In 1607 Jamestown was founded in the Virginia Colony and by 1614 they had begun to grow tobacco successfully, but required labour for the new plantations.
Vagrants, including hundreds of starving boys and girls were gathered off the streets of Britain and Ireland and dispatched to Virginia.
Prostitutes were similarly sent to the West Indies.
VIRGINIA & WEST INDIES
The First Fleet anchored in Sydney Cove on 26th January 1788.
The British Government had hoped that the colony would be self-sufficient within two years but the settlement was plagued by problems.
The convicts lacked farming experience and the land was unsuitable for crops and pasturing.
They were saved by the arrival of the Second Fleet in June 1790 carrying much needed supplies.
The colony began to expand and shipping became more frequent.
NEW SOUTH WALES
Norfolk Island was the next settlements after Port Jackson established by the first fleet.
By 1804 there were over 1100 convicts there, but it was expensive to maintain so part of the settlement was removed to Van Diemens Land.
In February 1814 it was abandoned and remained uninhabited until 1825. Then a second penal settlement was established there, to house the worst convicts. Officially it was described as 'a place of the extremist punishment, short of death'.
VAN DIEMEN'S LAND
The Port Arthur penal settlement was established in 1830.
Favouring the system of solitary confinement for punishment, it had the reputation of being a harsh prison.
Mindful of the war with France, the British Government was fearful that the French would attempt to establish a military settlement in Australasia. To prevent them doing so in Van Diemen's land, a small group was sent there in 1803. They originally settled at Risdon Cove, re-named Hobart.
Between 1844 and 1847 approximately 1,750 convicts arrived in Melbourne, Portland and Geelong. Most of them were from Pentonville Prison and under a new policy of the British Government, they were referred to as Exiles.
Exiles were free to work for pay within the district to which they were assigned.
By1848, the small colony of Western Australia was in a bad economic state, desperately requiring more labour to survive. In February 1849, a public meeting was held in Perth where it was agreed that, should the British Government wish to establish another penal settlement, then the settlers of Western Australia would be glad for their colony to be considered.
Women could be placed in the stocks or an iron collar for punishment. Gradually this was discontinued. But the practice of cutting off their hair still continued.
With other colonies objecting to the arrival of more convicts and with the transportation system near to collapse, the British Government was only too happy to agree to the transportation of convicts to the Swan River Colony. It was declared by an order-in-Council as a penal colony on 1st May 1849.
The penal establishment on Gibraltar was founded in 1842, and by 1845 some 500 prisoners were held there. In March 1847 a hulk arrived, capable of accommodating an additional 300 men. Gibraltar, along with Bermuda, was regarded to be the second or penal stage whereby convicts spent one to three years on public works, after which they would be sent on to Australia.
Over three hundred convicts were sent to Bermuda to work in the dockyards after an act passed in 1823 allowed convicts to be employed in any colony determined by the King. The base at Bermuda grew rapidly and by 1846 there was enough work for 2000 men for 12 years.
In 1842, the Governor proposed that well-behaved convicts be allowed to settle on Bermuda but the Legislative Council refused.
THE FEMALE FACTORIES
Women could be assigned to a workplace on arrival in the colony or placed in a female factory until assigned.
The factories were also used as a place of punishment for misbehaviour and re-offending.
The Cascades Female Factory was built in South Hobart, Tasmania in 1828 and operated until 1856.
Because of the damp conditions, poor sanitation, overcrowding and poor diet there was a high rate of disease and mortality.
Women who became pregnant were sent to the Female Factory. Six months after its birth, the baby was placed in a nursery whilst the mother began a six months sentence of hard labour for becoming pregnant. Hundreds of infants died at the Cascades Factory due to the terrible conditions.
THE CHAIN GANGS
The worst convicts were assigned to hard labour on the roads in chain gangs.
The transportation of children to Australia existed as early as the first fleet. In 1834 a boys' prison was built at Point Puer, across the bay from the penal settlement at Port Arthur.
Over 200 boys were transported on board one convict ship, the Elphinstone, in 1842, swelling the number held in Point Puer to over 700. The boys were put to hard labour, and punishment was harsh - confinement on bread and water rations, and flogging.