Origins of the Colonization of the Botany Bay, New South Wales
The first settlement established in the Australian soil was the Botany Bay, New South Wales. The eminent reason of making a settlement as explained by the then British government was to transport the prisoners detained in the overcrowded gaols and prison hulks of the country. But on the contrary many historians have argued that there were some other greater imperial reasons and motives behind the establishment of a colony in such a far away country. Professor F.G. Clarke is one of those historians who have argued that the greater imperial and military reasons were the primary motives of establishing a colony there. This paper will discuss the credibility of this argument on the bases of the evidences available regarding the British government of that time.
The foundation of Clarke’s argument is based on the attempts of several European powers before James Cook to discover Australia and use it as a key strategic and trading center. In his book Clarke has argued that most European nations since the 17th Century have been striving to find the “Terra Australis Incongnita” or the unknown southern land. The Dutch were the first to touch the shores of the continent but they deem it barren and incapable of being advantageous of their mercantile ambitions. He further asserted that it was the loss of the American colonies and the Western part of the empire, which forced the British authorities to look towards the east and establish a base camp there. The increasing threat of the Spanish and the French in the Pacific and the Atlantic oceans and the control of all the major sea routes leading to the Indian Empire was also a major concern behind this decision. Moreover the increasing vulnerability of the British navy due to its dependence on the Russian timber and flax also forced the British to find other resources, so Botany Bay was considered a place where both these commodities could be produced efficiently.
But when these claims are viewed in the context of the historic evidences available and the fact that most of the earlier historians believed on the convict colony theory and that the imperial motive theory has been a recent one to justify this so called ludicrous step taken by the Pitt government, they does not seem that convincing. Most historians have clearly pointed out with the references of several documents and correspondences undertaken by those who advocated the idea of colonizing Botany Bay and the response of the government official that; it was the proposers like Joseph Banks and James Matra, who actually portrayed the picture of strategic and commercial benefits of the colonization. On the contrary the government officials ignored these proposals because it was only interested in getting rid of the convicts emptying its overcrowded hulks and gaols.
The social scenario of England at that time also provides evidence that it was the outcry and outrage of the common Briton, which forced the government to take such decision. The crime rate rose sharply during that time primarily due to the disappearance of the rural jobs due to industrialization and the migration of the peasants to the slums where they were unable to get decent jobs and it became impossible for them to survive or support there families. Poverty had left many parents in a miserable situation where they have nothing to feed and educate their children they soon were caught by the gangs of thieves and burglars operating in the cities. Rise in crime rate was also related with the population explosion of the 18th and 19th centuries. The rate of wages has fallen sharply and the laborers were left stranded and empty handed.
All factors resulted in the increase in crime rate, which consequently filled up all the hulks, and gaols in the country. Soon the stories of the horrible conditions in the gaols and hulks started to spread and the people were shocked and outraged with it. The pressure started to mount the Pitt government to take immediate action and the government soon found itself to resurrect the transportation policy because it was not only a method of punishment but also has economical benifits. But this time it was not possible to send the convicts to the north American colonies as they were lost while Canada and West Indies have refused to accept these convicts on there on reasons and grounds. The government initially tried to establish a colony in the western African coastline like Gambia or Das Voltas Bay but all the proposals were rejected by the authorities because of high mortality rate of the whites in tropical regions. The government has no intention to send them to die there. Finally when all the possible sites were rejected the Pitt administration reluctantly decided to send the convicts to Botany Bay.
The post colonization behavior of the home government regarding the newly formed colony and its reluctance to provide material and monetary assistance clearly depicts that there was no strategic or economic interest of the British government in New South Wales and surrounding regions. Ironically it took more than a couple of years after the arrival of the first fleet at the Botany Bay for any material aid to arrive from England. Despite multiple requests of the first Governor Phillip the home government did not sent free settlers neither important commodities regarding agriculture and farming. The home government has been found repeatedly reprimanding the governors to control their expenditures and try to make the colony as much economical as possible.
This peculiar behavior of a world power regarding to the colony, which according to Professor Clarke was an important strategic naval base in the future, wars with Holland and France clearly depicts the real motive behind these actions. So one can easily conclude that the single and only motive of the Pitt administration behind colonizing Botany Bay was to get rid of the convict and release mounting local pressure.
1. Clarke, F.G. “Earliest Times-1805” in Australia; A Concise
Political And Social History, Oxford University Press:
2. Clark, C.M.H. “From the Earliest Times to the Age of Macquarie” in A History of Australia, Melbourne University Press, 1971: 59-72.
3.Frost, Alan “Illusions of Australia’s Convict Beginnings” in Botany Bay Mirages. Melbourne University Press: 98-109
4. Shaw, A.G.L. Convicts and Colonies, Melbourne University
5. Mackay, David, “Far-Flung Empire: Neglected Imperial Outpost at Botany Bay1788-1801, The Journal of Imperial and Common Wealth History, 1981: 125-145.
6. O’Brien, Eris, The Foundation of Australia. London: Sheed &
Ward, 1937: 159-191
7. Blainey, Geoffrey. Tyranny of Distance: How Distance Shaped Australia’s History.
 F.G. Clarke, “Earliest Times” in Australia; A Concise Political And Social History (Oxford University Press),14-15.
 Clarke, 22
 Clarke, 25
 Clarke, 23
 C.M.H. Clark, “From the Earliest Times to the Age of Macquarie” in A History of Australia (Melbourne University Press, 1971), 61-64 & 69.
 Eris O’Brien, The Foundation of Australia (London: Sheed & Ward, 1937), 162
 Clark, 61
 A.G.L. Shaw, Convicts and Colonies, (Melbourne University Press), 160
 Alan Frost, “Illusions of Australia’s Convict Beginnings” in Botany Bay Mirages (Melbourne University Press), 101
 Geoffrey Blainey, The Tyranny of Distance: How Distance Shaped Australia’s History.
 Frost, 106
 David Mackay, “Far-Flung Empire: A Neglected Imperial Outpost At Botany Bay1788-1801” The Journal Of Imperial and Commonwealth History (Frank Cass & Co. LTD. 1981), 129
 Mackay, 130