Date of Award


Document Type



Edith Cowan University

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Arts and Humanities

First Supervisor

Dr Ffion Murphy

Second Supervisor

Associate Professor Jill Durey


This thesis examines the harsh impact of convict transportation on Western Australian life and literary production with a novel, “The Silence of Water”, and an accompanying essay. The Swan River Colony (Western Australia) was established in 1829 with the express intention never to accept convicts; however, almost 10,000 men were transported there from Britain between 1850 and 1868. “The Silence of Water” depicts the life of one convict, Customs and Excise officer and former tailor Edwin Thomas Salt, who was convicted of the murder of his wife, Mary Ann, in Edinburgh in 1860. The case attracted attention in newspapers across Britain partly due to the “extreme provocation” Edwin was said to have suffered because of Mary Ann’s drinking. Edwin’s death sentence was commuted and he was transported to Western Australia in 1862. Edwin later received a conditional pardon that allowed him to live as a free man. In Western Australia he married twice, had more children and worked sporadically as a tailor. He died in Fremantle in 1910. A literate man with no prior convictions, sometimes a drunk and a bully, Edwin Salt differs from the convicts usually depicted in Western Australian fiction. Through the characters of Edwin Salt, his Australian daughter and granddaughter, “The Silence of Water” explores themes of exile, incarceration, family dislocation, secrets and intergenerational silences.

The accompanying essay claims complex convict characters are largely missing from Western Australia’s literature and suggests how “The Silence of Water” claims a place for convicts and the women associated with them in Western Australia’s founding colonial narrative. It also discusses key research frameworks, methods and literary strategies. Chapter one examines how the convict figure functions across a range of novels from 1880 to 2015 and finds that Western Australia’s convict figure differs markedly from that seen in novels from other Australian states. Chapter two examines two research methods used to write the novel: engagement with the archives and engagement with place. It demonstrates how exploration of Edwin Thomas Salt broadened to focus on the women associated with him, driven by a feminist theoretical framework. Chapter three discusses some literary strategies selected for “The Silence of Water” and their rationale, drawing on the work of contemporary Western Australian fiction writers. Overall, the thesis illuminates an under-explored area of Western Australian cultural production and contributes new knowledge about Western Australia’s convict era, the consequences of which are still visible today.

Access Note

Access to this thesis is restricted to the exegesis.

Available for download on Tuesday, December 31, 2024


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