‘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

1787 – Portsmouth, 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, now Australia.

Of its overwhelmingly male complement, 1500 souls, seven hundred and fifty (750) were convicted criminals.

Its 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 

1788 – Botany Bay. January: After eight (8) months voyaging across 13,000 miles (21,000 km) of ‘imperfectly explored oceans’ via Spanish Tenerife, to Portuguese Rio, to Dutch Cape Town the convoy reached its destination Botany Bay.

On the lengthy last leg, sixty-eight (68) days Cape Town to Botany Bay, scurvy appeared throughout the fleet. There was an urgent need for fresh water and food.

The fleet’s warships HMS Sirius and HMS Supply  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


‘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.

1788 – 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‘ so marked by Captain James Cook in 1770.

Sydney Harbour – 22 January: Rowing hard against a strong wind, (9) nautical miles north of Botany Bay, they came upon towering headlands guarding the wide entrance to a vast harbour.

Captain Phillip wrote that Cook’s Port Jackson, 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:  At dawn the cry; ‘another sail’…Tench wrote ‘at first I only laughed.’

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

‘The French success at Chesapeake Capes (September 1781) was the first major French naval victory against Britain sine 1690’. Andrew Jackson Shaughanessy, The Men Who Lost America,  Yale University Press, New Haven, London 2013

But no laughing matter for Captain Phillip RN, a veteran of America’s Revolutionary War of Independence 1775-1783 who knew;

‘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

Phillip ordered HMS Sirius open her gun-ports forcing La Perouse back into ‘rolling’ seas.


The British Navy’s failure in September 1781 to defeat the French Admiral De Grasse at Chesapeake Capes had been the prelude to the Siege of Yorktown.

Where in October 1781 the survivors of General, Earl Charles Cornwallis’ large land army, starved of reinforcements and heavy artillery pieces by De Grasses’ victory at Chesapeake, surrendered to General George Washington’s Continental Army, a combined force of French Regulars and America’s Patriot militia.

Historians date Britain’s loss of her thirteen (13) ‘New World’ American colonies from the Battle for Yorktown.

[And] ‘Although the British were finished in the United States, their campaign in India was still under way. The conflict between Mysore and Britain simply had been put on hold’. The American Revolution A World War, ed. David Allison, Larrie D. Ferreiro, Smithsonian, Washington D.C. 2016 


‘New Holland is a good blind, then, when we want to add to the military strength of India’. Anon. Frank Murcott Bladen, Historical Record of New South Wales. 

Phillip failed, before returning to Botany Bay on the 23rd of January, to raise ‘English Colours’. He feared, if La Perouse sailed north he would raise French ‘Colours’ and claim New Holland.

25 January: Supply was made ready to sail at first light but fog prevented Phillip’s departure until after mid-day.

It  was near nightfall when Supply anchored in a ‘snug’ cove Phillip had named for Home Secretary Lord Sydney

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

‘Actually when Phillip planted the flag at Sydney Cove in 1788 he was not claiming the land for the British to take it from the Aboriginal people but to make sure the French did not make the claim first’. Professor Larissa Beherandt, Invasion or Settlement, The Honest History Book. ed. David Stephens & Alison Broinowski, NewSouth Press, 2013

By evening on the 26th January 1788 the remaining English vessels were riding alongside Supply.

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 

Meanwhile at Botany Bay La Bousolle and L’ Astrolabe found safe anchorage in Frenchmens Cove. Each year their fleeting presence is commemorated at the Sydney suburb named for 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) free 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.

Norfolk Island -February 14: A week later to stymie the French and seed a secondary white population, should the larger Sydney settlement fail, HMS Supply sailed to an uninhabited island named by Captain Cook on his second voyage.

Sydney Cove: Despite assurances that 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.


1790 – 1 January, Sydney: ‘No communication whatever having passed with our native country since the 13th of May, 1787, the day of our departure from Portsmouth..,we had been entirely cut off’. Tench

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

1790 – 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) smallpox had suddenly struck the local Eora Aboriginal families killing 50 % of their number. These deaths took pressure off the settlement’s shared food resources. See: Smallpox – Dead Aborigines Don’t Eat

The following year – 1790 -Phillip drew on that experience. He ordered the evacuation of 50% of ‘his people’ to Norfolk Island two 2) weeks sailing time away.

Unlike Sydney where in winter fish leave the harbour in winter to spawn, there fish were plentiful year round and vegetables thrived in the island’s fertile soil.

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

19 March: Sirius had landed her evacuees safely but was caught in a wind vortex. She swung on her anchor, struck a submerged reef and sank.

HMS Supply, managed the crew off without loss of life. However the one hundred and sixty (160) Royal Navy personnel, were now stranded on the island.

Sydney – 6 April: Supply returned to Sydney with terrifying news. There would be no China rescue. Both black and white, must have been seized with panic.

‘A vigorous exertion  to prolong existence,[steal what grew, flew, moved] 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.

[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. ibid.

The stark difference between the 1788 ration and that of 1790 highlights the problem.

1790 – April, Sydney: Weekly ‘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”. Bladen, Commentary, Historical Records of New South Wales, Vol. 2 

Jakarta17 April:  Although the settlement would be completely isolated from the outside world and there could be no more trawling for fish the ‘council’ agreed Supply  should sail to Batavia, modern day Jakarta.

Lieutenant Henry Ball RN was to buy tons of food and charter a Dutch ship to bring them to Sydney as soon as possible.

As Supply disappeared through Sydney 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’.

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

But little food aside from some sheep that 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 Neptune, Scarborough and Suprize the second fleet’s death ships arrived.

Government had contracted these three (3) vessels to Camden, Calvert and King a London firm of ‘Guinea’ slave traders.

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% of the survivors died within weeks of landing in Sydney.

The aptly named ‘Britain’s Grim Armada’ presented Governor Arthur Phillip RN with a myriad problems including a contingent of infantry and ‘the man who made enemies’ John Macarthur.

‘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 repatriate the ‘First Fleet’ marines and consolidate the conquest of New Holland. However with HMS Supply at Jakarta and HMS Sirius at the bottom of the sea Phillip was now completely isolated in the midst of an extremely ‘hostile’ military garrison. See: Missing In Action Supply @ Jakarta – Sirius shipwrecked.

All too soon Lieutenant Macarthur would seize the opportunity to open up a second front forcing the ailing Governor to dig deep in ‘the defence of the colony’ for King and Country.

Phillip was aware ‘certain officers’, led by Macarthur, were circling the tents. This at a time when he had not fully recovered from his spearing by Willeramin an Aboriginal warrior on Manly Beach in September 1790. See: Manly – Location, Location, Location

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



















‘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,,,, ‘were entitled to defend themselves from invasion’.

……….’Phillip was authorised to see to the defence of the colony…{kercher]

See: Dark Matter – McMafia’ Macarthur & ‘Fiery Indian Rum’ A Teetotaller’s Drug of Ruin for Others


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