Did convict transportation serve criminal or economic objectives?
The Transportation Act of 1718 was fundamentally a method of establishing a punishment that would deter criminals from committing acts of felony after their sentencing, and “for the further preventing Robberies, Burglaries, and other felonies; and for the more effectual Transportation of Felons.”[footnoteRef:1] A court dilemma, prior to this legislation being passed, was making the decision between capital punishment and immediate release after physical branding.[footnoteRef:2] Imprisonment for a significant period of time was unavailable due to a lack of facilities designed for long term incarceration,[footnoteRef:3] and sentencing to a workhouse or house of correction wasn’t seen as enough of a deterrent from committing further crimes.[footnoteRef:4] Additionally, transportation served as an “experimentation of privatising post-trial criminal justice,”[footnoteRef:5] in which law enforcement was a means of economic production and establishing good personal and trade relations with the colonies. “Between 1718 […] and 1775 […], some 50,000 convicts were shipped across the Atlantic from the British Isles,”[footnoteRef:6] which highlights the vast scale at which transportation was used in the eighteenth century. This also demonstrates the reliance on this system of punishment by the British government to serve both criminal and economic purposes, however, the legislation was originally implemented to serve as a means of more effective punishment, and economic objectives should be seen as more of a side effect. [1: John M. Beattie, Crime and the Courts in England, 1660-1800 (Princeton, N.J., 1986), 503.] [2: Beattie, Crime and the Courts, 502.] [3: Farley Grubb, “The Transatlantic Market for British Convict Labour,” The Journal of Economic History, 60 (2000): 113.] [4: Beattie, Crime and the Courts, 502.] [5: Grubb, “The Transatlantic Market,” 94.] [6: Kenneth Morgan, “English and American Attitudes towards Convict Transportation, 1718-1775,” History, 72 (1987): 416.]
The “business of crime”[footnoteRef:7] and convict transportation was channelled through the already existent transatlantic market for servant labour. This already gives an indication of economic purpose, as using a system which already exists saves expenditure on establishing new trade routes and methods of transporting convicts. The export of servants was already a recognised business, for example the port of Bideford already made “brisk trade in servants,”[footnoteRef:8]which meant solid personal and trade connections between both coasts of the Atlantic were already vaguely established. This provided a platform for the trade of convicts, and facilitated the development of the convict trade as a means of profit. This growth in economic connections can be underlined by the growth of Virginia and Maryland, both key in the development of the tobacco and sugar industries.[footnoteRef:9] Irish, Scott...