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History of Australia

What event in American history affected the settling of Australia?


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March 27, 2013 3:55PM

The American War of Independence had a significant influence in the decision to settle Australia. Conditions in England in the 18th century were tough: the industrial revolution had removed many people's opportunities to earn an honest wage as simpler tasks were replaced by machine labour. As unemployment rose, so did crime, especially the theft of basic necessities such as food and clothing. The British prison system was soon full to overflowing, and a new place had to be found to ship the prison inmates.

England had resorted to using old ships - hulks - to place the convicts at night, but they were extremely unhealthy and overcrowded. Also, the West Indies and Africa were unsuitable due to disease and climate, and India already crowded.

For many years, Britain had sent convicts to the American colonies. Following the American war of Independence, the American colonies were no longer viable, as America was now in a position to deny Britain the right to send convicts to North America. An alternative had to be found.

This meant that Britain needed to find another place to colonise, a place that was far enough away to prevent the convicts returning to England. Captain James Cook's mission to chart the transit of Venus in 1768-9 provided the opportunity for Cook to explore unknown lands of the southern hemisphere, reporting on colonisation potential. Cook's recommendation of the eastern coast of New South Wales was followed up.

The initial proposal to settle Australia came from James Matra, who proposed to settle the United Empire Loyalists at Botany Bay - those Americans who had sided with Britain and fled to Canada to avoid reprisals after the war. Logistics prevented this, so he then proposed a military colony with convict labour to prevent other European countries getting the Australian continent first, with the bonus of providing masts and flax for the Royal Navy as the normal supply from the Baltic was becoming uncertain. In the mid-1780s a British government decision was taken to establish a chain of military stations to protect the East Indian trade. The First Fleet to Botany Bay was to sail in company with one to establish a station in Sierra Leone. Others were planned for Namibia, Mauritius and Andaman Islands. The convicts were initially for labour, however the expediency of getting convicts so far away that it was difficult to return was very attractive. Consequently their transportation became important both to get rid of offenders and avoid recidivism in England, and export Irish revolutionaries, and of course provide labour not only for the government and military activity, but also for the growing numbers of free settlers.