Between 1844 and 1849, the British government transported 1739 convict ‘exiles' to the Port Phillip District of New South Wales. Unlike transportation that had occurred in other parts of Australia, the convicts sent to Port Phillip had served part of their sentence in London's Pentonville or Millbank prisons.
On arrival in Australia, they were given a conditional pardon, provided they didn't return to England within the term of their original sentence.
Pentonville prisoners spent the first 18 months of their sentence in silent solitary confinement, followed by a period of hard labour on public works. They were then transported to Australia.
The first Pentonville exiles were sent to Van Diemen's Land in 1844, but the prison system was overcrowded, and they were soon sent to work as squatters' labourers in Port Phillip. Some Port Phillip residents were outraged at convicts being dumped in their colony, but most squatters were in favour of importing more exiles as cheap labour.
In London, the Colonial Office listened to the demands of the squatters and over the next five years, 1727 exiles were sent to Melbourne, Geelong and Portland. There was also unofficial transportation of convicts from other colonies.
All of the 'Pentonvillains' were male, with an average age of 22 years - the youngest was 11. Nearly all were literate and many came from trade and manufacturing backgrounds.
Most of their offences were crimes against property, for which they received sentences of seven years or more. The Pentonvillains had a bad reputation, but much of it was undeserved.
Throughout the 1840s, there was growing opposition to the Pentonvillains, as many people saw it as transportation by another name:
It will scarcely be believed – and yet such is the fact – that transportation to New South Wales is revived...
– Port Phillip Patriot, 1844
Port Phillip Patriot, 26 December 1844.
The Port Phillip Patriot was the second newspaper John Pascoe Fawkner founded, after he was refused a license for the Melbourne Advertiser in 1838.
In 1849, ships carrying exiles were not allowed to dock in Sydney and Melbourne, and were forced to land their convicts in Moreton Bay, Queensland. This effectively ended convict transportation to New South Wales, including the Port Phillip District.