For a group of colonies with a huge convict population, Australia was really not that rebellious.
It’s sort of like when a kid is punished a lot and therefore never acts out; life as a convict in Australia was hard. In many places, the convicts were worked to death. Living conditions were horrible, though there was hope to be released and assigned to work for wages.
So, you’re probably wondering why convicts were even being sent to Australia. It was on the other side of the world, considered empty space by the colonial powers of the time (despite a number of people already living there). Sounds like a cruel and unusual punishment to be exiled to the other end of the world, with deadly creatures and no hope of ‘civilization’ like back home, doesn’t it?
However, while being cruel was pretty much normal for the British penal system, that wasn’t the main reason that they decided to start shipping people off to Australia.
Zip back to around the end of the 1700s; Britain is in its Industrial Revolution. People have come in from the countryside in hopes of a better life in the city, working in factories. The problem is, there are a lot of them, far more than there are jobs.
This means, since there’s no wage control of any kind, that the wages plummet to whatever the most desperate people are willing to be paid. And the most desperate people tend to be the Irish immigrants, shipped over from poverty in Ireland.
With a huge population and not enough ways for them to support themselves, crime becomes rampant, especially thieving. You might remember Fagin, the Artful Dodger, and the rest of the boys in Oliver Twist? Thieves are everywhere.
Soon enough, Britain’s prisons are overflowing (and btw, they are horrible, horrible places to be). What to do with all these people?
Tons of undesirables, and a vast, empty set of colonies. Britain’s ruler’s had a light bulb moment (or rather, an oil lamp moment).
Just so you understand, the upper class’s attitude towards the poor at this time was outright callous. They thought they were dirty, bad, and just overall to blame for their own problems. They were seen as human, but lesser – far lesser.
So bing bang boom, repeat offenders start getting shipped off to Australia.
Not only that, but the Irish are getting shipped out in large numbers. Why? Because they’re rebellious.
This leads to the first major rebellion in Australia.
1798, there’s a big rebellion in Ireland. It’s squashed, and the rebels are sent to Australia (except the ones who are executed).
Naturally, the Irish are not happy to be there (no one really is). So, about five years later, several of the rebels from Ireland have planned a rebellion.
In New South Wales, near Castle Hill, the Castle Hill Rebellion begins. There are plans for well over a thousand convicts to be involved; about 200-300 end up kicking it off. They escape from the farm they’re stuck on, and get a bunch of arms and supplies for their rebellion. They swell out over the colony, collecting more convicts (whether or not the other convicts want to be part of it) and getting a huge chunk of the weapons in the colony.
The goal? Get ships and get back to Ireland.
It doesn’t go so well. While it causes quite the scare (a lot of hated officials flee the colony on boat), there are several problems: they are short on numbers, less than a third of the planned number, and they lose their element of surprise.
Colonial troops had caught up with them, and the leaders are tricked into parley and then captured. It’s only a short battle between the troops and the convicts, most of whom run for their lives, not exactly trained to deal with professional soldiers. 15 convicts are shot dead.
Most of the convicts involved are given amnesty, but it is the first major hiccup in the colonization of Australia. And another one is on its heels.