Australia's Convict Colonies

By | March 1, 2019

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The arrival of the first prisoners at the Botany Bay penal colony, Port Jackson. The day has become a holiday, designated the National Day of Australia. Source: (Time Life Pictures/Mansell/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

Why Australia?

Over the course of sixty years, nearly 150,000 criminals were taken from Great Britain to Australia. The prevailing thought of the upper ruling class was that criminals were defective people that could not be rehabilitated but needed to be separated from the genetically pure and law-abiding citizens. Lawbreakers were killed or exiled. Great Britain had been sending all their prisoners to America, but once America won the Revolutionary War, that door was closed so Great Britain had to look for an alternative.

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Prisoner transport route from Great Britain to Australia. Source: (

The First Prisoners

In 1770, James Cook claimed possession of the east coast of Australia for Britain. In order to keep the French from claiming it, Britain decided to set up their penal colony there. The first fleet consisting of eleven convict ships left Britain in 1787, heading to Australia. They arrived at Botany Bay in January of 1788. They founded Sydney, the very first European settlement on the continent.