#seniorseminar: Meredith Glahn & “Gender and British Convict Transportation in the 1830s”

Wed, 06/12/24
Meredith Glahn

Tell us about yourself!

I am originally from Minnesota. I wanted to move somewhere warmer for college, and FSU gave me an academic scholarship to come. I liked my AP history classes, and that led me to major in the subject. I really like ancient world history.

Coming to Florida was a new experience. I remember walking up the hill on campus and reflexively thinking, ‘Oh, man, this is going to be difficult to walk when it ices over,’ and then I remembered – it never ices over here.

I graduated this past spring semester – but I am not sure yet what to do next.

What made you choose this senior seminar?

I had taken a previous class with Dr. Upchurch on LGBTQ history. I enjoyed that class and felt that the senior seminar he was offering would be a good fit. I did not have much background in 19th-century British history, but that was also a positive, I could learn something new.

What topic did you choose to work on?

I settled on convict transportation from England to Australia in the 1830s with a specific focus on gender. The title of my paper was: Gender and British Convict Transportation in the 1830s. In the beginning of the class, Dr. Upchurch introduced us to all the primary sources that we had access to online, and one of them was Old Bailey Online. The Old Bailey was, and is, the central criminal court of England and Wales, and the digital trial records span the period from 1674 to 1913. One of the categories to look at was people sentenced to transportation, and when I saw that, it made me want to find out more. I found the website very easy to use, I relied on it for most of my primary sources. Being able to rely on an online source was definitely a plus for me.

I had to do a bit of contextual research. All I really knew when I started was that there were penal colonies in Australia, and while the primary sources gave details on day-to-day life, they were less good in providing historical context. In addition to the trial records, I found documents dealing with disciplinary actions taken against convicts while in Australia. There was also a commission of enquiry that used testimony from those overseeing the penal colonies – I used those accounts too.

My specific angle was to look at how gender influenced the sentencing at the Old Bailey. Men were more likely to be sentenced to transportation than women – for similar crimes. Once convicts got to Australia, their penal experience was different too. Men were usually assigned to agricultural labor, while women either worked in factories or domestic service. Those who had completed their sentence could return to England, if they wished. Almost all the people sentenced to transportation were working-class people; the usual crime they were convicted of was petty theft.

What surprised you about your research?

I was amazed by the level of detail I could find on individual people. I found the records for one female convict who in the space of a year ran away seven times and also got married. I even got to know the name of her husband. I got to know the woman and one year in her life – and that surprised me.

Was it challenging to write such a detailed paper?

It took some discipline to sit down and write a paper of this length. We had to submit a few pages as a rough draft earlier in the semester, and we peer reviewed them in class. I did all the research first and then sat down to write. Once I started writing, I told myself to write at least two pages a day. I had allowed myself two-and-a-half weeks just for writing, but I finished early.

I am not that comfortable with public speaking, but by the time we did our class presentations I knew enough about the topic to be able to address the group.

What advice would you give other students?

It is important to keep track of deadlines, so as not to fall behind. Catching up is always harder than staying on top of things.

Also, find out what method of researching and writing works for you. Find your own rhythm. What works for your friends might not work for you.

What advice would you give yourself if you could go back in time?

Be less panicked. I was very apprehensive going into the senior seminar, I had not written anything this long before. I had not realized that Dr. Upchurch had set up a whole structure of milestones, mini deadlines, and peer reviews to help us stay on track. If I could start again, I would be much calmer.