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Broadside entitled 'The Unhappy Transport's Letter to his Father and Mother in Edinburgh'


This broadside letter begins: 'Dear Parents, I embrace this opportunity of writing, hoping these lines will find you well. With respect to myself I have little to say: I have been most miserable in this unhappy land. I have suffered every degradation of life: insult upon insult have been heaped upon me; I have been obliged to associate with the most depraved of human beings, my master's men.' The letter was apparently written on the 4th of September 1831, from Jenk's Planation, Vandieman's, and is signed, 'Your unfortunate son, John Paterson'.

Illustrated with two dramatic woodcuts of manacled prisoners boarding a ship, then of people working in a new land, this broadside claims to be a letter written by someone who, though originally from Edinburgh, was transported to a plantation in Australia. Unfortunately, there is no way of knowing if John Paterson was in fact the writer of this highly erudite letter. Whatever, with its descriptions of floggings, chain-gangs and frequent executions, the letter certainly makes a strong case for penal reform. Conversely, it could instead be argued that this sheet represents a form of social control, since it highlights the effectiveness of transportation as a dreaded punishment.

Reports recounting dark and salacious deeds were popular with the public, and, like today's sensationalist tabloids, sold in large numbers. Crimes could generate sequences of sheets covering descriptive accounts, court proceedings, last words, lamentations and executions as they occurred. As competition was fierce, immediacy was paramount, and these occasions provided an opportunity for printers and patterers to maximise sales.

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Probable date published: 1831   shelfmark: L.C.Fol.74(143)
Broadside entitled 'The Unhappy Transport's Letter to his Father and Mother in Edinburgh'
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