Convict ship

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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.

Colonial practice

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 - Amphitrite on the coast of 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...
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