Genesis of the Convicts

Convicts & Cthulhu B&W Logo sml

Good news on the Convicts & Cthulhu front — layout is nearing completion, which means that we now have a final page count for the book. It will be a 96 page freebie, making it the most ambitious project we have undertaken (either free or paid). There’s still some work to be done redrawing maps etc, so I am still estimating a release date around June 1.

Given that it’s going to be out pretty darned soon, I figure I should provide a few more details about what this book aims to cover and how it come into existence. While I would love to be able to say that it was my brilliant idea to write something about the dark dealings of the Cthulhu Mythos in the convict colonies of Australia, that would be a complete fabrication. In fact it was Geoff Gillan who first approached me with the idea when I was running a project to create a book of Call of Cthulhu scenarios set in unusual eras of Australia’s short but lurid history. Geoff has a university degree in history, so he is always surprising me with amazing things about the past — in this case his first suggestion was to create a scenario or campaign revolving around the Rum Rebellion of 1808.

Now … for those of you who aren’t that familiar with the early history of Australia, let me summarise the fairly dark and scurrilous circumstances which led to the first European settlement on the Australian continent. It all came about because of two things that happened in the 1770s — the first was the discovery by England of the surprisingly fertile eastern coast of Australia; the second was the rather unsporting decision taken by Britain’s colonies in America that they would (thank you very much) really prefer to be independent. The first was important because until then the only parts of the Australian landmass that Europeans had encountered were not the sort of places they were enthusiastic about colonising. The second was important because the loss of the British colonies in America meant the end of the practice of transporting convicted criminals to serve sentences in America (a system that had proved successful in alleviating some of the crowding in London’s slums as well as removing “undesirables” from England althogether).

With the discovery of the fertile eastern coastline (dubbed “New South Wales” by Cook, its discoverer), Britain had a ready-made spot where it could continue to export all its less-than-upstanding citizens that fell afoul of the law. There are a number of common misconceptions about transportation: one is that those who were sent out to the Australian colonies were the very worst of the criminals. In fact, criminals who were convicted of *really* bad things like murder were much more likely to simply be executed in Britain … those who were sent out to Australia were more like petty thieves, those convicted of prostitution, or similar crimes. But this still constituted a very large number of rather shady characters. Another misconception is that everyone who came to the early Australian colonies was a criminal — in fact, right from the beginning the convict population only comprised about a third of the people in the colony. There were many, many military gaolers and almost as many free settlers (folks who saw the new colony as a chance to farm the land).

Convicts & Cthulhu page montage

In setting up the early colony, one of the hardest things was trying to find people who wanted to serve as its military gaolers. After all, the chance of being sent halfway around the world to look after a bunch of reprobate criminals was hardly the kind of assignment that many people would find an excellent career move. So, as a result the calibre of military personnel that came to serve in that capacity — forming the now-infamous New South Wales Corp — were not the most decorated of soldiers. In fact, most of them were only marginally less corrupt than the people they were guarding (and in many cases had been assigned the job as a punishment for some misdeed, often desertion).

All this created a rather unusual kind of environment … isolated, filled with degenerate people, and perched on the tip of a continent about which Europeans knew almost nothing. This is fertile fuel for tales of lurid depravity, dark deeds, and horrific encounters. In short, an environment well suited to being backdrop for a Call of Cthulhu story. To quote Convicts & Cthulhu:

Keepers seeking dark-hearted men and women to serve as adversaries in a Call of Cthulhu scenario will find a wealth of riches in the early penal settlements of New South Wales. Almost by design the majority of the population of this isolated place is made up of the detritus of Britain and its Empire – the inconvenient members of its society that do not fit into the accepted mould of respectability. Within this body of free-thinkers, rebels and reprobates there are no shortage of advocates of beliefs in strange and unnatural gods. Some of those keep their black religious practices to themselves, but others are eager that they spread out like a cancer. It is that latter group that is behind several different subversive “cults” currently thriving in New South Wales.

Australian Aeons Illo #D3

Tomorrow: the corruption of the early colony of New South Wales, and the circumstances leading to the military coup (!)


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