Convicts - (Part Two) - Settlement
The First Settlement
As well as being a place to transport British convicts to, historians now believe that another major reason for the decision to establish a colony in Australia was to expand its empire and open up new areas of trade in the Southeast Asia region. Britain was also seeking sources to supply flax and timber for the navy. Botany Bay was seen as an ideal place to grow flax, as was nearby Norfolk Island which also had an abundance of large pine trees to provide good timber for masts and spars.
After landing at Botany Bay, however, Captain Phillip soon decided that this was an unsuitable site for a new settlement due to no permanent supply of fresh water. A more suitable site was soon found at Port Jackson some 12 kilometres(7.5 miles) to the north, which had a fresh water stream.. Phillip named this site Sydney Cove after the British Home Secretary, Sir Thomas Townshend, 1st Viscount Sydney.
On January 26,1788, the First Fleet sailed into Sydney Cove and hoisted the British flag. A small party led by lieutenant Philip Gidley King was then sent to occupy Norfolk Island on February 13.
Setting Up The Colony - Early Problems
Captain Phillip was now responsible for setting up a colony in an unknown country, and the problems facing him were considerable. Not the smallest of these was the supply of food. The first crops, brought from Britain as seed and planted in 1788, had failed. Most of the livestock brought with the fleet either died or had escaped into the bush.
Rations were becoming so low by late 1788 that the ship the Sirius was sent to South Africa (the Cape Of Good Hope) to source additional supplies. The search also began to find more sustainable agricultural land around Sydney, and an eventual site was found at what is now called Rose Hill.
Food supplies reduced even more the following year, and by 1790, the colony was facing the threat of starvation. Another ship, the Supply, was sent to Batavia (now Jakarta) for urgent supplies, and it's return along with the arrival of the Second Fleet saved the situation. By 1791 the colony was out of danger, and with Government run farms were now operating at Rose Hill and Toongabbie, the supply of food ceased to be a problem.
Phillip had endeavoured to cement friendly relations between the settlers and the local Aboriginal people but with little success. A violent clash had first occurred in 1788, and more were to take place spasmodically over the next four years.
Convicts were assigned to work in a variety of different jobs within the colonies. The type of work depended on whether they they were assigned to work for free settlers or in government service. Naturally work assignments also differed between men and women. Any male convicts who had committed further serious crime since arrival in Australia were sent to places of hard labour at Port Arthur or Macquarie Harbour.
Those convicts assigned to work for settlers would be employed in tasks dependent on their master's occupation. As many of the free settlers were now farmers, the majority of the male convicts worked as farm labourers or shepherds, others as seamen or general labourers. Most women worked as domestic servants, but a rare few who had education or skills were given more responsible positions, such as nurses.
Those chosen to work in government service were employed depending on their skills and the main needs of the government at the time. Some worked in skilled jobs such as bricklayers, clerks, and tailors, while others made wheels and barrels, or burned lime to make cement. The vast majority of males in government service, however, were employed as labourers on public works projects. Those assigned to hard labour, worked in iron gangs, chained, and doing backbreaking work like building roads by hand (cutting down trees, levelling the ground, and paving the surface), or standing all day in waist deep water to build a wharf.
Regulations governing the work of convicts depended on the master they worked for or the government policy at the time, but as a general rule, until 1819, convicts worked from sunrise to 8am, then from 9am to 3pm. Many had access to small plots of private land where they could grow vegetables and tend in late afternoon. However during the 1820's the rules were toughened, with convicts required to work from sunrise to sunset. Church attendance was also made compulsory.
Standards of dress for convicts was not set until 1810. Up until that time, convicts were issued a selection of clothing known as slops. One of the officers on the First Fleet named Watkin Tench wrote that "Slops of every kind were issued to women and children before landing at Port Jackson".
In 1810, under Governor Lachlan Macquarie's administration, male convicts were made to wear blue cotton or woollen jackets and waistcoats, heavy cotton trousers, course linen shirts, woollen stockings and caps. The clothing of female convicts still changed very little.
In the early years of the colony, up until 1792, food supply had been scarce, but after the renewal of supplies brought with the Second Fleet it was no longer a real problem.
Once settlement was fully established, convict rations were carefully regulated. During the 1820's for instance, the basic ration for male convicts was 3 kilograms of beef or 1.8 kilos of pork, 3 kilos of flour or wheat meal, 1.3 kilos of maize meal, and 0.9 kilos of sugar per week. Female convicts received two-thirds of this ration, and fresh vegetables were supplied occasionally.
Convicts working for private masters did not always receive the amount of rations specified in the regulations as it was at the master's discretion. Those convicts in iron gangs or secondary prisons like Port Arthur and Macquarie Harbour received even less. The standard meal being a coarse porridge called skilly.
Of the total number of convicts transported to Australia, 16 per cent were women, over 24,000 female convicts finding themselves sent to the new colonies. Most of the women gave their previous occupation in the Motherland as domestic servants, however at least a third, had been either prostitutes or thieves.
Nevertheless, the majority of women convicts found themselves assigned to domestic duties on arrival in the colonies.some were kept in government service preparing food for male convicts and working at other household tasks. Unlike their male counterparts, women were rarely sent to outlying rural areas. Most remained in the towns and became mistresses of other convicts, officers, or free settlers.
Female factories were set up in both New South Wales and Van Dieman's Land (now Tasmania). These factories were in fact jails for women convicted of further offences after arrival. They were also used as holding centers for women awaiting assignment to new masters, and for pregnant convicts. Different kinds of jobs were performed by the women in these factories, including the manufacture of cloth.
The government was constantly concerned with the rate of children being born to convict parents, and more so, unmarried mothers (though there was little social stigma at the time). Many convict mothers found it difficult to care for their children, and most refused to name the father of their child, especially those who had been sent to the factories when pregnant.
The earliest orphan school was set up in 1801 by Governor Macquarie. He and Governor Bourke both tried to introduce some form of education and religious instruction to the convicts' children. These men also gave grants of land to convict parents to try to encourage a normal family life. However, these measures only met with limited success.
There were a significant number of juvenile convicts between 12 and 18 years sent to Australia on the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Fleets. They were treated the same as adults, and nothing different was done for them until 1835, when a specifically juvenile establishment was set up at Point Puer, close to Port Arthur.
by Melinda Kendall
Past twelve o’clock and a stormy night,
Hark ! hark! what a hollow groan,
From the cell of the convict took its flight
Twas surely the deepest that grief could start
Twas surely the burst of a broken heart.
To-morrow he dies, and these are the last,
And the saddest hours he will tell
The summons seems borne upon ev’ry blast
And death one each tone of the bell -
For to-morrow he launches his barque alone
On eternity’s tide to a world unknown.
Poor youth ! I remember when guileless and gay.
Together we traversed the heath,
Or silently sat at the close of the day,
The wild rose bower beneath -
And shudder’d to hear his sire relate
The bandit’s doom and the felon’s fate.
But the red cross banner and rolling drum,
Soon drew him away from the plain,
And the rustice with grief said he ne’er would come,
To his native valley again !
I remember his mother’s deep drawn sigh
And the tear that fell from his father’s eye.
Oh! had he but sunk upon glory’s bed,
And slept in the tomb of the brave,
Twould have spared his father’s hoary head,
From his mother’s deep dug grave !
Twould have sav’d his love’s last frantic clasp,
And his friend the pang of a parting grasp.
But tomorrow he dies ! and his last request,
Comes mournfully sad to me -
A bunch of wild roses to plant on his breast,
Pluc’d fresh from his fav’rite tree !
For they’ll wither like him in their early bloom,
And his cold bosom will be their tomb !
SYDNEY GAZETTE. 17 MAY 1836.
Thank you for reading this article.
The next, and final instalment can be found at Convicts-Part3: From Punishment to Pardon.
© 2013 John Hansen