Sydney Cove 1788,
The First Fleet left England on 13th May 1787, to make their way to the "lands beyond the seas". This land to which they journeyed, would later be called Australia, a curious name is it not? The name however comes from the Latin word australis, meaning "southern".
Convict Bill Thompson
Whoever hatched the scheme, which involved sending 759 convicts to the other side of the world, to a place where only sketchy details were known, gleaned from Captain Cook's trip some years before -well he should have had his head read. It was a totally crack brained idea and the fictional "terra nullius" bit, which declared the land was empty, come on! "It was dark and I couldn't see the people your honour"....sure.
An ancestor of mine, was a surgeon on one of these convict ships and supposedly he had the convict "ladies" making patchwork quilts and performing other useful crafts. The First Fleet however, was another matter all together. These ships are often described as floating brothels. where young women were thrown in for the crew at night (and they were not playing chess!), a fact which makes me mad and horrified at the same time.
After safely arriving at Sydney Cove, a violent storm with thunder, lightning and the whole shebang blew up; seven sheep altogether, were toasted by the lightning. I don't know if it was the fear, or the smell of cooked lamb, but First Fleet journals report a wild orgy taking place that night, which in the light of there being 570 male convicts and 189 female convicts, is worrisome (there are also times when it is prudent to suspend imagination). One can only imagine, what the local indigenous people were thinking, at the impolite arrival a huge group of very dirty and strange coloured people, who subsequently engaged in such acts, without so much as a "by your leave". As a little aside I remember reading in the rather fantastic book The Fatal Shore by Robert Hughes, that the indigenous people were unsure if the British soldiers were men or women and so a few of them had to expose certain appendages for verification.
Arthur Bowes Smyth, the surgeon from the ship Lady Penrhyn, wrote in his journal .
The tempest…exceeded anything I have ever had a conception of I never before experienced so uncomfortable a night…and the heat was suffocating.
He also said
"There was never a more abandoned set of wretches collected in one place at any period than are now to be met within this ship,"
These people let me just say are our Founding Fathers..... and Mothers -the pride simply overwhelms me.
Transported Across the Sea
Imagine ifyou can, young James Grace, a mere 11 years of age, who was transported to Terra Australis, (the Terra bit was right) for taking a ribbon and a pair of stockings. Or 22 year old Elizabeth Powley, who had taken a bit of food from a kitchen. There was of course the view that it was not good to help the poor in those days, as you would only encourage them.
The problem was, that the poor were the vast majority. Some things have not changed, the rich have never liked to share. Compare the difference between the indigenous people, who lived a life of simple communism, sharing the land and resources and certain mining magnates who claim to "own" vast tracks of land in Australia and who make billions of dollars profit, ripping the natural resources out of the ground (jumping off the soap box now).
There was an urgent need for more women in the struggling colony and so the ship the lady Juliana delivered a whole boatload fresh from England, who were married off to the "moth eaten", starving and louse ridden convicts of the new colony. These "ladies" also had plenty of "moolah" in their pockets, as they had stopped off at Tenerife along the way; plenty of "gentleman callers" ensured the ship was given the name of the "floating brothel".
Convicts in the Family Tree
I don't personally have any convicts (that I know of) in the family tree, but today it is a badge of honour to find out you are convict spawn. In fact only recently, I met a bloke who had six convict ancestors and a better person could not be found anywhere. He was also "proud as punch" because a few were "First Fleeters" (I must admit that my British army surgeon and ancestors who came out for the gold rush, looked paltry next to his lot).
Our Founders, may have been convicts, but the average Aussie is pretty proud of this. And why not? There are worse things. Like one of my ancestors who could not get over of the glory of "the doctor" in the family tree, who would "ponce around", with a half dozen corgi dogs talking about "going home to England" (this was a third generation Australian).
Aussies tend to be irreverent, "down to earth" and have great "BS detectors", and this is all undoubtedly thanks to our Founding Fathers.......and Mothers.