Coronavirus (Covid-19): Latest updates and information
Skip to main content Skip to navigation

From Prison Colony to ‘White Australia’

Australia received population from across the British Empire via migrations that were both forced and free, welcome and unwelcome. Emigrants from Britain, including the famous transported convicts, were joined by free and indentured labourers, traders, children and assisted migrants. Marginalised, excluded, or forcibly assimilared, Australia's Aboriginal peoples were displaced from national life, allowing Australia to imagine itself as a threatened 'White' continent as well as a nation of immigrants.

Required Readings:

  • Philip Harling, 'The Trouble with Convicts: From Transportation to Penal Servitude, 1840–67', Journal of British Studies, 53, 1 (2014), 80-110. doi:10.1017/jbr.2013.213
  • Alison Bashford, ‘Chapter 6: Foreign Bodies; Immigration, International Hygiene and White Australia’ in Alison Bashford, Imperial Hygiene: A Critical history of Colonialism, Nationalism and Public Health (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), 137-163 (Course Extract).
  • Caroline Beasley, The Breaking of the “Great Australian Silence”: How and Why the writing of Indigenous Australian History has changed over the Last 40 Years’, ANU Undergraduate Research Journal. This is not only a provocative and well-researched article, but an example of what students like you can achieve in your own independent research!


  • Bring to class one primary source as described at the bottom of this page.

LOOK DOWN to the bottom of the page for some amazing internet resources!!

Discussion Questions:

  • What makes a 'migrant'? Looking at the example of Australia, how have definitions and visions of the ideal 'immigrant' changed over time and in different (imperial and post-imperial) spaces? Here you may find Dr Eureka Heirich's essay on sites of commemoration and convict heritage especially useful: Convict Heritage Sites.

Background Readings:

AHRC Centre for Scottish and Irish Studies, 'Exceptional Peoples? Irish and Scots at the Frontiers', Special Issue, Journal of Irish and Scottish Studies, Vol 3 Issue 1 (Autumn 2009). NB: This special issue contains an array of articles tacking the emigration of Irish and Scots people to Britain's first and second empires.

Compare Australian convict experience with: Clare Anderson, Convicts in the Indian Ocean: Transportation from South Asia to Mauritius, 1815–53 (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2000).

Clare Anderson, "Transnational Histories of Penal Transportation: Punishment, Labour and Governance in the British Imperial World, 1788-1939," Australian Historical Studies 47, 3 (2016).

Clare Anderson, 'Discourses of Exclusion and the ‘Convict Stain’ in the Indian Ocean (c. 1800–1850)', in Harald Fisher-Tine and Ashwini Tambe, eds, The Limits of British Colonial Control in South Asia: spaces of disorder in the Indian Ocean region (London, 2008).

Warwick Anderson, The Cultivation of Whiteness: Science, Health and Racial Destiny in Australia, (Durham NC: Duke University Press, 2006).

Robert Bickers, ed., Settlers and Expatriates: Britons over the Seas (Oxford: OUP, 2010). Especially good for understanding British emigration 'out' to Empire.

Stephen Castles, 'Italians in Australia: Building a Multicultural Society on the Pacific Rim', Diaspora: A Journal of Transnational Studies, vol. 1 no. 1, 1991, pp. 45-66. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/dsp.1991.0000

Joy Damousi, Depraved and Disorderly: Female Convicts, Sexuality and Gender in Colonial Australia (Cambridge: CUP, 1997).

Catriona Elder, 'Invaders, Illegals and Aliens: Imagining Exclusion in a White Australia', Law Text Culture, Vol. 7, (2003) pp. 221-250 (available via HeinOnline database).

Devleena Ghosh, ‘Under the Radar of Empire: Unregulated Travel in the Indian Ocean’, Journal of Social History, vol. 45 no. 2, 2011, pp. 497-514. Project MUSE,

Anna Haebich, 'Forgetting Indigenous Histories: Cases from the History of Australia's Stolen Generations', Journal of Social History, vol. 44 no. 4, 2011, pp. 1033-1046. Project MUSE,

Marjory Harper and Stephen Constantine, Migration and Empire (Oxford: OUP, 2010), esp: 'Land of Perpetual Summer: Australian Experiences', 41-74. A very useful general introduction.

Bill Jones, 'Welsh identities in colonial Ballarat', Journal of Australian Studies Vol. 25 , Iss. 68 (2001), 34-43.

James Jupp, 'From "White Australia" to "Part of Asia": Recent Shifts in Australian Immigration Policy towards the Region', The International Migration Review 29, no. 1 (1995): 207-28. JSTOR doi:10.2307/2547002.

Marilyn Lake, 'The White Man under Siege: New Histories of Race in the Nineteenth Century and the Advent of White Australia', History Workshop Journal, vol. 58 no. 1, 2004, pp. 41-62. Project MUSE,

Laura Madokoro, 'Handprints in the Archives: Exploring the Emotional Life of the State', Histoire sociale/Social history, vol. 48 no. 96, 2015, pp. 25-43. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/his.2015.0002.

Julia Martínez, 'Questioning "White Australia": Unionism and 'Coloured' Labour, 1911-37', Labour History, no. 76, 1999, pp. 1–19. JSTOR,

Mark McKenna, 'Transplanted to Savage Shores: Indigenous Australians and British birthright in the mid nineteenth-century Australian colonies', Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History, vol. 13 no. 1, 2012. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/cch.2012.0009

Stephen Nicholas and Peter R. Shergold, “Transportation as Global Migration,” in Stephen Nicholas, ed., Convict Workers: Reinterpreting Australia's Past (Melbourne, 1988), 28–42.

Jon Stratton, 'The Impossible Ethnic: Jews and Multiculturalism in Australia', Diaspora: A Journal of Transnational Studies, Volume 5, Number 3, Winter 1996, pp. 339-373.

John Thompson, ‘White Australia has a Black History': Sources for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies in the National Library of Australia’ accessible at

David Walker, 'General Cariappa encounters "White Australia": Australia, India and the Commonwealth in the 1950s, The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 34:3 (2006), 389-406, e-journal DOI: 10.1080/03086530600826017

Electronic Sources:

Each student should bring to seminar a primary source document addressing issues related to immigration and identity in Australia. These will be analyzed in class.

For an extended example, see:

Chinese Australians in the National Archives


Good archive access points include:

The Carceral Achipelago Project at Leicester University: this page includes links to project publications and other great resources. Check out this feast of goodies: Convict Voyages (HT Dr Eureka Heinrich)

Digital Panopticon An amazing collaborative project that uses digital technologies to bring together existing and new genealogical, biometric and criminal justice datasets held by different organisations in the UK and Australia! (HT Dr Eureka Heinrich)

Founders and Surviviors Project: this site makes Tasmaina convict records searchable on line (HT Dr Eureka Heinrich, again!)

Trove The main entry point to the National Library of Australia; includes digitised newspapers.