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Eldershaw Lecture - Hamish Maxwell-Stewart, The impact of solitary confinement on convict health

Published: Tuesday, 17 November 2020

Professor Maxwell-Stewart presents the 52nd Eldershaw Memorial Lecture. 

While many studies have linked sensory deprivation punishments to elevated risk of suicide and other immediate poor health outcomes, there have been relatively few examinations of potential medium and long-term impacts. Convict records provide an opportunity to explore this vex issue. The lecture starts by examining the different ways in which male and female convicts were punished over time in Van Diemen’s Land. Having identified those groups that were disproportionately exposed to solitary confinement, it compares their life course outcomes with those for other convicts. A particular focus is the extent to which the experience of being confined in a solitary or separate treatment cell cut short life expectancy. Since cause of death was recorded on Tasmanian death certificates, it is possible to examine if sensory deprivation is associated with particular life shortening events. Finally the talk ends by looking at the association between different forms of punishment and colonial fertility rates as a first step towards examining the ways in which the experience of convict parents impacted on the lives of their children.

Hamish Maxwell-Stewart completed a PhD in economic and social history from the University of Edinburgh before going on to work for the Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine at the University of Glasgow. He migrated to Tasmania in 1997 and has spent the last 23 years at the University of Tasmania assembling convict and other population records. The author of several books and many articles on convict transportation he has recently joined the digital humanities team at the University of New England.