Common

The following reflection is based on the 1785 testimony of Sir Joseph Banks, as documented in ‘A second report from the Committee of Enquiry into Transportation’. The document records a series of questions, and the responses of Sir Joseph Banks.

 

In my networks, I hear the phrase ‘stolen wealth’ at least as often as I hear the word ‘commonwealth’ when I speak to people face-to-face.  In the media, I only hear the words ‘commonwealth’, and this is usually in relation to Commonwealth of Australia or the Commonwealth Games.  I am thinking about common wealth, stolen wealth, and Commonwealth.

I think that Sir Joseph Banks’ pre-1788 imagination still thrives in Australia.

PART I – COMMON

INTRODUCTION

It being in the contemplation of this committee to suggest such places as may be most proper to send the whole or part –// -//-//  of the convicts now under sentence of transportation so they would be glad to know where in your voyage with Captain Cook it occurred to you that there were any places in the new discovered islands to which persons of such description might be sent in a situation where they might be able by labour to support themselves.

Banks:  I have no doubt that the soil of many parts of the Eastern coast of New South Wales between the latitudes of 30 and 40 is sufficiently fertile to support a considerable number of Europeans who would cultivate it in the ordinary modes used in England.

Is any spot there better adapted to that purpose than another according to your observation?

Banks:  Botany Bay is the only part of that country which I have actually visited and I am confident that is in every respect adapted to the purpose.

 

COMMON COAST

Is the coast in general or the particular part you have mentioned much inhabited?
Banks: There are very few inhabitants

 

COMMON FEAR

Are they of a peaceable or hostile disposition?
Banks: Though they seemed inclined to hostilities they did not appear at all to be feared. We never saw more than 30 or 40 together.

 

COMMON OWNERSHIP

Do you apprehend in case it was resolved to send convicts there any district of the country might be obtained by cession or purchase?
Banks: There was no probability while we were there of obtaining anything by cession or purchase as there was nothing we could offer that they would take except provisions and those we wanted ourselves.

 

COMMON LANGUAGE,  COMMON GOVERNMENT

Have you any idea of the nature of the government under which they lived?
Banks: None whatever, nor of their language.

 

COMMON FISH

Does the coast abound with fish and is it easily to be taken?
Banks: Yes, particularly by sting rays of a great size which are very good food and which were easily caught at high water by being struck with a boat hook or rigging.

 

COMMON BIRDS , COMMON ANIMALS

Did you see any animals or birds?
Banks: I saw no quadrupeds likely to be useful for food but vast abundance of parrots, quails and other birds which we eat – no wild beasts.

 

COMMON SOIL 

What is the soil?
Banks: Every where that I saw consisted either of swampy ground or light sandy mould – there were some very large trees and every where vast quantities of grass

 

COMMON TIMBER

Did the timber appear fit for building?
Banks: It appeared to me to be fit for all the purposes of house building and ship building.

 

COMMON STONE

Was there any stone proper for building?
Banks: I saw stone lying in beds but never having broke it or cut it I cannot speak as to the quality of it.

 

COMMON MOUNTAINS

Did the country seem to rise into high land gradually or was it mountainous.
Banks: It rises very gradually – there are not any high mountains within sight.

 

COMMON RIVERS

Did you see any rivers?
Banks: No – there were some brooks of fresh water which we found good and watered with it.

 

COMMON TRANSPORT

Had the natives any canoes or vessels of any other construction?
Banks: I saw none but canoes made of bark; the largest barely capable of carrying two men.

 

COMMON GRASS

Is it possible that European cattle would live and breed there?
Banks: From the quantity of grass there is every reason to believe they would thrive.

 

COMMON SOIL

Is the soil adapted to the cultivation of European corn and pulse?
Banks: I have no doubt both from the soil and climate they would thrive there.

 

COMMON WOMEN

Supposing 500 convicts were to be established in that place would it be easy to obtain for them a supply of women?
Banks: I have no doubt that they might be obtained from the south sea islands at no other expense than the charge of fetching them.

 

COMMON WEALTH

Do you think that 500 men being put on shore there would meet with that obstruction from the natives which might prevent their settling there?
Banks: Certainly not – from the experience I have had of the natives of another part of the same coast I am inclined to believe they would speedily abandon the country to the new comers.

 

COMMONWEALTH DEFENCE

Were the natives armed and in what manners?
Banks: They were armed with spears headed with fish bones but none of them we saw in Botany Bay appeared at all formidable.

 

BRITISH COMMONWEALTH 

Do you know any place you think preferable to this for the purpose of sending convicts to it?
Banks: From the fertility of the soil the timid disposition of the inhabitants and the climate being so analogous to that of Europe I give this place the preference to all that I have seen.

(Banks)Withdrew.

 

PART II – STOLEN 

STOLEN COAST

Is the coast in general or the particular part you have mentioned much inhabited?
Banks: There are very few inhabitants

 

STOLEN FEAR

Common Fear

Are they of a peaceable or hostile disposition? Banks: Though they seemed inclined to hostilities they did not appear at all to be feared. We never saw more than 30 or 40 together.

 

STOLEN OWNERSHIP

 

purchase

Do you apprehend in case it was resolved to send convicts there any district of the country might be obtained by cession or purchase?
Banks:  There was no probability while we were there of obtaining anything by cession or purchase as there was nothing we could offer that they would take except provisions and those we wanted ourselves.

 

STOLEN LANGUAGE,  STOLEN GOVERNMENT

common language

Have you any idea of the nature of the government under which they lived? Banks: None whatever, nor of their language.

 

STOLEN FISH

Common fish

Does the coast abound with fish and is it easily to be taken? Banks: Yes, particularly by sting rays of a great size which are very good food and which were easily caught at high water by being struck with a boat hook or rigging.

 

STOLEN BIRDS , STOLEN ANIMALS

Birds

Did you see any animals or birds? Banks: I saw no quadrupeds likely to be useful for food but vast abundance of parrots, quails and other birds which we eat – no wild beasts.

 

STOLEN SOIL 

cattle

What is the soil? Banks: Every where that I saw consisted either of swampy ground or light sandy mould – there were some very large trees and every where vast quantities of grass

 

 

STOLEN TIMBER

timber

Did the timber appear fit for building? Banks: It appeared to me to be fit for all the purposes of house building and ship building.

 

STOLEN STONE

Stone

Was there any stone proper for building? Banks: I saw stone lying in beds but never having broke it or cut it I cannot speak as to the quality of it.

 

STOLEN MOUNTAINS

mountains

Did the country seem to rise into high land gradually or was it mountainous. Banks: It rises very gradually – there are not any high mountains within sight.

 

STOLEN RIVERS

River1

Did you see any rivers? Banks: No – there were some brooks of fresh water which we found good and watered with it.

 

 

STOLEN TRANSPORT 

Boats1

Had the natives any canoes or vessels of any other construction? Banks: I saw none but canoes made of bark; the largest barely capable of carrying two men.

 

STOLEN GRASS 

grass

Is it possible that European cattle would live and breed there? Banks: From the quantity of grass there is every reason to believe they would thrive.

 

STOLEN SOIL

Soil

Is the soil adapted to the cultivation of European corn and pulse? Banks: I have no doubt both from the soil and climate they would thrive there.

 

STOLEN WOMEN

women

Supposing 500 convicts were to be established in that place would it be easy to obtain for them a supply of women? Banks: I have no doubt that they might be obtained from the south sea islands at no other expense than the charge of fetching them.

 

 

STOLEN WEALTH

abandon

Do you think that 500 men being put on shore there would meet with that obstruction from the natives which might prevent their settling there? Banks: Certainly not – from the experience I have had of the natives of another part of the same coast I am inclined to believe they would speedily abandon the country to the new comers.

 

STOLEN WEALTH DEFENCE 

defense

Were the natives armed and in what manners? Banks: They were armed with spears headed with fish bones but none of them we saw in Botany Bay appeared at all formidable.

 

BRITISH STOLEN WEALTH

Convicts

Do you know any place you think preferable to this for the purpose of sending convicts to it? Banks: From the fertility of the soil the timid disposition of the inhabitants and the climate being so analogous to that of Europe I give this place the preference to all that I have seen.

 

(Sir Joseph Banks)Withdrew.

 

[1] This is my transcription of a photograph of a handwritten transcript of the Testimony of Sir Joseph Banks to Committee questions.  It was presented in a book by Jonathan King called ‘In the beginning – the story of the creation of Australia from the original writings.’  (pp 51-62)