A Merciless Place: The Fate of Britain's Convicts after the American Revolution

Overview

Since Robert Hughes' The Fatal Shore, the fate of British convicts has burned brightly in the popular imagination. Incredibly, their larger story is even more dramatic—the saga of forgotten men and women scattered to the farthest corners of the British empire, driven by the winds of the American Revolution and the currents of the African slave trade. In A Merciless Place, Emma Christopher brilliantly captures this previously unknown story of poverty, punishment, and ...

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Overview

Since Robert Hughes' The Fatal Shore, the fate of British convicts has burned brightly in the popular imagination. Incredibly, their larger story is even more dramatic—the saga of forgotten men and women scattered to the farthest corners of the British empire, driven by the winds of the American Revolution and the currents of the African slave trade. In A Merciless Place, Emma Christopher brilliantly captures this previously unknown story of poverty, punishment, and transportation.
The story begins with the American War of Independence, until which many British convicts were shipped across the Atlantic. The Revolution interrupted this flow and inspired two entrepreneurs to organize the criminals into military units to fight for the crown. The felon soldiers went to West Africa's slave-trading posts just as the war ended; these forts became the new destination for England's rapidly multiplying convicts. The move was a disaster. Christopher writes that "before the scheme was abandoned, it would have run the gamut of piracy, treachery, mutiny, starvation, poisonings, allegations of white women forced to prostitute themselves to African men, and not least several cases of murder." To end the scandal, the British government chose a new destination, as far away as possible: Australia.
Christopher here captures the gritty lives of Britain's convicts: victims of London's underworld, rife with brutal crime and sometimes even more brutal punishments. Equally fascinating are the portraits of Fante people of West Africa, forced to undergo dramatic changes in their role as intermediaries with Europeans in the slave trade. Here, too, are the aboriginal Australians, coping with the transformation of their native land. They all inhabit A Merciless Place: a tour de force and historical narrative at its finest.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Christopher's engaging account is instructive. Shipped in chains to the epicenter of the transatlantic slave trade, frequently forced to serve as soldiers of the king, and sentenced to what amounted to an early and squalid death, these Britons both witnessed and experienced ways that captivity flourished alongside liberty in Britannia's maritime empire." —Journal of British Studies

"A gripping tale of convicts and slaves, disease, mutiny, crime and suffering that will take the reader on a compelling journey through the underbelly of the British colonial world." —Hamish Maxwell-Stewart, author of Closing Hell's Gates: The Death of a Convict Station

"It is a rare pleasure to review a book that will appeal not only to the specialist in the field, but also to the general reader. A Merciless Place is such a book, a work of original scholarship that clearly indicates years of hard labor in the archives, and also a beautifully crafted literary endeavor, one that should attract anyone who appreciates excellent writing . . . Thoroughly researched, brilliantly written, deeply humane, A Merciless Place is a model of modern legal scholarship." —H-Net

"The strength of this fine book is the wealth of detail and the subtle and sensitive reading of the evidence that Christopher brings to the subject . . . A Merciless Place is an important book that tells the story of the convicts themselves—swept from the streets, often for trifling crimes, and shipped far from home: Virginia, the Gold Coast, and Botany Bay, to name but the most prominent destinations. Their stories epitomize the capricious and peripatetic nature of life and justice for those on the margins of the British Empire during the eighteenth century." —Journal of American History


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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199782550
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 7/1/2011
  • Pages: 440
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 1.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Emma Christopher is an Australian Research Council Fellow at the University of Sydney. She is the author of Slave Trade Sailors and their Captive Cargoes, 1730-1807 and co-editor of Many Middle Passages. She has been a Mellon Fellow at the Huntington Library and a Gilder Lehrman Fellow at Yale University.

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Table of Contents

1 Bound for America
2 Mr. Jefferson and Patrick Madan
3 London in Flames
4 The "Best Sacrifices for Death"
5 Africa
6 The Battle for the Coast
7 Deserting to the Enemy
8 A Plantation with Slaves
9 A Mutiny and a Most Peculiar Murder
10 Trouble at Goree Island
11 "Naked and Diseased on the Sandy Shore"
12 Trying America Again
13 The Once Mighty are Fallen
14 Lemane Island
15 The End of the Africa Disaster

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