Prison hulks on the River Thames
|The English penal system and transportation to the colonies|
These institutions ranged from simple lock-ups to Elizabethan houses of correction. They were intended for the discipline of unemployed and wandering labourers.
The government also ran a second, smaller system in London. Newgate was the main prison in London and from 1783 it was also a place for public hangings. Before then, prisoners had left Newgate to be hanged at Tyburn. The gallows at Tyburn stood near what is now Marble Arch.
Rise of the American penal colonies
At first they were shipped to North America for (usually) seven years for non-capital offences or for life for those who had had their death penalties commuted.
At that time there were more than 150 capital offences, including minor offences like petty theft.
The process of transportation ended with the American Revolutionary War (1775-83), which stopped the British sending their convicts across the Atlantic.
This painting shows one of the few British victories over the American fleet. The British were eventually forced to accept defeat.
New solution to overcrowding
William Eden, the Home Secretary, estimated that alternative accommodation would be needed each year for about 1000 convicts. This was far more than could be crammed into the already overcrowded gaols of England.
The government delayed building new gaols, preferring to search for other places to send the convicts.
A new plan was announced in January 1787 when the government decided to transport convicts to New South Wales in Australia.
On 22 January 1788 the First Fleet arrived in Botany Bay to set up a prison colony. There were more than 1500 people, including 548 male and 188 female convicts. They actually settled in Sydney Cove, not Botany Bay. Over the years about 160,000 men, women and children were sent to Australia.
The First Fleet
In October 1786 Mary had been found guilty at the Old Bailey of stealing two guineas, nine shillings (about £186 at today's prices) and a snuffbox. She was sentenced to seven years transportation.
In January 1787 all the female convicts in Newgate under sentence of transportation were sent to the 333-ton Lady Penrhyn (1786) on the Thames.
In January 1790, Mary's son, William (by William Hambly, a carpenter's mate on the fleet flagship Sirius), was christened at Sydney Cove.