In the last two decades of the 18th century, Britain experienced three major social phenomena: a wealth of experienced sailors with too much time on their hands; an epidemic of petty crime thanks in part to increasing urbanization; and social norms gradually more disapproving of capital punishment. These converged into an otherwise unlikely effort: transportation of criminals to one of the most remote places on earth.

When the sailors and convicts arrived in New South Wales, this presented a particular problem: certain crimes, such as livestock theft, had far more grave consequences in the new colony than back in England. Yet, more than two-thirds of the population were prisoners who were already serving their sentences. How then to punish such crimes? Death became the only meaningful sentence for even seemingly minor offenses (p. 93).