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Conditional pardon issued to Thomas Crawford

Date: 1858
Overall: 317 x 200 mm
Medium: Ink on paper
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Object Name: Convict record
Object No: 00051358
Related Place:Hobart,

User Terms

    Transportation overseas was a relatively common punishment in the 18th and 19th century. These documents relate to the transportation of five petty criminals to Van Diemen's Land between 1830 and 1840.
    SignificanceHistoric material relating to convict transportation to Australia is rare. These documents provide physical descriptions, anecdotal remarks and official information on five convicts who were sentenced to at least seven years transportation to Van Diemen's Land between 1830 and 1840.
    HistoryExtreme poverty was a fact of life for many in 18th and 19th century British society. In desperation, many resorted to crimes such as poaching, theft, robbery with violence and forging coins as the means to survive in a society without any social welfare system. This was countered by the development of a complicated criminal and punishment code aimed at protecting private property. Punishments were harsh with even minor crimes, such as stealing goods worth more than one shilling, cutting down a tree in an orchard, stealing livestock or forming a workers union, attracting the extreme penalty of 'death by hanging'.

    Until the early 19th century prisons were administered locally and were not the responsibility or property of central government, with the exception of King's Bench, Marshalsea, Fleet Prisons and Newgate Gaol which were all Crown prisons attached to the central courts. Prisons were used for the correction of vagrants and those convicted of lesser offences, for the coercion of debtors and for the custody of those awaiting trial or the execution of sentence - they were not places of rehabilitation.

    For nearly all other crimes the punishments consisted of a fine, capital punishment or transportation overseas. From the early 1600s European societies have used the transportation of criminals overseas as a form of punishment. At the beginning of the 18th century, when the death penalty came to be regarded as too severe for certain capital offences such as theft and larceny, transportation to the British colonies in North America was used as a large-scale criminal deterrent.

    The British Transportation Act of 1718 effectively established transportation to the colonies as a punishment for crime. British courts sentenced criminals on conditional pardons or those on reprieved death sentences to transportation. Prisoners were committed under bond to ship masters who were responsible for the convict's passage overseas in exchange for selling their convict labour in the distant colony.

    The loss of the American colonies in the War of Independence put an end to the mass export of British and Irish convicts to America. Many of the convicts in England's overcrowded jails were sent instead to the hulks (decommissioned naval ships) on the River Thames and at Portsmouth, Plymouth and Cork (Ireland) where they were employed on river cleaning, stone collecting, timber cutting and dockyard work while serving out their sentence

    In 1784, under the Transportation and Penitentiaries Act, felons and other offenders in the hulks could be exiled to colonies overseas which included Gibraltar, Bermuda and in 1788, the colony of New South Wales.

    In January 1788 more than 700 convicts and their guards arrived at Port Jackson to establish one of the most isolated European colonies in the world. Over the next 80 years a further 160,000 convicts were transported from England to various parts of Australia to found or work in penal settlements that over time became, in some cases erroneously, bywords for crime, pain and punishment.

    Between 1788 and 1868 over 160,000 men, women and children were transported to the Australian colonies of New South Wales, Van Dieman's Land and Western Australia by the British and Irish Governments as punishment for criminal acts. Although many of the convicted prisoners were habitual or professional criminals with multiple offences recorded against them, a small number were political prisoners, social reformers, or one-off offenders.

    The five convicts named in the original documents Thomas Crawford who arrived on the convict transport SOUTHWORTH in 1830; James Roberts who arrived in July 1832 on the convict transport KATHERINE STEWART FORBES; Mary Weeks who arrived on the convict transport MELLISH in September 1833; John McNamara who arrived on the convict transport GILMORE in January 1839; and Thomas Pearce who arrived on the convict transport ASIA in August 1840 were all transported to Hobart in Van Diemen's Land for a variety of offences for periods of between seven and fourteen years. Some of the convicts, notably Thomas Crayford and James Roberts continued to reoffend in the colony with James Roberts being sentenced to death a second time.

    Van Dieman's Land (Tasmania)

    In 1803, less than 20 years after the European occupation of the area around Sydney Cove and Botany Bay, fears of a growing French interest in the Pacific saw a small penal settlement established at Risdon Cove on the eastern bank of the Derwent Estuary on the south-east coast of Van Diemen's Land. In 1804 a second settlement, later known as Hobarton or Hobart, was established at Sullivan's Cove on the western side of the estuary.

    Considered a part of the colony of New South Wales until 1824, the penal settlements in Van Diemen's Land were developed with the aim of precluding the French interests, developing agriculture, whaling, sealing and other industries and providing a place of secondary punishment for those convicts who had transgressed and been given a secondary sentence.

    From 1830 until the cessation of transportation on the east coast of Australia in 1853 Van Diemen's Land became the primary penal colony in Australia receiving more than 75,000 or about 40% of all transported convicts.

    To cater for these convicts numerous exclusive convict settlements were established in Van Diemen's Land including Macquarie Harbour, Port Arthur, the Coal Mines, Point Puir, Maria Island and the female factories in Hobart, George Town, Ross and Launceston. Male and female convicts were also assigned to work for private settlers, businesses and government agencies.

    Prior to 1842 all convicts in Van Diemen's Land, except those serving secondary punishment sentences or working on government projects, were employed under the Assignment System. Under this system convicts were assigned to work for private individuals who provided shelter, food and clothing in exchange for the convicts' labour.

    The Select Committee on Transportation, also known as the Molesworth Committee after its chair, William Molesworth, was specifically formed in April 1837 to investigate Transportation and Secondary Punishment in New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land. When the Molesworth Committee reported that the Assignment system was too lenient on the one hand and open to abuse and corruption on the other, the British and Colonial Governments introduced the Probation System into Van Diemen's Land.

    This new system was based on the convicts first having served part of their sentence in England prior to being transported to Van Diemen's Land. In the colony they were classified into classes depending upon their crime and previous behaviour and then sent out to Probation Stations, or secondary punishment settlements such as Port Arthur, for at least two years. During this time the convict would have points credited or debited from an account - a certain number of points would entitle the convict to a remission on the remaining part of their sentence.

    After two years probation the convicts could receive a probation pass allowing them to work for wages while reporting to police. If they were well behaved they gained a Ticket of Leave and later a Conditional Pardon.

    The Cessation of Transportation in 1853 saw the Port Arthur penal settlement decline in population and importance and Port Arthur was abandoned by the government in September 1877. The final occupants were Norfolk Island returnees, convict pensioners and transported felons whose sentences had not been completed.

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