The first British convict ship, the Sirius, arrived in Botany Bay in 1787.

12 Mar

The first British convict ship, the Sirius, arrived in Botany Bay in 1787. A settlement named Port Jackson was founded in an adjacent harbour, and the convicts, their guards and a handful of settlers set out to make something of their new surroundings. Their initial attempts at self-sufficiency were reminiscent of those of the Virginian colonists nearly two centuries before. Their livestock died, their crops failed and famine threatened. The Aboriginals remained infuriatingly standoffish and in order to establish any form of communication at all the British resorted to kidnapping them. Their victims included Bennelong, on the site of whose funeral pyre the Sydney Opera House now stands. Even this faintest of contacts proved fatal to the Aboriginals, who were decimated by smallpox, and in the settlement’s second year had begun to crawl into Port Jackson to beg for food and tobacco. In 1791, a third convict fleet of ten ships arrived. Its cargo was 1865 male prisoners and a gross of whores. By now the settlement had begun to find its feet. In the same year, in another parallel to the Jamestown experience, the settlers raised their first successful crop- tobacco. The also started to explore the continent around them, which had been claimed for Great Britain.. Its vast empty spaces demanded knowledge, which could only be gained from the Aboriginals who had evolved in the harsh and arid landscape. Communication was finally established by the judicious use of alcohol and tobacco.

Iain Gately, Tobacco A Cultural History of How An Exotic Plant Seduced Civilization. (Come the Revolution) ( Grove Press, New York 2001) pp. 134-135

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