Us and the US
[The extracts that follow under this gravely ungrammatical title précis a book published in 2014 called ‘A Tale of Two Nations; Uncle Sam from Down Under’. That book sought to compare the key phases of history of the two nations under fourteen headings. That format will be followed in the précis. The chapter headings are Foreword;1 Motherland; 2 Conception; 3 Birth; 4 Natives; 5 Frontiers; 6 Laws; 7 Revolution; 8 Migration; 9 Government; 10 Wars; 11 Race; 12 Wealth; 13 God; 14 Findings; Afterword. Each chapter is about 1400 words.]
The Mayflower arrived off Cape Cod in November 1620. There were forty-one families and they were what we call Puritans. These very religious people thought that the Church of England was too much like the Church of Rome. We might now call them fanatics, or fundamentalists. They wanted a religion free of abstraction in thought and hierarchy in action. God was over all, but no mere mortal could be superior to another. They had been persecuted because they were dissenters. In the New World they could start a new life and they would have the numbers. Their country would be God’s own country because they were God’s chosen people. As John Winthrop said, ‘Wee shall be as a Citty upon a Hill…. we shall be… a by-word throughout out the world.’
On their way over, they entered into a written covenant. The critical words are ‘combine ourselves together in a civil body politic.’ We may owe allegiance to an English king, but it is we who will combine to make our new world. If that combination comes into effect with the blessing of God, well, then, how can we fail? These boat people brought to the New World God, conviction, strength, and a contract. They set out as families and for good reason thought that they were exceptional. They were nothing if not American.
In 1606, the Virginia Company was formed to recover for Christ ‘a number of poure and miserable souls wrapt up into death in almost invincible ignorance.’ Well, it was unlikely that the colony set up at Jamestown could survive on the conversion of the Indians. There was capital was riding on this venture. This was not the work of government – people had sunk their own money into the company. The colony started to take hold when investors were offered land in return for their capital. Later settlers were offered land in return for labour.
The colony at Chesapeake Bay nearly went the same way as the first Virginia settlement. It was saved by the enterprise of a mercenary called Captain John Smith. Smith was candid. ‘For I am not so simple as to think that any other motive than wealth will ever erect there a Commonweale’. He wondered about people ‘making religion their colour when all their aim was nothing but present profit.’ Tobacco would do for Virginia what wool would do for Australia. The company also said the colonists would have ‘the rights of Englishmen’, and the first General Assembly of Virginia met.
Rhode Island arose for those who had had enough of the Brethren. So did Maine, parts of which had been dominated by the French. Salem was settled and The Massachusetts Bay Company was formed in 1629. Later, John Winthrop, a Cambridge man trained at Gray’s Inn, arrived. He rejoiced that the Indians had been wiped out by smallpox. Winthrop was in truth a dictator, and Salem was more intolerant than England ever had been. The purges of alleged witches at Salem are a lasting stain on the nation and a reminder of the threat that religious fanatics pose to others. They prefigured Senator McCarthy.
Maryland was named after a Catholic queen. New York was named after James II, the Duke of York, after it was changed from the Dutch New Amsterdam. William Penn arrived in Delaware for what was to be Pennsylvania. This future state was handed over for the release of a debt of £16,000. Penn was settling for the benefit of the Quakers who had been shockingly mistreated in the other settlements. Quakers from the Rhineland settled at Germanopolos. Philadelphia would be the birthplace of the American Declaration of Independence.
In the meantime, people from across Europe were settling. The American colonies were from the start far more middle class and cosmopolitan than the Australian colonies, and they were always much better equipped to lose any sense of dependence on the Mother Country.
The coming of the white man to Australia was not attended by any romance at all. The First Fleet assembled at Portsmouth. There were two warships, six transports, and three store ships; there were nineteen officers, eight drummers, one hundred and sixty privates, thirty wives and twelve children. There were more than seven hundred convicts, about a quarter of them women. Assembly and provisioning took months amid chaos, squalor and despair; the shopkeepers at Portsmouth lowered their shutters, while slatternly female convicts lolled on the decks with such clothing as they had.
They dropped anchor at Botany Bay on 20 January 1788, after a journey of more than eight months. They arrived a year and a half before the fall of the Bastille, a signature prison of the Old World and Ancien Régime. They did not like what they saw, now blasted by a summer heat. They found a better spot, Sydney Harbour, one as gorgeous as the two they had stopped at on the way – Rio de Janeiro (also built by convict labour) and Cape Town (whose Robben Island is now a shrine to the imprisonment of the great Nelson Mandela). On 26 January 1788 the white people hoisted an English flag. That day is celebrated by some annually as Australia Day. It does not have quite the same élan as Bastille Day or Independence Day.
Shortly afterwards, fourteen couples were joined in marriage; the colony had to be peopled. The Protestant Ascendancy also had to be preserved. On 13 February, Captain Phillip swore an oath about the real presence. There had been trouble a few days before when the women had finally been released from their ships. Some of the sailors got into the rum with the women, and there were appalling scenes of debauchery. But somehow the colony survived until the second fleet arrived two and a half years later. The financial drain might for a while have been a concern to London.
What were the convicts like? Manning Clark said: ‘When these men and women spoke for themselves before their judges, they seemed to be liars, drunkards, and cheats, flash and vulgar in dress, cheeky when addressing their jailers when on top, but quick to cringe and whine when retribution struck… they were men and women who aroused their contemporaries to disgust and apprehension, but rarely to compassion, and never to hope’.
There may have been a limit of, say seven years on their term of imprisonment, but for most it was a one way ticket – for the reason that they could never afford a return ticket. By 1800, about two thirds of the colonists at New South Wales were free. Transportation ended on the east coast in 1850. More than 160,000 convicts were transported to Australia. But free immigration was on the rise.
A Scottish military man was sent out with his own regiment after a kind of rebellion, and over a period of twelve years, Governor Macquarie encouraged emancipation. He even offered land to aborigines. A London commissioner recommended injecting terror back into transportation. This suited the sheep farmers who were squatting on crown land and becoming rich off the sheep’s back. Some of them even fancied their own kind of aristocracy. The squatters were the big hitters in the first century of the white people down under.
So, one nation started with free enterprise and the better people seeking God and their fortune; the other was a government job to get the dregs off-shore. One started with liberation and hope; the other with imprisonment and despair. That is one hell of a difference. One nation craved independence and won it; the other fears independence and ducks it.