Who Were The Convicts?The original purpose of convict transportation to Australia was establishment of a penal colony to alleviate pressure on the overburdened English correctional facilities following the end of convict transportation to the American colonies. The majority of the 162,000+ chosen for transportation were poor and illiterate, with most convicted for larceny. From about 1810, convicts were seen as a labor source for building and maintaining roads, bridges, courthouses and hospitals. Most female convicts were sent to 'female factories,' essentially forced labor camps, to work off their sentence. Convicts, both male and female, also worked for private employers such as free settlers and small land holders.
Where Were They Sent?Early convicts to Australia were sent to the colony of New South Wales, but by the mid-1800s they were also being sent directly to destinations such as Norfolk Island, Van Diemen's Land (present-day Tasmania), Port Macquarie and Moreton Bay. The first convicts to Western Australia arrived in 1850, also the site of the last convict ship arrival in 1868. 1,750 convicts known as the 'Exiles' arrived in Victoria from Britain between 1844 and 1849.
Good Behavior, Tickets of Leave and PardonsIf well-behaved after their arrival in Australia, convicts rarely served their full term. Good behavior qualified them for a "Ticket of Leave", a Certificate of Freedom, Conditional Pardon or even an Absolute Pardon. A Ticket of Leave, first issued to convicts who seemed able to support themselves, and later to convicts after a set period of eligibility, allowed the convicts to live independently and work for their own wages while remaining subject to monitoring -- a probationary period. The ticket, once issued, could be withdrawn for misbehavior. Generally a convict became eligible for a Ticket of Leave after 4 years for a seven year sentence, after 6 years for a fourteen year sentence, and after 10 years for a life sentence.
Pardons were generally granted to convicts with life sentences, shortening their sentence by granting freedom. A conditional pardon required the freed convict to remain in Australia, while an absolute pardon allowed the freed convict to return to the U.K. if they chose. Those convicts who did not receive a pardon and completed their sentence were issued a Certificate of Freedom.
Were Convicts Really Sent to New Zealand?Despite assurances from the British government that NO convicts would be sent to the fledgling colony of New Zealand, two ships transported groups of "Parkhurst apprentices" to New Zealand -- the St. George carrying 92 boys arrived at Auckland on 25 October 1842, and the Mandarin with a load of 31 boys on 14 November 1843. These Parkhurst apprentices were young boys, most between the ages of 12 and 16, who had been sentenced to Parkhurst, a prison for young male offenders located on the Isle of Wight. The Parkhurst apprentices, most of whom were convicted for minor crimes such as stealing, were rehabilitated at Parkhurst, with training in occupations such as carpentry, shoemaking and tailoring, and then exiled to serve out the remainder of their sentence. The Parkhurst boys chosen for transport to New Zealand were among the best of the group, classified as either "free emigrants" or "colonial apprentices," with the idea that while New Zealand would not accept convicts, they would gladly accept trained labor. This did not go over well with the inhabitants of Auckland, however, who requested that no further convicts be sent to the colony.
Despite their inauspicious beginning, many descendants of the Parkhurst Boy’s became distinguished citizens of New Zealand.