Convicts in 1600, England could be anyone that killed someone to a person stealing bread to feed his or her family. This meant that their prisons were overflowing, and conditions in the jails were horrible.

This caused the practice of sending convicts out of the country, and many went by sea to places like Australia, New Zealand, and the colonies in America.

King James, I of England arranged transportation of convicts with merchants that could “yield a profitable service to the Commonwealth in parts abroad where it is found fit to implore them.”

It was calculated that around 2,300 convicts were sent to the colonies between the years of 1615-1699. Although the practice ended in 1776, an additional 52,200+ were sent in the form of indentured servants.

Eighty percent of the convicts that were transported to the colonies arrived in Virginia and Maryland.

1718 in England brought about a lessening of the definition of a convict in England. People were beginning to fear total government control and began to believe that putting criminals in jails for long periods of time, with many dying, was too expensive.

This attitude brought about the passing of the Transportation Act of 1718 by Parliament, allowing convicts to be shipped to the various places held by the Crown and being paid for by the government.

The poor were often thought of as criminals, and a lot of this was due to the vast overpopulation of the city areas in England. In situations much like today, wages didn’t match the cost of living, and around ¼ – ½ of England’s population existed in poverty.

This meant that many of the poor were arrested for things like shoplifting. This kind of behavior could be enough to transport these criminals out of the country.

The Transportation Act was designed to get rid of criminals in England and answering a problem in the colonies regarding the labor needed.

The colony of Virginia had an expanding tobacco industry and required the labor to cultivate and bring the crop to market. Criminals and indentured servants from England were often brought over for the harvest. This labor was later replaced by the slave market.

The criminals that arrived as indentured servants were required to work a set number of years to pay off their debt, and they would then be freed. These people entered being indentured voluntarily. The slaves that replaced them in the future didn’t have that option.

The colonies preferred the cheap white labor of the criminals and indentured servants for such areas as shipbuilding, carpentry, blacksmithing, and manufacturing iron. Some of those arriving from England had absolutely no skills and were sent to the fields to do agricultural work.

The number of convicts that arrived in Maryland and Virginia became so high that they tried to pass laws to keep England from sending more.

Many wanted to stop the arrival of criminals, but by 1718, it had become too profitable for both the British Crown and the merchants to take the criminals to the colonies.

Virginia did manage to pass an act in 1722 to require restrictions and fees so that it was too expensive for the merchants to bring criminals there. However, the law was later overturned.

In 1775, the colonies were embroiled in the attempt to free themselves from British rule, and the beginning of the Revolutionary War stopped shipment of criminals to the colonies. It was then that England started shipping criminals to Australia.


Why was it popular to ship convicts to the colonies?
it created profit for the British Crown and the merchants

Why were England’s prisons so full of criminals?
small and large crimes were measured as the same

What British province did England ship convicts to after they stopped shipping them to the colonies?

What were the two types of British convicts?
prisoners and indentured servants

What two colonies received the most convicts from England?
Virginia and Maryland

What eventually replaced convicts in the colonies?