American War, prison hulks, Joseph Banks, Australia. Connect!

An intriguing connection between, the American War, prison hulks, Joseph Banks and Australia

Britain sent between 30,000 and 35,000 convicts to America between 1718 and 1775.

The American War of Independence began in 1776 and from that moment America refused to take any more convicts

This put considerable strain on a prison system, that was ill equipped to cope:

    • The prison system at this time was not very large and was fairly full already with people awaiting transportation
    • Gaols really only served to hold people until their cases came up at the assizes, then they would empty
    • The gaols were not very secure, prisoners were usually kept in irons
    • Most prisons were not purpose built, they might be in old castles such as at Lancaster, or back rooms of inns or barns
    • Food was scarce in prison, largely provided by family and friends
    • Conditions were cramped and gaol fever rife

Unable to send any more convicts to America, the prison system very quickly became unable to cope.

    • Conditions had to improve and the government were forced to act, they passed an act recommending improvements to existing prisons or the building of new ones
    • Temporary relief came by handing out alternative sentences such as hard labour on the banks of the Thames and this resulted in prison hulks on the Thames and then Portsmouth and Plymouth
    • Some prisoners were given the option of going into the army or going to sea

The problem continued to grow and a more drastic solution was sought.

Joseph Banks, botanist, who sailed with Cook to Tahiti, recommended an entirely new penal colony be founded on the Eastern coast of New South Wales.


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