Transportation has several technical meanings, in the subjects of Geography, civil engineering and ecclesiastical law. In more general usage, AWE advises that it be used for 'the system[s] by which people and goods are moved', rather than
'the vehicles by which they are moved'. The nouns Transportation and transport were more or less equivalent from the earliest times until transportation became a sentence for convicted criminals in he seventeenth century, after which natural delicacy, politeness or squeamishness seems to have meant that most Britons preferred to use the simpler transport. The verb for used as an equivalent for both was 'to transport', with a different stress from that of the noun 'a transport' (see transport (pronunciation)).
- From the seventeenth century (first authorized by the Privy Council in 1615), transportation was a sentence used in criminal courts in England, and later throughout Britain. In a measure partly to introduce a kind of banishment as an alternative to the death penalty (as a form of clemency), and partly to relieve over-crowding in prisons, convicts were sent to labour in the colonies for a period of years (usually 7 or 14) or for life. Major (and notorious) episodes of transportation in this sense were:
- during the [[Commonwealth (1649-1660), transportation was used for Irish rebels, prisoners of war, vagrants etc, who were dispatched to the American colonies, principally in the Caribbean;
- after the Restoration, convicts were sent to the American colonies, in North America and the Carribean, until black African slaves began to be bought in large numbers. (Rafael Sabatini's novel Captain Blood tells of some 'rebels' transported after Monmouth's rebellion of 1685.) Other rebels transported included Scots Jacobites, Irish nationalists, Trades Unionists and others seen as enemies of the established state, as well as offenders against property such as thieves and poachers. After the American Declaration of independence, the (now) United States of America could not be used as a destination for transportation.
- The legal position was regularized in 1718 and subsequently, with the Transportation Acts.
- From 1788 (the date of the 'First Fleet'), convicts were predominantly sent to Australia to help establish the new colony, the British Empire's base in the South Seas.
- Transportation was also a punishment used in France, notoriously to Devil's Island.