History : Mar-Apr 2016
14 MARCH/APRIL 2016 MILESTONES sentences for crimes as petty as stealing a loaf of bread. Every year, thousands of people convicted by the courts needed somewhere to serve out their sentences. If the industrial cities seemed grim, jail conditions were much worse. Debt- ors and small-time criminals, who made up the majority of inmates, shared over- crowded cells with crime barons and murderers. Prisons started to burst at the seams, and conditions deteriorated. Atthe end of the 18th centu- ry, the authorities in Brit- ain found themselves faced with a serious social crisis. As the industrial revolu- tion took off, rural workers flocked to the cities, which were rapidly expanding but fraught with poverty and poor living con- ditions. The result? A rise in crime. The justice system of the time was exceedingly harsh, handing out long jail The government believed that the best solution to overflowing jails was to ship the prisoners to a penal colony far from British shores. It wasn’t the first time such an idea had been put into practice. In previous decades, following the Trans- portation Act of 1718, many convicts had been sent to the North American colonies such as Maryland. But the outbreak of the American Revolution in 1775 put an end to this practice, and another solution Prisoners to Pioneers: Australia’s First Settlers In 1788 British ships carrying the first colonists to Australia were at the end of their long, horrific journey. The settlers on board were not intrepid explorers but criminals sent from Britain’s overflowing jails. These people would become the pioneers of a new nation in Oceania.