Review Blog

Nov 27 2014

A-Z of convicts in Van Diemen's Land by Simon Barnard

cover image

Text Publishing, 2014, ISBN 97819207934
(Age: 10+) Recommended. Australian history, Convicts, Tasmania. In a large hard cover book, this detailed A-Z gives information at once easy to read and informative, a treasure house of facts about a cruel part of our history, the sending of 73,000 convicts, men, women and boys to Van Diemen's Land between 1803 and 1877.
Each page has in the main a new letter to deal with, and so we get Absconder and Assignment on opening the book. Each of these is given a definition with information about how the term was used in convict times, with an illustration and information about a person or two who fits the entry. So with Absconder, for example, information is given about what one is, then paragraphs about how these people lived after they absconded, and finally a paragraph about that most notorious of absconders, Alexander Pearce, who absconded several times with young men only to be found with parts of their bodies in his possession. That story on the first page will intrigue readers to keep going.
Double pages detail facts about the Hulk, or Female Factory, or Ship, or Military or Punishment, while smaller entries are given to Gibbet, Whaling, Suicide, Leg irons and so on. Many contain three dimensional drawings grabbing the reader's immediate attention and interest. The Double page spreads, Juvenile or Punishment, or Road, contain facts and drawings so realistic that young readers can get a idea of just how children of their age were treated under this grim system.
Eagle Hawk Neck comes after Dog, but I think the title has been omitted, so watch out for it, as it shows the lengths the regime went to to keep absconders on the peninsula south of Hobart. A couple of other entries which caught my eye included one on Suicide, and I learnt that attempted suicide was a punishable offense, while later a religious person deemed that it was lamentable but possibly due to the severity of the system.  Another word which leaped out at me was  Zanyism. Amazing. Have a look at this book, it is worth dipping into.
Illustrations which accompany the entries have been drawn from contemporary sources, and a bibliography at the end will help readers research further. An excellent glossary, list of weights and measures and detailed Index follow, all making this a useful resource for those studying this period of history or simply interested in browsing through a book packed full of factual information which is fascinating and very readable. 
Fran Knight

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