The first Greeks to walk on Australian soil were convicts, according to the late historian Hugh Gilchrist.
As we celebrate 184 years of their first arrival on August 28, we remember the seven sailors from the island of Hydra who were convicted of piracy by a British naval court in 1829. The Greek sailors were dispatched to serve out the term of their sentence in the colony of New South Wales.
According to Mr Gilchrist (1916-2010), former ambassador of Australia to Greece and author of the three volume history Australians and Greeks, the sailors were crew members of the ship Hercules which attacked the British Ship Alceste off the shore of Libya and removed part of its cargo in July 1827.
When the Greek convicts were eventually pardoned in 1834, five of them decided to leave Australia, while two remained in the country’s settlements. The two who chose to stay were Gikas Voulgaris and Antonios Manolis. The latter married an Irish woman and became a farmer in Picton, approximately 80 km south west from Sydney. His grave in Picton can still be seen today.
The first free Greek migrant to Australia was Katerina Georgia Plessos (1809-1907), who arrived in Sydney with her husband Major James Crummer in 1835. They married in 1827 on the small Ionian island of Kalamos where Crummer, the island’s governor, met the young refugee woman from the Greek war of independence against the Ottoman Empire.
The 1901 Australian census recorded 878 Greek-born residents, but this number however is considered to underestimate the Greek population at the time because it did not include Greeks born in parts of Greece that were still under the occupation of the Turks.