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

Following Elizabeth Tudor’s death in 1603 King James VI of Scotland reigned as James the First of England from 1603 to 1625. Under King James I transportation was regarded as ‘a severe mode of punishment short of death…tempering justice with mercy’.

‘Transportation marked a profound transition in the history of British criminal justice’. Roger Ekirch, Bound For America: The Transportation of British Convicts to America 1718-1775, 1981.

1718 – England: During the reign of King George I (1714-27), great grand-son of King James I, a series of Transportation Acts 1717[18] introduced ‘systematic exile as punishment for serious crime’.

‘The set of trials…that took place on February 27th of that year [1718] turned out to be the last Old Bailey Session that was held before the British Parliament passed the Transportation Act, which transformed sentencing practices in Great Britain.

On 28th August 1718  Eagle, a ship originally used in the slave trade [with 106 convicts] became the first to be transported to America under the Transportation Act’. Anthony Vaver, Bound With Iron Chains, The Untold Story of How the British Transported 50,000 convicts to Colonial America, Pickpocket Publishing, 2011.

Between 1718 and 1775 England’s convicted criminals reprieved death on condition of banishment, ‘out of the realm’ – known as ‘transports’ – were shipped from London and Bristol to Britain’s American colonies mainly Virginia and Maryland.

‘Much like African slaves convicts found themselves chained below deck in damp quarters with little light or fresh air…A visitor after viewing a transport, exclaimed: All the states of horror I ever had an idea of are much short of what I saw this poor man in; chained to a board in a hole not above sixteen feet long, more than fifty with him; a collar and padlock about his neck, chained to five of the most dreadful creatures I ever looked on’. Kenneth Morgan, The Organisation of the Convict Trade To Maryland, William and Mary Quarterly.

Labour, a prisoners’ ‘service’ was sold to English plantation owners. They worked alongside slaves shipped in from Africa to produce  Britain’s tobacco and later cotton crops.

‘Africans were imported as slaves: that is as chattel slaves. Chattel slavery, the most debased form of bondage…in its most extreme form evolved in British America, took form in British-American law, in response to the need for a totally reliable, totally exploitable, and infinitely recruitable labor force’. Bernard Bailyn, The Peopling of the British Peripheries, Australian Academy of Humanities, Esso Lecture, 1988 

A prisoner’s sex, skill, physical and mental condition determined purchase price. The majority of men were unskilled and went cheaply. Those with useful trades fetched a higher price – between £25 to £35.

Women and girls sold for an average of £8, less if pregnant. The old and sick who survived the voyage of 6-8 weeks were often given away or simply ‘disposed’ of.

Unlike Australia…once the convicts left the ship [in America] they also ceased to be of any concern to the British government….As eager as planters were to buy up convicts, captains were just as eager to sell them off…as soon as convict ships emptied their holds of human cargo, they filled up the space with tobacco to take back to London, Bristol, or another British port’. Vaver. ibid.

Chattel slavery; African slaves were ‘moveable possessions’.  When a Negro slave was purchased the owner’s ‘investment’ entailed not only the individual but their children in perpetuity.

But not so English criminals although ‘their labour was disposable property’ until their term expired.

[However] ‘if the owner of a [serving] convict…died, his investment was not necessarily lost but merely passed to the owner’s estate, their labour was disposable property’. Edith Ziegler, Harlots, Hussies & Poor Unfortunate Women, Crime, Transportation & The Servitude of Female Convicts, 1718-1783, University of Alabama Press, 2014

1718 – 1775, America: Between 1718 and 1775, prior to the commencement of the America’s Revolutionary War of Independence (1718 -1775), Britain transported 50,000 criminals to America at the rate of 1000 per year. Sailing dates were allied to fixed sessions of Assize and County Court Circuits.

‘I have never found a single reference to a convict in any genealogy or history of an American family, nor, in any other way, does a single one of the 50,000 convicts sent to America appear as such in American history…there are  simply no records of the convicts at all…They faded into the general population: they left no shadows no traces; they disappeared’. Bailyn. ibid.

Exiled for thieving, pick-pocketing, housebreaking, smuggling, poaching and some of violent highway robbery, when turned loose at the end of sentence ‘they left no shadows no traces‘.

In Australia however all was meticulously documented. Once freed convicts had their villainy rewarded with grants of Aboriginal land. Each male given thirty (30) acres, an additional twenty (20) for his wife or defacto, an additional ten (10) acres for each child.


For government transporting convicts to America was win-win. Relieved of the expense and responsibility to house, feed, clothe and guard its criminals government made even more money by selling them to transporting merchants.

Treasury paid through a local Sheriff’s Office. That transaction bought the merchant a saleable asset –  a prisoner’s ‘service’.  In America the merchant took his cut when that ‘service’ was sold to the highest bidder at regular ‘slave scrambles’.

Duncan Campbell Superintendent of Hulks, a former transport merchant, gave evidence before a House of Commons Standing Committee on Transportation. Campbell estimated the convict trade had an annual worth of £40,000, reckoned presently at more than £4,000,000.

‘In comparison with the slave trade, the capitalization required by transportation was modest…studies of the British slave trade during the second half of the eighteenth century have concluded that merchants earned profits of less than 10 percent.

Meanwhile [transport merchants] earned an estimated profit of roughly 26 per cent from sixteen trips from Bristol to Maryland, not including fees paid by localities for the removal of their transports’. Kenneth Morgan. ibid

1775 – Lexington: War between Britain and her rebellious American Patriot colonists interrupted the regular twice yearly flow of prisoners. Some judges however were reluctant to condemn and continued to commute death ‘for transportation to America’.

1776 – Westminster: The Hulks Act of 1776, provided England’s judges with a ‘severe mode of punishment short of death’ as required by the Transportation Act of 1718.

The legislation changed the status of prisoners sentenced ‘for transportation’ they became ‘Servants of the Crown… their Service is for the State’.

England’s Solicitor-General ruled such ‘Servants of the Crown’ to be in ‘a state of transportation’ stock- in-hand ready for shipment at war’s end.

‘The convicts being servants of the Crown till the time from which they are sentenced expires…their labour is for the public’. Governor Phillip Gidley King, 9 May 1803, Instructions to Lieutenant John Bowen, Historical Records of Australia.

Australia: This change of status as stated by Governor King in May 1803 was clearly understood by Governor Arthur Philip RN in December 1790. See: A Tethered Goat – John M’Entire – 10 December 1790.

The Hulks Act allowed male prisoners to be confined on floating prison ships – hulks – moored along the River Thames. John Howard, philanthropist and prison reformer, considered isolation from kith and kin; the ‘severest aspect of [hulk] incarceration’.

1781-82 – Africa: Meanwhile the American war dragged on. As the number of convicts multiplied the hulks were soon over-crowded and pressure mounted to send prisoners ‘beyond the seas’ to Africa.

Government transported convicts to Senegal, West Africa where most died of starvation, brutality and disease. Edmund Burke, in the House of Commons, led parliamentary  opposition to Africa as a penal destination and his argument forced government to abandon Africa as a penal destination. See: Africa – In and Out of Africa Thomas Limpus – John Rugless  – Samuel Woodham

‘During the final months of the American Revolution, the British government decided to reopen the convict trade to its former colonies’. “Undoubtedly the Americans cannot expect nor ever will receive any favour from Me, but the permitting them to obtain Men unworthy to remain in this Island I shall certainly consent to”. (George III to North, July 2, 1783, reprinted in Sir John Fortescue, ed. The Correspondence of King George the Third). Cited A. Roger Ekirch, Great Britain’s Secret Convict Trade to America, 1783-1784, William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd Series.

Between 1718 and 1775 five (5) international wars had disrupted the convict trade. The Seven Years’ War (1756-1763) being the most significant. At the end of each conflict convict  transportation resumed and Britain could not see why it should ever be otherwise.

However Benjamin Franklin, American statesman and leading revolutionary, had other ideas. Franklin had long opposed the convict trade he; ‘described transportation as “insult and contempt”, the cruellest perhaps ever one people offered another and advocated exporting rattlesnakes to Mother England’.

1783 – September, Paris: Patriot America won the war. Britain, via the Treaty of Versailles signed 3 September 1783, lost her ’empire in the west’ Connecticut, Carolina North and South, Delaware, Georgia, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia and with them her off-shore prison.

America’s legislators refused to admit more English ‘rattlesnakes’. Undaunted, the Home Office ignored Congressional legislation and took up where it had left off pre 1775.

‘By then (July 12 1783) [Lord] North had enlisted George Moore, a London merchant whose vessel, the George was ready within weeks to sail with a cargo of 143 prisoners. Moore was promised five hundred pounds from the English treasury and whatever profits the convicts fetched’. Ekirch. op.cit.

1783: Government failed with at least two (2) attempts to restore the American trade. In 1783 with the George, renamed  Swift to create confusion and, in 1784, with [185 on] Mercury. Mutinies occurred on both ships with many lives lost. See: Mutiny on Swift and Mercury

1786 – 18 August, London:  Home Secretary Lord Sydney, now with Africa and America out of the equation, advised Treasury; ‘His Majesty has thought advisable to fix upon Botany Bay’.

1787 – 22 January, London: At State opening of Parliament – 22 January 1787 – King George III announced Government’s intention to have New Holland replace America as Britain’s place of permanent exile.

But first New Holland had to be invaded, occupied, conquered, its peoples subdued and England was in a hurry. France with similar ideas of colonial expansion had New Holland in her sights and two (2) ships La Bousolle and L’Astrolabe, already on the high seas.


The Hulks Act of 1776 excluded confinement of female prisoners when New Holland replaced America this caveat gave rise to a genocidal imbalance in the sexes transported to Australia.

Britain between 1788 and 1868 transported one hundred and thirty-eight thousand (138,000) men and twenty-five (25,000) thousand women to Australia; of these twelve thousand five hundred (12,500) went directly to Tasmania.

Ten thousand (10,000) male convicts and zero (0) female prisoners went to West Australia where transportation ended in 1868. See: G for Gender

‘Without a sufficient proportion of that [female] sex it is well known that it would be impossible to preserve the settlement from gross irregularities and disorder’. Heads of a Plan for Botany Bay, Whitehall London, 1786

The ‘gross irregularities and disorder’ flagged so clearly in Whitehall’s Heads of a Plan for Botany Bay came near to destroying the future biological integrity of Australia’s First Nations’ Peoples. See: G is for Genocide  

1786 – October, Whitehall: Captain Arthur Phillip RN – linguist, sailor, spy, strategist, farmer and warrior – a man of steely determination, was selected to undertake the invasion of New Holland. See: Arthur Phillip the Spy Who Never Came In From The Cold

1787 – 13 May, Portsmouth: The ‘First Fleet’ a large armed convoy of  eleven (11) vessels sailed from Portsmouth bound for Botany Bay in mid-May 1787.

Of the fleet’s complement, 1500 souls, approximately seven hundred and fifty (750) were convicted criminals; ‘removed from the overcrowded gaols in different part of the kingdom’.

‘In determining the daily ration no distinction was drawn between marines and the [male] convicts…the standard adopted was that of the troops serving in the West Indies’. Wilfrid Oldham, Britain’s Convicts to the Colonies, Library of Australian History, Sydney, 1990

As all males, soldier and convict alike were combatants, there can be no doubt the ‘First Fleet’ was an invasion fleet. See: A Tale of Two Fleets

1788 – 18/20 January, Botany Bay: Within thirty-six (36) hours, between 18 to 20 January 1788, the ‘First Fleet’ anchored in Botany Bay.

Captain Phillip judged its wide open face susceptible to attack. The area also lacked an adequate supply of fresh water for such a large number so unsuitable for permanent settlement.

1788 – 21 January: Taking three (3) long boats Phillip set out with Captain Hunter RN, Lieutenant Phillip Gidley King RN , Lieutenant Kellows and Dawes and marines to explore the surrounding countryside. Using Captain Cook’s charts of 1770 they went south as far as Point Sutherland but were not impressed by what they saw.

1788 – 22 January, Port Jackson: The following day they rowed north nine (9) miles (14 km) to ‘Port Jackson’ named, but by-passed by Cook in 1770, where they found a large harbour guarded by two (2) towering sandstone headlands and ‘a good five (5) nautical miles within’ a deep-water cove with an endless supply of fresh running water ‘The Tank Stream’.

1788 – 23 January, Sydney Cove: Phillip and his men returned to Botany Bay on the 23rd of January with good news – the fleet had found a home, ‘snug’ Sydney Cove, and he gave orders to move there next morning.

1788 – 24 January, Botany Bay: ‘Another sail…two [French] ships of considerable size‘ . L’Astrolabe, La Boussole, under command of Comte Jean-Francois La Perouse appeared in the entrance to Botany Bay. Sirius’ cannon and strong winds forced them back out to sea.

‘Phillip was alarmed’ !!!! He had failed to raise ‘English Colours’ at Sydney Cove. Knowing La Perouse also certainly had Cook’s charts on La Boussole and uncertain of the direction he had taken Phillip sent a party of marines to Sutherland to raise the Union Jack there.

‘Phillip was alarmed, for he did not know their intentions, and he ordered a party to be sent to Point Sutherland to hoist English colours. He also stipulated that the move to Port Jackson be kept secret, and that no one was to go on board the French ships’. John Moore, First Fleet Marines, 1786-1792, University of Queensland Press, 1987.

1788 – 25 January, Port Jackson: ‘Foul weather’ held up Phillip’s departure. HMS Supply was unable to quit Botany Bay until after mid-day of the 25th. She reached Port Jackson just on night-fall at 7 pm – relief no La Perouse.

‘There would be ‘some justification for the saying that England won Australia by six days’. Edward Jenks, History of Australian Colonies, Cited in British Colonial Policy, Hugh E. Egerton, Metheun, 1928

1788 – 26 January, Sydney Cove:  At first light the following morning Phillip landed raised the Union Jack. In the race for New Holland, he claimed Britain’s victory over France. See: Australia Britain By A Short-Half Head

‘Phillip did not consider the land terra nullius (nobody’s land)….Raising the flag was one of the acts recognised as an assertion of a prior claim against other colonial powers eyeing off the same land’. Larissa Behrendt, Settlement or Invasion, The Honest History Book, Ed. David Stephens & Alison Broinowski, New South Publishing, 2017

The weather having abated somewhat the rest of the English fleet made a dramatic exit that same day – 26 January – arriving to anchor alongside Supply by 6 pm that evening.

1788 – 27-28, January, Sydney: Marines and male convicts landed and set about unloading stores, clearing a parade ground and erecting tents.

1788 – 6 February: The fleet’s female component two hundred and twenty- two (222) and about forty-five (45) free children disembarked on the 6th of February.

1788 – 7 February:  Without consent of Australia’s First Nations’ Peoples or entering into treaty with them, Captain, now Governor Phillip, read his commissions and formally proclaimed British sovereignty over New Holland.


The arrival of La Perouse had a profoundly unsettling effect on the nascent colony. For everyone – convict, soldier, merchant seamen – the French brought hope and possibility.

Governor Phillip sent Lieutenant Phillip Gidley King RN and Marine William Dawes to Botany Bay to set out Britain’s rules of engagement.  Phillip gave La Perouse one (1) month to effect repairs and get out.

1788 – 14 February, Norfolk Island: Phillip acted in great haste. Firstly, to prevent the French after leaving Botany Bay from occupying Norfolk Island 1650 km to the west of the Sydney settlement, he ordered Lieutenant Gidley King RN take a party of marines and convicts and establish a British outpost there.

‘Lieut[ent] King of the Sirius was sent as superintendent and commandant of this place, and carried with him a surgeon, a midshipman, a sawyer, a weaver, two marines and sixteen convicts of whom six [6] were women. He was also supplied with a certain number of live animals to stock the island, besides garden seeds, grain, and other requisites’. Marine Captain Watkin Tench, Sydney’s First Four Years, ed. F.L. Fitzhardinge, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1961

1788 –  27 February, Sydney:  And secondly, one (1) month after reaching Botany Bay, a ruthless Governor Phillip chose three (3) ‘servants of the Crown’ to demonstrate his absolute authority over life and death.


En-route to America in 1783 and 1784 at least ninety (90) of the fleet’s prisoners, eighty (80) men and ten (10) women, had escaped Swift and Mercury.

All were sentenced to death and reprieved on condition of transportation ‘beyond the seas’. Known as the ‘Mercuries’ they were the most feared of the convicts.

Governor Phillip had a score to settle. At  Brazil in August 1787 one (1) ‘Mercury’ had caused serious trouble that could have scuttled the whole ‘Botany Bay Enterprise’.

Convict Thomas Barrett fashioned some counterfeit coins, from marines’ buttons and buckles. They in turn used them to buy goods at local Rio markets.

Phillip exacted his revenge on the Rio counterfeiter in a sadistic and macabre pantomime played out over three (3) days – 27, 28, 29th of February 1788.

1788 – 27 February, Sydney Cove:  Thomas Barrett a talented engraver, a natural leader with friends in the disaffected military, was hanged soon after he fashioned the Botany Bay Medallion, known also as the Charlotte Medal. See: From Here to Eternity

In July 2008 the Medallion, arguably white Australia’s most iconic artefact, was purchased for the nation for one (1) million Australian dollars  (Au$1000,000).

It is on permanent display in the National Maritime Museum, Darling Harbour, Sydney. See National Maritime Museum


‘The short term consequences [loss of American colonies] were less dramatic than many expected’. Professor J.A. Cannon Emeritus Professor Modern History, University of Newcastle upon Tyne, Oxford Companion to British History 1997

Governor Arthur Phillip RN a gifted linguist was a true internationalist. He alone in the colony knew the wide-ranging advantages ‘The Botany Bay Enterprise’ held for Britain and so soon after the loss of America her ’empire in the west’. 

‘Though Britian’s eclipse as a world power was confidentially predicted economic recovery was swift and the colonial development of Australia, New Zealand, Indian and part of Africa went some way to compensating for the loss of the first British Empire’. Cannon. op.cit.

Knowing the where, a mere decade earlier, and the why – a fellow Officer of the Royal Navy bore the blame ‘for the loss of the first British Empire’   Captain Arthur Phillip RN was determined not to lose New Holland.

‘Britain’s empire in the south which time will prove xx xxxx .

‘The humanizing of War! You might as well talk of the humanzing of Hell…As if war could be civilized…The essence of war is violence. Moderation in war is imbecility. Hit first, hit hard, and hit everywhere’. Sir Reginald Hugh Bacon, The Life of Admiral Lord Fisher, Doubleday, 1929

Under the Hulks Act 1776 convicts transported to Australia remained of ‘concern to the British government [as] Servants of the Crown [their] service [was] for the public’.

For Governor Arthur Phillip RN New Holland had to be held at any price. How do we know?  A specific entry in the Historical Records of New South Wales is unequivocal in this regard.

‘Hit first, hit hard and hit everywhere’. See: John M’Entire – Death of a Sure Thing



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