The Irish and Australia

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The Irish and Australia Sometimes, in wandering among the tombstones of an old English country churchyard on the south coast overlooking the English Channel, one comes across the headstone of a Royal Naval veteran who sailed the South Seas with Captain Cook, who discovered Australia. It is worth remembering that the voyages of Captain Cook were contemporary with the War of American Independence -- King George, and his equally incompetent ministers, such as Lord George Germain, the Secretary of War, contributed greatly to the loss of the American Colonies, which had become a dumping ground over the years for British convicts until 1776. Cook discovered New South Wales in 1770, finding a continent occupied by a small native population of aborigines, which even today numbers

only 200, 000. It was conveniently ripe for white settlement, and, in 1783, the British Secretary of State decided to switch the transpoortation of convicts from America to New South Wales. The first convict expedition, 750 in number, set sail for Australia in 1787, under the command of Captain Phillip of the Royal Navy, who was to act as the first Governor. In January, 1788, the marines guarding the prisoners became the first free settlers in Botany Bay. This site was then abandoned in favor of Port Jackson, and in honor of Lord Sydney, the British Home Secretary, the new settlement of Sydney was named, and set up as a military state. By 1790 Europe was in the turmoil of the French Revolution, and in 1798 Ireland had risen in one of its periodic revolts, which was viciohusly put

down by the redcoats, assisted by Hessian mercenaries. Broadly speaking, the Ireland of those days could be seen as an English garrison, run from Dublin Castle. The peasantry of Ireland was at the mercy of a largely debauched, drunken and dissolute landlord class which had the power to be judge, jury and executioner -- or transporter -- of any of its tenants, be they political thinkers or anyone who stepped out of line in any way. The allpowerful magistrate class sentenced hundreds of people -- men and women -- without trial to transportation in convict ships to Botany Bay. They were often sentenced for life, their "crimes" unnamed, and seldom, if ever, written down. The first English prisoners had landed in 1788, and in 1791, Irish prisoners started to arrive, thus

forging the first Irish-Australian links. Ireland was then a nation up in arms and in desperate political turmoil, and the first prison ships contained many simple country folk, driven in desperation to political "crimes. " For many it became, under military goading, a choice of transportation for life, or hanging by the neck or even suicide. The convict ships themselves were not much better than the old Negro slave ships, as frequently the convicts were kept in irons throughout a hoorrendous six-month voyage, during which they suffered hunger, thirst, the lash and harassment from their captains and crews. In those days flogging was a normal form of discipline in both the British Navy and the British Army, and brutality was the only way in which the officers could

effectively govern and control the lower-deck and lesser orders. It was not until as late as 1886 that the flogging of soldiers was abolished in the British Army, and then only because of a case in which a man was flogged to death, and the British Army doctors tried to cover it up by saying that the soldier had died of pneumonia! Not all the Irish convicts were poor folk or agricultural laborers, for, after the rebellion of 1798, Presbyterian ministers and professional men, such as doctors, were among the more educated revolutionaries to be transported. Many of the early political prisoners were Presbyterian ministers from County Derry, County Down and County Antrim. Very soon, Irish convicts formed a large percentage of the prisoner population in Australia, and the authorities