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Jim’s Australiana Spot – 2UE - July 9 2017

Our Convict Heritage How did it happen?

164 000 felons were transported on 806 ships to the Australian colonies from 1787 to 1868. Lets find out WHY!Recently Bill Gates, said '...the world is getting better. Sounds crazy, but it’s true. This is the most peaceful time in human history.' He is probably right. Civil unrest and crime were far more prevalent in the past, in most parts of the world, than they are today.

1 What do these things thing have in common? Impersonating a Chelsea Pensioner. Impersonating an Egyptian and writing threatening letters
  Hanging offences in 1800
2 What was the ship Hougemont famous for?
  Last convict ship
3 How many different convict settlements did the First Fleet establish?
  Two Sydney and Norfolk Island

In the social upheaval that came with the industrial revolution, cities grew and crime increased, the Enclosure Act of 1773 took away the right of access to farmland for common people - who either starved or moved to the cities. The ports of Britain were crammed with 'hulks', unseaworthy vessels used as makeshift prisons. The loss of the American colonies made matters worse, as transportation across the Atlantic was no longer an option.

Throughout the 18th century, approximately 50,000 British criminals were transported to the American colonies, mostly to Maryland and Virginia, where they were auctioned to plantation owners as indentured workers, to work in the fields beside black African slaves. While the African slave trade provided approximately 47 per cent of the migration to the American colonies in the 18th century, the transportation of convicted criminals contributed a not-insubstantial 9 per cent of migrants to America.

These factors led to severe laws and punishments for what seem, to us today, petty crimes, but the rationale was to maintain some social stability and deter the less fortunate from turning to crime. This was a time when cruelty and capital punishment were considered to be 'necessary' in the justice system. In  1787, when the First Fleet set sail, slavery was still legal, men could be 'press ganged' (i.e. kidnapped) and made to serve in the Royal Navy, and flogging sailors was deemed an essential part of running a sailing ship.            Half of the 120 000 men serving in Royal Navy at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 had been 'impressed' and flogging sailors with the 'cat-o-nine-tails' was legal until the 1860s. Caning or birching sailors was still legal in the Royal navy in WW2! These punishments were decided 'ad hoc' by officers - there were no trials or procedures necessary. Times were tough.

Things didn't get any better after the Napoleonic Wars ended in 1815 either; they became worse. There was a depression in Europe after the wars and returning soldiers had no jobs or welfare system to help them, just the workhouse. The Corn Laws, passed to protect farmers in 1819, made bread prices soar and crime increase. The legal recourse of transportation to 'Botany Bay', as New South Wales was commonly called in Britain, was more necessary than ever.

What was really happening was a 'class war', between the 'haves' and the 'have nots'. In the cities hungry people stole bread and, in rural areas, hungry men, like Jim Jones, went out at night poaching game.

Jim Jones at Botany Bay                                                                       Anon

O, listen for a moment lads, and hear me tell my tale-
 How o'er the sea from England's shore I was compelled to sail.
 The jury said, ‘He's guilty Sir,’ and says the judge, says he-
 ‘For life Jim Jones, I'm sending you across the stormy sea;
 And take my tip before you ship to join the iron-gang.
 Don't run away at Botany Bay, or else you'll surely hang-

 Or else you'll hang!’ he says, says he, ‘and after that Jim Jones,
 High up upon the gallows-tree the crows will pick your bones-
 You'll have no chance for mischief then; remember what I say,
 They'll flog the poaching out of you, out there at Botany Bay.’
With the storms a-raging round us, and the winds a-blowing gales
I'd rather drowned in misery than gone to New South Wales.

The winds blew high upon the sea, and the pirates come along,
But the soldiers on our convict ship were full five hundred strong,
They opened fire and somehow drove that pirate ship away.
I'd have rather joined that pirate ship than come to Botany Bay.
For night and day, the irons clang, and like poor galley slaves
We toil, and toil and when we die must fill dishonoured graves.
But by and by I'll break my chains; into the bush I'll go
And join the brave bushrangers there - Jack Donohoo and Co.
And some dark night when everything is silent in the town
I'll kill the tyrants one and all and shoot the floggers down;
I'll give the law a little shock; remember what I say,
They'll yet regret they sent Jim Jones in chains to Botany Bay.



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