Transportation – Victorian Crime and Punishment

Last Updated: 07 Dec 2022
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Since the 1660’s, the British government had been ridding Britain of rebels and criminals they no longer wanted in the country. This method of punishment was typically known as transportation. This involved sending the convicts to another country to commit hard labour and to live in deserved difficult conditions. Since the 1660s, the main transportation location from Britain was to the American colonies. However, when the American colonies had won their independence, transportation to there stopped suddenly.

This created trouble for British convicts, as they desperately needed a new place to put the criminals; their prisons and hulks were becoming too overcrowded. Australia was then chosen as the main settlement because it at that time had recently been discovered (1770) so it would be deserted and available for labour. One of the reasons why authorities started using transportation as a punishment was to provide an alternative to hanging. Whilst the Bloody Code was present as the law, the majority of the public believed that hanging was too extreme, especially for minor crimes.

They felt that having the same cruel punishment for a minor and major crime was a ridiculous rule. Juries would often not convict people and judges would find excuses not to hang people. As hanging was out of the question, another punishment that was not as cruel as the death penalty needed to be made; transportation being a suitable consequence for criminals and rebels as it still acted as a punishment because of the labour, and it didn’t have the intention of killing people.

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During the 1660’s, there were very few prisons and building new ones would cost authorities a lot. This also created another reason for transportation to become a new punishment, as it would give criminals a place to stay that wouldn’t cost the British authorities. Another reason why transportation started was because it was a satisfactory method to reform the criminals; thought better than prisons. The criminals would learn skills from the forced work that would benefit their future as a person.

This reason was the least important reason behind transportation but it still worked upon the criminals. These criminals were thought to lead law-abiding lives after their release than criminals from prison. Transportation was a good deterrent as Australia was still an unknown country. The government hoped that the idea of being sent to the ‘edge of the world’ would terrify people and therefore put them off from breaking the law. Sending criminals off to Australia was also a way to get rid of criminals in Britain.

This would reduce the crime rate and the number of criminals in the country. Sending British criminals off to Australia also helped the settlement and development of Australia as part of the British Empire. Transportation helped Britain to claim Australia for their empire. This would stop France and other rivals gaining whatever resources Australia had. From the 1800’s onwards, transportation started to lose it usefulness it once had. One reason being the Gaol’s Act in 1823 led by Fry and Peel.

This movement led prisons become more suitable places as they were improved by better treatment of criminals and better living conditions. This gave the opportunity of criminals from now on being sent to prison instead of Australia as there were myriad reasons why transportation was becoming an issue. One reason being that the transport was costing ?0. 5 million per year and seeing as there were more prisons built, it cost them less money so keeping the criminals in the country was saving the authorities funds.

Also, many of the ex-convicts reformed and were now living peacefully and finding work in Australia. The free settlers in Australia started to set up societies within Australia protesting against Britain ‘dumping’ convicts in their country. Wages were also higher in Australia than in Britain once a prisoner had won their ticket of leave. By the 1860’s, Australia was well established as a secure part of the British Empire so they no longer needed to make their claim over it as no other country would be able to.

Overall, transportation started because of the many factors that lead the British authorities to sought out another punishment that was still effective but not as harsh as the death penalty. Factors such as hanging being too harsh, a new form of a deterrent and reformation for criminals. Also to claim the newly discovered land, Australia, for the British Empire. Whereas, transportation was seized because of Australia becoming more and more developed, it was not lowering the crime rates in Britain and prisons became more useful to use because it was cheaper for the British government and they were under more control.

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Transportation – Victorian Crime and Punishment. (2016, Jul 18). Retrieved from

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