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Convict Life And Punishments In Australia

1507 words - 6 pages

Who were the Convicts?The late 18th century was a period of immense social and political change. In Britain the industrial revolution had driven thousands of country folk below the poverty line to the cities. This created a new underclass dependent on crime which resulted in the prisons overflowing. In 1787 the British government urgently needed a solution to the problems of the growing prison population. They came up with a solution to send the prisoners to Botany Bay, Australia. It wasn't the ideal choice as the place had only been glimpsed once on Captain Cook's expedition and the 15,000 mile voyage would take over 8 months. Nevertheless between 1788 1868, 165,000 British and Irish convicts made the journey to the unknown land, Australia.The Majority of the 165,000 convicts transported to Australia were poor and illiterate victims of Poor Laws and Social conditions. 8 out of 10 convicts were convicted for some kind of theft. The average age of the convicts was 26, which included children ho were either convicted of crimes or just making the journey with their mothers. 15% of the convicts were women or 1 woman for every 6 people. During the first 40 years of transportation convicts were sentenced to terms of 7 years, 10 years and life. However they could be pardoned earlier if they were exceptionally well behaved. A man with a seven year sentence could apply for his ticket of leave after four years of proven good behaviour; a man sentenced to 14 years could do so after 6 years and a man sentenced to life could apply after 8 years. Sentences could also be shortened through exceptional services such as spying on his mates or catching an escapee.Convict LifeConvict life was harsh, it was neither pleasant nor easy. The work was hard, discipline was severe, accommodation was rough and the food was unappetising let alone adequate, many convicts found relief in alcohol. However the sense of community offered small comforts when convicts met up with their mates back home or who had been transported on the same ship for example.Male convicts were brought ashore a day or so after their convoy landed arrival. They were marched up to the Government Lumber Yard where they were stripped, washed, inspected and had their vital statistics recorded. If convicts were found to be skilled, for example carpenters, blacksmiths or stonemasons, then they were retained and employed on a government works plan. Otherwise they were assigned to hard labour work or given to the property of settlers, merchants or farmers who may once have been convicts themselves.Convicts who were assigned to labour work worked in full irons and chains in an attempt to prevent escapees and on the roughest and most gruelling tasks; clearing bush, cutting and hauling timber over the rugged terrain. Chain gangs had the most gruelling task of the lot, working from dawn to dusk, they cleared roads through steep ranges and split rocks to pave them. The lucky few who were skilled in a profession...

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