After the Declaration of Independence in 1776 America no longer accepted criminals who were sentenced by English courts to transportation. However Australia looked a good bet and over the following 80 years some 160,000 convicted criminals found themselves dumped on the inhospitable shores of England’s Australian colonies.
Britain started converting old merchant ships and naval vessels into floating prisons known as hulks. Many of these were on the River Thames. Convicts often spent many months on the hulks before being transported.
The sentence of transportation was usually carried out in three parts: prisoners started their sentence in the local gaol, followed by a period in a convict gaol or on the prison hulks before finally being transported.
A list of Sentences of Transportation compiled by the Friends of the East Sussex Record Office includes the names of nearly 250 men and nearly 40 women from Brighton sent to Australia before transportation to New South Wales and Van Dieman’s land came to an end. (Convicts continued to go to Western Australia until 1868.) The most usual sentence was for seven years, but for some it was ten or twelve years and for a few it was life. The Brighton transportees included a boy of eight in 1847 and another of eleven in 1852. Both of these were sentenced to seven years, like the majority of adult male and female convicts, though 19 of the men and three of the women received life sentences. Transportation for life meant just that. For many years (though not in fact after 1835) it was a capital offence to attempt to return to England.
In April 1839 Sophia Clifton, aged 17, and Olive King, aged 16, were charged in the local courts with the theft of a Brighton Workhouse uniform (the clothing they were wearing after absconding) and the attempted theft of alternative clothing valued at 7s. They were found guilty on both counts and transported to Australia for 14 years. Young girls were sent to the colonies for long periods in the hope that they would remain and become brides for convict labour who had completed their sentences. In Sophia’s case she was married within 6 months of arriving in New South Wales.
I have no idea how these poor souls from Sussex fared in Australia but many did very well.
Tony Robinson Down Under – Transportation
Our Convict Past – Part 1
Escape from Australia: a convict’s tale