Transports of terror

THE punishment of transportation to the colonies – particularly to Australia – is most closely identified with the Tolpuddle Martyrs, the six Dorset farm labourers who were sentenced in 1834 to be transported for their part in forming a Friendly Society to campaign for fairer wages for agricultural workers.

A folk musical, The Transports, tells the poignant true stories of some of the first convicts to be sent to Botany Bay in 1788. By the time the transportations to Australia ended in 1868 about 162,000 men and women would have been sent to the penal colonies on the other side of the world.

Dorchester’s Shire Hall Courthouse Museum has a lunch-time talk on Sunday 26th May at 1pm – Transportation, with Prof Deborah Oxley, Professor of Social Science History at the University of Oxford and Dr David Meredith, associate member of the University of Oxford’s History Faculty in Economic and Social History, examines this dark period in British and Australian history. , examines transportation from England to Australia.

The British Government began transporting convicts overseas to American colonies in the early 17th century. When transportation ended with the start of the American Revolution, an alternative site was needed to relieve further overcrowding of British prisons and hulks.

Earlier in 1770, James Cook charted and claimed possession of the east coast of Australia for Britain. Seeking to pre-empt the French colonial empire from expanding into the region, Britain chose Australia as the site of a penal colony, and in 1787, the First Fleet of eleven convict ships set sail for Botany Bay, arriving on 20th January 1788 to found Sydney, New South Wales, the first European settlement on the continent.

Other penal colonies were later established in Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) in 1803 and Queensland in 1824, while Western Australia, founded in 1829 as a free colony, received convicts from 1850. South Australia and Victoria, established in 1836 and 1850 respectively, remained free colonies.

The talk looks at the consequences for the people and their nations, both the one they left and the one they made. From sneak thieves and murderers to political protesters, this talk examines the making of a working class.

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