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The Irish and Australia

The Irish and Australia
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Sometimes, in wandering among the tombstones of an old English country churchyard on the south coast overlooking the English Channel, one comes across the headstone of a Royal Naval veteran who sailed the South Seas with Captain Cook, who discovered Australia. It is worth remembering that the voyages of Captain Cook were contemporary with the War of American Independence -- King George, and his equally incompetent ministers, such as Lord George Germain, the Secretary of War, contributed greatly to the loss of the American Colonies, which had become a dumping ground over the years for British convicts until 1776. Cook discovered New South Wales in 1770, finding a continent occupied by a small native population of aborigines, which even today numbers only 200, 000. It was conveniently ripe for white settlement, and, in 1783, the British Secretary of State decided to switch the transpoortation of convicts from America to New South Wales. The first convict expedition, 750 in number, set sail for Australia in 1787, under the command of Captain Phillip of the Royal Navy, who was to act as the first Governor. In January, 1788, the marines guarding the prisoners became the first free settlers in Botany Bay. This site was then abandoned in favor of Port Jackson, and in honor of Lord Sydney, the British Home Secretary, the new settlement of Sydney was named, and set up as a military state.

By 1790 Europe was in the turmoil of the French Revolution, and in 1798 Ireland had risen in one of its periodic revolts, which was viciohusly put down by the redcoats, assisted by Hessian mercenaries. Broadly speaking, the Ireland of those days could be seen as an English garrison, run from Dublin Castle. The peasantry of Ireland was at the mercy of a largely debauched, drunken and dissolute landlord class which had the power to be judge, jury and executioner -- or transporter -- of any of its tenants, be they political thinkers or anyone who stepped out of line in any way. The allpowerful magistrate class sentenced hundreds of people -- men and women -- without trial to transportation in convict ships to Botany Bay. They were often sentenced for life, their "crimes" unnamed, and seldom, if ever, written down.

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