A Number of Convicts under Sentence of Transportation are to be sent to the new Settlement at Botany-Bay, in New South-Wales, which was discovered by Capt. Cook, where they are to have some singular Privileges in Case of good Behaviour.
Tonight the BBC will air the second episode of their historical drama ‘Banished’. The seven episodes of the series are based on the initial weeks after the arrival of the so-called ‘first fleet’ to New South Wales in 1788. The dramatic climax of the first episode rests on, and drives home the premise that this community is cut-off from home, ‘banished’, forgotten, and for all intents and purposes dead to the metropolis ten thousand miles away. Were they ‘Banished’? Forgotten, abandoned even, by the metropolis? The historical truth of the matter is, as always, more complex.
In the late eighteenth century transportation was a long established form of punishment, and an alternative to death for a variety of crimes. Botany Bay was a serendipitous discovery which allowed for the practice to continue unabated after the loss of the American colonies. From 1787 to 1857 transportation ‘beyond the seas’ to Australia formed a central part of the penal system in England and Ireland. Over the course of two generations tens of thousands of men and women were sentenced to a number of years in the far flung colony. After a precarious eight month voyage aboard a relatively small sailing ship they found themselves ten thousand miles from home, in a hot and unfamiliar but not entirely alien world. Contemporary newspaper accounts painted a positive picture of the proposed penal settlement. As part of an expansive maritime empire, and in an age when water travel was the fastest mode of transportation over long distances, New South Wales was described in a manner befitting a luxury travel brochure:
A month’s sail from Cape Good Hope; five weeks from Madras; the same from Canton in China; very near Moluccas, less than a month’s run from Batavia; and lastly within a fortnight’s sail from new Zealand… 
Who was sent? Plucky prostitutes? Hardened criminals? Those that were sent were considered the more serious criminals of their day; prostitutes did not number among them as prostitution itself was not a crime. A transported woman may have been a prostitute but she was transported for crimes such as burglary or theft. At the other end of the spectrum, there were just fifty murderers sentenced to transportation at the Old Bailey, out of the over 41,000 to whom that sentence was given. It also transpires that many sentenced to transportation never made it antipodean shores. Data linkage work at the Digital Panopticon, a major project to explore the life histories of the men and women sentenced at the Old Bailey between 1780 and 1875, has tentatively identified 70% of those sentenced to transportation at the Old Bailey in subsequent transportation records, leaving at least 30% who never arrived. Detailed analysis of those who were left behind reveal that ill health, death and pardons were the primary factors in their not making the journey. Neither was transportation an immediate wrenching of a convict from all that they knew; some waited for up to six years in hulks and prisons before making their journey south. As for those that were sent, they were no rag-tag random bunch of pickpockets and prostitutes, research shows that youth played a part in being finally sent to the colony, as did the possession of a useful trade.
Accounts of how the early colony was faring featured in the news and give an insight into how the colony was integrated into the established trade routes.
13th of April last. The Colony had very much extended its agriculture… Samples of its produce of wheat, barley, and rice, all of which are of the finest quality, and very abundant in their growth… the harvest of last year already produced 300 bushels of corn… fish were caught in great plenty… The supplies sent from the Cape of Good Hope… were expected to have arrived soon… and the several store-ships, which sailed from England in November, 1789, it is calculated must have reached them by June last…
The intention from the start was for New South Wales to be a settlement. By November 1789, less than two years after the arrival of the ‘first fleet’, a convict became a settler. At the expiration of his sentence ‘a hut was built, and one acre and an half ground cleared for him’, on a farm totalling thirty-one acres. Moreover he continued to be provided for by the communal stores for a further three months, and his wife and child availed of them until the end of the year. Families were created from among the ex-convicts and, in later years, families from the metropolis were encouraged to follow prisoners to the new colony. Others who petitioned for pardons still travelled to the colony to start a new life as free settlers. A community was created, at first an out-post of the empire it was soon integrated into the whole. Started by coercion, rather than by a spirit of adventure, or a search for freedom; the convicts sent had little choice in the matter but they were never banished.
 Northampton Mercury, 9 September 1786, p.2
 Transportation was available in some cases until 1868
 Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, 19 October 1786, p.4
Hereford Journal 29 December 1790
 Oxford Journal 2 June 1792, p.4
 Perry McIntyre, Free Passage: The Reunion of Irish Convicts and Their Families in Australia 1788-1852 (The Irish Abroad Series) (Dublin, Irish Academic Press, 2010)
 National Archives of Ireland ‘Convict Reference Files and Prisoners’ Petitions and Cases’ http://www.nationalarchives.ie/topics/transportation/transp8.html
Aoife O Connor is a University of Sheffield PhD student, based in Ireland, researching the impact of digital resources in the history of crime as part of the Digital Panopticon project. You can follow Aoife on twitter @Ordinary_Times at the Digital Panopticon @digipanoptic .
Image production shot from BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-30052433