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Sentenced to Down Under

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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 you technically haven't been convicted of anything and it's technically not a prison sentence but the effect is still the same. Also compare The Exile and Persona Non Grata, where you aren't sent anywhere specific, but can't come back in to your country.


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  • 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 (or at least Australian-run) 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.
  • In The Nightingale (2019) the protagonist is a young Irishwoman convicted for a petty theft and deported to Tasmania.
  • 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.
  • In Scrooge (1951), Scrooge's boss Mr. Jorkin is found to have embezzled over £3,000 from their company, an offence for which the punishment was exile to Australia. As he's now spent all of said money, he mocks the rest of the executive board:
    Mr. Jorkin: And what would you gain to prosecute me? All you would get out of it is about eleven pounds-odd. And to pack me off to Botany Bay would be poor compensation for the panic that would arise among the shareholders.
To make the whole thing go away, the board agreed to let Scrooge and Marley buy out Jorkin's debts — and control of the company.
  • Stranded starts off with the Robinson family, who are English in this version, being exiled to Australia. You see, the father refuses to pledge allegiance to George III during The Napoleonic Wars, which obviously means that he's a Bonapartist. Of course, the family never actually makes it to Australia due to the storm that shipwrecks them on a tropical island.
  • 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.


  • In Anne McCaffrey's Catteni series, the planet used as a relocation camp is named "Botany" by its population, which includes many Australians.
  • 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 serialized 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.
  • Kydd: In Command, Kydd captains a transport ship full of convicts to Australia during the Peace of Amiens.
  • 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.
  • This is the Artful Dodger's final fate in Oliver Twist.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Sherlock Holmes
    • "The Adventure of the Gloria Scott" has this happened to an embezzler. However, he and his fellow convicts rebel and seize control of the ship before they reach Australia.
    • In "The Adventure of the Priory School", this is what happens to James Wilder, the Villain of the Week, for scheming to steal his legitimate brother's inheritance.
  • 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. They get recalled back into service at the start of the seventh book when a crisis arises that only they can deal with, but by then they've ironically become reluctant to leave, having found a peaceful, pastoral life there.
  • This is to be Ash Cohen's fate in Rose Lerner's Romance Novel True Pretenses, but he's rescued at the last minute and ends up as The Atoner back home in England instead.
  • In The Water-Babies, it's mentioned that one of the chimney-sweep Tom's parents is dead and the other is in an Australian penal colony. Tom has no memory of either of them.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Against the Wind: Set during Australia's colonial era over the period 1798Ė1812, the series follows the life of Mary Mulvane, a daughter of an Irish school master. At 18, she is transported to New South Wales for a term of seven years after attempting to take back her family's milk cow which had been seized by the British "in lieu of tithes" to the local proctor. She endures the trial of a convict sea journey to New South Wales and years of service as a convict before her emancipation and life as a free citizen.
  • The whole premise of the series Banished.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

  • 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.
  • Several folk songs are about being sent to Australia, such as "The Black Velvet Band".
  • "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).
  • "Jim Jones At Botany Bay," famously sung by Daisy Domergue in The Hateful Eight, is the story of a young man sent to Australia for poaching who intends to escape and wreak bloody vengeance on his captors.
  • "Kitty" by The Pogues.
    Hush mo mhuirnín, the police are watching
    And you know that I must go, a stor
    So good night and God guard you forever
    And write to me won't you, goodbye
  • The traditional folk song "Maggie May" has the chorus refer to her eventual fate:
    Oh, Maggie, Maggie May, they've taken you away
    They've sent you to Van Diemen's cruel shore.
  • 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.
  • 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.

  • 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.

  • The play Our Country's Good is about a bunch of people sentenced 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.

    Web Animation 
  • Human Kind Of: Discussed and subverted in the episode "Aliens Anonymous." Judy is urged to attend a support group for Earth-dwelling extraterrestrials, only to realize that absolutely all of them hate the planet and wouldn't be there if they had any other choice. Horrified, she asks if Earth is a prison planet. When told it isn't, she then asks if it's this trope, but is promptly corrected and told that it's more like Nebraska; so unremarkable that it's the best place to hide out and avoid actual imprisonment.

    Western Animation 
  • Referenced in The Simpsons. During "Bart Versus Australia", Marge and Lisa visit a statue of a convict while Homer and Bart are in court. Marge reads the inscription on the statue noting its past as a penal colony and tells Lisa to watch her purse just as a group of locals are about to rob them. Further adding to the gag, the statue is of an ancestor of Springfield's own resident criminal Snake.

    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).
    • In 1824 the New South Wales penal colony instituted its own version of the trope by sending convicts to Norfolk Island. Those who had been "double convicted", having been transported to New South Wales and then committed another major crime were sent there. The island had already been abandoned once after 26 years settlement. The second attempt lasted 32 years, until in 1856 it was abandoned and descendants of The Bounty mutineers took over the island, subsequently becoming integrated with the New South Wales colony, and Australia upon Federation.
  • 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. And we do mean a search; there was literally nowhere else in the empire deemed suitable for "transportation".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."
  • In a case of both Awesome and Heartwarming, two sheep-stealers, James and Leonard Cheatham, were subjected to this, but eventually bought back their freedom, managed to marry fellow convict women and then settle the land in Australia, becoming wool merchants themselves. Centuries later, their descendant, Wendy Robinson QC, would become noted as a Crown Prosecutor in New South Wales. A segment of their story was one of the closing items of a historical documentary on Lancaster Castle, where they were arraigned in.