Before leaving Botany Bay Phillip had messages painted on the rocks of Bare Island near which the [First] Fleet had been moored, to guide the ships which Phillip believed were following closely from England, around to Sydney Cove. This painted message was later replaced by a wooden notice erected on the island. The Australian Story And Its Background, Bruce Mitchell, 1965.

1787 – 13 May, Portsmouth: A large flotilla of eleven (11) ships, known in Britain and Australia as the ‘First Fleet’ under command of Captain Arthur Phillip RN, sailed from England.

The voyage across 13,000 miles (21,000 km) of ‘imperfectly explored oceans’ took eight (8) months. Two hundred and fifty two (252) days were spent on the high seas and sixty-eight (68) days in port. Link: Apollo 11 – Fly Me to the Moon.

‘In writing of the recruitment of criminals into the armed forces, Stephen Conway observed, ‘It was still found necessary periodically to clear both the putrid and congested gaols and the equally overcrowded and insanitary hulks’. Cited in Botany Bay Mirages, Alan Frost, 1994. 

The main aim of this large expeditionary force, with a complement of 1,500 (1,300 males and 200 females) was to establish in the island continent of New Holland (Australia) a permanent military presence and naval base manned by a combined force of troops and criminals as was Britain’s custom at that time.

1787 – 12 November, Africa: The fleet sailed from Cape Town on the final leg of its voyage to Botany Bay on the 12th of November 1787. Phillip, twelve (12) days out from Cape Town, split the fleet into two (2) divisions. Alexander, Friendship,  Scarborough – the fastest transports carrying mostly male prisoners,  joined HMS Supply with Phillip aboard to lead the charge to Botany Bay.

See: A Riddle – The Cat and the Fiddle- When was An Invasion Fleet Not An Invasion Fleet?

The long voyage from Africa to Botany Bay (68 days) was difficult and dangerous. Wild weather made sea-sickness inevitable. Dysentery ‘to a violent degree’ was present throughout the fleet and water was rationed to three (3 ) pints per day. Tormented by thirst the fleet’s 1,500 souls became increasingly dehydrated.

1788 – 18 January, Botany Bay: On Friday 18 January 1788 Captain Phillip, relying on Captain James Cook’s charts from 1770, found his beach-head – Botany Bay. At 2.15  that afternoon the first of the four (4) first division ships to arrive, HMS Supply, dropped anchor in the open entrance to the bay so she could be clearly seen by the following ships.

Phillip held a conference with his senior officers. Lack of water was the most urgent need. No time was wasted, at 3pm Supply’s pinnace was lowered. Phillip, accompanied by Lieutenants Phillip Gidley King and Lieutenant William Dawes the fleet’s chief scientific officer, set off to examine the area.

Aborigines fishing along the shore saw;  ‘the Governor or Somebody in his Boat signif[y] that they wanted water…by putting a Hat over the Side of the Boat and seeming to take up salt water to his mouth’ . Without hesitation the Aborigines directed the strangers to a ’run of fresh water’.   

1788 – 19 January, Botany Bay: At 9 am the following morning - Saturday 19th – Alexander, Friendship and Scarborough - the fleet’s three (3) first division ships – spotted HMS Supply, entered the bay and anchored a few yards offshore in the lee of Bare Island, at the inlet now called Frenchmans Cove.

HMS Supply stayed on-station in the entrance to the bay to await the remainder of the fleet.

1788 – 20 January, Botany Bay: At dawn on Sunday the 20th, Charlotte, Lady Penrhyn, Prince of Wales, the 2nd division convict transports together with the three (3) store-ships, Golden Grove, Fishburn and Borrowdale – led by the fleet flag-ship HMS Sirius - were assembled off  Botany Bay.

By 9 o’clock all eleven (11) ships of the ‘First Fleet’ were riding safely at anchor inside Botany Bay.

1788 – 20 January, Botany Bay: Meanwhile at first light that morning, 20 January, Phillip took Cook’s charts, accompanied by officers, seamen and provisions, he set off with three (3) long-boats to explore country to the north of Botany Bay.

1788 – 22 January, Port Jackson – Sydney Cove: Late Tuesday afternoon, the 22nd January, Phillip and his team returned to Botany Bay with good news - the ‘First Fleet’ had found a home. A ‘spring of clear water’ – the Tank Stream – had been found at a place Aborigines knew as Warrane, Captain Cook called Port Jackson and Phillip named Sydney Cove.

In addition to a guaranteed adequate water supply of clear, sweet water - that all too soon would be declared ‘a sewer’, Sydney Cove provided the English fleet protected anchorage with a good depth of water running up to the shore-line.

When leaving Botany Bay Phillip noticed two French ships in the offing….’there would seem to be some justification for the saying that England won Australia by six days’. Edward Jenks, History of Australian Colonies, quoted by Hugh. E. Egerton, British Colonial Policy1928.

1788 –  23 January, Botany Bay: Wednesday the 23rd dawned with great commotion, both excitement and fear  - HMS Sirius signalled battle stations – the tall masts of two (2) ships appeared over the horizon.  Most hoped the ships were the expected relief vessels from England but Arthur Phillip knew them for what they were, French ships - La Boussole and L’Astrolabe -  under command of Captain Jean Francois La Perouse. 

 …his [Phillip's] failure to invite the French commander there [Port Jackson] reflect some fear that the might be known as a spy. Arthur Phillip 1738-1814, His Voyaging, Alan Frost, 1987.

Arthur Phillip was elated he had succeeded in what he knew to be the main game - getting to New Holland before the French.

Three (3) years earlier (July – August 1785) Phillip the spy had, in all probability watched from the shadows as, in a harbinger of what would later befall the French expedition, La Perouse struggled with the elements. For three (3) weeks La Boussole and L’Astrolabe were kept at bay by wild winds and strong currents, until finally they worked a difficult passage from Brest Harbour on the 1st of August 1785. See: Arthur Phillip – The Spy Who Never Came In From The Cold.

1788 – 23 January, Botany Bay: Once again suddend of squalls of  wind and choppy seas stymied La Perouse’s ambition. Firstly on Norfolk Island where he made an unsuccessful attempt to land. La Perouse’s  ships then, battling  adverse weather, slowly worked down the eastern coast of New Holland where storms kept them from entering Botany Bay, forcing L’Astrolabe and La Boussole sail south and shelter at Point Sutherland.  

Alarmed Phillip ordered a party be sent there [Port Sutherland] to hoist English Colours….He also stipulated that the move to Port Jackson be kept secret, and that no one was to go on board the French ships. The First Fleet Marines 1786-1792, John Moore, 1987.

1788 – 24 January, Sydney Cove: Phillip felt it imperative La Perouse not recognise him. Under cover of darkness at 4 am on Thursday 24 January 1788, despite deteriorating weather, Phillip risked his life and escaped Botany Bay in HMS Supply. 

He sailed nine (9) miles (14 km) to the north of Botany Bay to Port Jackson and the safety of Sydney Cove where the now Governor Phillip ‘hoisted English Colours’. 

1788 – 25 January, Botany Bay: Phillip ordered the English fleet quit Botany Bay and sail north to join him in Sydney Cove. An order that put his ships in jeopardy. At first light on Friday 25th January the fleet made the first of three (3) attempts to leave the bay and failed. Fluky winds and strong currents running across the  face of the bay made departure impossible. Two (2) more attempts made later in the day also failed.

Everyone blaming the rashness of the Governor in insisting upon the fleets workd. Out in such weather, & all agreed it was next to a Miracle that some of the Ships were not lost, the danger was so very great. First Fleet Journal, Surgeon Arthur Bowes Smyth.

1788 – 26 January, Sydney Cove: Although on  Saturday 26th January the weather was not much improved; orders were orders. The French sailors, no strangers to tragedy, looked on in bemused amazement as ‘ a near-tragic drama was enacted‘. In shifting s-w/n-w winds the English ships, swung about and cut across each other; ‘Three vessels collided in the manoeuvre’.

Luck was with them, by Saturday afternoon - 26 January 1788 - the entire fleet lay safely at anchor in Sydney Cove.

The reason for Phillip’s ‘rashness’ became plain - checkmate – ‘English Colours’ fluttering from a makeship flag-staff.

1788 – 26 January, Botany Bay: Late Saturday afternoon, with helpful advice from Captain John Hunter of HMS Sirius, the last of Phillip’s ships to leave Botany Bay, La Perouse led La Boussole and L’Astrolabe to safe anchorage in Frenchman’s Cove.

1788 – 10 March, Botany Bay: After rest and repairs the two (2) French ships sailed for France on 10 March 1788. La Perouse and his men were never seen again. See: A Band of Brothers and Mortal Enemies. 

1788 – January, Sydney Cove: Governor Arthur Phillip RN established a permanent military and naval presence in order to support a soon to be established whale fishery and; ‘protect Britain’s control of the sea route to Asia via the Southern Ocean’ . There the Englishmen waited and waited and waited.

1788 - January to December: Nothing from England

1789 – January to December: Nothing  from England.

1790 – January: ‘Our impatience of news from Europe strongly marked the commencement of the year.

We had now been two years in the country, and thirty-two months from England, in which long period no supplies, except what had been procured at the Cape of Good Hope by the Sirius, had reached us.

From intelligence of our friends and connections we had been entirely cut off, no communication whatever having passed with our native country since the 13th of May, 1787, the day of our departure from Portsmouth.

Famine besides was approaching with gigantic strides, and gloom and dejection overspread every countenance. Men abandoned themselves to the most desponding reflections, and adopted the most extravagant conjectures.’ First Fleet Journal, Marine Captain Watkin Tench, January 1790

Despite Phillip being advised; ‘a further number of convicts which you may expect will shortly follow you from hence [England], for two and a half (2 & 1/2) years the stranded Englishmen were abandoned at Sydney and left to starve.

Britain’s abandonment of her countrymen had disastrous consequences for the First Nations’ People. Included in the consequences – a smallpox epidemic. The virus affected only the First Peoples - a situation, given the nature of smallpox, that beggers belief. As yet no serious investigation into the disease has been undertaken.

See: A Lethal Weapon –  Smallpox: Boston 1775 – Sydney Cove 1789

1790 – 6 March, Sydney:  Governor Phillip, in order to save the Sydney settlement from complete disaster, in March 1790, ordered the evacuation of 50% of the European population to Norfolk Island.

1790 – 19 March, Norfolk Island: While engaged in the risky business of landing the evacuees and provisions through a pounding surf, HMS Sirius was caught by high winds swung on her anchor, hit submerged rocks surrounding the island and was wrecked.

1790 – 1 April, Sydney: ‘From the 1st of April, the undermentioned allowance, to every person in the settlement without distinction; four (4) pounds of flour, two and a half pounds (2 & 1/2) pounds of salt pork, and one and a half (1 &1/2)pounds of rice per week. 

When the age of this provision is recollected, its inadequacy will more strikingly appear. The pork and rice were brought with us from England: the pork had been salted between three and four years, and every grain of rice was a moving body, from the inhabitants lodged within it.

Our flour was the remnant of what was brought from the Cape, by the Sirius, (May 1789), and was good. Instead of baking it, the soldiers and convicts used to boil it up with greens. Op. Cit.1

1790 - 5 April, Sydney: HMS Supply sailed through the Heads from Norfolk Island. She brought terrible news - HMS Sirius was lost.

1790 – 17 April, Batavia: Phillip had no option but to send his only vessel, the tiny HMS Supply of 170 tons, to Batavia. Her captain Lieutenant Ball was to buy and bring to Sydney as much as his ship could carry.

‘HMS Supply, captain Ball, sailed for Batavia. We followed her with anxious eyes until she was no longer visible. Truly did we say to her ‘In te omnis domus inclinata recumbit’. Op. Cit

Lieutenant Ball was also to purchase tons of food and medicines, hire a Dutch ship (Waaksamheyd) to follow him onto Sydney with the additional supplies.

1790 - June, Sydney Cove: A further six (6) months would pass – until 6 June 1790 - before the desperate Robinson Crusoes of the ‘First Fleet’ would see another English man or women.

They were tortured by their abandonment….So strong became their [the marines] desire for rescue that for eighteen months after arrival  a marine party walked each week to Botany Bay in the forlorn hope that a ship might have called there rather than at Port Jackson.

Eventually the debilitating famine denied the physical stamina needed for such a reconnaissance and instead, on 30 January 1790, a lookout was established at South Head. From the lookout, every eye strained and every heart sank as the sea was searched for a ship.

[Lieutenant Watkin] Tench wrote: ‘the misery and horror of such a situation cannot be imparted’ [Lieutenant] Ralph Clark wrote ‘God help [us] if  Some Ships don’t arrive’. The First Fleet Marines, John Moore, 1987.

1790 – 6th  June, Sydney Cove: Their terrible isolation was broken six (6) months after the erection of the South Head look-out.

 ’ The flag’s up… every heart rose’ a lone ship the Lady Juliana sailed through Sydney Heads on the 6th of June 1790.

Lady Juliana – with two hundred and twenty-six (226) women prisoners brought precious news of home, but little food.

However she did bring hope. Lady Juliana was one (1) of four (4) ships comprising a second fleet.

1790 – 26/27/28 June, Sydney Cove: By the end of June 1790 the remaining ships of this fleet, Neptune, Suprize and Scarborough, reached Port Jackson. These infamous ships, dubbed ‘Britain’s Grim  Armada’, brought a lot of trouble. An additional 1300 mostly sick, some dying  all weak prisoners, (1000 males and 78 females) together with one hundred and fifteen (115) officers and men of the New South Wales Corps.

See: A Second Convict Fleet – Britain’s Grim Armada – The Dead and the Living Dead.

Death was never remote from the tiny colony perched precariously on the edge of an impenetrable continent, the threat of starvation was constantly present. Dr. Bryan Gandevia, Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, Vol. 61, Part 1, 1975.

1787 - 13 May, Portsmouth - 1790 – 6 June, Sydney Cove: Of this lengthy period; ‘ when death was never remote’ Captain Tench wrote; ‘the misery and horror of such a situation cannot be imparted, even by those who have suffered under it’.

Although Governor Phillip had been led to believe ‘ a further number of convicts will shortly follow you’; no convicts, no food or medicines; ’no communication whatever ….passed with our native country since the 13th of May, 1787 the day of our departure from Portsmouth’ until the arrival of the Lady Juliana on 6th June 1790.

1790 – 20th June, Sydney Cove: Justinian, a fully laden stores-ship, arrived from England with the first food and supplies for the abandoned Englishmen of the ‘First Fleet’.

1790 – 2 June, Port Stephens: Justinian nearly did not make it. High winds and rough seas drove her perilously close to Sydney’s rocky shoreline. Her captain Benjamin Maitland was forced to ride out the storms at sea. Justinian sailed north to shelter at Black Head near the entrance to Port Stephens.

1790 – 20 June, Sydney Cove: When the weather abated Justinian beat a run down the coast arriving in Sydney Cove on the 20th June 1790.

See:: Buried Alive.  


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