The British government determined on settling New South Wales in 1786 and colonization began early in 1788. The motives for this move have become a matter of some controversy. The traditional view is that Britain thereby sought to relieve the pressure upon its prisons, a pressure intensified by the loss of its American colonies, which hitherto had accepted felons. Convicts went to the settlement from the outset, and official statements put this first among the colony's intended purposes. But some historians argue that this glossed a scheme, likely to provoke concern both within Britain and at the diplomatic level, to provide a bastion for British trade in the eastern seas. Supporters of the commercial-strategic viewpoint emphasize that Cook had extended hopes that the South Pacific would provide essential naval stores, especially mast timber and flax (Its lack of documentary evidence notwithstanding, the argument makes considerable sense.).
[from Encyclopedia Britannica, entered by JPH '93]