A–Z of Convicts in Van Diemen’s Land
Text Publishing, $45 hb, 88 pp
In times of high moral outrage at the barbarism of others, it is salutary to be reminded of the state-sanctioned viciousness of Australia’s past. Simon Barnard’s A–Z of Convicts in Van Diemen’s Land does this brilliantly. Australian convict history is a crowded field, but Barnard’s detailed and vivid illustrations breathe fresh life into it. In addition to the many architectural cutaway drawings (hospitals, jails, female factories, commissariats, coalmines, shipyards, treadmills), there is a wealth of social detail: the bell-pull system for solitary confinement cells, a water canteen, cell graffiti, named dogs of the Colony, the tattoos of Francis Fitzmaurice. Indeed, it is the rupture of the human dimension into the totalising aspects of the system that surrounded convict transportation that give this book real intellectual heft. The effect is achieved through image and text, drawing on the stories of many lesser-known personalities of the period from a rich range of primary source material.