By Ken Griffen
This article was originally published in the August 2001 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society.
Ken spoke at the Society's Annual Conference in October 2000 on the subject of enforced emigration, otherwise known as 'transportation'. The December edition of Soul Search included an extract from his talk covering Records. This extract provides information on the number of people transported and details of their crimes.
How Many People were Transported?
Over 163,000 went to Australia of which 20,000 were female and 40,000 were Irish. They went by sailing ship, which in the earlier days took 7 months while the later trips took 66 days, having only to go to western Australia.
Ships with female convicts always had less, sometimes only 60 convicts, and also took supplies and fare-paying passengers authorised by the government. Male ships had always more than 100 and up to nearly 500 in one instance. They left England from the Thames, Portsmouth and Plymouth and sailed either via Rio or Cape Town picking up fresh supplies on the way. Irish Ships went from Cork and Dublin.
There were some disastrous voyages like the Neptune with nearly 200 dying on the voyage. Despite this, there was only one unseaworthy ship, the Waterloo. On its 7th voyage in 1841, it actually sank during a storm at the Cape of Good Hope with the loss of two thirds of all the people on board. Most ships had no deaths amongst the convicts whatsoever.
What crimes had the convicts committed?
Mainly serious crimes like murder and manslaughter. There were also robberies both on and off the Highway, burglaries and house breaking, many done with extreme force and thus giving rise to Life sentences. Arson, although not common, was also punishable by a life sentence.
There were a smallish number of unnatural crimes and sexual crimes such and rape and ravishing.
Also there were the transport thieves, the horse stealers and the donkey thieves. Many crimes were in search of the basic commodity of food. Many sheep stealers were just this, although there were some who stole many sheep just to sell them on. Game was also a great prize and many poachers got caught and transported because the crime often involved much force.
At this time there were many counterfeit coins in circulation and many were convicted for possessing and utilising these coins. Some were done for selling them while others who were making the coins were done for having possession of a coining mould. Lodging houses were subject to many thefts committed by their lodgers on other lodgers.
There were bands of professional thieves and even gangs who terrorised the community. These are often identified in the records of the prison hulks as being a member or ringleader of a particular gang.
In these days bigamy was quite common and surprisingly many of these people were transported. There are even cases of polygamy and intermarrying that were transported. Those who incited, assisted and abetted others in the pursuits of their crimes also got transportation sentences. Even if you attempted or broke out of gaol you would get transported. If you had been transported and escaped and made your way back to England you could find yourself going back again. Even if you came back having served your sentence.
People who were signed up for the Army and Navy were also subject to Transportation, even if they did not commit the offence in the country. These convicts were court martialed for cowardice, desertion, mutiny, insubordination, striking and wounding officers, drunkenness, being absent without leave as well as the usual crimes of burglary theft of provisions (kings stores) and selling the company horses.
Many of the crimes given transportation sentences were minor like stealing bread and cheese i.e. a ploughman’s lunch left in a hedge while he was working or the stealing of washing from a hedge while it was drying. The sentences given appear out of context with the crime but many of them had been in trouble many times before and were indeed persistent criminals
What happened to the convicts once they were sent to the Hulks? They could remain there and serve their sentence out or receive a pardon and leave. Some did escape by swimming away, although the consequence was often drowning. Many died through illness and some died of old age. Those that were left were Transported to New South Wales, Van Diemans Land or Western Australia. Some went to Bermuda and were returned back to England to be freed. Similarly some went to Gibraltar, while many of the youngsters went to Parkhurst on the Isle of Wight. Some joined the Army or Navy. The remainder went to the penitentiary to serve out their sentence.
Who were all these People?
Many were families of criminals. In the later hulk records the gaoler describes the convicts "and having brother and father transported" or "child left abandoned by mother transported". So you can get additional informational by checking what the gaoler has to say about the convict. Sometime no report is given.
Having transcribed over 100,000 names I thought I would like to share some of the more unusual names with you. The alias people used often gave you a good description of the person like Dick Turpin, Blackjack, Blue Boy, Little Dick, Teapot and Sandy Soulls.
Although the majority of people have sensible Christian names there were certainly a few unusual ones amongst this bunch. In the records there are at least five Florence’s as men, a Neptune, a Nebuchanazer, a few Christmases, an Xmas, a Brabazon, a Decimus, a Demetrius, a Friday whose surname was Angel, a Harbottle, a couple of Launcelots and Marmadukes, a few Squires, a couple of Worthys and a Zenophon!
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