It has been a long time since I have done a police incident post, I love these little historical peeks into the lives of the badly behaved. The crimes committed and the language used by the reporters is just wonderful.
After I started writing this post I realized that some of you might not know about Australia’s convict heritage, so, just in case, here is my potted version of how many of our not too distant ancestors became Aussies.
In the late 1700’s the British noticed that there were far too many members of the criminal lower class cluttering up their country. They decided the best place to keep them would be as far away as possible. Fortunately for them just the thing they needed was hanging around, unloved, in the back of the Empire’s cupboard, Australia!
The ships of the First Fleet arrived in 1788 bringing 751 convicts, and over the next 80 years more than 160,000 convicts became reluctant Australians.
Many convicts were transported for extremely minor crimes, stealing chickens, bread etc, although I can proudly say both my Great Great Great Grandfather and Grandmother were transported for individual counts of highway robbery. They both seemed to spend more time in court after transportation than before though, clearly being sent to the other side of the planet was no encouragement to good behaviour!
Once the convicts arrived in Melbourne, Sydney or Van Diemens Land (Tasmania) they were not imprisoned for the rest of their terms, they were mainly assigned to free settlers to work until they earned a ticket-of-leave.
It was hardly surprising than that since they were being used as what was effectively forced labour most of them misbehaved at every opportunity. The authorities came up with some interesting punishments for the badly behaved though. Apart from fines they were regularly sentenced to time in the stocks or whippings. Women were often sent to the Female Factories and men to the tread wheel. I have done a post in the past about the tread wheel if you are interested in reading more. Female factories were exactly that. Factory-like workhouses for women who were either awaiting assignment, childbirth or being punished.
From what I can tell from my readings these punishments were not much of a deterrent. I am sure they were far from enjoyable, but many of the offenders seem to return to the same courtroom time and time again. Take the first man in this 1832 article, Phillip King. He is described as ‘an old veteran in the path of disobedience’. Clearly the seven days sentence to the (tread)mill wasn’t his first time, obviously the tobacco he bought with the money made from selling his masters stolen brooms was worth the punishment.
This article really helps you to see what life in the lower classes might have been like in Australia in 1832. When you read it see if you can work out what all the slang terms really mean. I absolutely love the slang used in the past so any of you who put in an effort will earn my eternal admiration and a smiley face stamp on the back of your hand as soon as I run down to the newsagent and get one. 🙂 (just post me your hand and I will stamp it and send it right back).
Some other police incident or historical Australian slang posts I have done are;
*If you would like to read other details about the convict years have a look here.