Section 2 [From Phillip to McKell, by Rex Ingamells]

[Editor: This is section 2 of From Phillip to McKell: The Story of Australia (1949) by Rex Ingamells.]

Convict colonies

That Phillip had bright visions of Australia’s future did not alter the nature of the settlement he had to manage. He was Governor of a prison settlement, in which his authority was, and needed to be, absolute.

Difficulties crowded to the birth of Sydney. The Government cattle escaped into the bush; expected provision ships failed to arrive; and the Colony reached the verge of starvation before it found its feet. Phillip sought to provide for the future through agriculture, although the Government had sent no experienced farmers, and the military, arrived to control the convicts, resented the suggestion that it should interest itself in agriculture. Some of the officers agitated for the abandonment of the settlement; but Phillip’s heart was in his task, and altogether he revealed rare qualities of humanity, tact and firmness. In five years he managed what he had set out to achieve — the establishment of a penal colony. When, broken in health, he returned to England, in 1792, agriculture was making good headway, notably at Parramatta, and the peril of famine had passed.

The second Governor, Captain Hunter, did not take over until 1795. In the meantime, control was successively in the hands of Major Grose and Colonel Paterson, commandants of the New South Wales Corps, which had arrived for garrison duties when the colony was a year old. The officers of this Corps established an exploiting monopoly, accruing wealth at the expense of their duty. They outfaced three Governors — Hunter, King and Bligh — before their power was broken. In 1797, they entered into a Combination bond among themselves, and the free settler minority of those days had to recognize the force of this or be crushed. The officers, who had withheld support from Phillip’s agricultural plans, cornered all cargoes that came to the Colony, paying as little as ship’s captains would accept and reselling for exorbitant profits. Spirits costing 7/6 were known to have been sold for £8. In the absence of established coinage, rum became currency. Under Rum Rule, immorality became rampant for all to observe in Sydney.

Only a small proportion of transportees were ever immured in penitentiaries. These were the worst criminal types, from whom the chain-gangs were recruited. Most convicts were assigned as servants to squatters and city merchants, and among the officers of the Corps who, needless to say, made profitable and extensive use of such free labour in developing the free grants of land received from their commandants, and in pursuing trade. Under a benign reformatory scheme, it was intended that assigned servants should qualify for tickets-of-leave and ultimate emancipation, and in many cases they did so, some advancing to position and influence in the Colony. There were, nevertheless, occasions of tickets-of-leave being withheld from valued servants under trumped-up charges. Injustice contributed to bushranging activities which developed in New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land; but the horrors associated with convictism at its worst, as in the Macquarie Harbour penitentiary, were far from being characteristic of the System as a whole.

Strangely enough, Corps misgovernment was productive of some good for the future. Although the growing free community, most vigorous in which were the farmers on the Hawkesbury River, suffered from Corps domination, the pace forced by the officers, trading and colonizing for self-interest, laid firm foundations for commerce and gave a solidarity to homes in which they sought to reproduce the life of English gentry. Following the deposition of Bligh by the Corps under Major Johnston, and the arrival of Governor Macquarie with his regiment, the Corps was recalled to England and disbanded; but some of the officers resigned in the Colony, remaining as individuals of consequence, although their collective power was gone.

Port Jackson, Norfolk Island, Hobart, Macquarie Harbour, Moreton Bay, Port Phillip . . . these and other places were associated with convictism in Australia at various stages between 1788 and the middle of the Nineteenth Century; but the free and emancipist population was growing, and in Macquarie’s day New South Wales society wore a very different aspect from its original one. At the end of his term, 1810-21, there were over 2000 free settlers in New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land, 5000 expirees and 5000 native-born children. Total population had swollen from about 1000 in 1788 to about 30,000 in 1821, of which about 10,000 were in Van Diemen’s Land, where, in 1824, Governor George Arthur began his penal reforms.

Many ships and capable captains have taken part in the accurate charting of the Australian and Tasmanian coasts, but the basic work had been done by the end of King’s period as Governor. It had been achieved by the Dutch, English and French. Bass and Flinders had circumnavigated Van Diemen’s Land in 1798, Hunter, at Flinders’ request, naming the intervening passage Bass Strait. Before his six years of imprisonment at Mauritius from 1803, Flinders made the first map of the South Australian coast from Nuyts Archipelago to Encounter Bay, and charted the Gulf of Carpentaria, continuing from his Carpentaria exploit to complete the first coastal circumnavigation of the continent. It was from a suggestion of Flinders that the name “Australia” superceded “New South Wales” and the earlier “New Holland” in official and popular allusion to the continent as a whole.

Under Macquarie, emphasis in exploration turned from the coast inland. Macquarie was a soldier, whereas his predecessors were naval men; and the remarkable growth of the wool industry required hinterland development.

Rex Ingamells, From Phillip to McKell: The Story of Australia, Jindyworobak Publications: Melbourne, 1949, [pages 14-17]

Editor’s notes:
supercede = a variant spelling of “supersede”

Speak Your Mind