HISTORY OF AUSTRALIA DAY
For my friends Down Under.
Did you know that the history of European Australia is tied to the American Revolutionary War?
Back when America was part of the British Commonwealth it was convenient for England to transport its convicts to the Colonies. Indeed, it was considered more humane to “transport” prisoners than to execute them, and there were getting to be so many convicts.
Following the 1730s, the population began to increase, and concurrently with the rise of the Industrial Revolution crime was becoming a greater problem in England. What to do with all the prisoners? Even the debtor prisons were swelling. America seemed like a likely landing place. In 1732, a royal charter was granted to a group of philanthropists — interested in helping the “worthy poor” — namely the Trustees of the Province of Georgia.
But the goal of settling Georgia as a repository for convicts was never fully realized, despite recent claims to the contrary. A number of disagreements and altercations between the American Colonies and the British Crown — which we don’t have time to go into here — resulted in the American War of Independence from Britain which you have no doubt read about. It was in all the papers.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the planet British Captain James Cook (not Kirk, not Hook) arrived in Australia in 1770 claiming it for the British Empire, and sailing down the coast arrived at what is now called Sydney. One part of the area was lush with various flora and fauna and caused Captain Cook to later write in his journal that he named it Botany Bay.
Up until this time about 60,000 convicts had been transported to America, but the aforementioned American Revolutionary War in the 1770s and ’80s put an end to this destination for prisoners and the British government needed an alternative. Australia was it. On May 13, 1787 the First Fleet was assembled in Portsmouth, England and sailed to Botany Bay, arriving on January 20, 1788. They established the first European colony in Australia on January 26, 1788. Over the next 80 years more than 165,000 convicts were transported to Australia. One may like to think that these Australians might otherwise have become Americans.
Since 1988, the 200th anniversary of the landing of the First Fleet, national participation in Australia Day has increased and in 1994 all Australian States and Territories began to celebrate a unified public holiday on that day for the first time.
It should be noted that SS Botany Bay is the name of the sleeper ship in the original Star Trek episode “Space Seed.” Khan Noonien Singh, played by Ricardo Montalban, is encountered — along with his fellow eugenically enhanced would-be world conquerors — by Captain James Kirk of the USS Enterprise in the first season episode, and then again in the movie “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.”
So on this historic Australia Day, take an Aussie to lunch since Americans have so much in common with them culturally… and talk about Star Trek.
Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian, mate