Food shortage worries the colony: Agricultural settlement at Parramatta [chapter 7 of “The story of Australia” by Martin Hambleton]

[Editor: This is chapter 7 of “The story of Australia” by Martin Hambleton. Published in The Sunday Mail, 29 July 1934.]

The story of Australia — VII.

Food shortage worries the colony

Agricultural settlement at Parramatta

At first it was thought by the British Government that the new settlement at Sydney would be self-supporting in a very short period, but this did not prove to be the case. Captain Phillip found the convicts indolent, inefficient, and incapable of continued effort. His efforts were hampered on every side. It is a remarkable fact that there was not one man under his charge with a knowledge of farming.

In a letter to the Under-Secretary of the Admiralty he declared: “If 50 farmers were sent out with their families they would do more in one year to render the colony independent of the Mother Country than 1000 convicts.” Here is seen the first suggestion for the importation of free emigrants. The colony was dependent on the supply ships from England, and, as these came at irregular intervals, food became a serious problem to Phillip.

On February 14, 1788, Lieutenant King was sent to form a settlement at Norfolk Island, which had been discovered by Captain Cook. Phillip explored the shore of Port Jackson, but found no land suitable for cultivation. The provisions which they had brought with them were diminishing rapidly, and to make matters worse, in June, 1788, the whole of the horned cattle, consisting of five cows and two bulls, escaped into the bush, and were lost. The transport, “Guardian,” was expected early in 1790, but she struck an iceberg off the Cape of Good Hope, and her valuable cargo of provisions for the colony was thrown overboard.

Starvation threatens

Phillip cut down the rations and sent the “Sirius” to the Cape for supplies, but she succeeded in bringing only a small quantity of flour. She was then dispatched to China, but was wrecked at Norfolk Island. The “Supply” sailed to Batavia for food, and by her dispatches were forwarded to London advising the Government of the serious condition of the colony. Phillip organised kangaroo hunts, but only three were shot in three weeks. Fishing had to be carried out under armed guards to prevent the fishermen from devouring their catch.

Starvation now threatened the colony. Gradually the stock of provisions lessened, until at last the people grew so weak that all work had to be abandoned. On June 3, 1790, the “Lady Juliana” arrived with a cargo of flour and more convicts. A fortnight later the “Justinian” reached the cove with a full cargo of provisions, and the famine was over.

During this period of stress attention had been given to the development of agricultural land. An acre of land was cleared at Rose Hill, and a former convict named James Rose, was installed by way of experiment “in order to find out in what way a man might be able to cultivate a sufficient quantity of ground to support himself.” He was promised a grant of 30 acres if he worked well. Rose prepared the ground with a spade and a hoe. In May, 1780, he sowed bearded wheat, and in February, 1791, he reported that he was fully able to maintain himself. A deed of grant for the promised 30 acres — the first land grant issued in Australia — was signed on February 22, 1791.

Settlement at Rose Hill

Rose Hill was the first settlement outside Sydney, and was established on June 14, 1791. It became a regular town, and had its name changed to Parramatta in January, 1793. It is interesting to know that the first grapes grown in Australia were cut in the garden of the Governor’s house on January 21, 1791.

The work of the convicts was mainly building, clearing, and cultivating in the neighbourhood of Parramatta. Men who had served their time and others who had been pardoned were permitted to take up blocks of land. Many who came out in the first fleet took advantage of this concession and settled along the newly discovered Hawkesbury River. Free settlers were also allowed to have the services of convicts on their farms, and many female convicts who had been hired as domestic servants became the wives of the men servants.

In 1792 Governor Phillip had the satisfaction of seeing close upon 2000 acres under cultivation at Parramatta, but his labours had enfeebled his health, and he was compelled to resign his office and return to England. He received a pension of £500 in recognition of his services. He died at Bath in 1814 at the age of 76 and was buried at Bathampton.

The Sunday Mail (Brisbane, Qld.), 29 July 1934, p. 29

[Editor: Corrected: “her dispatched” to “her dispatches”]

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