Reading Rape in Colonial Australia: Barbara Baynton's 'The Tramp', the Bulletin and Cultural Criticism


  • Nina Philadelphoff-Puren Monash University


Barbara Baynton, the Bulletin, the Mount Rennie rape case, colonial debates about rape


This article proposes a re-reading of Barbara Baynton’s short-story “The Tramp”, published in the Bulletin in December 1896, and later reprinted as “The Chosen Vessel” in Bush Studies 1902. Literary criticism of this tale has tended to focus on its existence in this later version; in revisiting the 1896 publication of the story, this article reframes it in the context of the colonial debates about rape that marked the 1880s and 1890s. Of the numerous events that form potential intertexts here, this paper will focus on the relationship between 'The Tramp' and the Mount Rennie rape case of 1886-7. This case was the subject of countless editorials, reports and letters in the colonial press, as well as catalysing petitions, public meetings and parliamentary debates. The Bulletin in particular was preoccupied with Mount Rennie, regularly editorialising on it until the end of 1896, when those defendants who had not been executed were finally released. This paper argues that by reading Baynton’s story as materially embedded in this rich colonial dialogue about rape, new fronts are opened up for feminist analysis. In particular, it is possible to evaluate the way that 'The Tramp' intersects in both radical and conservative ways with the colonial narrative of 'real rape' which structured debates at the time.

Author Biography

Nina Philadelphoff-Puren, Monash University

Lecturer School of English, Communications and Performance Studies Monash University