Britain, Australia Term Paper

Pages: 12 (4342 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: ≈ 48  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Criminal Justice

In 1785 the Parliamentary Committee enquiring into the Transportation Act of 1784 commented, with reference to transportation to America, that "the old system of Transporting to America, answered every good Purpose which could be expected from it - That it tended directly to reclaim the Objects on which it was inflicted, and to render them good Citizens... That the Colonies seem to have been sensible of the beneficial Consequences of this Practice." In the case of the Australian penal colonies drawing workers from the ranks of the convicts was not only a matter of policy, it was also a necessity, given that no other suitable workforce existed:

Governor Phillip [the first governor of Botany Bay] accordingly had to find all his overseers from among the ranks of the convicts. The supervisors' reward at first was freedom from toil. Later they were paid by being allotted one or two convicts for their own use. Some employed these convicts in businesses they ran; others allowed the convicts to work on their own account and took a portion of their earnings. Since it was difficult and expensive to attract nonconvict professional people to the settlement, the colony's government also drew on skilled convicts for services in medicine, law, architecture, and surveying. Overseers, superintendents, and professional people were further encouraged to good service by the granting or promise of pardons.

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That there were incentives for convicts working successfully was a constant feature of the Australian penal colonies throughout their existence, although the opportunities did not apply to all prisoners. Convicts in the hard-labor colonies such as Norfolk Island did not have the chance to contribute to civilian life and make a success of their new surroundings.

Term Paper on Britain, Australia the Concept of Assignment

The type of work a convict might be employed upon varied from manual labor to clerical work, agricultural work to construction. In 1819 Governor Macquarie, responding to the increased numbers of convicts being transported since the ending of war in Europe, established farms upon which convicts not in government service or working for settlers as laborers would work. Macquarie had become Governor in 1809 following the deposition of Governor Bligh and the ending of the corrupt rule of the New South Wales Corps over the colonies. He had shown himself a reformer, enabling convicts to rise in government service, establishing schools for children in the colonies, and reconstructing large areas of Sydney and other colonies. His efforts to establish government farming with convict labor were in the same tradition; his aim was to make something useful and productive from the unfortunate necessity of transportation and confinement.

During Macquarie's administration (he left Australia in 1821) three official British investigations into transportation took place, in 1812, 1819 and 1820. The first was a Select Committee of the House of Commons on Transportation, which was established in 1812 because of concern among many philanthropists at the way in which the transportation was policy was being carried out. Many notable witnesses with direct experience of the Australian colonies appeared before the committee to answer questions, including Captain Bligh. The committee's conclusion was that in general, transportation was achieving the purposes it was intended to achieve, including that of providing convicts with useful work and the possibility of a degree of rehabilitation. In 1819 another select committee considered aspects of penal conditions in Australia as part of an examination of the condition of jails, while in 1820 one J.T. Bigge was appointed as a special commissioner to investigate conditions in the Australian colonies. The cause of this appointment lay in the complaints reaching London from free settlers in Australia, who were dissatisfied at the extensive powers exercised by Governor Macquarie and the arbitrary nature of his authority. The result of this enquiry was that upon Macquarie's departure no other governor was able to exert the extensive powers he had been able to exercise. However, rehabilitation through work remained an aim of the penal colonies until they came to an end in the 1860s.

That is not to say that the regime of the penal colonies was not a harsh one, or that in many cases any hope of rehabilitation must have been destroyed by the harshness of overseers or the severity of punishments. Macquarie himself was a firm advocate of flogging as a means of keeping discipline and deterring hardened criminals from challenging the penal regime. The harshness of the penal settlements within the colonies, in Tasmania and on Norfolk Island, left little hope of any kind for the convicts sent there.

The main hope for a convict to "earn" a degree of freedom was the ticket of leave system, which essentially exempted a convict, for as long as the magistrates accepted, from labour details within the colonies, enabling the convict to live in a particular place with a particular person and, within varying degrees, work for themselves. Holders of a ticket of leave were under the supervision of the magistrates at all times and were liable to lose all their privileges at a moment's notice. Most holders had worked for at least three years in government service, and with the introduction in the 1820s of the probation system time spent in industrious, sober and reliable work for the government was counted towards tickets of leave. This system essentially provided the convicts with better conditions while serving their sentences; it did not end the sentence early. Only a pardon could do that; generally a convict had to see their sentence out to the end, and all incentives to good behaviour, hard work and reformation of character took place within that context.

It is hard to say how effectively the penal colonies worked as places of rehabilitation and reformation. By removing criminals from the streets of Britain it lowered the possibilities for re-offending; any rehabilitatory effect beyond that was a bonus. However, if the system of transportation was to work to the benefit of the colonies the convicts within those colonies did have to be "encouraged" to work hard and contribute to the greater good. In as much as the convict legacy provided one of the foundations for the success of the later Australian colonies, it can be said to have had a beneficial effect.


Modern Australia was a British creation. From the beginnings of white settlement, "Australia was committed to 'Anglo' values, interests, institutions and cultural perspectives." From the British perspective, Australia was, as one of the white imperial dominions, a vital part of the global British community - a significance strengthened by the experience of two twentieth-century world wars. "Australia was a British nation and took pride in its British inheritance: Britain was the ultimate reference point...This was not an 'imperial imposition'. Australians were not forced to be British; they simply wanted to be British." This is a modern historian's summary of the attitude which Australians had towards Britain between 1901 and 1960; a positive attitude, which saw 'Britishness' not as something imposed from outside, but as something arising from within and an essential part of Australian identity.

So what has changed between 1901 and the early twenty-first century? Perhaps the immediately striking thing about the Australia of 2004 is that it does not present the apparently "monocultural" image of the Australia of a century or half-century ago: "there has been an extraordinary increase in the number of ethnic cultural groups in Australia since 1945, which has meant that in ethnic terms Australia has become a much more diverse place." The European faces on Australian streets have been joined by many Asian faces; the languages of east and south-east Asia are to be heard along with English. The opening up of Australia to immigration from beyond the white heartlands - Asia, southern Europe - has brought social and cultural changes that have paralleled political and strategic developments that have seen Australia position itself as a regional, Pacific/Asian power, rather than as an outpost of European/British power.

As mentioned above, the wartime experiences of Australia were of great importance in forging a sense of national identity and in influencing the development of the relationship with Britain. Australians fought alongside Britain with great courage, and the ties of blood remain strong in the military field. Equally, however, a particularly Australian identity developed from the experience of the both the world wars. In the First World War the huge losses suffered by Australia and the sense that Australian troops had been "let down" at Gallipoli and elsewhere by incompetent British commanders struck a chord; while in the Second World War the rapid collapse in British power in Asia in 1941-2 left Australia unable to rely, as before, upon the protection of Great Britain. The result was that she looked to the United States, and U.S.-Australian ties in the defense field remain strong. This is not to say that the military ties between Australia and Britain are not important to both countries; they remain strong and mutually beneficial. But Australia's concern with its own region first and foremost - a concern strengthened… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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How to Cite "Britain, Australia" Term Paper in a Bibliography:

APA Style

Britain, Australia.  (2004, October 19).  Retrieved September 27, 2020, from

MLA Format

"Britain, Australia."  19 October 2004.  Web.  27 September 2020. <>.

Chicago Style

"Britain, Australia."  October 19, 2004.  Accessed September 27, 2020.