The Rocks


When our dearly departed Captain James Cook discovered Australia, he claimed the land for the British, and then reported back to them. And can you guess what the British thought would be a perfect use for it? If you said ‘making it into a giant superprison for all of its criminals’, you are CORRECT!

But you don’t get a million dollars. Sorry about that, but this ain’t Jeopardy, folks.

It all started in 1788, when Captain Arthur Philip sailed down to eastern Australia with eleven ships. The trip, taking eight months, was the largest transportation of men and items EVER. They even had to stop at Brazil on the way, and then continue around Africa.

Cook had said Botany Bay would be an excellent place to start settling, but Philip was like “No way!” when he saw it.

SPOILER!!! It’s now where the airport is.

So our good friend Philip just paddled around in his boat for a while, until he found Sydney Bay (It was named after Lord Sydney, who was one of the sponsors of the trip). Sydney Bay was an excellent place to settle, first of all because it had a nice big river flowing right to it, with nice clean water. It also had a deep harbor, so ships could come and go without difficulty. Finally, it was v-shaped, a very good quality for easy protection/defending. Oh, one more thing: The region they settled was called Oz, which I think we can all agree is an awesome name.

IMG_1225There were LOADS of convicts aboard the ships. Prisoners were literally spilling out of the overstuffed UK prisons. News flash, UK. If you don’t want overcrowded prisons, don’t arrest someone for stealing a loaf of bread. The two main reasons the British decided to settle Oz was because a. The Dutch already had western Australia and they didn’t want to lose their land to anyone else, and b. They lost the American Revolutionary war (oh say does that star-spangled banner yet wave), and America was pretty much where they were sending all their prisoners. Like I said, people were literally sent to prison for stealing a loaf of bread, or less than a shilling, and this wasn’t a problem but I just want to point it out anyway because it’s ridiculous, they were sentenced to death for stealing a horse. This was considered a capital offence (the horse-stealing, not the being put to death). Some horse-stealers were going to be hanged or something equally nasty, but were pardoned to go to Australia. Of course, some of the prisoners were murderers and such, but most were just regular old Joes who had been trying to stop their family from starving.

As soon as these poor old blokes arrived, they had to start working the land and building houses. They named the area The Rocks, because of the limestone, well, rocks. Most of the houses were built of mud, and sort of melted down into a puddle when it rained. Also, all the sewage flowed right down into the harbor, as it was on a hill, and therefore the streets. The only time it was remotely clean was when it rained, and then they had the puddle houses to deal with.

To put it simply, life sucked.

Some trained stonemasons started to make bricks out of the limestone, and they even put their signatures, which were a mixture of dots and dashes, on them. But building houses out of mud was just a whole lot easier than building houses out of stone.

But I bet they regretted not taking the time when it rained.

Better cottages were eventually built


Convicts had three different levels of punishment; seven years, fourteen years, or… forever. A word which is good in songs, but not so positive when it comes to where you spend the rest of your life.  It was also possible to be pardoned and sail back to England, but most people were very poor. Not surprising when you consider the fact that they were living in a slum. However, in Australia, for convicts who had served their time there was lots of opportunity…

Mary Reibey was one such person. She ran away from home, and at the age of fourteen, disguised as a boy and going under the name James Burrow, was arrested for, wait for it… Horse stealing. She was sentenced to be put to death, but it was found out she was a girl, and so she was sent to Australia for seven years instead. She became a business woman, and married Thomas Reibey at the age of seventeen, after he had proposed to her for, what, the tenth time? They had seven children, and Thomas, an able businessman, acquired the money to build a large stone house. He also gained possession of several farms, and traded in coal, cedar, furs, and skins. His trading enterprises extended all the way to places such as China and India.

However, in 1811, Thomas suddenly died, and Mary was left in the care of seven children and the business profits. Luckily, she had gotten practice from the numerous trips away from Sydney her husband took. A woman of a whole lot of wealth from her husband, she extended her business career. She built a warehouse and extended her shipping operations. The Bank of New South Wales was even founded in one of her numerous houses. She was even appointed a Governor of the Free Grammar School.

Today she is featured on the Australian twenty-dollar bill.

IMG_1435 Another memorable figure was a forger. I can’t remember his name, but he was trained as an architect. He designed most of the buildings in Sydney before his death, and he used to be on the ten-dollar note, but they took him off because the Australian government figured it was probably not sending out a good message to have a forger on your ten-dollar bill.

Convicts continued to be shipped over to Oz from 1788 – 1852. In total, 180,000 came over. Free settlers were also coming. Sydney had become an important trade and whaling center, so a place called Cadman’s House was built at the side of the harbor, as a spot where ships could be repaired quickly and easily. A sailor’s hostel was also built, but the shipmates were often tricked into drinking when they came off the boat, drugged, shoved down through a trapdoor and put on another boat, where they woke up three days later and had to work for another three months. Nicer houses were also being built further up the hill, but the Rocks was still a slum riddled with criminals and drunks.

Slightly better conditions for convicts when Hyde Park Barracks were built

There is a story of a man who was completely against the idea of alcohol. In fact, many times, he bought several tons of the stuff and publicly poured it into the harbor. But he was definitely no saint. He had a wife and two sons, and they all died in sickbed, and then he started a relationship with the nurse, Sarah, who had been employed to take care of his wife, and they had two kids. He later married another woman, Emily while continuing his affair with Sarah, and later decided that supporting a wife, a mistress, and two kids was too much, so he poisoned poor Sarah!

Spoiler!!! She died.

Store houses on the docks

People also started building store houses, and some are even still here today. Robert Campbell was the most famous early trader, and he made so much money he decided to stay in Sydney and build a trading empire.

So what happened to the Aborigines (the native people)? They had lived in Australia for 60,000 years, then all these convict guys and settlers started coming along! The tribe that had lived in Oz was called the Arrernte, and they actually thought that these British were the spirits of their dead ancestors, due to their pale skin! These first settlers primarily came from the UK and Holland. There was a man called Dawson who made friends with an Aborigine girl, and later made the best translation in history from Aborigine to English.

In 1900, the Black Death came to Australia. The first stage, the Bubonic plague, was abundant and easily spread. Rats from ships with the fleas carried the infection, and this was soon noticed, so the government offered to give two pennies (which was a lot of money in those days!) for each rat captured. The men had to bring in the rat’s tails to prove it. Unfortunately, the people not only captured the rats, but also started breeding them! They figured this would mean easy money if they didn’t have to catch the rats, they just had to pick one up out of the ‘breeding pen.’ This was mainly done by a group of professional rat catchers.

Dissolute convicts


And that officially ends my report on the Rocks, thank goodness.

Until next time,




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