For further crimes committed in the colonies, convicts were tried by the local Courts of Petty
Sessions and Bench Magistrates. Many records of colonial trials still exist and newspapers of
the day are a good source of information about colonial offences and their repercussions. An
SAONSW guide entitled "Clerk of the Peace Part 1: Quarter Session Records 1824-1920" lists by
name those who were involved in the cases. Many of the colonial offences were as trivial as
using abusive language, drunkenness, disobedience, absconding and insubordination. Unfortunately
most of the records from the Country Benches were destroyed in the late 1800s as a matter of
policy to protect the reputations of the convicts' descendants.
Secondary Punishment Colonies
Many colonial offenders were re-transported to secondary colonies at Norfolk Island, Newcastle,
Port Macquarie, Van Diemen's Land and Moreton Bay. These settlements were purposely structured
to be harsh in an attempt to deter future offenders.
Newcastle was the site of the first secondary penal colony and was established in 1804 to
confine a group of Irish convicts who had staged an uprising at Castle Hill. It operated until
1824 and amid harsh conditions, repeat offenders were set to work cutting and hauling timber,
working coal mines and gathering sea shells which they converted into lime.
Port Macquarie took over from Newcastle after free settlers began to arrive in the Newcastle
district. Once again the convicts were set to work cutting and preparing timber for shippment to
Sydney. The colony was closed nine years later following criticism of its methods of operation.
Its convicts were transferred to Norfolk Island and private settlers moved in. Lists of the male
convicts sent to and from Port Macquarie between 1822 and 1834 provide their name, original
conviction, calling, transportation vessel, convict number, who they were replacing or replaced
by, colonial conviction, date of transportation to Port Macquarie and date.
Norfolk Island was originally settled in 1788 but was finally abondoned in 1814 because it had
always been difficult to manage, was never self supporting and lacked a protected harbour for
the delivery of supplies. In 1824 The British government reopened it for secondary punishment of
the worst convicts. It was to accommodate between 1500 and 2000 convicts and provide the
'harshest possible discipline short of death'. So unpleasant were the conditions that rebellions
and uprisings were a regular ocurrence. In 1840 the Island was excluded from Britain's decision
to end transportation to New South Wales and in 1842 control of the island was transferred to
Van Dieman's Land. In 1852 after transportation to Van Dieman's Land was suspended, the Island
was handed over to descendants of the 'Bounty' mutineers who had been living on Pitcairn Island.
In 1824 Moreton Bay was selected as the site for a separate penal settlement to house Sydney's
worst convicts. Its brutality was notorious and by 1839 an official decision was made to end
transportation to Moreton Bay. During the 1840s, however, convict ships continued to be diverted
from Sydney and in 1849 a change in government in Britain led to yet another overturn in policy.
As a result, a convict transport was sent directly from Britain to Moreton Bay, but the change
in policy proved to be short lived. With transportation to all of the eastern colonies drawing
to a close, the last direct shipment for Moreton Bay left Britain in April, 1850.
Port Phillip District
1803 saw the first attempt to settle the Port Phillip District. The 'Calcutta' arrived in Port
Phillip Bay direct from London with 307 convicts on board. Increased French activity in the area
had convinced the British that a greater presence was needed and in early 1804, as it became
obvious that the site chosen for the settlement was unsuitable, the settlement was abandoned and
re-established in Van Dieman's Land further to the south. Although other small settlements did
appear in the area in the intervening years, it was not until 1836 that a permanent and official
settlement was established in Melbourne and the Port Phillip District came into being.
Until 1841, most convicts sent to Port Phillip arrived from Sydney, but in that year
transportation began directly from Britain. Most of the convicts were classed as exiles and had
served most of their term in prison. They were promised conditional pardons on arrival if they
were transported. By 1849 the anti-transportation lobby among the free settlers at Port Phillip
was so strong that they blockaded the port to prevent convicts from disembarking. The last
vessel to arrive was eventually sent on to Sydney with its load of exiles.
Van Diemen's Land
As in the case of the Port Phillip District, a fear of French colonisation of Van Diemen's Land
led to the establishment of a small settlement on the Derwent River in 1803. Of the 49 people in
the group, 33 were convicts. In 1804 they were joined by the 307 'Calcutta' convicts who had
arrived in the Port Phillip District in 1803 and abandoned their fledgling settlement in 1804.
Until 1812, all the convicts in Van Diemen's Land had been re-shipped from New South Wales or
Norfolk Island. The arrival of 200 convicts direct from Britain on the 'Indefatigable' in 1812
was a solitary act as it was not until 1818 that the beginning of steady shipments from Britain
began. In the interveneing years, convicts from other parts of New South Wales kept arriving.
In 1822, a penal colony was established at Macquarie Harbour on the west coast of the island to
house repeat offenders from New South Wales' and its reputation for cruelty and barbarism spread
throughout the Empire. In 1825 the British Government separated Van Dieman's Land from New South
Wales. As it became increasingly obvious that Macquarie Harbour was too hard to control from
Hobart, it was closed down and a new settlement called Port Arthur was established. Like its
predecessor, the new settlement's reputation for brutality soon spread throughout the world.
In 1835 a special settlement was established at Point Puer to house and rehabilitate the growing
number of young male convicts who were being transported to the colony during the 1830s.
In 1842 the worst offenders from Van Diemen's Land began to be transported to Norfolk Island
which had an even worse reputation for brutality. As the number of convicts transportated to New
South Wales decreased, the number arriving in Van Diemen's Land rose and by 1846 around 5000
convicts were arriving each year. Britain yielded to public pressure and implemented a two year
moratorium before resuming transportation once more. The last two ships arrived in Van Diemen's
Land in 1851 amid public outcry and as a result, Britain finally ended all transportation to the
colony in 1853. On November 26, 1855, the colony officially became known as Tasmania and
elections for parliament were held the next year.
Western Australia began its life as a free colony in 1829 and it was not until its 21st birthday
in 1850 that the convict labour it sought to bolster its flagging economy finally arrived. The
18 year history of its convict past from 1850 to 1868 is well documented elsewhere on this site,
but it is important to note that its first taste of convict life was really in 1827 when a small
party of soldiers and convicts were sent from Sydney to establish a British presence in the
region amidst fears of French occupation. It is possible that some of the New South Wales
convicts even found themselves further north in the Swan River Settlement in the years that
As with Tasmania, New Zealand and Canada, Western Australia also received a number of convict
boys from Parkhurst Prison during the 1840s. They had been rehabilitated in England and arrived
as free settlers destined for apprenticeships with local settlers.