Australian PrehistoryHistory - AustralianAustralian CultureAustralian IdentityCultural Comparisons Between Australia and other Countries


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Relations between Aborigines
and colonists

Myths in History
Fabrications for politics

Should they be defined as part of a war?

Black Woman and White Man
Rape or love?

Myall Creek Masscare
Causes and consequences of colonial violence

The Stolen Generations
It's not so black and white

Jimmy Govenor
Not a good fence builder

Mary Anne Bugg
Female Bushranger

Justice or resistance?

1967 referendum
The myths

Convicts and their legacy

Convict legacy
How the past shapes the present

Convict life
Regrets and floggings

Convict crimes
Power and morality

Convict punishments
What purpose?

Larrikin Convicts
Breaking rules

Thinking different

Convict women
Moral diversity


Can Convict Creations be relied upon?

Botany Bay
Descriptions of Convict life

Convict transportation lasted for about 80 years. Because this was the founding third of Australia's urban existence, it is worthwhile considering the type of cultural values such people would have left for subsequent generations. Because most Convicts were illiterate, it is difficult to know what most of them thought of their society; however, their songs reveal some attempt to humanise themselves as well as their fellow Convicts.

The writings of the free citizens also show the beginnings of some humane sentiments. One writer was "disturbed" to see women being selected as wives or workers as if they were cattle. Another writer recorded that humane members of the colony wanted an end to the practice of Convicts being flogged until they confessed to alleged crimes.

Perhaps seeing the worst in humanity caused a rebellion that encouraged Australians to seek the best in it; Australia’s weaknesses thus became its strengths.

From Chronicle Of Australia 2000
Penguin Aus.

Riotous scenes as women are landed

Port Jackson, Feb 6 1790. Scenes of riot and debauchery after the disembarkation of the women convicts tonight transformed Sydney cove into something resembling a gin palace attached to a brothel.

All this took place at night during a violent storm with lightening bolts which, at one place, split a tree in half, killing five sheep and a pig that were penned below it.
The licentious merriment began when some merchant seamen requested some grog from their captain. No doubt the man had good reason to comply, in the relief at getting rid of the last of his convicts, as he had faced a penalty of £40 for every convict missing.
Soon the sailors and convicts were in and around the women's tents, some queuing for sex, others making love with women they had forged attachments on the voyage. Others were swearing, fighting or singing.
While the scene was deplorable no action by the Governor nor his officers. Presumably they thought that intervention would have provoked a serious riot, and that it was best to wait for the morning to re-establish order.
The women, cooped up on the voyage and for another 10 hot and intolerable days outside Sydney Cove, had not too many chaste figures among them.

Letter by unknown convict published in London newspapers in 1791

‘Oh! I you had but seen the shocking sight of the poor creatures that came out in thethree ships, it would  make your heart bleed; they were almost dead; very few could  stand, and they were obliged to fling them as you would goods; and hoist them out of  the ship, they were so feeble; and they died ten or twelve of a day when they first landed; but some of  them are getting better. They died in  their way, on board the Neptune, 183 men and 12 women, and in the Scarborough 67 men, and in the Surprize 85, they were not so long as we were incoming here, but they were confined and had  bad victuals and drinking water. The Governor was very angry, and scolded the Captains a  great deal; and I heard, intended to write to London about it; for he said it was murdering them. It was, to be sure, a melancholy sight.’

Reports on trading convict women

London, Sept 28, 1798. Disturbing reports have been arriving of the degrading treatment of female convicts sent to New South Wales.
There have been descriptions of dreadful scenes upon convict vessels arriving in port.
The decks have been crowded with both settlers and male convicts alike, picking and choosing the women them as though they are no more sheep or cattle.
Some settlers want women for servants or wives, while the convicts are looking for wives.
Some women not chosen on the spot are then taken in open boats up the river to the settlement of Parramatta, where another selection process takes place. Those not chosen for particular purposes are then given the free will to go with whom ever they prefer.
Those who do not go with one man are assigned to take care of huts in which there are from two to ten men.

Female Moonings

Considering what they endured, it is understandable that Convict women didn't always appreciate being judged as having loose morals. At the Cascades Female Factory in 1838, the moralising became too much for the women and they decided to make a point. The governor of Van Diemens Land visited the factory and attended a service in the chapel. Entertaining the governor was the Reverend William Bedford; a morals campaigner whose hypocrisy had elicited the lady's scorn. Keen to impress the governor with a fine speech, the Bedford addressed the women from an elevated dais, then 300 women turned around and mooned him.

A gallows lament by young convict

Sydney cove, June 24. Samuel Payton, a 20-year-old convict, who will die on the gallows tomorrow for attempted robbery, has sent a most moving letter to his mother.
"My dear mother! With what agony of soul do I dedicate the last few moments of my life, to bid you an eternal adieu! My doom being irrevocably fixed, and ere this hour tomorrow I shall have quitted this vale of wretchedness. I have at last fallen an unhappy, though just, victim of my follies.
Banish from your memory all my former indiscretions and let the cheering hope of a happy meeting hereafter console you."

A woman convict is hanged for robbery

Sydney Cove, Nov 23 Ann Davis has been hanged, the first women in the colony to be "turned off" by the executioner.
She was found guilty of stealing clothing and goods from the house of convict Robert Sidaway, who co-habituated there with Mary Marshal. Davis was in the habit of calling by and smoking a pipe with them.
When they were away on November 14 she gained access through a window. After upsetting a tub of water in the house, she made off with her booty. It was later found in her possession.

Convict woman writes of life in 'this solitary waste of creation'

Norfolk Island, Nov 19 The plight of convict women has been describe in a letter which has been privately sent in a ship today.
A convict women writes of "our disconsolate situation in this solitary waste of creation."
" The inconveniencies.. suffered for want of shelter, bedding etc are not to be imagined by any stranger. However, we have now two streets in four rows of the most miserable huts you can possibly conceive of deserve that name."
The women are "deprived of tea and other things.... and as they are all totally unprovided with cloths, those who have young children are quite wretched."
"Several women, who became pregnant on the voyage, and are since left by their partners, who have returned to England , are not likely to form any fresh connections."
"We are comforted with the hopes of a supply of tea from China , and flattered with getting riches when our settlement is complete."
"Our Kangaroo rats are like mutton, but much leaner; and there is a kind of chickweed so much in taste like our spinach. Something like ground ivy is used for tea; but a scarcity of salt and sugar makes our best meals insipid."
"The separation of several of us to an uninhabited island was like a second transportation. In short, every one is so taken up with their own misfortunes that they have no pity to bestow on others."

Deaths and Mutiny on convict vessels provoke a scandal

Sydney, August 9. Despite the past disgraces of convict ships, and the regulations and warnings designed to improve their condition, two more vessels have arrived at Sydney in deplorable state, and with awful death rates.
The Hercules arrived on June 26 with the news that 30 convicts had died on the voyage and another 11 had been killed during a mutiny, with two dying later of their wounds and a third being summary executed by the captain.
The Atlas arrived on July 6, having lost 68 people through scurvy and dysentery.
Governor King described the ships as being "filthy beyond description. Some convicts were lying dead with heavy irons on, while many more died as they were coming to the hospital."
There has been an inquiry as to whether the masters had contravened their charters as convict carriers. The Governor noted that the Atlas was carrying liquor.

Description of an old crawler

Tasmania 1872 He had always been escaping, always rebelling, always fighting against authority and always being flogged. There had been a whole life of torment such as this, forty two years of it, and there he stood, speaking softly, arguing his case well and pleading while the tears ran down his face for some kindness, for some mercy in his old age. 'I have tried to escape, always to escape', he said, 'as a bird does out of a cage. Is that unnatural? Is that a great crime?'

Escape foiled in Timor

Koepang, Oct 5. Captain Edward Edwards has made a remarkable catch. He has captured a party of 11 convicts, led by William and Mary Bryant, which escaped from Sydney Cove on march 28.
These escapees, despite having navigational skills, suffered incredible hardships before arriving in Timor.
The story they told of their 3,254 mile journey over 69 days, was equally memorable.
It appears that they first got the idea of heading so far north after hearing about the success of Captain William Bligh who sailed across the pacific in a longboat after the Bounty mutiny.
Ironically, Captain Edwards, aboard the Pandora, had been commissioned to hunt the mutineers. After his vessel was wrecked he took longboats to Timor, putting him on the scene to take custody of the convict group.
On the way north up the coast, the convicts met hostility from local aborigines, and were caught in a great gale, which whipped up the oceans "mountains high".At times, though, they were able to land safely to rest, eat fresh food and replenish their fresh water.
The exact points of their landings are uncertain, but it is believed they sailed to the mouth of a fine river, and discovered deposits of coal.
They eventually crossed the Arafura sea, passed the southern part of Timor to Koepang.
They told the local authorities that they were survivors of a shipwreck and were given fine hospitality by the Dutch Governor.
But one talked to much and the Governor arrested them. They are in chains awaiting their return to England.

One convict describes the aftermath of a flogging:

unless it were at the meal Hours or at Night he was immediately sent to work, his back like Bullocks Liver and most likely his shoes full of Blood, and not permitted to go to the Hospital until next morning when his back would be washed by the Doctor's Mate and a little Hog's Lard spread on with a piece of Tow, and so off to work...and it often happened that the same man would be flogged the following day for Neglect of Work.

Floggings deplored by Aborigines

May 30 1791 The ferocity of British justice has shocked the Aborigines. The Governor wants to prove to them that there possessions are to be respected, and that any convict stealing from them can expect a harsh penalty.
Only this month a convict who stole fishing tackle from Daringa, wife of Colbee, was severely flogged in the presence of as many Aborigines of both sexes as could be assembled. The reason for the punishment was explained to them.
The Aborigines expressed abhorrence of the punishment, and sympathy for the sufferer.

Humanists deplore floggings

March 31 1823 The more humane members of the colony are horrified by the continuing practice of Convicts being flogged until they confess to alleged crimes. The latest among a large number of prisoners known to be treated thus is Henry Bayne, who has been sentenced to receive 25 lashed every morning until he tells "where the money and property is, stolen from the house of William Jaynes". Bayne insists he is innocent.
Concerned people are planning to report the practice to the authorities in Britain, in the hope it will be investigated.

Unique class system keeps the colony divided against itself

Jan 31 Deep divisions exist within New South Wales, greatly adding to the burden of being a people isolated at the bottom of the world, and therefore needing more than ever to live together in harmony.
Historically, the greatest rift has been between the "exclusives" and the "emancipists". The first group believe that anyone who has come to the colony in penal servitude is never capable of complete redemption. These people, who tend to be among the wealthy landowners, thus see themselves as a superior class. For their part, the emancipists, who are all ex-convicts, are concerned with equality of human rights.
Governor Macquaire, much to his peril, supported the emancipist cause, despite opposition from the forces which believed it would end respect for the law by allowing ex-convicts the normal rights of British citizens.
Since the Bigge inquiry, though, the colony has been re-established much more firmly as a prison rather than for reform, which has only worsened the tension.
As well, the emancipists are divided, between those who committed crimes at home, and in Australia .
This reflects a third division, being "Sterling", a name for the British-born, and the "Currency", the home-grown population.

The Landlord

The beginnings of a self-effacing personality? Strict convention of the time was a dead pan expression, especially is teeth were missing. The above portrait is probably of a Convict who was happy to subvert convention and show his missing teeth.


Convict describes flogging of another Convict

"There was two floggers, Richard Rice and John Jonson, the Hangman from Sidney. Rice was a left handed man, and Jonson was right-handed, so they stood at each side and I never saw two trashers in a barn moove their stroakes more handeyer than those two man killers did .... as it happened I was to leew'rd of the floggers and I protest ........ Next was tyed up paddy galvin, a young boy about twenty years. He was ordered to get 300 lashes. He got one hundred on the back and you cud see his back bone between his shoulder blades, then the doctor order him to get another hundred on his bottom. He got it, then the doctor order him to be flog on the calves of his legs. He never gave so much as whimper. They asked him where the pikes were hid, he said he did not know, and if he did he would not tell. "You may as well hang me now," he says for you will never get any musick from me". So they put him in the cart and sent him to the hospital."

Convict Flogging

Authorities viewed Convict mateship as a threat and often tried to remove the theat by having a Convict flog his mate. In a sense, mateship was a form of defiance.


Journalist describes flogging

The floggings are hideously frequent. On flogging mornings I have seen the ground where the men stood at the triangles saturated with blood, as if a bucket of blood had been spilled on it, covering a space three feet in diameter, and running out in various directions, in little streams two or three feet long....





John Caesare
The first

Our Ned Kelly
A story heard and considered

Eureka Massacre
Dying for liberty

Post Convicts

Why is it not celebrated?

White Australia Policy
From Convicts to Chinese

Baptism of Fire or Well of Tears

Simpson and his Donkey
A larrikin and a hero

Nancy Wake
A larrikin and a hero

The Depression
Australia's Greek Moment

World War 2
The eastern chapters

Cold War
The expression of transnational identities

Prime Ministers
Values and policies of Australian leaders


The Europeans
Building a new Australia

The Vietnamese
No longer "New Australian", now "Multicultural"




"Let no-one say the past is dead, the past is all about us and within"(Oodgeroo)