The last place on earth you'd have wanted to be

A MAJOR new exhibition charting the transportation of local criminals to Australia more than 150 years ago has just opened at Ripon's Courthouse Museum.

The exhibition, called One Way to Botany Bay, has been created by Bessie Chapman, the museum's curator.

Mrs Chapman, who has worked on the project since July last year, discovered many examples of local people being sent to Australia by Ripon Liberty Court for quite trivial offences by today's standards.

The exhibition follows the journey the convicts had to make, from the courts, gaols and hulks (floating prisons) to the inhospitable land of east Australia, Tasmania and later on western Australia.

Among them was John Naylor, from Ripon, who was sentenced to seven years' hard labour in Australia for the theft of one stone in weight of coal in 1836.

The Sinkler brothers from Pateley Bridge amazingly were transported to Australia twice in 1833 and 1843. They were sentenced each time at Ripon Courthouse to seven years for poaching and both times managed to return to Britain, which was very rare.

Between 1787 and 1852, more than 25,000 women were sent to Australia and they faced some of the worst conditions and treatment.

Ann East, a local woman, was sentenced to transportation to Australia for seven years for stealing a pair of boots in 1833.

Mrs Chapman, a former magistrate at the court from 1978 until it ceased use as a working court in 1998, said: "This sort of punishment was incredibly draconian. It is not something, as a country, we should be proud of."

Punishment may have altered somewhat over the last 170 years but the courthouse has changed little in that time.

It has recently been used by Yorkshire Television as the fictional Ashfordly Magistrates Court in the popular drama, Heartbeat.

"It has been fascinating doing this research for the museum. The museum is interesting as it has a link with Ripon as local people were sent away to Australia from here," added Mrs Chapman.

"Part of the culture of this country was to go out and discover the world. These convicts were Australia's first white settlers and they went on to found a new nation."

The Courthouse Museum, on Minster Road, is part of the Ripon Law and Order trail that includes the Workhouse Museum, Allhallowgate, which also opened yesterday and the Prison and Police Museum, St Marygate, which opens on May 1.

The museums are open daily from 1pm to 4pm, until the end of October (10am to 4pm during school holidays).

l Ripon Museum Trust is looking for more people to join its enthusiastic band of volunteer guides.

To find out more, contact Christine Orsler on Ripon 690799 or emailinfo@riponmuseums.co.uk.