What if you were put on a ship and sent thousands of miles from your parents to a strange land? There you were forced to work as a servant, farm worker or factory worker. The reason you were sent away was because you had been convicted of a crime. The crime might range from something very serious to something as minor as stealing candy or expressing an unpopular opinion.
Doesn’t sound very fun, but that’s just what happened in England from 1787 to the early 1900s. During this period, over 166,000 men, women and children were sent to Australian prison sites to work out their sentences. At the time, Australia was a wild place with few people living there. Male prisoners built roads and buildings. Women and children worked on farms, in factories or in homes. The prisoners built Australia from the ground up.
Fun Facts About Australian Convict Sites for Kids
- As Australia was colonized, native Aboriginal tribes were crowded out. They were forced onto dry, poor lands. Many got diseases, just like the Native American Indians.
- Sometimes there were fights between the native people and the colonists.
- Today, eleven prison sites remain. Some of these were high security prisons that housed dangerous criminals. Others are places where prisoners worked and lived.
Australian Convict Sites Vocabulary
- Servant: someone who cleans, cooks or otherwise attends to others
- Convicted: found guilty
- Crime: an unlawful act
- Unpopular: disliked or unwanted
- Opinion: belief, value
- Colonized: settled
All About Australian Convict Sites Video for Kids
This is the best video we found for kids to learn about Australian Convict Sites:
Australian Convict Sites Q&A
Question: Why were prisoners sent to Australia?
Answer: In those days, The British Isles were crowded and lots of people were poor and underfed. Factories opened and took away many jobs. People fought with each other or stole things. The government decided the best way to discourage people from committing crimes was by punishing them severely. Soon, their prisons were full. They needed another solution. Originally, prisoners were sent to the American colonies. After the Revolutionary War, Britain could no longer use the United States to hold prisoners, so they opted for Australia. Other countries, such as France, also transported prisoners to other places.
Question: How were the prisoners in Australia treated?
Answer: Most lived very hard lives. They worked long days with little food. Children as young as age nine could be sent to Australia for minor crimes. Young Jon Tree, a servant, for example, pretended to be sick to get out of his chores. He was sent to prison in Australia. He was also given 36 lashes on his bottom with a whip.
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