Australian History: Convicts

During the period between 1788 and 1868, about 160,000 convicts were sent to Australia. What happened to them when they got to Australia depended on their skills or education, how they behaved themselves and some luck. The First Fleet carried 780 British convicts who landed in Botany Bay, New South Wales. Two more convict fleets arrived in 1790 and 1791, and the first free settlers didn' arrived until 1793. During this period, the colony of New South Wales was officially a penal colony comprising mainly of convicts, marines and the wives of the marines.

ConvictsWho were the convicts? - The majority of the 165,000 convicts transported to Australia were poor and illiterate, victims of the Poor Laws and social conditions in Georgian England. Eight out of ten prisoners were convicted for larceny of some description.



SiriusLow on food - Just after landing the food situation in the colony became scarce as the land wasn't fertile enough to produce any food yet. As a precaution, Governor Phillip sent the Sirius to the Cape of Good Hope where flour and other food were availbale.


Certificate of FreedomGood Behaviour - Good behaviour meant that convicts rarely served their full term and could qualify for a "Ticket of Leave", Certificate of Freedom, Conditional Pardon or even an Absolute Pardon.


Women ConvictsWomen Convicts - Twenty per cent of these first convicts were women. The majority of women convicts, and many free women seeking employment, were sent to the 'female factories' as unassigned women. Convict women were regarded as low-id, foul mouthed and having no morals, nevertheless on arrival, they were lined up for inspection so that free settlers could choose them as servants, housekeepers, wives and mistresses.


Convict BoysBoys - The early convicts were all sent to Botany Bay, but by the early 1800s they were also being sent directly to destinations such as Norfolk Island, Van Diemen's Land, Port Macquarie and Moreton Bay.


Hume and HovellEnd of Transportation - By the end of the 1830s many people in England and Australia thought that transporation should be stopped.


Thomas MitchellPort Arthur - The Pyderrairme people were the traditional owners of the area that is now known as Port Arthur. Middens and other cultural sites remain from many thousands of years of occupation. Port Arthur penal station was established in 1830 as a timber-getting camp, producing sawn logs for government projects.