THE STORY OF TRANSPORTATION
How big were the ships? asks my son.
They were quite small. There were hundreds of people squashed into them. It was very crowded and in those days it took nine months to sail from England to Australia. So for nine months the convicts sat in the little ship all squashed together with not much to eat and chains on their legs and – I make an effort to ramp up the drama – they didn’t even have a toilet.
Where did they go to the toilet?
They would just often have to go where they were sitting. People were sick and had diarrhoea and died and it must have been very smelly and horrible. Imagine being squashed in a smelly dark hole on a ship going up and down for all that time. And knowing you will never see England again. Never go home. Going to a country no-one has been to before that you don’t know anything about. Imagine that.
He imagines it.
So were they very hungry?
They were very, very hungry and when they arrived in Australia they made a town – which was called a colony, that’s Sydney, and they tried to make food grow but many of the animals had died on the way over and a lot of the people were sick and so hungry they couldn’t work. So they just got hungrier and hungrier.
What about goats?
Goats are good animals to have.
Yes. Yes they are. Clever boy. Anyway, remember they had to take all their food for the journey and then food to survive while they waited for food to grow when they got there. They thought it would be just like England and they could make farms just like they were used to in England. But Australia is very different. (I have a think here: How different? In what way different?) The soil is different and (what else?) it is very, very hot there.
(This is good. I am getting somewhere.)
Yes. It was very hard for everyone. It took two years -TWO YEARS- for another ship to come. There was a famine. They were skeletons. Even their clothes rotted off their backs. Every day they looked out from the cliffs hoping to see another ship coming and none came. Imagine that.
He imagines a little longer.
What did they do when another ship came?
I think they were very happy. They were so hungry. They needed more food. All that time there was no way of telling anyone in England that they were hungry and things were very hard. There was no mail. Australia was still a new country. No-one went there.
(I am going in circles.)
Why did it take two years for the other ship to come?
Yes. England was at war then. But the colony didn’t know that. So England didn’t send another ship with prisoners because they were busy. All the ships were busy. War is very expensive – it takes up a lot of time and money and vehicles.
Was that in Afghanistan?
No. That’s the war we are currently fighting. That is also very expensive. No this was… well, England and France are friends now, but they used to fight a lot.
(I don’t know.)
I don’t really know.
I think England won a bit and lost a bit.
(This is ridiculous. Perhaps I suffer from historical alexia.)
I tell you who will know: Jim (Jim is our neighbour.) He is a Professor of History at University. And that is his period.
Period! He laughs and points to his groin. Period! Penis! At last he has got some real entertainment out of this conversation.
Period just means a length of time. A menstrual cycle is a period of time – that’s why it is called a period.
Period! He rolls about in the armchair. Ha! Jim!
I think you’re being silly now.
You said period.
Period’s have got nothing to do with penises.
Oh! My penis! My period! Oh no!
Anyway, but when the boats arrived. After two years and everyone was so hungry – do you know what happened?
The boats were just full of more prisoners. More sick people and not much food. So now they had even more people and less food.
(I wait a bit.) So how about that? Hey?
Stop that silly laughing. It’s not funny.
What do you want for breakfast?