(Al Jazeera)

British prisons were crowded with criminals during the eighteenth century, and the death penalty was not sufficient to deter crimes, the rates of which continued to rise, so the idea emerged of transporting convicts from Great Britain and Ireland to the newly discovered Australian lands.

Between 1788 and 1868, about 162,000 convicts were transferred to penal colonies established in various parts of Australia, and Botany Bay was the destination of the first fleet that carried convicts to Australia.

Transfer of convicts

The population of England and Wales between 1700 and 1740 AD did not exceed 6 million people, but starting in 1740 the population numbers began to rise significantly, and living conditions deteriorated.

After several years, London became crowded with unemployed people, especially with the American Revolution that began in 1765, the result of which was the independence of the American colonies from Great Britain.

Crime has spread uncontrollably in the country, in addition to poverty, social injustice, and child labor.

The suburbs of London became a hotbed for bandits by the year 1784, and what made matters worse was that British cities at that time did not yet know police forces in their modern sense.

Many government officials also rejected correctional facilities and temporary detention centers, considering them alien American concepts.

Due to overcrowding in prisons, the authorities were implementing death sentences for crimes, even if they were minor. In the 1770s, there were 222 crimes punishable by death under British law, including crimes related to assaulting property, stealing goods worth more than a certain limit, and cutting down trees. And stealing animals.

These factors made legislators think about new ways to reduce crime rates and get rid of criminals. It was proposed to transfer convicts to distant regions as punishment. About 60,000 prisoners were transferred to the British colonies in North America in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries under the provisions of the Transportation Act of 1717 AD. But after Britain's defeat during the events of the American Revolution, the transfer of criminals to the Americas stopped.

As large numbers of criminals were still a crisis in Britain, the process of finding alternatives to the American colonies began, and the newly discovered east coast of New Holland was proposed (the term "New Holland" was the European historical name given to mainland Australia).

An imaginary picture of convicts being disembarked at Botany Bay Colony (social networking sites)

Botany Bay, the first British penal colony

The first new destination chosen by Britain for convicts was Botany Bay, located in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.

On 18 August 1786, the decision was made to send a group of convicts, military personnel and civilians to Botany Bay under the command of Captain Arthur Phillip, who became the first governor of the new colony.

There were 775 convicts on board the transport ships, and they were accompanied by 645 officials, crew members, marines, and their families and children.

The first fleet - sent to the new colony at Botany Bay - consisted of 11 ships, which sailed on May 13, 1787, and arrived in the bay in January 1788. After the ships landed, Governor Arthur Phillip began to explore the area, and discovered Jackson Bay And Sydney Bay, where the first permanent European colony on the Australian continent was built, inside New South Wales, on January 26, 1788.

The health status of convicts

Mortality rates were initially high among members of the First Fleet, mainly due to poor sanitary conditions and food shortages. The settlers were unable to secure adequate food due to the limited numbers of skilled farmers and livestock, so they had to wait for the arrival of the Second Fleet.

But the Second Fleet, which arrived in 1790, was a real disaster, carrying huge numbers of sick and dying convicts, which worsened the sanitary situation in the new colony.

The convicts transferred to the new colony were treated inhumanely, and were subjected to huge punishments disproportionate to their crimes. They were also subjected to what amounted to slavery during the period of serving their sentences and were not granted any rights at the end of their sentence.

The reign of Richard Burke

The status of convicts in New South Wales did not change until the reign of Sir Richard Bourke, the ninth governor of the colony, who took office between 1831 and 1837. He opposed the excessive punishments imposed on convicts and introduced laws to mitigate them. His administration was so controversial that judges and officials in the colony His complaint to the British Crown.

The ninth governor of the colonies in Australia, Richard Burke, introduced laws to reduce the sentences of convicts (Getty)

However, Burke continued his reforms, confronted the inhumane treatment of convicts, and granted rights to freedmen such as allowing the possession of property.

If the convict is of good behaviour, he can be given a ticket of leave, giving him some freedom.

At the end of the convict's sentence, which is 7 years in most cases, they are granted a certificate of freedom, and have the choice between becoming settlers or returning to Britain.

Because of the actions of Burke and other men, including the Australian-born lawyer William Charles Wentworth, the transfer of convicts to New South Wales was suspended in 1840, but their transfer to the colony was not formally halted until October 1850.

But this date is not the date when transporting convicts stopped completely. Although Botany Bay was the first destination for convicts, they also spread to many other colonies established in Australia, including Tasmania, Norfolk Island, Port Phillip Bay, Moreton Bay, the Western Australian settlement, and others. .

Transport of convicts to the Australian colonies was halted

As increasing numbers of free settlers entered New South Wales and Tasmania by the mid-1830s, voices opposing the transportation of criminals to the Australian colonies grew louder.

Opponents argued that the continued transfer of convicts to the colonies contributed to the spread of crimes within the country, and they saw that the convicts competed with “free workers” in their source of livelihood. However, some influential and property owners in the settlements defended the transfer of convicts, because they were a source of free labor or Low pay.

But in the end, the efforts of the settlers who opposed the transfer of convicts to the colonies bore fruit, and a decision was issued to stop the transfer of convicts to New South Wales in 1840 after about 150,000 had been transferred to the colony since its founding. The transfer was finally stopped in 1850. As for Tasmania, the transfer of convicts was stopped. Temporarily to the colony in 1846, but the transportation movement soon became active again, coinciding with the overcrowding of British prisons with criminals.

By the late 1840s, most convicts sent to Tasmania (as well as those sent to the colony of Victoria) were classified as "exiles", and were free to work for pay during their sentence.

Arthur Philip, first governor of Botany Bay Colony (social networking sites)

The Australian Anti-Transportation League was formed in 1850 to lobby the government for a permanent moratorium on the transport of convicts to the colonies, and so transports to Tasmania ceased by 1853. But convicts continued to be transported in small numbers to Western Australia, and the last ship carrying convicts from England arrived To Western Australia by 1868.


About 164,000 convicts were transported to the Australian colonies between 1788 and 1868 on 806 ships, made up of English and Welsh (70%), Irish (24%) and Scots (5%), the remaining 1% being convicts from British outposts In India and Canada, Maoris from New Zealand, Chinese from Hong Kong, and slaves from the Caribbean.

Between 1788 and 1852, there were about 24,000 transferees who were women, or one in seven, and 80% of them were convicted of theft.

Nearly 3,600 political prisoners were also transferred to the Australian colonies, many arriving during periods of political unrest in Britain and Ireland.

It is noteworthy that most of the convicts remained in Australia and joined the "Free Settlers" after serving their sentences, and some of them rose to prominent positions in Australian society, yet the conviction remained a societal stigma that befell their children and grandchildren.

But with the advent of the twentieth century, society became more accepting of them, to the point that some current Australians feel proud if they discover that their origins go back to a convict. It is reported that about 20% of contemporary Australians, in addition to two million Britons, are of these origins.

The last of the transferred convicts

It is believed that Samuel Speed ​​was the last of the transported convicts alive.

He was born in Birmingham in 1841, and was transferred to Western Australia in 1866 after committing the crime of deliberately setting fire to a haystack.

He was released on parole in 1869, and received a certificate of freedom two years later.

Speed ​​worked in construction, was not convicted of any further crimes, and died in Perth in 1938.

The era of condemnation was a source of inspiration for many writers and novelists, most notably the English novelist Charles Dickens. Many writers and historians also studied the impact of that era on the Australian national character.

Source: websites