The First Convicts Transported To Australia
During the 17th century and 18th century, European explorers reached Australia. In 1770 Captain Cook claimed eastern Australia for Britain. He called it New South Wales.
Life was hard for ordinary people in the 18th century and punishments for even minor crimes were severe. In England, you could be hanged for more than 200 different offenses. However, as an alternative to hanging prisoners were sometimes sentenced to transportation. In the 18th century, convicts were transported to Virginia and Maryland in what is now the USA. Transportation was a relatively humane punishment. At any rate, it was better than hanging!
However, after the American War of Independence (1775-1783) this was no longer possible and the government began looking for a new destination for transportees. In 1786 it was decided to send them to Botany Bay. Getting rid of undesirable members of society may not have been the sole motive for founding a colony in Australia. The British may have hoped to found a naval base in the Pacific. They also hoped Australia would be a source of timber and flax.
At any rate, on 13 May 1787 a fleet of 11 ships set sail from Portsmouth in the UK. On board were 759 convicts, mostly men, with sailors and marines to guard the prisoners. Captain Arthur Phillip commanded them. With them, they brought seeds, farm implements, livestock such as cattle, sheep, pigs, goats, horses and chickens and 2 years supply of food. The first colonists came ashore at Port Jackson on 26 January 1788.
At first things were difficult for the colonists, and food was short, although Phillip sent a ship to South Africa for more provisions which returned in May 1789. Food was rationed and the rations were anything but generous. However, things gradually improved. A second fleet arrived in 1790 and a third fleet came in 1791. At first, the settlers lived in simple wooden huts but later convicts made bricks for houses.
Captain Phillip left Australia in December 1792. When he returned to England he took samples of Australian plants and animals. He also took two indigenous people.
Early convicts worked on government land for provisions, but from 1793, those who behaved well were freed and given grants of land. Also, the first free settlers arrived in 1793. Although hopes of growing flax in Australia came to nothing, whales were hunted in the Pacific and seals were hunted in the Bass Strait.