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Sentences and Punishments

Types of Punishment - Transportation and Penal Servitude

A ship used to transport prisoners
A ship used to transport prisoners

The alternative to hanging was transportation, where convicted criminals were sent to the colonies to serve their sentence.
Any criminal with a sentence of 7 years or longer could be transported. Later in the Victorian Period this was replaced with Penal Servitude.

After the 1853 Penal Servitude act, only long-term transportation was retained and transportation was finally abolished after the Penal Servitude act of 1857, although some were still transported after this date. For more information see the section on transportation.

Penal servitude means 'Serving a sentence that is meant to punish the prisoner'. Penal Servitude was a term of imprisonment that usually included hard labour and was served in this country. This gradually replaced transportation following the 1853 and 1857 Penal Servitude Acts.

The sentence for penal servitude could range from 3 years to life; it was for those convicts who would have been transported for less than 14 years. It could also be used as an alternative sentence for those liable to transportation of 14 years or more.

Sentences of 7 years transportation or less were substituted by penal servitude for 4 years; 7 to 10 years transportation by 4 to 10 years; 10 to 15 years by 6 to 8 years' penal servitude; over 15 years' transportation by 6 to 10 years' penal servitude; transportation for life by penal servitude for life.

Therefore records tended to put transportation and penal servitude together. This clumsy system of converting transportation to penal servitude equivalents was theoretically ended by the Penal Servitude Act of 1857; subsequently prisoners were sentenced directly to penal servitude if found guilty of offences that formerly warranted transportation.

However, in practice, convicts were still being transported as late as 1867, so there continued to be a hazy overlap between the sentencing of transportation and penal servitude for many years.

In some cases the Bedford Gaol records list both 'penal servitude and transportation' as the sentence. It is likely that prisoners sentenced to 7 years or more, before 1853, were transported but after 1867 served their sentence in English prisons. Between 1853 and 1867, for sentences of 7 years or more, either sentence or elements of both could have been used.

Only by tracing what happened to individuals is it possible to determine where their final sentence was actually served. For examples within the GAOL databases, try searching on Henry Catlin (1843); William Jones (1861); and Walter Pratt (1864).

Evidence from the records held at Fremantle Prison, Western Australia, show that prisoners sentenced to Penal Servitude but who were, in fact, transported, could return to England at the end of their sentence.

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