‘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.


1787 – January, Portsmouth:  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 its complement, 1500 souls, were convicted criminals.

‘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 convoy 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: All The King’s Men Arthur Phillip and the Criminals of the First Fleet

‘…it seem 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

The names of Pitt’s ‘inner circle’ Hawkesbury, Mulgrave, Liverpool, Dundas, Nepean, Sydney are writ large on the landscape of Sydney and its environs.The names reveal the ‘exact purposes of the settlement’ – advancement of British trade and strategic advantage via dominance of secure alternate sea routes to and from India and China.

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

The fleet’s two (2) warships – flagship HMS Sirius and tender HMS Supply 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.

At that time 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 available also for active service.

Three (3) stores-ships – Fishburn, Golden Grove, Borrowdale, four (4) troop transports – Alexander, Charlotte, Friendship, Scarborough carried most of five hundred and eighty (580) male convicts.

‘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.

Two (2) convict transports, Lady Penrhyn and Prince of Wales carried the fleet’s convict non-combatants, one hundred and ninety-three (193) female convict camp-followers.

A civilian establishment consisted of twenty (20) officials, including seven (7) physicians, thirty-two (32) marine wives and approximately twenty-seven (27) free children of marines and convicts.

‘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. Dr Peter Stanley, The Remote Garrison, The British Army in Australia 1788-1870, Kangaroo Press 1986

1788 – 20 January, Botany Bay: Within 36 hours, between 18 and 20 January 1788 all ‘First Fleet’ fleet ships were anchored in Botany Bay. However there was insufficient fresh water to sustain such a large number.

Captain Phillip having explored further a-field found a more suitable site for permanent settlement at Sydney Cove deep within Port Jackson nine (9) miles (14km) to the north of Botany Bay. See: Apollo 11 – Fly Me To The Moon: Portsmouth – Tenerife – Rio  – Cape Town – Botany Bay – Sydney Cove.

‘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 – 24 January, Botany Bay: The masts of two (2) French ships L’Astrolabe and La Boussole under command of Captain Jean-Francois La Perouse appeared over the horizon. Rough seas and wild winds forced the French ships south to  shelter in Port Sutherland. See: Australia – Britain By A Short Half-Head

1788 – 25 January, Botany Bay: Phillip quit Botany Bay for Sydney Cove and ordered the English fleet sail there as soon as the prevailing ‘foul’ weather abated.

1788 – 26 January, Port Jackson:  Despite continuing bad weather by 6 pm on evening of 26 January 1788 the entire English ships was riding at anchor in Sydney Cove.

1788 – 7 February: Sydney Quay: According to formal Instructions issued him on 25 April 1787, Phillip on the 7th of February  ‘without consent’ of its First Peoples; ‘Hoisted His Majesty’s Colours (Union Jack) 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 [Younger 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



‘The slave trade is merciful compared with what I have seen in this fleet; the contractors [Camden, Calvert and King] 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.

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 commercial tenders to provide three (3) of four (4) vessels to transport convicts to ‘our territory called New South Wales’.

A contract to fit-out, crew and provision a fourth vessel, Lady Juliana, was awarded to William Richards Jnr the Navy Board’s sole contractor for the ‘First Fleet’.

Lady Juliana carried two hundred and twenty-six (226) female prisoner camp-followers and eight (8) free children and a small flock of sheep salvaged from the wreck of HMS Guardian. See: HMS Guardian and Joseph Banks Garden

Camden, Calvert and King, a London slaving firm working ‘the Guinea slave trade’ submitted the lowest quote and won contracts to supply, crew and provision Neptune, Scarborough and Suprize to transport one thousand two hundred and sixty (1260) predominately male convicts and a detachment of infantry troops to New South Wales.See:  Britain’s Grim Armada – The Dead and the Living Dead  

1789 – 29 July, Portsmouth: Lady Juliana of 410 tons sailed from England for Australia by way of Cape Town on 29 July 1789.

1790 – 17 January, Plymouth: Six (6) months later Neptune, Suprize and Scarborough, the fleet’s second division ships sailed unescorted from Plymouth.

1790 – 5 June, Sydney: Lady Juliana dubbed the ‘Brothel Ship’ reached Sydney at the beginning of June 1790.

Lady Juliana brought the first word from England breaking the ‘misery and horror’ of crushing uncertainty for Englishmen, women and children abandoned and left to starve 13,000 miles (21,000) from their homeland. See: Abandoned and Left To Starve From January 1788 to July 1790

1790 – 28-29 June, Sydney: Throughout June 1790 the fleet’s death ships Neptune, Suprize and Scarbrough arrived. As was usual with slave contracts, Camden, Calvert and King had been paid per body boarded so the earlier in the voyage a prisoner died greater the company profit.

With an eye to that profit greedy ships’ masters reduced or withheld rations as punishment. The unfortunate prisoners were locked below decks and chained by the wrists, secured between the ankles by a rigid bolt measuring less than the length of A4 paper.

Known as the ‘Guinea shackle-bolt’ it fastened two (2) prisoners together so neither could move independently of the other.

‘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 [Sydney] 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.

1790 – June, Sydney: ‘Cries’ were heard as ‘the ships came into the harbour’. 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 [Johnson] 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 Jack Egan, Buried Alive, Allen & Unwin, 1999

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

Neptune @ 839 tons – crew 83 – convicts 512 – 424 males, 78 females : 147 male and 11 female prisoners diedmortality 31%.

Scarborough @ 418 tons – crew 40 – convicts 259 males : 73 male prisoners died – mortality 28%.

Suprize @ 400 tons – crew 40 – convicts 256 males: 36 male prisoners died – mortality 14%.

‘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 of the ‘First Fleet’ physicians, 15% of those who survived the terrible voyage died within a few weeks of arrival. A flat-pack hospital arrived with the fleet and, although 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, who arrived with the second fleet, came without Major Francis Grose their commanding officer. He remained in London to recruit and 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 Grose’s absence. A teetotaller he organised his fellow officers pool their resources. They formed trading cartels to import ‘fiery Indian rum’ from Bengal with the express purpose of selling it for ‘exorbitant profit’.

1792 – February Sydney: Major Grose arrived in Sydney in February 1792 and supported Macarthur and his ‘profit model’.

1792 – 12 December, London: Whitehall failed to commission a governor to succeed Governor Phillip who departed Sydney in the Atlantic on 12 December 1792.

1792 – 13 December: By default Major Francis Grose assumed government of the colony. During the interregnum period – December 1792 to September 1795 – the colony was under absolute military rule.

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


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