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(This follows on from my article, ‘Why Australia was colonized’: https://chrispearce52.wordpress.com/2015/08/04/why-australia-was-colonized/

The First Fleet of two naval vessels and nine convict ships carrying 579 male and 193 female convicts left England for Botany Bay on May 13, 1787. The whole party of about 1,400 convicts, crew and officers arrived at Botany Bay on January 19, 1788, but the bay was too open to offer protection, the soil was poor, fresh water was lacking and the convicts’ tools broke when they tried to chop down the hardwood trees, among other problems. The colony was moved to Port Jackson, just to the north, on January 26, to a spot which is the present site of downtown Sydney.

Convicts put up tents and started to build simple bark and thatching huts, but there were few skilled tradesmen among the convicts. Crops were sown but again, the convicts didn’t know much about farming as most had come from the cities and towns. Breeding stock either died or wandered off into the bush. Crops failed, and theft and drunkenness were rife. In early March, 2,000 people were ill with scurvy. A search for fertile land resulted in a settlement at Rose Hill, or present-day Parramatta. A contingent of convicts was sent to Norfolk Island too.

By 1789, food was so short that rations were cut by a third and soon reduced further. To make things worse, the Second Fleet, which no one in Sydney would have known about, arrived in June 1790 with another 750 convicts and 100 officers to feed, clothe and house. Then, in July to October, the Third Fleet came into port. Finally, in 1792, London started sending food and other supplies on a regular basis.

The colony soon expanded. Governor Phillip granted 30 acres of land to convicts who had served their sentence, plus 20 acres for a wife and 10 for each child. Soldiers were given fifty acres. New settlements were established north and west of Parramatta. New governor John Hunter started a settlement at Windsor on the Hawkesbury River. The Hunter Valley to the north was opened up in 1797 when coal was found. The first of the penal colonies for convicts who had committed another crime since their arrival was set up at Newcastle, 100 miles north of Sydney, in 1801. John Macarthur launched the wool industry at Camden, 35 miles from Sydney, in 1805. Floods, drought and bush fires played havoc from time to time. By 1810, people lived in poverty, crops were failing and public works were in disrepair. Drunkenness and crime were widespread.

The turning point for the colony came during Governor Lachlan Macquarie’s time from 1810 to 1821. He encouraged settlers to grow extra crops, go to church and get married (before that, only about half of couples were getting married). He closed many of the public houses and undertook an extensive program of public works, including a market place, public storehouses, convict and military barracks, a new hospital and better streets and roads. He sent an expedition to find a way over the Blue Mountains to the west so that the vast interior could be opened up to farming and industry. More colonies of secondary punishment were established at Wellington Valley, Port Macquarie, and at Moreton Bay in the 1820s.

The convicts kept coming. Regular shipments were sent from England, mainly to Sydney, but also to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania), Norfolk Island and the Swan River colony (Perth) in Western Australia. Transportation to Sydney stopped in the 1840s but continued to Swan River until 1868. Over a period of eighty years, Australia received 158,829 convicts, consisting of 134,261 males and 24,568 females, mainly from England and Ireland. They were either employed by the colonial governments on public works or were assigned to free settlers, many of whom were farmers. Most convicts were transported for theft. Sentences were usually seven or 14 years, but only about five per cent of convicts ever returned to Great Britain. These people were instrumental to the colonization and development of the country.

Many other places around the continent were being colonized by the early decades of the nineteenth century. For example, a separate colony at Van Diemen’s Land was set up on the Derwent River in 1803, the present site of Hobart. As at Sydney, the new colony was developed with convict labor. Settlement expanded quickly across the island with the help of convicts from Norfolk Island. A colony of secondary punishment was set up in 1824 where Brisbane now stands. In the same year, a settlement was established on Melville Island, Northern Territory, to open up trading with Indonesia and ward off the French. Norfolk Island, which had been abandoned in 1814, was reopened in 1825. A military settlement was started at Albany south of Perth in the same year, also to keep the French away. The Swan River colony was set up in 1829 at Perth. The Port Phillip Bay colony (Melbourne) commenced in 1835. The difference between this colony and others was that there were no convicts. A colony at South Australia (Adelaide) was formed in 1836, also without convict labor.

The colonization process continued throughout the nineteenth century as vast tracts of land were opened up all over the continent. Gold discoveries in Victoria in particular, New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia brought new settlers in their hundreds of thousands and accelerated development and expansion after the convict era finished. Farming, mining, manufacturing and construction flourished, and the colonies exported their produce to Great Britain and other countries.

The colonial period drew to a close in 1901 after the people of the six colonies the continent was divided into, New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania, voted to form a new nation, the Commonwealth of Australia, and to govern itself.

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