Why were convicts sent to Australia?
So, why were convicts sent to Australia (or New Holland as it was known then)?
Up until 1782, convicts that were transported from England were nearly always sent to America. However, in 1783, with the loss of the American War of Independence all that changed. From that point on America refused to accept any further transported convicts.
This left England in the position of having to find a new location to send its prisoners.
Even though America refused to accept any more transports of convicts, the sentence of transportation still continued resulting in the prisons of England quickly becoming overwhelmed with condemned persons. (At one point, it was believed there were over 100,000 persons in England under sentence of transportation).
Authorities did find a short-term solution in the use of old Hulks (moored in the river Thames) but these soon were overflowing.
The British government also saw the transportation of convicts to Australia as an opportunity to populate the new colony. By sending the convicts to Australia, it was hoped that the colony would become a self-sufficient, agricultural society.
Approximately 13 years earlier, Captain James Cook had mapped the east coast of New Holland, (as Australia was called then) on his voyage of discovery. The botanist on this expedition, Sir Joseph Banks, now suggested Botany Bay as a possible new destination for transportation. The authorities took this up and in 1788 the First Fleet of 11 ships carrying convicts arrived on the shores of Australia.
The convicts were seen as a source of cheap labour, helping to build the infrastructure of the new colony. Convicts were also used to work on roads, bridges, and other public works. Additionally, some convicts were used to farm and raise livestock, providing food and materials for the colony.