Labour History

Juveniles as Human Capital: Re-evaluating the Economic Value of Juvenile Male Convict Labour

Labour History (2015), 108, (1), 53–69.


The application of “Human Capital” theory by Nicholas and others in the late 1980s to reframe our understanding of convictism was a watershed moment in colonial historical analysis. This was because it shifted debate away from the moral character of the convicts and reconceptualised them as a valuable labour commodity that was to be understood in the context of much broader patterns of forced labour migration. Drawing on pre-transportation records and evidence relating to two institutions for transported juvenile convicts — the Carters’ Barracks (Sydney) and Point Puer (Port Arthur, Van Diemen’s Land), this article examines the economic conceptualisation of juvenile male convict labour and critiques whether the same “Human Capital” theory can be applied to the juvenile convicts who were sent to New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land. The study posits that this conceptual approach frames the juvenile transportation phenomenon too narrowly temporally, socially and economically.

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*The author would like to thankLabour History‘s two anonymous referees. Google Scholar

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Author details

Nunn, Cameron