This is a publicity notice for a national lecture tour by John Brocksopp, a former convict from York who had returned to Britain after 15 years in a penal colony in Australia. ‘Transportation’ – the practice of sending criminals out of the country – was almost a century old at the time of this lecture, and had always been controversial. While some argued that a transported convict had more rights and liberty than an equivalent convict in an English jail, the penal colonies themselves were often places of summary justice and murderous violence. Transportation was also used predominantly on the poor: an uneducated housebreaker was far more likely to be sentenced to the boat than a middle-class murderer. Transportation from England was officially ended in 1853. The catalyst for the change was explosive economic growth in Australia, and in particular the New South Wales gold rushes of the 1840s. European migrants to Australia now began to object to the settlement of convicts in their newly prosperous communities, and fought vigorous and successful anti-transport campaigns.
Transportation in Charles Dickens’s novelsA number of Dickens’ villains are subject to transport: John Edmunds from The Pickwick Papers (1837), Mr Squeers from Nicholas Nickleby (1839) and Uriah Heep from David Copperfield (1850). The most famous of all Dickens’s transported convicts is Abel Magwitch from Great Expectations (published 1860, but set more than a decade before). From the 1840s onwards, transported convicts were allowed to earn money lawfully while serving their sentence, and it is here that Magwitch earned the money that drives the novel’s plot:
I've been a sheep-farmer, stock breeder, other trades besides, away in the new world. [...] I've done wonderfully well. There's others went out alonger me as has done well too, but no man has done nigh as well as me. I'm famous for it.
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- By authority!!! V.R. ... Positively for one night only, in the [blank] ... a returned convict will deliver his highly-popular and national lecture on the horrors of transportation!! ... The lecturer will appear in the character of a Norfolk Island convict
- estimated 1849, 50 Market Place, Hull, Yorkshire
- Advertisement / Broadside / Ephemera
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- Article by:
- John Mullan
- Crime and crime fiction, The novel 1832–1880
Crime exists as a powerful psychological force throughout Dickens’s Great Expectations. Professor John Mullan examines the complicated criminal web in which the novel’s protagonist, Pip, finds himself caught.
- Article by:
- Philip Horne
- The novel 1832–1880, Crime and crime fiction, London
Dickens's Oliver Twist depicts the excitement as well as the danger surrounding the criminal underworld. Here Professor Philip Horne examines how Dickens’s portrayal of crime was influenced by public executions, contemporary criminal slang and other sensational literary works.