Sydney Sawyer Seminar: Session Four

Generously supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the University of Sydney

The University of Sydney is the proud host of the first Mellon Sawyer Seminar to be held in Australia. The seminar will run roughly from March 2009 to August 2010, consisting of eight special seminar sessions and one international conference. Its theme is “The Antipodean Laboratory: Humanity, Sovereignty and Environment in Southern Oceans and Lands, 1700-2009.”

Session Four
The Experience of the Ocean: Transformative Voyages in the Antipodes

Friday, 21 August 2009
1-5pm, Sutherland Room, Holme Building, Science Road, The University of Sydney
Afternoon tea will be served

For those who made the long voyage to the Antipodes, the ocean was a transformative space. This seminar will consider the disparate experience of sailors on long-haul whaling expeditions; convicted felons exiled from family and home for the term of their natural lives; inquisitive gentlemen like Charles Darwin on a mission of scientific exploration; and Prince Alfred testing his personal boundaries during the first royal voyage to the Antipodes in 1867-8. By placing these very different perspectives alongside each other, this seminar will examine how the southern oceans were critical sites of historical change.

Convenors:
Cassandra Pybus and Emma Christopher

Presenters:
Jeff Bolster (University of New Hampshire)
‘Sea Changes: Maritime Histories with the Ocean Included’

A curiously paradoxical environment, the ocean long has been assumed to work a “sea change” on those who dare travel there, even as it remains eternal and unchanged itself. One point of departure, then, for examination of humanity and environment in southern oceans and lands, is close attention to both sea and seamen in the age of sail. What sorts of transformations attended the experience of sailors and whalemen who dared lengthy voyages from the Atlantic to the Pacific? To what extent were mariners transformed by the nature of seafaring work, the polyglot ethnic composition of crews, and the experience of crossing dramatic cultural boundaries? And how did harvesters in a pre-industrial era affect the living ocean? Such questions may lead to a new generation of sea stories, and to maritime histories unfolding on a historicized ocean.

Hamish Maxwell Stewart (University of Tasmania)
‘Shipmates unto death? The convict voyage and convict life in early 19th century Australia’

Between 1803 and 1853 some 67,000 convicts were transported to Van Diemen’s Land, later renamed Tasmania. These forced migrants were subjected to a transformative rite of passage of epic proportions. While much has been written about that voyage, there have been few attempts to look at its long-term impact on convict public and private life. I will attempt to rectify this by joining together voyage and post voyage experiences for male and female prisoners in Van Diemen’s Land. I am particularly interested in how experience at sea impacted upon health, discipline and convict attempts to restructure lives dislocated by the act of transportation.

Iain McCalman (University of Sydney)
‘A Laboratory of Islands: Charles Darwin’s Pacific Project’

Charles Darwin’s bout of homesickness on leaving the relative comfort of land explorations in South America for the boundless and nausea-inducing ‘desert’ of the Pacific often made him testy and nostalgic. This grumpiness has led many historians to overlook the intellectual significance of the last great leg of the Beagle voyage in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Darwin’s sojourns among the islands, island continents and coral reefs of the southern oceans actually constituted a distinctive and important phase in the development of his thought regarding both evolution by natural selection and the functioning of what he called the ‘natural economy’. Southern islands functioned as a peculiarly illuminating laboratory for testing his nascent ideas about ‘invasive species’ (including man), environmental adaptations and the challenges that these posed to insular species and indigenous peoples. They also provided him with an opportunity to test his first and still ecologically pertinent scientific theory about the origins of corals reefs and their relation to island biota.

Cindy McCreery (University of Sydney)
‘Loyalties and Royalty: HMS Galatea’s visit to Australia, 1867-68’

In October 1867 the Royal Navy’s wooden steam frigate HMS Galatea arrived in South Australia. For the next six months, as the Galatea sailed around Australia’s southeast coast, the ship, her officers, crew and in particular her royal captain, Prince Alfred, encountered a diverse range of Australian colonists. Aboriginal people, Irish ex-convicts and radicals, German settlers as well as a variety of ‘British’ colonists rushed to see and comment on the new arrivals. Visitors swarmed over and below Galatea’s decks, jostled each other on city streets to catch a glimpse of Prince Alfred, and entertained both ordinary sailors and officers at banquets and balls. These responses suggest conventional loyalty to the British throne and Royal Navy, and indeed a sense of uncomplicated ‘British’ identity. Yet in March 1868 Australian loyalties and identities would be sorely tested when Alfred was shot by an Irish Australian on the shores of Sydney Harbour. This paper uses the Galatea’s visit as a way of exploring the complexities of contemporary conceptions of loyalty and identity in Britain’s multi-ethnic and maritime empire.

The session is free, but registration is essential. RSVP to Katherine Anderson katherine dot anderson at usyd dot edu dot au or 02 9036 5347 by August 17.

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