You are now entering the Jewish Currents archive.

January 27: Jewish Convicts in Australia

Lawrence Bush
January 27, 2010

Esther-AbrahamsEsther Abrahams, age 16, was one of a dozen Jews among 800 British convicts who anchored in New South Wales on this date in 1788, as part of the first fleet of British prisoners sent to colonize Australia. Abrahams, convicted of stealing lace, had given birth to a daughter while in Newgate Prison. Headed towards the penal colony aboard the Lady Penhryn to serve a seven-year “transport,” she became involved with a marine lieutenant, George Johnston, with whom she ultimately had seven children. In 1808, Johnston led a coup and became governor of the colony for six months. By then the couple controlled a good deal of the trade in rum and were among Sydney’s most prosperous families. Historians estimate that 463 Jews came to Australia in the first four decades of British colonization, including 384 convicts, 52 free settlers and 27 children.

At the end of my trial, I was rather hoping the judge would send me to Australia for the rest of my life.” —Sir Jeffrey Archer

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.