By the end of the 18th Century, The British Empire still stretched around the world, even though it had just lost America after the War of Independence. There were islands in the West Indies, where slaves were working the sugar and cotton plantations; there was India in the East. And Cook was exploring the islands of the South Pacific and sketching the coastline of new lands like New Zealand and Australia. Great Britain looked to expand her Empire further.
Cook and his assistant, the botanist Joseph Banks, was sure "Botany Bay" would be a good spot to begin a new colony.

In 1786 the British government decided to experiment sending prisoners to Botany Bay to see how they fared. The experiment was eventually a success, and the punishment of "transportation to NSW" became common for many criminals - from 7 to 14 years, or "for the term of his natural life".
In this way, British settlement in Australia started.

Tried at "The Old Bailey"
Tried at "The Old Bailey"

Who were these convicts, and why were British prisons so terribly overcrowded?
The Industrial Revolution meant many rural workers had to move to the crowded cities to work in the new factories. There was no
A prison hulk on the Thames River in London.
welfare and wages were low and many people were desperately poor. They resorted to petty crime, prostitution, drinking. Prison sentences were given to hardened violent criminals, petty thieves, prostitutes, prisoners of war, and bankrupts - or debtors - and there were many of them.

Harsh punishments - including execution, were given to try and get crime under control. But the prisons kept filling. Old ships - "hulks" - were converted to floating prisons.

In 1788 the First Fleet under Captain Arthur Phillip, arrived with about 775 convicts on board 11 ships, and anchored at Camp Cove - Circular Quay today. This became a prison without fences - just the vast bush beyond, and its curious first inhabitants.

BTN short explanation of 26th Jan 1788 - easy to understand!
From the outset convicts were used as a labour force, initially working for the government on necessary public work projects, then for private settlers who began arriving in 1793. Once the early problems had been overcome the settlement expanded and by 1821 NSW had taken shape as a colony in which farming, grazing, commerce and a variety of other economic activites flourished.

Between 1788 and 1842 about 80,000 convicts were transported to NSW. Of these, about 85% were men and 15% were women. Almost two thirds of convicts were English (along with a small number of Scottish and Welsh), with the Irish making up the remaining one third. Most were first offenders with the majority being convicted of petty larceny or receiving stolen goods. Transportation of convicts to NSW finished in 1842, although some convict 'exiles' continued to arrive until 1850.

Historians have been able to access a wide variety of documents to build a detailed picture of the experiences of the convicts sent to Australia - including prison and court records from England, diaries and log books written by those who came, sketches and art by eye-witnesses, official government documents from the time. You can view examples from the collection at the NSW State Library:
This site has more information. Use it to answer questions about these first European inhabitants of Australia.
Did you have ancestors who were on the First Fleet? Or who were originally convicts? I do! What was their story? Choose a convict and investigate to recreate a description of their experiences travelling to NSW, working, and either dying, returning home or perhaps beginning a new life in the new Colony. Did they marry, were they further punished, did they make a contribution to Sydney?
TASK: Write a narrative of up to 150 words telling the account of a convict transported to NSW around 1800-1840, who eventually settles in the new colony to begin a new life. Use real information and facts to make your narrative convincing and plausible.
Use this website for ideas: click
For the next few years most of the colony consisted of convicts. But numbers of free settlers began to grow.
Jump to the next page!