QUEBEC-RESEARCH-L ArchivesArchiver > QUEBEC-RESEARCH > 2005-01 > 1106091390
Subject: Excerpt Of History
Date: Tue, 18 Jan 2005 18:36:30 EST
1788 First Australian Penal Colony Established
The first 736 convicts banished from England to Australia landed in Botany
Bay. Over the next 60 years, approximately 50,000 criminals were transported
from Great Britain to the "land down under," in one of the strangest episodes
in criminal-justice history.
The accepted wisdom of the upper and ruling classes in 18th century England
was that criminals were inherently defective. Thus, they could not be
rehabilitated and simply required separation from the genetically pure and
law-abiding citizens. Accordingly, lawbreakers had to be either killed or exiled,
since prisons were too expensive. With the American victory in the Revolutionary
War, transgressors could no longer be shipped off across the Atlantic, and
the English looked for a colony in the other direction.
Captain Arthur Phillip, a tough but exceedingly fair career naval officer,
was charged with setting up the first penal colony in Australia. The convicts
were chained beneath the deck during the entire hellish six-month voyage. The
first voyage claimed the lives of nearly 10 percent of the prisoners, which
remarkably proved to be a rather good rate. On later trips, up to a third of
the unwilling passengers died on the way. These were not hardened criminals
by any measure; only a small minority were transported for violent offenses.
Among the first group was a 70-year-old woman who had stolen cheese to eat.
Although not confined behind bars, most convicts in Australia had an
extremely tough life. The guards who volunteered for duty in Australia seemed to be
driven by exceptional sadism. Even small violations of the rules could result
in a punishment of 100 lashes by the cat o'nine tails. It was said that
blood was usually drawn after five lashes and convicts ended up walking home in
boots filled with their own blood - that is, if they were able to walk.
Convicts who attempted to escape were sent to tiny Norfolk Island, 600 miles
east of Australia, where the conditions were even more inhumane. The only
hope of escape from the horror of Norfolk Island was a "game" in which groups
of three prisoners drew straws. The short straw was killed as painlessly as
possible and the other two were shipped back to Sydney (where the only
Australian court was located) for the trial, one playing the role of killer, the
other as witness.