Back in the 18th century, if you were a criminal in Britain, chances are that you could be shipped off to America. In fact, about 52,000 convicts were sent there between 1717 and 1775. Then the American Revolution started in 1776, which brought such matters to a halt.
Where to now? Ah yes – there was that large piece of land on the other side of the world.... Australia!
So it was that today, 13th May back in 1787 that the First Fleet left Portsmouth in Hampshire, bound for Botany Bay. This fleet of ships was made up of 6 convict ships, 2 naval ships and 3 supply ships, the Captain of this fleet being one Arthur Phillip. When the ships left England, there were 1420 people on board, including 14 children of the convicts. But by the end of the 8 month voyage, this total had reduced to 1373 – both convicts and crew had suffered deaths amongst their numbers.
Although not amongst the convicts on that First Fleet, I do have an ancestor who was sent to Australia back in 1837. Sophia Lawrence, aged 22, was charged with stealing one blanket, two pairs of silk stockings, two pairs of cotton stockings and two pairs of woollen stockings, the property of the Rev John Hailstone, Vicar of Shudy Camps in Cambridgeshire. She left her husband and young son behind, never to return. However, after she was awarded her Certificate of Freedom, she remarried. Her Australian descendants and I made contact about 15 years ago.