of union and other political movements.
  • Explore the manner in which Atlantic world radicalism was connected through transportation to legal, media and cultural activism in Australia.
  • Produce innovative digital media resources that will enable museums, media, archives, schools and

Project Team


Prof Jon McCormack Monash University, Goldsmiths College, University of London

Prof Kimbal Marriott Monash University

Prof Hamish Maxwell-Stewart University of Tasmania

Em/Prof Michael Quinlan The University of New South Wales

A/Prof Nick Carter Australian Catholic University

Dr Michael Davis Griffith University

Dr Julie Brooks University College Dublin

Mr Stephen Thomas ROAR FILM PTY LTD