History

Transported against their will, struggled to survive and then forged this great nation of Australia.

The Convicts and Wenches race in Tasmania is so named to commemorate the rich and vibrant history of the convicts who essentially became the Founders of Australia.

None of these convicts sent to Australia were hardened criminals, but simply guilty of stealing, in many cases to avoid starvation. They were, in reality, the victims of the Industrial Revolution gripping England in the mid 1700’s.

Approximately 20% of modern Australians are descended from transported convicts, this figure likely much greater in the State of Tasmania.

Once considered a blemish to have descended from a convict, it is now considered by many to be a badge of honour.

The extent to which the convict era has shaped Australia's national character is as indelible as it is profound.

The convict settlement of Port Arthur, now a popular tourist attraction, perpetuates the memory of the harsh punishment handed out to those who had the misfortune to be incarcerated there. However, it was a place of punishment for violent re-offenders and less than 3% of Tasmania’s convict population were sent there.

The vast majority of convicts transported to Tasmania never saw the inside of a prison after their arrival but instead were introduced into the work force on an assignment basis. They were given free board and lodgings and a small allowance, in exchange for their labour.

Although a form of slave labour, it was a win-win situation with the employer getting the benefit of cheap labour and the convict becoming self reliant and re-assimilated back into society. Many of those with a convict background went on to become high achievers, land owners and even politicians and successful businessmen.

This event is designed to perpetuate the memory of the convict men and women, the Founders of Australia.

Authored by Ian Cornelius
Event Organiser
Born in Tasmania, Descended from a First Fleeter and and Proud Of It.



Did you know
  • Australia was known as New Holland from 1644 until at least 1824, well after the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788.
  • the colony of New South Wales was founded at the time of the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788 and originally comprised much of the Australian mainland, as well as Lord Howe Island, Norfolk Island, New Zealand and van Diemens Land.
  • Tasmania was known as van Diemen's Land (VDL) until 1856.
  • VDL was considered as part of New South Wales until it received its own independent status in 1824
  • of 175,000 convicts transported to Australia, VDL received 76,000, more than any other state
  • transportation of convicts to VDL started in 1812 and finished in 1853
  • between 1772 and 1798 only the South Eastern portion of the island of VDL was visited.
  • VDL (Tasmania) was not known to be an island until Matthew Flinders and George Bass circumnavigated it in the Norfolk in 1798-99, some 10 years after the arrival of the First Fleet.
  • the world heritage listed Port Arthur penal settlement only took in harsh re-offenders which numbered less than 3% of the convicts transported to VDL.
  • the inhabitants of Norfolk Island of the First Settlement, i.e. 1788-1814 would not have survived without eating huge quantities of shearwaters, named by them as "mutton birds", in addition to fish which were reasonably plentiful.
  • Norfolk Island was totally evacuated between 1808 & 1814 with the inhabitants being resettled to VDL (hence the names New Norfolk and Norfolk Plains)
  • New Caledonia was settled as a penal colony by the French around the same time.
  • the wool industry of New South Wales exploded in the 1820's, making the fledgling colony quite wealthy. Woolgrower John Macarthur became the colony's richest man.
  • as a consequence of the Gold Rush of the 1850's, Australia's total population more than tripled from 430,000 in 1851 to 1.7 million in 1871
  • by 1856 Melbourne had overtaken Sydney as the most populous city in Australia
  • by 1880 (less than 100 years after the arrival of the First Fleet), Melbourne was the richest city in the world due to the great gold rush and was the second most populous city of the British Empire, next to London.
  • the huge wealth generated by the gold boom in Victoria was repatriated to England and was sufficient to enable England to retire its entire national debt.
  • it was the Tasmanians (or rather "Vandemonians") who were responsible for settling Melbourne; John Batman and others of the Port Phillip Association.