David Philips and Susanne Davies, eds.
Nation of Rogues? Crime, Law and Punishment in Colonial Australia.
Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1994. 237 pp. Illustrations,
bibliographical references, index. $24.95 (cloth), ISBN 0-5228-4601-7 .
Philippa Martyr , University of Tasmania.
I like history which not only informs, but entertains. This
is not at all to argue that I would be in favour of handing the running of
any Australian university's History Department to Kerry Packer. But
nonetheless, most of us would agree that writing history which is accurate
without being dictatorial, and informative without being dull, is a
consummation devoutly to be wished for.
This collection of essays strikes a good balance in this
direction. Philips and Davies have set out to provide a cross-section of
colonial Australia in terms of the popular themes of crime and punishment.
The joint influences of E P Thompson and Michel Foucault are duly noted
and then -- hooray -- left to illuminate indirectly, rather than be turned
to at every page as touchstones of authority. While the select
bibliography shows the influence of studies of crime in Britain in the
same time period, this history stands confidently Australian, which is no
doubt a good thing.
The essays offer a wide variety of approaches -- gender and
sexuality gets good representation with the first, middle and last essays
on gender-related topics. Paula Byrne's 'On Her Own Hands,' David
Philips's 'Anatomy of a Rape Case' and Kathy Laster's 'Arbitrary Chivalry'
form a valuable continuum of analysis of the status of women and criminal
law in Victoria over a period of one hundred and fifty years. Issues of
ethnicity occur throughout, especially in Gary Highland's 'A Tangle of
Paradoxes: Race, Justice and Criminal Law in North Queensland 1882-1894.'
Socio-economic position and class structures are also criticized by Darren
Palmer's study of the justice system in Port Phillip, Suzanne Davies's
piece on vagrancy in late nineteenth-century Melbourne, and David
Philips's other article in the collection, the intriguingly-titled 'The
Royal Bastard as Policeman?'.
I have two major criticisms of this collection. Firstly, I
found that I could guess in advance the major approaches of the work --
race, gender, class. While these are all worthy areas of investigation, I
sometimes despair of finding a work which can breathe a little life into
them. I know this is heresy of the worst sort, so I shall move on to my
second criticism, which is that I cannot help but notice the solid Eastern
orientation of the work. This is understandable in a publication
proceeding from an Eastern university, but at the same time I tend to
bridle when I see the word 'Australia' used in the title of a collection
of historical essays which does not acknowledge the centre or west of the
nation, both of which had colonial histories of their own. However, in
fairness, at least the Sydney-Melbourne nexus has been broken a little by
the inclusion of a study on Queensland. I noticed also, on the positive
side, that several of the contributors actually work in the field of legal
studies, law and criminology, so interdisciplinary work with history has
certainly paid off in this area.
Most of these essays are highly informative; one gets a lot
of research material for one's money, and the analysis which follows this
is concise enough to provide interesting interpretations. This work would
be a useful teaching resource for undergraduate courses in crime and
punishment in Australia -- it offers introductions to a number of complex
issues, without being heavily burdened with theory. Some may see this as
an insult; I see it as a compliment, and one of the work's stronger
Library of Congress
Call Number: HV7172 .A25 1994
* Crime -- Australia -- History -- 19th century
* Criminals -- Australia -- History -- 19th century
* Criminal justice, Administration of -- Australia --History --
* Criminal law -- Australia -- History -- 19th century
Citation: Philippa Martyr . "Review of David Philips and
Susanne Davies, eds, Nation of Rogues? Crime, Law and Punishment in
Colonial Australia," H-Law, H-Net Reviews, June, 1995. URL:
“[Nation of Rogues?]
is not…concerned simply with crime and law enforcement per se. Crimes are
signs of the times. They can tell as much, for example, about attitudes
toward women, about racial prejudices, about economic imperatives…[P]art
of the book’s value [is in] shifting the historical spotlight from popular
stereotypes to the broader machinations of colonial society.”
Michael Sturma, review of
Nation of Rogues? Crime, Law and Punishment in Colonial Australia,
by David Philips and Susanne Davies, eds., Australian Historical
Studies 26 (October 1995): 702.