From Convicts to World Class Citizens
Overpopulation and Drunkenness were Problems in 18th and 19th Century Britain
Prisoners of Politics and Poverty
1. Not all but many Irish were sent to Australia as convicts because they did not agree with English rule in Ireland. You could say they were freedom fighters.
2. The poor were badly treated in 1800s Britain. Some had to steal to stay alive.
3. The poor were badly treated in 1800s Britain. Some had to go into prostitution in order to live.
4. An answer to overcrowding was to send the undesirables elsewhere.
5. The American colonies was once the place to send undesirables.
6. With USA independence undesirables had to be sent elsewhere.
7. The British did not want the French or any other European power to have too much influence in the southern hemisphere. Hence the desire for new colonies in the southern hemisphere.
8. Captain Cook explored the east coast of Australia and found land he felt was worth considering when it came to British colonization.
9. The First Fleet was mainly made up of convicts and soldiers.
10. Convicts who had served their sentence could then become farmers in the new southern land.
Unfairly tsk! tsking! About Convicts in Australia's Past
Today it is very easy to forget that not everyone who was sent to Australia in chains was what we would nowadays call a criminal.
Among those sent to Australia in the first and 2nd fleets there were Irish who thought of themselves as freedom fighters. They wanted an Ireland free from English interference.
Naturally those who would wish to take Australia along a more firm, religious path look to the past with some dismay. This dismay is often artificial but it is still there.
Yes, Australia was once the dumping ground for the unwanted of Great Britain. Yes, there are convicts in the ancestry of some though not all Australians.
So who are these people who want to change Australia today and use our convict past to do it?
Well, there are radical Muslim factions living here, in Australia, right now that bemoan the fact that many Australians don't want to take religion, any religion seriously.
There is even a brand new Muslim party.
Of course Australians not wanting to take religion terribly seriously has been attacked politically before and with poor results. Fred Nile had a go with his Christian party. It is feared, however, that a Muslim party might have more teeth.
Yes, we do have our Agnostics and Atheists.
Atheism seems to be spreading.
It appears popular in Britain, especially in the scientific community. Stephen Fry, British television host of the show IQ, is a confirmed Agnostic.
Strangely enough, I was born in the same year Stephen Fry was born in and have a tendency toward Agnosticism if not Atheism. And yes I am an Australian.
The question that arises among the highly religious whether Christian, Muslim or Jewish is whether or not a non-believer in God can have a moral compass. Stephen Fry and a number of other academic atheists have argued yes to this question.
So were the convicts that came to Australia in the early days of British settlement without a sense of religion and thus, to some people, without a moral center?
It is true that in the early days criminals along with soldiers were transported from Britain to Australia in order to create and then populate the new colonies that would eventually form the nation of Australia.
But who were these criminals and what were their crimes?
Why was there so much drink and drunkenness?
Many of the Irish who were transported to places such as Sydney in New South Wales were caught fighting the English for an Ireland free from English rule. Many of them were Catholics proud of their Catholic upbringing.
Today we would consider them to be political prisoners sent to where they could not easily rabble rouse. If hung they would have been martyrs to the Irish republican cause. Sent to Australia as convicts they were less likely to be seen that way.
Early convict uprisings against authority in NSW were fueled and led by transported Irish who had been sent to Australia against their will.
This was true when it came to the Strawberry Hill uprising near Redfern, Sydney.
In the 1700s many parts of Britain were in the throes of an overpopulation crisis.
London was overcrowded. The Thames was heavily polluted. It could even be said that it was better and safer to drink gin, the cheapest form of alcohol around at the time, than drink the water. The alcohol tended to kill some though not all of the germs.
Killer diseases spread across London in spring and summer due to water pollution and would not be checked until the late 19th Century.
Hence one of the causes for alcoholism in Britain at the time convicts were being loaded on ships and sent to Australia was bad drinking water.
Another reason, of course, was the getting away from the pain of dire and unrelenting poverty.
An interest in alcoholic drink went with the First fleet and subsequent fleets to Australia with not only the convicts but the soldiers as well.
According to Ken Burns' three part documentary on Prohibition in the USA, there was a time when doctors in parts of the USA would prescribe alcoholic drink to their patients to get them away from drinking contaminated local water.
Hence a preference for alcoholic drink rather than bad water can be seen not only in Britain but in the past of other countries as well.
The joke of drinking alcohol for 'medicinal purposes' actually comes from a time when alcohol was better for you than not so fresh water.
As it is today, it wasn't always easy for a commoner to find gainful employment in Great Britain.
Unlike today there was no protection for the unemployed and, for that matter, the unemployable. Hence lots of pickpockets and lots of women prostituting themselves.
There were also whole families thrown into debtors prison when the head of the household found himself unable to pay off his debts. In the 18th Century Fleet Prison in England was mainly used to house debtors.
If you were a commoner in 18th Century Britain and out of work with very little chance of quickly finding employment wouldn't you turn to theft in order to feed yourself?
There were women with young children who were prostituting themselves because they were poor and had to find some way of looking after themselves and their family.
Britain needed to unburden itself of excess population. It was cheaper and generally easier to partially empty the prisons that were overflowing with petty criminals and send the criminals to where they might be of some use to the empire.
Hence the colonies of Australia were founded on the poor and destitute as convicts struggling to make a place for themselves in a strange, new land. Is any of this made clear in the so-called documentary series Dumb, Drunk and Racist? Certainly not!
Jonathan Swift, an Anglo-Irish satirist best remembered for Gulliver's Travels, wrote about the plight of the starving Irish in the 1729. He suggested that the Irish poor eat their own children. Of course in doing so he was attempting to pull at the heart-strings of the English.
Despite or because of the Industrial Revolution the plight of the common worker and his family wasn't much better in Britain throughout much of the 19th Century.
Charles Dickens wrote about the poor in novels such as Oliver Twist and in shorter stories such as A Christmas Carol.
Dickens knew what debtor's prison was like first hand. He and his family had spend time in one when it was discovered that his father could not pay off those he owed money to. Once out of debtor's prison Dickens always feared possibly returning one day. It stayed with him and gave him a special insight into poverty and especially the poor of the London of his day.
It is a pity that those who put together Dumb, Drunk and Racist had not delved into Dickens with any kind of understanding.
In the 1840s there was the possibility that the common Englishman would rise up against the rulers of England. It was in fact something that Karl Marx predicted.
It didn't happen because the right people saw the danger and so there were reforms put in place to help the poor and to prevent civil war breaking out.
Toward the end of the 19th Century convicts to Australia from Britain had stopped coming. They were no longer wanted or needed. Settlers were turning up of their own accord without chains.
Meanwhile convicts that had served their time and become farmers had a certain understandable pride in their accomplishments. They had gone into what they thought of as wilderness and had made homes for themselves and their offspring. From unwanted people they had become hardy, even prosperous colonials.
Today there is a drinking problem in Australia but I doubt very much if it will be solved by any one particular religion. It is better dealt with by legalities such as shorter times for places where alcohol is served. This has been tried in parts of Sydney and in Newcastle of late and with some success.
Australians Don't like to be Forced into Fighting
Disregard for Authority
Another tisk tisking point is the disregard for authority that some Australians today seem to share with their convict ancestors.
There have been plenty of examples of poor leadership from elsewhere in the world leading to disaster.
Questioning authority and even going against authority when things are badly run doesn't seem to me to be such a bad thing.
Naturally Australians resent being lead by incompetents and are happy to say so. If we disagree with our Prime Minister we will speak up.
Among past problems with authority there's Bligh and the Rum Rebellion. This was highlighted in the Australian television series Against the Wind. Basically the soldiers ran amok creating their own law.
A famous disaster brought about by poor British judgement affecting Australian soldiers was the landing at Gallipoli during the First World War. Here, led by the British, the greatest achievement in the whole campaign was the withdrawal of Australian troops from harm's way.
There was the fall of Singapore during the 2nd World War. Australian and British troops wished to fight on but it was a British officer who decided that surrender was the best option. Eighty thousand British, Indian and Australian troops then became prisoners of the Japanese.
In colonial times in Australia the law often favored Protestants over Catholics.
Samuel Marsden, possibly a distant ancestor of mine, was known as the whipping priest because of his rough treatment of convicts, especially Catholic convicts. He was a Methodist.
Catholics often had an Irish background hence they were considered more likely to be troublemakers. This prejudice hasn't lasted. It certainly didn't last into my own boyhood in NSW.
Understandably, it was the Catholic Australians who were most reluctant to send Australians off to fight for the British Empire during the First World War. It was a case of the English not doing their ancestors any favors by shipping them off to Australia in chains.
There were two referendums concerning Conscription held in Australia. It was about drafting men to fight overseas. Both referendums were defeated.
It was deemed okay to have men volunteer to fight overseas but it was no alright to force them to do so. Incidentally, there were Catholic Australians who did go overseas voluntarily to fight for King and Country.
In recent Australian history the law has shown favoritism toward new immigrants to Australia over those who were born in here. There was one infamous rape case in which the caught felons were going to get a suspended sentence and no jail time because of an overly sympathetic judge who took into account they were from overseas.
This decision was overturned by a higher court and the felons were given proper jail time.
Even so, the fact that they were originally going to get off with a slap on the wrist and nothing more angered many Australians and also weakened the law in the eyes of many Australians.
Thanks to political correctness the police were powerless to do anything about the bad behavior of Muslim youth on the Cronulla beaches south of Sydney.
When a life saver was attacked that for many of the locals was the last straw. It was bad enough that girls as young as 12 had been harassed simply for wearing bikinis on the beach in an Australian summer.
A peaceful demonstration against the Muslim youth that had been creating havoc went wrong and rioting ensued.
In 2015 there were people who wanted to celebrate the Cronulla riots. It had been ten years since they took place. I personally saw nothing to celebrate.
It would be good though if some time in the future SBS and the ABC could come clean as to why the riots happened but that is hoping for too much.
Making Heroes Out of Outlaws
Another tisk tisking point for the people from India in the so-called documentary Dumb, Drunk and Racist was the fact that past outlaws here in Australia are still revered. Why did this happen? How did it come about? What's more, why is it still happening?
The answer might be in Australia's most famous as well as infamous outlaw, Ned Kelly. He was born into an Irish Catholic family. Whether him and his family were picked on for having this background is uncertain.
What can be said is that many of the troopers (the police of the day) were keen to keep the Catholic Irish in their place. The troopers were either known to be or thought to be corrupt and such corruption the people of Australia to this day tend to hate.
Ned Kelly may have been a thief but he was also a top sportsman and athlete. He was a champion boxer and this won him the love and admiration of the locals.
It is said that he saw on display medieval armor and this gave him the idea to wear armor and to get his men to do the same.
Certainly the head piece and chest plate he wore and so did his men has added a certain touch of romanticism to Ned's story.
The armor was really a bad idea because it didn't give full protection to the wearer and the weight of it tended to slow the horses down when it came to the getaway.
Even so the armor and the man have become symbols of resistance against abuse of power in a similar way that Robin Hood and his merry men have became such symbols in Britain.
Today not only do Catholic Australians see Ned Kelly as an important figure in our history but Protestants, Agnostics and Atheists as well.
To Live or to Die
If you were unemployed and you and your family were living in London of the 1700s what would you do to stay alive?See results without voting
From Humble beginnings Australia became a Nation.
Insights into Australia's and Britain's Past, Present and Future.
1. There's plenty of information out there on poverty in 18th and 19th Century Britain. Check out the works of Charles Dickens. Also look into the writings of Thomas Hardy (He touches upon 'fallen women' and why they fall.)
2. Look up the Macquarie Dictionary for terms that are still in use in Australia today that came from the slums of 18th and 19th Century London. Example: Cobber.
2. Check out the potato blight for starvation in Ireland and parts of Scotland in the 19th Century.
3. There was cannibalism in Ireland in the 19th Century because of famine.
4. There were incidences in the 19th Century of Australian Aborigines resorting to cannibalism after being driven away from their usual animal hunting grounds by white settlers.
5. The inability of the police to act against Muslim youth, thanks in part to political correctness, eventually led to rioting at Cronulla.
6. The striking of a life saver on a Cronulla beach by a Muslim youth was well documented in the newspapers of the day.
7. Certainly since the mid-1960s the bikini has become a symbol of freedom on Australian beaches and is part of the Australian beach culture.To outlaw it would be seen as going way too far when it comes to political correctness.
8. It is true that Aborigines were not treated well throughout much of white settlement/invasion. Efforts, however, have been taken to improve the lot of the collective Aboriginal people.
9. For insight as to how good intentions toward Aborigines by white people can go wrong check out the play The Cake Man by Robert Merritt, an Australian Aborigine. In 1978 it was made into a movie by the same name.
10. Working in an office in Sydney in the 1990s, you soon learn who has the most protection when it comes to political correctness. It isn't the person born in the country unless they have an Aboriginal background. My own insights are in my novel Desk job by Rod Marsden.
For Further insights...
To check out the tough road from convict to land holder there's the 1978 mini-series Against the Wind. Starring Jon English and Mary Larkin, it also touches upon the corruption of the Rum rebellion.
To look into the injustices that abounded in England in the early days of Australian history check out the 1995 novel The Potato Factory by Bryce Courtenay. You can also check out the mini-series based on this novel.
For insights into Australia's general attitude to Ned Kelly there are the following movies: The story of the Kelly Gang (1906), Ned Kelly (1970) starring Mick Jagger and Ned Kelly starring Heath Ledger (2003).
To examine the history of the bikini in Australia there's the 1960's television show Skippy the Bush kangaroo.
Also look up swimmer Annette Kellerman who was arrested in 1907 for wearing a two-piece bathing costume in public. In 1916 she was one of the first actresses to appear in the nude in a film. The film was A Daughter of the Gods.
In 1946 Frenchman Louis Reard came up with the modern bikini. It was named after an atomic test that took place on the Bikini Atoll in the pacific. There was some friction among holier than thous when it came to the acceptance of the bikini on Australian beaches.
Certainly by the mid-1960s the bikini was well established. Australians have no desire to be forced back to the 1907 dress codes by newcomers to their country. Generally speaking, Australians don't even want to be forced back by local Christian preachers such as Fred Nile.
Australians have been accused of laziness. The truth is that many Australians that are fully employed work long hours five days a week and expect to have their weekends off for play. Hence you see a lot of Australians at the beach on weekends in an Australian summer. Past the age of 50 it is very difficult to get full time work in NSW, Australia unless you already have full time work.
The surfing culture that has been around since at least the '60s in Australia continues to give people hope for a bright present and an even brighter future. Australia is, of course, not alone in having a wonderful surfing culture.
For the USA check out television shows such as Baywatch (1999 - 2001) also known as Babe-watch and Gidget (1965-1966). Meanwhile the British have been drawn to the sea by shows such as Doc Martin (begun in 2004).
More by this Author
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