The twenty-first century has seen the rise of the Australian convict romance – a subgenre of both the Australian historical novel, as well as the romance novel. The choice of Australian convicts as the romantic protagonists of a love story is somewhat disconcerting given what we know about gender relations during this period of Australian history. Given this history, it is clear that the Australian convict romance novel misrepresents gender relations among the convict and emancipist class in the early nineteenth century. Yet to simply accuse novelists of being historically inaccurate tells us little about what they are trying to do with these stories. What kinds of reparative readings of history might they be performing in these convict romance novels, and to what purpose? This essay considers what we can glean about the emotional history and romantic relationships of Australian convicts during the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries, before looking at how these relationships have been represented in Australian romantic fiction, and what these convict romances reveal about contemporary Australian attitudes about love, and towards the past.
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