Relocation of convicted criminals to a distant place
Penal transportation or transportation was the relocation of convicted criminals, or other persons regarded as undesirable, to a distant place, often a colony for a specified term; later, specifically established penal colonies became their destination. While the prisoners may have been released once the sentences were served, they generally did not have the resources to return home.
Origin and implementation
Banishment or forced exile from a polity or society has been used as a punishment since at least Ancient Roman times. The practice reached its height in the British Empire during the 18th and 19th centuries.
Transportation removed the offender from society, mostly permanently, but was seen as more merciful than capital punishment. This method was used for criminals, debtors, military prisoners, and political prisoners.
Penal transportation was also used as a method of colonization. For example, from the earliest days of English colonial schemes, new settlements beyond the seas were seen as a way to alleviate domestic social problems of criminals and the poor as well as to increase the colonial labour force, for the overall benefit of the realm.
Great Britain and the British Empire
Initially based on the royal prerogative of mercy, and later under English Law, transportation was an alternative sentence imposed for a felony. It was typically imposed for offences for which death was deemed too severe. By 1670, as new felonies were defined, the option of being sentenced to transportation was allowed. Forgery of a document, for example, was a capital crime until the 1820s, when the penalty was reduced to transportation. Depending on the crime, the sentence was imposed for life or for a set period of years. If imposed for a period of years, the offender was permitted to return home after serving his time, but had to make his own way back. Many offenders thus stayed in the colony as free persons, and might obtain employment as jailers or other servants of the penal colony.
England transported its convicts and political prisoners, as well as prisoners of war from Scotland and Ireland, to its overseas colonies in the Americas from the 1610s until early in the American Revolution in 1776, when transportation to America was temporarily suspended by the Criminal Law Act 1776 (16 Geo. 3 c. 43). The practice was mandated in Scotland by an act of 1785, but was less used there than in England. Transportation on a large scale resumed with the departure of the First Fleet to Australia in 1787, and continued there until 1868.
Transportation was not used by Scotland before the Act of Union 1707; following union, the Transportation Act 1717 specifically excluded its use in Scotland. Under the Transportation, etc. Act 1785 (25 Geo. 3 c. 46) the Parliament of Great Britain