The following excerpts are taken from a collection of newspaper articles assembled and titled “Early News from a New Colony: British Museum Papers by Various, Unknown”. First published in 1893, the Newspaper Extracts in this book relate to the new colony of New South Wales – from the years 1785 to 1795. An excerpt of the introduction to this fascinating record of Australia’s colonisation reads:
The accounts of the colony (many of them written by private individuals to their friends in England), which appeared from time to time in the newspapers and magazines of one hundred years ago, . . . contained, in very many cases, information for which we look in vain in the official despatches of the Governor or his subordinates . . .
AN opposition to the intended settlement of Botany Bay has been lately started from a quarter from which it was little expected. The Dutch have always claimed the sovereignty of it by the right of discovery, a right which has been greatly respected by the different powers of Europe; and we are credibly informed that his Excellency the Baron de Leyder, the Dutch ambassador to our Court, has received orders to remonstrate with our Ministers, in the name of the States-General, against our regular planting of a territory which they assert belongs to another country.
5th November, 1786.
While the plan for settling a colony at Botany Bay is preparing to be carried into execution, the more objections that are made to it the better. Government will, by that means, be enabled to obviate them; to provide for every known want and supposed danger.
You have observed that the eastern coast of New Holland is the least-inhabited and worst-cultivated country in the Southern Hemisphere. To this it has been answered that the want of cultivation is no proof of the barrenness of the soil, nor the deficiency of inhabitants a reason why the natural productions of the climate should not be sufficient for the support of a greater number; and, as an argument in favor of this assertion, the account that Lieut. Cook gives of Botany Bay is everywhere cited as an authority by those who, perhaps, never read his Voyage.
[The writer quotes from Cook’s Journals to show the dangerous character of the natives there. He then remarks]:—
The inference I mean to draw from this narrative is this: That much blood must be spilt before a colony among these savages can be established; and that it will be in vain to depend on the grain to be raised among them, as most certainly, till they are subdued, they will destroy it by fraud or force.
Shadwell, 4th December, 1786.
Presuming that your useful miscellany is circulated for information, and not disputation (at least disputation with acrimony), I am induced to reply to your correspondent H.D., who modestly says objections should be made (for a very commendable purpose) that they may be removed; and, as the latter part of his letter, more particularly distinguished by italics, claims the attention of your readers, I shall just say that it has certainly been the intention of Government to obviate every difficulty, and to render everything as permanently comfortable to the unhappy convicts as the nature of the case will admit. I advance this general testimony upon the presumption of those particulars which I have been an eye-witness to, and which are a strict and marked attention to their well-being by the respective officers under the Navy Board, both as to ships, provisions, and every necessary that they may stand in need of. To enumerate particulars would be needless; even trifles have been thought of. And when I compare the manner in which they are provided for in their voyage with the mode that used to be adopted, I hesitate not to assert that Government have paid a minute attention to them. One instance as a proof—they have now comfortable beds. Formerly, when the convicts were transported by contract to America, there were no beds. Government paid a certain sum, and the contractor took [care] that “no luxuries were allowed.”
That the best digested plans are capable of improvements there can be no doubt; but in this, at present, I think none can be pointed out. A general negative on the undertaking is no argument why it should not be, unless a plan on better principles can be advanced. Besides, can it be supposed for a moment that these men are to encounter with no difficulty? Do they deserve to meet with no difficulties? Are they to be treated by the mother country (I speak of them as an infant colony) as dutiful children? What shall I say? Let me turn your thoughts to the Loyalists that have lately emigrated from their improved estates, after perhaps a life of industry and honour—after leaving their dead friends and relatives on the spot, who fell in defence of the laws of the parent State (not transgressors against those laws). Look at them; see them encounter the difficulties of an inhospitable shore. See them in latitudes to which their constitutions were strangers, struggling to begin the world afresh. Revolve immediately in your mind the mild climate of 34°, the very name of the spot the convicts are going to, the characters of the first visitors (I mean of our countrymen lately), who declare it favorable to vegetation and agriculture, and say if the delinquents are not bountifully provided for. How long have the American Indians been peaceful? Have not all new settlers difficulties to encounter with? Now, admitting for a moment, sir, that “there must be blood spilt,” is it not better that even half die in battle who are doomed to a halter than that the whole should be hanged. But this is only a momentary supposition.
As I have quoted the Loyalists (men, by-the-bye, that bear no comparison but in the name of new settlers), how are they situated now? Under a mild government, raising populous towns, carrying on extensive commerce, even to the envy of their neighbours. May we not hope that the spirit of reformation may take place, and under the fostering care of a generous and forgiving nation, this colony may one day flourish and be respectable, as no incentives to their natural propensities will remain by their vicinity to a large capital or populous cities, or to the luxuries of life? It is a possible presumption that it may be.
Source: Excerpts – ‘Early News from a New Colony: British Museum Papers’ – by Various, Unknown [Newspaper Extracts concerning the Colony of New South Wales, 1785-1795.] – published 1893
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