Death or Liberty tours in London, Dublin and Wales

Death or Liberty, a feature length documentary charts eight decades of oppression leading up to the British Empire’s colonialisation of Australia, the UK and America. It is adapted from the book Death or Liberty: rebels and radicals transported to Australia 1788-1868 by author, historian and Monash University Associate Professor Tony Moore.

Associate Professor Tony Moore.
Associate Professor Tony Moore.

After its premieres in Australia, Manchester and Scotland last year it has since garnered many awards and is now on its London, Dublin and Wales tour.

The documentary draws from the stories and experiences of the 3,600 political prisoners transported to Australia in 1788-1868, and sheds light on the leading rebels and champions of human rights amongst them.

Their fight secured the basic human rights and freedoms we know today from land reform to universal suffrage, freedom of speech and colonial self-determination.

Democracy wasn’t granted in the 1850s and late 19thcentury simply because some wise politicians granted it or Queen Victoria agreed to it. It’s because people sacrificed their lives and certainly their liberty for these causes in the United Kingdom, in Ireland, in North America, in Canada, all over the Empire, and did time in Australia.”

– Associate Professor Tony Moore

Original songs for Death or Liberty are performed by folk troubadours, Ireland’s Lisa O’Neill, England’s Billy Bragg and Australia’s Mick Thomas, filmed at Hobart’s convict-built Theatre Royal. It is dramatised with an Australian and Irish cast and is the result of an international collaboration between Monash Associate Professor Tony Moore, Tasmania’s Roar Film Ireland’s Tile Films and broadcasters the ABC, TG4 Ireland and SC4 Wales.

The documentary features London Chartist William Cuffay, son of a west Indian slave transported for agitating for workers’ suffrage who became a crusading Tasmanian union leader; Irish independence fighters Phillip Cunningham and Michael Dwyer who became champions for the rights of the oppressed Celtic minority in the infant colony; ‘Young Ireland’ revolutionary leader William Smith O’Brien, the aristocratic MP whose dignified martyrdom during solitary confinement on Maria Island led to an international campaign for his release and inspired the struggle for self-determination in Ireland and Australia, and many other lesser-known champions in the transnational history of the British Empire.Political prisoner, British MP and Young Ireland rebel leader William Smith O’Brien (played by Lochlann O’Mearain). Photo by Michael Rayner.[/caption]

“I am here to regret nothing I have already done, to retract nothing I have already said. I am here to crave, with no lying lip the life I consecrate to the liberty of my country ….to lift this island up to make her a benefactor to humanity instead of being the meanest beggar in the world – to restore to her, her native powers and her ancient constitution, this has been my ambition and this ambition has been my crime.”

– William Smith O’Brien



The Dublin premiere is on Friday 18th November and is hosted by the Australian Ambassador to Ireland, Richard Andrews in association with the Australian Studies Centre, University College Dublin.


Billy Bragg, Musical Director of Death or Liberty
Billy Bragg, Musical Director of Death or Liberty

Celebrated singer/songwriter Billy Bragg will speak at the London premiere of Death or Libertyon Tuesday 22 November at Nash Theatre, Kings College London hosted by the Menzies Centre for Australian Studies (FREE but registration essential). He joins Associate Professor Tony Moore and UK based director Keith Farrell in introducing the documentary.

Bragg, who is a Musical Director for the film, told ABC Radio,

“They [The British government] were trying to get rid of these people and sent to the other side of the world where they couldn’t be heard any more, realising if they were hung, drawn and quartered for treason they’d become martyrs. I don’t think the Crown realised it was ceding the colonies with a bunch of crazy radicals. You can see links between what happened with transportation here in Tasmania and Eureka Stockade, the early achievement of democracy and universal suffrage ahead of what we had in the UK. Many of the people who were sent, the Chartists, the Welsh, Irish, French Canadians, Americans had an impact.”

South Wales

Chartist leader of Zephaniah Williams (played by Lion Williams) at Port Arthur. Photo by Michael Rayner.

The film’s final stop is at Shire Hall, Monmouth on Friday 25 November – in the very courtroom where in 1840, sentence of death was passed on John Frost, Zephaniah Williams and William Jones.  They were leaders of a popular uprising in 1839 on the South Wales coalfield. This punishment was commuted by royal decree and all three men were shipped out to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) and removed from British political life.


While in Ireland and Britain, Tony Moore will present to archive institutions and others about a digital humanities ARC Linkage project being developed, that builds on  the documentary and book, entitled ‘Conviction Politics’. Professor Moore states:

“The next stage will be new digital archive research into the convict origins of collective resistance and democratic movements in Australia, visualised through an online ‘transmedia hub’ about and for the researchers, students and the public, connecting the book and elements of the documentary with international archives holdings, heritage groups and sites, a travelling digital exhibition and portals for community participation.”

Death or Liberty has been awarded and shortlisted for: Finalist in the 2016 ATOM (Australian Teachers of Media) Awards in the category Best History DocumentaryAward for Excellence for documentary history/biography at the US based Accolade Global Film Competition; selected to screen in Balinale: the Bali International Film Festival; and Platinum Award ‘truly remarkable films’ at the Spotlight Documentary Film Awards 2016, USA.

Death or Liberty will be released on DVD with CD soundtrack by the ABC in early 2017.

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