Thursday, October 31st, 2013
Richard Morgan, my five-times great grandfather, was convicted at Gloucester of assault and robbery (some say wrongfully) on 13 March, 1785 and sentenced to 7 years in Africa.
For a time he rotted on the prison hulk Ceres in the Thames. However, Morgan left Britain on 13 May, 1787 as a convict aboard the barque Alexander in what came to be known as The First Fleet. He was bound for Botany Bay – the first settlement of Sydney, Australia.
Richard Morgan wasn’t a volunteer or an invader. He was a survivor embarking on one of the most perilous adventures of the day. Against his will. In servitude. Without human rights.
The First Fleet consisted of two Royal Navy ships, three store ships and six convict transports that sailed an arduous voyage to Rio De Janeiro, then Cape Town, with a journey through the Great Southern Ocean around to Botany Bay (now Sydney).
The Alexander arrived in Botany Bay, after 251 days, on 20 January, 1787 having suffered the greatest loss of life in the fleet and an attempted mutiny. The Alexander was the largest transport in the First Fleet.
The next four brutal years laying the foundation for settlement was so close to the razor’s edge of failure through starvation (and lack of women) that a strong bent back and intelligent mind were noticed. Morgan, after all, wasn’t a guttersnipe, but a working man.
The point that needs to be made is that life doesn’t offer us a single history. The history of colonisation. The history of invasion and occupation. The history of being forced onto ships and sent on a journey that in their era was as incredible as our journey to the moon. There is a history of British records that states Richard Morgan committed crimes; there is a version of history that says he was wrongfully convicted.
The indigenous history of Invasion Day is entirely correct from that perspective. But so is the British version of Australia Day. And the convict version of history. And the modern immigrant or refugee version of the new Australia. History is a multi-layered faceted creature that we need to embrace from all angles.
One thing we need to do in our lives is be prepared to suffer the burden of accepting each others’ version of history. To some, my great great great great great grandfather was a criminal and an invader. To others, Richard Morgan was a hard working survivor. History is like that.