British Empire
The rise of the British empire - Australia
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Medallion produced in England in 1789 expressing views on the future of the new colony in Australia
(This late 18th or early 19th century edition by courtesy of the Wedgwood Museum Trust, Barlaston, Staffordshire, England)
  • The pottery maker Wedgwood made this medallion designed by Henry Webber in 1789. It was made from clay brought back from Sydney Cove, one of the earliest British settlements in Australia (the "First Fleet" had arrived to settle there in 1788).
  • Josiah Wedgwood was an extremely famous and wealthy businessman who was always interested in Britain's empire. He was keen on empire because it allowed him to trade his pottery all over the world. However, he was also keen on empire because he believed it brought the best values of British civilisation to "uncivilised" parts of the world.
  • Wedgwood was a keen opponent of slavery and campaigned against it until it was abolished. He supported the idea that convicts sent out to Australia could be given a fresh start.
  • The medallion's subject is 'Hope encouraging Art and Labour, under the influence of Peace, to pursue the employments necessary to give security and happiness to an infant settlement'. In the medallion the woman on the left represents Hope. The two other women are Peace and Art, and the man represents Labour.
  • What Wedgwood was saying was that convicts could come out to Australia for a fresh start (Hope). If they worked hard (Labour) they could achieve a better life than they had back in Britain (Peace) and improve themselves with hobbies or education (Art). It was an optimistic view. However, historians are not all convinced by this view.
  • In the 1600s and 1700s Britain transported convicts to America. After the American Revolution of 1776 this was no longer an option. By the time Cook mapped and claimed Australia in 1770 Britain’s jails were already overcrowded. Once prisoners could not be transported, the prisons reached crisis point.
  • In 1788 the first convict colony in Australia was set up with about 750 convicts. From then until 1868 Britain transported about 160,000 convicts to Australia.
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