Australian convict, 1880s.

A studio photograph, dated 1880s, of Tasmanian convict Bill Thompson, in convict uniform and leg irons.

By the time this photograph was taken, Britain had already stopped transporting convicts (in 1868).

Visiting Port Arthur really drives home how horrific the conditions for convicts were. I still can’t understand the mentality of Georgian (and later Victorian) England where crimes that were often not very severe resulted in people not only being shipped to the other side of the world, but being treated far worse than animals.

Considering the crimes those with money managed to get away with, the hypocrisy is infuriating! I mean, kill someone in a duel and you’re a hero. Steal a loaf of bread for your family, and get shipped off to New South Wales or Van Diemen’s Land! Strange.

A studio photograph of Tasmanian convict Bill Thompson, showing the convict uniform and the use of leg irons. Dated 1880s.

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7 thoughts on “Australian convict, 1880s.

  1. Lois says:

    Such an interesting, yet appalling photo. Britain and other European countries just used newly discovered places to dump their criminals and empty their jails which were so overcrowded that men women and children were kept in chains on old ships moored on the Thames. The brutality was horrific for everyone involved.
    Great post!

    • Sonya Heaney says:

      Thanks 🙂
      The way they staged the photo in front of a backdrop, like he was modelling…
      I’ve read a few books recently that involved scenes on those prison hulks. I don’t think it ever occurred to them their way of handling petty crime wasn’t exactly working!

      • Lois says:

        I’ve just finished reading ‘The English Passengers’ by Matthew Kneale about different of Tasmania in the 1820’s-1850’s and I remembered this photo as I was reading it.

      • Sonya Heaney says:

        Thanks for mentioning that book – I’m adding it to my TBR list. 🙂

  2. This photograph was staged. It was taken around 1900 by John Watt Beattie, a well known Hobart photographer. At the time he not only took photographs of 80 year old William Thompson (1820-1904) in old convict clothing but also wrote down Thompson’s reminiscences of his period as a convict. These were published as a book with some biographical material by the Port Arthur Historic site in 2009. Originally convicted in 1841, Thompson received a Conditional Pardon in 1854. He was my great great great grandfather.

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