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Yesterday was Thanksgiving here in the States and it was a time to celebrate friends and family and count your blessings. What better way to do that with a few bottles of wine? Since one of my friends holds an annual “orphans day” for those of us who don’t travel and would otherwise be alone someone brought over a few bottles of an Australian vintage called “19 Crimes. Bad Seed. Great Wine”. I'm not what you would call a sommelier but it was pretty tasty to the palate and helping to wash down the turkey. It was also a good topic of conversation and over the course of dinner we also got a little bit of a history lesson about what crimes could have you deported from Britain and on a slow journey across the seas to the then colony of Australia.

Let’s set the stage first.

During the 17 and 1800’s crime was rampant and the British jails were overcrowded. Living conditions within the prison system were akin to a death sentence if you found yourself looking at doing any serious amount of time. Faced with this dilemma, authorities found themselves in a predicament. What should we do with the ever increasing prison population?

For the solution, they turned to Australia and decided to use the then British territory as a penal colony. This practice continued for over 80 years and an estimated 165,000 convicts found themselves shipped off to lands unknown and left to fend for themselves.

What, might you ask, would I have to do to find myself the recipient of a one way ticket to the “land down under?”

The following is a list of crimes that would do just that.

  • Grand Larceny - the un-violent theft of goods of the value of 1 shilling or more
  • Petty Larceny - Thefts under the value of one shilling (which to me, doesn’t make any sense given the first condition)
  • Receiving stolen goods, jewels and plates or to be otherwise in the possession of goods known to be stolen.
  • Stealing lead, iron or copper
  • Stealing ore from a lead mine
  • Impersonating an Egyptian. This one kinda floored me. Apparently Gypsies, who claimed to be on pilgrimage from Egypt, were often guilty of obtaining money through false pretenses – such as reading palms, begging and theft. To dress as an Egyptian or Gypsy and not actually be one was punishable by law.
  • Stealing from furnished lodgings (as opposed to unfurnished ones?)
  • Setting fire to a forest in order to clear brush or shrubs
  • Stealing letters, advancing postage and keeping the money
  • Assault with intent to rob
  • Stealing fish from a pond or river
  • Stealing roots, trees or plants
  • Bigamy
  • Assaulting, cutting or burning clothes
  • Counterfeiting copper coins
  • Marrying clandestinely
  • Stealing a shroud from a grave. Apparently burial shrouds were a hot commodity on the black market back then.
  • If you were a waterman, carrying too many passengers on the Thames, but only if any drowned.
  • If you were deemed an “incorrigible rogue” who broke out of prison and any persons who received a reprieve from capital punishment
  • Stealing from naval stores but only in certain cases.
  • Crikey mate! Now that we’ve finished the wine, what say we go down to the pub raise a pinto or two of Foster's Lager and give it a fair go?



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