January 26, 1788. Eleven under-supplied and massively overcrowded ships arrive in ‘Botany Bay’ as part of a commercial, for-profit operation, financed by the British Government. The voyagers are roughly divided into two: of the 1,500 or so on board, half are convicts. All are from England, most from London. Those subject to transportation are poor, mostly illiterate, ill-fed and ill-treated, kept in chains, almost always in darkness, and have very little idea of the nature of their voyage or the troubles that will greet them on their arrival. It is a 15,000-mile journey which takes 252 days: 48 die during the passage. The oldest female convict is 82-year-old Dorothy Handland. Convicted of perjury, she hangs herself from a tree in 1789: Australia’s first recorded suicide.
January 26, 2011. One un-recognised and massively bored blogger regains consciousness in the midst of a commercial, for-profit society, secretly controlled by shape-shifting lizards. In dreams, the members of this society are roughly divided into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other — Bourgeoisie and Proletariat. In reality, of the 15,000 or so who have an annual individual income over $700,000 a year, none are convicted.
The proposal to colonize Botany Bay with convicts was formally drawn up in an unsigned document titled “Heads of a Plan for effectually disposing of convicts” and was presented to the British cabinet in August 1786. Its emphasis was clear: The proposed colony would serve as “a remedy for the evils likely to result from the late alarming and numerous increase of felons in this country, and more particularly in the metropolis.” The secondary benefit of the region’s raw materials was presented at the end of the document: “It may also be proper to attend to the possibility of procuring masts and ships’ timber for the use of our fleets in India, as the distance between the two countries is not greater than between Great Britain and America…”
In their most sanguine moments, the authorities hoped that Australia would eventually swallow a whole class — the “criminal class,” whose existence was one of the prime sociological beliefs of late Georgian and early Victorian England. Australia was settled to defend English property not from the frog-eating invader across the Channel but from the marauder within. English lawmakers wished not only to get rid of the “criminal class” but if possible to forget about it. Australia was a cloaca, invisible, its contents filthy and unnameable. Jeremy Bentham, inveighing against the “thief-colony” in 1812, argued that transportation: “…was indeed a measure of experiment… but the subject-matter of experiment was, in this case, a peculiarly commodious one; a set of animae viles, a sort of excrementitious mass, that could be projected, and accordingly was projected — projected, and as it should seem purposely — as far out of sight as possible.”
In the meantime…
Anonymous members of the E E EDL have paused long enough from their drunken escapades to mash into a keyboard a manifesto; Dissecting the English Defence League’s “mission statement” is a thankless task undertaken by Phil Dickens on behalf of Liverpool Antifascists. Elsewhere in Europe, there’s an Idiot Wind, to which Paul Chan and Sven Lütticken provide an arty Introduction (e-flux journal, January 2011). Fire to the Prisons is a zine: I dunno if it’s Art; Modesto Anarcho is totally street; the Institute for Experimental Freedom is also street: it has pictures of people in bathtubs too.