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The reports brought home by Captain Cook’s first journey to Australia completely changed the long-held belief about Australia. From the time of William Dampier it had been believed that the whole of the continent must be the same flat and miserable desert as the part he described. Cook’s account, on the other hand, represented the eastern coast as a country full of beauty and promise. Now, it so happened that, shortly after Cook’s return, the English nation had to deal with great difficulty in regard to its criminal population. In 1776 the United States declared their independence and the English then found they could no longer send their convicts over to Virginia as they had formerly done. In only a short time the gaols of England were crowded with felons and it became necessary to select a new place of transportation. How fortunate that as this difficulty arose, Captian Cook’s voyages called attention to land very suited for this very problem.
Heading To Botany Bay
Viscount Sydney was determined to send out a party to Botany Bay, in order to find a convict settlement there. In May 1787 a fleet was ready to sail. It consisted of the Sirius war-ship, its tender the Supply, together with six transports for the convicts and three ships for carrying the stores (food and livestock). Of the convicts, 600 were men and 250 were women. To guard them were 200 soldiers on board. Captain Phillip was appointed Governor of the colony, Captain Hunter was second in command and David Collins went out as judge-advocate, to preside in the military courts, which it intended to establish for the administration of justice. On the 18th, 19th and 20th of February, 1788, the vessels arrived, one after another, in Botany Bay, after a voyage of eight months, during which many convicts had died from disease brought on by such long confinement.
Take-Two, Port Jackson
As soon as the ships had anchored in Botany Bay, convicts were landed and commenced clearing the timber form a portion of land (unlucky!). But it only took a day or two to realise that the area was unsuitable for such a settlement. Its waters were so shallow that the ships could not enter it properly and had to lie out near the Heads, where the great waves of the Pacific rolled in on them by night and day. Governor Phillips had no choice but to take three boats out to search for a more convenient harbour. As he sailed along the coast he turned to examine the opening which Captain Cook had named Port Jackson and soon found himself in a winding channel of water, with great cliffs frowning overhead. All at once a magnificent prospect opened on his eyes. A harbour, which was perhaps the most beautiful and perfect in the world, stretched before him far to the west until it was lost on the distant horizon. It seemed a vast maze of winding waters, dotted here and there with lovely islets which were thickly wooded down to the strips of golden sand which lined the most charming bays. To Captain Phillip himself, whose mind had been filled with anxiety and despondency as to the future prospects of his charge, it opened out like a vision of a world of new hope and promise. For the natives, no one could imagine what they were thinking as they watched the sail boats from the safety of the rocks.
Three days were spent in examining portions of the spacious harbour and a few of its innumerable bays. Captain Phillip selected a place the most suitable for the settlement, a small inlet, which he named “Sydney Cove” in honour of the Minister of State. It was so deep as to allow vessels to approach within a yard or two of the shore, thus avoiding the necessity of spending time and money building wharves or piers.
After a few days the fleet was brought around and lay at anchor in the little cove. The convicts were once again landed and put to work clearing away the trees on the banks of a small stream which stole silently through a very dense wood. When an open space had been cleared a small flagstaff was erected, the soldiers fired three volleys and the Governor read his commission to the assembly council. The began a scene of noise and bustle. From dawn to sunset nothing could be heard except for the sounds of axes, hammers and saws, and the crashing of the trees and the shouts of the convicts. They lost no time in preparing their habitations on shore as the confinements of the overcrowded ships had become intolerably hateful.
Early Sufferings of the Colony
Unfortunately, for the new arrivals, one small problem was soon realised soon, following the clearing of vegetation, no one knew how to farm. This turned out to be a very serious issue. Click here to find out more about the horrendous early sufferings of the colony.
In 1790, the colony waited patiently for the arrival of the Second Fleet, to bring much needed fresh food and provisions to the starving people. But when the ships finally arrived they got more than they bargained for. Click here to find out what happened to the colony following the arrival of the Second Fleet.
(continues … Early Sufferings of the Colony)