17th July 1837. Penal Transportation.
A tireless worker for abolition of the death penalty for minor offences was William Ewart born in 1798 who became MP for Bletchingly and Dumfries.
Today in 1837 saw the Royal Assent for an Act of Britain and Ireland abolishing the death penalty for many offences and substituting Transportation.
In the 18thc over 200 offences carried the death penalty for young and old, including petty theft and forgery.
Between 1735 and 1752 forty three criminals were hanged at Horsham in Surrey: four smugglers two sheep-stealers, six robbers, eight horse thieves, twelve burglars and eleven murderers.
After the 1837 Act the Death Penalty was no longer enforced for stealing and many other crimes. It also abolished many previous Acts.
One included The Murder Act 1751: ‘For better preventing the horrid crime of murder’, which empowered judges to impose the gibbet for traitors, murderers, highwaymen, pirates and sheep-stealers.(1)
Now for the dozens of previous capital offences involving many young children, Transportation was the alternative.
The 1718 Act involved Transportation to the colonies in the Americas including political prisoners and prisoners of war from Scotland and Ireland, right up to the 1776 American Independence War.
Transportation got rid of the ‘undesirables’ in society and after the American option was no longer available, the first convict ship left from Portsmouth for Australia in May 1787. (2)
Bermuda took many for the building of the docks and in 1824 the first convicts, who worked in chain-gangs, were debtors, sheep stealers, poachers, Irish nationalists and unemployed mill-hand rioters.
The Whig Home Secretary, Lord Melbourne transported the so-called ‘Tolpuddle Martyrs’ (1842), for swearing illegal oaths, using a 1797 Act.
Over 160,000 convicts were transported either to the Antipodes or the West Indies many after the ‘Captain Swing’ riots and Chartists’ demonstrations of the 1840.s, until pressure from the colonies caused the traffic to end.
By the 1853 and 1857 Preventive Detention (PD) and Hard Labour Acts, discretion was placed on judges as to whether those who might have been transported for less than 14 years could now receive PD.
Transportation was theoretically abolished by the 1857 Act, before finally ending in 1867.
When Wellington referred to his men as the scum of the earth he wasn’t joking for many convicts agreed to serve in the army as a way of avoiding transportation and were to fight valiantly in the Napoleonic War.
(1) It came into effect on 1.10.1837.
The pre-amble to the 1837 Act amended previous legislation: certain sections of the Riot Act; the Murder Act 1752; Incitement to Murder; and Unlawful Oaths Act 1812 and those relating to the Slave Trade.
(2) They arrived in Port Jackson (Sydney) on 26.1.1788.
Police Commissioner Henderson was first Comptroller General of Convicts for the West Australia Penal Colony in 1850.
Henderson travelled with the first convicts on the ‘Scindian’ which arrived 1.6.1850, which became Freemantle Prison.