Wednesday, January 26, 2011

First Fleet arrives in Australia, January 26, 1788

Among the convicts on the first convict ship to Botany Bay near modern-day Sydney were many Jews – they can be identified because at their trials they took the oath on the Old Testament. Esther Abrahams (whose exact birthdate is unknown) may be the best-known of these Jewish convicts. She had been convicted of stealing a piece of lace, and therefore was deported on the ship. In Australia, she lived with and later married George Johnston, who was a prominent politician in the colony, and she is considered the First Lady of Australia. 

The role of Jews, especially Jewish convicts, in the colonial history of Australia is interesting – they were known to be Jews but had little religious life during the early years. The best known is Ikey Solomon, a colorful rascal who escaped prison in England (where I think he faced the death penalty) and paid his way to Australia to join his also-convicted wife. I read the original pamphlet (early 1800s) about his anti-social exploits in the Australian National Library. Quite a story!

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