‘In determining the daily ration no distinction was drawn between the marines and [male] convicts…the standard adopted was that of the troops serving in the West Indies’. Wilfrid Oldham, Britain’s Convicts to the Colonies, ed. E. Hugh Oldham, Library of Australian History, Sydney 1990

Portsmouth -1787 May 13: The ‘First Fleet’ an armed squadron of eleven (11) ships, known in Britain and Australia as the ‘First Fleet’, commanded by Captain Arthur Phillip RN sailed from England to invade the island continent of New Holland.

Of its overwhelmingly male complement, 1500 souls, seven hundred and fifty (750) were convicted criminals. Five hundred and eighty male (580) male convicts rationed;  ‘as troops serving in the West Indies’ were available for combat. See: April Fools Day – Hulks Act 

Botany Bay – 1788 January: Portsmouth to Spanish Teneriffe, to Portuguese Rio, to Dutch Cape Town.  On the lengthy last leg, sixty-eight (68) days Cape Town to Botany Bay, scurvy appeared throughout the fleet.

After eight (8) months voyaging across 13,000 miles (21,000 km) of ‘imperfectly explored oceans’ the convoy reached the island continent of New Holland whose  peoples  ‘were entitled to defend themselves from invasion’.

‘Phillip was authorised to see to the defence of the colony…The cultural arrogance of the British was evident even before the First Fleet sailed. There was no recognition that the Aborigines had their own notion of right, that from their point of view they were entitled to defend themselves from invasion’. Professor Bruce Kercher, An Unruly Child, A History of Law in Australian, Allen & Unwin, 1995.


Botany Bay – 1788 January 20: On arrival there was an urgent need for fresh water and food. HMS Sirius and HMS Supply the fleet’s warships, immediately deployed their trawling nets.

‘While the seine was hauling some of them [Aborigines] were present…no sooner were the fish out of the water than they began to lay hold of them as if they had a right to them, or that they were their own’. Dr John White, Chief Medical Officer, Journal of A Voyage to New South Wales, Oxford University Press, 2011

21 January: Phillip deemed Botany Bay difficult to defend. He set out with a scouting party in one (1) of three (3) ship’s long boats in search of  ‘Port Jackson‘ marked as such by Captain Cook in 1770.

Port Jackson – 22 January: Rowing hard against the wind, (9) nautical miles north of Botany Bay they came upon towering headlands guarding a wide entrance to a vast harbour that Phillip wrote offered ‘Perfect Security…for a thousand Sail of the Line’.

Botany Bay – 23 January: The boat[s] returned on the evening of the 23rd, with such an account of the harbour and advantages attending the place, that it was determined the evacuation of Botany Bay should commence the next morning’. Marine Captain Watkin Tench, Sydney’s First Four Years, ed. L.F. Fitzhardinge, Angus and Robertson, 1961

24 January::  ‘Another sail’…’at first I only laughed. wrote Tench.

Two (2) French ships La Boussole and L’Astrolabe under command of Comte Jean-Francois La Perouse arrived in the entrance to Botany Bay.

HMS Sirius her gun-ports opened for ‘business’ caused La Perouse to retreat.


‘The interventions of the French navy, in the Channell, off Gibralter, in the West Indies, off Yorktown, had clearly played a considerable part in Britain’s failure to win the war in America’. Paul Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of British Naval Mastery, 3rd ed. Fontana Press, 1991

Captain Arthur Phillip RN, a veteran of America’s Revolutionary War like many of the fleet’s officers, was particularly reactive to La Perouse and his ships. See: Lieutenant William Dawes – The Shock of the New South Wales Corps & ‘The Eternal Flame’

He had failed to raise ‘English Colours’ at Port Jackson and now feared the French might raise their ‘Colours’ before he got back there.


A dedicated officer of the Royal Navy Phillip felt acutely Britain’s loss of her thirteen (13)  ‘New World’ American colonies.

25 January: ‘Supply’ was made ready to sail at first light.  However weather closed-in and dense fog prevented Phillip’s departure until after mid-day. Just on nightfall Supply anchored in Sydney Cove.

Sydney Cove – 26 January: At dawn Phillip with a party of marines rowed ashore. The first sod turned,  the ‘Union Jack’ hoisted and Britain’s victory over France declared. See: Australia – Britain By A Short Half-Head

Governor Phillip in his mission accomplished letter to arch-intriguer Earl of Shelburne assured government; ‘here a Thousand sail of the Line may ride in the most perfect Security’.  Governor Phillip to William Petty, 2nd Earl of Shelburne, Marquis of Lansdowne, cited in Oxford Book of Australian Letters ed. Brenda Niall and John Thompson, 1998 

By evening on the 26th January the remaining vessels were riding alongside Supply.  La Bousolle and L’ Astrolabe had taken their place, in Frenchmens Cove, now a picnic spot in the Sydney suburb of La Perouse.

‘Owing to the multiplicity of pressing business necessary for be performed immediately after landing, it was found impossible to read the public commissions and take possession of the colony in form, until the 7th of February.

6 February: Between ‘6am and 6 pm’ the fleet’s two hundred and thirty-one (231) women and approximately fifty (50) children ‘were rowed ashore’. See: ? Aside from sea-gulls how many white birds where on land at Sydney Cove 26 January 1788 – None

Sydney Cove – February 7‘The battalion was drawn up on parade…music playing…convicts assembled…His Majesty’s commission read…Nor have Government been backward in arming Mr. Phillip with a plenitude of power’.  Tench . ibid.

Despite assurance supplies and reinforcements would ‘follow shortly’ none came. The cast-a-ways of the ‘First Fleet’ were left to starve. See: Abandoned and Left To Starve @ Sydney Cove January 1788 to June 1790

‘Every morning from daylight until the sun sunk, did we sweep the horizon in the hope of seeing a sail’. Tench. ibid.

The callous abandonment of the English men, women and children of the ‘First Fleet’ had dire consequences for Australia’s First Nations’ Peoples.


1790 – 1 January, Sydney:  ‘We ha[ve] 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’. 

March: With ‘winter at hand’ government stores held; ‘salt meat until 2d July; flour 20th August; rice, or pease in lieu, 1 October. 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 with it’. Tench. ibid. 

The previous year (1789) 50% of local Aboriginal families contracted smallpox and died taking pressure off the settlement’s shared food resources. See: Smallpox – Dead Aborigines Don’t Eat

1790, Phillip drew on that experience and evacuated 50% of the English population to Norfolk Island two (2) weeks sailing time away where fish were plentiful year round and richer soil more productive.

Norfolk Island – 6 March: HMS Sirius and HMS Supply departed Sydney for Norfolk Island with 50% of the white population.  Sirius was to sail onto China and arrange a rescue mission.

19 March: The flagship landed her evacuees safely but struck a submerged reef and sank. The crew, one hundred and sixty (160) Royal Navy personnel, were taken off without loss of life, but were now stranded on the island.

Sydney – 6 April, Sydney: Supply returned to Sydney with terrifying news – no China rescue.

‘A vigorous exertion to prolong existence, or the chance of relief, being all now left to us’. Tench. ibid.


‘As we have already noticed , no distinction was drawn between the convicts and their guards in respect of their rationing…the standard [ration] adopted was that of the troops serving in the West Indies’. Oldham. ibid.

The stark difference between the 1788 ration and that of 1790 highlights the level of panic that must have seized Phillip’s ‘people’ and the  local Aboriginal community.

[1788] 7 pounds of bread or 7 pounds of flour, 7 pounds of [salted] beef or 4 pounds of [salted] pork, 3 pints of [dried] pease, 6 ounces of butter, 1 pound of flour or ½f pound of rice, ¾ ounce of cheese, ½ pint of vinegar’. Oldham. op.cit.

1790 – April, Sydney: The weekly ration issue; ‘to every child of more than eighteen months old and every grown person, two [2] pounds of pork, two pounds  and a half [2½] of flour, two [2] pounds of rice, or a quart of pease, per week, and to every child under eighteen [18] months old, the same quantity of rice and flour, and one [1] pound of pork’. Tench. ibid.

Rebellion born of fear and desperation was in the air.

‘The attitude of the faction hostile to the Governor is reflected in the comment of an anonymous officer: “In our present alarming situation the Governor thought proper to summon us all to council, a step he never thought it expedient to take before; and I will  venture to affirm that he would not now have thought it worth his while to submit himself to the opinion of anyone but that dire necessity, and a want of sufficiency in himself pointed out to him the propriety of such a salutary measure”. Commentary, Historical Records of New South Wales, Vol. 2 

Jakarta17 April:  Governor Phillip ordered Supply sail to Batavia, modern day Jakarta. Lieutenant Henry Ball RN was to buy tons of food and charter a ship to bring them to Sydney as soon as possible.

As she disappeared through the Heads Tench invoked Virgil’s Aeneid; ‘thou the support of all (t)his tottering house’.

1790 – 3 June, Sydney:  ‘Flag’s up  ‘A Ship with London on her stern’.

She was a female convict transport Lady Juliana with two hundred and twenty-six (226) prisoners.  First of four (4) vessels of a second fleet, Juliana broke the silence and mind-bending uncertainty.

But very little food aside from some sheep who survived HMS Guardian’s tussle with an iceberg on Christmas Day 1789. See: Titanic – HMS Guardian – Australia’s Titanic

Sydney- 1790, June:  At the end of June 1790 the second fleet’s death ships Neptune, Scarborough and Suprize arrived. Government had contracted these three (3) vessels to Camden, Calvert and King a firm of ‘Guinea’ slave traders working out of London.

Starved and treated with savage brutality of one thousand (1000) mainly male convicts embarked in Plymouth 25% died during the brutal passage.  A further 15% died within weeks of landing.


The aptly named ‘Britain’s Grim Armada’ presented Governor Arthur Phillip RN with a myriad problems including a contingent of infantry.

‘The great change came in the arrival with the Second Fleet of the first companies of the New South Wales Corps [among them] Lieutenant  John Macarthur – a central figure in the military ‘mafia’ which quickly established itself as Australia’s first governing and property elite’. Nigel Rigby, Peter van der Merwe, Glyn Williams – Pacific Explorations, Voyages of Discovery from Captain Cook’s Endeavour to the Beagle, Bloomsbury, Adlard Coles, London 2018

The New Wales Corps was raised to consolidate the conquest of New Holland and repatriate the ‘First Fleet’ marines. However with HMS Supply at Jakarta and HMS Sirius at the bottom of the sea Phillip was completely isolated in the midst of an extremely hostile military garrison.

All too soon Lieutenant Macarthur opened up a second front and forced the ailing Governor to dig deep in ‘the defence of the colony’. See: Dark Matter – McMafia’ Macarthur & ‘Fiery Indian Rum’ A Teetataller’s Drug of Ruin for Others

Governor Phillip had not fully recovered from his spearing by Willeramin an Aboriginal warrior on Manly Beach in September 1790. He was well aware ‘certain officers’ led by Lieutenant Macarthur were circling the tents and there was a lot at stake. See: The Switch 1790 – War With France 1793-1815 

With HMS Sirius and HMS Supply missing in action Governor Phillip was forced to pull a rabbit out of an empty hat. See:  A Tethered goat – John McIntyre



See: Manly – Location, Location, Location

‘In November 1784 Henry Dundas, probably [Prime Minister] PItt’s closest advisor…warned that India is the first quarter to be attacked’. Michael Pembroke, Arthur Phillip Sailor Mercenary, Governor Spy, Hardie Grant Books, 2013


‘Our wealth and power in India is their [France’s great and constant object of jealously; and they will never miss an opportunity of attempting to wrest it out of our hands’. Sir James Harris, cited Pembroke




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