Nation on the March

Nation on the March
Nation on the March

Jan 18, 2010

Coffee Without Comment - Australia & the Raaz Pichhle Janam Ka !!

18th January is a red letter day in the history of British Empire, because their first lot of convicts landed in Australia today in 1788, i.e. 222 years ago. At that time, British police was not yet born, so British provinces had ‘watchmen’. With such anarchy in crime and punishment, British prisons were overcrowded and they had to find a way.
They had opened British settlements in America and it came handy for British to dump their convicts into ships and ‘transport’ them to America. Following the loss of the American Colonies, American War of Independence 1775-1783, Britain needed to find alternative land for a new British colony, Australia (discovered by Captain Cook in 1779) was chosen for settlement of convicts. 

Rather than resorting to the use of slavery to build the infrastructure for the new colony, convict labour was as a cheap and economically viable alternative. It is commonly reported that the colonization of Australia was driven by the need to address overcrowding in the British prison system. However it was simply not economically viable to transport prisoners half way around the world for this reason alone.
 Many convicts were either skilled tradesmen or farmers who had been convicted for trivial crimes and were sentenced to 7 years the time required to set up the infrastructure for the new colony. Convicts were often given pardons prior to or on completion of their sentences and were allocated parcels of land to farm. ‘Transport’ was so feared by the convicts that it came to be recognized as the second highest form of punishment, next only to hanging.

 Transportation or penal transportation is the Deportation of convicted criminals to a penal colony.

Examples include transportation by France to Devil's Island and by the UK to its colonies in the Americas, from the 1610s through the American Revolution in the 1770s, and then (Captain James Cook had discovered the existence of a new land, a new continent, Australia in 1770) to Australia between 1788 and 1868. Transportation was also seen as a humane and productive alternative to execution, which would most likely have been the sentence to many if transportation had not been introduced. In British colonial India, opponents of British rule were transported to the Cellular Jail in the Andaman islands.
So, Ready, Steady and Go!
First Fleet was the name given to the 11 ships that sailed from Great Britain on 13 May 1787with about 1530 people (736 convicts, 17 convicts' children, 211 marines, 27 marines' wives, 14 marines' children and about 300 officers and others) to establish the first European colony in Australia which was a convict  settlement, marking the beginnings of transporting convicts  to Australia. 

 All the ships arrived at Botany Bay between 18 and 20 January 1788. The first one to reach was HMS Supply which arrived on 18 January, next three , viz. HMS Alexander, Scarborough and Friendship arrived on 19 January and the remaining ships on 20 January 1788.Two ships were escorts, three  carried food and supply and remaining six had the precious cargo called the convicts.

The voyage was long and tiresome, 252 days on sea, to be precise. This was exactly  222 years ago today.
During the voyage, “ the weather became increasingly hot and humid as the fleet sailed through the tropics. Vermin, such as rats, and parasites such as bedbugs, lice, cockroaches and fleas, tormented the convicts, officers and marines. …..
The women convicts' clothing, which had become infested with lice, was burned en route at a port of call, and the women were issued with new clothes made from rice sacks. …..

At the last port of call, the main task was to stock up on plants, seeds and livestock for their arrival in Australia. The livestock included: two bulls, seven cows, one stallion, three mares, 44 sheep, 32 pigs, four goats and "a very large quantity of poultry of every kind….In November, the ship Supply hastened ahead to prepare for the arrival of the rest and select a suitable location, find good water, clear the ground, and perhaps even have some huts and other structures built before the others arrived. However, this "flying squadron" reached Botany Bay only hours before the rest of the Fleet, so no preparatory work was possible. …….

This was one of the world's greatest sea voyages — eleven vessels carrying about 1,487 people and stores had travelled for 252 days for more than 15,000 miles (24,000 km) without losing a ship. ………
Forty-eight people had died on the journey, a death rate of just over three per cent. Given the rigours of the voyage, the navigational problems, the poor condition and sea-faring inexperience of the convicts, the primitive medical knowledge, the lack of precautions against scurvy, the crammed and foul conditions of the ships, poor planning and inadequate equipment, this was a remarkable achievement”.

Nearly sixty years later,  Gold rush began in Australia in the early 1850s. The gold rushes brought many immigrants from Great Britain, Ireland, continental Europe, North America and China. John Hirst, commenting on the  Official History of Australia, quotes : “British settlers, greedy, arrogant and aggressive, spread across the land, pushing its indigenous inhabitants aside and killing them when they got in the way. They told themselves they were "developing the resources of the country". In fact they were destroying the country and the people who had successfully inhabited it for thousands of years.”

This is not to suggest any thing but those who watch the TV show Raaz Pichhle Janam Ka (on past life regression) may wonder whether all that is a truth. Hope the criminal  tirade that Indians are facing in Australia stops 

 and hope that it  has nothing to do with the early settlers who came to live in Australia !!