Transportation Act 1717

English, Scottish, Irish

and Great Britain

Acts of Parliament by states preceding the United Kingdom
Royal statutes, etc. issued before the development of Parliament

The Transportation Act 1717 was an Act of the Parliament of Great Britain (4 Geo. I cap. XI) long title An Act for the further preventing Robbery, Burglary, and other Felonies, and for the more effectual Transportation of Felons, and unlawful Exporters of Wool; and for declaring the Law upon some Points relating to Pirates.) that established a seven-year convict bond service in the form of penal transportation to North America as a possible punishment for those convicted of lesser felonies. For more serious crimes, a fourteen-years of convict bond service was meted out as a possible sentence in lieu of capital punishment, and gained through commutation of sentence via royal pardon. An estimated 50,000 convicts (women, men and children) were transported to the British American colonies.[1]

Subsidized transportation of convicts to the British American colonies continued from 1717 until 1776 when it was repealed by the Criminal Law Act 1776 (16 Geo. 3 c. 43).;[2] the last convict ship docked in Virginia in April that year.[3] The American Revolution made it unfeasible to carry out transportation. Felons sentenced to transportation were punished with imprisonment in prisons or prison hulks to work at hard labour instead. From 1787-1868, criminals were transported to the British colonies in Australia.

The reasons for the Act derive from the convergence of a number of factors. Fears over rising crime and disorder after the end of the War of the Spanish Succession in 1714, a contested Hanoverian accession to the British throne, inappropriate punishments for lesser felonies (misdemeanours), concern over crowd behaviour at public punishments, and a new determination by parliament to push through the legislation despite colonial opposition resulted in the passing of the Act. Transportation thus became a regularly available sentence for the courts to hand down to those convicted of non-capital offences as well as capital crimes.

Although the bulk of 4 Geo. 1 cap XI details the necessity and intent of convict transportation, the section VII clause relates to the suppression of piracy. The death penalty for most kinds of piracy was abolished by the Piracy Act 1837, which preserved the death penalty for piracy with intent to kill. The death penalty was abolished altogether in 1998. The 1717 Act was repealed in 1993.

A full text of 4 Geo. 1 cap XI may be found in several works by Peter Wilson Coldham.[4] and online in Statutes at Large, volume 13 at the Internet Archive.

The Transportation Act also introduced measures against fences, making them main felons instead of bare accessories of theft penalties.[5]

See also


  1. Ekirch, Roger (1987). Bound for America: The Transportation of British Convicts to the Colonies, 1718-1775. New York: Clarendon/Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0198202110.
  2. Marilyn C. Baseler, "Asylum for Mankind": America, 1607-1800, p.125, Cornell University Press (1998)
  3. Emily Jones Salmon, Convict Labor During the Colonial Period, Encyclopedia Virginia
  4. Coldham, Peter Wilson (2007). Emigrants in Chains. a Social History of the Forced Emigration to the Americas of Felons, Destitute Children, Political and Religious Non-Conformists,. Lanham, Md: Genealogical Publishing. pp. 167–171. ISBN 978-0806317786.
  5. Beattie, J. M. Crime and the Courts in England 1660 - 1800. Oxford: Clarendon, 1986, pp.189-90.

Further reading

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