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Two convicts steal a place in history

Video clip synopsis – Two soldiers in colonial NSW steal a piece of cloth, with the intention of getting caught.
Year of production - 2009
Duration - 3min 6sec
Tags - Australian History, civics and citizenship, colonisation, Constructing Australia, historical representations, propaganda, television documentaries, see all tags


Two convicts steal a place in history

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About the Video Clip


Two convicts steal a place in history is an excerpt from the documentary Rites of Passage the second episode of the two-part series entitled Rogue Nation, produced in 2009.

Rogue Nation
Historian Michael Cathcart tells the epic story of how the colourful characters of early colonial Australia transformed a penal settlement into a land with rights and opportunity in a mere 40 years. This sweeping two-part dramatised documentary covers formative events in Australia’s history, including the Rum Rebellion and early court cases, which established independence and civil rights for all settlers. Rogue Nation explores how a fledgling colony on the wrong side of the globe was rapidly transformed from a place of punishment to a place of opportunity; a confident and prosperous community. It goes behind the power struggles between wealthy landowners, the educated offspring of convict settlers and the governors who ran the colony.

A Screen Australia production in association with Essential Media & Entertainment.

Curriculum Focus


Students will:
Investigate why Australia was colonised by Britain and how Australia was governed from colonisation to federation.
Investigate the influence of significant individuals and events on the development of democracy in Australia.
Curriculum links National: Civics and citizenship Year 5 Historical perspectives
Statements of Learning for Civics and Citizenship

Background Information


Lachlan Macquarie (governor 1810-1821) is the governor who “goes native”. He was the man in power who went a large way in inventing the idea of Australia as a country which existed for convicts to have another chance to make good in life, and the convicts’ “native born” Australian children, and subsequent generations.

Meanwhile Earl Bathurst and his Colonial Office not surprisingly decided that this was pure madness. Australia for the convicts and their children? Australia, from their point of view, is a colony of Britain, a place of salutary terror to scare would-be criminals into virtue, and a place (after the war with Napoleon finished in 1815 and a whole army was disbanded and given nothing to live on) to dump surplus population. It’s all getting a bit too lax down there, too free and easy. For goodness sake, ex-cons are being made magistrates! And invited to the Governor’s table for dinner! Had the place gone completely crazy? With Governor Darling (1825-1831) Britain again tries toughness.

Ex-con’s were no longer to be so encouraged – instead it will be new free arrivals with plenty of capital. There would be no more convicts earning money on the side, no more handing out of Tickets-of-leave to prisoners fresh off the boat. Neither would they be any longer given land to farm when their time expired. But after some wrangling, ex-convict legal rights remained – but then again, they had to, they owned over half the wealth of the colony.

Meanwhile, a young William Wentworth was in London, and outraged at being “outed” as a child of a convicted criminal – even if the crime was a rather dashing and romantic one – highwayman. A “currency lad”, part of the first generation of native-born colonials, he took up the cudgels for a lifetime of retaliation. Wentworth invented himself as a patriot for the newly imagined country, “Australia”. The ex-convicts and their children feel this country to be theirs, feel that they belong here and won’t go back in a way the free arrivals, the “Exclusive” class, simply do not. Wentworth will be one of the first to tap into this widespread feeling, and express it in his newspaper, The Australian as he fights his personal and political battles.

Darling, the close-lipped, efficient Governor, and Wentworth, the loud, blustery charismatic press baron, publicist and barrister, are both destined to fight it out in a renewed struggle for control of the future direction of the colony…

Classroom Activities


Students can work in a variety of ways – individually, in small groups, and as a class to investigate, respond to and discuss the questions and points that follow.

  1. Why do NSW soldiers Private Sudds and Private Thompson want to get caught when they steal a piece of cloth? What were their reasons? What are the differences between life as a soldier in the colony and life as a convict? How do you know? Look for evidence in what you can see and what you can hear in this clip.
    1. Why does Governor Darling want to make an example of these two? What difference does his intervention make to what happens to these men? What are the consequences of the iron chains for the convicts? How does Private Sudds become injured? What happens to him?
    2. Why do you think Governor Darling wants to make life tougher for convicts in the colony at this time?
  2. What is the role of Francis Forbes the first Chief Justice of NSW in this story? Does he agree with Governor Darling’s decision in this case? Why not?
  3. Why do the newspapers in the colony change from defending the Governor in this story to attacking him?
    1. What does Wentworth do to stir this issue up? Why do you think he might want to do this?
    2. What do you learn about life in the colony of NSW at this time from watching this clip?
  4. William Wentworth began a newspaper, The Australian (not associated with the current Australian newspaper) and published the first edition On 14 October 1824. Why do you think he did this? How does a newspaper help him in his quest for democracy and better rights for convicts and their children in the colony of NSW?

Further Resources


Convicts to Australia – A guide to researching your convict ancestors

Australian Dictionary of Biography – Wentworth, William Charles

For a painting of Wentworth go to the State Library of New South Wales’ online resource

Wikipedia – William Wentworth

Australian Dictionary of Biography – Darling, Sir Ralph

Wikipedia – Ralph Darling

Project Gutenberg Australia, Dictionary of Australian Biography – Ralph Darling