13 Surprising Crimes That Got You Transported To Australia

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13 Surprising Crimes That Got You Transported To Australia

13 Surprising Crimes That Got You Transported To Australia

One-way tickets to the ‘fatal shore’ began in January 1788 when Australia opened for business as a prison colony. Here are the stories of the unfortunates who made the trip to Botany Bay.

#1 Felonies punishable by transportation included:

  • Receiving stolen goods, jewels or plate.
  • Stealing lead, iron or copper.
  • Stealing ore from black lead mines.
  • Stealing from furnished lodgings.
  • Stealing letters.
  • Stealing fish from a pond or river.
  • Stealing growing cabbages, turnips, trees, and plants.
  • Assaulting, cutting, or burning clothes.
  • Counterfeiting copper coin.
  • Stealing a shroud from a grave.
  • Overloading boats on the River Thames which had resulted in passengers drowning.
  • Making and selling fireworks, or throwing them about the streets.


#2 One reason for transportation was that England had no jail space – with high unemployment due to industrialization, many had turned to petty crime to survive.

#3 The crimes could be incredibly minor – William Benger was convicted and transported for stealing string, Thomas Jacobs for stealing a handkerchief and Ernest Wentworth for selling bad bread.


#4 Other pitiful crimes listed in the registers are the ‘theft of bacon’ and ‘stealing a hair brush’. A nine-year-old chimney-sweep John Hudson was transported for stealing clothes, while 70-year-old Elizabeth Beckford was sentenced for the theft of 12 pounds of Gloucester cheese.

#5 The criminal law at the time was called the “Bloody Code”. As well as murder, assault, bigamy, piracy, and mutiny, some incredibly minor crimes warranted a death sentence – such as being out at night with a blackened face, poaching rabbits, or cutting a tree. Transportation offered a useful alternative and was also used to remove political prisoners  from the country – such as Irish rebels, the Luddites and the Tolpuddle Martyrs.


#6 The first shipment of convicts was called the ‘First Fleet’ and had 11 ships carrying 736 convicts including 188 women. By the time transportation ended, 162,000 people had been taken to Australia. Most never saw home again. Up to 20,000 were children, mostly street urchins who had been stealing or picking pockets to survive.

#7 Labor and conditions in the prison colony were incredibly harsh, but those who survived lived to see it found the beginnings of modern Sydney.

#8 The ‘Ballad Jim Jones’ tells the sorry tale of these prisoners who built a nation:


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