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Digital Subscriptions > History Revealed > January 2017 > The Birth of Australia

The Birth of Australia

When Captain Arthur Phillip set off with shipfuls of convicts to colonise the ‘southern unknown land’, he could never have imagined the challenges they would face, tells John Wright

BANISHED TO AUSTRALIA THE FATEFUL FIRST YEARS

CASE STUDY 1

CHILD FIGHTS OFF BURGLARS

Derby man Thomas Higgins stole a horse in 1788. His Londoner girlfriend Eleanor McDonald stole four linen sheets from James Butterfield, vintner, where she was a servant in Great Shire Lane and was arrested trying to pawn them while drunk, telling the judge, “I do not know what to say.” A Second Fleeter, she was similarly stuck for words on 8 September 1806, when four men broke into their house (30-acre farm near Sydney) and seized 30 shillings in copper coins. Her husband put up a “vigorous resistance,” reported the Sydney Gazette, “60 years of age, assisted by a boy seven years old [their son, Thomas]”. “Two stepdaughters escaped through a window and raised the alarm, forcing the robbers to flee… Higgins was granted a further 100 acres in his son’s name.” The boy later became Hornsby’s first settler (16 miles north-west of Sydney), pioneering timber and fruit industries. Today, a monument stands for him.

TERRA INCOGNITA Having only been ‘discovered’ by Captain Cook less than 20 years earlier, the white settlers had no idea how the indigenous people would react to their arrival

CASE STUDY 2

SLIPPERY CUSTOMER

Norfolk thieves Henry Kable and Susannah Holmes arrived in the First Fleet. Twenty pounds entrusted to Rev Richard Johnson, who was to give it to them on arrival, went missing on the voyage. The first lawsuit heard in New South Wales, Kable astonishingly (convicts weren’t allowed to sue) won damages of £15 against navigator Duncan Sinclair of the Alexander who had stolen it. In Sydney they married; Governor Phillip made him a convict overseer, then constable, then night-watchman. Within a decade he owned the Ramping Horse pub, ran Australia’s first stagecoach, was made chief constable, then sacked in 1802 for illegally importing pigs from a visiting ship, afterwards becoming a wealthy ship owner, exporting sealskins to the colony. In 1807, Kable was jailed for a month and was rich enough to pay a £100 fine (£7,300 today) after sending Governor Bligh (of Mutiny on the Bounty fame) a letter “couched in improper terms.”

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The January 2017 issue of History Revealed.
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