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Democracy and the Colony of NSW

Video clip synopsis – In 1819 British Commissioner John Thomas Bigge investigates accusations that the colony of NSW has become a land of opportunity for convicts under Governor Lachlan Macquarie.
Year of production - 2008
Duration - 2min 15sec


Democracy and the Colony of NSW

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About the Video Clip


Democracy and the Colony of NSW is an except from the documentary Honour Among Thieves part one of a two-part series entitled Rogue Nation, produced in 2008.

Honour Among Thieves
Historian Michael Cathcart introduces John Macarthur and the powerful faction of landowners, entrepreneurs and local military who take on Governor William Bligh and trigger Australia’s only military coup, the Rum Rebellion of 1808.

Rogue Nation
Historian Michael Cathcart tells the epic story of how the colourful characters of early colonial Australia transformed a penal settlement into a land with rights and opportunity in a mere 40 years.

A Film Australia Making History Program in association with Essential Media & Entertainment. Produced in association with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. A Making History Program 2008

Background Information


Lachlan Macquarie (governor 1810-1821) is the governor who “goes native”. He was the man in power who went a large way in inventing the idea of Australia as a country which existed for convicts to have another chance to make good in life, and the convicts’ “native born” Australian children, and subsequent generations.

Meanwhile Earl Bathurst and his Colonial Office not surprisingly decided that this was pure madness. Australia for the convicts and their children? Australia, from their point of view, is a colony of Britain, a place of salutary terror to scare would-be criminals into virtue, and a place (after the war with Napoleon finished in 1815 and a whole army was disbanded and given nothing to live on) to dump surplus population. It’s all getting a bit too lax down there, too free and easy. For goodness sake, ex-convicts are being made magistrates! And invited to the Governor’s table for dinner! Had the place gone completely crazy? With Governor Darling (1825-1831) Britain again tries toughness.

Ex-convicts were no longer to be so encouraged – instead it will be new free arrivals with plenty of capital. There would be no more convicts earning money on the side, no more handing out of Tickets-of-leave to prisoners fresh off the boat. Neither would they be any longer given land to farm when their time expired. But after some wrangling, ex-convict legal rights remained – but then again, they had to, they owned over half the wealth of the colony.

Meanwhile, a young William Wentworth was in London, and outraged at being “outed” as a child of a convicted criminal – even if the crime was a rather dashing and romantic one – highwayman. A “currency lad”, part of the first generation of native-born colonials, he took up the cudgels for a lifetime of retaliation. Wentworth invented himself as a patriot for the newly imagined country, “Australia”. The ex-convicts and their children feel this country to be theirs, feel that they belong here and won’t go back in a way the free arrivals, the “Exclusive” class, simply do not. Wentworth will be one of the first to tap into this widespread feeling, and express it in his newspaper, “The Australian” as he fights his personal and political battles.

Darling, the close-lipped, efficient Governor, and Wentworth, the loud, blustery charismatic press baron, publicist and barrister, are both destined to fight it out in a renewed struggle for control of the future direction of the colony…

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Democracy and the Colony of NSW

In 1819 British Commissioner John Thomas Bigge investigates accusations that the colony of NSW has become a land of opportunity for convicts under Governor Lachlan Macquarie.

National / National Year 9 & 10 / National Year 9 & 10 Australian History / National Year 9 & 10 Australian History Colonisation