More Reasons Convicts Were Transported

Last time I mentioned that transporting convicts to Australia was because of overcrowding in the prison ships and the prisons in England. I also mentioned that this was not the only reason.

After Captain James Cook returned to Britain he gave a detailed report on how he had discovered a wonderful land that was very fertile with fresh water streams in abundance. This was Australia, of course, and Cook went on to describe how at Norfolk Island he had seen massive trees (Norfolk Pines) that were tall and straight and would make excellent masts and stays for ships. On Norfolk there were also an abundance of flax seeds that could be processed into material for sails and rope.

When this information was received by the Admiralty they made a decision that a southern Naval base could be established in Australia which would not only secure the colony that could be established there but support the whalers in the southern ocean that were procuring the precious whale oil. At the time, whaling was big business, and it is known that numerous companies involved in whaling had actively supported the exploration of the South Pacific, obviously with a view to setting up business operations there.

Everything seemed to be in place with an abundance of timber for masts and stays, a good supply of flax seed for sails and rope and a naval prescence that would discourage any future plans from France, Spain and Portugal from trying to form a colony there themselves. These countries had all been to Australia in some form or another. Add to the fact that Australia for all intents and purposes, from Cook’s discovery, appeared a rich, fertile land with an abundance of fresh water then the plan had merit. This was not the case, of course, but more of that later.

With an Act of Parliament thought necessary, a bill was drawn up in January 1787, by which officers of the army or navy could be empanelled. A procedure for granting land was developed and a surveyor to administer this was appointed (a retired German military man, Augustus Alt). Between October 1786 and April 1787, Arthur Phillip’s commission was written, and more and more Phillip’s role began to look like that of a day-to-day administrator.

On 1st September, 1786, the British Government placed the first of a series of advertisements in the London The Morning Herald for the hiring of the required shipping. The offer was taken up by William Richards Junior, a little-known Navy broker who had business interests in America which appear to have commenced from a ship brokering business he established during the American Revolution. He promoted himself as a ‘prominent’ shipbroker, mostly for the Navy.

No other tenders were received from merchants, indicating that London’s commercial class was not excited by the new opportunity to explore and develop trade in the Pacific, in spite of the bonus of having the outward voyages paid for by the government. Richards would be paid almost 54,000 pounds for organising the First Fleet.

To be continued.

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