Did the British choose Botany Bay just as a place to send their surplus convicts? We have demonstrated elsewhere that the view it was a gulag is wrong, it was from the very first day under the rule of law.
Ross Fitzgerald, himself an emeritus professor of history and politics, argues that, along with Geoffrey Blainey and Geoffrey Bolton, Emeritus Professor Alan Frost is the leading historian of the foundation and development of Botany Bay.
Professor Frost has been working in archives here and overseas for the past 35 years on the reasons for the decision to settle in New South Wales.
He concludes that the settlement was not just to place excess criminals. It was also to gain a key strategic advantage over Britain’s rivals including the Dutch, French and Spanish and to assume control of valuable natural resources such as Norfolk Island pines and flax for the British Navy.
Prof Fitzgerald has just reviewed Alan Frost's recent book, Botany Bay: The Real Story (Black inc, 276pp, $32.95).
This appeared in The Weekend Australian’s Review magazine on 19 February. (It is not on the internet.)
Rodd Fizgerald says Professor attempts to explode the myth that those transported to New South Wales were mainly guilty of trivial offences. Most had committed serious crimes of violence and robbery and they escaped the death penalty at the mercy of the Crown by transportation.
He also argues that the hulks in the Thames were not particularly overcrowded, that rations were reasonable and that the death rate on the hulks was not particularly high.
He points out that it was the Prime Minister William Pitt – Pitt the Younger – argued late in 1776 that Botany Bay should be more than a dumping ground for convicts. It was to play a crucial role in the expansion of British trade, and increase Britain's ability to combat France Holland and Spain, provide a naval base and also ensure a supply of needed resources.
He shows, Ross Fitzgerald believes, that Geoffrey Blainey was right to stress the significance of naval store and materials such as an flax timbers in choosing Botany Bay. He thinks that reasons of trade strategy including outmanoeuvring the French were pivotal in the decision.
He concludes that Botany Bay: The Real Story is a fascinating and compelling attempt to explain the multiple reasons for the first fleet arriving on 26 January 1788.