On this day in 1788, Captain Arthur Phillip led a fleet of British ships carrying convicts into Botany Bay to form the penal colony of Australia. Australians still mark this date as a national holiday, which in the Southern Hemisphere is in the middle of summer. In the 18th Century, “transportation” to the colonies was considered a harsh punishment, not a cause for celebration. People were sent overseas for crimes that were not severe enough for the death penalty, and it probably saved the government plenty of money on prisons. These included crimes like forgery and vandalism. In the early 1800’s, a prisoner returning from a life sentence of transportation could be punished by death. The fact that this was shortly after the American War of Independence is no coincidence because Britain had formerly sent prisoners to America.
You may have heard that the country’s beginning as a penal colony is why Australians refer to the English as “poms” which was supposedly an adaptation of the abbreviation POHM, for “Prisoner of His Majesty” which was applied to arriving English prisoners. According to Quora.com, this bit of folklore is a myth; it more likely referred a fair-skinned Englishman’s skin burning in the Australian sun to the color of a pomegranate. Or it may have just been rhyming slang for “immigrant.”
Despite their country’s inauspicious beginnings, it’s nice to see that the Australians have a sense of humor about it. Happy Australia Day to our friends down under!
Sources: wikipedia.org, quora.com