Activities: A I
I C I D
Contact - The Aboriginal Inhabitants and British Settlers in
It is interesting when you discover for yourself from the
original surviving documents, the real story of what happened when the
British decided to build a prison colony in Aboriginal Australia.
A) "...the most suitable place ... was
Botany Bay. The natives would provide little opposition, and the convicts ... could
succeed in defending themselves."
1779, a committee of the British
House of Commons investigating Australia as a possible settlement.
They used Sir Joseph Banks' report .(Banks was the botanist on Captain
Cook's ship during the voyage in 1770, when Cook discovered the fertile
east coast of Australia.)
of the agricultural and industrial revolution in Britain was the movement
of people from the countryside to the towns and cities. With social
problems such as drunkenness, unemployment and the overcrowded conditions,
there was an upsurge in the crime rates. The prisons in Britain were very
overcrowded. There was also a large increase in the general population.
Britain could no longer send their convicts to the British colonies in
America, following the American was of Independence, so a new place had to
be found to establish a penal colony. See
this trail of events in this selection of old images.
B) Banks' report also allowed
the British to consider Botany Bay (in present day Sydney) becoming "a
base for whaling ships, ... and also British ships
engaged in piracy against Spanish trade [enemies of Britain at the
C) "International law recognised ...
occupation of territory that was terra nullius [vacant land] as [one] of the effective ways
of acquiring sovereignty [ownership of land]...The great voyages of European discovery
[eg Capt Cook] opened to European nations the prospect of occupying new and valuable
territories ... [other] various justifications were advanced - [to extend] the benefits of
Christianity; and new territories could be claimed by occupation if
the land were uncultivated, (for Europeans had a right to bring lands into
production if they were left uncultivated by the indigenous inhabitants)."
1993 High Court of Australia High
Court Decision on Mabo 1992
International law at the time, the land was 'terra nullius' (vacant
unoccupied land). This is because the local aboriginal indigenous
inhabitants, did not grow crops or have permanent houses or settlements.
They also did not appear to have any recognised system of authority or any
written laws. The aboriginal tribes did though have an ordered system of
authority with effective laws, and codes of conduct in their society.
These were however not evident to the British, as they were based on
customs and were passed on to their young by word of mouth, through song
and dance and stories from their mythology (called the
aboriginal inhabitants also did not grow crops or domesticate animals
because there were no seed or root crops on the Australian continent. Nor
were there any animals that could be domesticated for food. There were
Kangaroos, but trying to keep them behind fences.....! But the aboriginal
people had been using the land for thousands of years and did have a healthy diet.
They did not build permanent houses because they were nomadic and wandered
over the land, over established seasonal patterns of migration. This
provided them with naturally occurring 'bush tucker' foods and small game.
the International laws at the time (using the idea of terra nullius) , the arrival of the Europeans in
Australia was seen as legal, just and peaceful. This idea was promoted by
white settlers. Documents however, reveal some clues as to the real
D) "... nor have I the least doubt of
the convicts being the aggressor ... [referring to continuing violence between white and
Governor Philip, 9th July,
1788 (Governor Philip was in charge of the
early settlement, established after the First Fleet of British ships
arrived on the east coast of Australia.)
E) "... the settlers were unable with
safety to carry on their necessary avocations [jobs] without firearms under daily
apprehension [fear] of ... being destroyed by the Natives."
Executive Council, Van Diemans
Land, 1828 (Tasmania)
F) "Serious trouble arose over
Aboriginal attacks on sheep. The white man, having driven off the native
game, could not understand that the Aborigines thus deprived of food would
then attack his sheep. To the white man, this meant that the Aborigine
must be punished, taught a lesson, and deterred from similar actions in
Mainstreams in Australian History,
G) "A party of overlanders was killed
... in 1838, and the punishment was left in the hands of the settlers
themselves. In the same year, a band of assigned station hands murdered 28
Aborigines camped near the Myall Creek station on the pretext of
preventing further murders..."
Mainstreams in Australian History,
A. From the
documents, and information above, answer these three
(Try and quote from the documents to support your
answers. Just quote two or three words at a time, and blend these words
into your own sentences.
For example: ...It was noted in
the 1779 British Government Report, that if a colony was established in
Australia, it could serve as a base for British ships "engaged in piracy
against the Spanish trade." )
1 - Explain the reasons why the
Europeans came to Australia?
2 - Why should the idea of Terra Nullius not
have been used in connection with Australia, when the First Fleet of
British soldiers and settlers arrived?
3 - What evidence do we have that the
Aborigines wanted to defend their land?
B. Read the
documents found on this web page and then do the
Make up an old fashioned newspaper front page, one that looks like
it is from the late 1700s or early 1800s. Write two or three
newspaper stories for this edition that report clashes between the white
settlers or soldiers and the local native inhabitants. (Aborigines)
Use a program like Microsoft Word, FrontPage, PowerPoint or
Publisher to make the newspaper look authentic. When complete, paste the
news sheet/paper in your book. Try typing 'historicpages' in Google to
find some sites that display old newspapers, so you can see the
appropriate layout, banners, historic graphics etc.
will be writing from the point of view of a person with the attitudes
common in the society at the time. Mention as well in your main article,
(make it the newspaper's editorial,) the current English laws about land
ownership in new colonies with regards to the indigenous