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A Merciless Place: The Fate of Britain's Convicts after the American Revolution Hardcover – July 1, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


"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

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About 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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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 440 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (July 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199782555
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199782550
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 1.5 x 6.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #396,409 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Britain's defeat in the American War of Independence (1775-1783) led to a search for alternative sites for the transportation of convicts. Many of us are familiar with the transportation of British convicts to Australia: the First Fleet left Britain on 13 May 1787, and arrived at Botany Bay on 18 January 1788. But what happened in between? Transportation to America effectively ceased in 1776, and consequently the British opted to send some convicts to its slave-trading ports in West Africa. In this book, Emma Christopher writes about this failed British attempt to establish a penal colony in West Africa and how it led to the establishment of a new colony in New South Wales.

Some of the convicts sent to West Africa were transported on board ships travelling to pick up their cargo of African slaves. When the convicts arrived at their new destination, some of them, together with soldiers, were forced to work in the slave-trading forts guarding humans intended as slaves. In this world, they are themselves slaves.
`Standing on the battlements of Mori, half a world away from everything they know, the British legal system must have seemed more bizarre, and less just, than ever. Being sent into the army was odd enough but at least part of a long tradition, but sending men to guard a semi-dilapidated castle on a remote cliff face in West Africa watching slave ships sail by, was truly the most extraordinary punishment.'

It's a story of one disaster after another: the Gold Coast was feared by Europeans as one of the deadliest places on earth. Dysentery was rampant, and typhoid and yellow fever were endemic. Many of the convicts (and soldiers) die within months of their arrival. The officers who survive often become corrupt.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Tommy Dooley TOP 500 REVIEWER on August 17, 2011
Format: Hardcover
This is wonderfully researched and brilliantly written piece of our history. It tells the little known story of where England sent her convicts after the Americans won independence and before they started using New South Wales (Australia)as a convict dumping ground. Emma Christopher takes individuals to tell the story, which is always miles more effective than citing numbers transported and those who died etc. She has done pains taking work to find out as much as she can about the individuals who were the victims of transportation and the areas and conditions they had to endure.

This is so well written that I was hooked from the start, and she brings the characters to life through recorded testimony and any artefactual evidence she was able to unearth. The area of Africa England started sending convicts to was called Senegambia, and as there was very little for these men to do, they were made into soldiers. Their primary job to wage war on the Dutch - badly, and to guard the slaves. These could be held for months in slave pens awaiting transportation in abhorent conditions.

The parallels between slaves and convicts are all too vivid, especially as some were transported for life, quite often for petty theft (such as a handkerchief). The crimes of their masters being either over looked or punished miles more leniently. The story spans America, Belize, Australia and the African coast. She also deals with England and more importantly London society, the Gordon Riots and the judicial system of the day. It was actually fairer than one might imagine, with felons being let off through lack of evidence and the all too often handed down, death sentence being commuted with much regularity. Often this was to suit the times, like death or conscription - not much of a choice.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Gerry on November 22, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
After the American revolution, Britain ran out of places to send their convicts and as an alternative solution decided to send them to the west coast of Africa were they rapidly succumbed to tropical diseases. By the late 1780s the British goverment decided to use Botany Bay in Australia as a dumping ground.
It is a pleasure to read a book that appeals not only to a specialist but also to the average reader. A highly readable book which, supported by impeccable scholarship, added to my reading pleasure.
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