Transportation in the British Empire

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Transportation was a viable avenue for England to rid itself of criminals. Many individuals and complete families where transported, first, to the American colonies and then to Australia and its surrounding islands of Van Diemen’s Land. Through this type of punishment the United Kingdom hoped to rid itself of variants and to begin colonization of a new colony in a distant land in hopes of further expanding the empire. By expanding the empire through transportation these convicts brought with them traditions and customs familiar to them, some positive and some negative.

In 1718 the Parliament passed the Transportation Acts, it did not begin the practice of transportation; rather it regulated the act itself.[1] After this regulation many more convicts were transported to the American colonies to serve their time as indentured servants for up to seven years in lieu of being burned or flogged.[2] Many of the convicts committed to transport were of the criminal type, those accused of crimes of petty thefts. Yet there were also a group of individuals that were a threat to the kingdom; political prisoners speaking out against the crown. They too were shipped out of London, Luddites, food rioters, radical weavers, Swing rioters all were transported in hopes of preventing them in becoming martyrs to their cause[3]

By 1787 the Empire had lost control of the American colonies and a new venue had to be located to continue the practice of transportation. So on May 13, 1787, on eleven ships, 776 prisoners set course for an eight month voyage to the new frontier land of Australia.[4] Australia would be the new destination for all transport convicts till the end of transportation in 1853. And during this time frame, nearly 145,000 men and women would be sent to Australia as punishment for their crimes.[5] If they had survived the grueling eight month trip, convicts would serve out their sentence by working on a government plantation or leased out to a private landowner that had ventured to Australia in search of a new beginning. In essence the empire was beginning to expand its reaches to new corners of the world and soon it would begin to transform this desolate land to one of prosperity. With a high influx of convicts, some with valuable traits, Australia would begin to morph into a viable colony. A colony not only viewed as place for convicts but one which would begin to attract individuals in hope of a better life than in Britain.

One man can be contributed to the building, and the structuring of South Wales. Governor Lachlan Macquarie brought vast knowledge with him after serving in India. Under his guidance the death rate on transport ships was reduced, allowed convicts with marketable traits to perform in similar capacities and began to wean the colony of its dependence of the United Kingdom for its survival.[6] Central to Macquarie’s plan was his implementation of Hyde Park Barracks, in which convicts with valuable craftsman skill would be located. With a vast surplus in skilled, labor free convicts Macquarie began to build an infrastructure in South Wales that would be essential for the colony to prosper. Drawing upon the technological advancements of the industrial revolution Sydney began to erect buildings essential to its survival. Here we see the benefits of a British engine, utilizing its technological superiority to lay a foundation, for present tenants and for future inhabitants, to survive while isolated away from home. Macquarie established towns near the Blue Mountains nestled on the banks of the Hawkesbury River, which were rich in agriculture and developed another vital staple to the growth of Australia, wool. Wool was essential to Australia because it had unique characteristics. It would not spoil while in storage, low in bulk thus easy to transport and it was in dire need in Europe.[7] Additionally, the meat produced by sheep would provide food for the people of the colonies, further...
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