This online exhibition introduced a local place-based West Country dimension to being transported overseas as a felon.
The exhibition took you from the County Courts to Plymouth, where a convicted felon would await being loaded onto one of the convict ships transporting them to a destination like Botany Bay or Tasmania. Much has been written about the convict voyage experience, and about what happened to convicts, notably in Australia. But, what was the journey from arrest to being shipped off really like?
This exhibition endeavoured to unmask the cold truth with some thought-provoking questions:
- How was it decided who should be transported, instead of being hanged, or pardoned?
- What happened when you got to Plymouth – particularly as felons were held in rotting decommissioned Royal Navy wooden ships (hulks) no longer fit to sail, acting as temporary prisons off Hamoaze in Plymouth Sound
- What was it like to actually spend weeks on these hulks waiting for that unknown destination beyond the seas?
- Just how did Plymouth cope with a steady influx of felons awaiting transportation?
- How were they fed, clothed, treated and how involved was the local community?
The illustrated podcast accompanying the exhibition (see below) answers these questions and explores the local dimensions to transportation overseas, including the case study of former Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison's Cornish ancestor, exploring William Roberts' arrest, conviction at the Assizes in Bodmin, and then his conveyance to Plymouth, and place on ‘The First Fleet’.
The event, which was suitable for all, was of particular interest to local schools and history groups, foregrounding the importance of using legal history to develop a better understanding of fair and proportionate justice delivery and its need for a local dimension.