Penal colony in the Andaman Islands (c. 1895)
The British used colonial North America as a penal colony through a system of indentured servitude. Merchants would transport the convicts and auction them off (for example) to plantation owners upon arrival in the colonies. It is estimated that some 50,000 British convicts were sent to colonial America and the majority landed in the Chesapeake Colonies of Maryland and Virginia. Transported convicts represented perhaps one-quarter of all British emigrants during the 18th century. The colony of Georgia, for example, was first founded by James Edward Oglethorpe who originally intended to use prisoners taken largely from debtors' prison, creating a "Debtor's Colony," where the prisoners could learn trades and work off their debts. Even though this largely failed, the idea that the state began as a penal colony has persisted, both in popular history and local lore. The British and earlier English would often ship rebellious Irish and Welsh to the Americas, or Scottish prisoners of war during the ensuing Wars of the Three Kingdoms and Third English Civil War
but these were sent mostly to Maryland and Virginia, not Georgia.
When that avenue closed in the 1780s after the American Revolution, Britain began using parts of what is now known as Australia as penal settlements. Australian penal colonies included Norfolk Island, Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania), Queensland and New South Wales. Advocates of Irish Home Rule or of Trade Unionism (the Tolpuddle Martyrs) sometimes received sentences of deportation to these Australian colonies. . Without the allocation of the available convict labour to farmers, to pastoral squatters, and to government projects such as roadbuilding, colonisation of Australia may not have been possible, especially considering the considerable drain on non-convict labor caused by several goldrushes that took place in the second half of the 19th century after the flow of convicts had dwindled and (in 1868) ceased.
Bermuda, off the North American continent, was also used during the Victorian period. Convicts housed in hulks were used to build the Royal Naval Dockyard there, and during the Second Boer War (1899–1902), Boer prisoners-of-war were sent to the archipelago and imprisoned on one of the smaller islands.
In colonial India, the British made various penal colonies. Two of the most infamous ones are on the Andaman Islands and Hijli. In the early days of settlement, Singapore Island was the recipient of Indian convicts, who were tasked with clearing the jungles for settlement and early public works.
A common misconception is that most of the former British Empire colonies were formed via convicts sent over from Britain thus rendering countries like Australia a nation of convicts, where in reality they represented only a fraction of the established colonies at that time.