A Time Line

Slavery as punishment… a king or magistrate could mercifully spare and enslave a man whose crime had forfeited his right to life. White Over Black — 1550-1812, Winthrop D. Jordan, 1969. 

1584: Richard Hakluyt, a Tudor entrepreneur,‘ suggested felons be employed outside England ‘for the benefit of the realm’.

1597: Tudor Elizabeth introduced banishment as punishment for political and religious enemies.

1607: Britain established a colony at Virginia and introduced slavery.

1614: James 1, previously James VI of Scotland, saw transportation as a means of tempering ‘justice with mercy’.

1618: Convicts reprieved from death were transported to West Indies and Virginia.

1633: Royal Warrants used to regulate reprieve from death penalty.

1638: Royal Warrants were now required for transportation of convicts.

1655: Oliver Cromwell made ‘reprieve from death’ conditional on transportation ‘out of the realm’.

1713: Treaty of Utrecht — maritime Britain became the slave trade’s prime mover. Between 1717 and 1800 British ships, sailing mainly out of Liverpool and Bristol, transported over two (2) million (2,000,000) African slaves to her Caribbean and American colonies.

1714: The German Elector of Hanover ascended English throne as King George I.

1717: Act 4 Geo. 1, c.11 regulated export of English convicts. Transportation, mainly to America, ‘answered every good purpose which could be expected from it’. Terms were set at 7 years — 14 years — life. Mandatory death was introduced for those who returned to the realm ‘before expiry of sentence’.

1718: Act 6 Geo. 1, c.23 introduced sale of felons. ‘Every convict sent to America was sold like a slave. The only essential difference…one was sold for life the other for a term of years’. A transporting merchant paid a security bond to Treasury and purchased ‘property in the service’ of a convict. That service—labour—was sold mainly to colonial planters.

1742: African slaves flooded the American labour market forcing Treasury to offer a transporting merchant an incentive payment of £5 per convict.

1756: The Seven Years’ War (1756-1763) interrupted but did not stop Britain’s trade in prisoners.

1763: Convict transportation resumed at the end of the war.

1770: Lieutenant James Cook RN and Joseph Banks landed at Botany Bay, New Holland from HMS Endeavour. At that time  Banks, a noted botanist, reported the territory was capable of supporting a shipwrecked crew for a very limited time.

1775: War of American Independence 1775-1783 interrupted the convict trade. Between 1718 and 1775 Britain exported approximately 50,000 prisoners —1,000 a year — to America. Convicts worked alongside Negro slaves purchased in Africa and shipped to America to labour on Britain’s tobacco and sugar plantations. See: Roots

1776: Parliament passed the Hulks Act as a temporary ‘means of devising a severe mode of punishment short of death’. The Act changed the status of a convict under ‘order of transportation’. Deemed ‘servants of the realm’  their ‘service was thenceforth ‘for the benefit of the realm’.

1778: Gaols and hulks become increasingly congested and the Hulks Act was renewed. Costs escalated as an increasing army of prisoners required housing, feeding, clothing and guarding. .

1779: A House of Commons Select Committee on transportation interviewed Joseph Banks on the suitability of Botany Bay. Banks advised Botany Bay to be an ideal destination for convicts, given its ‘abundance of fish…plentiful water…mild climate…escape difficult…return unlikely’.

1780: Britain’s Solicitor-General advised that convicts under ‘orders of transportation’ remained ‘in a state of transportation’ and the Hulks Act was renewed.

1780: Edmund Burke, in the House of Commons, opposed confinement on hulks. He feared  the time would come, when ‘felons [awaiting transportation], would be put to death on the principle of economy’.

1781: Convicts were transported to Goree a fort settlement in Africa.

1782: Similarly prisoners were transported to Cape Coast Castle, Africa. Both attempts failed with heavy loss of life..

1783: Britain lost the War of American Independence, her ‘ thirteen middle colonies’ and her-shore prison.

1783: American Congress refused entry to more English felons.

1783: Despite America’s refusal English courts reinstated ‘transportation to America’.

1783: 16 August: Lord Sydney issued a government contract to George Moore for removal of one hundred and forty-three (143) prisoners to America on his convict transport Swift. Some convicts mutinied. All escapees were captured and charged with ‘return before expiry’. All were found guilty and sentenced to death . Only eight (8) hanged the rest were reprieved and ‘remanded to former orders’ returned to the hulks. Ten (10) Swift survivors landed at Botany Bay (Australia) in January 1788.

See: Mutiny on Swift and Mercury

1784: 26 March: George Moore was issued another government contract for one hundred and seventy-nine (179)  convicts to America on Mercury. Once again some convicts mutinied. A cascade of events similar to those of Swift  followed. Eighty (80) Mercury survivors landed from the ‘First Fleet’ in 1788.

1784: Lemaine Island, in Gambia River West Africa was purchased with intention of establishing a private prison.

1784: Sir Charles Bunbury examined transportation and recommended its continuance.

1785: Lord Sydney of the Home Office warned government of mob violence, convict riots and possible escape from gaols and hulks. There was also fear that disease, endemic on the filthy, vermin infested, decaying hulks moored along the River Thames, would spread and devastate densely populated London.

1785: 16 March: Edmund Burke opposed sending convicts and impressed soldier/convicts to Africa.

1785: 11 April: Lord Beauchamp was questioned on the suitability of Lemaine Island.

1785: 20 April: A Select Committee chaired by Beauchamp supported transportation but rejected Lemaine Island as a penal destination. Beauchamp suggested Das Voltas Bay, also in Africa as an alternate destination.

1785: 16 May: In Parliament Burke again condemned Africa; ‘the gallows would rid them of their lives more mercifully than the climate and the natives of Africa would’. Because of Burke’s vehement opposition the Committee ordered a preliminary survey of the area before convicts could be sent there.

1785: August: naval sloop Nautilus sailed for West Africa to survey Das Voltas Bay.

1785: Joseph Banks was again consulted and, as in 1779, he recommended Botany Bay.

1785: Second Beauchamp Report justified transportation because it ‘answered every good purpose which could be expected from it’; rid Britain of ‘undesirables’, save money, make money or, in the case of New Holland, gain new territory.

1786: 30 July: Nautilus reported Das Voltas, ‘barren, waterless, unsuitable’.

1786: 2 August, attempted assassination of George 111, fear of mob violence increased.

1786: 18 August: Lord Sydney advised Treasury: ‘His Majesty has thought advisable to fix upon Botany Bay’.

1786: 26 August: transportation orders issued for 680 male and 70 female convicts to be sent to Botany Bay, later amended to 600 males and 200 females.

1787: 6 January : first of 750 convicts – 84 – males were removed from hulks and boarded onto a chartered transport Alexander.

1787: 22 January: George 111 opened Parliament and announced; ‘ A plan has been formed, by my direction,  for transporting a number of convicts; in order to remove the inconvenience which arose from the crowded state of the gaols in different parts of the kingdom’.

1787: March: In 1784 George Moore had purchased ‘property in the service’ of Mercury’s convicts. Moore owned them and wanted his money back. He retained legal ‘right of ownership’ over sixty-eight (68) convicts ‘bound for Botany Bay’.

1787: 2 April:  Treasury entered into negotiations with Moore and he transferred his rights over sixty-one (61) male and seven (7)  female convicts to William Richards Jnr. the sole contractor awarded the government tender for fit-out and provisioning of ‘First Fleet’.

1787: 13 May:  An armed convoy of eleven (11 ) ships, known in Britain and Australia as the ‘First Fleet’, with a complement of 1,500 souls, one-half convicted criminals, the other half, marines, naval personnel and merchant seamen, under command of Captain Arthur Phillip RN sailed from England for Botany Bay, New Holland now Australia.

1787: The ‘First Fleet’ was an invasion fleet sold as a transportation fleet. The five hundred and eighty-three (583) male criminals were rationed; ‘as troops serving in the West Indies’.  ‘Servants of the realm’  under the Hulks Act of 1776) their ‘service… for the benefit of the realm’ was as combatants.

1788: 18 Januarytender HMS Supply arrived at Botany Bay.

1788: 20 January: the remainder of the fleet anchored in Botany Bay.

1788: 26 January: the fleet sailed nine (9) miles (14 km) north to Port Jackson, Sydney Cove. Fleet commander, now Governor  Arthur Phillip ‘hoisted English colours’ – the Union Jack – and claimed sovereignty over the east coast of New Holland ‘from Cape York to South Cape’.

1840: Convict transportation to eastern states of Australia ended in 1840.

1852: Convict transportation to Van Diemans Land (Tasmania) ended in 1852.

1858: Convict transportation to Western Australia began – 10,000 male convicts zero women were transported there.

1868: Convict transportation to Western Australia ended in 1868.

1787-1868: Britain transported approximately 163,000 convicts to Australia. Approximately 25,000 of these were women with 12,500 going directly to Tasmania. Few convict-exiles returned to England. See: The Great Escape.

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