Membership required

You need to be a Member to listen to this podcast

From €5

per month

See membership options
Episode
108

Penal Colonies

First published on
November 20, 2020
History
-
17
minutes
The British Empire
Australia
Crime
Great Britain
Prison
Politics

Starting in the 17th century, Britain sent hundreds of thousands of people to America and Australia for crimes as small as stealing a loaf of bread.

Learn about why this happened, how it worked, and the legacy it has left on the countries where these prisoners were sent to.

You need to be a member to listen to this episode
Subtitles will start when you press 'play'
You need to subscribe for the full subtitles
Already a member? Login
Download transcript & key vocabulary pdf
Download transcript & key vocabulary pdfDownload transcript & key vocabulary pdf

Transcript

[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:11] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about Penal Colonies, when Britain put hundreds of thousands of criminals on ships and sent them off to America and Australia for crimes as minor as stealing a loaf of bread.

[00:00:39] Before we get right into that though, I want to tell you about something I’m really excited about, and it’s a really cool new feature that’s just launched on the website, on leonardoenglish.com.

[00:00:52] As you may know, you can get the subtitles and transcripts for all of our episodes on the website, but what you can do now is hover over, or tap, on any of the harder words and immediately see what they mean.

[00:01:07] This makes following along with the audio even easier, it means you'll never miss a word, and will mean you’ll learn a load of new vocabulary that you wouldn’t have done otherwise.

[00:01:18] It’s super exciting, so do go and check that out - the place to go is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:01:26] OK then, let’s get started and talk about penal colonies, and the system of sending criminals thousands of miles away, to the other side of the world.

[00:01:37] The system, or idea, of sending people who have committed crimes away from society has existed throughout history. 

[00:01:47] From a practical point of view, it makes sense. 

[00:01:50] If someone has committed a crime and you don’t want them to do it again, you can either kill them, you execute them, or you put them somewhere that makes it harder to commit that crime again.

[00:02:03] That can either be in a prison or you can just send them away, so they physically can’t come back and commit another crime.

[00:02:13] We have evidence from the Ancient Romans that banishing citizens, that not allowing them back into the city, was a common punishment for several crimes. 

[00:02:25] Of course it doesn’t just serve the purpose of removing them from the city so they’re no longer a threat, it also acts as a deterrent to other people.

[00:02:36] If people know that they will be kicked out of a place for committing a crime then they should be less likely to commit that crime.

[00:02:45] Until relatively recently, throughout Europe crime was met with pretty harsh punishments, in order both to stop criminals from committing crimes again, and to deter others from committing them in the first place.

[00:03:01] Up until the 18th century in Britain, a large proportion of crimes were punishable by death, by execution.

[00:03:10] Indeed, in 1777 there were 222 crimes in Britain that were punishable by death, and they weren’t all what we could consider terrible, capital crimes today.

[00:03:24] In fact, most of them were some form of stealing, of theft.

[00:03:31] At the time if you stole anything worth over 5 shillings, which is today’s equivalent of about €25, then you could be executed, you could be killed.

[00:03:44] If you cut down a tree, if you stole a horse, or even if you stole a rabbit, you could be executed, killed for your crimes.

[00:03:56] This has led to the law of this period, of the 17th and 18th centuries, being called the Bloody Code, because of quite how little you needed to do to be executed.

[00:04:10] It was also during this period that Britain had experienced the Agricultural and then Industrial Revolutions. 

[00:04:19] Agricultural workers were being replaced by machines and better farming techniques, and they were flocking to the city in droves, they were moving to the city in large numbers.

[00:04:32] But cities in 17th and 18th century England were pretty horrible places. 

[00:04:39] Living conditions were terrible, wages were very low, diseases spread quickly, there was a gin epidemic going on, and many people were reduced to stealing just to have enough food to survive.

[00:04:56] Crime rates increased dramatically, despite this Bloody Code that was intended to act as a deterrent, to frighten people into not stealing.

[00:05:07] But when you have an empty stomach and the alternative is starving to death, I guess that really isn’t much of a choice.

[00:05:17] The prisons that did exist filled up, and the British government started to use warships, large boats, as huge floating prisons.

[00:05:28] These were normally old ships that were no longer in active military service, and they were kept just off-land, filled with prisoners in terrible conditions. 

[00:05:42] Indeed, diseases such as cholera were rife on these ships, and prisoners died in large amounts. Although you might not be sentenced to death, being sent to one of these prison ships was a death sentence for many people.

[00:06:01] The ships were full, the prisons were full, and there was a growing movement from philosophers and public figures that just executing people for such small crimes as theft was morally wrong.

[00:06:18] But some punishment was required, otherwise there would be no deterrent

[00:06:22] You couldn’t just let people off their crimes.

[00:06:26] Crime rates would go up. So something needed to be done.

[00:06:30] The solution was what was called ‘transportation’, being sent in a ship far, far away.

[00:06:39] To begin with, criminals were sent to America, to the 13 colonies on the east coast of what is now the United States of America and Canada.

[00:06:50] This started actually in the 1610s.

[00:06:54] For crimes as small as stealing a loaf of bread you might be sentenced to be put on a ship and sent off to America for either 7 or 14 years. 

[00:07:07] The ships were, as you might imagine, horrible, rat-infested vessels

[00:07:13] If you did manage to survive the journey, you would in effect be sold to a plantation owner in one of the new colonies.

[00:07:23] The working conditions when you got there were often terrible, it was forced labour for 10 hours a day, often alongside, and under exactly the same conditions, as the slaves on the plantations.

[00:07:39] And even if you did manage to survive your 7 or 14 years, there was no free ticket back home. 

[00:07:48] You would have to pay for a ticket back to Britain, and given that these prisoners had been working as unpaid labourers for the duration of their time there, they had no money and no way to go home. 

[00:08:02] They might find a job in the new colony, as a jailer, or working as a servant, but it was very rare that they would ever be able to earn enough money for a ticket back to Britain.

[00:08:15] So in effect you were sent away for life.

[00:08:19] It’s thought that anywhere between 60,000 and 120,000 prisoners were sent from Britain to America, which is up to 10% of the total migrants to America during that time. 

[00:08:35] Now, part of the American founding story is that the founding fathers left Europe because they went in search for a better land, a home of the free, but the reality is that quite a large number of the early settlers were actually criminals, even if the crimes they might have committed were pretty minor.

[00:09:00] This is something you certainly won’t find taught in many American high school classes.

[00:09:06] This continued until the American Revolution in 1776, when of course the Americans weren’t so keen on Britain using their newly independent country as an open jail, a place to house British prisoners.

[00:09:22] So Britain needed to find somewhere else.

[00:09:26] It just so happened that 6 years earlier, in 1770, Captain James Cook had sailed from Plymouth, in the south west of England, all the way down the Atlantic, past the bottom of South America, around New Zealand, and then ‘discovered’ or rather he was the first known European to discover, Australia, which he claimed as a British colony, on behalf of the king, George III.

[00:09:58] It was decided that this new colony, on the other side of the world, was to be the next destination for British criminals.

[00:10:08] Indeed, one of the differences between how Britain viewed Australia and how it viewed America was that sending convicts to America was only a small part of its American policy. 

[00:10:22] With Australia, it was to be a penal colony, an island for prisoners, with convicts being an instrumental part of the British plan to colonise and populate the island.

[00:10:36] So, Australia was to be the new America, the new destination for convicts, and on the 13th of May 1787 the first ships set sail for Australia, arriving 8 months later with 10% of the convicts on board dying during the journey.

[00:10:57] 10% actually turned out to be quite a good result - during later voyages up to 30% of the passengers, the convicts on board, would die during the trip.

[00:11:10] Of course, Australia is even further away from Britain than America, and if in America it was just very very hard to go back to Britain, from Australia there really was no going back.

[00:11:26] Conditions were just as harsh when you got there. The prisoners were set to work building new settlements. They were fiercely punished for any misbehaviour, and it was a cruel and hard life.

[00:11:41] Between the first voyage in 1787 and when the last convicts arrived in 1868 it’s thought that more than 160,000 convicts, 160,000 prisoners, were transported from Britain to Australia. 

[00:11:59] Indeed, now one in five Australians is the descendant of a convict, which is the subject of lots of rude jokes that Brits make about Australians.

[00:12:11] Of course, Britain wasn’t the only country to have sent its prisoners off on boats or trains to far away lands. 

[00:12:20] Other countries did it, and some, sadly, still do it.

[00:12:24] France used the notoriously awful Devil’s Island, an island off French Guiana. If you’ve seen the cult film Papillon, that’s where that took place. 

[00:12:36] 

[00:12:36] Devil’s Island was also where Alfred Dreyfus was sent, the army officer wrongly convicted of treason, which triggered The Dreyfus Affair.

[00:12:47] The Soviet Union transported millions of citizens from the West of the country to Siberia and the Central Asian states, places like Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan. 

[00:13:00] These were mainly so called political prisoners, who were sent far away to be out of the way and not cause trouble in the west of the country, but also to start settlements in underpopulated areas of the Soviet Union. 

[00:13:16] If you want to learn more about that then you should check out the episode on the Aral Sea, the sea that disappeared.

[00:13:23] And North Korea still does it. 

[00:13:27] Granted, it’s not sending prisoners off to the other side of the world because, well, it can’t, but it’s still sending unwanted actors far away to the other side of the country to work in labour camps.

[00:13:42] Britain started to stop sending prisoners to Australia in the 1850s, and the last British prisoners arrived in 1868. 

[00:13:52] It ended over 150 years ago, but British culture and history is peppered with examples of people who were either sent to Australia, or who narrowly avoided it.

[00:14:06] If you’ve listened to the episode on the history of Harrods, the famous department store, you’ll remember that the founder of Harrods narrowly escaped being sent to Australia for handling stolen goods. 

[00:14:20] And perhaps the most well-known example of someone being sent to Australia is in the Dickens novel, Great Expectations.

[00:14:30] Pip, the small boy who helps a man at the opening of the book later discovers that this man, Magwitch, was a convict sent to Australia, who ends up making a lot of money, secretly sending it to Pip, and later returning to see what a man Pip had turned out to be.

[00:14:49] So, penal colonies, and the idea of sending prisoners to the other side of the world has left a lasting mark on the culture and history of Britain, on Australia, and even, although they wouldn’t like to admit it, on The United States of America.

[00:15:08] OK then, that is it for today's episode on Penal Colonies, on sending prisoners to the other side of the world.

[00:15:16] I hope it's been an interesting one, and that when someone says something rude like ‘Australia is full of criminals’, then you'll know a little bit more about the history behind that.

[00:15:27] As a quick, final reminder, if you are looking to improve your English in a more interesting way, to join a community of curious minds from all over the world, and to unlock the transcripts, subtitles, and key vocabulary, then I’d definitely recommend checking out becoming a member of Leonardo English.

[00:15:45] We’ve just launched that super cool new feature that means you can hover over the words and discover their meaning right as you listen, so that’s well worth a look, if you haven’t done so already.

[00:15:56] The place to go is Leonardo english.com

[00:15:59] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English

[00:16:05] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.


Continue learning

Get immediate access to a more interesting way of improving your English
Become a memberUpgrade to Learner membership
Already a member? Login

[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:11] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about Penal Colonies, when Britain put hundreds of thousands of criminals on ships and sent them off to America and Australia for crimes as minor as stealing a loaf of bread.

[00:00:39] Before we get right into that though, I want to tell you about something I’m really excited about, and it’s a really cool new feature that’s just launched on the website, on leonardoenglish.com.

[00:00:52] As you may know, you can get the subtitles and transcripts for all of our episodes on the website, but what you can do now is hover over, or tap, on any of the harder words and immediately see what they mean.

[00:01:07] This makes following along with the audio even easier, it means you'll never miss a word, and will mean you’ll learn a load of new vocabulary that you wouldn’t have done otherwise.

[00:01:18] It’s super exciting, so do go and check that out - the place to go is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:01:26] OK then, let’s get started and talk about penal colonies, and the system of sending criminals thousands of miles away, to the other side of the world.

[00:01:37] The system, or idea, of sending people who have committed crimes away from society has existed throughout history. 

[00:01:47] From a practical point of view, it makes sense. 

[00:01:50] If someone has committed a crime and you don’t want them to do it again, you can either kill them, you execute them, or you put them somewhere that makes it harder to commit that crime again.

[00:02:03] That can either be in a prison or you can just send them away, so they physically can’t come back and commit another crime.

[00:02:13] We have evidence from the Ancient Romans that banishing citizens, that not allowing them back into the city, was a common punishment for several crimes. 

[00:02:25] Of course it doesn’t just serve the purpose of removing them from the city so they’re no longer a threat, it also acts as a deterrent to other people.

[00:02:36] If people know that they will be kicked out of a place for committing a crime then they should be less likely to commit that crime.

[00:02:45] Until relatively recently, throughout Europe crime was met with pretty harsh punishments, in order both to stop criminals from committing crimes again, and to deter others from committing them in the first place.

[00:03:01] Up until the 18th century in Britain, a large proportion of crimes were punishable by death, by execution.

[00:03:10] Indeed, in 1777 there were 222 crimes in Britain that were punishable by death, and they weren’t all what we could consider terrible, capital crimes today.

[00:03:24] In fact, most of them were some form of stealing, of theft.

[00:03:31] At the time if you stole anything worth over 5 shillings, which is today’s equivalent of about €25, then you could be executed, you could be killed.

[00:03:44] If you cut down a tree, if you stole a horse, or even if you stole a rabbit, you could be executed, killed for your crimes.

[00:03:56] This has led to the law of this period, of the 17th and 18th centuries, being called the Bloody Code, because of quite how little you needed to do to be executed.

[00:04:10] It was also during this period that Britain had experienced the Agricultural and then Industrial Revolutions. 

[00:04:19] Agricultural workers were being replaced by machines and better farming techniques, and they were flocking to the city in droves, they were moving to the city in large numbers.

[00:04:32] But cities in 17th and 18th century England were pretty horrible places. 

[00:04:39] Living conditions were terrible, wages were very low, diseases spread quickly, there was a gin epidemic going on, and many people were reduced to stealing just to have enough food to survive.

[00:04:56] Crime rates increased dramatically, despite this Bloody Code that was intended to act as a deterrent, to frighten people into not stealing.

[00:05:07] But when you have an empty stomach and the alternative is starving to death, I guess that really isn’t much of a choice.

[00:05:17] The prisons that did exist filled up, and the British government started to use warships, large boats, as huge floating prisons.

[00:05:28] These were normally old ships that were no longer in active military service, and they were kept just off-land, filled with prisoners in terrible conditions. 

[00:05:42] Indeed, diseases such as cholera were rife on these ships, and prisoners died in large amounts. Although you might not be sentenced to death, being sent to one of these prison ships was a death sentence for many people.

[00:06:01] The ships were full, the prisons were full, and there was a growing movement from philosophers and public figures that just executing people for such small crimes as theft was morally wrong.

[00:06:18] But some punishment was required, otherwise there would be no deterrent

[00:06:22] You couldn’t just let people off their crimes.

[00:06:26] Crime rates would go up. So something needed to be done.

[00:06:30] The solution was what was called ‘transportation’, being sent in a ship far, far away.

[00:06:39] To begin with, criminals were sent to America, to the 13 colonies on the east coast of what is now the United States of America and Canada.

[00:06:50] This started actually in the 1610s.

[00:06:54] For crimes as small as stealing a loaf of bread you might be sentenced to be put on a ship and sent off to America for either 7 or 14 years. 

[00:07:07] The ships were, as you might imagine, horrible, rat-infested vessels

[00:07:13] If you did manage to survive the journey, you would in effect be sold to a plantation owner in one of the new colonies.

[00:07:23] The working conditions when you got there were often terrible, it was forced labour for 10 hours a day, often alongside, and under exactly the same conditions, as the slaves on the plantations.

[00:07:39] And even if you did manage to survive your 7 or 14 years, there was no free ticket back home. 

[00:07:48] You would have to pay for a ticket back to Britain, and given that these prisoners had been working as unpaid labourers for the duration of their time there, they had no money and no way to go home. 

[00:08:02] They might find a job in the new colony, as a jailer, or working as a servant, but it was very rare that they would ever be able to earn enough money for a ticket back to Britain.

[00:08:15] So in effect you were sent away for life.

[00:08:19] It’s thought that anywhere between 60,000 and 120,000 prisoners were sent from Britain to America, which is up to 10% of the total migrants to America during that time. 

[00:08:35] Now, part of the American founding story is that the founding fathers left Europe because they went in search for a better land, a home of the free, but the reality is that quite a large number of the early settlers were actually criminals, even if the crimes they might have committed were pretty minor.

[00:09:00] This is something you certainly won’t find taught in many American high school classes.

[00:09:06] This continued until the American Revolution in 1776, when of course the Americans weren’t so keen on Britain using their newly independent country as an open jail, a place to house British prisoners.

[00:09:22] So Britain needed to find somewhere else.

[00:09:26] It just so happened that 6 years earlier, in 1770, Captain James Cook had sailed from Plymouth, in the south west of England, all the way down the Atlantic, past the bottom of South America, around New Zealand, and then ‘discovered’ or rather he was the first known European to discover, Australia, which he claimed as a British colony, on behalf of the king, George III.

[00:09:58] It was decided that this new colony, on the other side of the world, was to be the next destination for British criminals.

[00:10:08] Indeed, one of the differences between how Britain viewed Australia and how it viewed America was that sending convicts to America was only a small part of its American policy. 

[00:10:22] With Australia, it was to be a penal colony, an island for prisoners, with convicts being an instrumental part of the British plan to colonise and populate the island.

[00:10:36] So, Australia was to be the new America, the new destination for convicts, and on the 13th of May 1787 the first ships set sail for Australia, arriving 8 months later with 10% of the convicts on board dying during the journey.

[00:10:57] 10% actually turned out to be quite a good result - during later voyages up to 30% of the passengers, the convicts on board, would die during the trip.

[00:11:10] Of course, Australia is even further away from Britain than America, and if in America it was just very very hard to go back to Britain, from Australia there really was no going back.

[00:11:26] Conditions were just as harsh when you got there. The prisoners were set to work building new settlements. They were fiercely punished for any misbehaviour, and it was a cruel and hard life.

[00:11:41] Between the first voyage in 1787 and when the last convicts arrived in 1868 it’s thought that more than 160,000 convicts, 160,000 prisoners, were transported from Britain to Australia. 

[00:11:59] Indeed, now one in five Australians is the descendant of a convict, which is the subject of lots of rude jokes that Brits make about Australians.

[00:12:11] Of course, Britain wasn’t the only country to have sent its prisoners off on boats or trains to far away lands. 

[00:12:20] Other countries did it, and some, sadly, still do it.

[00:12:24] France used the notoriously awful Devil’s Island, an island off French Guiana. If you’ve seen the cult film Papillon, that’s where that took place. 

[00:12:36] 

[00:12:36] Devil’s Island was also where Alfred Dreyfus was sent, the army officer wrongly convicted of treason, which triggered The Dreyfus Affair.

[00:12:47] The Soviet Union transported millions of citizens from the West of the country to Siberia and the Central Asian states, places like Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan. 

[00:13:00] These were mainly so called political prisoners, who were sent far away to be out of the way and not cause trouble in the west of the country, but also to start settlements in underpopulated areas of the Soviet Union. 

[00:13:16] If you want to learn more about that then you should check out the episode on the Aral Sea, the sea that disappeared.

[00:13:23] And North Korea still does it. 

[00:13:27] Granted, it’s not sending prisoners off to the other side of the world because, well, it can’t, but it’s still sending unwanted actors far away to the other side of the country to work in labour camps.

[00:13:42] Britain started to stop sending prisoners to Australia in the 1850s, and the last British prisoners arrived in 1868. 

[00:13:52] It ended over 150 years ago, but British culture and history is peppered with examples of people who were either sent to Australia, or who narrowly avoided it.

[00:14:06] If you’ve listened to the episode on the history of Harrods, the famous department store, you’ll remember that the founder of Harrods narrowly escaped being sent to Australia for handling stolen goods. 

[00:14:20] And perhaps the most well-known example of someone being sent to Australia is in the Dickens novel, Great Expectations.

[00:14:30] Pip, the small boy who helps a man at the opening of the book later discovers that this man, Magwitch, was a convict sent to Australia, who ends up making a lot of money, secretly sending it to Pip, and later returning to see what a man Pip had turned out to be.

[00:14:49] So, penal colonies, and the idea of sending prisoners to the other side of the world has left a lasting mark on the culture and history of Britain, on Australia, and even, although they wouldn’t like to admit it, on The United States of America.

[00:15:08] OK then, that is it for today's episode on Penal Colonies, on sending prisoners to the other side of the world.

[00:15:16] I hope it's been an interesting one, and that when someone says something rude like ‘Australia is full of criminals’, then you'll know a little bit more about the history behind that.

[00:15:27] As a quick, final reminder, if you are looking to improve your English in a more interesting way, to join a community of curious minds from all over the world, and to unlock the transcripts, subtitles, and key vocabulary, then I’d definitely recommend checking out becoming a member of Leonardo English.

[00:15:45] We’ve just launched that super cool new feature that means you can hover over the words and discover their meaning right as you listen, so that’s well worth a look, if you haven’t done so already.

[00:15:56] The place to go is Leonardo english.com

[00:15:59] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English

[00:16:05] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.


[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:11] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about Penal Colonies, when Britain put hundreds of thousands of criminals on ships and sent them off to America and Australia for crimes as minor as stealing a loaf of bread.

[00:00:39] Before we get right into that though, I want to tell you about something I’m really excited about, and it’s a really cool new feature that’s just launched on the website, on leonardoenglish.com.

[00:00:52] As you may know, you can get the subtitles and transcripts for all of our episodes on the website, but what you can do now is hover over, or tap, on any of the harder words and immediately see what they mean.

[00:01:07] This makes following along with the audio even easier, it means you'll never miss a word, and will mean you’ll learn a load of new vocabulary that you wouldn’t have done otherwise.

[00:01:18] It’s super exciting, so do go and check that out - the place to go is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:01:26] OK then, let’s get started and talk about penal colonies, and the system of sending criminals thousands of miles away, to the other side of the world.

[00:01:37] The system, or idea, of sending people who have committed crimes away from society has existed throughout history. 

[00:01:47] From a practical point of view, it makes sense. 

[00:01:50] If someone has committed a crime and you don’t want them to do it again, you can either kill them, you execute them, or you put them somewhere that makes it harder to commit that crime again.

[00:02:03] That can either be in a prison or you can just send them away, so they physically can’t come back and commit another crime.

[00:02:13] We have evidence from the Ancient Romans that banishing citizens, that not allowing them back into the city, was a common punishment for several crimes. 

[00:02:25] Of course it doesn’t just serve the purpose of removing them from the city so they’re no longer a threat, it also acts as a deterrent to other people.

[00:02:36] If people know that they will be kicked out of a place for committing a crime then they should be less likely to commit that crime.

[00:02:45] Until relatively recently, throughout Europe crime was met with pretty harsh punishments, in order both to stop criminals from committing crimes again, and to deter others from committing them in the first place.

[00:03:01] Up until the 18th century in Britain, a large proportion of crimes were punishable by death, by execution.

[00:03:10] Indeed, in 1777 there were 222 crimes in Britain that were punishable by death, and they weren’t all what we could consider terrible, capital crimes today.

[00:03:24] In fact, most of them were some form of stealing, of theft.

[00:03:31] At the time if you stole anything worth over 5 shillings, which is today’s equivalent of about €25, then you could be executed, you could be killed.

[00:03:44] If you cut down a tree, if you stole a horse, or even if you stole a rabbit, you could be executed, killed for your crimes.

[00:03:56] This has led to the law of this period, of the 17th and 18th centuries, being called the Bloody Code, because of quite how little you needed to do to be executed.

[00:04:10] It was also during this period that Britain had experienced the Agricultural and then Industrial Revolutions. 

[00:04:19] Agricultural workers were being replaced by machines and better farming techniques, and they were flocking to the city in droves, they were moving to the city in large numbers.

[00:04:32] But cities in 17th and 18th century England were pretty horrible places. 

[00:04:39] Living conditions were terrible, wages were very low, diseases spread quickly, there was a gin epidemic going on, and many people were reduced to stealing just to have enough food to survive.

[00:04:56] Crime rates increased dramatically, despite this Bloody Code that was intended to act as a deterrent, to frighten people into not stealing.

[00:05:07] But when you have an empty stomach and the alternative is starving to death, I guess that really isn’t much of a choice.

[00:05:17] The prisons that did exist filled up, and the British government started to use warships, large boats, as huge floating prisons.

[00:05:28] These were normally old ships that were no longer in active military service, and they were kept just off-land, filled with prisoners in terrible conditions. 

[00:05:42] Indeed, diseases such as cholera were rife on these ships, and prisoners died in large amounts. Although you might not be sentenced to death, being sent to one of these prison ships was a death sentence for many people.

[00:06:01] The ships were full, the prisons were full, and there was a growing movement from philosophers and public figures that just executing people for such small crimes as theft was morally wrong.

[00:06:18] But some punishment was required, otherwise there would be no deterrent

[00:06:22] You couldn’t just let people off their crimes.

[00:06:26] Crime rates would go up. So something needed to be done.

[00:06:30] The solution was what was called ‘transportation’, being sent in a ship far, far away.

[00:06:39] To begin with, criminals were sent to America, to the 13 colonies on the east coast of what is now the United States of America and Canada.

[00:06:50] This started actually in the 1610s.

[00:06:54] For crimes as small as stealing a loaf of bread you might be sentenced to be put on a ship and sent off to America for either 7 or 14 years. 

[00:07:07] The ships were, as you might imagine, horrible, rat-infested vessels

[00:07:13] If you did manage to survive the journey, you would in effect be sold to a plantation owner in one of the new colonies.

[00:07:23] The working conditions when you got there were often terrible, it was forced labour for 10 hours a day, often alongside, and under exactly the same conditions, as the slaves on the plantations.

[00:07:39] And even if you did manage to survive your 7 or 14 years, there was no free ticket back home. 

[00:07:48] You would have to pay for a ticket back to Britain, and given that these prisoners had been working as unpaid labourers for the duration of their time there, they had no money and no way to go home. 

[00:08:02] They might find a job in the new colony, as a jailer, or working as a servant, but it was very rare that they would ever be able to earn enough money for a ticket back to Britain.

[00:08:15] So in effect you were sent away for life.

[00:08:19] It’s thought that anywhere between 60,000 and 120,000 prisoners were sent from Britain to America, which is up to 10% of the total migrants to America during that time. 

[00:08:35] Now, part of the American founding story is that the founding fathers left Europe because they went in search for a better land, a home of the free, but the reality is that quite a large number of the early settlers were actually criminals, even if the crimes they might have committed were pretty minor.

[00:09:00] This is something you certainly won’t find taught in many American high school classes.

[00:09:06] This continued until the American Revolution in 1776, when of course the Americans weren’t so keen on Britain using their newly independent country as an open jail, a place to house British prisoners.

[00:09:22] So Britain needed to find somewhere else.

[00:09:26] It just so happened that 6 years earlier, in 1770, Captain James Cook had sailed from Plymouth, in the south west of England, all the way down the Atlantic, past the bottom of South America, around New Zealand, and then ‘discovered’ or rather he was the first known European to discover, Australia, which he claimed as a British colony, on behalf of the king, George III.

[00:09:58] It was decided that this new colony, on the other side of the world, was to be the next destination for British criminals.

[00:10:08] Indeed, one of the differences between how Britain viewed Australia and how it viewed America was that sending convicts to America was only a small part of its American policy. 

[00:10:22] With Australia, it was to be a penal colony, an island for prisoners, with convicts being an instrumental part of the British plan to colonise and populate the island.

[00:10:36] So, Australia was to be the new America, the new destination for convicts, and on the 13th of May 1787 the first ships set sail for Australia, arriving 8 months later with 10% of the convicts on board dying during the journey.

[00:10:57] 10% actually turned out to be quite a good result - during later voyages up to 30% of the passengers, the convicts on board, would die during the trip.

[00:11:10] Of course, Australia is even further away from Britain than America, and if in America it was just very very hard to go back to Britain, from Australia there really was no going back.

[00:11:26] Conditions were just as harsh when you got there. The prisoners were set to work building new settlements. They were fiercely punished for any misbehaviour, and it was a cruel and hard life.

[00:11:41] Between the first voyage in 1787 and when the last convicts arrived in 1868 it’s thought that more than 160,000 convicts, 160,000 prisoners, were transported from Britain to Australia. 

[00:11:59] Indeed, now one in five Australians is the descendant of a convict, which is the subject of lots of rude jokes that Brits make about Australians.

[00:12:11] Of course, Britain wasn’t the only country to have sent its prisoners off on boats or trains to far away lands. 

[00:12:20] Other countries did it, and some, sadly, still do it.

[00:12:24] France used the notoriously awful Devil’s Island, an island off French Guiana. If you’ve seen the cult film Papillon, that’s where that took place. 

[00:12:36] 

[00:12:36] Devil’s Island was also where Alfred Dreyfus was sent, the army officer wrongly convicted of treason, which triggered The Dreyfus Affair.

[00:12:47] The Soviet Union transported millions of citizens from the West of the country to Siberia and the Central Asian states, places like Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan. 

[00:13:00] These were mainly so called political prisoners, who were sent far away to be out of the way and not cause trouble in the west of the country, but also to start settlements in underpopulated areas of the Soviet Union. 

[00:13:16] If you want to learn more about that then you should check out the episode on the Aral Sea, the sea that disappeared.

[00:13:23] And North Korea still does it. 

[00:13:27] Granted, it’s not sending prisoners off to the other side of the world because, well, it can’t, but it’s still sending unwanted actors far away to the other side of the country to work in labour camps.

[00:13:42] Britain started to stop sending prisoners to Australia in the 1850s, and the last British prisoners arrived in 1868. 

[00:13:52] It ended over 150 years ago, but British culture and history is peppered with examples of people who were either sent to Australia, or who narrowly avoided it.

[00:14:06] If you’ve listened to the episode on the history of Harrods, the famous department store, you’ll remember that the founder of Harrods narrowly escaped being sent to Australia for handling stolen goods. 

[00:14:20] And perhaps the most well-known example of someone being sent to Australia is in the Dickens novel, Great Expectations.

[00:14:30] Pip, the small boy who helps a man at the opening of the book later discovers that this man, Magwitch, was a convict sent to Australia, who ends up making a lot of money, secretly sending it to Pip, and later returning to see what a man Pip had turned out to be.

[00:14:49] So, penal colonies, and the idea of sending prisoners to the other side of the world has left a lasting mark on the culture and history of Britain, on Australia, and even, although they wouldn’t like to admit it, on The United States of America.

[00:15:08] OK then, that is it for today's episode on Penal Colonies, on sending prisoners to the other side of the world.

[00:15:16] I hope it's been an interesting one, and that when someone says something rude like ‘Australia is full of criminals’, then you'll know a little bit more about the history behind that.

[00:15:27] As a quick, final reminder, if you are looking to improve your English in a more interesting way, to join a community of curious minds from all over the world, and to unlock the transcripts, subtitles, and key vocabulary, then I’d definitely recommend checking out becoming a member of Leonardo English.

[00:15:45] We’ve just launched that super cool new feature that means you can hover over the words and discover their meaning right as you listen, so that’s well worth a look, if you haven’t done so already.

[00:15:56] The place to go is Leonardo english.com

[00:15:59] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English

[00:16:05] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.