Controlling The Commissariat



Of all the tasks that faced the First Fleeters, both before sailing and on arrival in N.S.W., that of managing the commissariat must have been, to use a modern expression, "mind-blowing".


What to take ?


There were literally thousands of items that were quite basic. The list included such items as axes, shovels, hoes, iron pots, wooden platters, fishing nets and hooks, candles, bedding and clothes.

How to issue the stores ?

What they brought with them were virtually the only supplies in the colony. The officer in charge of the stores was the Commissary.


The first man to hold this important position was Andrew Miller. He came on H M S Sirius with Phillip, and for a short time, he was Secretary. Miller found the job fraught with problems, even when he was given a trustworthy assistant, Zachariah Clark. There was no coinage, and assigned servants had to be paid in rum, tobacco, tea, sugar, clothing, flour, salt pork or rice. Free workmen were paid in notes on the British Treasury. Miller's health broke down under the strain, and he resigned in 1790. He died on the return journey to England.

Another first fleeter, John Palmer, took up the task of handling the stores. He had the experience at handling and issuing stores as the purser on the "Sirius". He became the commissary in June 1791. The job had become more complicated now, for, besides issuing government stores, he was responsible for negotiating with merchants to buy in new stores.
He arranged the deals, fixed the prices and drew up treasury bills for payments. He had to keep accounts and virtually act as banker to the colony. Palmer, sophisticated and self-confident, with a friendly personality and good intellect, handled his great responsibilities well.

He decided to stay in the colony, brought out his family and built himself a fine house at Woolloomooloo. Here he entertained the highest gentry in the colony. He was seated at the Governor's table on the night of Bligh's arrest in the Rum Rebellion. His support of the governor involved him in difficulties with the N.S.W. Corps, but he was re-instated by Macquarie. However, the commissariat was re-structured, and Palmer lost some of his power. But he remained an influential man in the colony till his death in 1833.


Another first fleeter employed in the commissariat was William Broughton who came on the "Charlotte" as servant to surgeon White. He was the first storekeeper at Rose Hill, but his most important work was done as acting deputy commissary of Norfolk Island. He also held the position in the commissariat in Sydney and Hobart. he was highly praised for his honesty and hard work by Macquarie. Later he took up farming and stayed to found a family in the colony.


Australia was fortunate to have men of such character to put in charge of the housekeeping requirements of the young colony.

Author unknown

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