Humanitarianism in a genocidal age
The tragic story of theAboriginal prison on Rottnest Island, Western Australia, 1838–1903
in Humanitarianism, empire and transnationalism, 1760–1995
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Governor John Hutt, a man strongly influenced by British humanitarian thought, played a crucial role in the early 1840s in establishing an Aboriginal prison on Rottnest Island. For him, the ‘improvement and instruction’ of the prisoners mattered more than their punishment, and he appointed an Aboriginal Protector to keep watch. Yet during the sixty years the prison operated, it became a feared and hated place for Aboriginal people, with approximately 3,700 prisoners subjected to regimes of hard labour and harsh physical punishment, of whom 10 per cent died in custody. The island is now a place of great sadness for Nyungar and other Indigenous groups in Western Australia and modes of recognition and remembrance of this history are under continuing discussion. In this paper, I explore this history as a startling case study in the failure of humanitarian principles and policies to translate into humanitarian action on the ground. In particular, I draw out the inherent contradictions in attempting a humanitarian form of settler colonialism.

Humanitarianism, empire and transnationalism, 1760–1995

Selective humanity in the Anglophone world

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