Ian Duffield obituary

Other lives: Pioneer in the study of black British history

My father-in-law, and former PhD supervisor, Ian Duffield, has died aged 82. A brilliant historian of formidable intellect, he was a pioneer in the study of black British history, particularly of radicalism in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

After a trip to Australia in the 1980s, and his discovery of the convict archives there, Ian took up the study of the transportation of black convicts from Britain and its empire to the Australian penal colonies. His innovative work on such “histories from below” added a missing dimension to social histories of the day, bringing the experiences of convicts to the fore – including enslaved men and women in the Caribbean and other colonies – in British and Australian history.

This laid the ground for the current “global turn” in convict studies and new histories of empire from the perspective of the colonies.

Born in Halesowen, West Midlands, Ian grew up in Harborne, Birmingham, and attended Handsworth grammar school. His father, Walter Duffield, worked in the motor trade, and his mother, Miriam (nee Squires), was a teacher.

After two years of national service at RAF Locking, Somerset, in 1958 Ian went to University College London to study history. There, he met Jill Franks, a fellow undergraduate They married in 1959, and their eldest son, Toby, was born soon after.

The family moved to Addis Ababa in Ethiopia to teach at a British Council school, the General Wingate, where a second son, Daniel, was born. On reading that the University of Edinburgh was setting up a Centre for African Studies, they moved in 1964 to the city, where Ian completed a PhD on pan-Africanism before taking up a lectureship in the university’s history department. A third son, Samuel, whom I later married,arrived in 1969, followed by a daughter, Miriam, in 1970.

Over many years, Ian built up Edinburgh University’s historical collections and resources, and supported numerous undergraduates and PhD students, including me (1994-97), in their own learning. His expansive knowledge meant that he was able to do so widely and skilfully. Projects ranged from the history of cricket to Australian bushranging, convict women, and madness in India.

Ian remained at Edinburgh until his retirement in 2002. He continued to research and write, focusing particularly on “convict pirates” – those who attempted to escape from the Australian colonies by mutiny.

Ian enjoyed socialising, and discussions and debates usually went on late into the night. He had firm opinions on many things – from politics and the church (though a confirmed atheist) to food and wine. He and Jill loved to throw parties and enjoyed many trips to the Highlands and to Spain. He was a founding member of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society.

Ian is survived by Jill, their children, their grandchildren, Alec, Isabel, Archie, Hugh, Ewan, James, Rosa and Elsie; and a brother, Alan.

Clare Anderson

The GuardianTramp

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