Just this week, the first shipment of medicinal cannabis arrived in the land Down Under, but the history of weed in Australia goes a long way back, as National Geographic has uncovered.
Was cannabis the real reason why Britain colonized Australia?
While the first shipment of medical marijuana just arrived in Perth, it seems that the very first weed arrived in Australia along with the First Fleet, the 11 ships that carried the nearly 1500 men, women and children that migrated to the land Down Under, which a National Geographic article has brought to light.
At the request of famed botanist Joseph Banks (a colleague of Captain Cook), a bunch of hemp was loaded onto ships in the First Fleet as cargo “for commerce” when landing. It was the hope of Banks to commercially produce hemp for the new colony.
According to Dr. John Jiggens, a well-known writer, journalist, and cannabis advocate, Britain was deep in the hemp trade, which is why Banks saw the settlement of Australia as a way of expanding Britain’s hemp trade,
The implications of Britain’s need for hemp made the hemp trade a strategic target in times of war, as this brief overview of the Hemp Question shows. Although the strategy of reliance on Russian hemp was risky, it was the basis of empire.
Without the Russian hemp trade, the British Empire would never have been as great. Great as Great Britain became, its empire dangled by that ribbon of hempen trade that wound its way through the narrow and dangerous passages of the Baltic Sea.
Dr. Jiggens believes the original plan was to develop a new hemp colony in New South Wales, in the southeastern part of the continent, and that the resettlement of convicts was just a cover – albeit, a pretty elaborate one.
The wonders of hemp
See, in the late 18th century, cannabis was all about hemp and not cannabis. This was because the long-stem fibers of the plant were used for sails, cables, and rigging, something that was quite important for the empire, as hemp was needed for launching a first-rate warship. At the time, hemp was as important to them as oil is to modern day life.
But was the potential hemp crop really the reason behind colonizing New South Wales?
As the article suggests, there is an argument for it, as some historians have said that the “the dumping of convicts” is a far too simple explanation for colonizing Australia.
Also, Banks happened to have a major role in the plan to colonize New South Wales, and he also had an interest in hemp – even going so far to publish a file called Hemp 1764-1810 – and may have seen the area as a potential hemp colony.
It wasn’t just in Australia that the British experimented with hemp colonies, either, as it was also done in India. But thanks to an error in cannabis taxonomy (it’s not known if Sir Joseph Banks was to blame), it turns out the colony was attempting to turn “dope into rope” – yes, it was marijuana growing and not hemp.
So, was hemp the real reason that Australia was colonized?