Follow TV Tropes


Sentenced to Down Under

Go To
Black-eyed Sue and Sweet Poll of Plymouth taking leave of their lovers who are going to Botany Bay, 1792

"Australia: Bet you wish YOUR great-great-great grandfather stole a loaf of bread."
— Seen on a T-Shirt

When the British colonized the continent of Australia in the 18th century, they established it as a dumping ground for their overcrowded prisons. Traitors, arsonists, grave robbers, petty thieves, debtors, and anyone else who found himself convicted by the (in)justice system of the time were sentenced en masse to the Land Down Under simply to clear backlogs. Men, women, and children of all ages found out the hard way that it was very easy to score a one-way ticket beyond the seas. This was possibly the original source for the term "Kangaroo Court".

This trope is for instances of this special punishment. More often than not, this comes up in period pieces, due to this practice ending in the Victorian era.

Modern works, especially Science fiction or Space Opera, may revive the idea of a far-off colony/world only suited for depositing troublemakers and make direct allusions to the original.


Sub-Trope of Penal Colony. Compare Trading Bars for Stripes, where the prisoner is put into the military instead, and Reassigned to Antarctica, when it's not a prison sentence but the effect is the same.


    open/close all folders 

  • Bill Hicks thought being sent to Australia from Britain wasn't much of a punishment.
    "Let me get this straight: You keep the shitty weather and shitty food, while we get the Great Barrier Reef and lobsters the size of canoes? ...I'm Jack the Ripper."

    Fan Works 
  • Given an oblique reference in The Headhunt. The first Starfleet vessel to respond to the break-in at Facility 4028, a Federation supermax prison, is the USS Brisbane. Brisbane was one of the Australian prison colonies.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In a rare American occurrence, a scene in Django Unchained has Stephen summarily sentence Django to servitude in an Australian mining company, where he'll be worked literally to death and then buried in a mass grave, for the crime of shooting up Calvin Candie's plantation. Fortunately for Django, these particular Australians are more gullible than Stephen had anticipated, and he deals with them before returning to the plantation to pick up where he had left off during his Roaring Rampage of Revenge.
  • Zu neuen Ufern (a.k.a. To New Shores and To a Distant Shore) is a 1937 German film about a singer in Victorian London who takes the blame for her aristocratic lover's forging of cheques and who is sentenced to be transported to Australia. It is largely a propaganda piece designed to attack the British aristocracy.
  • The Little Convict was a 1979 Australian film about a young boy named Toby Nelson transported to Australia, and what happened to him and his fellow convicts.

  • A British tourist is visiting Australia. "Do you have a criminal record?" asks the man at customs. The tourist replies, "I didn’t think you'd need one to get into Australia anymore."

  • This is the Artful Dodger's final fate in Oliver Twist.
  • Happens to Magwich in Great Expectations.
  • This seems to be a common stock fate for characters in the novels of Charles Dickens; in fact, it almost happens to Kit in The Old Curiosity Shop thanks to the machinations of Mr. Quilp, but Dick Swiveller manages to prove his innocence in the nick of time.
  • In the Temeraire series, Laurence and Temeraire get booted to Australia at the end of the fifth book. Not bad, considering that they started that book under death and breeding-ground sentences respectively for treason.
  • The Dinotopia novel Windchaser starts with the wreck of a prison ship heading to Australia. One main character was a prisoner from the ship and one was the son of the ship's doctor.
  • For the Term of His Natural Life by Marcus Clarke (originally serialised between 1870 and 1872) is a classic Australian novel on the subject. The story follows the fortunes of Rufus Dawes, a young man transported for a murder that he did not commit. The book clearly conveys the harsh and inhumane treatment meted out to the convicts, some of whom were transported for relatively minor crimes, and graphically describes the conditions the convicts experienced.
  • This practice was referenced during a Bat Deduction by Vizzini in The Princess Bride and its film adaptation, who mentions that Australia is entirely populated by criminals.
  • This is what happened to an embezzler in Sherlock Holmes story "The Adventure of the Gloria Scott". However, he and his fellow convicts rebel and seize control of the ship before they reach Australia.
  • Kydd: In Command, Kydd captains a transport ship full of convicts to Australia during the Peace of Amiens.
  • In Anne McCaffrey's Catteni series, the planet used as a relocation camp is named "Botany" by its population, which includes many Australians.
  • In "Riding the Rays", a nonfiction piece by Douglas Adams collected in The Salmon of Doubt, Douglas's wife tells him that according to her guidebook Brisbane was a penal colony for people who'd committed crimes after being transported, and Douglas looks out over the Great Barrier Reef and realises why Australians are always smiling at British people as though the Brits have missed the joke.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The whole premise of the series Banished
  • On The Young Ones, one bit scene featured two convicts on a ship bound for Australia. While one was irate about his sentence, the other was rather pleased to go where his son and daughter-in-law had been sent years earlier.
  • In the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Space Seed", Khan Noonien Singh's ship was the SS Botany Bay, specifically as an allusion to this.
  • Since Escape of the Artful Dodger is a sequel to Oliver Twist set in Australia, both the Artful Dodger and Fagin are transported to the show's setting this way.
  • Inspector Morse:
    • In the episode "The Wench Is Dead, Part 2", Morse is forced to go on sick leave and busies himself by reinvestigating a murder case from Oxford during the 1860s, which he suspects resulted in three wrongful convictions. The men were sentenced to hang, but one found religion in prison and became a model inmate. For this his sentence was commuted at the last minute to transportation (presumably to Australia given the time period).
    • In another episode, Morse has to travel to Australia regarding a case involving a British criminal in witness protection who was given another identity in Australia. Naturally the local police are not impressed, and make sarcastic comment about how the British were supposed to have stopped dumping their convicts on them.
  • Great Expections: The Untold Story was 1987 telemovie which follows the adventures of Abel Magwitch (from Great Expectations), the escaped convict who forced the young Pip to hide and steal for him in the first part of the story. Then it settles to Magwitch's wanderings through Europe and his journey to Australia where it shows the means he used to become a wealthy gentleman and the reasons he decided to become Pip's benefactor.
  • Bligh was an Australian Sitcom about William Bligh's time as colonial governor as New South Wales. It naturally featured a number of characters who had been sentenced to transportation to Australia.
  • You're Skitting Me has a recurring sketch featuring two prisoners in stocks discussing their transportation and what they thought of their new life in Australia.
  • Sharpe: Richard Sharpe is twice threatened with being sent to command penal battalions in Australia during the series for getting in the way of various powerful interests. First in Sharpe's Regiment and again in Sharpe's Justice.
  • Victoria: Early in the series, when Queen Victoria hears some rabblerousers are to be hanged, drawn and quartered, she's quick to order their sentences commuted to transportation.

  • Several folk songs are about being sent to Australia, such as "The Black Velvet Band".
  • The second song on U2's Rattle and Hum, "Van Diemen's Land" (after the original Dutch name for Tasmania), is about the Irish freedom fighters who were transported. It's specifically dedicated to the poet John Boyle O'Reilly, who was deported to Western Australia in 1868 for rebel activities as a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood.
  • "Botany Bay" is all about this trope. Final verse:
    Now all my young Dookies and Dutchesses
    Take warning from what I've to say
    Mind all is your own as you toucheses
    Or you'll find us in Botany Bay
  • The '70s Irish song "The Fields of Athenry" is about a young man being sent to Australia for some combination of stealing food during the Potato Famine and rebelling against the British occupation (the song mentions both and it's unclear which was the primary factor; it's likely the speaker is a Composite Character).
  • There's another song called "Van Diemen's Land", this one about a poacher whose entire gang gets transported. As a folk song, it has numerous variants: in the Steeleye Span version the singer is a female poacher; in some other versions there is a female poacher (or possibly a prostitute) who isn't the singer. In all versions the female character gains her freedom through marriage.
  • In the song "10,000 Miles Away", the singer's sweetheart has been transported "with a government band around each hand and another one around her leg" and he is stating his intention to go join her.

  • Bleak Expectations: Part of the reason series Big Bad Mr. Benevolent's childhood was so lonely was because his first step-father would occasionally take part when Benevolent and his friends played Cops & Robbers, and got a little too into it, sending who he caught to Australia.

  • In Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, this happened to Benjamin Barker, the man who would become Sweeney, who was transported for life fifteen years ago because the corrupt Judge Turpin wanted his wife Lucy for himself.
  • The play Our Country's Good is about a bunch of people sentenced to Australia.

    Real Life 
  • During the late 18th century and the first half of the 19th, this was very much Truth in Television. Interestingly, it was considered the merciful option, since it was available as an alternative to hanging (not that hanging was being used mercifully, as All Crimes Are Equal notes).
  • Before this convicts were transported to the American colonies. Unfortunately those impertinent colonials rebelled against the British Crown, necessitating the search for another dumping ground.note  The rest is history.
  • Before even that, tens of thousands of imprisoned Irish (some of whom were kidnapped) were sent to Barbados by the British, which was called getting "barbadosed."


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: