From 1787 to 1868 more than 160,000 women and children were convicted and sent from Britain to Australia for a variety of crimes. Convicts in the Colonies: Transportation Tales From Britain to Australia provides real life case studies and exceptional tales of those who were brought over in the first ships until the last ships. Lucy Williams examines everything from crime to sentencing in Britain to the perilous voyage these convicts had to face on their way to Australia. She then examines the three main penal colonies and the men and women who lived there.
Williams describes her research as ultimately feeling as though she was transported along with the subjects she studied over the course of her book. She found the stories of interesting people, including a man completely covered in tattoos, and in sharing everything she had to find a way in order to do it by taking into account that these people have committed crimes. While is was noted that poorer members of society were more prone to commit crimes, they did leave behind victims, many of whom were not in positions were they could bounce back from being victimized. She has broken her book down into five primary sections. Her first chapter begins in Britain and examines everything that was involved in sentencing and punishment. The second chapter focuses on the voyage necessary to get to Australia and the next three chapters focus on each of the main penal colonies to show what life was like there.
Williams’ book delves into the details that surround criminal law in Britain, which is a feat unto itself. As someone who researched crime in London during the Victorian period I am aware of the process in some ways, but Williams’ provided so much more than I had expected. She shares how subjective sentencing was and also how transportation could save someone from dying. Her examination of the voyage to Australia details how dangerous it was just to get there. Much like with tales of colonization those on the ships would get sick and in one case an entire ship was even lost. In the stories of those in the penal colonies she shares attempts to escape, desires to become free people, and the work toward adaptation to a new environment. Lucy Williams has created an intriguing work that is perfect from not only historians, but true crime lovers. You can get Convicts in the Colonies: Transportation Tales from Britain to Australia today.