The number of years that Britain transported convicts to Australia. By the time of the last ship in 1868, some 165,000 had been sent to the far-flung penal colony.
Starting with the First Fleet’s landing in early 1788, the British government sent around 165,000 convicts to penal colonies in Australia. It was hoped that transportation would relieve prison overcrowding, which had become so bad that old ships, or hulks, had to be used as disease-ridden and cramped floating jails. Yet the prospect of being carted off to the other side of the world was no more appealing to those sentenced for a petty crime, mostly theft. The journey took months and, once there, prisoners laboured in gangs with the scorching sun and their guards’ discipline beating down on them. Yet, in spite of the tough conditions, many chose to stay in Australia after serving their time. As settlement grew in the 19th century, so did opposition to transportation. In Australia, the concern was that convicts took work from free people, while back in Britain the arguments focused on the expense of a punishment that had failed to deter crime. Under increased pressure, the government ceased transportation to New South Wales in 1840, although it continued to other areas. The voyage of the last convict ship, the Hougoumont, did not end until January 1868, almost 80 years to the day after the First Fleet’s arrival.