Page 1- Contents
Page 2,3 - Reason for Convict Transportation &
Page 5,6 – Conditions Aboard Convict Ships
Page 7 – Role Of Convicts
Page 8 – Good Behaviour: Ticket Of Leave
Page 9 – Women Convicts & Female Factories
Page 10 – Bibliography
REASON FOR CONVICT
Convict transportation emerged
in 1717 as British prisons
became unbearably overcrowded
- a situation worsened by
Americas refusal to no longer
accept convicts post the
American Revolution in 1783.
Likewise, the nations crime rates
(mainly petty theft, counterfeiting
coins and clandestine marriage)
upsurged, while mass population
movement from rural areas to
industrial cities occurred, where
unemployment ran high, as
machines replaced man power.
Britain had looked at numerous
geographical areas with regard
to establishing penal colonies.
The west coast of Africa
appeared promising, however it
was later deemed unviable as the
waters were particularly
dangerous and the risk of
convict escape was high.
Additionally, early contact of
indigenous populations revealed
that the coast could be bellicose,
therefore it would be imprudent
to settle as a penal colony.
Concurrently, aboriginals in
Australia were seldom seen, and
those who were seen were of
‘friendly nature’. British Convict Ships
“The Botany Bay Debate” argues that the British settled in Australia
with regard to the possibility of acquiring resources, the need to
protect trade routes with China, and in order to consolidate Cook’s
possession of the continent for Britain. Regardless the debate, there is
no doubt that the need to relocate the burgeoning convict population
was the reason which prevailed over others.
Between 1788 and 1868, 165,000 convicts were transported from
Britain to Australia. Transportation was an alternative to the death
penalty and therefore applied to the more serious crimes including
arson and highway robbery. Murderers and rapists, reprieved from
hanging, we among those transported. However, the majority of
convicts were political protestors, poachers, rioters, advocates of Irish
Home Rule or Trade Unionism and petty thieves. It was common for
those whom committed trivial of dubious offences to be sentenced
merely to generate cheap labour.
The average sentence was 7 or 14 years, however in rare cases, the
sentence could last till death. There was no procedure for convicts to
return to Britain after the sentence expired. Prisoners were sent to
remote areas to prevent escape and discourage their return. Only a
handful ever returned to Britain, despite the varying lengths of their
Aboriginals in Botany Bay
Convicts were housed below decks, restrained in shackles and
chains, and often further confined bars. Fresh air and exercise
was limited, although not totally deprived as convicts were
needed for labour.
Although the convicts of the first fleet arrived healthy, many of
the convicts that followed were a subject of cruelty, harsh
discipline, and diagnosed with scurvy, dysentery and typhoid
which resulted in a huge loss of life.
As the 19th century progressed, conditions began to improve. By
the 1840s, the routine was more enlightened. Surgeons were no
longer in the pay of the ship’s master and their sole
responsibility was the well being of convicts. Ship charterers
were additionally paid a bonus for the safe landing of convicts.
John Acton Wroth, a literate convict described the ship layout as
“…bunks along either side of the deck, each separated from its
neighbour by a ten inch high board. Four berths of the lower and
upper tiers formed a mess, constructed so that four men could
sit round a table. The men occupying mid ship slept in
hammocks, slung up each night over the tables. Younger men
had these. Each bed had a mattress, pillow and two blankets. The
hammock had two blankets only.”
Convict quarters aboard
convict ship “Success”.
Convicts were provided with cooking and eating utensils, tin pint
mugs, spoons and one wooden eight pint tin referred to as a ‘hub’. A
knife and fork were issued each meal, although were immediately
collected after to prevent possible rebellion – e.g an attack on crew
If convicts disobeyed or misbehaved they were disciplined through
whipping. In later days, they would get ‘boxed’ – put in a small
confined space in the bows, in which a man could neither lie down nor
DAILY ROUTINE ABOARD CONVICT SHIPS – LINCELLES, 1862
4:00AM – Prisoner cooks admitted on deck.
6:00AM – One half of prisoners admitted for a ‘washing of their person’.
7:30AM – Ship company to commence washing upper decks and water closets.
8:00AM - Breakfast
8:30AM – One man admitted from each mess to wash their mess (cutlery) utensils.
9:00AM – All prisoners admitted on deck with the exception of the men in each mess
who in turn, will clean and scrape dry the prison deck and bottom boards.
9:30AM – Prison inspected after which all the prisoners will be assembled on deck
10:00AM – One half of the prisoners sent on deck for exercise. The other half are
arranged in schools under the superintendence of the Religious Instructor assisted
11:30AM – School to break up.
12:00PM – Dinner
12:30PM – One man from each mess to wash their mess (cutlery) utensils.
1:20PM – Deck to be swept up.
1:30PM – Half the prisoners to be admitted on deck. The remainder are arranged in
4:00PM – Down all beds and hammocks.
4:30PM – Supper
5:00PM – One man from each mess to wash their mess (cutlery) utensils.
6:30PM – Prayers
7:00PM – Petty officers of the day and night muster on deck.
8:00PM – Down all prisoners.
9:00PM – Rounds
Upon arrival, convicts immediately began work on infrastructure
projects and farming. The first jobs involved clearing land and
using the wood as building materials. Shrubs and bushes were
cleared to prepare the ground for tilling and planting. Land clearing
was strenuous work and the unsuitability of the English tools for
Australia’s rocky soil made it even harder.
Some of the convicts were assigned as servants of free settlers or
officers. As the colony developed, the convicts worked in more
skilled areas such as smithing or trade. Renowned architect, Francis
Greenway was a convict, as was an unknown other who was given
permission to establish the colony’s first newspaper.
Others were eventually presented with land grants, where they
became farmers, transmen, entrepreneurs or professionals. Few
returned to England, as it was expensive, but primarily because of
the poverty they were forced to endure back home.
TICKET OF LEAVE
Well behaved convicts could qualify for a
Ticket of Leave, Certificate of Freedom,
Conditional Pardon, or even an Absolute
Pardon. This allowed convicts to work
independently. However, for the period of
their sentence they were still subject to
surveillance and the ticket could be
withdrawn for misbehaviour.
These licenses were primarily developed
to save money, but later became a
central part of the convict system which
provided the model of later systems of
probation for prisoners. Governor King
(1800-1804) first gave Tickets of Leave to
any convict who appeared capable and
independent. The tickets were later used
as a reward for good behaviour and
special service. Gentlemen convicts
were issued with tickets upon their
arrival in the colony, although Governor
Macquarie (1810-1821) later ordered that
a convict must serve a minimum of three
years to be eligible.
Governor Brisbane (1821-1825) ruled the
regulations for eligibility as – convicts
that were normally sentenced seven year
terms could qualify for a Ticket of Leave
after four years, while those serving 14
years could quality after six years, and
‘lifers’ after 10 years. Those who failed
eligibility were entitled to a Certificate of
Freedom on the completion of their term.
TICKET OF LEAVE
Parramatta Female Factory
Upon arrival in the colony, female convicts were directly sent to the
female factory. Females were housed nearby and went to the factory
every day for work. Many remained a day or so before being assigned
to settlers to work as domestic servants, others didn’t even survive
The government encouraged marriage between convicts as it was
seen as a means of rehabilitation and more desirable that a de facto
relationship. Many women were married shortly after arrival. The idea
was that a man seeking a convict wife must apply for one. They were
lined up at the factory and the man would drop a scarf of handkerchief
at the feet of the woman of his choice. If she picked it up, the marriage
was virtually immediate.
Although some convict women were classed as prostitutes, others
had domestic service in England and were transported for stealing
from their employers or from shops. After arrival, many were forced to
take up prostitution to survive and the system of selection of servants
often meant that gentry and officers would choose the pretty, young
convicts. Those who were hardened and troublesome were sent back
to the female factory.
Children of convict women either stayed with their mothers, were
employed at the female factory or were moved to an orphanage.
The first female factory was built in Parramatta, New South Wales in
1804 and initially consisted of a single long room with a fire place for
the women to cook on. Women and girls made rope, span and carded
wool. Their accommodation was basic, and their provided food was
the bear minimum to survive on. In time, the work in the female
factory became less difficult and needlework and laundry became
their main duties.
In 1828, a female factory, now known as the Cascades Female Factory
was built in Hobart where women and girls were directly transported
to from Sydney or England.
A Concise History of Australia by Stuart Mcintyre
The Making Of Australia: A Concise History by