Crime in Britain increased during the Industrial Revolution, especially in the expanding cities. Thousands, flocked in from the countryside but they could struggle to find work in the industrialised world. People stole simple things like food and clothing to survive.
If they were caught (normally by the victim of the crime rather than the police) they would be taken before a magistrate and prosecuted. Those found guilty received severe sentences with the death penalty for many crimes, including some we would consider trivial today. An alternative sentence to hanging was transportation to the colonies.
Sending convicted criminals to penal colonies abroad instead of executing them had many advantages from the government’s point of view. It removed the criminals from society, was relatively cheap – the state only had to pay the cost of the journey – and provided much needed workers for the new colonies.
Initially, convicts were sent to North America and the West Indies. Around 60,000 convicts were transported up to the time of the American Revolution, which ended transportation there.
Australian Penal Colonies
As convicts could no longer be sent to North America, British prisons soon became overcrowded. Additional accommodation was provided in derelict ships (or hulks) moored in coastal waters.
In 1787, Britain chose Australia as the site of a new penal colony. The following year, eleven convict ships arrived in Botany Bay and founded Sydney, New South Wales. Another penal colony was established in Van Diemen’s Land (modern-day Tasmania) in 1803 and in Queensland in 1824.
Over the course of 80 years, more than 160,000 people were transported from Britain and Ireland to penal colonies in Australia. They included men, women and children, sometimes as young as nine years old. In the early years, about 40% of the whole population of Australia were from the criminal classes.
[The image at the top of this post is ‘The costume of the Australasians’ from the New South Wales Sketchbook: Sea Voyage, Sydney, Illawarra, Newcastle, Morpeth, c.1825, Edward Charles Close, State Library of New South Wales.]
Who Was Transported?
Initially used as an alternative to hanging, transportation was also used as punishment for those whose crimes were considered serious but not worthy of execution. Some convicts were transported for quite trivial offences in order to generate cheap labour in the more inhospitable areas of the colonies. Political protestors such as advocates of Irish Home Rule or Trade Unionism were also frequently transported.
Although the majority of those transported were men, 20% of the convicts were female.
Sentences could range from 3 years to life, with 7 or 14 years being common. The convicts were put to work helping the government of the young colonies – building roads, bridges and public buildings. Australian free settlers could also petition the government to assign convicts to work on their farms or in domestic service. Convicts lives were hard but only a handful ever went back to Britain. Even for those serving shorter terms, there was no procedure for convicts to return home after they completed their sentence. The majority stayed on in Australia after they had served their time. Once free, they could own land and many became successful settlers. Some were even appointed to key positions in the colonial government.
George Tickle was born in Warwickshire in the English Midlands in 1818. He was the third son of William Tickle, a silver plater, and Martha Randall. On 30 June 1834, shortly after his 16th birthday, George was convicted of theft at Worcester Quarter Sessions and was sentenced to 7 years in a penal colony. I’ve not been able to find any more details of his crime but a conviction for robbery, even for small items, could result in transportation. George was one of 261 prisoners, all male, who embarked for transportation to New South Wales on the clipper Henry Porcher
The Henry Porcher
The Henry Porcher sailed on 4 September 1834 and arrived in Port Jackson, Sydney Harbour, on 1 January 1835, a voyage of 119 days. She had 252 convicts of board, 9 having died during the voyage. The convicts came from all over England, Scotland, and the Isle of Man.
Details of the ship, and those on board can be found here. George is listed on the ship’s roll as George Tickell with his occupation as silversmith.
Convict life in Australia
Convicts were sent to Australia primarily to work. Their sentences stipulated they would work from sunrise to sunset, Monday to Saturday. The colonial administration also viewed it as an opportunity for redemption, and believed ‘honest sweat’ was the convict’s best chance of improvement. Convicts lived under very strict rules and those who broke them could be punished by whipping, wearing leg-irons or solitary confinement. Serious crimes could result in sentences to hard-labour prisons such as Port Arthur or Norfolk Island.
By the time George Tickle arrived in Australia only 6% of of convicts were locked up. The vast majority worked for the government on infrastructure projects or for free settlers on their farms.
George was assigned to a Mr Thomas Graham from January 1835 -August 1836 and worked on his property at Bank’s Town. A later report states that: “Tickle was by trade a silver plater, but he was besides a good, rough plasterer.”
A Corrupt Official
When Mr Graham left the colony, his agent took George to the Police Office in order to return him to government service. However, things did not go quite according to plan. The Sydney Gazette and NSW Advertiser reported what happened.
Colonel H.C. Wilson, the First Police Magistrate, remanded George to the watch-house for several days. At the end of that time, instead of being returned to Hyde Park Barracks, as would normally be the procedure, George was remanded in jail for a further week. This was supposedly on a charge of insolence to his master, although no such charge had been made against him. At the end of the week, he was interviewed by Colonel Wilson and then despatched to work on the Colonel’s own property at Miller’s Point. He worked for Colonel Wilson until 1839, when the Colonel was charged with corruption and suspended. It appears he diverted several men who were paid for partly or in full by the police force to work on his private property. He was also charged with converting to his own private use some of the bread and coal provided by the government for the people in the watch-houses.
This Colonel Wilson appears to have been a controversial character. While some newspapers reported on many instances where they believed he had acted improperly, he had many loyal followers who defended him strongly in the local press and credited him with bringing law and order to a previously violent and dangerous town. I understand that he eventually resigned and believe he later took up a position as ‘Protector of Aborigines’ in the new colony of New Zealand.
Ticket of Leave
Convicts who behaved well could be awarded a Ticket of Leave. This allowed them to work for themselves, earn a living, and own property, on condition that they remained in a specified district and reported regularly to a magistrate. They were also obliged to attend divine worship every Sunday. Any misbehaviour at all could result in the ticket being taken away from them
George Tickle was granted a Ticket of Leave in May 1839 from Parramatta district, near Sydney. He moved to Morpeth, New South Wales and, on 30 October 1839, the district under which he was registered was changed to Port Philip. This change of location may have been in part due to him giving testimony against Colonel Wilson.
Convicts were allowed to marry, although the disproportionate number of males meant many did not. Six months after moving to Morpeth, in May 1840, George Tickle applied to be married. He married Mary Ann Hill, also a convict, on 30 Jun 1840 in the Presbyterian Church, Maitland, New South Wales. George was 22 at the time. Mary was a widow, who had also been sentenced to 7 years. On the application, George is shown as having a Ticket of Leave, while Mary is ‘bonded’ – I imagine this means that she was indentured to a family to work for them until she completed her sentence.
Certificate of Freedom
When a convict completed their sentence they were issued with a Certificate of Freedom, showing they were now free. George was granted his Certificate of Freedom on 17 August 1842, almost 8 years from the date he left Britain. He was then 24 years of age, with a wife and young daughter.
George and Mary remained in Australia and went on to have eleven children. They moved to Uralla, NSW and eventually to Walcha. George died on 17 March 1880 and is buried in the Walcha cemetery. You can see the family here and I will post more about them in future. If you can add any information to this story, or you are descended from George, please post below or get in touch with me.