Convicts and Penal Colonies

No one knows for certain why the British government decided to make a settlement in Australia. Life in 18th century Britain was harsh and many people were very poor and had no government help. To survive, many turned to crime resulting in jails becoming overcrowded. In fact, the prisons were so overcrowded that old ships called hulks were moored in rivers and turned into jails.

On 13 May 1787, the British Government sent a fleet of 11 ships under the command of Captain Arthur Phillip to start a colony in New Holland (Australia) at Botany Bay. Six of these ships were convict transports carrying a total of 756 convicts. About 200 of these convicts were women.

Between 1777 and 1868, the British Government shipped approximately 165,000 convicts to Australia. These convicts were imprisoned in a strange land more than 22,000 kilometers from their home. If they wanted to return home at the end of their sentences, they had to pay the fare themselves. Most convicts could not afford it.

Sheppard, B 2001, Convicts, Echidna Books, Melbourne, pp. 4-5.

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On the shelves

Library archives

  • Court trials: the whole proceedings held at the Justice Hall, Old Bailey, 1824 to 1826

Reference resources

Subject encyclopedia - Held in the Library archives

The Australian Encyclopedia. In the 6th edition, published in 1996, you will find information in the following volume

  • Convicts and Transportation: Vol. 3. pp. 866-874.
  • Macquarie Harbour. Vol.5 p.1995
  • Norfolk Island. Vol.6 p.2259-226
  • Port Macquarie. Vol.6 p.2470

Women Convicts

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You can find material from newspapers, journals, diaries, people and organisations, pictures, photographs and objects, and best of all, Trove is yours, created and maintained by the National Library of Australia


Penal Colonies

Use this information to help you with Assessment Task 1 - Convict Life Essay.

Isle of the Dead
Moreton Bay
Norfolk Island
Point Puer
Port Arthur
Port Macquarie
Sarah Island

Isle of the Dead

The Isle of the Dead holds the stories of many of the people of Port Arthur – in life and death.

Port Arthur’s tiny cemetery island is the final resting place for more than 1000 convicts, military and civil officers, women and children, who were buried here between 1833 and 1877. The Isle of the Dead has two separate burial sections – convicts were laid to rest in mostly unmarked graves at the island’s southern end, while the higher northern end was reserved for free and military burials, marked by headstones. The anonymity of the convicts was somewhat redressed after 1850, when some convict graves were given headstones.

Port Arthur, 2021.

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Moreton Bay

The first European settlement in what is now the Australian state of Queensland was a penal colony at Moreton Bay. Established in 1824, the Moreton Bay Penal Settlement was intended to be stricter than the original penal colony at Sydney. The convicts housed at Moreton Bay were considered to be so dangerous that colonization of the region was forbidden until the penal settlement was closed in 1839.

Britannica, 2021.

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Norfolk Island

Introduction

There have been three distinct periods of occupation since 1788.  The first, commencing soon after the Foundation, was the establishment of a penal colony under the command of Lieutenant King, which was subsequently abandoned in 1814.

First Fleet Fellowship Victoria, Inc.

On the shelves

Reference Material

Subject encyclopedia

The Australian Encyclopedia In the 6th edition, published in 1996, you will find information in the following volume:

  • Norfolk Island. Vol.6 p.2259-226

eReserve

From the Australian Geographic:

Web Resources

Point Puer

In November 1833 the Executive Council of Van Diemen's Land recommended that a boy's prison was to be established on the coast of the Tasmanian Peninsula. On January 10, 1834, 68 boys arrived from Hobart Town to take up residence.

When reading any of the material in our archives or in eReserve you should remember to take into account when and why the articles or the books were written. Peter MacFie and Nigel Hargraves point out John West's description of Point Puer as 'an oasis in the desert of penal government' has been uncritically repeated by some later historians". (MacFie, Hargraves, 1991)

MacFie, Hargraves, 1991, 'The Empire's first stolen generation: the first intake at Point Puer 1834-39' Tasmanian Historical Studies, vol 6, no. 2, p. 19.

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eReserve

The Point Puer Convicts' list is from the work of Peter MacFie and Nigel Hargraves, 2000. Point Puer Boy Convicts’ Establishment Van Diemen's Land [Tasmania]. The first 68 boys, January 1834 (Includes: an appendix of names, index, sources). The Mary MacKillop copy of this document was generously provided by Mr. Nigel Hargraves (April 2012).

Fiction

Web Resources

  • Extract from Becoming Tasmania Provides information on the establishment and includes statistics on the boys kept at Point Puer
  • Point Puer - The companion to Tasmanian History
  • Founders & Survivors Here you can search by name, or convict or police number, if you have it, to locate additional information about the each boy convict.


Port Arthur

Introduction

The Port Arthur Penal Settlement was named in honour of Lt-Governor George Arthur and began life in 1830 as a punishment-oriented station. With the progressive addition of further industries, tailored for heavy and light labour, Port Arthur held a key position within the colony's judicial system until its closure in 1877.

Port Arthur Settlement, in The Companion to Tasmanian History

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YouTube

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Port Macquarie

Named after the Governor of NSW, Lachlan Macquarie, the first visitors were convicts sent to the Port Macquarie penal settlement in 1821 to serve time for secondary offences. The town was built by those convicts and overseen by military officers of the 48th Regiment. Port Macquarie was opened up to free settlers from 1830 and remained a convict town until 1847.

Discover Greater Port Macquarie, 2021.

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Sarah Island

Introduction

The Sarah Island Historic Site is Tasmania's oldest convict settlement, operating from 1822 to 1833 and is located inside Macquarie Harbour.

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eReserve 

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Individual Convicts

Use this information to help you with Assessment Task 2 - Faces of Van Diemen's Land

eReserve
Convict Names A-Z

Convict Names A-Z

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