First Fleet

First Fleet

The First Fleet is the name given to the 11 ships which sailed from Great Britain on 13 May 1787 to establish the first European colony in New South Wales. It was a convict settlement, marking the beginnings of transportation to Australia. The fleet was led by Captain (later Admiral) Arthur Phillip.

hips of the First Fleet

Naval escorts:
* HMS "Sirius" - the Flagship of the fleet
* HMS Supply"Convict transports:
* "Alexander"
* "Charlotte"
* "Friendship"
* "Lady Penrhyn"
* "Prince Of Wales"
* "Scarborough"Food Transport:
* "Golden Grove"
* "Fishburn"
* "Borrowdale"

Scale models of all the ships are on display at the Museum of Sydney.

Nine Sydney harbour ferries in current service were named after these First Fleet vessels (the unused names are "Lady Penrhyn" and "Prince Of Wales").

People of the First Fleet

The number of people directly associated with the First Fleet will probably never be exactly established, and all accounts of the event vary slightly. Mollie Gillen [Mollie Gillen. The Founders of Australia: A Biographical Dictionary of the First Fleet (1989). Page 445] gives the following statistics:

During the voyage there were 22 births (13 boys, 9 girls), while 69 people either died, were discharged, or deserted (61 males and 8 females). As no complete crew musters have survived for the six transports and three storeships, there may have been as many as 110 more seamen. See section below for list of notable Fleet members.

Preparation for the voyage

The decision to send convicts to Botany Bay was taken by the British Government on 18 August 1786, with the responsibility to organise and choose officials falling on then Home Secretary, Lord Sydney and his junior, Evan Nepean. Preparations to obtain ships, convicts, guards and provisions began soon after. At the time the five hulks in service held about 1300 men, and selected convicts, including women from county gaols were transferred to the hulk "Dunkirk" at Plymouth and the New Gaol in Southwark. Optimistically, it was hoped to be able to sail in October, but a series of postponements were made. In mid April 1787 the "St James's Chronicle" commented that “strange as it may appear, we are credibly informed of the Fact that the Transports for Botany Bay have not as yet sailed". Mollie Gillen. The Founders of Australia: A Biographical Dictionary of the First Fleet (1989). Page xxiv]

By October 1786, more than 200 marines had volunteered for Botany Bay duty, and Major Robert Ross was chosen to command them. The man chosen to lead the expedition, command HMS "Sirius", and take on the governorship of the colony, was Captain Arthur Phillip, of whom The First Lord of The Admiralty said, “The little I know of [him] would [not] have led me to select him".

The convict ships (two were originally slave ships requisitioned by the Royal Navy) were fitted out with strong hatch bars between decks, bulkheads to divide convicts from crew, and the guns and ammunition. Provisions included food such as flour, peas, rice, butter, salted beef and pork, bread, soup, cheese, water and beer. Coal and wood were provided for fuel. Beads, looking glasses and other gifts for native inhabitants were included. Vast amounts of hardware items were taken — tents (for the settlers to live in until huts had been built), wagons, wheelbarrows, gunpowder, collapsible furniture for the governor, scientific instruments, paper, ropes, crockery, glass panes for the governor's windows, ready-cut wood, cooking equipment (including some complete cast-iron stoves), and a miscellany of weapons. Other items included tools, agricultural implements, seeds, spirits, medical supplies, bandages, surgical instruments, handcuffs, leg irons and chains. A prefabricated house for the governor was constructed and packed flat. 5,000 bricks for construction and thousands of nails were loaded. As the party was venturing into unknown territory, it had to carry all its provisions to survive until it could make use of local materials, assuming suitable supplies existed, and could grow its own food and raise livestock.

Convicts were delivered to the transports from the hulks and gaols with no reference to skills, or fitness to contribute to the creation of the new colony. The first arrivals embarked on the transports at Woolwich and Gravesend in early January, and continued throughout the next three months. Gradually the ships made their way to Portsmouth, where the last convicts were loaded on the day the fleet sailed. Eventually the fleet set sails and moved off down the English Channel on 13 May 1787.

thumb|A monument in Brighton-Le-Sands, Botany Bay in New South Wales commemorating the landing of the First Fleet. The monument has the names of most of those who arrived on the First Fleet. Mollie Gillen's list [">Mollie Gillen. The Founders of Australia: A Biographical Dictionary of the First Fleet (1989)] is believed to be more authoritative.

The Voyages

With fine weather the convicts were allowed on deck, and on 3 June 1787 the fleet anchored at Santa Cruz at Tenerife. Here fresh water, vegetables and meat were taken on board. Phillip and the chief officers were entertained by the local governor, while one convict tried unsuccessfully to escape. On 10 June they set sail to cross the Atlantic to Rio de Janeiro, taking advantage of favourable trade winds and ocean currents.

The weather became increasingly hot and humid as the fleet sailed through the tropics. Vermin, such as rats, and parasites such as bedbugs, lice, cockroaches and fleas, tormented the convicts, officers and marines. Bilges became foul and the smell, especially below the closed hatches, was over-powering. On "Alexander" a number of convicts fell sick and died. Tropical rainstorms meant that the convicts could not exercise on deck, and were kept below in the foul, cramped holds. On the female transports, promiscuity between the convicts and the crew and marines was rampant. In the doldrums, Phillip was forced to ration the water to three pints a day.

The fleet reached Rio de Janeiro on 5 August and stayed a month. The ships were cleaned and water taken on board, repairs were made, and Phillip ordered large quantities of food for the fleet. The women convicts’ clothing, which had become infested with lice, was burned, and the women were issued with new clothes made from rice sacks. While the convicts remained below deck, the officers explored the city and were entertained by its inhabitants. A convict and a marine were punished for passing forged quarter-dollars made from old buckles and pewter spoons.

The fleet left Rio on 3 September to run before the westerlies to the Cape of Good Hope, where they arrived in mid October. This was the last port of call, so the main task was to stock up on plants, seeds and livestock for their arrival in Australia. The women convicts on "Friendship" were moved to other transports to make room for livestock purchased there. The convicts were provided with fresh beef and mutton, bread and vegetables, to build up their strength for the journey. The Dutch colony of Cape Town was the last outpost of European settlement which the fleet members would see for years, perhaps for the rest of their lives. “Before them stretched the awesome, lonely void of the Indian and Southern Oceans, and beyond that lay nothing they could imagine.” (Hughes, p.82)

Assisted by the gales of the latitudes below the fortieth parallel, the heavily-laden transports surged through the violent seas. A freak storm struck as they began to head north around Van Diemen's Land, damaging the sails and masts of some of the ships.

In November, Phillip transferred to "Supply". With "Alexander", "Friendship" and "Scarborough", the fastest ships in the Fleet and carrying most of the male convicts, "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. However, this "flying squadron" reached Botany Bay only hours before the rest of the Fleet, so no preparatory work was possible. The "Supply" reached Botany Bay on 18 January 1788; the three fastest transports in the advance group arrived on 19 January; slower ships, including the "Sirius" arrived on 20 January.cite web | year = 2000 | url = | title = Timeline - 1788 | work = [ The World Upside Down: Australia 1788–1830] | publisher = National Library of Australia | accessdate = 2006-05-27]

This was one of the world's greatest sea voyages — eleven vessels carrying about 1400 people and stores had traveled for 252 days for more than 15,000 miles (24,000 km) without losing a ship. Forty-eight people had died on the journey, a death rate of just over three per cent. Given the rigours of the voyage, the navigational problems, the poor condition and sea-faring inexperience of the convicts, the primitive medical knowledge, the lack of precautions against scurvy, the crammed and foul conditions of the ships, poor planning and inadequate equipment, this was a remarkable achievement.

It was soon realised that Botany Bay did not live up to the glowing account that Captain James Cook had given it in 1770. The bay was open and unprotected, fresh water was scarce, and the soil was poor. First contacts were made with the local indigenous people, the Eora, who seemed curious but suspicious of the newcomers. The area was studded with enormously strong trees. When the convicts tried to cut them down, their tools broke and the tree trunks had to be blasted out of the ground with gunpowder. The primitive huts built for the officers and officials quickly collapsed in rainstorms. The marines had a habit of getting drunk and not guarding the convicts properly, whilst their commander, Major Robert Ross, drove Phillip to despair with his arrogant and lazy attitude. Crucially, Phillip worried that his fledgling colony was exposed to attack from the Aborigines or foreign powers.

On 21 January, 2 days after he had arrived in Botany Bay, Phillip and a party which included John Hunter, departed the Bay in three small boats to explore other bays to the north. They soon found what they were looking for and the men returned on 23 January with news of a harbour to the north, with sheltered anchorages, fresh water and fertile soil. Phillip's impressions of the harbour were recorded in a letter he sent to England later; "the finest harbour in the world, in which a thousand sail of the line may ride in the most perfect security ...". This was Port Jackson, which Cook had seen and named, but not entered. A decision was made to relocate the party to this new site.

The party was startled when two French ships came into sight and entered Botany Bay. This turned out to be a scientific expedition led by Jean-François de La Pérouse. The French group remained until 10 March, and had expected to find a thriving colony where they could repair ships and restock supplies, not a newly arrived fleet of convicts worse off than themselves. The French group never returned to France, being wrecked with the loss of nearly all lives near Vanikoro Island in the New Hebrides (Vanuatu).

On 26 January 1788, the fleet weighed anchor and by evening had entered Port Jackson. The site selected for the anchorage had deep water close to the shore, was sheltered and had a small stream flowing into it. Phillip named it Sydney Cove, after Lord Sydney the British Home Secretary. This date is still celebrated as Australia Day, marking the beginnings of the first British settlement.

Unknown to the first European arrivals, it was to be almost two and a half years before other ships arrived with their cargo of new convicts and provisions. These were "Lady Juliana", shortly followed by the storeship "Justinian" and the three ships of the infamous Second Fleet.

Notable First Fleet members

Some of the notable First Fleet members were:

* Augustus Alt, surveyor
* Richard Johnson, chaplain

Crew members who remained in the colony
* Arthur Phillip, governor
* Philip Gidley King, 2nd lieutenant, later lieutenant governor of Norfolk Island, and 3rd governor of the colony
* John Hunter, captain of "Sirius", later 2nd governor of the colony
* John Palmer purser of the "Sirius", later Commissary of the colony
* Henry Lidgbird Ball, captain of "Supply"
* John White, principal surgeon
* George Bouchier Worgan, surgeon
* William Balmain, assistant surgeon, later principal surgeon
* Dennis Considen, assistant surgeon
* Thomas Jamison, surgeon's mate, later settler and Surgeon-General of New South Wales
* Henry Hacking, quartermaster, later settler, explorer
* George Raper, midshipman, notable illustrator

* Major Robert Ross, commander, later lieutenant governor of Norfolk Island
* Captain David Collins, judge advocate, later commandant of first settlement at Hobart
* Lieutenant William Dawes, engineer, surveyor, humanitarian
* Lieutenant George Johnston, later commander of NSW Corps
* Captain Watkin Tench, author of his two accounts, "Narrative of the Expedition to Botany Bay" and "Complete Account of the Settlement at Port Jackson".
* Master's Mate John Shortland

Convicts (see also Convicts on the First Fleet)
* Esther Abrahams, partner and wife of George Johnston
* John Baughan, carpenter, mill owner, attacked by NSW Corps
* James Bloodworth, brick maker & builder and Sarah Bellamy, pioneer family
* Mary Bryant (see Mary Braund) and William Bryant, escapees from colony
* John Caesar, Madagascan, absconder
* Margaret Dawson, de facto relationship with William Balmain
* Matthew James Everingham, landowner
* Nathaniel Lucas and Olive Gascoigne, pioneer family
* Henry Kable/Cabell, constable, landowner (subject of Peter Bellamy's "The Transports"), and Susannah Holmes
* James Ruse, farmer and landowner
* Robert Sidaway, theatre owner, landholder
* James Squire, brewer and grandfather of Premier James Farnell
* Elizabeth Thackery, last-known female survivor of the First Fleet; said to have been the first ashore at Botany Bay

Many other convicts made significant contributions to the early years of the colony, but few are remembered today, except by their descendants.

References and notes

* Gillen, Mollie, "The Founders of Australia: a Biographical Dictionary of the First Fleet", Sydney, Library of Australian History, 1989. (ISBN 0908120699)
* Bateson, Charles, "The Convict Ships, 1787–1868", Sydney, 1974. (ISBN 0908120516)
* Hughes, Robert, "The Fatal Shore", London, Pan, 1988. (ISBN 0330298925)
*cite book |last=Tench |first=Watkin |authorlink=Watkin Tench |title=A Narrative of the Expedition to Botany-Bay |coauthors= |year=1789 |publisher= |location= |isbn= |pages=72 pp | url= | accessdate=2008-08-08


*Colleen McCullough, "Morgan's Run", ISBN 0-09-928098-1.
*Timberlake Wertenbaker, "Our Country's Good", ISBN 0-413-73740-3
*Thomas Keneally, "The Playmaker", ISBN 0-340-42263-7
*William Stuart Long, "The Exiles", ISBN
*William Stuart Long, "The Settlers", ISBN
*William Stuart Long, "The Traitors", ISBN 0 86824 021 4

ee also

*Convicts on the First Fleet
*History of Australia
*Second Fleet (Australia)
*Third Fleet (Australia)


External links

* [ Homepage of the "First Fleet Fellowship" include drawings of all ships of the fleet]
* [ Complete list of the convicts of the First Fleet]
* [ Searchable database of First Fleet convicts]
* [ The First Fleet - State Library of NSW]
* [ Family Tree of Frederick Meredith (cook/baker on the HMS Sirius)]

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