A social history of colonial Queensland towards a Marxist analysis

Thorpe, Bill (1986). A social history of colonial Queensland towards a Marxist analysis PhD Thesis, School of History, Philosophy, Religion, and Classics, The University of Queensland.

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Author Thorpe, Bill
Thesis Title A social history of colonial Queensland towards a Marxist analysis
School, Centre or Institute School of History, Philosophy, Religion, and Classics
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 1986
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Total pages 446
Language eng
Subjects 210303 Australian History (excl. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander History)
Formatted abstract This thesis is the first major account of colonial Queensland which seeks to integrate environmental, social, economic, political and ideological themes. It is also one of the very few in Queensland historiography which deploys a class analysis and possibly the only social history of the colonial period so far written from an explicitly Marxist standpoint.

The introduction to this thesis is an account and assessment of a number of recent histories of Queensland. This critique forms a point of departure for a consideration of the 'social history' approach adopted in the thesis as a whole. The third section indicates various sources of inspiration for the discussion to follow and sums up the themes developed in subsequent chapters.

Chapter one examines the formation of settler-colonialism in Queensland based on the pastoral mode of production. The analysis seeks to reassert interpretations which have emphasised the generally violent dispossession of Aborigines fundamental to this process, against those accounts which have argued for conciliation and rapprochment between Aborigine and invader as if it were a transaction between social and economic equals. A detailed theoretical and empirical argument is developed which shows how surviving Aborigines became slaves for their new masters and as such, helped to create and consolidate the transition from gatherer-hunter society to colonial capitalism.

In chapter two I explore the other side to this process: the settler-colonial struggle to subdue and harness an intractable natural world, sometimes with Aboriginal 'assistance'. Killing millions of native animals and destroying forests comprised a central element while the often cruel enslavement of horses and bullocks helped maintain 'economy' and 'society'.

From this basis, chapter three develops an analysis of the political economy, stressing certain features of it which have been examined insufficiently hitherto or which have not been discussed at all. These include the economy's colonial, comprador and dependent features; the connection between Sydney merchant capital and Queensland pastoralism; the nature and structure of business ownership; the hegemony of pastoralism over agriculture; the petty bourgeois character of trades, commerce, manufacture and industry; capital formation and ownership of the Queensland National Bank and finally the varied capitalist character of the different modes of production.

Within this context, the discussion shifts focus to concentrate on class structure. In this chapter I put forward a survey of class and status divisions 1840-1900 from which I launch a critical evaluation of Ronald Lawson's Brisbane in the 18 9 0s. From this emerges a class and occupational typology based on the 1891 census and other material. The two remaining sections examine the kinship and business connections of two major ruling and governing class groups and some instances of class conflict as a prelude to the next chapter.

The 1866 crisis in Queensland has been studied by a number of historians but the present account is arguably the most comprehensive to date. It is the only one, moreover, which conceives and analyses the crisis in class terms. The various parts are devoted to the historiography of the event; the location of the latter in the world economy; the balance of class forces in Brisbane; conflict within the ruling and governing classes; working class protest and state mobilisation against social protest.

Chapter six challenges the orthodoxy that 1860-1890 represented a 'long boom' phase in economic development and presents considerable evidence to show that the Queensland experience in this period was characterised by depressions, recessions, stagnation and dilatory growth rather more than expansionary phases. I also show how climatic features exerted a decisive impact. At the same time, I make the first major attempt to document the lives and conditions of working class people who had to deal with the realities of such an economy, including the first systematic comparison of money wages between British and Queensland workers.

Finally, even though several chapters have incorporated ideology in the discussion, a fuller consideration of ideologies in colonial Queensland is taken up in chapter seven, with particular emphasis on the colonial press, schools of arts and certain popular novels. There are 'dominant ideologies' and there are also a number of ideologies contending for domination. But this is a Gramscian rather than a pluralistic process, in which prevailing orthodoxies reflect the class and economic order.
Keyword Social classes -- Queensland -- History
Queensland -- Social conditions -- 1824-1900
Queensland -- History -- 1824-1900 -- Historiography
Queensland -- Economic conditions -- 1824-1900
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