Between 1787 and 1868, around 8000 Scots men, women and children were transported to Australia.
Scots were only a small percentage of the 166,000 convicts transported over those 80 years, but they were among the best educated with a high level of literacy. In 1819, when a young Scottish housebreaker named James Fraser was transported to Australia, he took a Bible and 18 other books with him.
Tales of convict life in Botany Bay were told back in Britain and ballads were printed in cheap popular ‘broadsides’. In Scottish taverns people sang songs of convicts’ lives in Australia.
The Convict Maid
Ye Glasgow maids attend to me,
While I relate my misery;
Through Glasgow streets oft have I strayed,
So now I am a convict maid.
In innocence I once did live,
In all the joys that peace could give;
But sin my youthfull heart betrayed,
And now I am a convict maid...
...To you that hear my mournful tale,
I cannot half my grief reveal;
No sorrow yet has been portrayed,
Like that of the poor convict maid.
Far from my home and friends so-dear,
My punishment is most severe;
My woe is great - and I'm afraid
That I shall die a convict maid.
Broadside ballad c.1840
Convicts who behaved could apply for a ‘Ticket of Leave’. This allowed them to live where they liked within a Police District and be paid for their work. The Ticket of Leave lasted for a year, when it would be renewed if the convict had been well behaved. It could be taken away at any time.
Many convicts served their time and earned their freedom. More than 90% of former convicts remained in Australia. They married and raised families, making new lives for themselves on the land or in the growing cities and towns. Many former convicts became successful business people, police men or school teachers. These ‘emancipated’ convicts were often looked down on and discriminated against by free settlers.
Transportation of convicts to New South Wales ended in 1840. The last convict ship landed in Western Australia in January 1868.Over four million Australians have convict ancestors. In the past ‘the convict stain’ was a source of embarrassment and shame. Today most Australians are proud of their convict ancestry and will actively investigate the lives of their forebears.