On May 13, 1787, eleven ships left England with a cargo of 730 convicts, including over 100 women, bound for the sunny shores of Australia. The Mother Country had formerly unloaded their surplus prisoners on the American colonies, but that ended with the Revolution. Nine months later, the ships landed in New South Wales and founded the settlement that would become Sydney.
It was hardly a hardy bunch of pioneers. Some were hardened criminals, but many were simply poor folk who had taken to stealing food or clothing. They found life even harder in the new land. Many were turned into slaves. In the aptly named Van Diemen’s Land, now Tasmania, the worst criminals were put to work in chain gangs and in quarries. Life was so brutal that suicide pacts were common.
In 1822, convict named Alexander Pearce escaped with some other prisoners. When he was apprehended after several months, he was asked what had happened to his companions. He confessed that he’d eaten them.
The book to read on the subject of the settling of Australia by convicts is The Fatal Shore, by Robert Hughes.