‘I Go Out Worse Every Time’: Connections and Corruption in a Female Prison
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'When they are all thrown together it is impossible to improve them', declared turnkey Sarah Ann Nixon of the female prisoners at the Toowoomba Gaol during the 1887 inquiry into Queensland prisons. Nixon was articulating a paradox that authorities struggled with throughout the Victorian era. During the late nineteenth century, a variety of institutions were established to contain female disorderliness and effect the reform of criminal and immoral women. Yet in facilitating the development of relationships between women from the social margins, incarcerative settings threatened to act as breeding grounds, rather than repositories, of unruly women. An inquiry into Queensland prisons in 1887 revealed rebellious and subversive inmate subcultures in which women banded together to sing, dance, laugh, talk and tell each other stories; arrange the smuggling of supplies; defy authorities; and engage in emotional and sexual relationships with each other. These activities represented traditions and encompassed relationships imported from an external underclass community.
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Australian History (excl. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander History)