|History of Australia|
This article is part of a series
|Monarchy · Exploration|
|Constitution · Federation|
|Economic · Railway|
|Immigration · Indigenous|
|Military · Diplomatic|
|States, Territories and cities|
|New South Wales · Sydney · Newcastle|
|Victoria · Melbourne|
|Queensland · Brisbane|
|Western Australia · Perth|
|South Australia · Adelaide|
|Tasmania · Hobart|
|Australian Capital Territory · Canberra|
|Northern Territory · Darwin|
The history of Australia from 1788–1850 covers the early colonies period of Australia's history, from the first British settlement and penal colony at Port Jackson in 1788 to the establishment of other colonies and the spread of settlers.
Following the loss of the American Colonies after the American War of Independence 1775-1783, Britain needed to find alternative land for a new British colony. Australia was chosen for settlement, and colonisation began in 1788. Rather than resorting to the use of slavery to build the infrastructure for the new colony, convict labour was used as a cheap and economically viable alternative.
It is commonly reported that the colonisation of Australia was driven by the need to address overcrowding in the British prison system however it is simply not economically viable to transport prisoners half way around the world for this reason alone. Many convicts were either skilled tradesmen or farmers who had been convicted for trivial crimes and were sentenced to 7 years the time required to set up the infrastructure for the new colony. Convicts were often given pardons prior to or on completion of their sentences and were allocated parcels of land to farm.
Sir Joseph Banks, the eminent scientist who had accompanied Lieutenant James Cook on his 1770 voyage, recommended Botany Bay as a suitable site. Banks accepted an offer of assistance made by the American Loyalist James Matra in July 1783. Matra had visited Botany Bay with Banks in 1770 as a junior officer on the Endeavour commanded by James Cook. Under Banks’s guidance, he rapidly produced "A Proposal for Establishing a Settlement in New South Wales" (23 August 1783), with a fully developed set of reasons for a colony composed of American Loyalists, Chinese and South Sea Islanders (but not convicts).
Following an interview with Secretary of State Lord Sydney in March 1784, Matra amended his proposal to include convicts as settlers. Matra’s plan can be seen to have “provided the original blueprint for settlement in New South Wales”.  A cabinet memorandum December 1784 shows the Government had Matra’s plan in mind when considering the erection of a settlement in New South Wales.  The Government also incorporated into the colonization plan the project for settling Norfolk Island, with its attractions of timber and flax, proposed by Banks’s Royal Society colleagues, Sir John Call and Sir George Young. 
In 1787, the First Fleet of 11 ships and about 1530 people (736 convicts, 17 convicts' children, 211 marines, 27 marines' wives, 14 marines' children and about 300 officers and others) under the command of Captain Arthur Phillip set sail for Botany Bay. The Fleet arrived between 18 and 20 January 1788, but Botany Bay was found to be unsuitable and on 26 January—a date now celebrated as Australia Day—one of the ships in the fleet, the Supply, made a landing at the nearby Sydney Cove.
Phillip named the settlement after the Home Secretary, Thomas Townshend, 1st Baron Sydney (Viscount Sydney from 1789). The only people at the flag raising ceremony and the formal taking of possession of the land in the name of King George III were Phillip and a few dozen marines and officers from the Supply, the rest of the ship's company and the convicts witnessing it from on board ship. The remaining ships of the Fleet were unable to leave Botany Bay until later on 26 January because of a tremendous gale. The new colony was formally proclaimed as the Colony of New South Wales on 7 February.
On 24 January 1788 a French expedition of two ships led by Admiral Jean-François de La Pérouse had arrived off Botany Bay, on the latest leg of a three-year voyage that had taken them from Brest, around Cape Horn, up the coast from Chile to California, north-west to Kamchatka, south-east to Easter Island, north-west to Macao, and on to the Philippines, the Friendly Isles, Hawaii and Norfolk Island. Though amicably received, the French expedition was a troublesome matter for the British, as it showed the interest of France in the new land.
Nevertheless, on 2 February Lieutenant King, at Phillip's request, paid a courtesy call on the French and offered them any assistance they may need. The French made the same offer to the British, as they were much better provisioned than the British and had enough supplies to last three years. Neither of these offers was accepted. On 10 March the French expedition, having taken on water and wood, left Botany Bay, never to be seen again. Phillip and La Pérouse never met. La Pérouse is remembered in a Sydney suburb of that name. Various other French geographical names along the Australian coast also date from this expedition.
In 1792, two French ships, La Recherche and L'Espérance anchored in a harbour near Tasmania's southernmost point they called Recherche Bay. This was at a time when Britain and France were trying to be the first to discover and colonise Australia. The expedition carried scientists and cartographers, gardeners, artists and hydrographers who, variously, planted, identified, mapped, marked, recorded and documented the environment and the people of the new lands that they encountered at the behest of the fledging Société D'Histoire Naturelle.
European settlement began with a consignment of English convicts, guarded by a detachment of the Royal Marines (a number of whom subsequently stayed in the colony as settlers). One in three convicts was Irish, about a fifth of whom were transported in connection with the political and agrarian disturbances common in Ireland at the time. While the settlers were reasonably well-equipped, little consideration had been given to the skills required to make the colony self-supporting – few of the first wave convicts had farming or trade experience (nor the soldiers), and the lack of understanding of Australia's seasonal patterns saw initial attempts at farming fail, leaving only what animals and birds the soldiers were able to shoot. The colony nearly starved, and Phillip was forced to send a ship to Batavia (Jakarta) for supplies. Some relief arrived with the Second Fleet in 1790, but life was extremely hard for the first few years of the colony.
Convicts were usually sentenced to seven or fourteen years' penal servitude, or "for the term of their natural lives". Often these sentences had been commuted from the death sentence, which was technically the punishment for a wide variety of crimes. Upon arrival in a penal colony, convicts would be assigned to various kinds of work. Those with trades were given tasks to fit their skills (stonemasons, for example, were in very high demand) while the unskilled were assigned to work gangs to build roads and do other such tasks. Female convicts were usually assigned as domestic servants to the free settlers, many being forced into prostitution. Where possible, convicts were assigned to free settlers who would be responsible for feeding and disciplining them; in return for this, the settlers were granted land. This system reduced the workload on the central administration. Those convicts who weren't assigned to settlers were housed at barracks such as the Hyde Park Barracks or the Parramatta female factory.
Convict discipline was harsh, convicts who would not work or who disobeyed orders were punished by flogging, being put in stricter confinement (eg leg-irons), or being transported to a stricter penal colony. The penal colonies at Port Arthur and Moreton Bay, for instance, were stricter than the one at Sydney, and the one at Norfolk Island was strictest of all. Convicts were assigned to work gangs to build roads, buildings, and the like. Female convicts, who made up 20% of the convict population, were usually assigned as domestic help to soldiers. Those convicts who behaved were eventually issued with ticket of leave, which allowed them a certain degree of freedom. Those who saw out their full sentences or were granted a pardon usually remained in Australia as free settlers, and were able to take on convict servants themselves.
By 1790 convict James Ruse had begun to successfully farm near Parramatta, the first successful farming enterprise, and he was soon joined by others. The colony began to grow enough food to support itself, and the standard of living for the residents gradually improved.
In 1804 the Vinegar Hill convict rebellion was led by around 200 escaped, mostly Irish convicts, although it was broken up quickly by the New South Wales Corps. On 26 January 1808, there was a military rebellion against Governor Bligh led by John Macarthur. Following this, Governor Lachlan Macquarie was given a mandate to restore government and discipline in the colony. When he arrived in 1810, he forcibly deported the NSW Corps and brought the 73rd regiment to replace them.
The opening up of the interior to European settlement occurred gradually throughout the colonial period, and a number of these explorers are very well known. Burke and Wills are the best known for their tragic deaths in the crossing of the interior of Australia from Melbourne to the Gulf of Carpentaria. Such men as Hamilton Hume and Charles Sturt are also notable. Other notable events include the crossing of the Blue Mountains led by Gregory Blaxland in 1813. He was accompanied by William Lawson, William Wentworth and four servants.
In 1829-30, Charles Sturt performed an expedition that found the junction of the Murray and the Darling before continuing on to the mouth of the Murray. This expedition also led to the opening of South Australia to settlement..
The Second Fleet in 1790 brought to Sydney two men who were to play important roles in the colony's future. One was D'Arcy Wentworth, whose son, William Charles, went on to be an explorer, to found Australia's first newspaper and to become a leader of the movement to abolish convict transportation and establish representative government. The other was John Macarthur, a Scottish officer (and distant relative of General Douglas MacArthur) and one of the founders of the Australian wool industry, which laid the foundations of Australia's future prosperity. Macarthur was a turbulent element: in 1808 he was one of the leaders of the Rum Rebellion against the governor, William Bligh.
From about 1815 the colony, under the governorship of Lachlan Macquarie, began to grow rapidly as free settlers arrived and new lands were opened up for farming. Despite the long and arduous sea voyage, settlers were attracted by the prospect of making a new life on virtually free Crown land. From the late 1820s settlement was only authorised in the limits of location, known as the Nineteen Counties.
Many settlers occupied land without authority and beyond these authorised settlement limits: they were known as squatters and became the basis of a powerful landowning class. As a result of opposition from the labouring and artisan classes, transportation of convicts to Sydney ended in 1840, although it continued in the smaller colonies of Van Diemen's Land (first settled in 1803, later remamed Tasmania) and Moreton Bay (founded 1824, and later renamed Queensland) for a few years more.
The Swan River Settlement (as Western Australia was originally known), centred on Perth, was founded in 1829. The colony suffered from a long term shortage of labour, and by 1850 local capitalists had succeeded in persuading London to send convicts. (Transportation did not end until 1868.) New Zealand was part of New South Wales until 1840 when it became a colony.
Each colony was governed by a British Governor appointed by the British monarch. Most of the administration of the early colonies was done by the military. The military in charge of the colony of New South Wales were known as the Rum Corps on account of their stranglehold on the distribution of Rum, the main currency in the colony at the time. There was considerable unhappiness with the way some of the colonies were run. In New South Wales this led to the Rum Rebellion.
New Zealand was part of New South Wales from 1788 until 1840 when it was proclaimed as a separate colony.
The colonies relied heavily on imports from England for survival. The official currency of the colonies was the British pound, but the unofficial currency and most readily accepted trade good was rum. During this period Australian businessmen began to prosper. For example, the partnership of Berry and Wollstonecraft made enormous profits by means of land grants, convict labour, and exporting native cedar back to England.
As a British colony, the predominant Christian denomination was the Church of England, however the high proportion of Irish convicts meant that Catholicism was also widely practised. There were presumably also Dissenters, Methodists, and so forth.
Education was informal, primarily occurring in the home.
Some Australian folksongs date to this period.
A number of early Australians wrote about their experiences, but these were mostly intended for the English audience.
The first Australian theatre was opened in Sydney in 1796.
Aboriginal reactions to the sudden arrival of British settlers were varied, but inevitably hostile when the presence of the colonisers led to competition over resources, and to the occupation by the British of Aboriginal lands. European diseases decimated Aboriginal populations, and the occupation or destruction of lands and food resources led to starvation. By contrast with New Zealand, where the Treaty of Waitangi was seen to legitimise British settlement, no treaty was signed with Aboriginals, who never authorised British colonisation. Since the 1980s, the use of the word "invasion" to describe the British colonisation of Australia has been highly controversial. Australian historian Henry Reynolds, however, has pointed out that government officials and ordinary settlers in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries frequently used words such as "invasion" and "warfare" to describe their presence and relations with Indigenous Australians. In his book The Other Side of the Frontier, Reynolds described in detail the Aboriginal peoples' armed resistance through guerilla warfare to white encroachments on their lands, beginning in the eighteenth century and continuing into the early twentieth.
In the early years of colonisation, David Collins, the senior legal officer in the Sydney settlement, wrote of local Aboriginals:
In 1847, Western Australian barrister E.W. Landor stated: "We have seized upon the country, and shot down the inhabitants, until the survivors have found it expedient to submit to our rule. We have acted as Julius Caesar did when he took possession of Britain." In most cases, Reynolds says, Aboriginals initially resisted British presence. In a letter to the Launceston Advertiser in 1831, a settler wrote:
Reynolds quotes numerous writings by settlers who, in the first half of the nineteenth century, described themselves as living in fear and even in terror due to attacks by Aboriginals determined to kill them or drive them off their lands. He argues that Aboriginal resistance was, in some cases at least, temporarily effective; the Aboriginal killings of men, sheep and cattle, and burning of white homes and crops, drove some settlers to ruin. Aboriginal resistance continued well beyond the middle of the nineteenth century, and in 1881 the editor of the Queenslander wrote:
Reynolds argues that continuous Aboriginal resistance for well over a century belies the "myth" of peaceful settlement in Australia. Settlers in turn often reacted to Aboriginal resistance with great violence, resulting in numerous indiscriminate massacres by whites of Aboriginal men, women and children. Among the most famous massacres of the early nineteenth century were the Pinjarra massacre and the Myall Creek massacre.
Famous Aboriginals who resisted British colonisation in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries include Pemulwuy and Yagan. In Tasmania, the "Black War" was fought in the first half of the nineteenth century.
History of Australia: