Saturday, January 2, 2010

Bound for Botany Bay: British convict voyages to Australia

A couple of lines under the heading Ship News in the World and Fashion Advertiser, Tuesday 15 May 1787 announced the departure of the First Fleet on its way to Botany Bay:
Portsmouth May 13. Wind S.E. ...
Early this morning sailed the Sirius of 24 guns, Commodore Phillips. Captain Hunter with the following transport and convict ships for Botany Bay: Friendship, Walton; Charlotte, Gilbert; Alexander, Sinclair; Lady Penrhyn, Siver; Prince of Wales, Mason; Scarborough, Marshall; Fishborn, Brown; Golden Grove, Sharp, and Borrowdale, Reed. The Hyena frigate, Capt. D. Courey, sailed with the above, and is to accompany them 100 leagues.

Thus began began a voyage that would end with their arrival in New South Wales on 26 January 1788 resulting in the establishment of a British settlement in Australia. Alan Brooke and David Brandon have written this book about the transportation of convicts to Australia which continued until 1868. Sections of the book include the beginnings of transportation, the first three fleets, the trauma of exile, who were the convicts, transportation of children, keeping order and staying alive on convict ships, transportation from the view of a ship's surgeon and life, crime and punishment in the colony.

The convicts were transported from England as a punishment but for many it was a chance to escape from living in overcrowded gaols and hulks and starting a new life. A major consequence of transportation was the establishment of a new settlement with many hardships but also many opportunities.

Charles Bateson's book, The Convict Ships 1787-1868, is recognised as the definitive work on transportation to Australia but this account, incorporating excerpts from correspondence, logbooks and songs of the time, provides informative background information outlining experiences faced by the thousands of men, women and children who travelled to Australia aboard convict ships.

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