Choose one of the following questions for your Essay Plan assignment, which you will then write up as the Major Essay.
1. Describe early contact between Indigenous Australians and colonists in one region (which could include Newcastle and the Hunter Region). What occurred? How does the nature of this first contact, violent or otherwise, compare with other first contact
encounters documented by historians?
2. On what basis did the British crown take possession of Australia? Was (is) the British claim to Australia valid? Which groups could have contested the British claim and why?
When the very first European mariners had sailed through the Australian waters, they have observed the land as ‘Terra Australis Incognita’ or the unknown land in South. Between the years 1606 and 1770, approximately fifty four European ships had reached the land from various nations in Europe. However, in 1770, when Lieutenant James Cook reach the east coast of Australia with his ship HM Barque Endeavour, he had claimed the land under the strict instruction of King George III of England and possessed the land (Cook, 1955). The east coast of Australia or the Eastern Australia was named the ‘New South Wales’. However, later in 1788, eleven British ships anchored on Eastern Australia at the Sydney Cove under command of Captain Arthur Phillip, who was the first Governor of the land and raised the British flag (Day, 2000). This essay will discuss the British claim of Australia and the primary reasons behind it while other European forces also claimed the land. In addition to that, this essay will also shed light whether this claim of the land was valid by the British rules.
When British first claimed the land of Australia, it was known as the ‘First Fleet’ which had carried around fifteen hundred people from England, comprising of the convicts, guards and the British crew. Before coming they did not have any idea about the new land and how they would sustain there, the climate, the people of the land and how they would respond towards the British possession of the land. It has been indicated by Blainey (2008) that the British took a calculated risk through this invasion. The primary reasons behind this invasion were quite straightforward. The British wanted to make their prison less crowded as at that time the British prisons were terribly crowded. The situations got more worsen when America had refused to take more convicts further after their Independence War in the year 1783. Britain had faced a range of crimes in their land at that time as the crime rates were increasing in the land surprisingly. Therefore, there was a rising trend in the country of moving to the cities from the rural areas. This has a great impact on the employment rate of the country (Blainey, 1983). In most of the cases the machines had already replaced the man power; therefore the unemployment rates ran higher with the course of time. The scholars also suggest that in 1788, there were around one million people in Britain who were running under the bread line.
Therefore, Britain had looked at other geographical areas to establish their penal colony. However, looking at the western coast of Africa seemed unviable to the British Government as the sea was dangerous around that coast. Also, the previous experiences with the western coast of Africa were not good for the British people. It was revealed beforehand that the Indigenous population was aggressive and they would not let any foreign invasion in their land (Bourke & Edwards, 1994). On the other hand, the previous experiences with the indigenous population in Australia were not that violent. Previously, British people had hardly seen much indigenous population in the Australian coastal area and mostly they were of a friendly nature.
However, another group of scholars also indicated another reason for the British invasion in Australia which is known as “The Botany Bay Debate”. This concept suggest that the British ha also chosen Australia to be their penal colony due to the rich climate, good soil, availability of the timber, advantage of the flax cultivation, therefore more opportunities for trade with China and other countries (Estensen, 1998). The conventional view of this debate indicates that the land was chosen also for the outcast and the felon of England. However, the non conventionalists suggest that the British invasion in Australia was not only for the convict settlement, but it was also because of the potentiality of becoming a trading spot for England. Scholars indicate that Governor Phillip was given strict instruction of cultivating the flax with the hope that the flax point would not be far for the planned settlement in the coastal areas. The traditional view regarding the British invasion in Australia suggest that it was more due to the urge of getting rid of the increasing number of convicts (Nugent, 2005). However, most of the scholars believe that the opposite is truer as it was a pre-intended plan of the British. They suggest that ‘the Botany Bay Debate’ reveals the plan that the Pitt Cabinet has decided while planning for settling up a new colony. The major reasons were to get a huge supply of the flax, naval trade, timber form the island and also getting rid of the convicts from the British land (Moreton-Robinson, 2007). As the previous invasion had experienced the richness of the land and the intention of possession from the Dutch and French, the British had carefully planned for the Australian invasion, as the non conventionalists suggest.
The justification of the invasion had been discussed by several scholars. Many have indicated that the Australian invasion was not even justified by their own rules. It was found that when Captain James Cook first landed in the eastern coast of Australia, he has claimed the land to be ‘terra nullius’ which meant ‘the land belonging to no one’ (Berndt & Berndt, 1989). This specific term has been coined by the Lieutenant James Cook while taking possession of the Australian land for the British crown. According to the British International Law of the late eighteenth century, there were only three scopes that may lead Britain to take possession of some other land. Those were, if that land was entirely empty and there is no previous habituates, therefore it was justified for Britain to possess the land; however, if the country has been inhabited, British people could ask for the permission from those people so that they could use some parts of their land . If possible, Britain also had the scope to purchase some of their land to their own usage but they cannot steal any of their land according to the law; the third way of invasion was if the country was inhabited Britain could invade the country by defeating them in war. However, even after the war, British people had to respect the needs and rights of the Indigenous people. However, in the case of Australia, the scenario was not at all like this. When Captain Cook had first arrived in the eastern coast, he had claimed Australia to be inhabited. The British had treated the land to be empty land even if there was a huge population of aboriginal people (Connor, 2005). Therefore, the British did not follow their own contemporary International law and did not acknowledge the aboriginal population living in Australia, as according to the European law, Britain would not be able to take control of the land in such a situation. Furthermore, it can be understood that the British people did not follow the European law while invading the Australian land. Many researchers found this invasion to be strange as this was entirely unlike the other invasions by England at that time. They had created a myth about ‘Terra Nullius’ as if the land did not belong to the aboriginal people and invaded in the country. Instead of admitting and acknowledging the aboriginal population they had not admitted their presence in the land.
During the British invasion in Australia, there were other forces who were also interested in the land such as the French and Dutch people. The Dutch East India Company was the most powerful force during that time and trading posts through different parts of Asia and Africa. However, even though the Dutch force came to the coastal areas of Australia, they were never too keen for establishing a colony there. However, several scholars mention that the Dutch were defeated by the aboriginal people while invading. However, it has also been indicated that while invading in the land led by Jan Carstensz in the year 1623, the Dutch force had realized that the Indigenous people had no such knowledge about the precious spices or any stone within the territory (Swain, 1993). Even if the Dutch force had explored the Tasmanian land, later they had viewed it as a failure because they thought it would not be a capable area for trading purpose. On the other hand, the French were too much interested in the Australian land. Napoleon Bonaparte had also commissioned Nicholas Baudin in exploring the land and colonizing it during 1801 (Estensen, 1998). However by that time, the British had already established their penal colony within the land for sending their convicts. Many scholars indicate that if the French power would have invaded the land in the place of British, the aboriginals would have led a far better life than they are leading presently.
In conclusion, it can be said that, the British has invaded the region due to their own benefit and for that reason they had followed some unfair means and created a myth about the land being inhabited before their invasion. However, dumping the convicts into a new land also indicated a forceful removal of them from their home land, and the same time, they have also removed the aboriginal people from their own land forcibly.
Berndt, Ronald & Berndt, Catherine, (1989) The Speaking Land: Myth and Story in Aboriginal Australia.Ringwood, Vic.: Penguin,.
Blainey, Geoffrey. (2008) Sea of Dangers: Captain Cook and his Rivals.Melbourne: Viking,
Blainey, Geoffrey. (1983) The Tyranny of Distance: How Distance Shaped Australia’s History Melbourne: Sun Books,.
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Clark, Philip. (2003) Where the Ancestors Walked: Australia as an Aboriginal Landscape (Sydney: Allen & Unwin.
Connor, Michael. (2005) The Invention of Terra Nullius: Historical and legal Fictions on the Foundation of Australia. Sydney: Macleay Press, ch.11
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