Posts filed under ‘Australian history’

Attitude to convicts (1937)

Another historic newspaper report, this time in response to the Celebration Committee’s plans for the 150-year anniversary celebrations of the landing of the First Fleet in Sydney. The Committee decided that for the re-enactment of the landing, and the subsequent parade of floats, there would be no convicts!

THEY PLAYED THEIR PART.

The Celebrations Committee has …decided to ban the birthstain, so far as next year’s pageantry is concerned. No convicts will disembark at Farm Cove, nor in the subsequent procession will there be the slightest reminder that there would have been no Landing except for the need to find a new home for Britain’s surplus prison population. This impressive feat in the bowdlerisation of history has been greeted with varying degrees of derision by correspondent s of the “Herald” and others. Mr. H. J Rumsey, who has boldly called his roll-call of the First Fleet “The Pioneers of Sydney Cove,” suggests that the representation of the settlement without mention of the two thirds who involuntarily participated in it is comparable to the story of Hamlet without the Prince.

…”Conspicuous by their absence,” indeed, will be the “true patriots” who, if they left their country for their country’s good, did a vast amount of good work in the land of their enforced adoption. By discreetly leaving this family skeleton in the cupboard the committee has ensured its attendance at the feast.

…The morals of some of the convicts were in as poor case as their garments. No amount of sentimental whitewashing, by way of reaction to the excessive fastidiousness of the Celebrations Committee can disguise the fact that the convict pioneers included a number of “complete villains,” as even Phillip, who was a humane man for his times and wished to befriend his charges, was forced to admit.

…He [Phillip] pronounced the great body of them “quiet and contented,” and Hunter was able to say in 1812 that “there are many men who have been convicts, and are now settlers, who are as respectable as any people who have gone from this country.” It is a curious commentary on the present ban that convicts were permitted to join in public celebrations from the earliest times, and themselves staged a dramatic performance as early as 1789; 

…The truth is that, not merely was Australia founded on account of the convicts, but that it would have made scant progress in its first 50 years without them. We have, perhaps, more to be ashamed of in our treatment of the aborigines, some of whose pathetic remnants, will stage a corroboree at Farm Cove, than of the penal origins of our country. The brutal transportation system reflected at least as much discredit upon its authors and some of its operators as upon the majority of its victims. It belongs to the old unhappy, far-off things of another age. Yet, as Dr. John Dunmore Lang, whose words are recalled by a correspondent today, wrote in 1875, it is a great historical fact which cannot be ignored. The effort to do so is likely to provoke more ridicule than a candid recognition of circumstances, which, so far from being discreditable to Australia, emphasise the magnitude of our achievement in building up a vigorous, independent, and freedom-loving nation from such unlikely beginnings at Sydney Cove. It would be the poorest sort of snobbery to deny that many men and women who were brought to this country under degrading conditions rose superior to their misdoings and misfortunes, and played their part in laying the foundations of the Commonwealth.

THEY PLAYED THEIR PART. (1937, December 11). The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842-1954), p. 10. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article17435749

9 June, 2011 at 4:45 pm 1 comment

Look at the history

I’ve written a new course on Australian Immigration (free settlers) for the National Institute for Genealogical Studies and have been reminded again about how much is explained by looking at background history.

People refer to the ‘push-pull’ of immigration. The Irish potato famine of the 1840s ‘pushed’ a large number of emigrants. In addition to 1 million dead, another 1 million people migrated from Ireland, causing the country’s population to fall by nearly 25%.

Likewise the pull of immigration: in the 7 years from the start of the Victorian gold rushes in 1851, the population of Victoria increased from 70,000 to nearly 500,000, overtaking the population of New South Wales. Ships arriving in Port Phillip were deserted as passengers and crew rushed off to the gold fields (often before immigration officials had time to record who had arrived).

Not all the numbers are so dramatic but looking at the numbers and considering the history helps understanding.

In 50 years from 1803, 75,000 convicts were sent to Tasmania (then known as Van Diemen’s Land). With convict labour and also emancipated convicts, there was no shortage of labour and indeed the problem was to ensure no unemployment, especially for assigned convicts.

The need was for wealthy settlers to develop employment – and single women. The gender balance was so unequal that for a while the government subsidised the migration of single women. But there was little need for more labourers. By 1860 about 80% of free immigrants to Tasmania had paid their own fares. The total number of free immigrants to that date was similar to the total number of transported convicts.

It was a different story in Queensland. Because of labour shortages, Queensland was a colony founded on assisted immigration (subsidised passages). In the 40 years leading up to Federation (1901), more assisted migrants arrived in Queensland than any other colony and few records remain in Queensland of the arrival of those who paid their own way.

1 April, 2011 at 12:49 pm 4 comments

Australia Day, past and present

Today is Australia Day and I am thinking how our attitudes to our history have changed over time. My childhood history book referred to Captain Cook ‘discovering Australia’ in 1770. That completely discounted the presence of indigenous Australians here for at least 40,000 years, not to mention all the European sightings of our continent long before Cook.

Then there is the changed attitude to a convict past. Not so many years ago it would have been a dreadful shame to have convict forebears. Now such ancestors are much sought after, as it associates us with pioneers, and we are amused by some of the rogues and think the Kelly gang bushrangers were forced into their crimes. Perhaps some people rewrite their history a bit by glossing over their ancestor’s ‘crime’ (“they were hungry so stole a loaf of bread”). I wonder what misrepresentations our descendants will accuse us of making?

The following is a letter to the editor published in the Sydney Morning Herald  on Thursday 9 December 1937 (page 3, see it  in Trove) in response to preparations for the upcoming 150th anniversary of ‘Australia Day’. At that reenactment of the landing, they chose to gloss over even the presence of convicts in the First Fleet!

AUSTRALIAN HISTORY.

TO THE EDITOR OF THE HERALD,

Sir,-Dr. Mackaness, speaking at a meeting of the Royal Australian Historical Society last week, said that the 150th celebrations had done much for historical work and research. That may be so. It is interesting to note, however, that Dr. Mackaness made no protest against the inaccurate presentation of Australian history about to be made at the forthcoming celebrations. The landing of Governor Phillip without reference to the convicts, as decided by the 150th Anniversary celebration committee, is in conflict with Dr. Mackaness’s book, “Admiral Arthur Phillip,” just published, and here quoted . . .

“On 25th January at daylight, the Supply, with a company of marines and forty convicts on board, had weighed anchor, but could not leave the bay (Botany) till noon … anchoring the same evening at 7 o’clock, being obliged to turn up … At daylight on 26th January … the marines and convicts were landed from the Supply … The convicts were immediately set to work clearing a piece of land on which to erect the tents … After noon the Union Jack was hoisted on shore and the marines being drawn up to it, the Governor and officers to the right, and the convicts to the left, their Majesties and the Prince of Wales’s health, with success to the colony, was drank, in four glasses of porter, after which a feu de joie was fired and the whole (sic) gave three cheers …”

Here then is the landing scene. Take away reference to the convicts and you have the skeleton which is to be presented at the coming clebrations. Where are the protests of Dr. Mackaness, or the Royal Australian Historical Society? The silence of this society, which aims at historical accuracy, is astounding, while its motto, “Not unmindful of the past,” would appear to be a misnomer, at least as regards the convicts. The official voice of this society is dumb regarding the decision of the celebration committee to ban references to the convict pioneers, when this society’s protest should be loudest.

I am, etc.,

B. T. DOWD. Waverley, Dec. 7.

26 January, 2011 at 10:26 am Leave a comment

Early Australian documents

To celebrate Australia Day (26 January) Shelley at Twigs of Yore invited us to write about our earliest documentation for an Australian ancestor or relative.

It might not be my earliest Australian document, but this document dates from Perth in 1832, within 3 years of the new Swan River colony in Western Australia. So these ancestors were certainly Australian pioneers.

Thomas Farmer and his wife Ann and their two small sons arrived at the new Swan River colony (Western Australia) in 1829 on HMS Sulphur. Thomas was a Private in the 63rd Regiment, part of the contingent accompanying the first ship of European settlers to the new colony. Ann was reported to be the first white woman ashore in Western Australia. By 1832 Thomas and Ann had 3 sons, and Ann was pregnant again, when Thomas drowned.

After Thomas’ death, with no other means of support, Ann married again before the birth of her 4th son. Ann was to be widowed twice more, and have 9 children in total, before she herself died at age 64.

Anyway, back to that early document. The following is an extract from C.S.O. 20/155 (microfilm), from Battye Library, Colony of Western Australia.

Enquiry into the causes of the death of Thomas Farmer, a private in His Majesty’s 63rd regiment of foot, taken at Perth in the said colony on Friday the twenty fourth day of February 1832. … Edward Barron, Colour Serjeant of His Majesty’s 63rd Regiment of foot being duly sworn saith -

“Yesterday morning about six o’clock I accompanied the deceased along with … two Privates of my regiment to the Flats to bring back a flat boat …

We had gone but a few yards from the bank when the painter broke. The sea breeze was blowing choppy and drifting the flat on shore on which account I called to Steel to pull his small boat round. He tried but I saw he could not pull it round. Upon which I told him to jump out of the boat into the water knowing he was a good swimmer and lay hold of the painter of the small boat and bring it to me in the flat.

Farmer on hearing me say this said there was no necessity for anyone swimming hereunder he could find bottom and at the same instant he jumped out. He was immediately out of his depth and went down below the surface. I called to Steel to lay hold of him and pull him into the boat. Steel did accordingly pull him into the boat. I ordered Farmer not to jump out of the boat again.

Steel again jumped out and got hold of the painter and as soon as Steel jumped out Farmer again jumped out saying he could find bottom. He immediately struck out but I saw then he could not swim and that he was beginning to paddle like a dog on which I called to Steel to lay hold of him and at the same time I undressed myself and jumped into the water after deceased and was making towards him, and had got within about four strokes of him when he went down. He never came up again. Steel swam round the boat while I dived down after deceased but we never saw any trace of him.”

25 January, 2011 at 10:12 pm 4 comments

Australian Population Statistics

Years ago I studied number theory, and I still find patterns of numbers fascinating, especially when they suggest underlying explanations.

On first glance the Australian Historical Population Statistics on the website of the Australian Bureau of Statistics (Table 1, ‘Population by sex, states and territories, 31 December 1788, onwards’) – well maybe it didn’t look fascinating at first glance. In fact all those numbers look a bit intimidating.

However I am writing a course on Australian Family History (for the National Institute of Genealogical Studies – NIGS) and I started looking more closely at the population numbers, considering them within regions and then within decades. And then patterns began to emerge as the population trends reflected what was happening at the time.

I mean – look at Victoria. It didn’t become a separate colony until 1851 (before that the area was known as the ‘Port Phillip District of NSW’) so there are no statistics for the Victorian colony until 1851. However the new Victorian colony in 1851 had a population of 97,000. A year later this had grown to 168,000 and 2 years later to nearly 284,000. The reason of course was the gold rush, but those numbers echo the stories we read of ships deserted in Port Phillip Bay, when passengers and crew rushed off to the goldfields, often before immigration officials could record who had arrived.

The Swan River settlement in Western Australia was founded in 1829, and at the end of that year, the population was 1,003. Numbers crept up over the next 20 years, including a slight boost in the 1850s and 1860s when the western colony requested convicts for labour (at a time when the eastern colonies rejected convicts because of their gold rush immigration boom).

By 1881 there were still only 30,000 in Western Australia. The numbers continued to grow slowly, boosted by gold discoveries in the Kimberley region in 1885 (although the population actually dropped between 1887 and 1888). Huge finds at Coolgardie in 1892 sparked a major gold rush: in 1892 the WA population was 58,000; in 1894 the population jumped to 81,000 and a year later it passed 100,000.

The Goldfields Pipleline brought water to Kalgoorlie in 1903 and contributed to significant population increase in the new state of Western Australia, especially in the years leading up to World War 1.

South Australia had a population of 546 in 1836, but increased by over 15,000 in its first 5 years.

Northern Territory was called the ‘Northern Territory of South Australia’ from 1863 until 1911, so separate numbers for the NT do not exist before 1911, when it is described as having 3,000 residents. Those numbers creep up until it appears that the population approximately doubled in 1961, from 24,000 the year before to 45,000 in 1961. In fact the explanation is that 1961 was the first year that ‘estimates of indigenous populations’ were included into the totals.

Tasmania’s numbers are interesting in that the population actually dropped each year from 1914 to 1916, and then again in the years 1924 to 1926. The population dropped again in 1941, as well as in each of the years between 1997 and 2000.

Mark Twain attributed to Disraeli the comment about there being “three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics”. We could interpret these population statistics to imply many things. However to me some trends seem to have obvious explanations, while others make me think “I must find out why…”

4 November, 2010 at 2:56 pm Leave a comment


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