All speakers were recorded - and are now available to watch again. 

In alphabetical order
The late Dr Ian Duffield
Biography taken from an obituary in the Guardian 10 June 2019.
“A brilliant historian of formidable intellect, [Ian Duffield] was a pioneer in the study of black British history. After a trip to Australia in the 1980s, and his discovery of the convict archives there, Ian took up the study of the transportation of black convicts from Britain and its empire to the Australian penal colonies. His innovative work on such “histories from below” added a missing dimension to social histories of the day, bringing the experiences of convicts to the fore. [He] laid the ground work for the current “global turn” in convict studies and new histories of empire from the perspective of the colonies. Over many years, Ian built up Edinburgh University’s historical collections and resources, and supported numerous undergraduates and PhD students, [including Hamish and Tamsin. He was a generous and brilliant man and we share his scholarship with pride].
The Life and Death of ‘Black’ John Goff: Aspects of the Black Convict Contribution to Resistance Patterns during the Transportation era in Eastern Australia
This is a paper Ian Duffield was writing in the late nineties or early 2000s, shortly before he shifted his research focus to convict piracy, which may partly explain why he left it unfinished.
It focuses on a dramatic convict outbreak at Port Macquarie in June 1825. This was no simple escape attempt. The thirty or so convicts did not bolt for the bush but lingered to launch a series of raids on the out-stations of the settlement. The outbreak began with a stirring call for ‘Death or Liberty!’ and as ever the authorities would willingly meet those terms with musket and rope. We encounter some of Ian’s old friends, including the charismatic convicts Black John Goff and Thomas Brooks as he explains the cultural and economic contexts for their defiance. Indeed, these are life courses he had examined in greater detail in some of his published work. But what really interests him here is the nature of the outbreak itself and that evocative language of rebellion. Unfortunately, we have not yet recovered the sections on the language of betrayal and authority. Nevertheless, in this draft he takes us on a fascinating etymological journey relating events at Port Macquarie back to Castle Hill in 1804 and even to the Gordon Riots of 1780 and the great naval mutiny at Nore in 1797. He may have been drawing a long-ish bow but, Ian was a transnational historian before the term had even been coined, and he understood how empires worked and how old ideas and ancient angers were ballast on every convict transport ship. Ever the internationalist, he effectively demonstrates how this dramatic episode in the early history of Australian bushranging has global antecedents and an unexpectedly heterogeneous cast of rebellious convicts.
The late Ian Duffield,
The University of Edinburgh.
(As read and related by Tamsin O’Connor and Hamish Maxwell-Stewart)

Dr. John Heath


John Heath is a Birpai traditional owner with extensive experience in Australian Indigenous education, community development and community action research. He has published on the history the Aboriginal People in the Hunter Region and closer to home, he recently published Birpai: Beyond the Lens of Thomas Dick, in collaboration with the Port Macquarie Historical Society. His research into the Thomas Dick Photographic Collection has generated considerable interest locally, nationally and internationally. In 2019 John completed his PhD at the University of New England with his familial history thesis, The Seventh Generation: Exploring the journey of Charlotte (Birpai Goori woman) and James Bugg (her English convict husband), and their descendants through to today, with reflection on the law of the seven generations.

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Birpai Traditional owner and independent scholar

2021: A Birpai Perspective on the Port Macquarie Penal Colony and its Aftermath


Non-Indigenous occupation of Birpai lands commenced in April 1821 with the landing of Captain Allman and his bulwark of Goories, convicts and soldiers. The Birpai, who had occupied and cared for these lands since time immemorial, did not simply vanish into the ether. Hence a complex co-existence, that continues to this day, commenced. A co-existence that included open hostilities, mutual co-operation, subjugation, and co-habitation. A co-existence at all times based on inequality and underlined by racism and discrimination. All were implemented through policies and practices of segregation, then assimilation, and more recently self-determination, self-management and reconciliation… all the while ignoring Birpai sovereignty.

The Birpai experience mirrored that of all other First Nations across Australia, including the impact of introduced diseases such as smallpox, influenza, venereal diseases and measles. Impact that was further exacerbated by the latent destruction of the environment. An environment intrinsically linked to Goori well-being.

Meg Keneally


Meg Keneally has had a long and varied career in public relations and journalism. She is also a full-time mother and a part-time scuba diving instructor. She is co-author with Tom Keneally of the Monsarrat Series. The adventures of the gentleman convict Hugh Monsarrat and his investigative side kick Hannah Mulrooney began at the penal station of Port Macquarie. Meg and Tom use this unlikely pair to guide readers through the fascinating geographies of colonial Australia and the mysteries they unravel are an imaginative and literary perspective on different aspects of convict and colonial life.


Stranger than Fiction


This session, which will take the form of a straight talk or possibly a Q&A, will have a dual focus. It will begin by exploring some of the incredible true stories of the Port Macquarie convicts – stranger than fiction these are the stories that no novelist could make up. It will then examine the ways in which novelists use real history in their fiction. Finally, drawing upon the insights of the historians present, it will consider the different ways novelists and historians use archival sources. 

Dr Hamish Maxwell - Stewart


Hamish Maxwell-Stewart is a professor of history at the University of New England. He has published widely and collaboratively on many aspects of convict and colonial history. Trained at Edinburgh University, he has a knack for making the broad sweeps of global history comprehensible at the local level. He is especially well known for his attempts to digitally reconstruct Tasmania’s past. A frequent contributor to Who Do You Think You Are, he enjoys working with local history groups and archives and libraries.

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University of New England (Australia) UNE · School of Humanities Arts and Social Science PhD

A Digital future for Australia’s Convict Past


It is difficult not to be attracted to the nation’s convict story. While many everyday individuals might be lost to the gloom of the past, the records of the convict system illuminate the lives of the more than 160,000 convicts sent to the Australian colonies in extraordinary detail. As one might expect, those records shed light on convict interactions with the court system, yet they also reveal so much more. We know the name of the parish in which tens of thousands of convicts were born. We also know how tall they were and how much was in their bank accounts. We even know the colour of eyes and hair. In fact, the records of the convict era are so detailed that in 2007 they were listed on the UNESCO Memory of the World Register. Digital technologies are now helping to unlock this national and international archival treasure. It is now possible to map the places where convicts were born, the routes their vessels took to Australia, the locations that they bolted from in attempts to secure their freedom and the many ways in which unfreedom on the shores of Botany Bay shaped their lives. This paper will highlight some of these exciting developments as well as taking a peek into the future of our convict past.

Dr Perry McIntyre


Perry has worked as a genealogist, historian and archivist since the 1980s. She has served on committees of History Council of NSW (President 2005-06), Society of Australian Genealogists, Royal Australian Historical Society, Australian Catholic Historical Society, The Great Irish Famine Commemoration Committee (Chair 2012-15, 2018-20) and Mosman Historical Society (currently) & recently appointed to the Aishling Society of Sydney. She has published and spoken extensively on immigration and family history throughout Australia and in Ireland. Her PhD on convict family reunion was first published by IAP as Free Passage in 2010 and reprinted by Anchor Books Australia in 2018. She is a director of Anchor Books Australia, formed to publish good quality history, particularly relating to colonial Australia. Several titles on colonial immigration have been published through that avenue as joint publications with Dr Liz Rushen. She was awarded an Order of Australia (AM) in the 2021 Australian Day Honours.

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Independent scholar, genealogist and publisher

Tending to Spirit and Body in the Port Macquarie Penal Settlement 1827-1858

Dr James McIntyre (1799-1853) was born in Scotland and arrived on the Hugh Crawford in the first week of April 1825 with 56 other Scottish immigrants. He initially worked in the medical department in Sydney, including as assistant surgeon to Sydney Gaol and Sydney Hospital. In August 1827 he was appointed to replace assistant-surgeon Moran at the penal colony of Port Macquarie where in 1838 he married one of the two daughters of the Reverend John Cross (1781-1858). Born in Bristol, Reverend John Cross arrived in Sydney in January 1819 with his wife and their three children on the male convict ship Baring. He administered to the flocks at St Matthews, Windsor the years before being appointed to Port Macquarie in 1828. These two Protestant men administered to the medical and religious needs of the convicts, the soldiers and the free people in Port Macquarie until the death of James McIntyre in 1853 and John Cross in 1858. This paper will look at their work, their influence and their interaction in Port Macquarie in those years.

Tamsin O'Connor


Tamsin O'Connor is a PhD student at the University of Sydney. Her thesis is entitled ‘“All those Places of Condemnation”: Power, Punishment and Resistance at the Penal Stations of New South Wales 1804 – 1842,’ She first began this project in the 1990s at the University of Edinburgh, as part of Ian Duffield’s influential convict studies team. Tamsin consequently had the opportunity to publish aspects of  her research in various edited collections, such as Representing Convicts, Chain Letters and in special editions of THS and AJCH. After a long family hiatus, the thesis project was resumed at Sydney, under the aegis of Professor Mark McKenna. Tamsin is a slow finisher, but a keen communicator and often shares her research by speaking at libraries and local historical societies.


University of Sydney

‘Exploring Fragile Lives: The ‘micro narratives’ of the Humble Petition and the Penal Station of Port Macquarie, 1821-1830’

The Nation’s libraries and archives are crammed with brittle pages inscribed with countless convict tales – from the sustained public narrative to the mere archival fragment, capturing but a frozen moment in a life. Together, these documentary threads reveal the vivid pattern of life on the penal frontier and apart they spin more than enough tales for Scheherazade’s thousand and one nights. They are the clamouring challenge to the idea that convicts only speak through the dry dust of statistics. Some of my colleagues will examine the benefits of ‘zooming out’ as they cast a wide lens over the networked possibilities of digital history in Port Macquarie and beyond. I, however, will ‘zoom in’ to examine more closely
the contents of the penal station archive. My paper will focus on the Port Macquarie Petitions. Scattered through the endless bundles of correspondence these letters of appeal are among the most evocative textual fragments of convict life. Be they hastily scrawled or carefully argued such formal pleas for mitigation are both a component of and counter point to the official transcript. What ever the limitations of the humble petition it gave convicts the opportunity not only to tell their version of their life but also to record it. Petitions reveal the chasm between the lives convicts had lost, and still hoped for, and those in which they were so demonstrably constrained.  The compelling ‘micro-biographies’ that emerge from the penal stations, where convict lives and colonial power so forcefully collided, take us closer to the uncensored thoughts and feelings of those sentenced to social death on the penal frontier.

Dr David Roberts


David Roberts is Head of History at the University of New England (UNE). He has published widely on convict history, including important new research on Port Macquarie. His subject is yet to be decided and he may in fact supervise a contribution from one of his graduate students. However, he will most definitely be in attendance to support the Bicentennial and to take part in the digital history roundtable discussion.

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Investigating Port Macquarie: The 1828 inquiry into Malfeasance and Misrule at the NSW Penal Settlement

The early nineteenth century was an age of inquiry. Everywhere around the British world, experts were commissioned to gather information from remote locations, asking question, collecting data and exposing deficiencies and dysfunctions in remote colonial regimes. Famously, in 1819 the British government instigated a far-reaching Commission of Inquiry into the state of New South Wales, which among other things recommended the establishment of exemplary punishment stations in remote coastal locations for receiving the colony’s worst felons. One of the settlements to emerge in the wake of that recommendation was Port Macquarie.

The British rage for inquiry was also performed on a local level. In the 1820s, Port Macquarie was the subject of at least two investigations initiated by the executive authority in Sydney. This paper considers the second of these Port Macquarie inquires, commissioned in 1828 to probe allegations of inefficiency and malfeasance in the management of the penal station. Ultimately, the inquiry recommended the settlement be closed, and resulted in the formulation of detailed regulations to better manage other penal regimes thereafter. In the process an astonishing body of detail was collected that today throws much light on the organization of the settlement and the experiences of the convicts who lived and worked at Port Macquarie.