Beth Camp Historical Fiction

Thursday, April 05, 2012

E is for Exile . . .

When I was in college, my favorite course (other than any writing class), was 'The Economic History of Great Britain.' Not understanding economics at all, even my own, I sat next to two young men who had bought a 25-pound bag of rice to see them through the term. There's more to the story, but here is where I began to learn about the Industrial Revolution and its devastating effect on average people, what purists call the working class.

While many of those transported to Van Diemen's Land may have been thieves, prostitutes, or murderers, some were radical, courageously protesting the wholesale industrialization in farming and manufacture that left thousands without work. Class distinctions were sharp during the 19th Century, and Malthus' ideas that 'we do not feed the poor; they will breed' were popular among the upper class. In the 1830s, protests rose against enclosures (that taking away of common land generally to raise sheep), mechanization, against high prices for corn and wheat, and against farmers who instead of giving workers wheat (which could be made into bread), gave them potatoes (which backfired in the later Potato Famine) (Hughes 197-200).

But violent unrest became common 1830-1831. Robert Hughes in The Fatal Shore reports that the Whig government in addition to offering a bounty of L500 "for the capture and conviction of arsonists and machine-breakers," began prosecuting these rioters. About 2,000 from 34 counties in the south of England were arrested; 252 were sentenced to death; but thanks to the 'Royal Mercy' only 19 were hanged; and 481 of this group were transported to Australia -- exiled for 7 or 14 years (199).

Some of these exiles may have been in the prisons of Van Diemen's Land and will somehow appear in my story.

Book of the day:  Robert Hughes also reports that  Thomas Cook, a soliciter's clerk who wrote an impassioned and threatening letter to a cabinetmaker, was arrested at age 18 and sentenced to 14 years; he wrote The Exile's Lamentations. Ah, if I were in Australia, I could check this out at my local library. This book is not yet online (not at Project Gutenberg: Australia); it's not available through amazon, a copy sold on e-bay for $75. Trove reports the book is available at 35 libraries, so I will hold my hopes out for interlibrary loan.

An excerpt may be read here.

Publication info:  Cook, Thomas. The Exile's Lamentations. Illustrated. Library of Australian History, 1978. ISBN 0908120141, 9780908120147. 131 pages.

Now back to work!


  1. I just finished reading Paul Mason's Why It's Kicking Off Everywhere: The New Global Revolutions. In it he talks about the current situation with displaced workers and why they are banding together though social media to fight corporate greed. Really interesting and well-written book. Also, my mother recommended Stealth of Nations: The Global Rise of the Informal Economy. I think I'm going to read that book, as well.
    I love these posts, Beth. Happy to se them in my inbox every day.

  2. It must have been terrible to know you could never return to your land of birth. The stigma hovering over the prisoner, and lack of food would hone the survival instinct.

  3. I love these posts, Beth. I'm learning so much from them. Your mention of Malthus took me back to seminar on Economic thought. I remember spending a lot of time on Adam Smith and not much time on Marx. Incidentally, the professor who taught that class was also the creator of the Anti-Monopoly game.