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
- Usage terms
- Public Domain
- Held by
- British Library
- 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.
- Article by:
- Sara Freeman
- 20th-century theatre, Exploring identity
Our Country's Good by Timberlake Wertenbaker tells the story of members of the British Navy and convicts in a penal colony putting on a play in 18th-century New South Wales. Sara Freeman examines how Wertenbaker uses the structure of a play within a play to explore themes of colonialism, authority, transgression and the power of narrative.
- Article by:
- John Mullan
- Crime and crime fiction, The novel 1832–1880
Crime exists as a powerful psychological force throughout Dickens’s Great Expectations. Professor John Mullan examines the complicated criminal web in which the novel’s protagonist, Pip, finds himself caught.