Various webpages here updated 27 May, 2023
How much do you love Australia? I love it a lot. And since I am not an Aborigine - I am white and have an Irish heritage that I think of far less than my Australianness - I thought one day in the 1970s that I would like to write a novel about my own myth of origin – convicts. 0r, convictism. (And is this Addendum more a letter from a novelist than a report from a historian?)
For in 1970 I had failed a university course – by the way, it was the only university course I ever failed, so I was suspicious of it for that reason if no other – in Australian Economic History. So in 1977-2000 I had failed to write a novel on the first three fleets of ships intended to ship convicts out of the kingdom of England. And maybe I had been talking to my mother. (Her side of my family c.1823 had a convict ancestor that perhaps was on my mind, too). I read everything I could lay my hands on. Yet, nothing seemed good enough. Now, I know that the people I read in 1977 were wrong about convict transportation. But I didn’t know that in 1977! Yet these wrong-headed coves prevailed and convinced most. They still do.
Basically, this slice of history was so badly done, a decently-done novel on convict transportation seemed impossible to write. It would also be harder to sell to a publisher, but let’s not go into that just now!
I continued reading; that was how I discovered that as early as in 1937, Eris O’Brien (a Catholic priest) had contradicted most others commenting on post-1788 Australian history, with his book on Penal Colonization, and he said outright that an “objectionable consortium” In London had hijacked the shipping business of the first three fleets of convict transportation London-Sydney. Quite right, too. So what did government do?
But in 1988 I really got an historical comeuppance, despite making a change from aspiring novelist (in charge of an imagination) to more a fact-based historian, as there appeared for sale a novel and a history book with the same error about the man I was now writing a book of factual history about – the overseer of the Thamas River prison hulks - Duncan Campell (because I had discovered his Letterbooks in the Mitchell Library, Sydney) … and the mistake seemed huge. But, how huge?
The mistake was that Michael Talbot, a novelist, in 1988 had published his To The Ends of the Earth and historian Robert Hughes had published his book The Fatal Shore (a title inspired by Moorehead’s book on the colonisation by English speakers of the Pacific, The Fatal Impact.)
This novelist and this historian had made the same historical error – that Duncan Campbell (the keeper of the convicts in question) had also transported these same convicts. But there was nary a word of protest about this error from the world of history, in either Australia or Britain, that I know of.
Somehow, the Australians had institutionalised an odd habit, the habit of Not addressing mistakes made in the historical records. Or was it that even the historians did not know the facts anymore? They had also excised - or tried to - from historical consciousness, the figure of the merchant who has an international reach ...
And wrong! For I had in my keeping - or rather the Mitchell Library, the home of historical Australia in Sydney, had them … The Duncan Campbell Letterbooks, which flatly contradicted both this novelist and this historian. Campbell, the Letterbooks said, didn’t transport those convicts. (But making such an error did not mean that Eris O’Brien was right in 1937, either. He was right enough, but I didn’t know that in 1988!) I felt I had no hope, either, only despair; as Hughes was published in 23 languages - the genie was out of the bottle and it was the wrong genie. Although, in retrospect, few of Hughes’ readers in 23 languages, or not, seem to have back-checked on Campbell or the British government’s actual problems with resuming convict transportation.
Other problems for the novelist included ... apart from how badly-done this slice of history was, I read encyclopedias of London and it seemed I would have to visit that city …. so I finally chose the 29th April. The date of the mutiny on the Bounty, And I visited London. (The National Maritime Musuem of the UK was having an exhibition on the Bounty mutiny.) The Larkins of Blackheath?
Meantime, The Duncan Campbell Letterbooks are a historian’s goldmine about the London of 1758, when they were opened, to about 1810, a period which embraces the 1780s and the 1790s. So what did Mackaness - the Freemason and historian - make of them? Essentially, he ignored them. He actually had them in his possession, due to the generosity of a Campbell descendant -the Mitchell Library inherited Mackaness' literary estate.
Yes. The Sydney historian George Mackaness (MA) appears to have started all this. He began the trend of attempting (by writing about Gov. Bligh and Gov. phillip too!) to Australianize what is, essentially, an originally English story – convict transportation. Starting about 1929, he wrote a lot about Bligh. Bligh, who was the nephew-in-law of Campbell at the time of the mutiny on the Bounty, when Campbell was alive; and at the time of Gov. Bligh, when Campbell was dead.
Mackaness made many errors of judgement, including about Bligh. But the new developments haven’t stopped, either. When I began research on this topic in 1977, there was much chat in the topic area regarding Abbot Emerson Smith’s treatment of the age of convict transportation to North America.
Now, I used to think that Wilfrid Oldham, the first Australian to ever write a PhD thesis about convict transportation to Australia - he produced about 1933 - was a pioneer, and therefore entitled to make a few errors. The problem is, that his errors have not been corrected by historians – including me – till now. In particular, and for his day, the 1930s, Eris O’Brien got the first and subsequent fleets of convict ships right – and Oldham just a few years before him got them wrong. (O’Brien wrote by 1937).
In particular – and as did O’Brien also in fact - Oldham had also missed The Blackheath Connection, and there is no telling by now what Australian history - or, Australian maritime history- would read like if it was realised more widely that just one London suburb had been a home to so many men who were major players with the shipping of the first-ever convict transportations to Australia, the first three fleets of convict ships.
Which involved Thomas King, the in-house marine insurance expert of the London slavers, [William] Camden, [Anthony] Calvert and King; Duncan Campbell (1726-1803, Jamaiacan absentee sugar planter and the overseer of the Thames River convict hulks), London alderman George Mackenzie Macaulay; the hoytaker, insurance underwriter and whaler investor, John St Barbe; and the founder of the South whale fishery, Samuel Enderby Snr. Plus the Larkins family, the first East India Co. family to use (in 1792) one of their ships to transport convicts to Sydney, Australia. All of them lived in suburban Blackheath, which at the time – the early 1790s - was still part of Kent, not London.
Now, the Blackheath Connection is one thing, and involves the resumption of convict transportation to Australia; basically the Anglo-Australian history 1786-1792 needs rewriting. But, the entire history of convict transportation to North America 1718-1775 is now up for renovation and re-analysis. In short, new developments in the field of the history of the transportation of English convicts to Australia have eclipsed older research.
Andrew Waple, a former UK investigative journalist, is now (actually, since 2021) writing on convict transportation from its inception in 1718, to effect including, that Jonathan Forward, as a British government convict contractor to North America (he was known-about from 1718 by a variety of Anglo-American historians, he was known about in 1933 in Oldham's day), was married to Susannah Waple. (She was known about by no one, including me, but her existence of course raises the question: who were the other convict contractors married to? (They were named Reid or Armour.) And thereby hang many tales.
Meantime too, Peter Dickson (like Waple, a UK writer), has been re-researching Duncan Campbell’s investments in North America to 1775. Dickson has by now produced several articles newly detailing what happened after the death in 1772 of the British convict contractor, John Stwart. (Dickson's efforts also contain information new to me.) Campell’s efforts also involved aspects of the destiny of a minor diplomat of the American Revolution - Matthew Ridley, of Baltimore, Maryland. (See Peter Dickson, Matthew Ridley (d.1789) - "many irons in the fire", on www.academia.edu). (See also, Peter dickson, "I will oblige myself to do any business you have in Maryland" ... also on www.academia.edu).
Meantime, too, Dan Byrnes has dredged up the history of the Anglo-American bank (from the 1690s till they failed and then disappeared in England in 1793), Lane, Son and Fraser; who were friends of Gov. Arthur Phillip, the first governor of NSW. (The details are contained in an addendum to the new book, Merchant Networks, by Dan Byrnes and Ken Cozens.)
Then, Charles Bateson (in The Convict Ships) in 1959 topped off this dismal Australian historical debacle by getting alderman Macaulay even more wrong than Oldham had, and ended up indexing him as a spurious identity – Turnbull Macaulay – whom no one evidently looks up anyway on the Internet, but not because of the fact that he never existed. New research by Dan Byrnes and Prof Sturgess has revealed that this spurious identity indexed by Bateson - Turnbull Macaulay - is actually a conflation of alderman Macaulay (1750-1803) and his vehement Scots brother-in-law, John Turnbull (d.1816). So the future seems brimful of surprises.
Some surprise may come via new researches by Dan Byrnes in the UK on unexpected linkages between the families of Matthew Flinders RN (the first Englishman to circumnavigate Australia) and the Larkins family of Blackheath. (Willian Larkins had married to the Steer family.) Meantime, a Lt Samuel Flinders (army, not navy and not the brother of Matthew) was the forebear of Dora Flinders who was married and had progeny -the Flinders also married to the Steer family.<
Dan Byrnes also continues his research on Sir William Curtis (the alderman of London); and on the careers of English mariners who transported English felons to Australia, Surprises may come thick and fast!
But toward its end, and whether Bateson is misleading or not, The Blackheath Connection (the online book by myself) is wrong in places from 1797, the date of the death of Samuel Enderby Snr. In particular, and the prevailing theory by now must be viewed as a nonsense if it cannot talk sensibly about this, it seems that at the time the Larkins (the only time, by the way, that the Larkins - good servants of the EICo - ever bothered to send convicts to Australia) used their ship Royal Admiral I to transport convicts to Australia - 1792 - the chairman of the EICo was Francis Baring (the London banker) who was against convict transportation to Australia as he believed it was only an encouragement for piracy by whalers (who were anti-Spanish in the Pacific). Baring continued at the EICo as an influential director till 1798-1799, about the time that EICo country traders (encouraged by David Scott Snr who was ex British-India?) became involved in convict transportation, such that by about 1806, London-based firms with strong EI Co affilations became involved - such as Buckle, Buckle, Bagster and Buchanan, who were a still-mysterious kind of EICo wholesaler/retailer.
Some of the corrections to this record are contained in the book I finished in 2023, Merchant Networks.
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