Convicts in Australia
The East coast of Australia was discovered and mapped by Captain James Cook and England saw the largely unoccupied and unclaimed southern continent as a useful outpost in which to ship unwanted peoples, such as criminals and the poorest of the poor. Overcrowding in jails had been relieved up until that point, by shipping these people to America until the American Revolution in 1775 when Britain was overthrown as the controlling colonial power and America refused to take any more convicts.
The farming reviolution and huge population explosion lead to a very high crime rate. In those days it was thought that the criminals had a permanently defective personality, and it was not possible to rehabilitate offenders. Botany Bay identified by Cook, was chosen as a new place to send convicts.
The first convicts boarded ships destined for the Great Southern Land,
known as Terra Australis.
The First Fleet of ships with convicts bound for Australia arrives at Portsmouth, England. A total of 1487 people, including 586 male and 192 female convicts, boarded the vessels.
There were six convict vessels (Alexander, Friendship, Lady Penryn, Charlotte, Scarborough and Prince of Wales.There were three supply ships (Barrowdale, Fishburn and Golden Grove) There were also two King's ships (HMS Sirius and HMS Supply)
The First Fleet set out with seed (wheat, cocoa, coffee, grapes, oranges, and bananas) to grow in what Joseph Banks described as lush pastures, well-watered adn fertile ground. It also had poor quality farming implements and farm animals (bulls, cows, sheep and poultry).
The First Fleet under the guidance of Captain Arthur Phillip, left England, and stopped along the way to stock up on fresh vegetables, salted meats and fresh water. Fist stop was Santa Cruz on Tenerfie and the ships landed here on 3rd June 1787. While docked there was an unsuccessful escape attempt. The boats departed 10th June 1787. Rio de Janeiro in Brazil was the next stop. After 8 weeks of travelling, the ships docked here to take on water, and food and to make repairs. Exotic fruits= seeds such as guavas, pineapples, coconuts and bananas were collected in the hope they would grow in the new colony.The ships departed Rio de Janeiro on 5th september 1787. They stuck wild seas as they crossedthe southern Atlantic Ocean for the Cape of Good Hope. Huge waves drenched everyone on board. With onely one blandket each the convicts were continually cold. Both prisoners and crew suffered terrible sea sickness and must have feared for their lives. The third stop was at the Cape of Good Hope on 31st October 1787 after five weeks of sailing. At this stop the ship took on enough food to last them the rest of the journey and for the first few weeks in New South wales. Horses, cattle sheep goats and chickens were also taken on baard. 12th November 1787 they left Table bay, South Africa and arrived in Botany Bay 18th Janueary 1788.
Convicts were secured below decks in very trying conditions. Most of the convicts had never been to sea before, but the conditions were similar to prison hulkds where it was dark and overcrowded, there were no toilet facilities and during huge storms, sea water came in to the decks. The ships were infested with rats and cockroaches. There was not a lot to do except
sleep in hammocks and eat the small amount of food given, so fighting often broke out amongst the prisoners. The worst were flogged and placed in irons on the open decks. Convicts were supposed to be given regular exercise on decks but many died on the journey. During fine weather the decks were opened up to allow in fresh air. Each convicts was expected to keep his or her area clean. 23 convicts died on the journey. Their weekly ration was 2 kg of slated beef, 1 kg salted port, 1.5 kg oatmeal, 1kg peas, butter cheese and vinegar. Each convict was also allowed 3.4 litres of water each day.
the First Fleet arrived in Botany Bay expecting to be able to set up a new colony. Captain Arthur Phillip found there was not enough fresh water to support the number of people in the fleet. They set off north to find a more suitable location.
26 January Port Jackson:
Captain Phillip found a large harbour ( now called Sydney Harbour), found a freshwater stream and named it Sydney cove. A flag was erected and the east coast of Australia was claimed for the British. The native peoples were very wary and fearful of the settlers, who referred to them as Indians. Some AFrican American convicts, hoping to be accepted by the natives, escaped but were rejected by them. Other convicts, heeding rumours of other settlements nearby and that China was just over the horizon, also escaped. Those that managed to survive the rigors of the country returned to the colony to further punishment. (In later years, the aboriginals caught the escaping convicts and returned them to the settlement in exchange for food and supplies.)The soil around Sydney cove was poort and few convicts had any farming knowledge. The suplies they brought with them were running low so food was rationed. Whilse the natives subsisted on local plants and fish, the settlers found few of these plants to be appetising. As the settler appear to have been very poor fishermen, most of their food came from the supplies they had brought with them. Whist the convicts occasionally ate
native rats, dogs, crows kangaroos and emus to supplement their
supplies, they became dependeant on the shipping trade monopolized by the East India company.
Government farms were created to help overcome the threat of starvation. Convicts were taught how to set up and care for forams. Shelter was also a problem. There were few building materials, and most houses were a wattle and daub construction. Lime for mortar was sourced from middens (burning seashells on the beach). The timber is the thick bush was difficult to cut down and their tools were not of good quality, becoming blunt or broken on the hard bush timber. Extra clothing had been forgotten, and by the time the Second Fleet arrived, convicts and marines alike were dressed in patched and threadbare clothing.
After two years of near starvation and isolation, the Sydney Cove settlement finally began to thrive. and grow. Buildings were planned and large areas of land were cleared for cultivation. Soon the fledgling colony would soon support itself.