A RIDDLE – WHEN IS AN INVASION FLEET NOT AN INVASION FLEET? WHEN IT’S THE FIRST FLEET

‘The Way of War is a Way of  Deception. When able, feign inability; when deploying troops appear not to be’. Sun-Tzu, the Art of War, Penguin ed. 2002

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In determining the daily ration no distinction was drawn between the [245] marines and the [580 male] convicts….the standard adopted was that of troops serving in the West Indies. Wilfrid Oldham, Britain’s Convicts to the Colonies, Library of Australian History, 1990

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‘Soldiers: three hundred knowing their work thoroughly may be stronger than three thousand less sure of their game. John Ruskin, The Cestus of Aglaia, 1866

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‘In writing of the recruitment of criminals into armed forces, Stephen Conway observed. ‘It was still found necessary periodically to clear both the putrid and congested gaols and the equally overcrowded and insanitary hulks’. Conway, cited in Alan Frost, Botany Bay Mirages, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1994

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‘From intelligence of of our friends and connections we have been entirely cut off no communication whatever having passed with our native country since the 13th of May, 1787, the day of our departure from Portsmouth’. Marine Captain Watkin Tench, Sydney’s First Four Years, ed. L.F. Hardinge, Angus and Robertson, Sydney 1961 :See Abandoned and Left to Starve January 1788-June1790.

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1787 – 13 May, England: A large armed convoy of eleven (11) ships commanded by Captain Arthur Phillip RN, known in Britain and Australia as the ‘First Fleet’ sailed from Portsmouth, England to invade, occupy and ‘without consent’ claim British sovereignty over the island continent of New Holland from the ‘most northern extremity Cape York…to South Cape’.

Of its overwhelmingly male complement of 1500 souls one-half (750) were convicted criminals.

Of those sentenced previously for ‘transportation to America’,James Lavell was one of very few known ‘pressed men’ to have again seen his homeland. See: Blind Man’s Bluff

‘…As has been pointed out the ratio between volunteer and pressmen cannot be ascertained accurately. Professor Lewis in his study of the navy during the Age of Nelson has estimated…pressed men [at] 50%.  Cited, Christopher Lloyd, The British Seaman, 1968

The ‘First Fleet’ was a formidable invasion force.

‘Soldiers: three hundred knowing their work thoroughly may be stronger than three thousand less sure of their game. John Ruskin, The Cestus of Aglaia, 1866

The fleet’s warships, flagship HMS Sirius and HMS Supply, were manned by two hundred (200) Royal Navy men.

Two hundred and forty-five (245) marines ‘knowing their work thoroughly’ twenty (20) officials, seven (7)physicians, thirty-one (31) marine wives, forty-five (45) free children, Chaplain Rev Richard Johnson and wife Mary, were distributed throughout the fleet’s three (3) store ships, Fishburn, Golden Grove, Borrowdale and (6) chartered troop ships – Alexander, Prince of Wales, Friendship, Scarborough, Charlotte, Lady Penrhyn.

The majority of its five hundred and eighty (580) male convicts ‘less sure of their game’‘their labour is for the public’  boarded from ‘overcrowded insanitary hulks moored on the River Thames in the very heart of London. See: April Fools Day – The Hulks Act

British merchant ships in the 18th century were crewed to a formula; eight (8) ordinary seamen and one (1) boy per hundred (100) ton. In addition each vessel carried officers and specialist crew – sailing master, mates, purser etc.

Subject to this formula approximately four hundred and forty (440) merchant seamen crewed the fleet’s (9) chartered vessels. Professional sailors could be ‘impressed‘ for combat. See: Asleep In the Deep – Merchant Men of the First Fleet.

THE BACK STORY

1717-1775: Over a period of some fifty (50) years, prior to the War of American Independence, 50,000 convicted criminals @ 1000 per year reprieved death on condition of ‘transportation to America’  were exported there by ship.

Disembarking  after a voyage of some six (6) weeks ‘their labour’ was sold at regular ‘slave scrambles’. The majority, unskilled males, worked the expanding sugar and tobacco plantations alongside slaves shipped in from West Africa

Like them they were economic ‘forced labour’ slaves.  But unlike ‘imported’ Africans convict bodies were not sold.

Time served and they were free to return to England.

‘Africans were imported as slaves: that is as chattel slaves. Chattel slavery, the most debased form of bondage was not something inherited from the past or borrowed from the Mediterranean or South or Central America.

In its most extreme form it evolved in British America took form in British-American law, in response to the need for a totally exploitable, and infinitely recruitable labor force’. Professor Bernard Bailyn, The Peopling Of The British Peripheries in the Eighteenth Century Harvard University Esso Lecture 1988, Australian Academy of Science, Canberra, Occasional Paper No. 5     

1775: The American War (1775-1783) brought an abrupt halt to the lucrative convict trade. Government was left with the great expense of housing, feeding and guarding an ever-increasing army of prisoners.

1776: The Hulks Act of 1776, created two (2) classes of prisoner.The legislation allowed those for removal could be held-over in both gaols and on prison-hulks moored along the River Thames. Although women so sentenced were excluded from the hulks.

Government was confident transportation ‘to America’ would resume at war’s end and with ‘labour’ stock-on-hand money would still be made.

But against all the odds Britain lost the war.

1783: After lengthy negotiations eight (8) years of conflict came to a formal end in September 1783 with the signing of the Treaty of Paris. Under its terms Britain lost her thirteen (13) colonies along with the right to export her convicts there.

At least two (2) attempts to defy Congress failed with heavy loss of life.Approximately one hundred (100) ‘Mercuries’ – eighty (80) men, twenty (20) women were among the First Fleeters.   See: Mutiny – Swift and Mercury

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1786 – 6 August: King George III ‘thought it advisable to fix upon Botany Bay‘. check quote

‘On the subject of the the Aborigines of New Holland…it is impossible to contemplate the condition or the prospects of that unfortunate race without the deepest commiseration. Still it is impossible that the government should forget that the original aggression was ours’. Lord John Russell to Sir George Gipps, 21 December 1838, Historical Records of Australia, Series 1, Vol. XX

1838: Fifty (50) years after landing in Sydney Cove the English population numbered four hundred and five thousand (405,000). The majority were men.

‘The fact of causing the existence of a human being is one of the most responsible actions in the range of human life…unless those on whom it is bestowed will have at least the ordinary chances of a desirable existence is a crime against that being’. John Stuart Mill: on Liberty

‘ Aggression’ without consent the ‘crime’ was genocide. ‘Impossible’ nevertheless the British government remains silent.

‘The colony barely survived its first years and was largely neglected for much of the following quarter-century [1793-1815] while the British government was preoccupied by the war with France. Bernard Attard, University of Leicester

 

‘The main settlements were at Port Jackson (modern Sydney (1788) New South Wales and Hobart (1804) in what was then Van Diemen’s Land  (modern Tasmania) .

The colony barely survived its first years and was largely neglected for much of the following quarter-century [1793-1815] while the British government was preoccupied by the war with France.

An important beginning was nevertheless made in the creation of a private economy to support the penal regime’ . Bernard Attard

 

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‘The administration of the 24-year-old Prime Minister William Pitt was under no illusion about the pretensions  of its enemies’. Michael  Pembroke, Arthur Phillip Sailor Mercenary Governor Spy, Hardie Grant Books, 2013

Who were these ‘enemies’?       

‘In November [1784] Henry Dundas, possibly Pitt’s closet advisor, warned that ‘India is the first quarter to be attacked, we must never lose sight of keeping such a force there as will be sufficient to baffle or surprise.

Our wealth and power in India is their great and constant object of jealousy; and they [French and Dutch forces in India] will never miss an opportunity of attempting to wrest it out of our hands’. Sir James Harris British ambassador at the Hague, cited Michael Pembroke

Why did Britain invade New Holland? See: A Nasty War & a Wall of Silence

‘I need not enlarge on the benefit of stationing a large body of troops in New South Wales..Should any disturbance happen in the East Indies, they may be transported thither before our enemies in Europe know anything of the matter…New Holland is a blind, then, when we want to add to the military strength of India’. Anon to Evan Nepean Under-Secretary to Lord  Sydney, Frank Murcott Bladen, Historical Records of Australia, Vol.1 Parts 1 & 2

Why did Britain invade New Holland? See: Peru – Silver and Gold

‘Since the Age of Elizabeth I the British had had global ambitions in which possession of Central America offered the prospect of opening a path between the Atlantic and Pacific’. Andrew Jackson O’Shaughnessy, The Men Who Lost America, Yale University Press, New Haven, London 2013

EPILOGUE

‘It is impossible that the government should forget that the original aggression was ours’. Lord John Russell to Sir George Gipps, 21 December 1838, Historical Records of Australia, Series 1, Vol XX

‘Impossible’ nevertheless the British government remains silent.

 

 

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