Empire of Hell - Bristol fashion

Bristol’s links with convict transportation are discussed in a new history of the anti-transportation movement. Empire of Hell is the title of Hilary Carey’s new book, published this week by Cambridge University Press. The book explains how religion was used to justify the creation of penal colonies, attempt reforms and finally overthrow the transportation of British and Irish prisoners within the British Empire.

Matthew Blagdon Hale, bishop of Perth in the former penal colony of Western Australia was a notable figure in the anti-transportation campaign. Besides his attempts to reform convict transportation, Hale campaigned for Aboriginal education and autonomy. Before heading to Perth, he argued that penal colonies were only justified if they reformed prisoners and brought prosperity to all. He was soon convinced that neither was likely in Western Australia. Hilary Carey made use of Hale’s personal papers which are held by the University of Bristol’s Special Collections to study the way religious arguments were used to challenge government policy.

Bristol has connections with the earlier history of convict transportation. Following the Transportation Act of 1717, about 30,000 convicts were transported to the American colonies where their labour augmented that of slaves and indentured servants. According to Bristol historian Kenneth Morgan, Bristol merchants shipped about a third of the convicts sent to Maryland before the trade was halted by the American War of Independence. Bristol students are studying the convict trade as part of a third-year history unit on Convicts and the Colonies.

British convict transportation was part of a global trade in convict labour practised by many European powers. Penal colonies in New South Wales, Van Diemen’s Land, Norfolk Island, Bermuda, Gibraltar and Western Australia were founded after the collapse of experiments in Africa and North America. British and Irish convicts endured brutal conditions, but contemporaries observed that these were no worse than those inflicted in the army and navy. While the Irish political prisoner, John Mitchel, called the system an ‘Empire of Hell’, it was not the living death endured by slaves. Religious reformers and anti-convict transportation campaigners finally brought it to an end, partly because it was not seen as tough enough and served to demoralise rather than reform prisoners. Empire of Hell will be launched in April at a conference on utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham, another ardent opponent of convict transportation.

Library Undergraduate Travel Bursaries Scheme

Funds are now available to help cover travel costs for undergraduate students who wish to visit other libraries and/or archives to further their studies. The scheme is specifically for undergraduate students undertaking or about to undertake their final year dissertations or projects. This includes students in their penultimate year preparing in advance for their final year projects. A number of students have benefited from the scheme in recent years and we are pleased to be able to offer it again.

Applications for the bursaries are welcomed from students of all disciplines. Up to £250 will be available for successful candidates. Further details about the application process are available.


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