Dutch navigator Willem Jansz aboard the Duyfken was the first European to land in Australia in 1606. He charted much of the Gulf of Carpentaria. In 1616, another Dutch captain Dirk Hartog landed on the west coast of Australia near Shark Bay.


William Dampier, an English buccaneer sailing the Cygnet landed on the northwest coast of Australia in 1688 and spent three months there near King Sound in Western Australia. He wrote a book about this voyage and it drew so much interest, he was sent back in 1699 to explore more of the western coastline.

Lieutenant Zachary Hicks on the HMS Endeavour sighted Australia on April 20, 1770. Later that year Captain James Cook charted the east coast of Australia landing in Botany Bay. In August he proclaimed all of eastern Australia a British possession and named it New South Wales.

English Prisons

By the 17th century, English prisons were overflowing with prisoners as many were incarcerated for debt which proved to be senseless considering the prisoners had to pay for board and lodging which prolonged their stay. Most were convicted and sentenced to death, with the sentence commuted to transportation for life. Accordingly, Virginia was the first choice and it is estimated that some 50,000 British convicts were sent to colonial America in the early years. After the War of Independence, England had to look elsewhere to ship their prisoners. In 1786 the British government decided to make Botany Bay a penal colony.

The Fleets

On May 13th 1787, the First Fleet set sail from Portsmouth under the command of Arthur Phillip. Thus began the colonization of Australia by convicts. This fleet was quickly followed by the Second Fleet and a Third Fleet

New South Wales

Founded in 1788, New South Wales (NSW) was the first penal colony. Discovered by Captain James Cook during his voyage along the east coast of Australia in 1770, he first named it New Wales, then later New South Wales. Captain Arthur Phillip led the First Fleet landings in mid January 1788 and assumed the role of governor of the settlement. At one time, the New South Wales colony comprised the Australian mainland, Van Diemen's Land, Lord Howe Island and Norfolk Island.

Van Diemen's Land

Dutch explorer Abel Tasman commanding the Heemskerk and Zeehan named Van Dieman's Land after the then governor general of the Dutch East Indies in 1642. British settlement began in 1803 when it was founded as a penal colony. From its founding to the 1853 abolition of penal transportation (known simply as "transportation"), Van Diemen's Land was the primary penal colony in Australia. Over 75,000 convicts were transported there, or about 40% of all convicts sent to Australia. Convicts who completed their sentences often settled in the new free colony of Victoria to the dismay of the already established free settlers. Complaints from Victorians led to the eventual abolition of transportation to Van Diemen's Land in 1853. It was officially renamed Tasmania in honour the discoverer in 1856.

Port Arthur

Port Arthur was named after George Arthur, the Lieutenant Governor of Van Diemen's Land. The settlement started as a timber station in 1830, but by 1833 it was the destination for the hardest of convicted British criminals. Virtually an island with shark-infested waters around, the peninsula is a naturally secure site with a 30m wide isthmus of Eaglehawk Neck as the only connection to the mainland which was fenced and guarded by soldiers and dogs. Essentially an inescapable prison, much like the later Alcatraz Island, it was abandoned as a prison in 1877 and is today Tasmania's top tourist attraction with over 250,000 visitors each year.

Welsh Immigrants

" Australia was not a place of choice but as a result of the convict expulsion in the late 1700's. 'By 1852, a total of about 1,800 of the convicts in Australia had been tried in Wales - about 1.2% of the total number of convicts transported to Australia by that time. Of these, only around 300 were women.' " [1]

Irish Immigrants

Irish emigration to Australia was for very different reasons that the two aforementioned countries. Yes, the Potato Famine had a drastic impact on the way of life in Ireland but add the English religious persecution to the mix and the Irish who emigrated were not convicts but men and women of means.

"These men were highly educated and highly ambitious individuals who travelled half way around the world to make their fortunes." [2]

Scottish Immigrants

Scots were like the Irish, they were not forced to emigrate to Australia but chose to do so on their own free will.

"Movement to the antiopodes accounted for only 30 per sent of the Scottish emigration between 1853 and 1880, although in five years during the Victorian gold rush and the American Civil War, the majority chose Australia or NZ. The Scots who peopled Australia have generally been depicted as an elite among nineteenth-century immigrants, whose superior access to capital allowed them to travel in family groups, often without government subsidies." [3]

See Also


  1. ^
  2. ^ Ronayne, Jarlath The Irish in Australia, Rogues and Reformers, First Fleet to Federation. Australia: The Penguin Group (2002) ISBN 0 670 04105 X pp8
  3. ^ Davison Graeme (ed.) et al, The Oxford Companion to Australian History. Australia: Oxford University Press (1998) ISBN 0 19 551503 X pp579
  4. ^ Swyrich, Archive materials
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