A Merciless Place:
The Lost Story of Britain's Convict Disaster in
Africa and How it Led to the Settlement of Australia
extraordinary story - lost for two centuries - of how a
failed British attempt to establish a penal colony in
West Africa led to their eventual decision to abandon
their African plans and establish a new colony in the
recently discovered colony known as New South Wales
This is a story lost to history for over two
hundred years; a dirty secret of failure, fatal
misjudgement and desperate measures which the British
Empire chose to forget almost as soon as it was over.
In the wake of its most crushing defeat, the America War
of Independence, the British Government began shipping
its criminals to West Africa. Some were transported
aboard ships going to pick up their other human cargo:
African slaves. When they arrived at their destination,
soldiers and even convicts were forced to work in the
region's slave-trading forts guarding the human
In a few short years the scheme brought death, wholesale
desertions, mutiny, piracy and even murder. Some of the
most egregious crimes were not committed by the exported
criminals but by those sent out to guard them. Acts of
wanton desperation added to rash transgressions as those
whom society had already thrown out realised that they
had nothing left to lose.
As jail and prison hulks overflowed, and as every other
alternative settlement proved unsuitable, the British
Government gambled and decided to send its criminals as
far away as possible, to the great south land sighted
years before by Captain James Cook. Out of the embers of
the African debacle came the modern nation of Australia.
The extraordinary tale is
now being told for the first time - how a small band of
good-for-nothing members of the British Empire spanned
the world from America, to Africa, and on to Australia,
profoundly if utterly unwittingly changing history.
"A compelling read with
an enormous cast of unsavoury characters spiced with
delicious historical trivia."
Spectrum August 7-8 2010.