A transportee's journey from freedom in the East Riding of Yorkshire to incarceration in New South Wales or Van Diemen's Land could last months and even years. Often the convicts were held in prisons or prison hulks for months prior to their transportation.
For more details on the ships which carried our convicts to Australia, choose 'The Convict Ships' in the dropdown below.
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From capture to departure
The journey began when the suspect was apprehended, perhaps by the victim of the crime or by local constables. A justice of the peace would then commit the suspect to a gaol if he felt there was a case to be answered. For crimes that were not punishable by death, a prisoner apprehended in the East Riding of Yorkshire might be committed to gaol in Beverley or Hull. For more serious crimes, the criminal was taken to York gaol.
The suspect was then tried in the quarter sessions in Beverley or Hull if the crime was less serious, and in the Assizes (in York) if the crime carried a possible death sentence. If the court found the defendant guilty, and the justices of the peace decided on a sentence of transportation, the criminal would return to the local gaol for a few days or weeks until arrangements could be made for onward transportation.
The first leg of the transportee's journey would be made from the local gaol to a holding prison - perhaps Millbank prison in London or in one of the prison hulks at Woolwich or Portsmouth. This journey might be made by cart, or on a ship (perhaps departing from Hull's riverside quay). After perhaps two or three month's incarceration (although in the early period of transportation to the Australian colonies this could be many years), the convict would be loaded along with fellow prisoners onto a ship destined for New South Wales or Van Diemen's Land. (Female convicts were not typically sent to hulks, and instead would be held in prisons prior to transportation).
See 'Hulks and prisons' for more details on the hulks and prisons which housed some of our seven convicts before their transportation.
 David Brandon and Alan Brooke Bound for Botany Bay. British Convict Voyages to Australia. (The National Archives: Kew, 2005) p.26
Millbank was constructed as the National Penitentiary, and opened in 1816. There were a number of problems with the design of Millbank, and in 1843, Pentonville took over as the National Penitentiary â€“ after this date Millbank became the main holding prison for convicts like Maria awaiting transportation.
The sea journey
The duration of the sea journey varied - the First Fleet took eight months, stopping at Tenerife, Rio De Janeiro and Cape Town to replenish supplies, but ships became larger and faster across the period; once the colony became more self-sufficient there was no longer the need for ships to carry so many supplies. After 1810, most ships travelled to Rio and then straight to Sydney. The journey time was between three and four months.
The crew of convict ships tried to keep them fastidiously clean, and from very early on there was a regulation regarding overcrowding which meant that prisoners were to be kept in a better situation than enslaved Africans and troops. The efforts to ensure prisoner health taken on the First Fleet were relatively successful, resulting in 48 deaths from almost 1,500 people. However, not all convict transportation was so successful.
The Second Fleet
On the Second Fleet (1789-90), many convicts died as a result of the poor conditions onboard some ships. A disease environment could develop, exacerbated by cramped, unhygienic conditions, lack of air below decks and unsatisfactory nutrition. Punishments meted on prisoners could be harsh - lashes with the cat o' nine tails might remove the flesh from the back leaving the victim vulnerable to infection.
Of the 1006 prisoners who set sail on the Second Fleet, 267 perished during the voyage and a further 150 died shortly afterwards. The contractors who organised this voyage had been slaving contractors, and manacled the prisoners using the same irons as were used on slaves for the 'middle passage' across the Atlantic.
The journey to Australia was considerably longer than the middle passage - many of the convicts could not move from their beds, which became soiled and filthy. Furthermore, one of the Second Fleet ships, Surprize, was old and took on water in heavy weather, leaving prisoners drenched and cold. Disease soon multiplied in the festering conditions aboard this ship. Though not as terrible as the Second Fleet, the Third Fleet also had high mortality rates (182 convicts died out of a total of 2057).
The convict journey
The Second and Third Fleets were in many ways exceptions. Most convict ships (such as those of the First Fleet) had a death rate that was low by the standards of the time. Furthermore, the growth of the British navy and burgeoning British empire brought improvements in the technologies of maritime transport across the period, and the government introduced strict regulations designed to eliminate disasters like the Second Fleet.
For most of the period of transportation, private contractors shipped the convicts to Australia; these contractors were required to adhere to government regulations. A death rate of 1 in 85 transportees in the early years had fallen to 1 in 180 by the end of transportation . From 1815, every convict ship was required to carry a naval surgeon to supervise sanitary conditions and prisoner health. From 1832, the Admiralty assumed full responsibility for transportation. During the nineteenth century, the death rate on convict ships rarely rose beyond 1 in 100.
 David Brandon and Alan Brooke Bound for Botany Bay. British Convict Voyages to Australia. (The National Archives: Kew, 2005), p.168.
The convict ships
Each of our seven convicts was transported on a different ship.
The Alexander was also the most deadly of the First Fleet ships. In the five months between convicts boarding the vessel in January and departure in May 1787, 16 died. Whilst moored on Motherbank at Portsmouth waiting to depart, the overcrowded Alexander had to be evacuated because of an outbreak of typhus. During the voyage, many passengers became sick from the noxious fumes that rose up from the bilge waters, which had become polluted by effluent from the prisoners' quarters. Ten died on the Alexander during the first leg of the voyage from Portsmouth to Rio. The ship's surgeon wrote:
'The illness complained of was wholly occasioned by the bilge water, which had by some means or other risen to so great a height that the pannels of the cabin, and the buttons on the clothes of the officers, were turned nearly black by the noxious effluvia. When the hatches were taken off, the stench was so powerful that it was scarcely possible to stand over them. '
The male convicts aboard the Alexander were thought to be the worst of the whole First Fleet, and a mutiny plot had to be foiled during the voyage.Severe storms hit the First Fleet on the last leg of its voyage to Botany Bay, and and there were further convict deaths aboard. The Alexander had the most fatalities of any ship of the First Fleet â€“ in total 16 of her passengers died before and 15 during the voyage.
On 1 December 1787, First Fleet surgeon Arthur Bowes Smyth wrote in his journal:
It is pretty extraordinary how very healthy the convicts on board...this fleet in general have been [during] so long a passage and where there was a necessity of stowing them thick together, if I except the Alexander, where many of the convicts were embarked from the different gaols with malignant disorders among them, and consequently made many die on board, not less than 30 .
Along with William Dring, at least two other men sentenced in Hull travelled in the First Fleet aboard the Alexander:
Robert Nettleton, convicted of petty larceny in Hull on 12 October 1784, and sentenced to 7 years transportation .
Nettleton stole a silk handkerchief, scissors and snuffers with a value of 1 shilling. He was aged 29 when he was transported to NSW and he died the following year . Further information about Robert Nettleton has been separately researched and is available below.
Joseph/Thomas Robinson, William Dring's partner in crime also travelled on board the Alexander . When he left England he was aged around 24. He left New South Wales in 1792 .
See the Dictionary of Sydney website for more details on the Alexander.
The indictmentRobert Nettleton was arrested in Hull, East Yorkshire, on 20 September 1784 on two indictments relating to shoplifting. The first accuser was Thomas Gartham, ironmonger of Hull, who went before the Mayor and made a bond for £20 to ensure his witness at the next Quarter Sessions. Nettleton was accused of 'feloniously stealing and taking away twelve pair of Scissors and six Candle Snuffers the Goods and Chattels of the said Thomas Gartham'. The second accusation came from John Hayward and George Baldwin, linen drapers. A charge was made 'against Robert Nettleton and Mary his wife for feloniously stealing and taking away five Silk handkerchiefs of the Goods and Chattels of the said John Hayward and Geo. Baldwin'. The term 'felony' implied that Nettleton had threatened the shopkeepers.
The trialRobert Nettleton and his wife (now named as Elizabeth) were tried by a Grand Jury at the General Quarter Sessions in Hull on 12 October 1784. The case was 'that Robert Nettleton late of Weldon in the County of York Labourer ... with force and arms at the Town of Kingston upon Hull' feloniously stole the scissors, candle snuffers and silk handkerchiefs mentioned in the indictments. There were five witnesses. The Nettletons pleaded Not Guilty. There were twenty jurors of whom fifteen found the case proven. All signed their names on a square dog-eared and ink-stained paper.
Nettleton was sentenced 'to be transported beyond the Seas for Seven Years and Eliz. Nettleton to be Privately whipped and discharged'. (Public whipping or jail would have been other options.)
TransportationNettleton was ordered to the prison hulk Ceres on 15 April 1785, said to be aged 27. He was delivered to the Alexander at Woolwich on 6 January 1787, as an early arrival. Late arrivals embarked at Portsmouth from March to May, 16 dying before sailing.
The First Fleet sailed on 13 May 1787 with 195 male convicts on board the Alexander, where 30 died. The ship was known as an unhealthy and bug-ridden vessel.
Robert Nettleton arrived at Port Jackson on 18 January 1788 but he survived on four months. He was buried at St Philip's, Port Jackson, on 23 May 1788, about 30 years of age.
Robert Nettleton's backgroundThe name Nettleton occurs mainly in West Yorkshire and it was unusual in East Yorkshire. The name occurred in Withernsea in 1765. No record of Robert Nettleton's birth (about 1758) has been found.There is a marriage in Scarborough that may be relevant: Robert Nettleton married Winterburn on 23 August 1784. He was described at his trial as a labourer late of Weldon (possibly a mis-spelling of Welton). There is a Weldon's Cottage and Plantation near Patrington. The widow, Elizabeth Nettleton, may have re-married but the evidence unsound.
- Nicole Cama, Alexander, Dictionary of Sydney, 2015, (accessed 18 November 2015)
- Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Arthur Bowes Smyth, A Journal of a Voyage from Portsmouth to New South Wales and China- in the Lady Penrhyn, Merchantman, William Cropton Sever, Commander by Arthur Bowes, Smyth Surgeon- 1787,1788,1789, p. 62.
- National Archives, HO 10/7 folio 26.
- University of Wollongong, First Fleet database, (accessed 19/12/2015).
- National Archives, HO 10/7 folio 31.
The ship's surgeon, George Thomson, set up schools aboard for those convicts who could not read or write . The England carried 148 convicts, 68 of whom could read and write, 26 who could read only and 54 who could neither read nor write â€“ John Wells was one of the latter .
John Wells was transported on board the England with Richard Gibson who was also from Hull. Gibson was sentenced on 12 January 1826 to seven years transportation .
Luke Dales travelled aboard the Bangalore from Bermuda, where he had spent some of the early part of his sentence helping to built a Royal Navy dockyard, to Van Diemen's Land. Previous to collecting its shipment of prisoners for the journey from Bermuda to Van Diemen's Land, it appears from the ship's surgeon's journal that the Bangalore shipped convicts from Dublin to Bermuda . Luke was one of 204 male convicts who departed from Bermuda on 28 March 1848 , arriving at Hobart via China on 14 July 1848 .
A notice in a Hobart newspaper reporting the arrival of the Bangalore notes that the 200 male convicts on the ship had been selected by the governor of Bermuda both for their good behavior and their 'mechanical acquirements', and that all have been given tickets of leave . Another paper gives details of the trades represented amongst the convict passengers, and advises how to employ the men. Trades include: Builders 4 ; Basket-maker 1 ; Baker 1 ; Butchers 3 ; Cutlers 4 ; Cigar-maker 1 ; Clerks 3 ; Carpenters 6 ; Compositors 2 ; Engineer 1 ; Grooms 2 ; Moulder 1 ; Maltster 1 ; Millers 3 ; Farm labourers 93 ; Shoemakers 9 ; Miners 7 ; Tailors 14 ; Masons 9 ; Domestic servants 8; Sawyers 6 ; Painters 7 ; Weavers 7 ; Linen-drapers 2 ; Land-surveyor 1 ; Paper-maker 1 ; Slaters 3 ; Tinmen 2 ; Saddler 1.
On a later trip, the Bangalore entered the history books by carrying the final convicts to be deposited on the East Coast of Australia. Lord Grey responded to the requests of the graziers of the remote north east part of New South Wales for convict labour, and dispatched the Bangalore from Portsmouth, laden with convicts, in January 1850 â€“ the Bangalore unloaded its shipment in Moreton, far from Sydney where there was strong opposition to receiving more convicts .
- 'Claim a Convict' website, (accessed 18 November 2015)
- The National Archives, ADM 101/7/1 â€“ 'list of people vaccinated about the convict ship Bangalore'
- National Archives HO11/15/281 â€“ transportation register of convicts bound for Van Diemen's Labd on the Convict Ship Bangalore, pp. 281-293.
- State Library of Queensland 'British Convict transportation registers 1787-1867' online index (based on UK National Archives Home Office records) (accessed 17 November 2015)
- The Courier (Hobart) Wednesday 19 July 1848 â€“ quoted on website 'Came to Tasmania on Bangalore 1848', (accessed 18 November 2015, website no longer exists)
- The Cornwall Chronicle (Launceston), Saturday 22 July 1848 â€“ quoted on website 'Came to Tasmania on Bangalore 1848'.
- Hughes, Fatal Shore, p.570; 'Free Settler or Felon?' website, (accessed 18 November 2015).
The Prince of Orange was a two-decked vessel built in 1813 in Sunderland and weighed 363 tons . Her master for the trip to Van Diemen's Land was John Moncrief .
The surgeon onboard this ship was John Crockett, and his journal for the voyage is preserved in the National Archives .
Four convicts died during the journey .
The Prince of Orange had made a previous journey carrying convicts, to New South Wales in 1820-21 .
Another Hull convict, William Gibbons, travelled aboard the Prince of Orange with Charles Drewery. Like Charles, William was sentenced on 18 October 1821 to transportation for seven years .
Maria Fay was one of one of 220 female convicts transported on the Sir Robert Seppings to Van Diemen's Land, departing on 17 March 1852  and arriving on 8 July 1852 . This was among the highest number of females transported on one ship . There were also at least 21 children of the female convicts on board .
At this time, there was a need for female convicts in Australia to balance the sexes. The need was particularly acute in Van Diemen's Land â€“ there were no female convicts there in the 1840s. Rumours circulated about the widespread prevalence of 'unnatural vice', a euphemism for homosexuality .
However, the arrival of the Sir Robert Seppings in Van Diemen's Land seems to have triggered protests. A letter to the Secretary of State for the Colonies from the 'Southern Tasmanian Council of the League' dated 10 July 1852, printed in the Colonial Times, states that the 'undersigned... protested on 25 May last against the introduction of Prisoners into this Colony from any part of the Empire as a breach of faith on the part of Her Majesty's Government. They have to renew their protest in consequence of the arrival of 292 male convicts per 'Fairlie' and of 219 female prisoners per 'Sir Robert Seppings' from Woolwich' .
Penal transportation was coming to an end â€“ after the Sir Robert Seppings, only three more ships took female convicts to Van Diemen's Land, the last one arriving in January 1853 .
- 'Claim a Convict' website, (accessed 18 November 2015)
- Queensland Library, online British Convict Transportation Registers
- Joy Damousi Depraved and Disorderly: Female Convicts, Sexuality and Gender in Colonial Australia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997).
- Ancestry.com community page, (accessed 18 November 2015).
- Alan Brooke and David Brandon Bound for Botany Bay. British Convict Voyages to Australia (National Archives: Kew, 2005) p.223, p.254.
- Colonial Times (Hobart) Tuesday 13 July 1852, (copied on Trove Digitised Newspapers website www.trove.nla.gov.au).
The ship's surgeon's journal is available at the National Archives , and a transcription is available online . This journal shows the efforts that were taken to ensure that prisoners remained healthy, including the enforcement of cleanliness through convicts bathing in tubs, extra lime juice and supplementary rations of meat and vegetables for sick prisoners. When the weather was cold, the ship's surgeon (William Evans) recalls that
'fires were lighted daily in the Prison room and between decks and every attention paid to preserving the health and morals of these unfortunate creatures who have been led into errors through want of education and proper sense of religion'
- Wikipedia 'Asia 1816 ship', accessed 18 November 2015.
- 'Convict Records: Snowden Dunhill' website (based on Home Office records from the National Archives), (accessed 17 November 2015).
- Charles Bateson, The Convict Ships, p. 359.
- National Archives ADM 101/4/7, medical and surgical journal of the Asia convict ship from 28 June 1823 to 18 January.
- Asia on the Ancestry.com community page, (accessed 18 November 2015).
The Nautilus arrived in Van Diemen's land on 29 August 1838 . The True Colonist, a Van Diemen's Land newspaper records the arrival of the Nautilus, stating its master as J Newcombe, the weight of the ship at 400 tons, from 'Downs 2 May' with 132 female prisoners and government stores . The Nautilus was built in South Shields in 1833 .
Sarah Ann travelled on board the Nautilus with another convict from Kingston-Upon-Hull, Jane Smith who was sentenced on 5 January 1838 to seven years transportation .
- Queensland Library, British Convict Transportation Registers online database, (accessed 17 November 2015).
- National Archives ADM 101/56/1A/2 Folios 1-5 â€“ Sick List of Nautilus.
- 'Convict records:Nautilus' website, based on records taken from National Archives HO11/11, (accessed 17 November 2015)
- The True Colonist Van Diemen's Land Political Despatch, and Agricultural and Commercial Friday 31 August 1838 (Accessed on Trove Digitised Newspapers Website)
- 'Claim a Convict: Nautilus' website, (accessed 18 November 2015).
- National Archives HO 11/11, folio 268.
Van Diemen's Land / Tasmania
This island, separated from the south coast of Australia by the Bass Strait, was the primary penal colony for much of the 19th century history of transportation to Australia. Around 40% of those transported to Australia landed here.
The island was first discovered by the Dutch explorer, Abel Tasman, in 1642. Tasman named the island after Anthony Van Diemen, the governor general of the Dutch East Indies. In the early 19th century, the governor of the British penal colony on New South Wales ordered that another penal colony be established in the island.
Van Diemen's Land gained a particularly fearsome reputation for harsh treatment of prisoners; Van Diemen's Land convicts gaining their freedom often left the island for the free colony of Victoria in the sought of Australia - free settlers here disliked and feared the ex-convicts. Penal transportation to Van Diemen's Land was abolished in 1853. In 1856 the island was granted self-government, and the name was officially changed to Tasmania.
Luke Dales was taken from the hulk prison Warrior to Bermuda some time between 1845 and 1848. He was one of the many convicts sent to help build a Royal Navy dockyard on Bermuda, a British colony. Strong and healthy convicts were picked to spend some or all of their sentence here before returning home or being moved on to New South Wales or Van Diemen's Land. Between 1823 and 1863, 9000 British and Irish convicts were sent to Bermuda.
Employment in the colonies
Upon reaching Australia or Van Diemen's Land, convicts were assigned either to work as a servant of a free settler or to undertake government work. Government work included working in the Female Factory or helping to build infrastructure such as roads. Regulations protected convicts from abuse by private masters, but were often flaunted, particularly on remote farms..
Although labour was part of their punishment, and therefore they were not paid, convicts were allowed to sell their labour in their own time (outside of the hours allotted to serve their masters). Convicts could also be granted a ticket of leave, allowing them freedom within the colony (but not to leave the colony), if they were well behaved.
Political transportees, such as those sentenced for spreading 'sedition', did not have to undertake forced labour in the colonies.
Tickets of leave
Tickets of leave were issued to transported convicts as a reward for good conduct - a ticket of leave entitled the prisoner to move freely and work for a wage anywhere within the bounds of the convict colony. The ticket of leave had to be renewed every year, so the freedom it gave could be revoked if a convict upset an employer or other person in authority.