Australia in the 19th Century was a Dangerous Place

William Pitt the Younger was a supporter of sending convict labor to the Australian colonies. Wikimedia

2. Penal transportation appealed to the British government

Prior to the American Revolution the British government transported prisoners to Maryland and Virginia at the rate of about 1,000 per year. Prime Minister William Pitt was beset with demands for reform of the overcrowded British prisons and the horrendous conditions found within them. He and his supporters were intrigued with Matra’s plan as it applied to prisoners, though giving land to American loyalists did not appeal. Public knowledge of the possibility of deportation to far-off Australia was, to Pitt and his advisors, a solid deterrent for would-be criminals to consider when they contemplated an illegal act.

In May, 1787, the gathering of ships known to posterity as the First Fleet departed Great Britain, bound for the South Sea. It was commanded by Arthur Phillip and consisted of 11 ships. Aboard were over 1,000 settlers, which included 778 convicts, of which 192 were women. The fleet made landfall at Botany Bay the following January. Finding it unsuitable for settlement, Phillip moved to Port Jackson near Sidney Cove, where the male convicts and the fleet’s marines went ashore on January 26, 1788. Phillip became the first governor of the fledgling penal colony, and the male convicts were put to work building the settlement. The women went ashore on February 6, and the following day the Colony of New South Wales was officially established.