History Revealed - - FROM THE EDITOR -

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.

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