First Fleet

Activity 2: Crime and punishment

Focus question: how were criminals punished in England in the 1700s and 1800s?

  • As a class, students examine the Case Study of John Walker.
    Share responses.
    What factors led to John Walker's crime of stealing onions?
    How do you feel about what John Walker did?
    What does the evidence tell you about the kind of person he was?
    What might happen to John Walker if he committed this crime today?
  • In groups, students look at the list of convicts confined on the hulk, Censor: 1787-1788¬†. Ask: What interesting evidence do you see? What do you think about the ages of the convicts? What do you notice about their crimes? What questions are raised? How do we get answers or more information?
A print of an 1828 prison ship with convicts being rowed out to it. Convicts boarding a prison hulk at Portsmouth, 1828
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  • Invite a solicitor or police officer from the school or local community to visit the classroom, to answer students' questions about the legal consequences of similar crimes in the present.

Ideas for extension

  • Students explore more prisoner records at the Victorian Crime and Punishment¬†website.
  • Use a variety of search parameters to investigate records and draw conclusions.
  • Model use of a table to record data to assist with analysis and making generalisations.


  • How well do students frame open-ended, probing questions for a guest expert?
  • Are students able to record relevant data and draw valid conclusions from it? (Extension)