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History of Australia
By sunrise, the storm had passed. Zachary Hicks was keeping sleepy watch on the British ship Endeavour when suddenly he was wide awake. He summoned his captain, James Cook, who climbed into the brisk morning air to a miraculous sight. Ahead of them lay an uncharted country of wooded hills and gentle valleys.
It was 19 April 1770. In the coming days, Cook began methodically to draw the first European map of Australia’s eastern coast. He was mapping the end of Aboriginal supremacy.
Eighteen years later, 1788, the English were back to stay. They numbered 751 ragtag convicts and children, and around 250 solders, officials and their wives. This motley “first fleet” was under the command of a humane and diligent naval captain, Arthur Philip. In a small cove, in the idyllic lands of the Eora people, Philip established a British penal settlement. He renamed the place after the British Home secretary, Lord Sydney.
Robert Hughs bestseller, The fatal Shore(1787), depicts convict Australia as a terrifying “Gulag” where Britain tormented rebels, vagrants and criminals. But other historians point out that powerful men in London saw transportation as a scheme, for giving prisoners a new and useful life.
Indeed, with Philip’s encouragement, many convicts soon earned their ticket to leave, a kind of parole that gave them the freedom of the colony and the right to seek work on their own behalf.
However, the convict system could also be savage. Women (who were out numbered five to one) lived under constant threat of sexual exploitation. ‘Female convicts’ who offended their gaolers languished in the depressing ‘female factories’. Male re-offenders were cruelly flogged, and could even be hanged for minor crimes such as stealing. In 1803 English officers established a second convict settlement at Hobart in Van Diemans’s land (later called Tasmania). Soon male re-offenders filled the grim prison at port Arthur on the beautiful and wild coast close by. Others endured the senseless agonies of Norfolk Island in the remote Pacific.
At first Sydney and the smaller colonies depended on supplies brought in by ship.
Anxious to develop productive farms, the government granted land to soldiers, officers and emancipated convicts. After 30n years of trial and error, their farms began to flourish.
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