Jillian Beard
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Humanity amidst calamity
Humanitarian discourse in New South Wales, 1788–1830
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The inaugural governor of New South Wales, Arthur Phillip, was instructed to ‘conciliate the affections of the natives’ in New South Wales in 1788. Phillip also forbade slavery in the colony, in what has been referred to as a humanitarian gesture. By contrast, marine lieutenant Watkin Tench observed in relation to the transportation of convicts, that advocates for humanity in the colony were few and risked being overshadowed by the ‘vile monsters who deride misery and fatten on calamity’. What, then, did it mean to be an advocate of humanity amidst the various calamities of colonisation? Who was considered ‘humane’ among the colonial officials, the recalcitrant Britons and the supposedly ‘savage’ local Indigenous peoples, and why? This chapter will consider the emergence of humanitarian ideals in the late eighteenth century and examine the ways they were evaluated, expressed and practised during the earliest period of the colonisation of New South Wales. Further, it will reflect on the ways historiography of this period has perpetuated a narrative of enlightened humanity, despite the dissonance between the rhetoric of humanitarianism and the practice of colonisation.

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