- A.N. Other and NHSA Webmaster
- History - general
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- December 1992 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
At the same date Letters Patent were issued establishing a civil court and a criminal court and the important portent or presage in the Act passed in January was repeated with greater authority – it now read “Whereas we find it necessary that a colony and civil government should be established in the place to which such convicts shall be transported”. A few days later a Vice Admiralty Court, for crimes committed on the high seas was authorised for New South Wales “…it is your Majesty’s pleasure we should grant him (Phillip) such powers as have usually been granted to Governors of your Majesty’s colonies in America”.
Phillip’s Second Commission, like his First Commission, increased the extent of Cook’s claim and defined the limits of New South Wales as being the eastern half of Australia including Tasmania and the islands of the Pacific to the east. New Caledonia, New Zealand, Tonga, Fiji and even Tahiti were within the jurisdiction of Governors of New South Wales. King approved a justice of the Peace for Tahiti in 1801 and Macquarie Justices of the Peace in New Zealand and Tahiti in 1814.
As a scheme to rid Britain quickly of felons New South Wales was not a success. The average was only 500 convicts a year for the first 22 years – half the number transported annually to America, and the cost was very high. It averaged 35 pounds a year per convict in the first 12 years compared to 10 pounds a year on the hulks and a once-only cost of 5 pounds paid to the contractor who transported convicts to America and sold them mostly to plantation owners. What seems to have been overlooked by some historians is that New South Wales, like America, lacked an indigenous workforce and the settlement had to be established from scratch with absolutely no help, or hindrance for that matter, from the indigenous population. The employment of criminals in remote and rising settlements was a long approved British and European practice and one that did not stop as far as Britain was concerned with the establishment of New South Wales,
In the written instructions given him just before he left England Phillip was told to send a small establishment to Norfolk Island as soon as he could “…to secure the same for us and prevent it being occupied by the subjects of any other European power”. In 1790 Phillip was instructed to have a small detachment of the New South Wales Corps stand by for embarkation in British warships which were to call at Sydney on their way to Nootka Sound on Vancouver Island where the Spanish were annoying British traders. The plan lapsed. When war broke out in 1793, Britain captured Cape Town, Trincomalee, Colombo, Malacca, Amboina and the Banda Islands north of Australia. In 1797 and again in 1807 the New South Wales stood by to embark troops in naval forces to take part in expeditions against the Spanish settlements in South America. The plans lapsed but whalers from Sydney crossed the Pacific and brought two Spanish ships back to Sydney as prizes. In 1810 Britain captured Mauritius, Madagascar, the Seychelles and Java. How can the settlement of New South Wales be isolated from the building of the British Empire?
Twice as many marines volunteered for the marine battalion as were required. They referred to themselves as the garrison and refused to supervise the convicts and Phillip was forced to employ the better behaved convicts as overseers. At the end of their tour half the marines stayed on in a company of the New South Wales Corps or as settlers. Many of the officers and officials of the first settlement were well educated, widely experienced and with illustrious family backgrounds. A number reached very high rank. They were not the sort of people who would be interested in being involved with a convict colony.
Also of great significance is the face that First Fleet diarists Captains Watkin, Tench and David Collins and the Lieutenant Governor, Major Ross, all profess in writing to be ignorant of the intentions of the government in establishing the settlement. If it was a convict colony would not the senior officers have known this?