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Extract from an official note on convicts in Australia, 1849
(Catalogue ref: HO 45/2828)
  • This letter comes from prison officials in Australia in 1849. The letter was sent to Earl Grey, the Home Secretary, in Britain. The Home Secretary was in charge of prisons. The letter was almost certainly meant to be read by officials of the Home Office rather than by Earl Grey himself.
  • The source shows us one of the thousands of letters that went out concerning prisoners in Australia. The British first started setting up colonies in Australia in the 1780s. The first convict settlement was in Sydney, New South Wales, in 1788. By the mid 1800s over 150,000 convicts had been transported.
  • After they had served their sentence (or part of their sentence, if they behaved well) prisoners were entitled to go home on a ticket of leave. However, Australia was so under-populated that the government tried to convince most prisoners to stay. The government also thought that the convicts would be less likely to return to crime if they stayed in Australia.
  • The various prisons mentioned (Parkhurst, Pentonville etc) were prisons in Australia that were named after prisons in Britain.
  • Van Diemen's Land was the island that is now called Tasmania. As a general rule, the most dangerous criminals served their sentences there.
  • For many years the non-convict settlers welcomed the convicts and used them as labour. However, by the mid 1800s some were beginning to feel that there were too many convicts. Transportation of convicts stopped soon after this letter was written.
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