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

Victoria—Under the Southern Cross

Let no one think much of a trifling expense;

Who knows what may happen a hundred years hence?

The loss of America what can repay?

New colonies seek for in Botany Bay.

I N the days of King George III. there was a great sailor called Captain Cook. He made many voyages into unknown seas and discovered new lands. Among these lands were the islands of Australia and New Zealand.

It was in April 1770 A.D. that Captain Cook first landed in Australia, in a bay which he called Botany Bay, because there were so many plants of all kinds there. At that time the island was inhabited only by wild, black savages, and Captain Cook took possession of the whole eastern coast in the name of King George, calling it New South Wales.

While America was a British colony, wicked people, instead of being sent to prison for punishment, as they are now, were sent to work on the cotton plantations or farms there. After America was lost, convicts, as these wicked people are called, could no longer be sent there, and British statesmen began to look round for some other country to which they could be sent.

Then it was that Australia was thought of. It was decided to form a convict colony there. It was hoped that free people would go too, and that soon Australia would become as great a colony as America had been.

So there sailed out from England a little fleet of ships, carrying Captain Philip as the Governor of the new colony, and nearly a thousand people, of whom more than seven hundred were prisoners; the rest were officers and marines to guard the prisoners. They took with them food and clothes enough to last two years, also tools for building houses, and ploughs and everything needed for farm work.

As the ships passed the Cape of Good Hope, they stopped there to take in more food, and also animals with which to stock the farms which the British hoped to make in Australia. They took so many animals on board that the ships looked more like Noah's arks than anything else.

When the ships reached Australia, Captain Philip landed, a flagstaff was planted, and soon the Union Jack floated out to the sound of British cheers. The health of the King was drunk, and then Captain Philip made a speech to the convicts. He told them that now, in this new country, they had another chance to forget their wicked ways, and to become again good British subjects. It was the first speech which had ever been made in the English language in that far land, and, when he had finished, the silence of the lonely shore was again broken by the sound of British cheers. So the town of Sydney was founded.

Governor Philip and his strange company of rough, bad men soon set to work. Everything had to be done. Trees had to be felled, and stones quarried and broken for the building of houses, and the making of roads and harbours. There was so much to do that little time was left for farm work, and the settlers in this new colony nearly starved. It seemed as if the people at home had forgotten them, for the food which they had promised to send never came.

Day by day eager eyes looked out vainly over the blue sea, straining for the sight of a white sail. But no ship came. Prisoners and warders alike grew gaunt and pale. Nearly all their food was gone. The Governor even gave up some sacks of flour which were his own. "I do not wish," he said, "to have anything which others cannot have. If any convict complains, he may come and see that at Government House we are no better off than he is."

Still no help came. Little work could be done by men who were starving, and the weary days dragged slowly past for the handful of white people who, utterly cut off from all others, were ignorant of what was happening in the great world, which lay beyond the blue waves.

But even in the darkest hour, they never forgot that they were Britons. "Our distress did not make us forget that this was the birthday of our beloved King," wrote one. "In the morning flags were displayed, and at noon three volleys of musketry were fired as an acknowledgment that we were Britons, who, however distant and distressed, revered their King, and loved their country."

At last, after three years, a sail was seen. Oh, what joy! Help at last, and news at last from home! But alas! the new ship brought little food, and many more convicts. It brought, however, the assurance that the little colony was not forgotten. Other ships had been sent with food, but they had been wrecked on the way.

A fortnight later another ship arrived, then another and another. The colony was saved for the time at least, although famine threatened them again more than once. At one time things were so bad that when any one was asked to dine at Government House, he was requested to bring his own bread with him.

In a few years, free settlers began to come to Australia. They were farmers, and soon corn was grown in such quantities that the colony was freed from all fear of famine. Later still, a gentleman brought wool-bearing sheep to Australia, that is, sheep which have fine fleeces, and now the rearing of sheep for their wool is one of the chief industries of Australia.

As the free settlers increased in number, they objected to having convicts sent among them, for, because of these wild, bad men, the colony began to have an evil name. When gold was discovered in Australia, many more people flocked there. Then Queen Victoria and her government decided at last that it was not a good thing to send convicts to the colonies, and so in 1867 A.D. the last convict ship set out for Australia. After that the British shut up those who did wrong in strong prisons at home.

Australia has grown quickly into a great and wealthy country. I cannot tell you the history of it here, but although it is now called the Commonwealth of Australia, and has a Parliament of its own, it is still part of the Empire of Greater Britain.

Australia lies quite at the other side of the world from Britain, and when it is day in the one it is night in the other. And when Australians look up to the sky at night they see the stars of the Southern Cross, instead of the Pole Star and the Plough which the British see. Yet the people in the two islands are friends and brothers, and ties of love draw them together across the ocean waves.

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