Surviving: way of life for British settlers
It was a struggle for the settlers to survive in the first years of the British colony in Australia. They had come from a developed country with buildings, roads, shops and hospitals and arrived in a country that was entirely unfamiliar to them. Not only did they have to contend with strange plants and animals but the soil was also very poor and the climate much warmer and drier. The early settlers were also wary of the Indigenous peoples. The colony almost failed in the early years, as the harvests failed, but gradually the colony began to expand.
The life of a convict was very harsh. Many of the convicts sent to New South Wales were serving a 7 or 14 year sentence for crimes such as robbery. They were forced to work 10 hours each day, from sunrise to sunset. They were sometimes tied in chains and were fed meagre rations. As punishment they were flogged, and perhaps confined to dark cells. Some convicts worked for the governor, while others worked for freed convicts and free settlers. The male convicts built roads, bridges, buildings, and cultivated crops while the female convicts often wove wool or washed laundry. Refer Image 1
Convicts gained their freedom after they had completed their sentence. Sometimes they were granted pardons if they were well behaved. These convicts became known as emancipists. Most ex-convicts and emancipists were allowed to go home, but had to pay their own fare. If they stayed in Australia they were often given grants of land in the hope that they would grow their own food and stop relying on the government. Many emancipists provided a valuable contribution to the growth and expansion of the colony in New South Wales.
The New South Wales Corps
After the convicts, the military were the second largest group of British settlers in the colony. The New South Wales Corps was a British army unit established in 1789 to serve the colony. They played a very influential role in colonial life. They supervised convicts and patrolled the frontiers of settlements to repel attacks from the Indigenous peoples. Refer Image 2
After Governor Phillip left in 1792, the New South Wales Corps took over control of the colony. The soldiers' way of life changed too, often for the better. The commander of the Corps increased the men's rations, and gave them land; they started trading goods, in particular rum. They were very powerful until Governor Bligh took over in 1806, and then Governor Macquarie in 1810.
Governor Lachlan Macquarie
Under Governor Macquarie, the way of life in Sydney changed for all British settlers. Macquarie, with the help of convict labour and his army regiment (73rd Regiment), transformed Sydney into a city with many fine buildings. He developed a programme of road construction and encouraged exploration. He also made it compulsory for convicts to go to church and tried to turn the Aboriginal people into settled farmers. Under Macquarie, it became much easier for the British to survive, particularly in Sydney.
In the early years of the colony, very few settlers came to Australia. Free settlers had to fund their own transport and were usually quite wealthy. The few who made the journey to Australia did so mostly to make their fortune. They were often given large land grants and convicts to work for them. Some free settlers were not farmers, but doctors and military officers looking for a better way of life in Australia.
Even with land grants and convict labour, the life of a free settler was often very harsh. Farmers and pastoralists in particular had to endure droughts and floods, as well as resistance from the Indigenous peoples. Their shelters were often very basic to begin with and food was scarce until the crops could be harvested. Few farms succeeded in the early years of the colony. It was not until the 1820s and 1830s, when New South Wales was settled further inland, that farmers began to flourish. The following chapter looks at the expansion into inland Australia. Refer Image 3