Transportation: Australia bound

convicts sent to australiaI am often drawn to matters in history when writing my books, more recently regarding the transportation of UK convicts to Australia.

Most people are aware that during the late 18th and 19th centuries UK felons were transported to Australia to what was known as Botany Bay and what became modern day Australia.

Some even believe that the term pom comes from the initials ‘POHM’ stamped on clothing and equipment used by English convicts. It meant Prisoner Of His/Her Majesty and marked out felons transported to Australia.

Searching for relatives amongst British convicts sent to Australia in your family tree has become somewhat the ‘norm’, and there is a wealth of resources to help you do this.

The history 

The thirteen colonies as they were originally known were the New England colonies along the Eastern sea board of what became the United States of America.

Emigrants to these colonies from the British Isles were not only free men and women but often indentured servants and individuals transported for criminal offences which had the useful effect not only of increasing the population of the youthful colony but also removing them from England’s shores.

Convicts were transported from as early as the 1610’s until the American Revolution in the 1770’s.  The number of convicts transported to North America is thought to be by some authorities 50,000 individuals although it has also been put as high as over 100,000 individuals.

Those transported included not only convicts but also individuals taken as prisoners in battle from Ireland and Scotland some of whom were even sold as slaves to the Southern States of America.

The American Revolutionary War brought transportation to America to an end and the British Government was forced to look elsewhere which is why from 1787 convicts were transported to Australia which continued until it was officially ended in 1868, although it had become uncommon some years before that.

Convict Transportation Registers 1788-1868 from include some notable figures:

  • 39% of male and 35% of female convicts had no prior convictions
  • 70% were English, 24% Irish, 5% Scottish and 1% from other parts of the Empire
  • The oldest convict transported was over 60 years of age and the youngest just nine years old
  • 85% were male and 15% female
  • The majority of convicts were illiterate and convicted for crimes of poverty (theft)
  • When transportation ended, 40% of Australia’s English speaking population were convicts

When the last shipment of convicts disembarked in Western Australia in 1868, more than 160,000 convicts had been transported to the continent.

‘Prince of pickpockets’

The journey to Australia by boat took eight months and the majority of the convicts were men. Although a small number had been found guilty of serious crimes such as murder and assault, most had committed minor offences.

Among the thousands of convicts detailed in the collection are a number of infamous criminals including Israel Chapman, a highwayman who later became one of New South Wales’s first police detectives.

The journey of George Barrington – the so-called ‘prince of pickpockets’ – is also there. He was a gentleman thief who received an absolute pardon in 1796 after helping to quell a mutiny during the voyage.

Do you have a distant relative descending from these times of transportation?


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