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The horrors of convict life: British radical visions of the Australian penal colonies

Research output: Working paperWorking paper and Preprints

  • K M Reid
Original languageEnglish
StateAccepted/In press - 2007


In September 1856, the Chartist leader John Frost returned to Britain from almost two decades of exile in Van Diemen's Land. He was greeted by mass crowds and immediately embarked upon a lecture tour to denounce the Horrors of Convict Life. The lectures, and their accompanying pamphlets, presented an image of the penal colonies as sites of moral outrage and manly physical dissolution. This article explores the meanings of Frost's lectures - and particularly his emphasis upon sodomy and 'unnatural' offences - by contending that they are best understood, not as straightforward, factual accounts of the colonies, but against the backdrop of nineteenth-century British radicalism and the codes of masculinity which informed it.

Additional information

Additional information: Preprint of a journal article to be published by Berg in Cultural and Social History (1478-0038).

Research areas

  • convict colonies, political prisoners



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