Setting the scene
‘Farewell to olde England forever
Farewell to my olde pals as well
Farewell to the well known Old Bailey
Where I once used to look such a swell.
Singing Too-ral Li-ooral li-ad-dity
Singing too-ral li-ooral li-ay
Singing too-ral li-ooral li-ad-dity
And we’re bound for Botany Bay!’
(From a song of the ‘first fleeters’ who sailed from England to Australia in 1787 see http://firstfleet.uow.edu.au/s_ballad.html)
They were unusual times. British law was harsh. The death penalty was handed down for convictions as slight as petty theft.
As time went on, many judges became increasingly uneasy about sentencing to death those convicted of relatively petty crimes.
In fact, in 1800, Sir Samuel Riley declared that ‘there is probably no other country in the world in which so many and so great a variety of human actions are punishable with loss of life than in England.’ (Quoted in 1788, David Hill, William Heinemann Australia, p.8)
Transportation to America
The merciful alternative was to reduce the sentences to ‘transportation’, where the convicted criminal would be shipped off to one of Britain’s colonies, rather than be ‘launched into the next world.’
It sounds like an unusual solution to us now, but back in the 18th century it was the English solution to the unpleasant problem of dealing with the unruly and lawless!
Up until the revolutionary war, the American colonies were considered the perfect place for such convicts. And the English Judges, reluctant to so easily send people to their death, sent some 40,000 convicts to America instead.
However, a new option was now necessary, and a new community would be settled in a very far off place.
For the second installment of this story click here
© 2010 Church History Blog / Lex Loizides