Detail map of Huntingdon, England, United Kingdom,Arthurs Lake, Tasmania, Australia

A: Huntingdon, England, United Kingdom, B: Arthurs Lake, Tasmania, Australia

332 Agricultural Workers Are Transported to Tasmania as Punishment for Machine Breaking

John Simon Clarke document
Creative Commons LicenseJeremy Norman Collection of Images - Creative Commons

Machine breaking, which first came to wide public attention with respect to the breaking of power looms by the Luddites in 1811-13, significantly increased in the 1830 Swing Riots of agricultural workers, chiefly in the breaking of threshing machines. Motivation of these workers was predominately frustration caused by abject poverty. Agricultural workers correctly attributed some of their unemployment to the introduction of threshing machines, which greatly reduced employment in one of the most labor intensive aspects of agriculture. The Swing riots touched thirty counties in England, and resulted in more than 480 people being transported to Australia ('the largest single group in the history of transportation'). As a result of their breaking of threshing machines 332 agricultural workers were transported to Tasmania in 1831 on the ships Proteus and Eliza. The story of these 332 machine breakers was told in a master's thesis at the University of Tasmania by Bruce W. Brown, entitled The Machine Breaker Convicts from the Proteus and the Eliza (2004). Most of the remaining convicts from the Swing riots were transported to Australia on the convict transport ship, Eleanor.

In 2018 I was able to obtain a sentencing document for one of the agricultural machine breakers, John Simon Clarke, who was found guilty at the Huntingdon Assizes on March 8, 1831 of breaking threshing machines not once, but twice: The sentencing document convicted Clarke for "willlfully maliciously and feloniously destroying Threshing Machines upon two seperate indictments, it is therefore Ordered and Adjudged by this court, that the above named Convict be Transported beyond the Seas to such a place as His Majesty by the advice of his Privy Council shall think fit to direct and appoint the term of Seven Years for the First Offence and for the further Term of Seven Years .... " Clarke was transported aboard the Proteus.  Regrettably he died of tuberculosis shortly after he reached Tasmania.

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