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British convict transportation to eastern Australia occured between 1788 and 1850, though there were many factors and changes that led to the establishment of a new convict settlement in Australia. Between the 1770s and 1780s, the decades just before the departure of the first fleet, crime rate had dramatically increased. Country life was changing, introducing a band of people who rebelled against change (including Luddites) and the movement of the Industrial Revolution that had been present from 1750 and would continue through to 1914. Some people became increasingly isolated and many were greatly affected by the growing industrial towns and new cities emerging into the landscape. City life was also changing as a lack of police systems encouraged small crime. It became a game for those who would risk to steal, as they would be free as long as they were not caught by constables or watchmen. Gambling also became increasingly popular with adapting culture, forcing some to steal just to survive and pay debts owed to others. the slums of Britain were dark places and it was difficult for many to live in the harsh conditions with little money, land and possessions. Sentences were harsh for those who were caught, and many smaller crimes were also harshly punished in the court. This began to foster a larger growth and presence of criminals within the slums of Britain and therefore increased the number of many convicts squeezed into cells at full capacity. The social and economic standings of many middle class people had changed and many were quite poor, living off alcohol down Beer Street and Gin Lane. These social pressures strongly affected the livelihood of industrial towns and created a push for the government to take action.

There were three main options for the British government to create a resolution to the overcrowding jails and increasing amount of convicts around the time of the 1780s. One of which was to build new prisons, though these were too time-consuming and cost too much money to sustain. British prisons needed space, guards, funds and time the government didn’t have. It was unrealistic and proved to be too much of a challenge to maintain during the late 1780s. Another option was to use hulks and other abandoned ships to hold convicts as they served their sentence. In theory, the idea seemed plausible though it was unsustainable and proved only temporary. There were great fears and concerns regarding the health of the convicts and their wellbeing after spending too much time within the rotting ship below deck. These hulks and ships also couldn’t fit as many convicts as the established prisons and wouldn’t be able to maintain the rate and demand of convict arrivals. The final plausible action was convict transportation, to send the convicts to a ‘dumping ground’ where they could serve their sentence outside of Britain. The location had to be away from Britain the government needed vast space with potential and suitable conditions and environments that could sustain the demand of convict arrivals. This proved to be the only appropriate path and so the British government began comparing possible locations for a new settlement. There were six possible options though soon there would only be one suitable to hold a new settlement. Before the time of the American War of Independence, between 1775 and 1783, Britain’s main asset regarding convict transportation was America and sent many convicts to their colonies. Though with new found independence, America decided to reject the continuation of convict transportation and refused convicts into their new society. This meant America was no longer an asset in convict transportation though there were still a few other possible locations. Canada did not stay a possible candidate as the country already had French and British settlers and didn’t want convicts. The West Indies, including the Caribbean Islands and Central America, had tropical diseases and hot climate which was not suitable. There was also already a strong presence of Negro slaves who worked on the sugar plantations. Slaves were seen as more appealing because he/ she could be bought, sold and traded for their whole lives whereas some convicts could only serve their sentence of 7 years. South-west Africa was barren and dry with little water and hot climate which didn’t suit well to ideal British conditions. Convicts sent to Gambia died of diseases and hunger which only left one true location to begin a settlement, Botany Bay.

Botany Bay was first discovered on an expedition up the east coast of Australia, made by British explorer, Captain Cook in the winter of 1770. In the explorer’s writings, he made brief notes of the trees and sources of fresh water, these would later be used to attribute to the appeal of Botany Bay as a place for new settlement. Other positive factors that the bay held was that the area had not yet been claimed by French nor Spain and would hold great strategic interest for the empire. There was growing pine and flax for masts, rope and sails and would provide a good place for repairing and supplying warships and trading ships. The climate seemed to be suitable and sustainable and the location itself was far from current British soil. Botany Bay was chosen as the location for a new convict settlement and the government quickly began planning its first settlement to begin the colony. Governor Arthur Phillip was appointed to lead and command the first fleet of ships in 1786 and would depart to Australia from Portsmouth, with 11 ships and 1403 people on the 13 May, 1787, on a journey little over 8 months.

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