ALL THE KING’S MEN: ARTHUR PHILLIP & THE CRIMINALS OF THE ‘FIRST FLEET’

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

Of an overwhelmingly male complement, 1500 souls, seven hundred and fifty (750) were convicted criminals. Its five hundred and eighty male (580) male convicts ‘fed as troops serving in the West Indies’ were available for combat. See: April Fools Day

”The cultural arrogance of the British was evident even before the First Fleet sailed….Phillip was authorised to see to the defence of the colony.

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 – 20 January, Botany Bay: The fleet, after eight months of voyaging across 13,000 miles (21,000 km) of ‘imperfectly explored oceans’Portsmouth to Spanish Teneriffe, Portuguese Rio to Dutch Cape Town – to New Holland whose peoples ‘were entitled to defend themselves’, anchored in Botany Bay on the south-eastern coast in mid January 1788.

On the lengthy last leg Cape Town to Botany Bay – sixty-eight (68) days – scurvy appeared throughout the fleet and there was an urgent need for fresh food so the warships HMS Sirius and HMS Supply immediately on coming to anchor 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

1788 – 26 January, Port Jackson: The English quit Botany Bay on 26 January 1788 and sailed nine (9) miles (14 km) north to Sydney Cove nestled deep within Port Jackson. See: Australia – Britain By A Short Half-Head

Phillip’s 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 

1788 – 7 February, Sydney: ‘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’. Marine Captain Watkin Tench, Sydney’s First Four Years, ed. F.L. Fitzhardinge, Angus and Robertson, 1961

Despite assurance supplies and logistical support would ‘follow shortly’ none came.

1790

1790 – 1 January, Sydney: ‘Our impatience of news from Europe strongly marked the commencement of the year…no communication whatever having passed with our native country since the 13th of May, 1787, the day of our departure from Portsmouth’. Tench. ibid.

The cast-a-ways of the ‘First Fleet’ had been left to starve.

‘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.  

Britain’s abandonment of her people had the direst of consequences for Australia’s First Peoples. See: A Lethal Weapon – Smallpox Boston 1775 – Sydney 1789

‘From the intelligence of our friends and connections we had been entirely cut off …every morning from daylight until the sun sunk, did we sweep the horizon in the hope of seeing a sail’. Tench. ibid.

1790 – March, Sydney: March – with ‘winter at hand’ government stores held; ‘salt meat until 2d July; flour 20th August; rice, or pease in lieu, 1 October’. Marine Captain David Collins, First Fleet Journal.

1790 – March, Sydney: The previous year – 1789 – pressure was taken off contested food resources when 50% of the local Aboriginal community contracted smallpox and died. See: Smallpox – Dead Aborigines Don’t Eat

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.

1790 – 6 March: HMS Sirius and HMS Supply departed Sydney for Norfolk Island with convicts, marines, flour and rice. Sirius was to sail onto China and arrange rescue.

1790 – 19 March, Norfolk Island: Sirius landed her evacuees safely but struck a submerged reef and sank. Her crew, together with one hundred and sixty (160) Royal Navy personnel, although taken off without loss of life, were now stranded on the island.

1790 – 6 April, Sydney: HMS Supply returned to Sydney with tragic news – Sirius was lost – there would be no China rescue.

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

A stark comparison between the ration issued on arrival in 1788 and that of 1790 highlights the level of panic that must have seized the little settlement.

1788 – January, Sydney: ‘The standard [ration] adopted was that of the troops serving in the West Indies’:  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.

As we have already noticed , no distinction was drawn between the convicts and their guards in respect of their rationing we may assume that the convicts enjoyed a similar or equal weekly allowance, the convict enjoyed a similar or equal weekly allowance omitting of course the 3½ pints of rum’. Oldham.ibid

1790 – April, Sydney: The weekly ration issue in April 1790 stood at; ‘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, to every grown person, and to every child of more than eighteen months old. To every child under eighteen [18] months old, the same quantity of rice and flour, and one [1] pound of pork’. Tench. ibid.

See: Abandoned and Left to Starve

1790 – 17 April, Jakarta: In desperation Governor Phillip ordered Supply sail to Batavia, modern day Jakarta, to buy tons of food and charter a ship to bring them to Sydney. As Supply disappeared through the Heads Tench invoked Virgil’s Aeneid; ‘thou the support of all (t)his tottering house’. Tench. ibid.

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

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

1790 – June:  At the end of June 1790 the fleet’s death ships Neptune, Scarborough and Suprize –  arrived. Government had chartered these three (3) vessels to ‘Guinea’ slave traders who treated their prisoners with savage brutality – brought  mainly male convicts.

Of one thousand (1000) convicts embarked in London 25% died during the brutal passage with a further 15% dying within weeks of landing.

The first contingent of the New Wales Corps raised specifically to replace marines of the ‘First Fleet’, were distributed throughout Neptune, Scarborough and Suprize.  Fresh from bustling London among them Lieutenant John Macarthur a junior officer who all too soon opened up a second front forcing an ailing Governor Phillip to dig deep in the defence of ‘the colony’. See: John McEntire – Death of a Sure Thing

EPILOGUE

‘Phillip was authorised to see to the defence of the colony’. Kercher. ibid.

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

‘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 


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