A TALE OF TWO FLEETS

JANUARY 1788 – THE ‘FIRST FLEET’ – AN INVASION FLEET MORTALITY – 4%

‘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’. Conway, cited in Alan Frost, Botany Bay Mirages, Melbourne University Press, 1994.

Between January 1787 and mid-May 1787 a large squadron of eleven (11) ships, known in Britain and Australia as the ‘First Fleet’, assembled at Portsmouth, England.

One-half of the complement, 1500 souls, were convicted criminals. Many of its 570 male convicted criminals taken from ‘overcrowded and insanitary hulks’.

‘In determining the daily ration no distinction was drawn between marines and [male] convicts…the standard adopted was that of troops serving in the West Indies’. Wilfrid Oldham, Britain’s Convicts to the Colonies, Library of Australian History, 1993

1787 – 13 May, England: The ‘First Fleet’ sailed from Portsmouth on 13 May 1787, to invade the island continent of New Holland. Commanded by Captain Arthur Phillip RN. This combined military and naval expeditionary force was fully funded by the British Government.  See: Apollo 11 – Fly Me To The Moon: Portsmouth – Tenerife – Rio  – Cape Town – Botany Bay – Sydney Cove.

I stark contrast to their treatment on the hulks or in England’s ‘putrid gaols’, the convicts were well fed and exercised. Mortality on the ‘First Fleet was reckoned at 4%.

Britain’s move on New Holland followed closely on the loss of her ’empire in the west’. There can be little doubt ‘the exact purpose[s] of the settlement’ was driven by Britain’s profound humiliation following her defeat at the hands of both French regular forces and America’s Patriot militia.

The Treaty Of Versailles signed in September 1783 brought an end to the War of American Independence (1775-83). England’s thirteen (13) former colonies New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Maryland, Georgia, North and South Carolina, Delaware, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Virginia were formally recognised as the United States of America.

‘In November [1784] Henry Dundas, possibly Pitt’s closest advisor, warned that ‘India’ is the first quarter to be attacked, we must never lose sight of keeping such a force there as well be sufficient to baffle or surprise’. Dundas, cited Michael Pembroke, Arthur Phillip Sailor Mercenary Governor Spy, Harper Grant Books, Victoria, 2013

The loss of her American colonies fuelled a fierce determination to reset the strategic, territorial and trade balance of power via dominance of secure safe alternate sea routes to and from India and China.

‘I need not enlarge on the benefit of stationing a large body of troops in New South Wales…New Holland is a blind, then, when we want to add to the military strength of India’. Anon. Historical Records of New South Wales.

‘It seems clear that only a few men in the inner circle of [William Pitt’s] government knew the exact purposes of the settlement’. Professor Geoffrey Blainey, Gotham City, The Founding of Australia. The argument about Australia’s origins. Ed. Ged Martin, Hale and Iremonger, 1978

Hawkesbury, Dundas, Mulgrave, Liverpool – Pitt’s ‘inner circle’ – with powerful politicians Nepean, Lansdowne, Sydney their names writ large on the landscape of Sydney and its environs.

A battalion: HMS Sirius flagship 540 tons, HMS Supply 170 tons with two hundred (200) Royal Navy personnel escorted nine (9) chartered ships. Two hundred and forty-five (245) garrison marines were distributed throughout the fleet to guard five hundred and seventy (570) male convict-combatants.

‘The naval and marine force that proceeded to New South Wales was not chosen solely to preserve discipline on the voyage; a much smaller force could have done that; it was but incidental to the duty of establishing a new British settlement and it is probably that in their selection that fact received first consideration’. Wilfrid Oldham. ibid.

Especially so, as given New Holland’s geography, situated in the southern oceans ‘a new British settlement’ opened a gateway; an opportunity to attack Spain’s fabulously rich South American colonies.

‘There were plans to use the corps in expeditions against Panama, Peru, and the Philippines, but nothing eventuated’. Dr. Peter Stanley,  The Remote Garrison, The British Army in Australia, 1788-1870, Kangaroo Press, 1986

In the late eighteenth century merchant vessels were crewed to a formula – eight (8) ordinary seamen plus one (1) boy per one hundred (100) ton – with specialist crew they would have numbered approximately four hundred and forty (440) merchant seamen also liable for active service.

Three (3) stores-ships Fishburn 378 ton, Golden Grove 375 ton, Borrowdale 375 ton, four (4) troop transports – Alexander 452 ton – 195 male convicts, Charlotte 335 tons – 88 male and 20 female convicts, Friendship 274 tons – 76 male and 15 female convicts,  Scarborough 430 tons – 208 male convicts. See: All The King’s Men the Criminals of the First Fleet

The majority of one hundred and ninety-three (193) female convict camp-followers, sailed in the Lady Penrhyn 333 tons – 101 females and Prince of Wales 350 tons – 43 females.

A civilian establishment consisted of twenty (20) officials, included seven (7) physicians, thirty-two (32) marine wives, approximately forty-five (45) free children of marines and convicts and Mary wife of Rev. Richard Johnson the fleet Chaplain.

 1788 – 20 January, Botany Bay: Within 36 hours, between 18 and 20 January 1788, all eleven (11) ships anchored in Botany Bay. Phillip however assessed there was insufficient fresh water to support such a large number.

1788 – 21 January, Sydney Cove: Next day Phillip set off in one (1) of three (3) longboats to explore the adjacent countryside. Using Captain Cook’s charts they rowed nine (9) miles (14km) to the north and entered Port Jackson.

Deep within its vast habour, among a myriad inlets, Phillip settled on Sydney Cove where an endless supply of fresh running water made it suitable for permanent settlement.

1788 – 23 January, Botany Bay: The scouting party returned to Botany Bay. Phillip ordered the ships be ready to move to Sydney Cove at first light the following morning.

1788 – 24 January: ‘Constenation’ the masts of two (2) French ships L’Astrolabe and La Boussole commanded by Captain Jean-Francois La Perouse appeared in the entrance to Botany Bay.

Sirius’ cannon, rough seas and wild winds forced the French ships back out to sea. But could La Perouse have sailed north, entered Port Jackson and raised ‘French Colours’ there?

1788 – 25 January, Port Jackson: ‘Alarmed’ Phillip aboard HMS Supply quit Botany Bay in ‘foul weather’ arriving in Sydney Cove just as night fell.

‘There would seem to be “some justification for the saying that England won Australia by six days”. Edward Jenks, History of Australian Colonies, Cited in British Colonial Policy, Hugh E. Egerton, Menthuen, 1928

1788 – 26 January, Sydney Cove:  At first light Phillip stepped ashore raised the Union Jack and declared England’s victory over France. Despite continuing bad weather, two (2) collisions and a near-miss, by 8 pm that evening all English ships were anchored alongside HMS Supply in Sydney Cove. See: Australia – Britain By A Short Half-Head

1788 – 7 February: Sydney Quay: Governor Phillip in accordance with instructions issued at the Court of St. James London on 25 April 1787, ‘without consent’ of its First Nations’ Peoples or entering into a treaty with them; ‘Hoisted His Majesty’s Colours with the usual Ceremony’ and claimed British sovereignty over ‘our territory called New South Wales…from the Northern extremity of the coast called Cape York…to the Southern extremity…South Cape’.

‘It is much to the credit of those in office [Pitt’s administration] that an empire has been founded in the south, which time will render much superior to that which their predecessors [Lord North] have lost in the west [America]’. Anon. Historical Records of New South Wales, Vol.1

JUNE 1790 – THE SECOND FLEET –  A TRANSPORTATION FLEET – MORTALITY – 26.5%

‘The troops sent to garrison the Australian colonies participated in the great struggle at the heart of the European conquest of this continent…British troops helped to determine the civilization which would replace the culture of the Australian Aborigines. Stanley. ibid.

1789 – June, London: William Grenville, first cousin of Prime Minister William Pitt, replaced Lord Sydney as Britain’s Home Secretary in mid June 1789.

Grenville authorised the Navy Board advertise for tenders to provide three (3) of four (4) vessels of a second fleet to transport mainly male convicts to ‘our territory called New South Wales’.

1789 – 29 July, Portsmouth: A contract to fit-out, crew and provision a fourth vessel, Lady Juliana (410 tons) had already been awarded to William Richards Jnr the Navy Board’s sole commercial contractor for the ‘First Fleet’.

At the end of July 1789 Lady Juliana dubbed the ‘Brothel Ship’ sailed for Australia on a year-long voyage by way of Cape Town.

1790 – 3 June, Sydney Cove:  With the first word from England and two hundred and twenty-six (226) female prisoners eight (8) free children Lady Juliana reached Sydney at the beginning of June 1790.

For one thousand (1000) English men women and children abandoned and left to starve 15,000 miles (23,000 km) from their homeland the Lady Juliana broke the ‘misery and horror’ of prolonged semi-starvation, absolute isolation and ‘endless uncertainty’. See: Abandoned and Left to Starve at Sydney Cove January 1788 to June 1790

She brought almost no supplies aside from a small flock of sheep salvaged from HMS Guardian when that vessel, en-route to Sydney, struck an iceberg off Cape Town. See: HMS Guardian and Joseph Banks Garden

‘The slave trade is merciful compared with what I have seen in this fleet; the contractors had been in the Guinea [slave] trade, and put on board the same shackles used by them in that trade’. Captain William Hill, New South Wales Corps, letter to William Wilberforce, Sydney 1790.

Meantime Grenville awarded ‘slave contracts’ to Camden, Calvert and King whereby they were paid per body boarded. The earlier a convict died the greater the company’s profit.

A London firm working ‘the Guinea slave trade’ they supplied, crewed and provisioned Neptune, Scarborough and Suprize. These three (3) vessels, the fleet’s death ships, were to transport one thousand two hundred and sixty (1260) predominately male prisoners. See:  Britain’s Grim Armada – The Dead and the Living Dead 

1790 – 17 January, Plymouth: Aptly named ‘Britain’s Grim Armada’ they sailed unescorted from Plymouth in mid January 1790. During the voyage greedy ships’ masters reduced the overall ration issue and withheld food as punishment. One-quarter died on the voyage and a further 15% within weeks of reaching Sydney.

Neptune @ 839 tons: convicts 512 – 424 males, 78 females : 147 male and 11 female prisoners diedmortality 31%.

Scarborough @ 418 tons: convicts 259 males : 73 male prisoners died – mortality 28%.

Suprize @ 400 tons: convicts 256 males: 36 male prisoners died – mortality 14%.

1790 – 28-29 June, Sydney: Towards the end of June 1790 ‘cries’ were heard as ‘the ships came into the harbour’.

‘Some of these unhappy people died after the ships came into the harbour, before they could be taken on shore part of these had been thrown into the harbour, and their dead bodies cast upon the shore, and were seen lying naked upon the rocks’.  Reverend Richard Johnson, First Fleet Chaplain, cited Jack Egan, Buried Alive, Allen and Unwin, 1999.

The unfortunate prisoners locked below decks and chained by the wrists were also secured between the ankles by the notorious Guinea shackle-bolt’. A rigid bar measuring less than the length of A4 paper it fastened two (2) prisoners together so neither could move independently of the other.

1790 – June, Sydney: Dead men don’t cry. The nature of the ‘Guinea shackle-bolt’ coupled with Reverend Johnson’s account, makes it highly likely, those ‘cries’ came from the living tethered to the dead as together they were ‘thrown into the harbour’.

Chaplain Johnson boarded Suprize; ‘I beheld a sight truly shocking to the feelings of humanity…some half and other nearly quite naked, without either bed or bedding, unable to turn or help themselves…nor move hand or foot…the smell so offensive I could scarcely bear it’.  Rev Johnson, Cited Egan. ibid.

Reverend Johnson’s experience on Suprize was so distressing he was persuaded from boarding Neptune watching from shore as prisoners ‘all full of filth and lice’ emerged from  Scarborough and Neptune.

‘Upon being brought up to the open air some fainted, some died upon the deck, and others in the boat before they reached the shore. When come on shore many were not able to walk, to stand, or to stir themselves in the least hence some were led by others. Some creeped upon their hands and knees some were carried upon the backs of others’. Reverend Johnson. op. cit.

The settlement’s medicine chest was all but empty. Despite strenuous efforts by the ‘First Fleet’ physicians, 15% of those who survived the terrible voyage died within weeks of arrival.

A flat-pack hospital arrived with the second fleet and, although detailed instructions were included, it proved extremely difficult to erect.

1790 – June: One hundred and fifteen (115) officers and men of the New South Wales Infantry Corps, arrived with the second fleet, but they came without Major Francis Grose their commanding officer. He remained in London to recruit sufficient numbers to satisfy establishment requirements.

‘Grose found it necessary to complete his enlistments from deserters in London’s Savoy Military Prison, rationalizing his actions on the grounds that desertion would be impossible from Botany Bay’. John Moore, The First Fleet Marines 1786-1792, Queensland University Press, 1987.

Lieutenant John Macarthur an ambitious unscrupulous junior officer took advantage of Major Grose’s absence and dissension between his fellow officers. A teetotaller Macarthur organised sympathetic officers pool their resources to form trading cartels to import ‘fiery Indian rum’ from Bengal with the express purpose of selling it for ‘exorbitant profit’.

1792 – 14 February, Sydney: Major Grose arrived in Sydney aboard Pitt (344 male, 58 female prisoners) a transport of a third fleet also contracted to Camden, Calvert and King.

‘When she [Pitt] arrived at Port Jackson, [February 1792] 20 male and nine [9] female prisoners had died on the passage, and 120 men were landed sick, many of whom died in the weeks following their landing’. Charles Bateson, The Convict Ships 1787-1868, Brown, Son & Ferguson Publishers, Glasgow, 1959

1792 – 12 December, London: Governor Arthur Phillip departed Sydney for England in the Atlantic on 12 December 1792.

Whitehall had failed to commission a governor to succeed Phillip. By default Major Francis Grose commander of the New South Wales ‘Rum‘ Corps assumed governance of the colony.

1792 – 13 December: The day following Phillip’s departure Major Grose dismissed all civil magistrates replacing them with officers of the New South Corps thereby exposing the First Nations’ Peoples not to English civil law, but absolute military rule. See: Alice – Down the Rabbit Hole with Governor Hunter

1795 – September, Sydney: Captain John Hunter RN the second commissioned governor did not reach Sydney until September 1795.

For the length of the interregnum the government was greatly at fault’.

Britain threw The First Nations’ Peoples to the wolves – wolves with guns and grog – the New South Wales ‘Rum’ Corps.

‘The decade that followed [Phillip’s departure] represents a particularly controversial period in the history of New South Wales, in which a succession of naval governors [Hunter, King, Bligh] strove unsuccessfully to curb the commercial monopoly established by officers, both civil and military, of the colony’. Captain John Hunter RN, Introduction, First Fleet Journal

John Macarthur was the common denominator in the downfall of the ‘autocratic naval governors’  Hunter, King and Bligh. His finely honed vitriol also played a part in the downfall of Lieutenant-Colonel Lachlan Macquarie the first governor drawn for army ranks.  See: Machiavellian Macarthur 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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