Tag Archives: United Kingdom

Grave of Matthew Flinders Found


Advertisements

Seen from the air, the dry summer reveals an ancient harvest of archaeological finds



File 20180816 2894 1echakz.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Unseen from ground level, this Iron Age farmstead with recognisable round house near the Yorkshire Wolds is revealed in cropmarks. The lighter green shows it was carefully placed on a gravel rise surrounded by wetter land, shown here where the crop grows a darker green.
Peter Halkon, Author provided

Peter Halkon, University of Hull

For an aerial archaeologist 2018 has been a bumper year. The long, hot summer has revealed ancient landscapes not visible from ground level, but easily recognised in fields of growing crops from the air.

The principle behind the appearance of cropmarks is simple. If, for example, an Iron Age farmer dug a ditch around his field, over time this ditch will fill up with soil and other debris and will generally retain more moisture than the soil or bedrock it was cut into. Centuries later, a cereal crop sown over this earth will grow for a longer period and ripen more slowly, appearing greener as the surrounding crop ripens to a golden colour. Conversely, a crop planted in soil covering the remains of a stone building or roadway will ripen more quickly and parch, again appearing a different colour to the rest of the crop.

What has made the summer of 2018 so remarkable is that the winter and spring was so wet that plants grew relatively shallow roots, having no need to search deeply for water. So when the drought came this summer, those plants that grew over buried features such as ditches and pits benefited from the greater store of water retained in the infilled soil. Well-drained sandy soils and those over chalk are particularly conducive to revealing features through cropmarks.

These cropmarks show a known cursus monument at Warborough, Oxfordshire. The purpose of cursus monuments is debated, thought to be enclosed paths or processional ways.
Damian Grady/Historic England

Recognising archaeological sites by cropmarks is noted as far back as the antiquarians of the 17th century, although it was William Stukeley – who pioneered the study of Stonehenge and Avebury – who provided the clearest early explanation in his description of features in the Roman town of Great Chesterford in Essex in 1719. In the modern era, at first using balloons, then aeroplanes and, most recently, drones, aerial archaeology photography has become a standard reconnaissance technique.

History from the air

One area where this has been used widely is the Yorkshire Wolds, among the first to be covered in the National Mapping Programme undertaken by the former Royal Commission on Historical Monuments England, begun in 1908, now part of Historic England.

Compiled from thousands of aerial photographs by Cathy Stoertz and published as Ancient Landscapes of the Yorkshire Wolds in 1997, this remains one of the most detailed studies of an archaeological landscape in the UK. From the River Humber at Hessle to Flamborough Head, Stoertz’s mapping revealed a network of prehistoric and Romano-British enclosures, burials mounds, ceremonial monuments and linear earthworks.

Cropmarks showing square barrows to either side of the road at Arras, East Yorkshire.
Peter Halkon, Author provided

My own research has examined many of these sites on the ground through geophysical survey and excavation, and further aerial sorties, and this has greatly expanded our knowledge of the region. Flying from Hull Aero Club’s airfield near Beverley, I have focused on the western escarpment of the Yorkshire Wolds and the eastern fringes at the Vale of York, a region I have studied for many years.

For example, the picture above shows the square barrow cemetery at Arras, in East Yorkshire. Here, burials were placed on the ground and a mound was built over them with soil dug out from a surrounding ditch. The barrow ditches show as green squares. Dating from the Middle Iron Age, probably around 300 BC, this site gave its name to the internationally recognised Arras Culture of East Yorkshire.




Read more:
Bones of Iron Age warriors may reveal link between Yorkshire’s ‘spear-people’ and the ancient Gauls


A portion of the massive later prehistoric earthworks of Huggate Dykes has survived since the banks and ditches were built in around 1000 BC, probably as territorial boundaries or as a means to control access to springs and streams.

Later Bronze Age earthworks known as Huggate Dykes, from ground level.
Peter Halkon, Author provided

Impressive from ground level, an aerial view reveals faint green stripes in an adjacent cornfield – all that is left of the buried ditches after centuries of ploughing.

Seen from above, the remnants of the Huggate Dyke linear earthworks (centre) can be seen as faint green stripes continuing into the adjacent field (top right).
Peter Halkon, Author provided

This year I have discovered hitherto unknown sites and, in other places, greater detail at already recorded sites. These include Bronze Age round barrows, apparent as rings in the crop, the characteristic square barrows of the Iron Age Arras Culture, and linear features running across the landscape from Iron Age and Romano-British farmsteads and other settlements.

Soil marks of three Bronze Age round barrows on the Yorkshire Wolds, appearing as circular marks in the soil. The darker circles show the infill of the ditch around the barrow that was originally dug to create the barrow mound.
Peter Halkon, Author provided

Collaborating with Tony Hunt of Yorkshire Aerial Archaeology and Mapping, for the first time I have also used drones. Although these are subject to altitude restrictions, a good quality camera on a drone guided along pre-programmed tracks by GPS can gather precise images. The hundreds of overlapping images can be combined to provide a huge two-dimensional mosaic image, or processed to create 3D imagery, an elevation model, or to colourise the images in order to make the hidden archaeological features more visible.

Here, left, a conventional orthophoto of a field showing the faint outline of an Iron Age or Romano-British square enclosure with the ditch of an associated droveway, and right, the same site processed using the DroneDeploy Plant Health filter, adding false colour to better highlight the archaeological features.
Tony Hunt/Yorkshire Aerial Archaeology and Mapping, Author provided

This technique is truly revolutionary as mapping was tricky and time-consuming in the past, particularly aerial photographs taken at oblique angles, requiring hours peering through a stereoscope, mapping sites by hand using geometry.

<!– Below is The Conversation's page counter tag. Please DO NOT REMOVE. –>
The Conversation

While the drought of 2018 has seriously affected crop yields, it has provided a rich harvest of a different kind, one that will take a considerable time to digest. An opportunity to do so will be as archaeologists meet to discuss finds from across Europe at the Aerial Archaeology Research Group annual conference, held this year in Venice, September 12-14.

Peter Halkon, Senior Lecturer in Archaeology, University of Hull

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


United Kingdom’s Hot Weather Assisting Archaeology



The day bananas made their British debut


File 20180410 554 3ygp4b.jpeg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Thomas Johnson’s illustration of his banana plant from The Herball Or Generall Historie of Plantes.
Wikimedia Commons

Rebecca Earle, University of Warwick

When Carmen Miranda sashayed her way into the hearts of Britain’s war-weary population in films such as The Gang’s All Here and That Night in Rio, her combination of tame eroticism and tropical fruit proved irresistible. Imagine having so much fruit you could wear it as a hat. To audiences suffering the strictures of rationing, Miranda’s tropical headgear shouted exoticism and abundance – with a touch of phallic sensuality thrown in.

In 1940s and 1950s Britain, bananas represented luxury, sunshine and sexiness. But entranced cinema-goers might have been surprised to learn that the bananas in Miranda’s tutti-frutti hat were in all probability descended from a strain developed in a hothouse at a stately home in Derbyshire, in England’s picturesque – but decidedly non-tropical – Midlands.

England got its first glimpse of the banana when herbalist, botanist and merchant Thomas Johnson displayed a bunch in his shop in Holborn, in the City of London, on April 10, 1633. He included the woodcut you see at the top of this article in his “very much enlarged” edition of John Gerard’s popular botanical encyclopedia, The herball or generall historie of plantes.

Page 1516 of the Johnson edition of The herball or generall historie of plantes.
Wellcome Images

Johnson’s single stem of bananas came from the recently colonised island of Bermuda. We don’t know what variety it was – but these days the chances are that any banana you will find in a British supermarket will be descended from the Cavendish banana. This strain was developed in the 19th century by the head gardener at Chatsworth House, John Paxton. His invention is called the Cavendish, rather than the Paxton, after the family name of the owners of the Chatsworth estate, the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire.

Paxton spent several years developing his banana. In 1835 his plant finally bore fruit, which won him a prize from the Royal Horticultural Society.

The Cavendish slowly gained popularity as a cultigen, but its current dominance is the result of a calamity. The genetic uniformity of commercial banana plantations is a hostage to ill-fortune. During the 1950s a virulent fungal pathogen wiped out the previously ubiquitous Gros Michel variety. The Cavendish stepped into the space left by the attack of Panama Disease. There is no reason to assume the fate suffered by the Gros Michel will not befall the Cavendish. What then will adorn our bowls of cereal and add volume to our smoothies?




Read more:
Disease may wipe out world’s bananas – but here’s how we might just save them


Taste of the tropics

Europeans have long associated bananas with the exotic pleasures of distant, island paradises. When the exhausted Ilarione da Bergamo arrived in the Caribbean in 1761 after a long sea voyage, the sight of the local fruit convinced the Italian friar that the travails of his protracted journey had been worthwhile. “Thus I began enjoying the delights of America,” he noted in his diary. Travellers marvelled at the exuberance of new-world nature, which – unlike her more parsimonious European sister – offered ripe, sweet fruit all year round.

The opportunity to gorge on sugary fruits became part of the European image of the tropics. The historian David Arnold pointed out that, in English: “One of the earliest and most enduring uses of the adjective ‘tropical’ was to describe fruit.”

De negro e india, china cambuja, by Miguel Cabrera (1695–1768).
Museum of the Americas

And of course these juicy, succulent treasures quickly became associated, not only with the tropics, but also with the sexual allure travellers projected onto women in the torrid zone. Women and tropical fruits merged into one delightful commodity in the overheated imagination of the US journalist, Carleton Beals, as he travelled through Costa Rica in the 1930s. “And the women,” he wrote breathlessly in Banana Gold, “their firm ample flesh seems ready to burst through the satin skin—like ripe fruit!”. Carmen Miranda’s provocative wink and her banana hat played masterfully on this centuries-old association.

Banana republics

Bananas originated in South-East Asia and were brought to the New World by European settlers – who, by the 19th century, were growing them on vast plantations in the Caribbean. Labour conditions on banana plantations were often atrocious. When underpaid workers at a plantation on Colombia’s Caribbean coast struck for better working conditions in 1928, they were gunned down by Colombian troops probably called in at the behest of the United Fruit Company.

The novelist Gabriel García Márquez immortalised this tragedy in a memorable scene in his One Hundred Years of Solitude. “Look at the mess we’ve got ourselves into,” one of his characters remarks, “just because we invited a gringo to eat some bananas”.

Banana plantation in Nicaragua, 1894.
Popular Science Monthly

Far worse messes were to occur in Guatemala in 1954, when the United Fruit Company cooperated closely with the Guatemalan military and the US State Department to overthrow the democratically-elected government of Jacobo Arbenz, who had made the mistake of nationalising some of the unused lands owned by the fruit company. The coup ushered in decades of military rule, during which the government, locked in a struggle with the guerrilla movement that inevitably arose in response, engaged in what many scholars have described as genocide against the Maya population.

The ConversationToday, bananas are so commonplace – thanks, of course, to industrial-scale production and working conditions that continue to attract critique – that they scarcely conjure up the delight they once inspired in the travel-fatigued Ilarione da Bergamo and weary postwar cinema goers. Since April 10 2018 marks the 385th anniversary of the day in 1633 when bananas were displayed for the first time to Londoners, it’s worth pondering the complex history behind the everyday banana.

Rebecca Earle, Professor of HIstory, University of Warwick

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


In medieval Britain, if you wanted to get ahead, you had to speak French



Image 20170327 3303 1tyzyjb.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Medieval teaching scene.
gallica.bnf.fr / BnF

Huw Grange, University of Oxford

The study of modern languages in British secondary schools is in steep decline. The number of students taking French and German GCSE has more than halved in the last 16 years. But as the UK prepares to forge new relationships with the wider world, and with a question mark over the status of English as an official EU language, it may be that many more Britons will need to brush up on their language skills – not unlike their medieval ancestors.

In the Middle Ages, a variety of vernacular languages were spoken by inhabitants of the British Isles, from Cornish to English to Norn – an extinct North Germanic language. The literati of the time learned to speak and write Latin.

But another high prestige language was also used in medieval Britain. After the Norman Conquest, French became a major language of administration, education, literature and law in England (and, to some extent, elsewhere in Britain). To get ahead in life post-1066, it was pretty important to “parler français”.

Historiated initial depicting Pentecost, when linguistic miracles were supposedly most prevalent.
gallica.bnf.fr / BnF

French would have been the mother tongue for several generations of the Anglo Norman aristocracy. But many more Britons must have learned French as a second language. Medieval biographies of saints, such as the 12th-century recluse Wulfric of Haselbury, tell of miracle workers who transformed monoglot Englishmen into fluent francophones.

In reality, many probably acquired French at “song” school, where young boys were taught reading and singing before moving on to study Latin at “grammar” school.

Slipping standards

But, by the late 14th century, standards of French in Britain were slipping – at least in some quarters. Perhaps not such a problem at home, where English had already assumed some of the roles previously performed by French. But if British merchants wanted to export wool, or import bottles of Bordeaux, knowledge of French was still a must.

It’s around this time that the “Manieres de langage” – or “Manners of Speaking” – began to appear. These model conversations, the earliest used to teach French to English speakers, were used by business teachers who taught all the necessary skills for performing basic clerical work.

Colourful language

As well as teaching learners how to ask for directions and find lodgings in France, the “Manieres” feature rather more colourful language than you’d find in today’s textbooks.

Some of the dialogues are made up entirely of insults and chat-up lines. Learners could quickly progress from “Mademoiselle, do I know you?” to “You’re quite sure you don’t have another boyfriend?”. And if things didn’t quite go to plan, an expression such as: “Va te en a ta putaigne … quar vous estez bien cuillez ensemble” (That’s it, run along to your whore! You’re made for each other!) may have proved useful.

Astrologer and demon.
British Library, Royal 6 E VI/2, f. 396v

The “Manieres” also taught learners about life across the Channel. In one dialogue a Parisian chap mentions to an Englishman that he’s been to Orléans. The Englishman is amazed: “But that’s near the edge of the world!” he exclaims. “It’s actually in the middle of France,” replies the Parisian, “and there’s a great law school there”. Once again, the Englishman is taken aback. He’s heard it’s where the devil teaches his disciples black magic. The Parisian is exasperated until the Englishman offers to buy him a drink.

Lessons from the past

The French spoken in Britain was mocked from at least the 12th-century, even by the British themselves. In the “Canterbury Tales”, for instance, Chaucer teases his Prioress for speaking the French of “Stratford-at-Bow” (rather than proper Parisian).




Read more:
English swearing’s European origins


Like many a language learner in Britain today, the Englishman in the “Manieres” lacks confidence in his linguistic abilities and worries about how he is ever going to speak like a native.

But the “Manieres” also suggest there was less separating the French of Britain from “proper Parisian” than we might think. When the Englishman lets slip he’s never actually been to France, it’s the Parisian’s turn to be amazed. How could anyone learn such good French in England?

Catte Street, Oxford, where a business school was located in the 15th-century.
Photo © Marathon (cc-by-sa/2.0)

These language learning resources date from a time when the association between linguistic identity and nationality was looser than it often is today. French doesn’t just belong to the French, according to the “Manieres” – learners can take pride in it too.

In Oxford, business school French proved so popular its success seemed to rattle the dons. In 1432 a University statute banned French teaching during lecturing hours to stop students skiving Latin.

The ConversationIt’s hard to imagine needing to curb enthusiasm for learning a foreign language in Brexit Britain. But perhaps there are lessons in the “Manieres” that could help promote language learning in the 21st-century classroom.

Huw Grange, Junior Research Fellow in French, University of Oxford

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Cool Britannia: TV drama doesn’t capture the story being unearthed of the Roman invasion



File 20180128 100926 fntqyk.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Kelly Reilly as the Briton warrior Kerra in Britannia.
IMDB

Craig Barker, University of Sydney

The new TV series Britannia airing now (produced for Sky Atlantic in the UK, screening on Foxtel’s Showcase in Australia) is undoubtedly influenced by the scale and success of Game of Thrones. Created by acclaimed English playwright Jez Butterworth, the nine-part series is an ambitious exploration of a profoundly important era in British history.

It tells the story of the second Roman invasion of Britain in 43 AD, when the Roman fleet under the control of the ruthless general Aulus Plautius (a real historical figure played in the series by David Morrissey) lands on the coast of the near-mythical island. It is the story, too, of Celtic Britain tribalism and the Machiavellian interplay with the new Roman arrivals.

Trailer for season one of Britannia.

Although reviews to date have been mixed, the series is a bold undertaking exploring the clash of cultures. It is the second significant pop cultural exploration of key historical moments in the relationship between Britain and Europe since the Brexit vote. (Christopher Nolan’s film Dunkirk was the first). It also comes at a time when the relationship between historical fact and fiction is being hotly debated, particularly in relation to the Netflix series The Crown.




Read more:
Britannia, Druids and the surprisingly modern origins of myths


While the series does suffer from various historical inaccuracies, Butterworth has said he was more interested in exploring the drama around two religions, Roman and druidic, coming together.

Most of what we think we know about the Briton’s religion was proposed by later writers; no contemporary accounts survive. In Britannia, the role of druids, the Celtic priests, within society is presented in an otherworldly, trance-like way. The main druid character Veran (played by MacKenzie Crook) feels like a hallucination.

A druidic ceremony performed in Britannia.
Sky Vision

This renewed popular cultural interest in the establishment of Roman Britain and the Celtic response to the Roman arrival coincides with an exciting and profound period of archaeological discovery and historical reinterpretation of this historical event.

A nod to Caesar

Plautius’s invasion of Britain on orders of Emperor Claudius established Roman rule in much of Britain for nearly 400 years. But it was not the first time Rome came into contact with the tribes of the island.

Julius Caesar’s invasions of Britain in 55 BC and 54 BC are mentioned briefly in an opening title of the TV series, which suggests that fear of the Celts drove the Romans to abandon ideas of permanent occupation of the island. The real reason is far more complex. Caesar’s account provided the Romans with their first description of the island and its inter-tribal fighting.

David Morrissey as Aulus Plautius.
Sky Vision

In 2016 and 2017, excavations by the University of Leicester demonstrated that Caesar’s 54 BC fleet was blown off course and landed on the sandy shores of Pegwell Bay in Kent.

Although Caesar left without leaving a military force on Britain, he established a series of client relationships with British royal families in the south-east. These allegiances may have assisted the later Claudian invasion. At the very least, they mean the arrival of Roman forces wasn’t the surprise it is presented as in Britannia.

The Claudian Invasion

The real general Aulus Plautius was regarded highly in Rome, but like his fictional counterpart he did struggle against soldier rumblings. Roman historian Cassius Dio writes that he “had difficulty in inducing his army to advance beyond Gaul. For the soldiers were indignant at the thought of carrying on a campaign outside the limits of the known world”.




Read more:
Guide to the Classics: Suetonius’s The Twelve Caesars explores vice and virtue in ancient Rome


Why did the emperor Claudius choose to invade Britain? It seems most likely that, like a number of modern political leaders, the invasion allowed Claudius to distract public attention from domestic political issues.

No contemporary account survives of the real invasion. It seems most likely that as depicted in the show, Plautius landed 40,000 men on the coast of Kent, and attempted to negotiate truces and restore Roman friendly monarchs. These ultimately failed. The Romans then undertook a campaign of “shock and awe”, even bringing war elephants to the fight, and established their first provincial capital at Camulodunum (today’s Colchester).

A distinctive Roman brick wall excavated at Camulodunum (Colchester)
Wikicommons

A Roman view

Most of what is known about the Britons, including the dubious druids, was written not by them but by the Romans. The main literary source was written in the late first century AD by Tacitus, whose father-in-law, Agricola, served as governor of Roman Britain (after the events of the series).

Drawing of Gaius Cornelius Tacitus by an unknown artist, said to be based on an ancient bust.
Wikicommons

The traditional Tacitian historical narrative is now being questioned, by both archaeological evidence and new historical interpretation. These point out that in creating a biography of Agricola, Tacitus was presenting a heroic figure, freed from the moral corruption of Rome. In this narrative, he needed worthy adversaries in the form of rebels such as the British chief Calgacus.

It was obviously a complex relationship between native and conqueror, politically and culturally. Mary Beard has famously described Britain as “Rome’s Afghanistan”, an endless struggle to wins hearts and minds in the four centuries that followed Plautius’s forces. Hers is a provocative, but valid description.

The brawling Britons

In the first century AD, Britain was politically fragmented, with a series of constant wars between various tribes, (at least according to Roman sources). In the series tribal warfare is represented by the fictitious Cantii (led by King Pellenor, played by Ian McDiarmid) and Regni tribes (led by Queen Antedia, played by Zoë Wanamaker).




Read more:
From Elizabeth I to high fashion, the tales behind Game of Thrones’ costumes


This plotline reflects the Roman literary trope of the brawling Britons; but it appears the reality of the internal political structure was far more complex than Roman writers could ever comprehend. Many of the political groups of the south-east of England had already adopted some Mediterranean cultural traits before the invasion through trade and other contacts with the Roman World. New archaeological excavations at Silchester for example, demonstrate urban planning during the Iron Age, prior to Roman occupation.

British society certainly seems to have been more egalitarian than Roman, with both men and women holding political and military power. The character of the warrior Kerra (played by Kelly Reilly) appears to be presented as some sort of precursor to a figure like Boudica, a Celtic queen who would lead a rebellion within decades.

What about Stonehenge?

Trailers for forthcoming episodes suggest Stonehenge will play a significant role in Britannia’s plot . (It has beenfilmed using a scale replica constructed in the Czech Republic). Meanwhile, the real Stonehenge has undergone a series of recent excavations supervised by Mike Parker Pearson, which have revolutionised the way we think about the site, and destroyed many myths as well.

Again, ultimately, very little is known about the use of Stonehenge at the time of the invasion, nor about Roman conceptions of the structure. (Despite this, modern druids have associated themselves with the structure.)

‘Druid’ summer solstice service at Stonehenge 1956.
Getty Images

The ConversationIrrespective of the quality and historical accuracy of Britannia, the series is a dynamic presentation of an important period of British history. But the real story being slowly teased out by the archaeologist’s trowel is just as dynamic and in many ways, more dramatic and exciting than the fictional one.

Craig Barker, Education Manager, Sydney University Museums, University of Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


The Battle of Britain



The story of Australia’s last convicts



File 20180105 26154 cwxaz1.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Swan River Colony.
Jane Eliza, Currie Panorama of the Swan River Settlement via Wikimedia Commons

Barry Godfrey, University of Liverpool and Lucy Williams, University of Liverpool

The Hougoumont, the last ship to take convicts from the UK to Australia, docked in Fremantle, Western Australia, on January 9, 1868 – 150 years ago. It brought an end to a process which deposited about 168,000 convicted prisoners in Australia after it began in 1788.

Convicts had ceased to be sent to New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) decades earlier, but Western Australia still wanted convict labour to help with building projects. By the time the Hougoumont landed its shipment of 281 convicts, the Swan River penal colony in Western Australia had been reliant on convict labour for 18 years, and received almost 10,000 male prisoners from Britain.

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

The convict system may have ended with the arrival of the final convicts on the Hougoumont and the disbandment of Australia’s penal settlements, but the people who were its legacy lived on. Some prisoners achieved a kind of celebrity status. Mary Reibey, who was transported to Sydney, became a successful businesswoman and charitable benefactor, and is commemorated on the Australian $20 note.

In Western Australia some of Britain’s “bad” men made also “good”. Alfred Chopin, transported for receiving stolen goods, became a famed and sought-after photographer. Embezzler John Rowland Jones became a reporter for the Western Australian government, and later editor of the West Australian newspaper. Their stories are extraordinary, but they have been used to present a generally favourable narrative which contrasts their heroism against the long-established stain that supposedly blighted those generations of Australians descended from convicts.

It is easy to find thousands of ex-convicts who left crime behind and forged new, ordinary, lives in Australia. Yet, while some ex-convicts became pillars of their communities, got married, and became much-loved and valued friends and neighbours, others struggled.

Our ongoing research shows that the impact of transportation could last a lifetime for those in Western Australia. Many convicts were left struggling with unemployment, personal relationships, and alcoholism, and drifted through both life and the colony. Many re-offended for decades after they were freed in Australia, but only committed low-level nuisance and public order offences – mainly drunkenness and vagrancy – rather than the more serious crimes for which they were initially transported.

Fremantle Harbour in 1899.
Nixon & Merrilees via Wikipedia

The Western Australian records we’ve been using for our recent research and digitised for the Digital Panopticon project reveal the story of Samuel Speed, the last living Australian convict. He was transported to Western Australia in 1866 and died in 1938, just short of his 100th birthday.

Speed’s story

Samuel Speed.
The Mirror (Perth), 1938.

Speed was born in Birmingham, England in 1841. He had one brother and one sister, but little else about his family or early life is known. He was in his early twenties when he was tried in Oxfordshire in 1863 for setting fire to a haystack. Homeless and begging for food, he had committed arson in order to get arrested and spend some time in a warm cell. He was sentenced to seven years of convict transportation to Australia.

Speed was conditionally released in 1869 and was allowed to live outside of the prison walls and undertake employment, provided he did not commit any further offences. He found work as a general servant in Western Australia and was finally granted his certificate of freedom two years later. He went on to help build bridges across the vast Swan River, and spent the rest of his working life at various companies around the state. He was never re-convicted of any offence and went on to live a perfectly ordinary and law-abiding life, only coming to the attention of the papers a few months before his death.

By that time, old and frail, and dependent on the care of attendants, Speed’s memories of transportation were faded. Among the few recollections of his former life he remembered that:

Among those unfortunates transported … were men of every walk of life; doctors, lawyers, shirt-soiled gentlemen, and social outcasts tipped together in the hothouse of humanity that was the Swan River Colony.

A kind of rehabilitation

Speed lived long enough to see his former penal settlement become part of the federated commonwealth of Australia. He witnessed the death of an old archaic system, and the birth of a new and confident Australian nation.

To the early 20th-century press, his life was a gratifying confirmation that they system had worked. Western Australia had taken corrupt British convicts and turned them into productive members of society. The report of his death in Perth’s Sunday Times confidently asserted that Speed’s conduct was all that a reputable citizen should aspire to.

He was not by any means the only ex-convict who stayed out of trouble, however, as our research is showing, his behaviour was far better than most of his fellow ex-convicts. It was also better than the rumoured conduct of free settlers who flooded into Western Australia after gold was discovered in the 1880s and 1890s.

Our preliminary research is showing that about 80% of men who arrived on the last convict ship (discounting 67 Irish political prisoners) committed either a regulatory infraction such as absconding, possession of contraband or violent conduct, or a criminal offence during their time under sentence. Given the number of convicts who re-roffended both during and after their sentence, it’s better to think of the transportation system as encouraging enough reform for society to progress. The convicts as a cohort may not all have rehabilitated, but few committed serious offences after they were transported.

The ConversationAs for Speed, he died in Perth’s Old Men’s Home in 1938. Seventy years after the last British convict ship arrived in Australia, the convict period had finally ended.

Barry Godfrey, Professor of Social Justice, University of Liverpool and Lucy Williams, Postdoctoral Research Associate, University of Liverpool, England, U.K., University of Liverpool

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Last Days of Guy Fawkes



The Gunpowder Plot



%d bloggers like this: