Gateway to the Classics: Our Empire Story by H. E. Marshall
Our Empire Story by  H. E. Marshall

The Founding of Sydney

After Cook sailed away the great island-continent was left once again to silent loneliness. Cook made other voyages, but did not discover much more of Australia, and for many years few white men touched upon the shores of the Great South Land.

Then came the war in which Britain lost all her American colonies. It was a great loss, how great at the time perhaps few knew. But in one way the loss soon began to be felt.

The British in those days instead of keeping evil-doers in prison at home, used to send them to work upon the farms or plantations in America. When America was no longer a part of the British Empire, convicts, as such evil-doers were called, could not be sent there. The prisons at home became full to overflowing. Something had to be done, and at last it was decided to make use of New South Wales and found a colony there to which convicts might be sent.

So on 13th May 1787, the "First Fleet," as it afterwards came to be called by Australians, sailed out on its long voyage. In the eight or ten ships there were about a thousand people. Nearly eight hundred of these were convicts, both men and women, the rest were soldiers and marines to guard them.

With the fleet, as Governor-General of the new colony, went Captain Arthur Phillip.

On the way out the ships stopped at Teneriffe and at Cape Town, where the Dutch Governor received them kindly. Here they took aboard so many cocks and hens, sheep and cattle, that the ships looked more like Noah's arks than anything else.

In June 1788 the new colonists arrived at Botany Bay, where it had been decided to found the colony. But Captain Phillip did not think it a good place, and went exploring in a small boat further north until he found the beautiful Jackson Bay.

Here Captain Phillip decided to found the new colony. He landed and set up the Union Jack, and gathering round the flagstaff, he and his officers drank to the king's health, and to the success of the colony.

The convicts were landed, the soldiers were drawn up in line, guns were fired, and Captain Phillip made a speech to the convicts. He told them that now under a new sky, in a new home, they had once again a chance to forget their evil ways, and begin a new life. Once again they had a chance to prove themselves good British subjects. This was the first speech in the English language that had ever been made in that far-off land, and when Captain Phillip had finished, a British cheer rang out.

Thus the city of Sydney was founded.

Now began a busy time. The stillness of that silent land was broken for ever. All day long the woods rang with the sound of the axe. All day long the ring of hammer and anvil was heard, the tinkle of the mason's trowel, the sighing of the carpenter's saw. There was everything to do. There were houses to build, roads to cut, harbours to make. The land had first to be cleared of trees, and wood and stone had to be quarried and hewn for building. With all this to do, there was little time left for farming.

Besides, among the soldiers, and sailors, and convicts, there were no farmers. None among them knew how to set about the work. The season was dry, the seed which was sown did not sprout, or was eaten by rats, and there was little or no harvest. The sheep and cattle died, or ran away into the forest and were seen no more.

Soon the food which had been brought from home grew scarce, and the promised ships which were to bring more, did not appear. The little colony began to starve. Convicts and freemen alike grew gaunt and pale. The governor himself knew what it meant to go hungry, for he would not fare better than the others, and he gave up his private stores for the use of all. "If any convict complains," he said, "let him come to Government House, and he will see that we are no better off there."

Hollow-cheeked and faint, every man looked eagerly, longingly, out to sea, straining weary eyes to catch a glimpse of a white sail upon the blue waste of water. Day after day passed. No sail appeared. Little work was done, for men who are always hungry cannot work.

The colonists had brought food for two years. Now three had passed, and still no help came from home. With hundreds and hundreds of miles between them and Britain, they seemed to be cast away and forgotten. They knew nothing of what was happening in the world. They had no means of knowing if they were really forgotten, or if some mischance had befallen the ships sent out to them. There was no way by which they could send a message home. They could do nothing but wait.

At last one morning a ship came in sight What joy there was! The women wept, the men cheered.

Eagerly the colonists crowded round the new arrivals asking for news of home. They heard with joy that they had not been utterly forgotten and neglected. Ships with stores had been sent, but had been wrecked on the way.

Soon another ship arrived, then another and another, The long pain of hunger was at an end, and for a time at least the little colony was saved from starvation. But famine came upon them again, and at one time things were so bad that people who were asked to dine at Government House were told to bring their own bread with them.

With the ships bringing food to the colony came a regiment of soldiers. They were called the New South Wales Corps. The Marines and their officers, who had come out in the "First Fleet," then went home; and Captain Phillip was not sorry that they should go, for although they had been sent out to help to keep the convicts in order, they had themselves been very unruly, and had added much to the governor's difficulties. These difficulties were great, for it was no easy matter to rule a colony made up of wild, bad men, sent there in punishment of their misdeeds. But, as will be seen, the New South Wales Corps was not much help to the governor.

In December 1792 Governor Phillip, worn out by five years of hardship, gave up his post and sailed home.

He was succeeded by Captain Hunter, but until he arrived the colony was left in the hands of Major Grose, leader of the New South Wales Corps.

Captain Phillip had been gentle and just. He had shared every hardship with the colonists, and had tried to make the convicts better. Grose cared nothing for the improvement of the convicts, and he was utterly unfit to rule. He allowed the soldiers to do as they liked, and they very soon became wild, riotous, and drunken. They took everything into their own hands, and soon from being merely soldiers, they became the merchants and rulers of the colony. Everything coming into the colony had to pass through their hands. But the thing they traded in most, and made most money out of, was rum.

Some free settlers had now come to Sydney, and they were allowed to have convicts to help them on their farms. The officers and men of the New South Wales Corps also took land, and had convict labourers, whom they paid for their work in rum. The soldiers made friends of these convicts, and they drank and gambled together, so that the convicts, instead of becoming better, became worse, and when Governor Hunter arrived, he found that all the good that Governor Phillip had done was destroyed. The whole colony was filled with riot, disorder, drunkenness, and misery.

Captain Hunter tried to put things right again. He tried to stop the trade in rum, but he was not strong enough to do it. The "Rum Corps," as the soldiers came to be called, had got the upper hand, and they meant to keep it. So during the whole time of Hunter's rule, he had to fight the men and officers of the Rum Corps.

This was the darkest time in the whole history of Australia. But dark though it was, it was now that the foundation of Australia's greatness in trade was laid.

With the New South Wales Corps there had come out a Captain John MacArthur. He, like so many others, received a grant of land, and began farming. He soon saw that the land was very good for rearing sheep, and began to turn his attention to them. But whereas others thought of rearing them for food, he thought of them for their wooL After a great deal of trouble he got "wool-bearing sheep," first from the Cape, and then from King George's own famous flock of Spanish merino sheep.

At this time the British got most of the wool they needed for their great factories from Spain. But Napoleon, who was fighting Britain in every way possible, now tried to ruin their trade by forbidding all the people of Europe to trade with them. When they could no longer get wool from Spain, the British wool trade began to suffer. Then it was that MacArthur stepped in. From his sheep-farm he was soon able to send shiploads of wool to the factories at home, thus preventing the ruin of British manufactures, and bringing wealth to Australia. From then till now the industry has grown, and now millions of pounds' worth of wool are exported every year.

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