Australian Penal Colonies


The British Empire’s attitude to criminal punishment and colonialism is reflected in Australia’s notorious penal camps. In an effort to relieve prison overcrowding, the British government began sending criminals to Australia beginning in 1788. With the dual goals of creating a disciplined workforce and spreading British influence, the British established penal colonies like Port Jackson (now Sydney) in New South Wales.

Both prisoners and colonial authorities struggled to adapt to the harsh environments of these settlements. Inmates were forced to perform backbreaking labor while living in deplorable conditions while authorities established order and built necessary facilities. Over time, the system changed to provide some inmates with opportunities for rehabilitation and release.

The colonies evolved beyond their prison roots as the number of free inhabitants increased. After the cessation of transportation in the middle of the nineteenth century, Australia began to develop its own unique identity, which was shaped in part by the country’s early criminal history. This past now reminds Australians of their country’s complicated beginnings and their own tenacity.

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