Day 300 – Prisoner Records

Today’s new thing was super interesting. I’ve mentioned a few times about a website called Zooniverse where you can take part in online research projects. I’ve helped transcribe anti-slavery letters, checked the migration of penguins, and aide in programming the A.I. for a Mars Rover amongst others. I love dipping my toe into so many different and interesting projects, knowing that I’m helping out in my small way. Today’s research project: tracking the prisoner records of Australian career criminals.

Between 1788 and 1868, Britain and Ireland transported nearly two hundred thousand criminals to Australian penal colonies. The Criminal Characters project focuses on prisoner records from the end of this time up to the start of the Second World War, by transcribing multiple prisoner records in order to gain a bigger picture of the life and impact of prison on some historical offenders.

There’s no doubt that the crime genre is huge in popular culture, especially with the increase in true-crime documentaries and podcasts. It is my favourite fiction genre, but I can’t really explain why. It could be because it’s so ‘other’ – the psychology of a criminal being so wildly different to anybody I know in real life, I’m not sure, but it sure is captivating. I spent a good few hours engrossed in these prisoner records, filling the blanks between the multiple convictions with an imagined history of the criminal, what might have led them back on the wrong path, were they constantly in the wrong place at the wrong time, or were they simply bad to the bone. What is essentially data collection, became an exercise in creative storytelling, and I found it fascinating.

This guy had 9 different convictions in the space of 3 years!

The handwriting was sometimes a challenge to decipher, but there were handy guides to help out, and the information is always checked by at least one other person so there’s a chance that all the missed information will be picked up. This was so fascinating, a really enjoyable new thing.

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