SOME OF PHILLIP'S CONVICTS, a minority, would return to Britain, a few by escape, some on their own resources, a small number as crew members. Elizabeth Barnsley, for example, Lady Juliana's Queen of Sheba, would first be reunited with her husband when he arrived as a result of his stealing a trunk off the Wiltshire, Bath, and Bristol coach loading at Holborn. For a time the couple found themselves on Norfolk Island, and Thomas, once his time was up, travelled back to Sydney to raise money by gambling, musical performance, or trading for the cause of taking his family back to England. He succeeded, since soon after Elizabeth and their two children joined Thomas in Parramatta in 1794, the flamboyant pair disappeared from the New South Wales record, returned to Britain.
Characteristic of many others, however, were Bloodworth the brickmaker and Sarah Bellamy. In 1790, Sarah became James Bloodworth's common-law wife, marriage being impossible because it was well known he was married in England. Bloodworth was the architect in the construction of the two-storey, six-room building which became the governor's house, and a range of other public buildings. In December 1790 Phillip pardoned four selected convicts, of whom James Bloodworth was one. But return to England was not possible until his full term expired. The next year he was appointed building superintendent of New South Wales with an excellent salary of £50 per year, and Phillip praised the “pain he had taken to teach the art of brick-making and brick-laying, and his conduct was exemplary.” With some help from Harry Brewer, he built a soldiers' barracks, a clock tower, and houses for the surveyor general and judge-advocate.
Sarah Bellamy lost a second son in infancy, but then six more children were born to her and Bloodworth. Of Sarah's eight children, four survived to adulthood. In 1794 Major Grose would grant 50 acres to James and 20 acres to Sarah. They later added 200 acres to their property. Interestingly, Bloodworth stood as an Englishman by the King who had transported him, and served as a sergeant in the Sydney Loyal Association, a militia brought into being by the arrival of Scottish Republicans and United Irish prisoners from the 1798 uprising in Ireland. He died at the age of forty-five in 1804, virtually insolvent, though with many people owing him money. In 1805, his wife, Sarah, rented a room in her house to a lodger on condition he would teach her children to read and write. In the Female Register compiled by the censorious Reverend Samuel Marsden, it is said of her cohabitation with Bloodworth that “no relationship could have been more respectable, devoted or tenacious than theirs.” And in the census of 1828 she was one of only nineteen women still surviving from the great voyage of 1787. Sarah died in Lane Cove, Port Jackson, on 4 February 1843, aged seventy-three.
The Australian Adam, James Ruse, sold his land at Parramatta in 1793, and toyed with using £40 he thus acquired to return to England. He decided instead to settle on the Hawkesbury, but by 1801 was in hardship, having mortgaged his property because the region had not yielded as well as everyone had hoped. Indeed poverty, caused by the distance from Sydney and Parramatta, the uncertain market for produce, and frequent flooding, was the normal condition of smallholders of that area at the time. He tried to supplement his poor returns by running a gambling school at his farm, but the authorities clamped down on that. Using his friendship with Henry Kable, he apprenticed his sturdy colonial son, also named James, to the company of Kable and Underwood. In 1809, Ruse moved to the south-west of Sydney, a region around newly settled Bankstown, and then to the Windsor district, where he farmed into the 1820s. By 1828 he was working as well as an overseer at a large farm at Minto. In his advanced years, he joined the Catholic Church, and died a year later in 1837. Even though he had never been a wealthy farmer, his gravestone at Campbell town would show he was aware of his primary place in the Sydney experiment:
Sacred to the memory of james Ruse who departed this life sep 5 in the year of Houre Lord 1837. Natef of Cornwall and arrived in this coleney by the Forst Fleet, aged 77.
My mother reread me tenderly
With me she took much paines
And when I arrived in this coelney I sowd the forst grains
And now with my heavenly father I hope for ever to remain.
Mullens, Irish will-forger, having married Charles Peat, one of the founders of the convict night watch, was by 1802 the owner of a grant of 30 acres and the mother of four children. She would live into the second decade of the nineteenth century. Nellie Kerwin, the woman who ran a house of accommodation and had also forged a sailor's will, quickly married once she arrived in Sydney, but her new husband, Henry Palmer, a thief of fine glass, sent to Norfolk Island, was killed by a falling tree four months later. Kerwin was considered a reliable woman and travelled, perhaps as a servant, on Supply with the crew of wrecked Sirius back to Sydney, living in Parramatta for a time before returning to Norfolk Island. She may have continued her career as a bumboater, a broker, and moneylender for sailors in Sydney and Norfolk Island, even while serving her sentence. Now, with the resources to travel to England, she would have been the rare case of a convict woman returning home to the children she had left behind at transportation. At last she embarked for England via India in October 1793, on a ship named the Sugar Cane.
Olivia Gascoigne, one of the well-behaved convicts whom Phillip sent to Norfolk Island in 1788, married Nathaniel Lucas, a freed convict, or as people began to call such expirees, an emancipist. During a storm on Norfolk Island they suffered “the unspeakable misfortune” of losing their twin daughters when a Norfolk pine tree fell on their house. In 1805 they left the island and returned to Sydney, where Lucas worked as a builder. When Olivia died in October 1820, she left eleven children and her sons were carrying on Nathaniel's business. Lucas himself, after building many government structures, had taken his own life in 1818.
There had been a number of military-convict alliances among the early settlers. Originally sentenced for stealing from a man who had refused to sleep with her, Sara Burdo, one of Lady Penrhyn's midwives, married Private Isaac Archer in 1794, and they later settled at Field of Mars, an area along the Parramatta River put aside for marine land grants. By 1802 they had six children. Sara farmed with her husband and continued to act as a colonial midwife, and by 1828 was living in comfort in Clarence Street, Sydney. She would die in July 1834. Her history is only one of many which raises the tormented question of whether the female convicts of the early fleets were “loose women” or matriarchs. In some cases it would seem that they were both at various stages of their lives. The new penal settlement and its cruelties could destroy some unwillingly landed there, yet, with its peculiar flexibilities, could also allow women of enterprise to find an honourable place for themselves in the new society.
The dismissal of colonial women as “wanton” or as “vile baggages” seems to have derived from the British press, and from clergymen who considered all common-law marriages to involve “a concubine.” Compared to British society, New South Wales countenanced or at least tolerated many marriages which transcended class barriers.
Catherine Heyland, who had escaped burning at the stake for forgery, established herself as an energetic woman on Norfolk Island and was given land in her own name. She lived with John Foley, a First Fleet marine turned farmer, and prospered so adequately that by June 1805, the couple could employ an educated convict, John Grant, to work for them and teach their two boys. The relationship was a strong one, and the family nursed Grant back to health once when he was flogged, and again after he had been exiled for sixteen weeks on a small island off Norfolk. In 1807, the Foleys moved to Van Diemen's Land. Catherine Heyland, once marked for a gruesome death, died peacefully on 18 October 1824, aged seventy-nine years.
The convict lock-wizard Frazier and his wife, Eleanor Redchester, had two sons in New South Wales before Frazier died at Concord on the Parramatta River from the effects of hard drinking in June 1791. Eleanor formed a partnership with William Morgan, a former soldier, and they had six children. But they quarrelled over land and the ownership of certain pigs. She would outlive him and prosper, dying on her land at Concord in November 1840.
The children Captain David Collins had by the convict woman Ann, or Nancy, Yeates were Marianne Letitia, born in November 1790, and three years later, George Reynolds. When the last marine detachment left in the Atlantic, Collins remained as judge-advocate. He left the colony for the first time in the Britannia in 1796. In December 1794 he had been granted 100 acres of land on the south side of Sydney Harbour, and it is believed that he assigned the grant to Ann Yeates. Collins applied to resume active duty in the marines but since there was discrimination against officers who served lengthy periods in staff appointments, he would have lost eight years seniority. He chose ultimately to remain on the inactive list, although he was promoted brevet lieutenant-colonel in January 1798. After the publication of his History of the Settlement of New South Wales, he was chosen as head of a new penal settlement in the Port Phillip or Melbourne area, and was transferred to Van Diemen's Land in 1803.
He died insolvent and suddenly in 1810, leaving his widow, Maria, in England, in straitened circumstances. He had by then formed an association with a sixteen-year-old Norfolk Island–born girl, Margaret Eddington, the daughter of a convict. Eddington bore him two children.
His former mistress, Ann Yeates, and her children had returned to England in the Britannia, but reemigrated to the colony in the Albion in 1799. She married the convict John Grant, who was to work for Catherine Heyland, in November 1800. George Reynolds Yeates entered the navy in 1807 under the name of Collins and rose to the rank of lieutenant.
The case of Private William Dempsey, one of the marines who in October 1791 decided to remain in New South Wales as a settler, is interesting in the light of comments that those who remained were chiefly influenced by attachments to unsatisfactory women convicts. Dempsey had been the victim of an attack by marine Private Joseph Hunt in 1788, in the famous court-martial that split the officer corps. At Norfolk Island, farming sixteen acres at Cascade Stream, Phillipsburg, he was by 1794 selling grain to the public stores, and the same year married a young Lady Julianaconvict, Jane Tyler. She had been seventeen when sentenced to death at the Old Bailey in April 1787 for stealing money from her master, a Gray's Inn Lane victualler, and was one of the seven women who caused a sensation by refusing the King's offer of pardon on condition of transportation for life. “I will never accept of it to go abroad,” she had declared.
In 1807 Jane and Dempsey moved to Van Diemen's Land, which offered more spacious possibilities for land ownership. Though childless, they adopted an Aboriginal girl, Mary Dempsey. William Dempsey would die in 1837, and his wife in 1840.
Mary Haydock, Major Grose's teenage nursemaid, married Thomas Reibey, the former East India Company official, in 1794. The Reibeys became involved in farming on the Hawkesbury River and in the cargo business, coming to specialise in transporting coal from the nascent colonial mines, as well as cedar, furs, and skins. By 1809 the Reibeys' ships were trading to the Pacific islands, China, and India. Thomas Reibey's death in 1811 left canny Mary in sole control of the business and of their seven children. She acquired ships in her own name and enlarged her warehousing and shipping enterprises. In 1820 she was able to travel back to Lancashire on her own ship, the Admiral Cockburn, visiting the scene of her childhood mistake with her daughters Celia and Eliza. She did not retire from business until nearly 1830, and lived off her extensive property holdings in what was by then the city of Sydney, a city many of whose more elegant commercial sites she had herself built. She would die in her house at Newtown in 1855.
James Larra, a convict who reached New South Wales with the Second Fleet on the hungry Scarborough, was a Cockney Jew who began the most famed colonial restaurant serving beef, lamb, and seafood, and located at Parramatta. Larra would live until 1839 and was buried in the Jewish section of Devonshire Street Cemetery, Sydney.
The famous Irish pickpocket George Barrington was conditionally pardoned in 1792, the condition being that he never return to Britain. In 1796, Governor John Hunter made his pardon absolute and appointed him chief constable at Parramatta. He acquired two 30-acre land grants at Parramatta and bought 50 acres on the Hawkesbury. In 1800, an “infirmity” overcame him. People associated it with his heavy drinking and his guilt over misuse of government property, but it proved to be lunacy. He died at Christmastide, 1804. It turned out that hardly any of the countless works written in his name and published in Britain came from his pen. Nor did he ever receive any form of payment for them.
When governor of New South Wales, Captain John Hunter wrote, “Some of the very dregs of those who have been sent here [as] convicts are now in possession of their horses and chaise, servants, and other symbols of wealth.” Entrepreneurial convicts increasingly served and worked with the ever more powerful officer corps: “Not wishing to soil their gentility by too blatant a descent into the marketplace, they [the officers] permitted the retail trade to fall into the hands of ambitious and able (if uneducated) men with no gentility to lose. By doing so they made affluent those who would oust them from their position of privilege.”
One such ambitious and able man was Henry Kable. In 1796, Kable become head constable and gaoler of Sydney Cove, and in 1797 was granted a license to operate an inn in the Rocks area of Sydney. He was also one of a syndicate of twelve which the governor authorised to build a boat for coastal trading. He was dismissed as head constable in 1802 for trying illegally to import pigs from a visiting ship, for he was by then a trader, and he also invested after 1800 in the sealing industry and became a partner with another former convict, James Underwood, in a boat-building business.
Later, these two would form a business association with the most successful of all convict merchants, Simeon Lord, the Manchester cloth-thief who had arrived in Sydney in 1791. Their complicated tradings in whaling, sealing, sandalwood, and wholesale and retail commerce would break down by 1809, and create a welter of litigation which would continue until 1819.
But for Kable, as for Mary Reibey, his land holdings were his ultimate security. He had been granted two farms at Petersham Hill on the Parramatta River and ultimately owned four farms around Sydney, five along the Hawkesbury, and 300 acres west of Sydney in the area known as the Cow Pastures, as well as a house and storehouses in Sydney. In 1811 Kable's house in lower George Street, Sydney, would be advertised for lease in these terms: “Convenient and extensive premises … comprising a commodious dwelling house, with detached kitchen and out-offices, good stable, large granaries, roomy and substantial storehouses, a front retail warehouse, good cellarage and every other convenience suited to a commercial house, the whole in complete repair, and unrivalled in point of situation.”
Henry Kable had used a cross to represent his name on his wedding certificate. His sons were highly literate, and though Henry Kable Jr. would severely injure his right arm during the launch of one of his father's ships in May 1803, it would not blunt his cleverness. In 1822, he was able to address a petition to the governor, Sir Thomas Brisbane, seeking “a grant of land, and the requisite indulgences as allowed to settlers of respectability.” The request was refused, though young Kable asserted that “his aged father [was] some years unfortunately embarrassed in his circumstances, in consequences of unavoidable mercantile losses at sea.”
Later in life, Kable and his wife, Susannah, moved to the area named Windsor on the Nepean River, where Kable ran a store and a brewery. His business interests and his land holdings declined, but they lived comfortably enough and reared ten children. Henry had transferred most of his wealth to his son, Henry Jr., the baby of Norwich gaol, to make it safe against claims from Simeon Lord, and the young man went on to become a successful businessman. Another of Henry and Susannah's sons, James, was murdered by Malay pirates in the Straits of Malacca, piloting one of his father's boats back from China. A third son, John, became a famous boxer in the 1820s. Susannah Kable died in November 1825, but Henry lived on another twenty-one years and died in March 1846. His army of descendants are prominent in Australian society.
Nanbaree, the Eora boy who survived the smallpox epidemic, served as a seaman on HMS Reliance, and in 1803 was for a time with Lieutenant Matthew Flinders, circumnavigator of Australia, on the Investigator. He died aged about forty in July 1821 at Kissing Point, at the home of the convict innkeeper James Squires, and was buried in the same grave as Bennelong.
Pemulwuy, the executioner of the huntsman McEntire, went on opposing white settlement with his son Tedbury, and in 1795 they were blamed for leading raids on farms north of Parramatta. In March 1797, a punitive party of New South Wales Corps troops and freed convicts pursued about a hundred natives to the outskirts of Parramatta, but found themselves in turn “followed by a large body of natives, headed by Pemulwuy, a riotous and troublesome savage.” A number of the soldiers and settlers, turning back, tried to seize Pemulwuy, “who, in a great rage, threatened to spear the first man who dared to approach him, and actually did throw a spear at one of the soldiers.”
The soldiers opened fire. “Pemulwuy, who had received seven buckshot in his head and different parts of his body, was taken ill to the hospital.” He escaped and was seen in his home country near Botany Bay, an iron still fixed to his leg. Collins reported that an Aboriginal mythology had grown up around Pemulwuy. “Both he and they entertained an opinion that, from his having been frequently wounded, he could not be killed by our firearms. Through this fancied security, he was said to be the head of every party that attacked the maize grounds.” Pemulwuy was still at large in November 1801, when Governor King outlawed him, it being believed that he had aligned himself with two escaped convicts, William Knight and Thomas Thrush, in murderous raids upon homesteads. When he was at last hunted down and shot, Governor King sent his head to Sir Joseph Banks for passing on to his German colleague, Professor Blumenbach. Tedbury fought on and, though wounded, seems to have been alive as late as 1810.
Bennelong and Yemmerrawanne had an ambiguous experience in Britain. The Atlantic reached the Thames on 22 May 1793 and the London Packet of 29 May was quick to express an opinion, perhaps common among returning officers and marines, which would condemn Aborigines to a lowly status in law and cultivated British perception. “That instinct which teaches to propagate and preserve the species, they possess in common with the beasts of the field, and seem exactly on a par with them in respect to any further knowledge of, or attachment to kindred. This circumstance has given rise to the well founded conjecture that these people form a lower order of the human race.” Two days after arrival, Bennelong and Yemmerrawanne were presented at court by Phillip, though there are no records in the correspondence of George III on what impact the two natives had upon him during a brief levee. The cold of England dispirited Bennelong, who was unjustly described by some press as “the Cannibal King,” and gave Yemmerrawanne congestive illness. The extent to which Phillip involved himself in their English experience is not known. The two of them were seen, dressed as English gentlemen, gazing into a shop window in St. James's Street. They yearned for New South Wales. Yemmerrawanne would die of pneumonia in Essex in early 1794 and suffer the fate of being buried not in ancestral ground, but in a cemetery at Eltham. Hunter got Bennelong aboard the ship Reliance in August 1794, but it did not sail until early 1795, and Hunter confessed his concerns for Bennelong's health and broken spirit. Surgeon George Bass, in whose honour the as yet uncharted strait between Van Diemen's Land and the mainland would be named, helped treat Bennelong for his chest illness.
When he landed in Sydney in September 1795, Bennelong made a splash and settled down again at his house at Tubowgulle. But his young wife, Karubarabulu, who had taken up with another man in his absence, disdained him. He found himself fully accepted neither by the new administration in Sydney Cove nor by his own people, and in two years had become “so fond of drinking that he lost no opportunity of being intoxicated.” He suffered further serious ritual wounds, perhaps as a result of the violence liquor evoked from him. As late as 1805 he was engaged in combat with Colby over Karubarabulu. By the time he died at Kissing Point on the Parramatta River in 1813, the Sydney Gazette, New South Wales's first newspaper, wrote, “Of this veteran champion of the native tribe little favourable can be said. His voyage to and benevolent treatment in Britain produced no change whatever in his manners and inclinations, which were naturally barbarous and ferocious.” But his name lives on in modern Australia, not least because the Sydney Opera House stands on Tubowgulle, Bennelong Point.
That good friend of Bennelong's Watkin Tench, the genial diarist, would be engaged in the long war against France, spending six months as a prisoner of war, then typically publishing a book, Letters from France, about the experience. Exchanged with a French officer, he served the rest of the war in the Channel fleet, rising to the rank of major-general by the time Napoleon fell. On half-pay for three years, he returned to the active list as commander of the Plymouth Division, retiring as a lieutenant-general in 1821. He and his wife had no children but adopted those of Mrs. Tench's sister. His Narrative of the Expedition to Botany Bay and A Complete Account of the Settlement at Port Jackson were published in 1789 and 1793. One can imagine him during his times ashore as the sort of charming, good-natured, cultivated fellow who would bring the light and warmth of his character to Jane Austen–esque drawing rooms.
Captain Philip Gidley King would be governor of New South Wales from 1800, and thus faced the great problem of the monopolist traffickers in liquor, generally members of the New South Wales or Rum Corps. D'Arcy Wentworth, back from Norfolk Island, had entered that market also. King has been described as being “rather over-excited at the time of the Irish conspiracy in 1804,” and indeed, having received many transported United Irishmen from the rebellion in Ireland of 1798, he treated them with a provocative brutality over a number of years and suppressed their uprising in 1804 with a ferocity of hangings and floggings which will always stand to his shame. Not that he did not pay with his own health, for he returned to England in 1808 very ill, and died soon thereafter. His sons by Ann Innett and his wife and all but one of his four daughters lived to adulthood and many married into colonial families, including the Macarthur family.
Ann Innett herself would marry the emancipist farmer Richard Robertson, supposed horse-thief, and be granted 30 acres of the Northern Boundary farms in 1794. In 1804, as governor, King would grant her an absolute pardon. She later ran a butchery with her husband, continuing to manage it after he left for England, sailing off herself for the near-forgotten homeland in March 1820. If the Reverend Johnson had hoped for a more piety-respecting administration under Major Grose, he was disappointed. “I can't pass over this business,” wrote Grose, “without observing that Mr. Johnson is one of the people called Methodists, [and] is a very troublesome, discontented character.” In 1793 Johnson received 100 acres at Kissing Point on the Parramatta River in return for relinquishing his claim to a glebe, that is, a church-farm. Though he made a reputation as an orchardist, he did not return to England as a wealthy colonist when he left New South Wales in late 1800. A monument was ultimately erected to him in St. Mary Aldermary, London, stating that he was a former rector there and had died in 1827, aged seventy-four years. Mary Johnson lived until 1831.
John and Elizabeth Macarthur, who had travelled in squalid, loud, and smelly cubbyholes to reach New South Wales, would begin to be rewarded for their troubles with grants of land and favours from Major Grose. Macarthur would build a fortune not only out of land and trade but through his development of world-beating Australian fleeces from his merino flocks at the Cow Pastures south-west of Sydney. Litigious and rebellious, he would involve himself in the overthrow of Governor Bligh and would perforce leave the colony for some years to avoid the legal consequences of that rebellion, trusting his affairs to his capable wife. Macarthur would live until 1835 and be survived by Elizabeth, and by sons prominent in early New South Wales politics.
Ralph Clark, having returned to England with considerable joy even though placed on half-pay, was soon back on active service against the French. His beloved Betsy Alicia died in 1794 giving birth to a stillborn child. In the same year his son, a midshipman, was serving with Ralph on a British warship in the West Indies and perished below of yellow fever the same day Ralph Clark himself was shot dead on deck by a French sniper. His only remaining family were the convict Mary Brenham and her daughter, Alicia, christened in Sydney on 16 December 1791.
Major George Johnston, paramour of the Cockney Esther Abrahams, ruthlessly suppressed the uprising of United Irishmen in New South Wales in 1804, and survived the opprobrium of having overthrown Bligh, though he had to face a court-martial in England and be deprived of his rank. In 1814, he regularised his marriage to Esther. He enjoyed great success as a farmer and grazier in New South Wales, and he and his wife are buried together in a family vault designed by the convict architect Francis Greenway.
After his bitter exile on Norfolk Island, D'Arcy Wentworth returned to Sydney in 1796 and would ultimately rise to become principal surgeon of the Civil Medical Department in 1809. He was appointed a justice of the peace and would sit on the Governor's Court. A commissioner of the first turnpike road to Parramatta, he was also treasurer of the police fund, which received three-quarters of colonial revenue. Governor Bligh had him arrested in 1808 for misusing the labour of sick convicts for his private advantage. Wentworth was understandably sympathetic to the rebels, such as Macarthur and Johnston, who overthrew Bligh that year.
He involved himself in victualling and clothing patients in colonial hospitals, and in 1810, in conjunction with two other businessmen, he contracted to build Sydney Hospital for Governor Macquarie in return for a monopoly on the rum trade. Wentworth claimed to have lost money due to the expense of building this two-hundred-person hospital, but his trade in rum and other interests would make him perhaps the richest man in the colony. In 1816 he would help establish the Bank of New South Wales, of which he was the original director and the second largest shareholder. Wentworth's brushes with the Old Bailey, and his alliance with the convict woman Catherine Crowley, tended to somewhat isolate him in his fine house on the road to Parramatta, yet when he emerged for social events he was much beloved by fashionable Sydney. Dying at his estate, Homebush, in 1827, he was described in the Sydney Monitor as “a lover of freedom; a consistent steady friend of the people; a kind and liberal master; a just and humane magistrate; a steady friend and an honest man.” His son with the turned-in eye would ride his father's horses to victory in the races at Hyde Park—a barracks square near the source of the Tank Stream—and would be, with two other settlers, the first of the Britons to cross the Blue Mountains and see the illimitable inner plain. As a colonial statesman, William Charles Wentworth saw Australia not as a potential American-style republic, as some of his contemporaries did, but “a new Britannia in another world.” A Tory to the extent many New South Wales democrats would mock, he was a leader in achieving constitutional government in New South Wales.
AS FOR NEW SOUTH WALES itself, in his 1814 Voyage to Terra Australis, the navigator Lieutenant Matthew Flinders, dying of consumption, wrote, “Had I permitted myself any innovation upon the original term Terra Australis, it would have been to convert it into Australia.” This latter name crept into use. The children of convicts and settlers found it easier to say they were Australians rather than New South Welshmen. William Charles Wentworth son of D'Arcy Wentworth and Catherine Crowley, advocated the use of the name “Australia” in his Statistical Account of the colony, and another early settlement child, Phillip Parker King of the Royal Navy, son of Philip Gidley King, used the term in his maps which the Admiralty published the same year, 1826.
A confusing range of opinions would be uttered in Britain and in New South Wales about the children of Australia, the issue of the first free or convict settlers. It was assumed by many that they would be criminal spawn, abandoned by their “unnatural parents” or raised amidst scenes of criminal activity and daily debauchery. In fact the colonial experience and later research shows that they emerged “as a remarkably honest, sober, industrious and law-abiding group of men and women.” By comparison with British society, the family life of early New South Wales children would be stable and sturdy. In New South Wales the child labour, hunger, and vicious treatment which characterised the factories of Great Britain were missing, and although convict families sometimes lacked funds, they sought to apprentice their children to stay their hands from the youthful follies that had seen their parents transported in the first place. “The family links among these skilled workers,” writes one expert, “were strengthened by the marriage of sons and daughters of men who had been convicted together in Britain, or had arrived on the same ships, had served in the Royal Marines or New South Wales Corps, or who had worked at similar or allied trades in Sydney or Parramatta.” Former convicts actively sought apprenticeships for their sons, often with government concerns in the Sydney dockyards and lumber yards. Firms such as Kable and Underwood, and Simeon Lord's enterprises, also trained colonial youths in a range of crafts. “Apprenticeship in the colony, therefore, had none of the connotations of exploited child labour.”
The native-born New South Welsh folk of that first generation, also known as Currency children or cornstalks, would be the first Europeans to escape the limits of the Sydney basin, the Cumberland Plain, and begin to occupy land north and south of Sydney and west of the Blue Mountains. All the interracial incomprehensions and savageries would be played out again, as Australian wealth abounded, and the law, the King James Bible, the songs and plaints of Britain and Ireland reached corners of deepest wilderness beyond the wildest imaginings of their creators.
AS FOR OPPONENTS OF THE Sydney experiment, Jeremy Bentham was to prove tenacious. Throughout the 1790s, he sought information on how much per head “the Botany Bay scheme” was costing. He had some success lobbying for the adoption of his panoption prison plan, and would continue to collect information about the ineffectuality of penal colonies. Throughout his career he decried transportation as a poor punishment because it was so uncertain, since no one knew beforehand how much or how little pain was going to be inflicted by the experience on the offender. Death might in practice be occasioned by scurvy or drowning, while for another convict, transportation might be a favour. When criminals had been sent to America, Bentham argued, they entered an established society with its civic and moral virtues. In New South Wales, they were the society. There were not enough people to supervise them, or to impose order and discipline from above. Pointing to Collins's journal, Bentham argued that it did not give evidence of the reformation of humans by transportation to New South Wales.
Bentham was given enough ammunition to persuade Prime Minister Pitt to inspect a model of the panopticon, and Cabinet authorised him to proceed with the work. But the project met savage opposition from citizens and business interests in every neighbourhood in which Bentham proposed to build it. New South Wales won for the time being. It was too distant to infringe on the amenity of any British district except its own.
Bentham himself was eventually told by the Home Office that New South Wales was successful enough to relieve the kingdom of any need for his panopticon, and this caused him in 1802 to publish an impassioned tract, Panopticon Versus New South Wales. For the next thirty years, a number of parliamentarians would attack transportation using Bentham's arguments. Bentham also found a disciple in the charming evangelical activist William Wilberforce, who would oppose transportation on philosophic grounds—for one thing, its kinship with slavery. It did have such a kinship, and native Australian patriots and liberals would be the ones who, ultimately, put an end to it. But only a few of the felons of our story would live to see that day.
ARTHUR PHILLIP'S ESTRANGED WIFE, Margaret, had died by the time he returned to Britain, but in her will she had released him from all obligations he had acquired during their relationship, so that he did not need to repay debts on the New Forest estate. As he defended and explained his administration to officials in Whitehall, spoke to Lord Hawkesbury at the Board of Trade, and to Sir Joseph Banks, he became by July “convinced by those I have consulted that the complaint I labour under may in time require assistance which cannot be found in a distant part of the world.” So he asked the Secretary of State and the King for permission to resign his governorship permanently. By October, his resignation had been accepted and he was back on half-pay. But early the next year, he received a spacious pension of £500 per year in honour of his New South Wales service. Phillip now had adequate resources to take a residence in Bath, consult specialists, and begin to take the Bath waters.
His health improved and he offered himself to the service again. He began to visit and then married Isabella Whitehead, the forty-five-year-old daughter of a wealthy northern cotton- and linen-weaving merchant. Though Phillip had shown a tendency to “marry up,” his relationship with Isabella was a happy one, possibly not blurred by excessive passion or sexual appetite. Passion seemed reserved still for possible government appointments, and for glory as an administrator or a warrior. He was still bedevilled by a sense that he lacked connections, important friends who felt that he must be advanced.
Under Major Grose, he learned to his distaste, liquor had been used as a vehicle of exchange by powerful interests in the New South Wales Corps at Sydney and Parramatta, and the ewes and goats, crops, and even land of some of his emancipated convict farmers were sold in return for spirits. In 1796 he complained to Banks that news from New South Wales was that individuals, including officers of the corps, were making fortunes at the expense of the Crown.
In 1799 Philip Gidley King was appointed to take over governorship of the colony, and Phillip advised his friend that he should expel those officers and officials “who had been the principal means of ruining the colony.” Serving officers should not be granted land, and the Irish convicts should be separated from the rest, lest they infect the whole at this time of rebellion in Ireland.
Phillip continued to suffer galling reminders that he was just another competent captain. In February 1796, he went down by coach along the rutted, icy highways from London to Portsmouth to take command of the Atlas, but found that by a bureaucratic mix-up the command had been given to someone else. The following month, however, he was appointed captain of the Alexander and later in the year of the Swiftshore, a seventy-four- gun battleship. In 1797, a number of naval mutinies broke out, one at Spithead, one at the Nore, the work of men engorged by American and French revolutionary ideas. As Admiral Collingwood complained, the problem was the work of sailors who discussed constitutional issues and belonged to “corresponding societies,” organisations which passed on revolutionary material to each other.
Phillip dealt with any mutinous infection aboard the Swiftshore as he had dealt with New South Wales—with decision, adaptability, the weight of law, and dispassion—and Lord St. Vincent of the Admiralty declared the Swiftshore “in the most excellent order and fit for any service.” The Swiftshore helped Nelson blockade Cádiz, but then Phillip was sent north to guard against an imminent Spanish-French invasion which did not develop. Soon Phillip was ashore again, once more the replaceable element.
Later in the year, he was sent to take over the Blenheim, a ninety-gunner, a ship seen by the Admiralty as being in spiritual and physical dis-repair, with many of its crew ill and given to revolution. At the age of nearly sixty, though seemingly well-recovered from the renal problems which had plagued him in New South Wales, he was brought ashore and in 1797 made Commander of the Hampshire Sea Fencibles, a home-defence unit raised to man the Martello towers along the coast of England and to resist a French invasion. Next he was put to work inspecting the ships and hospitals where French and Spanish prisoners of war were confined. By force of seniority, he rose to be Rear Admiral of the Blue in January 1799. As a brief peace was arrived at in 1802, he was employed as an inspector into the Impress Service, the process by which men were coerced into the Royal Navy. He made no remarks in his report about the justice of such procedures, but he did suggest a central register of exemptions to save individuals in essential community services from the infamous gangs, and various methods to end corruption, the paying of bribes, and so on.
In 1803, when the war began again, he became Inspector of the Sea Fencibles throughout the entire nation. He recommended that single men should not be free from impressment at this dangerous time, and that the Sea Fencibles be reduced to allow men to be freed for naval service. He travelled the coastal roads of England, Wales, and Scotland, an aging man who had not yet had his due from destiny and who was acutely aware of that fact.
He therefore asked Nepean to convey to the Lord Commissioners “that in case an enemy should attempt to land on that part of the coast where I may be . . . their Lordships are pleased to authorise me to take the command of such armed vessels, gunboats and Sea Fencibles as may be there for the defence of the coast.” Thus he cherished the daydream that his flag might be hoisted on an armed vessel or atop a tower standing between the French and the British heartland, and that his name might become a byword for grit, endurance, and good organisation. Nepean, however, chastised him for the idea: “Applications upon subjects unconnected with the duty on which he is employed ought not to be received or transmitted by him.”
He was retired in the middle of the wars against Napoleon. Able to settle down again in Bath at 19 Bennett Street, in February 1808 he suffered a stroke, recovered, suffered another, and was now, at last, untroubled by ambition. Old New South Wales hands such as Philip Gidley King, Henry Waterhouse, and John Hunter, back from his governorship of New South Wales, came to visit him. He lived another six years, partially paralysed, and was felled by a final stroke and buried in the churchyard of St. Nicholas at Bathampton on 7 September 1814.
He makes a dissatisfied ghost. But as already noted, it is in New South Wales and the ultimate Australia that his spirit is most visible, pragmatic yet thorough, caught between sparks of both authority and compassion, a bleak white icon who conducted the Sydney experiment and made it a success for the likes of Henry Kable, and a catastrophe for Bennelong and his kind.