January 25th 2020

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Wildfires: Lessons from the past not yet learnt

EDITORIAL America 'resets' foreign policy on China and Russia

CANBERRA OBSERVED After the fires, we still need an economy and to power it

GENDER POLITICS In trans Newspeak, parental consent is a 'hurdle'

REFLECTION Conjugal honour: Love of husband and wife joined together in pure intimacy

LIFE ISSUES Pro-lifers punished for exposing baby harvesting

LAW AND SOCIETY Cardinal Pell and the Appeal Court judges

LITERATURE AND SOCIETY The poetry of Distributism

AUSTRALIAN HISTORY Botany Bay: Always more than a dumping ground

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS Finally getting Brexit done

HUMOUR The MacStuttles probe

MUSIC From retch to wretched

CINEMA Three times the bravura: 1917, The Gentlemen, Shaun the Sheep: Farmageddon

BOOK REVIEW The contradictions of the dominant ideology

BOOK REVIEW Novel celebrates inventor of literary fairytales



HUMAN RIGHTS A Magnitsky-style law for Australia?

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Botany Bay: Always more than a dumping ground

by Jeffry Babb

News Weekly, January 25, 2020

It is almost universally assumed that the settlement at Botany Bay was simply a dumping ground for England’s convicted felons. This is not true. Captain Arthur Phillip, the first Governor of New South Wales, said: “There can be no slavery in a free land and consequently no slaves.” Botany Bay would be governed by civil law.

Sydney Cove, 1788

As Hal Colebatch pointed out, there were free settlers even on the First Fleet. The Marines, sent to defend the colony and as guards for the convicts, were volunteers. Their families often accompanied them, with the intention of taking up allotments in the new colony and becoming settlers. The families of convicts on the First Fleet, given the chance, voluntarily followed their menfolk to Australia. Female convicts took their children.

If the colony at Botany Bay was established simply as a way to clear Britain’s jails of their prisoners, it was, in economic terms, highly inefficient. Geoffrey Blainey wrote: “The settling of eastern Australia was a startlingly costly solution to crowded British prisons.”

The intention of the settlement of Botany Bay was to further Britain’s strategic interests.

From the first, it was intended that New South Wales colony would be an enduring settlement. Convicts chosen to sail on the First Fleet were chosen for their potential for rehabilitation. Once they had served their sentence, it was intended that they should form the base of an economy based on “yeoman farmers”.

Convicts were also selected on the basis of their skills. Female convicts, who were often convicted of petty crimes induced by poverty, were deliberately transported to provide partners for the male convicts. A scheme to import Polynesian woman as mates for the male convicts does not seem to have prospered. Within three to four years, the settlement at Sydney Cove had become self-supporting, as had been intended, despite a severe drought.

If the aim of the Pitt administration had been simply to rid Britain of convicts, it would not have gone to the lengths it did to equip and provision the First Fleet. The food provided for the First Fleet was more than adequate. On port calls along the way, notably Tenerife, Rio de Janeiro and Cape Town, the convicts and crew had ample supplies of fresh food.

Considering that the trip, halfway around the world, took over eight months, the mortality rate, especially from scurvy, was startlingly low. Much credit must go to Arthur Phillip, who took a personal interest in the equipping and maintenance of the ships and the supplies that they would be carrying. The prisoners were, on the whole, compliant, taking the reasonable view that Botany Bay was better than the “Newgate Jig” (death by hanging.)

The strategic importance of the settlement of Botany Bay is explored by Leslie Marchant in France Australe (Artlook, 1982). France did not colonise Australia, but it did have a strategic interest in Australia and the South Pacific, memorialised in names such as La Perouse, Cape Naturaliste and Geographe Bay. Britain saw Botany Bay as a key to dominating the Pacific and connected to its trade ports in India and the East Indies.

The most comprehensive account of the settlement of New South Wales, based on original research, is Alan Frost’s Botany Bay and the First Fleet: The Real Story (Black Inc, 2019).

The problem with the history of Australia is one of research, not of historiography. Too many historians simply repeat what their predecessors write. If they do use documents, they are often the same documents that their predecessors used. Historians who have a hint of greatness, such as Geoffrey Bolton, Alan Frost and Geoffrey Blainey, change the view we have of ourselves. They are good with documents. The “traditionalists” repeat the same old story, over and over again.

Blainey pointed out long ago that the motives for British settlement of the South Pacific were in large part economic, a cause that the “traditionalists” overlook, or even dispute. It was clear that Sydney Cove itself, with its magnificent harbour, would become a major port. As a major naval port, it would, of course, resupply British ships; but, as a commercial port, it would encourage trade with ships of all nations, thereby increasing commerce.

The British were often short of naval stores. Norfolk Island’s well-known pines seemed tailor made for masts. Unfortunately, they are unsuitable. The flax found in New Zealand also seemed promising. The British were short of flax to make the canvas and cables used in naval ships.

The settlers tried numerous crops until they found what grew readily in Australian soil. Some crops withered; others flourished. Cotton, for example, did not grow, whereas peach trees yielded fruit in such abundance that it was used to feed pigs.

Alan Frost spent 35 years in his research of the history of Australia. Along with Blainey and Marchant, he has shown Australia was not a prison, but a free state.

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