Vandemonians

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Vandemonians

Convict, Ticket of Leave, State Library of Victoria, H20641, Photographer J. Hamlyn.

When payable gold was officially discovered in Victoria in 1851 transportation of convicts to New South Wales and Victoria had effectively ceased. However, Macquarie Harbour and Port Arthur in Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania) remained penal sites. The population on the island comprised about 75 per cent convicts, ex-convicts or their children, so that when news of massive gold finds reached the island many ventured to Victoria to try their luck.

On the goldfields they were termed Vandemonians or Vandies referring of course to the island from which they came, Van Diemen's Land. Bruce Moore comments that the name also 'blended with the word demon'. Caitlin Mahar notes that: 'These ‘demons’ flooded into Victoria in the early days of the gold rushes – in the second half of 1851 there were more recorded immigrants from Van Diemen’s Land than from New South Wales and South Australia combined. A significant proportion of these emigrated as ex-convicts, but it’s speculated that many more ex-convicts (not to mention those who had escaped) chose to cross Bass Strait unannounced. Geoffrey Serle suggests Vandemonians were largely responsible for the increase in crime recorded in the colony at this time. The majority of contemporary observers certainly considered them as a severe threat to law and order on the goldfields. Typical of this view was Mrs Clacy’s condemnation of them as ‘refuse’ and ‘men of the most depraved and abandoned characters, who have sought and gained the lowest abyss of crime ...’[1]

Mahar continues: 'Efforts to stem the flow of Vandemonians led to the Convicts Prevention Act of 1852. Criticised by some at the time as ‘illiberal’ and ‘arbitrary’, this legislation attempted to stop convicts who had conditional pardons from landing in Victoria. The fear and hatred these new immigrants inspired also helped generate support for the anti-transportation movement, headed by the Australasian League. By the end of 1852, its fierce lobbying had led to a decision to end transportation to Van Diemen’s Land. Sir John Pakington suggested resistance in the colony had become so strong that a policy of transportation could only continue to be enforced if it were backed by military might. Further, given the gold rushes, Pakington pointed out that transportation might now ‘be taken as a very great boon’ rather than a punishment.'[2]


Convicts

James Bentley

Lancelot Costello

William Creelman

Thomas Snell

Anastasia Withers

Samuel Withers
  1. Caitlin Mahar, eGold: A Nation's Heritage, http://www.egold.net.au/biogs/EG00191b.htm, accessed Monday 17 August 2020.
  2. Caitlin Mahar, eGold: A Nation's Heritage, http://www.egold.net.au/biogs/EG00191b.htm, accessed Monday 17 August 2020.