Australia- The British Empire

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  • Created on: 27-06-20 14:08

First British Settlers


  • 732 convicts landed in 1788.
  • Two thirds of the convicts had been sentenced for minor theft and the average age was under 30.
  • They consisted of English, Scots, Americans, Germans and Norwegians.
  • The majority of women were listed as domestic servants.
  • The remaining personnel of 600+ were marines, their families, seamen and civil officers.
  • Marines were disinclined to do anything other than military duties which were virtually non-existent.
  • The convicts transported in the First Fleet and in later ships were overwhelmingly city dwellers and a half to two thirds had at least one previous conviction.
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Governors of Australia 1788-1808

Arthur Philip 1788-92:

  • Responsible for success of the First Fleet and survival of the colony in its early years.
  • Tough disciplinarian but fair and pragmatic.
  • Gave the first land grants to ex-convicts- ensuring expanse of the colony.
  • Fair to Aboriginals- protected them to some extent.

William Bligh 1806-08:

  • Two mutinies
  • Marooned by the crew of 'The Bounty' then 17 years later removed as Governor of NSW Corps and other free born settlers angry at his attempt to curb privilege.
  • There was little punishment for the perpetrators.
  • This was known as the Rum Rebellion 1808.
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Governors pt2

Thomas Brisbane 1821-25:

  • Reversed the paternalistic and high spending approach of Maquarie.
  • Limited early pardons and land grants to convicts.
  • Power and wealth was consolidated in the hands of the freeborn settlers, who formed a wealthy farming class.

George Arthur 1824-36 (Tasmania):

  • Devised a system of punishments and rewards for convicts.
  • Extended control over the free settlers of the colony to run a police state, refusing convict labour to any settlers whose actons he disapproved of.
  • Van Diemen's Land was as close to a totalitarian state as was ever reached in the British Empire.
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Initial Settlement

Botony Bay: lacked a fresh water supply, soil was unsuitable. The settlers moved through Port Jackson into Sydney Cove for immediate survival.

Sydney: within 6 months livestock had been eaten or disappeared. There was no plough or animal to pull one and the thin soil did not yield much crop. Settlers began to trade with Aboriginals but the meat was largely dried.

London initially envisaged that the colony would be self-sufficient within 4 years at £70,000. Philip often resorted to harsh physical punishment to maintain control and prevent mutiny.

Philip allocated work on a skills basis. When he left, everyone was housed in rudimentary wattle and daub dwellings and there was a brick-built mansion.

66 grants of land made- by 1792 1,000 acres under public cultivation and 516 under private cultivation.

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Second Fleet

Lady Juliana:

  • Devoted to transporting female convicts- 222 female convicts and provisions.
  • Arrived 3 June 1790.
  • The store ship the Justinian arrived 2 weeks later, followed by the rest of the transport ships with their cargoes of dying convicts.
  • At least 1/4 of those transported died, a further 150 died later. The journey was carried out by a private firm, Camden, Calvert and King.

The arrival dramatically increased the colony's chance of survival- brought livestock and crops.

Further fleets remained in private hands and the government dealt with the public response by appointing a Royal Commission into the affair which resulted in no prosecution.

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Convict Experience- Macquarie

Whaling: Most important source of income, relied on the free convicts. Convicts worked 9 hours a day for 5 days a week and 5 hours on saturdays. Harsh punishments involved.

Skilled labour (specials) were much in demand in the colony and governors made use of all the skills that they could discover in the convicts.

Painters- recorded the colony. No lawyers- convict George Crossley who was convicted for forging a will worked in law in the colony. 

Rights were 'protected'- punishments only carried out once they had been brought before a magistrate and convicts had food, shelter and rum ration.

Male convicts outnumbered females 6:1 (1805, 4,000: 1,300)

Female first experience was often ****- seamen 'welcomed' the women ashore. Women without marine protection were aware their best chance in the colony rested on doing so once the ship landed. The ship docking was marked by a market of the available women. 

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Land Grants + Hawkesbury River

Macquarie- well known forissuing early pardons and tickets of leave.

The First Select Committee Report into transportation of convicts in 1812 supported Macquarie's liberal view of Philip's penal system. However, it also concluded that fewer tickets of leave should be granted.

Hawkesbury River:

  • Fertile land with a vast amount of oysters.
  • Essential to feed the population of Sydney.
  • Macquarie founded 5 towns near in 1810-11.
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Macquarie towns

Macquarie oversaw the development of public buildings and infrastructure in the colony, spending more money than liked. London paid for the wages of the regiment and governor salary. The colony was self-sufficient but, although making a profit under Macquarie, no money was sent back to London as he reinvested in the colony's infrastructure.

He built roads, schools, barracks and churches- Frances Greenway, talented architect/convict.

'Macquarie' townships were developed in Castlereagh, Richmond, Windsor, Pitt Town and Wilberforce in 1810 and 1811, along Hawkesbury River. 

Each Macquarie town followed a set plan and was built with a school, church and an inn.

In the centre of Sydney, Macquarie built a hospital at no cost by awarding the license for trade in spiritous liquor to the builders.

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  • 1789- estimated to have killed 50% of Aboriginals
  • No natural resistance to foreign disease
  • Possible sources- deliberate biological warfare by British, variation of chicken pox, accidential germs, transmission via Makassan sailors from Indonesia

The Eora of New South Wales:

  • Estimated 2,500 around Sydney
  • Convicts quickly stole, Aboriginals retaliated
  • Philip- tried to be fair by flogging convicts in front of Aboriginals but they turned their backs in disdain
  • 30 May 1788- two convicts murdered by Aboriginals
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Impact of British settlement on Aboriginal Tasmani


  • Existed in Australia for at least 500,000 years
  • Ice barrier prevented humans from crossing the south-east mainland to Tasmania
  • Survived through living in 'harmony' with their environment- hunting
  • Use of 'dreaming' (worship) to pass on knowledge of the land
  • Complex languages and national system- mainland had fire, Tasmanians built canoes/fished

British arrival:

  • Estimated 300,000+ Aboriginals in Australia when British arrived
  • Philip- 1500 in Sydney Cove, 3 Aboriginals per square mile
  • Cook- claimed 'nobody's land' - no communication with the Aboriginal people
  • Did not acknowledge their spiritual claim to the land
  • Considered them to be primitive and savage
  • Tasmania (Van Diemen's Land): 1803 John Bowen arrived at Risdon Cove. 2nd settlement 1804 David Collins at 'Hobart Town', Sullivans Cove (fresh water). Used as prison island- harsh penal colonies at Port Arthur.
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Aboriginal genocide

  • Ongoing frontier conflict with British over expansion- 'Black War'
  • Diseases- smallpox and other European illnesses
  • Land in the interior cleared for farming- wool trade
  • Aboriginals hunted, starved and poisoned- whole population essentially wiped out
  • Governor Arthur declared martial law in 1828:
    • Settled districts created in 1824
    • Aboriginals removed to Bruny Island from Tasmania
  • Pre Britain- 3000/4000 Aboriginals on Tasmania
  • No limits on violence (Arthur)- Collins, Davey and Sorrell said not to persecute Aboriginals but this had little effect. Convicts considered Aboriginals vermin.

Black War:

  • 1828 Martial law- to find the Aboriginals and 'settle them in' 
  • Settled districts: remain in land set aside for them by British (Bruny Island)
  • Convicts had guns for hunting, but did not care to kill Aboriginals instead
  • Black War- violent conflict between Aboriginals and settlers in Tasmania in the 1820s.
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Extra: Truganini

  • Considered to be the last Tasmanian Aboriginal.
  • B. 1812 in Bruny Island, died 1876 Tasmania.
  • Daughter of the Chief of Bruny, her mother and uncle were killed by the British, her sister abducted, her fiance murdered. 
  • Truganini herself experienced sexual assault.
  • 'Protector of Aboriginals' Robinson moved her to Flinders Island.
  • In 1838 she helped Robinson created a settlement at Port Philip.
  • Joined a band of outlaws- survivor.
  • Had a daughter with a white man and then exiled from the mainland.
  • Sole Tasmanian survivor by 1873.
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Penal settlement at Van Diemen's Land

Port Risdon (Hobart) : Chosen for its strategic value and because Tasmania was a key area for whaling.

Van Diemen's Land operated as an adjutant part of the main country until 1824. It operated as a useful dumping ground for the most hardened of prisoners. 

Arthur- divided the island into police districts under the control of a police magistrate and control over the free settlers as well as convicts was exercised by the witholding of assigned labour. 

Convicts were made to work through each of the 7 levels of punishment before gaining freedom.

There were no early pardons. 

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Whaling + Sealing

Success and survival of the early colony relied heavily on whaling and sealing with the sea surrounding Sydney teeming with whales and seals. 

Exports of whalebone, oil and sealskins enabled the colonies to buy the goods they needed for the new colony as well as rum.

Whaling began after the 3rd Fleet in 1791. Industries dominated by Emancipists and the Currency lads. Contracters of the 3rd Fleet agreed with the government that once they had arrived, they could go whaling.

Robert Campbell, a merchant, broke the East India Company monopoly by sailing to England in 1805 with 260 tonnes of 13,7000 seals. He established free trade on skins and oil- colony and England.

Cheap and easy trade- open bottom dories.

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Blue Mountains


Took place after drought and in search of more grasslands and pasture for the growing wool industry.

Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth travelled alongside an Aboriginal guide. They surveyed a route over the mountains. This had vast bush and greenland with enough grazing land to support a colony for 30 years.

Macquarie asked the surveyor general to follow their path and comissioned a road across in 1814. In 1818 the Liverpool Plains were discovered, offering extensive agriculture. 

1824- Australian Agricultural Company by Royal Charter. They were given 1 milion acres (Port Stephens to Manning River). Sheep farming commenced there in 1825.

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Western Australia 1826

Reasons for settlement:

  • Forestall the French and prevent them claiming Australian land
  • Trade with India and China
  • On reccomendation of the unwise (James Stirling)

Claimed in 1791 and in 1826, the British established a military outpost in King George Sound (Albany)

Stirling- Swan River Company 1828. Undertook to send out 10,000 free settlers for a large land grant. First settlers arrived in 1829 at Swan River and on 29 May 1829 Captain Freemantle laid claim to all of Australia that did not make up New South Wales.

Colony was threatened by famine. By 1832, it had 1,500 colonists. 

But- Britain now did not view Australia as an open prison but as a source of wealth and opportunity.

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Political development

Initially: Australia was an open prison. Governors had unlimited power due to the distance from London. Macquarie was credited with changing it from a prison to a colony: size and communication with London, offered more scrutiny. Macquarie often considered to be too paternalistic. 

1819 Lord Bathurst, colony secretary of state, appointed John Thomas Bigge as Commissioner of Inquiry to see if transportation was still efficient as punishment. He recomended that...

  • Convict labour be primarily assigned to sheep farms not public work programmes
  • Early pardons and tickets of leave under Macquarie and land grants for Emancipists should cease
  • Positions of responsibility should not be given to Emancipists.
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After the Bigge Report, the New South Wales Act was passed in Britain in 1823 which altered the power and position of governors. A legislative council was created, the justice system became independent of the governor and a Supreme Court was established, Van Diemen's Land was to operate as a separate colony and a legislative council/SC established there also.

Councils were enlarged in 1828 from 7 to 15 members, 7 nominated by governor and the rest were government officials.

By 1829, governor power had been restricted by more frequent communication and intervention from London and by the requirement to formally consult the free citizens.

Land grants were made to the Australian Agricultural Comapny in 1824, the Van Diemen's Land Company in 1825 and the Swan River Company in 1829 to develop their colonies. Each supported by the British government.

The pattern of imperial settlement had changed from direct government, sponsored operations run by the navy and army to far more typical forms of British imperialism in which private companies and settlers bore the risks of imperialism.

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