With the increase of crime and overflowing jails in the early 1700s, the British were forced to admit that the current punishments were not acting as a deterrent to criminals. As a means to physcially remove offenders from the country and with the hopes that in a new environment they will be rehabilitated, the Transportation Act of 1718 was passed and henceforth formally instigated transportation as a form of punishment.
Originally the criminals sentenced to transportation in England were all sent to North America. This practice continued throughout the 1700s until the American War of Independence (1775 – 1783) which caused hostility between Britain and America and resulted in convict transportation coming to a halt.
Britain once again found themselves with the same problem that they started with. Amid increasing jail populations, criminals were placed onboard old ships (hulks) which had been converted into floating prisons. The hulks were cramped and incredibly unhygenic and because of these conditions many prisoners contracted diseases and often died. It was not long however before these too reached capacity.
The answer lay in the discovery of new land. The East Coast of Australia had been mapped by Captain Cook in 1770 but it wasn’t until 1786 that the British government decided to use the land and start a penal colony in New South Wales.
From this beginning, hundreds and thousands of convicts were transported to New South Wales, Tasmania, Queensland and Western Australia until transportation ceased in 1868. The convicts were a poor and often illiterate group of people who were mainly convicted of theft. They arrived in a country very far from their homeland and were almost immediately put to work. Not only did they provide cheap labour for the free settlers, they also built many roads and buildings in colonial Australia. After serving a certain amount of time, the convicts obtained a Ticket of Leave. With this Ticket many went on to make a life for themselves in Australia and became respectable citizens.
There are three such convicts in my family tree:
Enoch Pearson Barratt
Enoch Pearson Barratt was convicted of stealing and receiving stolen goods from his employer on 12 May 1851. He was sentenced to ten years transportation and on 1 August 1852, he arrived in Western Australia. His family followed him a few years later and after being pardoned in 1856, he started selling various plants. In spite of his initial criminal record, he eventually worked for the Western Australian Government and became a respected citizen of Perth. For more detailed information on the life of Enoch, please click here.
William George Linto
William George Linto was convicted in Bridgewater, England on 3 July 1849 for stealing a hive of bees. He arrived in Western Australia on 17 May 1851 and eventually went on to live in the town of York with his wife (who he married in 1856) and his children.
Ephraim Digby was 15 years old when he was convicted on 9 January 1822 for stealing four pounds of beef from a butcher. While in the shop, a little girl had noticed him taking the meat and once apprehended outside, Ephraim denied stealing it and claimed that he had found it. He was sentenced to transportation for seven years and arrived in Tasmania on 9 April 1825. Ephraim obtained his Certificate of Freedom on 17 January 1829 and eventually married and had children. He continued to live in Tasmania for the rest of his life working as a farmer and then a bootmaker.
Ancestry.com.au – Australian Convict Index, 1788-1868 [database on-line].
Ancestry.com.au – Australian Convict Transportation Registers – Other Fleets & Ships, 1791-1868 [database on-line].
Ancestry.com.au – England & Wales, Criminal Registers, 1791-1892 [database on-line].