The term convict ship is a colloquial term used to describe any ship engaged on a voyage to carry convicted felons under sentence of penal transportation from their place of conviction to their place of exile.
It is most commonly used to describe ships engaged in carrying convicts from Great Britain to the Australian Colonies. The First Fleet saw the first convict ships arrive in Australia in January 1788, and the last convict ship, Hougoumont, arrived in Western Australia in 1868.
In most cases, convict ships were privately-owned merchant ships that were chartered by the British Government for one or more voyages to the Australian colonies. Following serious outbreaks of disease with heavy loss of life on board some early convict ship voyages, later voyages were strictly regulated by the British Government in terms of provisions and medical support, as a result of which during the nineteenth century deaths on board ship during these long passages were generally lower than on assisted immigrant ships on similar voyages, and many convicts actually arrived in a better state of health than they had enjoyed before leaving.
Loss of life due to accident or natural disaster was also rare, although there were four serious shipwrecks concerning convict ships to Australia - France, George III on the south-east coast of Tasmania, Neva off King Island in Bass Strait and Waterloo in Table Bay, South Africa.
Many vessels, both government and privately owned, moved convicts around the Australian coastline, but these are not normally referred to as convict ships. Where moving convicts and/or troops was the main reason for an individual voyage the term convict transport or just transport was used.
- List of British prison hulks
- List of convict ship voyages to Western Australia
- Transport Board
- Prison ship
- Charles Bateson, The Convict Ships 1787-1868 2nd edn. London A. H. & A. W. Reed (1974) ISBN 0589071467 (originally published: Glasgow Brown, Son and Ferguson, 1969)
- Alan Mawer, Most Perfectly Safe
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