The common explanation for the usage of Australia as a penal colony is that the American Revolution made the usage of America as one no longer tenable. From Wikipedia, "On Convicts in Australia":

Alternatives to the American colonies were investigated...

But I'm wondering why then are the methods so different? If they just switched over, the model should be the same logically speaking.

The usage of America as a penal colony is explained as a transfer of prisoners sold as indentured servants. Were these indentured servents treated differently than other indentured servants? I believe that the colony of Georgia, which would be similar to penal colonies in Australia never operated. Is it in any way a model for Australia? How did the Australian model, convict transport, develop?

  • IMHO this question has potential, but OP should include some references so its assumptions can be checked.
    – Drux
    Commented Mar 6, 2014 at 14:02

1 Answer 1


The Australian experiment was different because it started as a penal colony -- the convicts and their overseers were the initial seed population of new arrivals. There was no settler class already extant to offer the convicts to as indentured labour. The early years of the colony came close to ending in disaster -- amongst other things failed crops led to near starvation.

However, after a rough start, free settlers started to trickle in relatively soon after (in 1793 as opposed to 1788 for the arrival of the First Fleet), and the convict labour pool became very important as a lure for settlers. Ex-convicts who had gained their Certificate of Freedom would also avail themselves of the convict labour pool. Ironically, transportation eventually made some convicts wealthy in ways that could probably never have happened back in Britain. (Magwitch of Great Expectations is a fictional example.)

There are some amazingly informative books on the subject of the penal settlement of Australia -- in my mind the most illuminating is "The Fatal Shore" by Robert Hughes. He was first and foremost an art critic and historian, but this book is scrupulously researched and easily one of the most fascinating books I've read on any topic.


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