History of Australia Day: Ties to the American Revolutionary War?

Bill Petro
3 min readJan 26, 2022

Did you know that the history of European Australia has ties to the American Revolutionary War?

When the 13 American Colonies were part of the British Commonwealth, it was convenient for England to transport its convicts to the Colonies. Indeed, it was considered more humane to “transport” prisoners than to execute them, and there were getting to be so many convicts.

Following the 1730s, the British population began to increase, and with the rise of the Industrial Revolution, crime became a more significant problem in England. What to do with all the prisoners? Even the debtors’ prisons were swelling. America seemed to be a likely landing place. In 1732, a royal charter was granted to a group of philanthropists interested in helping the “worthy poor.” Specifically, it was granted to the Trustees of the Province of Georgia.


But the goal of settling Georgia as a repository for convicts was never fully realized, despite recent claims to the contrary. Several disagreements and altercations between the American Colonies and the British Crown — which we don’t have time to go into here — resulted in the American War of Independence from Britain. You have no doubt read about it. It was in all the papers.


Meanwhile, on the other side of the planet, British Captain James Cook (not Kirk, not Hook) arrived in Australia in 1770, claiming it for the British Empire and sailing down the coast arrived at what is now called Sydney Harbor. He was carrying British convicts.

One part of the area was lush with various flora and fauna and caused Captain Cook to later write in his journal that he named it Botany Bay.

War of Independence

Up until this time, about 60,000 convicts had been transported to America. However, the American Revolutionary War in the 1770s and ’80s put an end to this destination for prisoners, and the British government needed an alternative. Australia was it. On May 13, 1787, the First Fleet was assembled in Portsmouth, England, and sailed to Botany Bay in modern-day Sydney, arriving on January 20, 1788. They established the first European colony in Australia on January

Bill Petro

Writer, technologist, historian. Former Silicon Valley tech exec. Author of fascinating articles on history, tech, pop culture, & travel. https://billpetro.com