Articles and Facts

The Ships of the First Fleet

Background information  

On Sunday 13th May, 1787 eleven small ships carrying about 1,500 people set sail from Portsmouth, England on an epic voyage of over 13,000 miles (20,900 k kilometres) and founded the nation of "Australia".

On 25 November, Phillip had transferred to HMS Supply. With Alexander, Friendship and Scarborough, the fastest ships in the Fleet, which were carrying most of the male convicts, HMS Supply hastened ahead to prepare for the arrival of the rest. Phillip intended to select a suitable location, find good water, clear the ground, and perhaps even have some huts and other structures built before the others arrived. This was a planned move, discussed by the Home Office and the Admiralty prior to the Fleet's departure.

However, this "flying squadron" reached Botany Bay only hours before the rest of the Fleet, so no preparatory work was possible. HMS Supply reached Botany Bay on 18th January 1788; the three fastest transports in the advance group arrived on 19th January; slower ships, including HMS Sirius, arrived on 20th January.[

On Friday, 25th January, the HMS. Supply made history by being the first ship of the First Fleet to sail into Port Jackson where she dropped anchor at Sydney Cove, (now Circular Quay) at 7 p.m.

The following morning at day-break, Commander in Chief Arthur Phillip and his party went ashore and raised the Union Flag which marked the first settlement of Europeans in Australia.
The other ten ships arrived in Sydney Cove late that afternoon, after experiencing difficulties in getting out of Botany Bay.

When the First Fleet sailed into the English Channel on the 13th May 1787, it was made up of the following 11 ships:-


Alexander (Barque) – Convict Transport – 452 Tons, 114 ft. (34.75m.) long and 31 ft.(9.5m) beam.
Deptford survey in October 1786 recorded her measurements of 7'3" between decks afore, 6'11" midships and abaft. 
Carried 30 Crew plus 41 Marines. Arrived with 177 male Convicts (14dv).
Skippered by: Master Duncan Sinclair. Owner: William Walton & Co.
Built as a 3 master-square rig, 1 quarter deck ± 114 x 31ft and 2 decks without galleries or figurehead, and was registered at Hull in 1783. 
The longest ship of the fleet, and little is known after her return to England and disappeared from records in 1808.


Borrowdale Store Ship – 272 Tons, 75-ft. (22.7m.) long and 22-ft. (6.7m.) beam.
Deptford survey in 1785 recorded her 272k. Height between decks after 5'8", midships 5'9", abaft 6'9" 
Carried 22 crew + 1 Marine & Wife. 
Skippered by: Master Readthorn Hobson Reed.
Built at Sunderland in 1785.
Borrowdale was a three-masted,
square rigged merchant ship, launched in 1785, that served as a store ship of the First Fleet, a convoy of ships taking settlers and convicts to establish the first European colony in Australia. She was wrecked in 1789.

She was built in Sunderland in 1785, perhaps for the British East India Company (EIC). However, the British government immediately chartered her to participate in the First Fleet.

She left Portsmouth on 13 May 1787, and arrived at Botany Bay, on 20 January 1788.

She left Port Jackson on 14 July 1788 to return to England via Cape Horn. The crew was so badly affected by scurvy that the master, (Readthorn) Hobson Reed, took her to Rio de Janeiro, where the harbour master and his men had to bring the ship to its berth. Five of the crew died on the homeward voyage. Borrowdale arrived at Plymouth from Botany Bay on 25 March 1789

After returning to England Borrowdale served as a collier. A violent storm developed of the coast of Norfolk on 30 October 1789 that damaged many vessels, and sank some. On 31 October 1789 Borrowdale sank off Great Yarmouth, taking Master Hobson Reed and all but one man of his crew with her.


Charlotte Convict Transport – 335 Tons, 105-ft. (32m.) long and 28-ft. (8.5m.) beam.
When surveyed at Deptford Yard on 3 November 1786 measured 6'6' afore, amid and abaft and weighed 345 tons.
Carried 30 Crew plus 32 Marines & Family + 1 Civilian. Arrived with 84 male Convicts (4dv) and 24 female Convicts.
Skippered by: Master Thomas Gilbert.
Built in 1784, a three-masted fully square rigged with neither galleries or figurehead, whereabouts not known. 
After her return to England she was sold to a Quebec merchant in 1818 and was lost off the coast of Newfoundland in November 1818.


Fishburn  A Store Ship – Whitby built in 1780, and was 378 Tons, 103 ft. (31.4m) long, 29 ft. (8.8m) beam.
According to her 1786 Deptford survey, was 6'1' between decks afore, 5'9' midships and 7'1' abaft.
Skippered by: Master Robert Brown. Owner: Leighton Co.
Leaving Port Jackson on 19th November 1788, Fishburn kept in company with Golden Grove until losing sight of her on 11th April 1789, after several days at the Falklands for recovery of sick crew members, Fishburn arrived home and was discharged from HM’s Service at Deptford on 25 May 1789
Like the other store ships, after her epic voyage, following her returned to England, she disappeared from records.

Only eight members of the crew of Fishburn have been identified from the ship’s log and other sources. She carried a crew of about 30 crew.


Friendship Convict Transport – 278 Tons, 75 ft. (22.9m.) long, 23 ft. (7.0m.) beam.

Carried 20 Crew, 42 Marines & Family. Arrived with 72 male Convicts (1dv). 
Skippered by: Master Francis Walton.
Little is known about where and when the Friendship was built c.1784. 
During her return voyage to England her crew came down with scurvy, and with insufficient crew to man her she was scuttled and sunk in the Straits of Macassar 28 October 1788.


Golden Grove Store Ship – 331 Tons, 103-ft. (31.4m.) long, 29-ft. (8.8m.) beam.

Carried 22 Crew plus 4 Civilians.
Skippered by: Master William Sharpe, Owner: Leighton Co. 
Built at Whitby in 1780. 
The Golden Grove had the distinction of carrying the Reverend Richard Johnson and his wife to the Colony.
Returned to England to work the London - Jamaica run and disappeared from records after 1804.

Lady Penrhyn Convict Transport – 338 Tons, 103 ft. (31.4m.) long and 27 ft. (8.23m.) beam.

Carried 32 Crew plus 18 Marines. Arrived with 102 female Convicts, 12 Children plus 2 male Convicts.
Skippered by: Master William Cropton Sever
Built at the Thames in 1786. 
Returned to England and put on the London - Jamaica run and was captured in 1811 in the West Indies.

Prince of Wales Convict Transport – 350 Tons, 103 ft. (31.4m.) long, 29 ft. (8.8m.) beam. 

Carried 25 Crew, 45 Marines & Family + 1 Civilian.  Arrived with 3 male, 62 female Convicts (1 dv) plus 3 Convicts children.  
Skippered by: Master John Mason 
Built at the Thames in 1786.
After her return to England she operated there until 1797 when her registration was transferred to Fort Royal, Martinique, after which little is known.

Scarborough Convict Transport – 430 Tons, 111 ft. (33.8m.) long, 30 ft. (9.1m.) beam. 

Skippered by: Master John Marshall - Owners: Thomas George & John Hopper
Built at Scarborough in 1782.
For the First Fleet voyage she carried 30 Crew plus 50 Marines & Family, and with 201 male Convicts (1dv).
The "Scarborough" sailed back to England
and arrived back in the UK on 28 May 1789 when it sailed into the Downs. Upon return the vessel underwent repairs to make her suitable for a new voyage to Australia
The Scarborough, again under the command of John Marshall, also took part in the Second Fleet. In November 1789, many of the 259 male convicts coming aboard were in poor health and did not survive the voyage; this combined with an attempted seizure of the ship by the convicts, deterred Marshall from any further voyages of transportation but 73 convicts had died by the time Scarborough arrived in Sydney Cove on 28 June 1790.

She was the only ship of the First Fleet to return to Australia apart from the "Sirius" and the "Supply" which sailed to Cape Town and back.
The Scarborough sailed for Canton on 8th August, arriving safely in London some-time between August and October 1791

Fate of Scarborough:
Under a new master and with major repairs Scarborough was employed on the London to St Petersburg route. With changes in ownership and masters, Scarborough was employed on the London to St Vincent (Caribbean) run and the London-West Indies /St Vincent run.

In that year the vessel suffered a major accident (partially broke up) and underwent 'good repair' including resheeting. It was then employed on the London to St.Petersburg route. The rebuilt and resurveyed vessel had its formal tonnage reduced from 600 to 411, a figure which is close to that determined by the Admiralty in 1786.
From 1793 it was given a new master, M. Hodgson, and employed on the London to St.Petersburg route. In 1795 it underwent repairs and was hereafter listed as 'London Transport." In the following year the ship was sold to S.Wharton, who took off two of the guns.

 In 1798 the command was handed to a G. Fryer. Later that year the ship was sold to G.Blakey, who appointed P.Levitt as master. The Scarborough had some damages repaired and was partly resheeted and then, armed with 6 four-pounder guns, employed on the London to Jamaica run under the command of P.Levitt.

In 1800 the vessel was owned by a Kensington, no employed on the London to St.Vincent (Carribean) run with a J.Scott as new master. During that year the ship was almost rebuilt and completely resheeted. Under the command of T. Melville the Scarborough was employed on the London-West Indies / St. Vincent run in 1801 to 1803, by which time it still carried six guns. In 1804 and 1805 the vessel was used in the London to Tobago run

The last entry for the vessel can be found in Lloyd’s Register for 1805, twenty-three years after it was built.

The fate of the vessel, whether it was broken up or lost at sea cannot be ascertained.


1)         The CONVICT SHIPS 1787-1868 by Charles Bateson

2)         Historic Ships Associated with the Marshall Islands No. 2-The British merchant vessel Scarborough (1788) edited by Dirk H.R. Spennemann



H.M.S Sirius: (Armed Flag Ship) – 540 Tons, 110 ft. (33.5m.), 32 ft. (9.8m.) beam, 20 guns. 
Built with 3 Masts – Mainmast 77'7", Foremast 70'7", Mizenmast 66'8" having 8 main Yards sizes ranging from 56'3" to 26'3", Bowsprit (front pointing boom) 47'10", Flying Jib Boom (rear boom) 35'10" , she was the largest ship of the fleet
NOTE: Any picture with any more or less than 8 main sails with cross yards, is not a true representation of the Sirius. 
Arrived with 198 Officers, Crew, Marines and Families. 
Skippered by: Captain John Hunter. 
Built in 1780 as the "Berwick" for the East India trade.
She was badly burnt in a fire and was bought and rebuilt by the Navy in 1786 and renamed "Sirius".
Sirius's hull was well built of teakwood and her bottom was covered in copper. She was painted bright yellow with a broad black band near the waterline. 
After her arrival in Port Jackson she remained as a supply ship and sailed to the Cape of Good Hope in October 1788 to obtain food supplies for the starving colony.
After returning, she was eventually wrecked off Norfolk Island during a gale on 19th March 1790.


H.M.S. (H.M.A.T.)  Supply (Armed Tender) – Brig – 170 Tons, 70 ft. (21.3m.) long and 26 ft. (7.92m) beam, 8 Guns.

Arrived with 55 Officers, Crew and Marines plus 2 Convicts. 
Skippered by: Henry Lidgbird Ball.
Little is known about this brig's early history. It appears she was built in America about 1759 and was commissioned by the Admiralty in October 1786. 
The smallest ship of the fleet, but the fastest, she led the fleet during most of the voyage.

"Supply" remained as one of the Colony's ships, until she sailed for England on 26 November 1791 via Cape Horn, and anchored at Plymouth on 21 April 1792. 

The crew were paid off at Deptford on 15 May and there she was put into condition for sale at a valuation of £465. 

She was bought at auction on 17 July 1792 for £500 by Thomas Oldfield of Rotherhithe, a London coal merchant. 

Renamed 'Thomas and Nancy' by the new owner who appointed Thomas Skelton or Shelton as master, the ship seems to have carried coal 

in the Thames area for the most part until the end of her useful life around 1806.



Many books, charts and pictures have shown the Borrowdale as 372 tons when fact she was only 272 tons (a). As such, many pictures have shown her as 3 Masted, when in fact she was about the same length as Friendship. H.M.S. (H.M.T.) Supply, Friendship have been drawn with 2 main masts.


One of Australia's Great Artist – Mr Frank Allen was a self-taught artist, who was brought up on an island off the Queensland coast and spent most of his younger years at sea where he developed a fascination for old sailing ships. Whilst later working life has been spent as a commercial artist, his spare time has been devoted to the study of Maritime history. 
The project of painting the ships of the First Fleet involved many long hours of research and hundreds of sketches, before pencil medium was transformed to water colour. 
No plans or draughts, apart from H.M.S. Sirius and H.M.S. Supply, these having been bought by the Navy. The other 9 merchant ships had no central body to keep details at that time. 
Throughout 2 years of study history books and sketching details, it was possible to build a fairly accurate picture of shipbuilding of that period. In some instances, as in the case of the "Borrowdale" it was not possible to determine, even though this research, as to whether it had a figurehead, scroll-head or neither. As a consequence, it was painted in stern view, so as not be historically misleading.
With this information at hand it was possible to depict accurately the people on board in correct perspective to the ship's size and makes one realise how unbelievably courageous the forefathers of Australia were.


Scurvy: A vitamin C Deficiency. 
All fresh fruits and vegetables contain vitamin C or ascorbic acid. 
Symptoms: A person with scurvy tends to become very weak and anaemic, to have spongy gums and subject to haemorrhages, especially about the joints and beneath the skin, The joint haemorrhages cause severe pain, and sometimes lead to the diagnosis of rheumatism or arthritis. 
In early times it was the greatest killer of seaman and was not uncommon to take more than half the crew.




How many people left England and how many arrived at Botany Bay? 

A total of 732 convicts landed (543 men and 189 women) plus 22 convicts’ children (11 boys, 11 girls).

There were 630 officials/marines/ships crew and their families.  

IN TOTAL 1384.

During the voyage there were 22 births (13 boys, 9 girls) while 69 people either died, were discharged or deserted (61 males, 8 females).


NOTE: There are no surviving crew musters for the six transports and three stores ships. Thus there could have been as many as 115 more seamen. 

So approximately 1546 people left England and 1499 reached Sydney Cove.

Convicts, Children, Marines, Crews and who died.



Born on

Died or
left Voyage

Landed at
Sydney Cove

Officials & Passengers










Marines' Wives





Marines' Children





Marines' Children - Born





Ship's crew










Convicts' Children - Embarked





Convicts' Children - Born










Sea Terms used in shipping

Abaft - means a position to the rear on a ship.
Abeam - is the position of an object seen on either side of the ship near an imaginary line drawn across its middle.
About - is the direction opposite to that in, which a ship is sailing.
Aft - means toward the rear or stern of a ship.
Aloft - means above the main or top deck of a ship.
Amidships - is the middle of a vessel, referring either to its length or its width.
Ballast - is any material used to keep a ship stable, or steady.
Beam - is the width of a ship’s hull measured at the widest point.
Belaying Pin - pin fitted to a rail to secure a rope
Below - means beneath the main deck.
Bermuda Rig - rig with a triangular mainsail, as used on cruising and racing vessels
Bilgewell or Bilge - is the lowest part of a hold or compartment, generally where the rounded side of a ship curves from the keep to the vertical sides.
Binnacle - is a stand near the steering wheel that holds a magnetic compass, compensating magnets, and a light.
Bitts - are deck fittings, usually found in pairs, used to secure mooring lines to the ship.
- person in charge of equipment, maintenance and deck crews
Bow - is the front of a ship.
Bridge - is the platform above the main deck from which a ship is steered and navigated.
Bulkhead - is a wall or partition that separates rooms, holds, or tanks within the hull of a ship.
Bulwark - is the part of a ship’s side that extends fore and aft above the main deck to form a rail.
Capstan - is a revolving wooden or steel drum mounted on a vertical axle on deck. Sailors use capstans as pulleys to help move heave objects with ropes.
- to waterproof the hull or seal the seams of a wooden ship, as with tar or pitch
Chain Locker - is the compartment in the hull of a ship where the anchor chain is stored.
Companionway - includes the steps leading from deck to deck, and the space taken up by the steps.
Crow’s Nest - is a lookout platform on a mast.
Davit - is one of a pair of cranes used to hold lifeboats and to lower them over the side of a ship.
Deck - is one of the floor like horizontal surfaces of a ship.
Draft - is the depth of water that a ship needs to float. It is also the distance from the keel to the water line.
Figurehead - is a half body and head of a living thing that was put on the bow of the ship. Common ones were:- Mermaids, Dolphins, Greek Gods, Kings or Queens.
Forecastle (FOHKs’) - is the forward part of the ship, usually in the bow.
Forepeak - is the space below the forecastle in the bow.
Forward - means toward the front of an object of a ship. It is opposite of abaft.
Freeboard - is the distance from the water line to the main deck.
Gangway - is an opening in the rail or bulwarks of a ship through which people walk on and off.
Gear - is a ship’s ropes, blocks, and tackles, or a sailor’s personal belongings.
Gunwalt (GUNEL) - is the upper edge of ships or boat’s side or rail,
Hatchway - is an opening in the deck through which cargo is lowered into or raised out of a hold.
Hawsepipe - is a pipe or channel in each side of the bow through which anchor chains run from the chain locker to the anchors.
Hawser - rope or cable used in mooring or towing a ship
Heads - Seaman's latrine in the ships bows or two promenade points of land leading to head of a river or stream.
Helm - ship's steering equipment, tiller or wheel
Hold - is the space below decks where cargo is stored.
Hill - is the body of a ship, not including superstructure, mast and machinery.
Hulk - ship of a heavy and awkward design
Hull - main body or shell of a ship
Inboard - means toward the centre of a ship.
Keel - is the steel backbone of a ship. It runs along the lowest part of the hull from the bow to the stern.
Lee or Leeward - means the direction toward which the wind is blowing across a ship. The lee side of a ship is the side away from the wind.
List - occurs when a vessel leans to one side.
Mooring - means trying a ship to a pier, to a buoy, or to another vessel.
Old salt - A seaman who is regarded having spent a long time at sea.
Perser - ship's officer supervising of food and provisions
Pitching - is the fore-and-aft rocking of a ship.
Poop Deck - is a short deck raised above the main deck at the stern.
Port - is the left side of the shop facing forward.
Porthole - is a round window in a ship’s side, fitted with glass and metal covers.
Quarter - is either side of a ship near the stern.
Quarterdeck - is the part of the upper deck that extends from the mainmast aft between the amidships house, or cabin, and the poop deck.
Rigging - the fixed ropes and wires holding the masts are called standing rigging. The movable ropes that operate booms are funning rugging.
Rolling - is the side-to-side motion of a ship.
Scuttle Butt - is a drinking fountain on a ship. It also means a ship’s gossip.
Seaworthy - describes a vessel that can meet the usual conditions found at sea.
Ship’s Bell - signals the time on a vessel. A ship’s day consists of four-hour watches. Watches change at eight bells, or 12, 4 and 8 o’clock.
Shipshape - means neat, or in proper order.
Shrouds - ropes or cables supporting the mast on a ship or boat
Starboard - is the right side of a ship facing forward.
Stay - is a wire or rope used to support a mast or spar of a ship.
Stern - is the rear of the ship.
Superstructure - is the part of a ship that extends above the main deck.
Tackle - ship's rigging
Taffrail - is the bulwark around a ship’s stern,
Topside - means on or above the main deck.
Water Line - is the point on the hull that the water reaches when a ship is floating normally.
Windward - is the direction toward the wind, or opposite to lee. The windward side of a ship is the side from which the wind is blowing.


Offences for which People could be sentenced to Transportation 1760 - 1790

Crimes denominated as single felonies; punishable by transportation, Whipping, imprisonment, the Pillory, Hard Labour in houses of correction, according to the nature of the offence.

Principal crimes:

  • Aliens returning after being ordered out of the kingdom.
  • Assaulting and Cutting or Burning Clothes
  • Assaulting with an intent to Rob
  • Bigamy, having more than one Husband or Wife.
  • Counterfeiting
  • Cutting or stealing Timber Trees and etc.
  • Embezzling Navel Stores.
  • Grand Larceny, which -
    comprehends every species of thief above the value of 1 Shilling, not otherwise distinguished.
  • Manslaughter, or killing another without Malice.
  • Marriage, solemnizing clandestinely (secret marriage).
  • Petty Larcenies, or thefts. Under One Shilling.
  • Receiving or buying Stolen Goods, Jewels and Plate and etc.
  • Ripping and stealing Lead, Iron, Copper and other precious metals. Or buying or receiving metals.
  • Stealing or receiving when stolen, Ore from black lead mines.
  • Stealing from Furnished Lodgings.
  • Setting fire to Underwood.
  • Stealing Letters or destroying a letter or Packet, advancing the postage and secreting money.
  • Stealing Fish from a Pond or river, fishing in enclosed Ponds and buying stolen Fish.
  • Stealing Roots, Trees or plants of the value of 5 Shillings or destroying them.
  • Stealing Children with their apparel.
  • Stealing a shroud out of a Grave.
  • Watermen carrying too many passengers in the Thames, if any drowned.

Select Documents in Australian History 1788 - 1850

By Professor C. M.H. Clarke 1977

Ref P.Colquhoun: "A Treatise on the Police of the Metropolis" pp. 440-1

Crimes Punishable by Death.

  • Treason, and Petty Treason Under the former of these is including the offence of Counterfeiting the Gold and silver Coin
  • Murder
  • Arson, or wilfully and maliciously burning a House, Barns with Corn &c.
  • Rape, or the forcible violation of Chastity, &c.
  • Stealing an Heiress
  • Sodomy, a crime against nature, committed either with man or beast
  • Piracy, or robbing of ships and vessels at sea
  • Forgery of Deeds, Bonds, Bills, Notes, Public Securities &c. &c.
  • Destroying Ships, or setting them on Fire
  • Bankrupts not surrending, or concealing their Effects
  • Burglary, or House Breaking in the night time
  • Privately Stealing or Picking Pockets above one Shilling
  • Shop Lifting above Five Shillings
  • Stealing Bonds, Bills or Bank Notes
  • Stealing above 40s. in any House
  • Stealing above 40s. on the River
  • Stealing Linen, &c. from Bleaching Grounds, &c. or destroying Linen therein
  • Maiming or Killing Cattle maliciously
  • Stealing Horses, Cattle or Sheep
  • Shooting at a Revenue Officer, or at any other person
  • Pulling down Houses,Churches, &c.
  • Breaking down the head of a Fish-Pond, whereby may be lost
  • Cutting down Trees in an Avenue, Garden, &c.
  • Cutting down River or Sea Banks
  • Cutting Hop Binds
  • Setting fire to coal mines
  • Taking a Reward for helping another to Stolen Goods, in certain cases
  • Returning from Transportation: or being at large in the Kingdom after Sentence
  • Stabbing a Person unarmed, or nor having a weapon drawn, if he die in six months
  • Concealing the death of a Bastard Child
  • Maliciously maiming or disfiguring any person, &c., lying in wait for that purpose
  • Sending Threatening Letters
  • Riots by twelve or more, and not dispersing in an hour after proclamation
  • Being accessaries to Felonies deemed capital
  • Stealing Woollen Cloth from Tender Grounds
  • Stealing from a ship in Distress
  • Government Stores, embezzling, burning, or destroying in Dock-Yards
  • Challenging Jurors above 20 in capital felonies; or standing mute
  • Cottons selling with forged Stamps
  • Deer-Stealing, second offence; or even first offence not usually enforced
  • Uttering counterfeit Money, third offence
  • Prisoners under Insolvent Acts guilty of perjury
  • Destroying Silk or Velvet in the loom
  • Servants purloining their Masters' Goods, value 40s.
  • Personating Bail, or acknowledging fines or judgments in another's name
  • Attempting to kill Privy Counsellors, &c.
  • Sacrilege
  • Smuggling by persons armed, or assembling armed for the purpose
  • Robbery of the Mail
  • Destroying Turnpikes or Bridges, Gates, Weighing Engines, Locks, Sluices, Engines for draining Marshes, &c.
  • Mutiny, Desertion, &c. by Martial and Statute Law
  • Soldiers or Sailors enlisting into Foreign Services



Copyright Fellowship of First Fleeters