Wednesday, January 31, 2007

"Send More Women!"

Captain Arthur Phillip Writes Home From Sydney Cove And Contemplates Playing Matchmaker To The New Colony

An interesting extract and some notes below from a letter by Captain Arthur Phillip about the problems facing the newly arrived convict hordes at Sydney Cove, Australia's first non-indigenous settlement.

In short, "Send More Women!"

From the Sydney Morning Herald :

Captain Phillip shows his softer side, expressing concern for the wellbeing of "some of the greatest villains that ever existed". He writes that currants, barley sugar, rice and spices are inadequate as medical supplies. Despite the stock of "wine for the use of the sick", the convicts strangely continue to fall ill in large numbers.

Captain Phillip appears hugely concerned about the shortage of women for the new colony, and fancies himself a matchmaker. He suggests an increase in the number of "frail fair ones" on the First Fleet to lift the ratio of one woman to five or six men.

"Without women, no colony can thrive - and a deficient number will certainly occasion … at length bloodshed, not to mention more odious consequences," he writes.

"There can be no objection (except the expense of their transportation) to supplying the colonists with plenty of mates - each convict, if encouraged, might easily find himself a companion …

"The method used by the Regent of France, when he colonised New Orleans, might be adopted …

"The men were forced to draw lots and were married to the women, pointed out by correspondent marks, before they were permitted to have any liberty on shore. Their eagerness for a commerce from which they had long been restrained made them take their destined spouse with readiness, and we do not find that these predetermined weddings turned out worse than the run of marriages commonly do."

Captain Phillip's insightful theory that a lack of women in the new colony would bring "bloodshed" amongst the men is a scene that still plays out in Sydney nightclubs today, when the booze flows and the men outnumber the women.

Captain Phillip's concerns about what the men might do to each other if the shortage of womenfolk continued - "...more odious consequences..." probably speaks for itself, though
Robert Hughes' The Fatal Shore, which brilliantly catalogued the despair and desires of the new colony, makes a number of references to gay convict love affairs. Punishable by severe floggings, for some.