Take a walk with a 19th century convict

Take a walk with a 19th century convict

Watch the video of the walking tour with Lindsay in the guise of convict Mary Smith.

As a part of her research within the emerging field of ‘creative history’, Lindsay Wilkinson, an MRes English student at LJMU, takes viewers on a virtual walking tour of nineteenth-century London. As part of the Being Human Festival, ‘Walking with a Convict’ features the story of Mary Smith - her crime (pickpocketing), trial and transportation to the penal colony of Botany Bay. We caught up with Lindsay to find out more about her research project.

Why were you interested in taking part in the Being Human Festival?

Being Human is the UK’s only annual national festival of the humanities. Amongst its many values, the festival aims to support and create opportunities for humanities researchers to engage with non-specialist audiences. Being Human was an ideal platform to share my scholarly research, which I adapted into a walking tour, with the public.

The theme for this year’s festival is ‘New Worlds’, hence I thought it fitting to bring the harsh nineteenth-century criminal justice system to a twenty-first-century audience.

Originally you planned this as a walking tour around key parts of London, how did you adapt your project in light of the pandemic?
Lindsay Wilkinson

From the comfort of my living room using Google Maps, I planned a physical walking tour that would take approximately two hours. However, when I travelled south to recce the walk, I hadn’t considered the logistics of trooping a group of people around the busy city of London. Just as I returned to the drawing board, the COVID-19 pandemic created its own ‘New World’, and along with many other organisers, I quickly had to adapt my research to an online event, which I retitled: ‘Walking with a Convict’. To be honest, and being in the midst of writing up my MRes research dissertation, I was happy to restructure from the physical aspect. The change of plan afforded some more time until I was able to go back to London, selfie stick in hand, and film myself walking around London in the guise of Mary Smith. 

What is it about this subject that made you want to pursue it for your research?

Since studying ‘Prison Voices’, I have been fascinated with convict transportation and mementos in the form of love tokens left behind. Mary Smith is one of only five women whose convict love token forms part of a collection of 314 held at The National Museum of Australia. I wanted to discover Mary’s story. The token led me to her trial at the Old Bailey, subsequent imprisonment at Millbank Prison, and ultimately transportation to Botany Bay, Australia.

What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned from your research?

I’m so passionate about my research, I could go on for hours! Mary’s love token provided me with very limited information, in fact, all I had was ‘Mary Smith aged 20 1826’. It was difficult to know where to begin my research journey. Serendipity plays a part in researching past lives and I was fortunate to connect the love token to Mary’s trial at the Old Bailey. From here, I discovered she was transported for life to Australia for pocket-picking. According to criminal records, this was Mary’s first offence and I wondered how a young girl must have felt being sent away for life at such a young age. The Old Bailey online is a fascinating website detailing crimes held at the Central Criminal Court between 1674-1913. Convicts could be transported for crimes such as impersonating an Egyptian or stealing a shroud out of a grave. Imagine that nowadays!

What have been the benefits of sharing your research and engaging with the public at this year’s Being Human Festival?

It was a privilege to represent LJMU at such a prestigious festival. As one of 250 events up and down the country, my virtual ‘Walking with a Convict’ tour was viewed by at least 150 people around the globe. The main highlight for me personally was an invitation from a professor of English at the University of Manitoba in Canada to be part of a Q&A with her theatre and literature students. This is currently in the pipeline.

Convict artwork
Lindsay's artwork depicting Mary Smith and the ship that would take her to Botany Bay.

What are your career plans?

I hope to start a PhD at LJMU in January 2021. MRes is excellent training for PhD study. My research path will focus on female convicts who came under the watchful eye of Elizabeth Fry the social reformer at Newgate Gaol before being transported. As an organiser for Being Human I have gained valuable skills that will carry me forward academically and in general.

What have been some of the highlights of your time at LJMU?

Besides taking part in Being Human 2020, LJMU has afforded so many other life-changing opportunities including scriptwriting workshops at ITV and a live interview at BBC Radio London. The last four years have been among the happiest and certainly most fruitful of my life. For this, I thank my wonderful inspirational tutors and supportive classmates for their unstinting help and guidance. Hope to see you all in a COVID-19 free ‘New World’ very soon.

Discover more about Mary via Lindsay’s blog.

If you’re interested in studying English, find out about courses on offer at LJMU and take a look into some of the research taking place within the Research Institute for Literature and Cultural History.


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