The History of Hemp in Australia
In the history of hemp, Australia was the final destination.
In 1788, the first fleet of 11 ships arrived carrying criminals of all shapes and sizes. Amongst the disease and degeneracy, there were also a number of other critical resources aboard.
Today we investigate how hemp made its way to Australia. We’ll also touch on the theory that Australia may have been colonised with the primary intent to grow hemp.
Introducing Sir Joseph Banks
Sir Joseph Banks was born in England in 1743 and grew up to be a botanist who practised in natural sciences. His name was well renowned in the world of botanical science due to his curious and exploratory nautre. Some even say that Captain Cook was ‘just the guy who steered the boat for Banks.’ At one point, he was hailed ‘The father of Australia.’
Have you ever heard of the Banksia family of plants? This species was named after him.
How about Eucalyptus and Acacia? Well, he introduced these plants to the Western world.
Sir Joseph Banks joined Captain Cook on his first great voyage to pursue his interests in documenting and collecting the different plants of the world.
When he came back from his first trip to Australia, he brought home over 30,000 plant specimens, and from that discovered 1,400 new plants. However, among these discoveries he brought back, he was also credited for taking something to Australia – a little plant called Hemp.
This was the beginning of the History of Hemp in Australia.
Australia: A Hemp Colony
There are many stories and ideas about what Banks wanted done with New South Wales, we’re going to entertain one that is less spoken about. In 2012, historian John Jiggins authored ‘Sir Joseph Banks and the Question of Hemp’. In his book, Jiggins explores the theory that Banks’ intention was for Australia to be a ‘hemp colony’, rather than a place to unload prisoners.
The ‘Age of Sail’ relied on hemp like the 21st century relies on oil. It fuelled trade, assisted in military transport, and drove nations to acquire more land – to grow more hemp.
In an interview with Robyn Williams from ABC, Jiggens noted that the British hemp trade between 1776 and 1815 shows a need for a ‘hemp colony’. In fact, the idea of taking land to boost resource production was common in the British empire.
Upon settlement, convicts and slaves in Australia grew hemp for rope and canvas to build and maintain ships. Much like other nations, early Australian convicts grew hemp to match high demand for this valued resource.
Into the Future with Hemp
If Banks wanted Australia to be a major supplier of hemp, it’s safe to say that idea didn’t come to fruition.
Although it was grown by those who colonised Australia, it was banned in 1937. In 1998 the Australian government started allowing a select farmers to produce hemp, but products remained illegal to Australian consumers.
Therefore, the industry was wrapped tightly in red tape.
However, in 2017 the Australian government legalised produciton and sale of hemp products for human consumption. Unfortunately, there are still elements of fear and uncertainty that come with this new opportunity. Due to strict regulations around the species of plant, farmers must secure the right genetics or risk having to toss the entire crop.
Don’t you think it’s interesting that Australia may have been intended to develop mass amounts of hemp? Regardless of the truth to that theory, there’s still a big trend showing…
So was this a botanists dream, a silly theory, or a future solution?
Maybe it’s still the plan…
Let us know what you think! We’d love to hear your thoughts on the history of hemp in Australia.