Celebrating 230 years of My Australian History

10th January 1787 – The day that made me Australian


Australians are very disappointed when they find they are not from convict stock. But, for those who have the privilege of descending from the founders of the British Colony of Australia (even if it wasn’t by choice) we can celebrate a proud heritage.

At the time Captain Cook claimed the southern land of Terra Australis for King George III in 1770, there were a lot of European noses sniffing around this vast and inspiring land. The French were hovering in Polynesia and Vietnam, the Dutch East Indies Trading Company was stretching their trade into the close by islands of Indonesia, and recently a kangaroo was found in a Portuguese Bible pre-dating the first documented discovery of Australia.

In fact, Encounter Bay in South Australia is named after an interception between Napoleon’s favourite explorer, Captain Baudin and Matthew Finders in 1802. Such a vast and impressive country was prime land for colonisation and domination by powerful European Empires.

A Time to Steal Aprons and Demand Gin…

3rd January 1787 – Soho London, on a Washing Day.

Poland St, London
Poland St, London

It can’t have been a particularly cold day because Mary Hayward was going to hang her washing outside to dry. Mary and Francis Hayward were cheese-mongers at 35 Poland Street, London. Francis Hayward sold their wares at the closely situated John St, Golden Square, which is near Carnaby and Regent Street. My Ancestor Elizabeth Bruce and her mate, Elizabeth Anderson, were having a day ‘up town’ – a far cry from their day job of selling soap on the street in the slums of Spitalfields. They were on an ‘inventory’ hunt, deciding to add to their items ‘for sale’. But…. they got caught!!

'Gin Lane' by William Hogarth
‘Gin Lane’ by William Hogarth

Mr Hayward spied them perusing the offers inside his wife’s washing basket, selecting 2 aprons and 2 tablecloths. I can only imagine how the following events unfolded as it all seems too convenient! According to the sworn testimony of Mr Hayward, Lizzy A knocked on the door (after just nicking the aprons) and ‘Demanded Gin’.

I’m not quite sure how this went down: “Please sir, can I have some Gin?’, ‘Got any Gin Sir?’, ‘Hey! Gimme some Gin!’ or my suspicion – ‘Would you like some Gin? (because I just caught you stealing my wife’s washing and I need to distract you while I call the constable)’ Either way Lizzy A was ecstatic that she was getting Gin and followed Mr Hayward into his parlour! My Ancestor, Lizzy B, wanted a drink too; She demanded beer instead, and having trapped his linen thieves in the front parlour, Mr Hayward fetched the constable.

Trial by Jury at the Old Baileyold-bailey

Justice Wilson was charged with a task: American Independence was won in 1776 and England’s jails were filling up again as they could no longer send their convicts to the Americas. Since 1740, the population of England had increased considerably, with London full of unemployed people and a never-ending supply of gin. The Crown needed a solution to three problems: where to put new criminals when the jails were overcrowded; How to curb the unemployed gin-drinkers pilfering the streets of London; and how to populate, develop and defend the new-founded British Australia.

On the 10th of January 1787, in my opinion, my fortunate ancestor and her best friend, Elizabeth Bruce and Elizabeth Anderson – gin and beer drinking, unemployed petty-criminals – got to participate in an event forever marked in history: they were first passengers on the First Fleet of Convicts, sent to found the colony of New South Wales.

After hearing the sworn testimonies of Mr & Mrs Hayward, the Constable of Poland Street, and the pitiful defence of the Lizzies, Justice Wilson had an easy task… ‘Transportation and 7 years hard labour in the Colonies’.

The First Fleet of 11 ships left Portsmouth on the 13th of May 1787. The Lizzies were on the Lady Penrhyn. 

A Toast – to Elizabeth Bruce

On this day, after 230 years, I am toasting you from the steps of the Old Bailey, London. I am holding up a nip of GIN in your honour.