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History of Australia for Kids: Learn About Convicts

Updated on February 24, 2013

Convicts are a very interesting part of Australia's history.When the British took over Australia, they decided to use it as a penal colony. A penal colony is a faraway place where prisoners are sent. Some people who were convicted of crimes in Britain, Ireland and the British colonies were taken to Australia to serve their prison sentences. Many prisoners arrived in an area called Botany Bay. About 160,000 convicts (prisoners) were brought to Australia.

The prisoners had to work hard. Some built roads and buildings. Some worked in factories. Some worked on the farms of free settlers. According to one convict “We have to work from 14-18 hours a day, sometimes up to our knees in cold water, 'til we are ready to sink with fatigue.”

An illustration of an Australian prison ship
An illustration of an Australian prison ship

Stranded in Australia

Australia is thousands of miles away from Britain and Ireland. It took six months for the prisoners to reach Australia in prison ships. They were often chained underneath the deck during the whole voyage. Some died on the way. Many of the convicts weren’t violent criminals. Some were poor people who had stolen food. Some were children. When their sentences were up, many prisoners couldn’t afford to return home. So, they had to remain in Australia and earn a living.

A convict ploughing team
A convict ploughing team

Descendents of Convicts

About 20% of Australians are the descendents of convicts. A former Australian prime minister named Kevin Rudd found out that his great-great-great-great-great grandmother had been a convict. She was sentenced to be hanged at the age of 12 for stealing another girl’s clothes. Instead she was sent to Australia. His great-great-great-great grandfather was sent to Australia for stealing a bag of sugar. Many Australians are proud of their convict history.

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