Living History

Anyone who knows me knows I love history. I spent a couple of years as a Revolutionary War re-enactor. I visit historic sites whenever and wherever I travel. I write history books for a living, including writing for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation for a couple of years. It’s not the only thing I love, but it definitely tops the charts for me.

History is dotted with remarkable people and events—and the most astonishing rarely make it into modern textbooks. It is also overflowing with fun, fascinating tales of how we got to where we are. Everything is far more interconnected than most people realize—and sometimes the connections are as interesting as the events themselves.

The historic connections between the United States and Australia are numerous. It is not a mere coincidence that Australia was settled a very short while after Britain lost her American colonies. One had to have somewhere to dump the poor, political malcontents, and other undesirables. Once the United States shut the door, Australia (charted by Captain Cook in 1770) suddenly became far more interesting, and the British dashed off to claim it for themselves (arriving only a day before Britain’s perennial enemy, the French).

British soldiers who had fought in the American Revolution now found themselves on the far side of the planet. The gold miners one associates with the California Gold Rush largely headed for Australia when gold was discovered near Melbourne. Going the other way, convicts who escaped from Australia headed for the United States—and often did quite well once there. A good example of this is Irish rebel Thomas Meagher, who was convicted of sedition in Britain and sent to the penal outpost in Tasmania (known then as Van Diemen’s Land). Escaping Tasmania, he headed for the U.S., where he joined the Union Army during the Civil War and ended up a Brigadier General and, later, governor of the Montana Territory.

It was this love of history that drew me to Old Sydney Town, a sprawling recreation of Sydney during the terms of the new colony’s first five governors. Of course, for most of this period, the colony was known as New South Wales, as it wasn’t until the fifth governor arrived that it got named Australia. Hence, the British soldiers stationed in the colony were known as the New South Wales Corps.

That’s enough for today—more about this splendid place in the next post. But here’s a photo of a few of the British redcoats known as the New South Wales Corps, outside their barracks in Old Sydney Town.

Members of the New South Wales Corps

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3 Comments

Filed under Australia, Book, History, Travel

3 responses to “Living History

  1. Didn’t know they had colour photography back then! LOL. Unfortunately, Old Sydney Town closed down a while ago as a tourist venture, but clearly after your visit.

    • I had wondered. It occurred to me as I was dropping off to sleep last night that I should check to see if it was still open. It should be open, as it was wonderful. However, since I hadn’t visited since my first trip to Australia, I didn’t know how it had fared. Thanks for the update, but sorry that it didn’t make it. I wonder sometimes what makes some things succeed and others fail. Glad I got to see it, as there was much history shared that delighted me. I loved that re-enactors didn’t just take on a stock persona but actually studied a specific person from the time period and knew all about it. Any other efforts to recreate that period? Victoria has Sovereign Hill, but does New South Wales have anything to commemorate its history, now that Old Sydney Town is gone?

      • I remember when it closed, which is why I checked when I saw your post, but I can’t fully recollect the details. Reduced numbers though I think was the cause. To be honest, I never went there but I have been to Sovereign Hill. It was a popular place for school groups. I’m not sure that there is anything in its place which is a pity, though these re-constructed/re-enactment places are tricky to get just right I think.

        I’ve been to and enjoyed a few in the US, such as Colonial Williamsburg.

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