Transportation of Convicts to Australia

In the eighteenth century transportation of convicts to overseas penal colonies proved a convenient and cost effective method of dealing with convicted criminals, the labour of the colonists helping to pay for the system. With the loss of the North American penal colonies after the War of Independence the government housed convicts under sentence of transportation in disused warships known as prison hulks.

As the transportation convict numbers grew overcrowding on the hulks became unacceptable even by the standards of the day and the government decided to establish a new penal colony in New South Wales, Australia. The first fleet of prison ships arrived in January 1788 with, marine guards, free settlers and 778 convicts.

The dependants of the convicts under sentence of transportation often petitioned the Home Office for the sentence to be changed to a prison term in Britain as it was only a minority of transported convicts who returned home. The system continued until 1868 by which time about 162,000 convicts had been transported to Australia.

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Text and documentation supplied by Powys County Council Archive Department