Australian Settlement

The Australian mainland was sighted by Cook in the Endeavour on 20-Apr-1770 and on 29-Apr-1770 the first landing was made at Botany Bay. The British flag was hoisted at Possession Island, off Cape York, on 22-Aug-1770.

In mid-1786 the decision was made to transport convicts to Botany Bay, a decision which gave rise to public controversy. Those who supported it envisaged commercial advantages and a solution to the jails problem. Those who opposed it saw an expensive, badly-planned project of doubtful success which may prove dangerous for the future.

The first fleet consisted of 11 ships: naval ships Sirius (under the command of Arthur Phillip) and Supply, convict ships Alexander, Lady Penrhyn, Charlotte, Scarborough, Friendship and Prince of Wales, and stores vessels Golden Grove, Fishburn and Borrowdale. The fleet, with 1500 embarkees (1000 would remain on the colony, comprising approximately 750 convicts, 20 civil servants (eg. surgeons, chaplain, judge-advocate) and over 200 marines, some with family) set sail 13-May-1787, landing at Botany Bay on 17-Jan-1788. The new site for settlement was chosen and work began on 26-Jan-1788 (Foundation Day) at Port Jackson, henceforth known as Sydney Cove.

The food situation was the colony’s main problem for the first few years, exacerbated by the arrival of the second fleet in Jun-1790. By 1792 food was being grown in some quantity and extra supplies were purchased from visiting ships, chiefly from America. The total population had reached about 5000 but the total cost of the venture has risen to nearly £500,000 and over the next two years transportation almost ceased, resuming again in 1794.

By 1810 the settlement contained approximately 10,000 people, most time-expired convicts; only 13% were convicts. Lachlan Macquarie served as the fifth governor 1810-21 and Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth crossed the Blue Mountains, allowing a road to be built across the divide in 1815.

Between 1810 and 1820 NSW increased in size from 2,000 to 100,000 square miles. Explorers Hume and Hovell, Sturt and Cunningham extended the limits and opened up the Darling Downs for sheep raising. In 1829-30 Sturt solved the question of where the western rivers flowed. In this period Macquarie undertook a building program, assisted by ex-convict Francis Greenway (eg. St. James Church, the Convict Barracks, the lighthouse at South Head) and in 1817 granted a charter to the colony’s first bank, the Bank of NSW. Greenway was heavily criticised for his work and was recalled in disgrace. 

Transportation increased after 1820 and in the next 20 years approximately 120,000 convicts arrived. The arrival of small capitalist immigrants rose from approximately 500 to 2000 in the period 1825-29. In the mid-1830s the trickle of free immigrants became a flood and 1836-41 saw thousands arriving to seek their fortune. Some paid their own fares but many were assisted immigrants.

In 1803 a convict settlement had been made at Hobart and in the 1820s it became independent of NSW and began to attract free settlers. Settlement was founded in Perth in 1829. Melbourne’s Port Phillip was founded in 1835 by John Batman and a party from Tasmania. The first immigrant ships departed for settlement in South Australia in 1836.

From about 1835 sheep grazing extended to the interior. In 1850 wool production was ten times greater than in 1835, with an annual market value of over £2m sterling.

In 1851 gold was discovered in NSW and Victoria. The ‘rushes’ lasted only a few years but resulted in an increase in population 1851-1860 from ½ million to 1 million. From 1860-90 constant, steady growth was made possible by injections of British capital. Railways and suburbs were built and by 1890 the Australian population numbered about 3.5 million, 3/4 of them Australian-born but most the children of British immigrants. In 1899 Australia became a federation.

The onset of World War I saw 400,000 Australians volunteer, of which 330,000 served overseas. Two-thirds of these were casualties, 60,000 were killed. World War II also saw Australians serving overseas, though with smaller losses.


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