The life-course demography of convict transportation to Van Diemen’s Land

Janet McCalman, Rebecca Kippen

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This paper reports on a sample of 16,953 male and 7,783 female convicts transported to Van Diemen’s Land between 1818 and 1853 whose life courses have been reconstructed as much as possible from cradle to grave to explore the effects of critical life stages and the impact of a shared exposure to a stress regime of penal servitude, forced labour and exile. It uses survival and family formation of a lineage as the key measures of life outcomes. It finds that male convicts, while not producing many descendants because of sex imbalances, did well biologically out of being transported, while female convicts, entering servitude under a greater burden of previous abuse and deprivation, continued to suffer a severe gender penalty in survival and significant secondary infertility after sentence. Early life effects from the social environment, or crime economy, into which men were born remained remarkably persistent, while the previous history of prostitution and/or alcohol abuse dramatically shortened the lives of women. These were the embodied effects, over generations, of structural violence against women in the most deprived and dangerous neighbourhoods of from the late-eighteenth century through to the 1840s in Great Britain and Ireland, and transported with them to the Australian colonies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)432-454
Number of pages23
JournalHistory of the Family
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jul 2020


  • Convicts
  • early life effects
  • fertility
  • mortality
  • Tasmania

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