Great Expectations

by: Charles Dickens

Crime and Transportation

Part of the plot of Great Expectations concerns Magwitch’s transport to a penal colony in New South Wales, Australia. In 1787, a fleet of ships sailed from England to Australia to establish a penal colony settlement. The settlement was a response to overcrowding in English prisons. The transportation of convicts continued until 1868, although it became less common over time. Most of the prisoners sentenced to transport were convicted of petty crimes such as theft, so Magwitch’s own transportation indicates he is less sinister than Pip believes him to be. The existence of transportation as a punishment enabled a sense of public security, with the comforting fantasy that criminals were being taken away. Transportation of criminals also created a public fascination with the criminals’ stories and experiences. While Pip is terrorized and disgusted by his various encounters with criminals including Magwitch, Orlick, and Compeyson, Dickens’s readers were likely enthralled by the inclusion of these criminal elements.