Broadside about the transportation of William Dale


This evangelical pamphlet tells the story of William Dale, a good and diligent child who ‘backslid from the paths of religion and honesty’. Eventually he was convicted of stealing from ‘a Merchant’s house in the city’ and sentenced to a period in a penal colony in Botany Bay, Australia (now part of Sydney Harbour). The practice of sending criminals abroad was known as ‘transportation’. It had started in the 1750s and had always been controversial. While some argued that a transported convict had more rights and liberty than an equivalent convict in an English jail, the penal colonies themselves were often places of murderous violence and summary justice. Transportation was also used predominantly on the poor: an uneducated housebreaker was far more likely to be sentenced to the boat than a middle-class murderer. Transportation from England was officially ended in 1853. The catalyst for the change was explosive economic growth in Australia, and in particular the New South Wales gold rushes of the 1840s. European migrants to Australia now began to object to the settlement of convicts in their newly prosperous communities, and fought vigorous and successful anti-transport campaigns.

Charles Dickens and transportation

A number of Dickens’s villains are subject to transport: John Edmunds fromThe Pickwick Papers (1837), Mr Squeers from Nicholas Nickleby (1839) and Uriah Heep from David Copperfield (1850). The most famous of all Dickens’s transported convicts is Abel Magwitch from Great Expectations (published in 1860, but set more than a decade before). From the 1840s onwards, transported convicts were allowed to earn money lawfully while serving their sentence, and it is here that Magwitch earned the money that drives the novel’s plot: 

I've been a sheep-farmer, stock breeder, other trades besides, away in the new world. [...] I've done wonderfully well. There's others went out alonger me as has done well too, but no man has done nigh as well as me. I'm famous for it.

Full title:
The unhappy transport, or, The sufferings of William Dale, son of a farmer and gardener, who was put an apprentice to a tinsmith, near Fleet-Market, where he got into bad company, and in a short time went a robbing, with a desperate gang of thieves, for w
estimated 1820, Seven Dials, London
Broadside / Ephemera / Illustration / Image
Held by:
British Library

Related articles

Juvenile crime in the 19th century

Article by:
Matthew White
Poverty and the working classes, Crime and crime fiction, Childhood and children's literature

Novels such as Oliver Twist have made Victorian child-thieves familiar to us, but to what extent did juvenile crime actually exist in the 19th century? Drawing on contemporary accounts and printed ephemera, Dr Matthew White uncovers the facts behind the fiction.

Victorian prisons and punishments

Article by:
Liza Picard

Victorian citizens were worried about the rising crime rate. Liza Picard considers how this concern brought about changes in the way people were caught, arrested and imprisoned.

Crime in Oliver Twist

Article by:
Philip Horne
Crime and crime fiction, London, The novel 1832 - 1880

Dickens's Oliver Twist depicts the excitement as well as the danger surrounding the criminal underworld. Here Professor Philip Horne examines how Dickens’s portrayal of crime was influenced by public executions, contemporary criminal slang and other sensational literary works.

Related collection items

Related works

Great Expectations

Created by: Charles Dickens

A novel by Charles Dickens (1812-1870), which first appeared in All the Year Round in 1860–61, and in book ...