Timetable of world legal history logoA single criminal law statute, passed by the Parliament of England in 1717, opened the gateway to forced immigration and new nations such as Australia and New Zealand.

The statute itself refers to transportation of England's criminals to America but once the American Revolution cut off that drop-zone, and Australia was claimed in the name of the English Crown, it became the primary destination of the prison-ships (image, below, prison-ship in Portsmouth Harbour, convicts going aboard, circa 1828).

Here is that nation-making English law, the 1717 Transporation Statute as found at 4 George I, Chapter 11 and to some historians, better known as the Piracy Act. We made a single editorial change from the original (besides adjusting the awkward archaic capitalization): the word whipt was replaced by the modern spelling of whipped.

Following the text of the Statute, we have also reproduced a list made  in 1797 which set out the crimes for which Transportation could serve as sentence. Again, no changes to Colquhoun's original list except for some reordering of the items so that they present in logical groups.

AN ACT FOR THE FURTHER PREVENTING ROBBERY, BURGLARY, AND OTHER FELONIES, AND FOR THE MORE EFFECTUAL TRANSPORTATION OF FELONS, AND UNLAWFUL EXPORTERS OF WOOL; AND FOR DECLARING THE LAW UPON SOME POINTS RELATING TO PIRATES.

Whereas it is found by experience, that the punishments inflicted by the Laws now in force against the offences of robbery, larceny and other felonius taking and stealing of money and goods, have not proved effectual to deter wicked and evil-disposed persons from being guilty of the said crimes;

And whereas many offenders to whom Royal mercy hath been extended, upon condition of transporting themselves to the West-Indies, have often neglected to perform the said condition, but returned to their former wickedness, and have been at least for new crimes brought to a shameful and ignominious death;

And whereas in many of his Majesty’s colonies and plantations in America, there is great want of servants, who by their labour and industry might be the means of improving and making the said colonies and plantations more useful to this Nation:

BE IT ENACTED BY THE KING'S MOST EXCELLENT MAJESTY, BY AND WITH THE ADVICE AND CONSENT OF THE LORDS SPIRITUAL AND TEMPORAL, AND THE COMMONS, IN THIS PRESENT PARLIAMENT ASSEMBLED, AND BY THE AUTHORITY OF THE SAME,

That where any person or persons have been convicted of any offence within the benefit of clergy, before the 20th day of January, 1717, and are liable to be whipped or burnt in the hand, or have been ordered to any workhouse, and who shall be therein on the said 20th day of January;

prison shipAs also where any person or persons shall be hereafter convicted of grand or petit larceny, or any felonious stealing or taking of money or goods and chattels, either from the person or the house of any other, or in any other manner, and who by the law shall be entitled to the benefit of clergy, and liable only to the penalties of burning in the hand or whipping, (except persons convicted for receiving or buying stolen goods, knowing them to be stolen) it shall and may be lawful for the Court before whom they were convicted) or any court held at the same place with the like authority, if they think fit, instead, of ordering any such offenders to be burnt in the hand or whipped, to order and direct, that such offenders, as also such offenders in any workhouse as aforesaid, shall be sent as soon as conveniently may be, to some of his Majesty's colonies and plantations in America for the space of 7 years;

And that court before whom they were convicted, or any subsequent court held at the same place, with like authority as the former, shall have power to convey, transfer and make over such offenders by order of court, to the use of any person or persons who shall contract for the performance of such transportation, to him, or them, and his and their assigns, for such term of 7 Years;

And where any persons have been convicted, or do now stand attainted of any offences whatsoever for which death by law ought to be inflicted, or where any offenders shall hereafter be convicted of any crimes whatsoever, for which they are by law to be excluded the benefit of clergy, and his Majesty, his heirs or successors shall be graciously pleased to extend Royal mercy to any such offenders, upon the condition of transportation to any part of America, and such intention of mercy be signified by one of his Majesty's principal Secretaries of State, it shall and may be lawful to and for any court having proper authority to allow such offenders the benefit of a pardon under the Great Seal, and to order and direct the like transfer and conveyance to any person or persons (who will contract for the performance of such transportation) and to his and their assigns of any such before-mentioned offenders, as also of any person or persons convicted of receiving or buying stolen goods, knowing them to be stolen, for the term of 14 years, in case such condition of transportation be general, or else for such other term or terms as shall be made part of such condition, if any particular time be specified by his Majesty, his heirs and successors, as aforesaid;

And such person or persons so contracting, as aforesaid, his or their assigns, by virtue of such order of transfer, as aforesaid shall have a property and interest in the service of such offender for such terms of years.

CRIMES PUNISHABLE BY TRANSPORTATION, ACCORDING TO THE NATURE OF THE OFFENCE:

  • Grand larceny, which comprehends every species of theft above the value of 1 Shilling, not otherwise distinguished;
  • Petty larcenies, or thefts under 1 Shilling;
  • Receiving or buying stolen goods, jewels and plate;
  • Ripping and stealing lead, iron, copper ... or buying or receiving;
  • Stealing (or receiving when stolen) ore from black lead mines;
  • Stealing from furnished lodgings;
  • Setting fire to underwood;
  • Stealing letters, or destroying a letter or packet, advancing the postage, and secreting the money;
  • Counterfeiting the copper coin;
  • Embezzling naval stores;
  • Assaulting with an intent to rob;
  • Aliens returning after being ordered out of the kingdom;
  • Stealing fish from a pond or river-fishing in enclosed ponds and buying stolen fish;
  • Stealing roots, trees, or plants, of the value of 5s. or destroying them;
  • Cutting or stealing timber trees;
  • Stealing children with their apparel;
  • Marriage, solemnizing clandestinely;
  • Bigamy, or marrying more wives or husbands than one;
  • Assaulting and cutting, or burning clothes;
  • Manslaughter, or killing another without malice;
  • Stealing a shroud out of a grave; AND
  • Watermen carrying too many passengers in the Thames, if any drowned.

REFERENCES:

  • Clark, C. M., Select Documents in Australian History, 1788-1850 (London: Angus and Robertson, 1950).
  • Colquhoun, P., A Treatise on the Police of the Metropolis (London: H. Fry, 1797), pages 440-441
  • Duhaimer, Lloyd, Timetable of World Legal History