The British in Australia
Britain’s colonisation of Australia
A number of European explorers sailed the coast of Australia, then known as New Holland, during the 17th century. But it wasn’t until 1770 that Captain James Cook chartered the east coast and claimed it for Britain. The new outpost was put to use as a penal colony and on 26 January 1788, the First Fleet of 11 ships – carrying 1,500 people, half of them convicts – arrived in Sydney Harbour. When penal transportation ended in 1868, more than 160,000 men and women had come to Australia as convicts.
While free settlers began to flow in from the early 1790s, life for prisoners was harsh. Male re-offenders were brutally flogged and could be hanged for crimes as petty as stealing. Women were outnumbered five to one and lived under constant threat of sexual exploitation.
The colonisation of Australia had a devastating impact on the Aboriginal people, with dispossession of their land, illness and death from introduced diseases and huge disruption of their traditional lifestyles and practices.