Friday, 24 October 2014

A Strange Notation from the Far Side of the World

I have been reading a book by Rob Mundle which has only recently been released, about the First Fleet. Mundle is not a historian but a sailing enthusiast with many years of experience traversing the seas so he writes with an expert eye about life aboard old ships of sail and expresses himself without availing the dry, academic tone of historians who's works often bore the average punter to tears.

 I had read one of his books which was about the mutiny on the Bounty and found it to be very good and it was his name alone that lured me to the tale of the First Fleet which he is re-telling in fine detail.

 I would recommend Rob's books to anyone who wants to read yarns of the glory days of the British Empire when the Royal Navy ruled the world as he gives a very down to earth appraisal of the facts; an everyman version of history which I think most would enjoy if they are interested in the subject before them.


 The photo I have displayed today is of myself a few months ago in the Fitzroy Gardens in Melbourne standing outside the childhood home of Captain James Cook, the world famous navigator who's expedition to the Great South Land in the 18th century is now the stuff of legend. There is a link of course between Cook and the First Fleet so I thought I would use the photo as a hook for my blog post today.

 Of course James Cook didn't grow up in Melbourne but I believe the home was "transported", if I can use that word in such an instance, to Melbourne in the 1930's, brick by brick in an exercise sponsored by a local businessman of the day. It is an excellent piece of history situated in a lovely setting, far above and beyond it's original habitat in Yorkshire and is worth a look if you are ever in that part of Melbourne which is literally a stone's throw from the CBD.

 The most amazing thing about the house is how small it is inside. It looks spacious when looking at it from the grounds outside but is miniscule within; a small kitchen and eating area on the ground floor and two very small bedrooms above. The annex like structure to the right in the second photo is now used as a visitor's area to sell memorabilia and what purpose it served when the house was a residence I know not. But the place was pokey. No wonder James left for sea when he was a boy!

 Anyone who knows their Australian history, and there are plenty who don't, will be aware that Cook, on his great voyage in 1770, stopped in a Bay on the eastern side of the continent which was known as "New Holland" and named it Botany Bay, claiming it for the British Empire. Years later after a disastrous defeat in the American colonies and the failure of convict settlements in Africa, the British, fearing the French may beat them to the punch, finally took possession of the east coast of New Holland by way of the establishment of a penal colony. This colony was eventually founded at Port Jackson some 12 nautical miles north of Botany Bay after Captain Arthur Phillip, commander of the First Fleet found Cook's original diagnosis of Botany Bay as a fair place to establish a settlement to be faulty.

 In one of the great feats of nautical history, Phillip had ushered his flotilla of eleven ships, laden with convicts, settlers, marines and livestock  across the world's most treacherous stretches of ocean to land his charges on shore safely on the far side of the world. And that was just the beginning of their hardships!

 The little settlement was called Sydney and one can only imagine the shock and awe which would stricken Arthur Phillip today if he was brought back to see what his little penal colony has become.

 The founding of Australia is mired in self-recrimination given that the land was already inhabited and had been so for thousands of years by indigenous Australians. A culture was shattered and a people degraded by the first imprint of European civilisation on this great continent. That being said, what happened was inevitable. Perhaps it is the way it happened which should give us pause for thought. In any case, the founding of the colony of New South Wales opened up a new chapter in the history of the world and the seed had been planted from which has sprung one of the greatest nations on earth. There is something to proud of in that.

 I was in Bath, England about a year ago and swapped convivialities with some local shopkeepers who availed me about their trips to Australia and how much they enjoyed it. I happened to mention that Captain Arthur Phillip, the man who had founded the first European settlement on the Australian continent was buried in Bath. Blank faces all around. And what a pity.

 Phillip was a fine man and a fine sailor and his personal leadership in those early dark days of civilisation on a savage shore assured his colony of it's survival and guaranteed it's future. Surely his name should live larger in history than it does.

 So, be proud of our history but remember the black marks as well. Pride in our heritage is often scoffed at but it shouldn't be. Grab Rob Mundle's "First Fleet" if you can. It's well worth the trip with Phillip and his ragged flotilla if you can handle it.

 Have a nice day.

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