January 26, 1788 – First Australian Penal Colony Established

January 26, 1788 – First Australian Penal Colony Established

The first 736 convicts banished from England to Australia landed in Botany Bay. Over the next 60 years, approximately 50,000 criminals were transported from Great Britain to the “land down under,” in one of the strangest episodes in criminal-justice history. The accepted wisdom of the upper and ruling classes in 18th century England was that criminals were inherently defective. Thus, they could not be rehabilitated and simply required separation from the genetically pure and law-abiding citizens. Accordingly, lawbreakers had to be either killed or exiled, since prisons were too expensive. Although not confined behind bars, most convicts in Australia had an extremely tough life. The guards who volunteered for duty in Australia seemed to be driven by exceptional sadism. Even small violations of the rules could result in a punishment of 100 lashes by the cat o’nine tails. It was said that blood was usually drawn after five lashes and convicts ended up walking home in boots filled with their own blood – that is, if they were able to walk.