Australian Convict Sites World Heritage Listing

In 2010, the Hyde Park Barracks, along with ten other Australian convict places and institutions, was placed on UNESCO’s prestigious World Heritage list. While each of these sites is important and valuable in its own right, drawn together as a special ‘group listing’ they tell an epic tale of Australia’s convict beginnings and the extraordinary range of systems and conditions experienced by convicts transported to the colonies between 1788 and 1868.

The following summary comes from the official nomination prepared by the Australian Government’s Department of the Environment and Energy.

The 11 sites taken together are an outstanding and large-scale example of the forced migration of convicts, who were condemned to transportation to distant colonies of the British Empire.

The sites illustrate the different types of convict settlement serving the colonial development project via buildings, ports, infrastructure, the extraction of resources, etc as well as the living conditions of the transported convicts.

This transportation and associated forced labour was implemented on a large scale, both for criminals and for people convicted for relatively minor offences, as well as for expressing certain opinions or being political opponents. The penalty of transportation to Australia also applied to women and children from the age of nine. The convict stations are testimony to a legal form of punishment that dominated in the 18th and 19th centuries in the large European colonial states, at the same time as and after the abolition of slavery.

These sites show the various forms that the convict settlements took, closely reflecting the discussions and beliefs about the punishment of crime in 18th and 19th century Europe, both in terms of its exemplarity and the harshness of the punishment used as a deterrent, and of the aim of social rehabilitation through labour and discipline. They influenced the emergence of a penal model in Europe and America.

Within the colonial system established in Australia, the convict settlements simultaneously led to the Aboriginal population being forced back into the less fertile hinterland, and to the creation of a significant source of population of European origin.

The UNESCO submission was prepared to address two specific criteria:

  • Criterion (iv) an exceptional example of the forced migration of convicts - an important stage of human history

  • Criterion (vi) an extraordinary example of global ideas and developments associated with the punishment and reform of the criminal elements of humanity during the Age of Enlightenment and the modern era

Read more about the Australian Convict Sites World Heritage listing.