Sunday, October 24, 2010

A Convict's Life

So what happened to a convict once he or she arrived in Australia. Firstly, upon departing the ship, the convicts were sent to a barracks where they would find out exactly how their sentence was to be served.

The worst of the convicts were transported to prison settlements, where hard labour was their reward - and supervision was of the most severe kind. Those who committed crimes or behaved "badly" were then sent to prisons of even more stringent rules and regulations - Port Arthur or Norfolk Island. The conditions of these two penal settlements was so harsh and terrible, that a number of convicts took their own lives rather than endure these conditions.

Most convicts, however, were employed by the Government or were assigned to "free settlers". Work was undertaken in towns or farms. However, the fate or conditions of a convict rested in the mood or character of his or her master.

If the master was of a considerate nature, the convict might have enough food and comfortable conditions. Good behaviour led to the opportunity of obtaining a "ticket of leave" or even a pardon. With a "ticket of leave" a convict might work freely in a district, reporting to the local magistrate at regular periods. This system can be likened to the modern-day "parole" system. However, a convict could not own land until his or her sentence was fully served. A conditional pardon granted the convict freedom and restoration of all legal rights - on the condition that he or she did not return to England until the full sentence had expired. A pardon could only be granted at the discretion of the Governor.

However, if a master were harsh or cruel, the convict lived in daily fear of being whipped, even for the most trivial or imagined offences. This threat kept the convicts in a constant state of submission. Worse still, a convict may find themselves sentenced to hard labour.

For convicts assigned to farmers - and later "squatters" - life could be one of hazard and loneliness. Others were assigned to the labour intensive quarrying, road and bridge construction.

Those convicts who were lucky enough to find employment with the Government were usually those who had some skill. Having a skill greatly improved the prospects of a convict. Skilled tradesmen were in constant demand to undertake the construction of government buildings; other may be employed in government stores; other found employment in the homes of prosperous settlers.

Essentially, convicts provided cheap - and expendable - labour for a colony that was undergoing growth and the arrival of new settlers.

1 comment:

Keith said...

Good post.