The Lost Boys of Mr Dickens: How the British Empire Turned Artful Dodgers into Child Killers

Written by Steve Harris
Review by Marina Maxwell

Much has been written about the early Australian convicts, but perhaps less-known is the fact that around 3,000 boys, some as young as seven or eight, were sent from Britain during the 1840s to the bleak establishment of Point Puer in Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania).

There, they either managed to endure and learn skills that might ultimately better their lives or, more likely, sunk deeper into a hell of abuse with floggings, hard labour in chains, solitary confinement and vice. The strict secret codes of the criminal brotherhood added to the horrors. Fourteen-year-old Henry Sparkes and Charles Campbell grew up on the mean, ugly streets of Nottingham and Aberdeen and were already hardened long before they would find themselves up before the court at Hobart over the murder of an overseer.

This is the real story of what might have happened to the characters in Oliver Twist.  “If government-sanctioned slavery is seen as perhaps the greatest stain on the British Empire, then the forced exile of thousands of boy convicts to the extremities of the globe to endure severe punishment amid the faint promise of a better life is perhaps its greatest crime.”

Sobering reading but also an excellent resource for anyone wishing to understand the convict experience in Australia.