MLA Platinum Award Press Release

The Australian Penal Colonies: Background information when reading The Lieutenant

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Lieutenant

by Kate Grenville

The Lieutenant by Kate Grenville X
The Lieutenant by Kate Grenville
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Sep 2009, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2010, 320 pages

    Genres

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers
Buy This Book

About this Book

The Australian Penal Colonies

This article relates to The Lieutenant

Print Review

You might wonder why Britain would choose to send ships filled with convicts and their jailors to, quite literally, the other side of the world.  The answer is simple economics.

In the 1780s, the British population was increasing fast, as were the effects of the Industrial Revolution which led to the displacement of a great many people who, without land, rights or jobs, were reduced to stealing. 

Meanwhile, Britain, having lost the American Colonies, was on the lookout for new land to colonize.  The east coast of Australia, charted by The Endeavor in 1770, looked like it had potential.  So it was decided that instead of using slaves, the infrastructure of the new colony would be built with convict labor - a free and often skilled work force that also went some way to solving the British convict problem.

On the whole, the convicts sent to Australia were not hardened criminals.  About eight out of ten had been convicted for stealing, one in three were Irish and almost without exception they were poor. Most were sentenced for seven to fourteen years of penal servitude; others were to serve "for the term of their natural lives" - the latter having been commuted from the death sentence. By the 1770s there were over two hundred crimes in Britain that could result in the death penalty, including stealing anything worth more than 5 shillings (which is about £28 or US $40 in today's money according to this nifty historical inflation calculator).

In 1787, the First Fleet of eleven ships arrived in Port Jackson (now part of Sydney Harbour).  It is thought that 1,403 embarked from Portsmouth Harbour in England; 1,332 arrived. During the voyage 69 people either died, were discharged or deserted and seven were born. Of those that arrived, about 732 were convicts, 514 were crew and marines, 54 were the wives and children of marines, about 14 were officials or passengers, and just 18 were children belonging to convicts, 4 of whom were born during the voyage.  Two more convict fleets arrived in 1790 and 1791, and the first free settlers arrived in 1793.

Tradesmen were highly valued and assigned to tasks that fitted their skills, while the unskilled were assigned to work gangs. Many convicts were assigned directly to free settlers who were responsible for them, thus reducing the burden on the fledgling administration.  The majority of women (representing 20% of convicts) were assigned as servants, in the early days to marines and later to free settlers, with many being forced into prostitution.  Other women, especially new arrivals and those who were pregnant or being punished, were assigned to "female factories" (prison work houses).  Having completed their sentence the convicts were freed with parcels of land allocated to them and were able to take on convict servants themselves.

165,000 convicts would arrive in Australia between 1788-1868, mostly to Port Jackson; with some, after 1850, being transported to Western Australia.

Of course, it should not be forgotten that in 1787, when the first convict ships arrived, Australia was already home to an estimated 318,000-750,000 indigenous people (with over 250 spoken languages and 600 dialects), the majority of whom lived in south-east Australia - the same attractive part of the country to which the early settlers arrived.

Links

  • A partial list of stolen goods that resulted in transportation to Australia as a convict.
  • A list of the convicts on the First Fleet, and their sentences.
  • Links to lists of the more than one million immigrants to Australia between 1788 and 1900

Filed under Places, Cultures & Identities

This "beyond the book article" relates to The Lieutenant. It originally ran in October 2009 and has been updated for the September 2010 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten.

Join Now!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Sleepovers
    Sleepovers
    by Ashleigh Bryant Phillips
    In Ashleigh Bryant Phillips' debut story collection, Sleepovers, it can be difficult to keep tabs on...
  • Book Jacket
    The Beekeeper of Aleppo
    by Christy Lefteri
    In Christy Lefteri's sophomore novel, The Beekeeper of Aleppo, the author introduces readers to ...
  • Book Jacket
    Cantoras
    by Carolina De Robertis
    Cantoras by Carolina De Robertis follows five characters who share a house, troubles, joys and parts...
  • Book Jacket: Daughters Of Smoke & Fire
    Daughters Of Smoke & Fire
    by Ava Homa
    Ava Homa's debut novel begins with an epigraph by Sherko Bekas, a Kurdish poet, the last lines of ...

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    The Voyage of the Morning Light
    by Marina Endicott

    A sweeping novel set aboard a merchant ship sailing through the South Pacific in 1912.
    Reader Reviews

Book Club Discussion
Book Jacket
The Beekeeper of Aleppo
by Christy Lefteri

This moving, intimate, and beautifully written novel puts human faces on the Syrian war.

About the book
Join the discussion!
Win this book!
Win Of Bears and Ballots

An Alaskan Adventure in Small-Town Politics

A charming account of holding local office with an entertaining, quirky cast of characters.

Enter

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

A S Louder T W

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.