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Crime and PunishmentTransportation Return to the main page
Case Study 1 - What were the pros and cons of transportation as a form of punishment? Task Glossary

Transportation had been used as a form of punishment since 1717. Under the "Bloody Code" (See Gallery Crime 1750-1900), courts were looking for a punishment which was not as extreme as hanging, but tougher than a fine. In the absence of proper prisons, transportation seemed the answer and was used for over a hundred years. In the 18th century convicts were transported to America. After US independence in 1776, however, this option was closed and the British government looked for another destination. Australia had been mapped and claimed as British territory in 1770, so convicts began to be sent there. From 1787 to 1857, 162,000 British convicts were transported to Australia. Seven out of eight of these were males; some were as young as nine or ten; some were over eighty. Many political prisoners were transported, including Luddites, Chartists, the Tolpuddle Martyrs and Irish Nationalists.

They were sent first to the "hulks" -disused warships. Conditions on these rotting vessels were often terrible, with death rates of one in three. The long voyage to Australia could take six months. Many lives were lost among the convicts, locked in iron cages below decks in insanitary conditions, although by the end of the transportation era more care was taken and loss of life on the voyage was minimised.

Once in Australia, convicts lived in barracks and worked in gangs, building roads and bridges or working on farms or quarries. Some were sent out to work for farmers. If they behaved themselves, their sentence could be reduced by a "ticket of leave." The majority of convicts decided to stay in Australia at the end of their sentences, recognising that they could make a better life there than returning to Britain and, probably, poverty and crime.

By the mid-19th century, however, opinion was turning against transportation. The "Bloody Code" had ended. It seemed wrong to offer convicts a free passage to build a new life in Australia when some people were paying to go. Removing criminals to another land did not seem to have had any effect on the crime-rate. Prisons were now considered a better method of punishing and/or reforming criminals (see Case Study 2 and Case Study 3) and many new ones were being built. Most of all, Australians began to object strongly to their country being used as a dumping-ground for Britain's criminals.

Transportation ended in 1857.
Case Study 1 Sources Source 1 Source 3 Source 2 Source 4 Source 5 Source 6