THE FIRST FLEET
Part two of this story deals with the
arrival of the Fleet at Botany Bay, the landing at Sydney Cove
and some members of the Fleet, both bonded and free and some of
Sources for this talk were taken from..
"The Historical Records of Australia Vol 1"
"The Founders of Australia" by Mollie Gillen AM FF John Small
and Mary Parker.
"Sydney Cove 1788" by John Cobley." Sydney Cove 1791-1793" by
"Australia the First 12 Years" by Peter Taylor.
"The People of the First Fleet" by Don Chapman.
Archives of the Fellowship of First Fleeters.
"Where First Fleeters Lie" Joyce Cowell and Rod Best
Leaving Cape Town 0n 12th November, Phillip decided to divide
the fleet in two, in the hope that the faster ships would reach
Botany Bay to prepare for disembarkation. He transferred his
pennant to the Supply and left Captain John Hunter in charge of
the Sirius. The ships, however, arrived at their destination
within two days of each other, Phillip having anchored on the
18th January. A magnificent piece of navigation.!!
Immediately Phillip went ashore and we are told that, on making
contact with the original inhabitants, he ordered all weapons to
be laid down and the Aborigines responded in like manner,
accepting beads and trinkets albeit in a suspicious manner. We
are also told that on the following day a large band of natives
assembled at Cape Solander waving their spears above their
heads. Many of the newcomers could not think otherwise that they
were not welcome.
After visiting Port Jackson, on 21st January, Phillip decided to
prepare a settlement at Sydney Cove. On the 25th January, in the
afternoon, he sailed the "Supply" to Port Jackson with orders
for Hunter to follow with the 10 remaining ships later that day.
Phillip anchored in Sydney Cove prior to dusk. Thea Stanley
Hughes puts it so well in her book on Phillip…
"Now there was a slight pause-one night- between the sense of
urgency about getting the Fleet to its destination, a a new
sense of urgency about the fulfilling of his destiny"
The 26th January in the year of Our Lord, 1788 was a Saturday,
clear weather, a light sou-sou east breeze and a temperature of
70 degrees Fahrenheit. They had, indeed, been transported to
Paradise, unknowingly and unwillingly.!!
To the utter astonishment of Captain Hunter , leading the Fleet
to Port Jackson, there appeared two French ships preparing to
anchor in Botany Bay.
In the meantime Phillip and his party began clearing ground near
a run of fresh water, later known as the Tank Stream, a
flagstaff was erected close to the landing site, the Queen Ann
jack was raised and possession was taking for His Majesty King
George the Third. A toast was proposed, not only to the Royal
Family, but also to the success of the colony. At about 6 pm on
that day the ten remaining ships anchored in Sydney Cove.
Arthur Phillip had accomplished an incredible feat of endurance
- undaunted by unknown dangers, navigating some 15000 miles of
distance with nearly 1500 souls in his care he found a safe
haven. Twenty-two babies were born en-route and 55 souls were
lost during the voyage. The only outbreak of fever occurred on
the Alexander where 16 convicts died - the ship was fumigated
and cleansed which fact seemed to have abated the epidemic.
On arrival the male convicts were landed together with most of
the marines - more land was cleared - a tent hospital was set up
on the western side of the cove now known as the rocks, a site
for barracks was laid out nearby, and Phillip chose the site of
his Government House slightly uphill south east of the cove.
On 3rd February the first Religious service was held be the Rev
.Richard Johnson, Chaplain. His text was taken from Psalm 116,
verse 12…"What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits
One wonders what the convicts may have thought about that
text.!! Little would most of them have known that those promised
benefits would come their way in future years.
On Wednesday 6th February, the convict women from the Lady
Penrhyn were disembarked [one might say- LET LOOSE]
Arthur Bowes-Smyth noted in his diary and I quote..
"We had long wished for the pleasure of seeing the last of them
leave the ship. They were dressed, in general, very clean and
some few amongst them might have been said to be well dressed."
He went on to record a night of debauchery which ensued, and in
the midst of which there occurred a most violent thunderstorm!
The next day all were assembled to hear the Governor's
commission read by the Judge-Advocate, Captain Collins.
Phillips's authority was well defined in this Commission, by Act
of Parliament establishing the colony and, in Letters Patent,
constituting the Courts of Law, from the very genesis of our
Amongst instructions, the Governor was enjoined thus….."to
endeavor by all possible means to open an intercourse with the
natives and conciliate their affections, enjoining all to live
in amity and kindness with them". [Something went astray
there.!!!] He was also given power to emancipate convicts for
good behaviour and industry but more importantly, much more
importantly, Governor Phillip was given the power to grant them
land. This was to be a salvation for many of the convicts who
had, indeed, for the want of circumstances and upbringing, had
never had a chance in life, and, for past misdeeds, no matter
how petty, had been jettisoned from one hostile environment to
On the 14th February 1788, under the command of Phillip Gidley
King, the Supply sailed for Norfolk Island with a party of
marines and some 15 convicts. The idea of settlement was
threefold - to harvest flax for yarn and investigate the Norfolk
Island pine trees for shipbuilding. Both eventually being found
unsuitable. The 3rd reason was, that the authorities in Britain
were rather nervous re French exploration in this region. A
foreign settlement so close to the new British acquisition was
unthinkable. More convicts and Marines were later sent there to
alleviate victualling problems at Port Jackson, supplies were
sent to the island by the "Sirius" which was wrecked at Sydney
Bay on the 19th March 1790, adding to the problems of both
In 1791, Phillip in a letter to Lord Sydney reported……
"I can still say with great truth and satisfaction that the
convicts, in general, behave better than every could have been
expected and that their crimes, with very few exceptions, have
been confined to the procuring for themselves, the common
necessaries of life"
In 1797 the second Governor, John Hunter reported to Lord Sydney
-" The vast number of women for whom we have had little work are
a heavy weight on the stores of Government - if we estimate
their merits by the charming children with which they have
filled the colony, then, they deserve our care."
This was one of the most telling reports emanating from the
infant settlement. At this time there was estimated some 400
young children of varying ages, descended, not only from First
Fleet convict men and women and Marines, but also 2nd and 3rd
And bearing these sentiments in mind, two centuries later, Dr
Portia Robinson of the History Department at the Macquarie
University, observed in her book "The Hatch and Brood of Time"
that these children - the so called currency lads and lasses of
these First Fleeters, were a most law abiding generation.
The first generation of First Fleeters came into their own - Dr
Craig Smee in his book "First Fleet Families of Australia" says,
and I quote…
"whatever the circumstances of their arrival the First Fleeters
planted a seed of native born, who soon acquired a character
which is both different in nature from their origins in England,
and similar to each other in their newly adopted land. A
character with characteristics such as self-reliance, initiative
and a sense of fair play. Over succeeding generations and with
an influx of migration, we are still integrating those qualities
handed down by our first arrivals. Also from these early days,
our distinct Australian accent evolved.
Contrary to opinion that the First Fleet
was made up entirely of Anglo-Celtic people is wrong.
There were 235
Non English First Fleeters
There were, for instance, 141 persons known to have been
born in Ireland, either born in Ireland, or whose surnames
suggested the they may have been Irish or of Irish Extraction
mostly convicts convicted in England for petty crimes. It is
interesting that the so called Irish rebels arrived at a later
In addition there were
from the Channel Islands, and
Scottish- although No First Fleet Convict was convicted
in Scotland fleet and, of these, only
one convict, John Ramsay, the rest being marines and seamen. The
Scots certainly looked after their own!!!!
The Welsh weren't left out – 9 in number including
Also were at least
black Africans, Americans or West Indians plus
convicts from Madagascar, West Indies, Holland, France, Germany,
Norway, Portugal, Jamaica, Sweden,
Bengal India, and Scandinavia
At least 9 Jewish folk, in the main
convicts, were also on the Fleet. It is of interest to note that
these Jewish folk were mostly Sephardim… during the Diaspora or
the dispersion of the Jews from Israel one tribe moved across
the Northern African continent and settled in Spain. During the
Inquisition in the 16th Century, they scattered north to
Holland, France and England and most of those convicts from
England were Sephardim.
Some of us in the Fellowship of First Fleeters have this blood
in our veins.
Some 732 convicts were landed on these shores on that January
day, about one third female, together with 245 Marines, some 20%
of these stayed, married or co-habited with convict women and
thereby formed dynasties which are still with us to-day. About
35 Marines brought with them a wife and children. Most returned
to England but 3 families of Marines remained. Again within the
Fellowship of First Fleeters, we count some descendants of these
as members. There are many success stories in our historical
records from both fettered and free.
It seems to be the fashion in this day and age with some in our
community to be politically correct, as opposed to being
historically correct. The history of the early efforts of the
Friends of First Government House site bears this out only too
Let me give some examples taken from the pages of The Sydney
Morning Herald in 1988.
1] Governor Phillip and his hoard of Georgian louts invaded the
shores of Botany Bay.
2]The convicts of the First Fleet did not amount to much, nor
contributed anything of value to the colony
3]We must be careful to play down the part of the first European
arrivals for fear of upsetting some members of the community.
What utter rubbish….
History is founded on facts and the history of European
settlement of our nation is well and truly documented. We have
with us to-day volumes of "The Historical Records of New South
Wales" giving a day to day record of the colony under the
Governorships of Phillip to Macquarie. We also have the diaries
of some of those First Fleeters who were literate.
Return to Stories