‘Ever since [Francis] Drake’s voyage in the Golden Hind, and his capture of a treasure ship off the coast of Peru, the South Sea had exercised a powerful hold over the English imagination. At one level it promised to an ‘Inexhaustible Fountain  of Gold’; at another it was the jousting ground of satirical and utopian writers.

To the accounts of the imaginary travellers of Defoe and Swift were added the narratives of actual voyages, from William Dampier to Captain George Sherlvocke, whose books did much to shape English perceptions of the Great South Sea’.  Glyn Williams, The Prize of All The Oceans, The Triumph and Tragedy of Captain George Anson’s Voyage Round the World, Harper Collins, 1999


‘In 1770 on 22nd  August [ @Possession Island ]Lieutenant James Cook RN claimed ‘discovery’ of New Holland and  claimed its entire eastern coast for Britain. Once more the discoveries of Captain Cook were influencing the direction of Britain’s overseas expansion.

During the period 1763 and 1793 the character of the Second British Empire was being formed…the gates of the Pacific were open [to] the empire of commerce in the Indian and Pacific Oceans’. Vincent T. Harlow, Founding of the Second British Empire 1763-1793, Vol. 2, Longmans, 1964


We, reposing especial trust and confidence in your loyalty, and experience in military affairs, do, by these presents, constitute and appoint you to be said Governor of our territory called New South Wales…from the Northern extremity of the coast called Cape York…to the Southern extremity of  New South Wales or South Cape. King George III, to our trusted and well-loved Captain Arthur Phillip’. London, 12 October 1786.


‘We have come here today [7 February 1788] to take possession of [New Holland] this fifth great continental division of the earth on behalf of the British people. I do not doubt that this country will prove the most valuable acquisition Great Britain ever made’. Governor Arthur Phillip RN, 7 February 1788, Frank Murcott Bladen Historical Records of New South Wales Vol. 1


‘The Way of War is A way of Deception. When deploying troops, Appear not to be‘. Sun-Tzu, Penguin Books ed. 2009


‘In determining the daily ration no distinction was drawn between the marines and the [750 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, Sydney 1990


‘If a colony from Britain was established in that tract of country [New South Wales] and if we were at war with Holland and Spain we might very powerfully annoy either State from the new settlement’. James Maria Matra, Proposal for a settlement at Botany Bay dated 23August 1783. Franck Murcott Bladen, Historical Records of New South Wales 1892, Nabu Public Domain Reprint

 The First Fleet’s long-distance voyage to invade New Holland in the South Seas, May 1787-January 1788, harking back as it did to the War of Austrian Succession 1739-1748 and the ‘triumph and tragedy‘ of Commodore George Anson RN, had long been desired.

‘Fleets setting out for sea in the eighteenth century needed a  nucleus of experienced topmen, but they were also accustomed to receiving their share of flotsam and jetsam, men with neither aptitude or enthusiasm for life at sea’. Glyn Williams, The Prize of All the Dreams, The Triumph and Tragedy of Anson’s Voyage Round the World, Harper Collins Publishers, London 1999

Only 145 of 1400 men of Commodore Anson’s eight (8) ship squadron survived the voyage that departed England in 1740.. Probably none of Anson’s ‘flotsam and jetsam’ – 300 Chelsea out-pensionersveteran leftovers from previous wars were among them.

Few of Anson’s men however died in battle. Many succumbed to yellow fever and typhus, the majority died of scurvy. Captain Arthur Phillip RN knew scurvy would be an obstacle to the success of any large Expeditionary Force he commanded.


‘When you  [Anson] shall arrive on the Spanish coast of the South Sea, you are to do your best to annoy and distress the Spaniards…by taking, burning, or otherwise destroying all their ships and vessels that you shall met with; and in case you shall find it practicable to seize, surprise, or take any of the towns or places belonging to Spaniards on the coast, you are to adopt it’. Instructions to Commodore George Anson, January 1740 . Williams. ibid.

‘Sailor Mercenary Governor Spy‘  Captain Arthur Phillip in 1787-88 too carried, as did his predecessor Commodore Anson, ‘secret’ orders to mount ‘harassing’ raids on Spain’s Pacific Coast Central and South American possessions. See: Hush ‘Christopher Robin ‘Whisper Who Dares’

When I conversed with Lord Sydney…The check which New South Wales would ….if we were at war with Holland or Spain, we might very powerfully annoy either State from our new settlement in time of war’. James Matra, Bladen,Historical Records of New South Wales, Vol.1


I saw it [Anson’s] was a voyage to cover some [secret] adventure I was not let into, as well as to annoy the Spanish navigation in those [south] seas’. Admiral Sir John Norris, November 1739.  Williams. ibid.

1787 – 11 May,  Portsmouth:  On the 11th of May Captain Phillip informed Evan Nepean at the Home Office ‘The Articles of War and Fighting Instructions’ had been received on board aboard HMS Sirius.

‘ The Articles of War” which would…govern the behaviour of the British Navy right up to 1860’.  Arthur Herman, To Rule the Waves. How the British Navy Shaped the Modern World, Hodder and Stoughton (p. 177)

The work of Robert Blake a ‘Puritan…profoundly Protestant’ Colonel in Cromwell’s New Model Army, ‘the  articles’  are the legacy of Oliver Cromwell’s Protectorate 1642-1660.

In January 1649 following the execution Of King Charles I of England Cromwell tasked Blake with the reformation of England’s navy.  With his aggressive ambitious ‘ Western Design’ – take the fight to the enemy – in mind, he needed a fully equipped amphibious navy.

In December 1654 the first of Blake’s amphibious fleets sailed from England to attack the island of Hispanola in order to seize Spain’s treasure galleons laden with silver and gold looted from her South American possessions Peru and Chile.

The land forces, later marines, were commanded  General Robert Venenables. While as General-at-Sea William Penn had command of the naval contingent. The two were continually at odds

The raid  failed to take Hispanola however fierce bombardment of the port prevented the departure of the yearly delivery of silver and gold looted from Spain’s South American colonies from reaching Spain till much later in the trading season.

On the return voyage the English seized and occupied the weakly defended island of Jamaica. They left a number of soldier/sailor settlers, thought of as ‘ God’s People’ to consolidate their occupation.

It was from Jamaica, following the failure  of the Parliamentary Republic after Cromwell’s death in 1658 and the Restoration of the Monarchy with the coronation of King Charles II in 1660 that sprang ‘chattel slavery’ the spark that lit the Empire on which ‘the sun never set’.

‘Charles II  [was] very eager to maintain a strong [amphibious] navy and to uphold the position and respect which Cromwell appeared to have won for the country.

The Puritan policy of boosting England’s wealth, by getting a better share of the world’s commerce and colonies and by providing a powerful fighting fleet to protect the merchant marine, was therefore cherished and improved upon by the later Stuarts.

Thus Charles flatly declined to give up the Cromwellian conquests of Jamaica and Dunkirk although he did sell the latter to France for a handsome sum in 1662′.Paul Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of the British Naval Mastery, Fontana Press,  1991

Chattel slavery, the most debased form of bondage was not something inherited from the past or borrowed from the Mediterranean or South of Central America.

In its most extreme form it evolved in British America, took form in British-American law, in response to the need for a totally reliable, totally exploitable, and infinitely recruitable labor force’.

‘The expanding [American] plantation economy demanded more labor than could be supplied by white servants, Africans were imported as slaves; that is chattel’.

Bernard Bailyn, The Peopling of the British Peripheries in the Eighteenth Century, Esso Lecture, Occasional Paper No. 5, Canberra 22 August 1988


1787 – 13 May, Portsmouth: At dawn Sunday 13 May 1787 a large armed convoy of eleven (11) sailing ships with a complement of 1500 souls, one-half ‘ flotsam and jetsam’ convicted criminal ‘troops’ commanded by Captain Arthur Phillip RN, sailed from England bound for the invasion of New Holland a distance of 15,000 miles (23,000 km) on the other side of the planet.

‘The Way of War is A Way of Deception’. Sun-Tzu. op.cit.

The Expedition, is known in Britain and Australia as the ‘First Fleet’. Captain Phillip’s mission was to get to New Holland before the French.

‘Our wealth and power in India is their [France] 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 [1784]  cited, Michael Pembroke, Arthur Phillip Sailor Mercenary Governor Spy, Hardie Grant Books, 2013  

Phillip the spy knew Jean-Francois Comte de La Perouse was already on the high seas making for New Holland with two (2)  ships, La Boussole and L’ Astrolabe.

‘New Holland is be a good blind, then, when we want to add to the military strength of India’. Anon to Evan Nepean, Bladen, Historical Records

Evan Nepean, in charge of espionage at the Home Office, was one of few officials fully aware of the strategic nature of the ‘First Fleet’ Expeditionary force.

Military and naval bases in the Southern Oceans would enable Britain to establish secure alternate strategic and trading routes to and from India and Asia.

‘[And] there were plans to use the corps in expeditions against Panama, Peru and the Phillipines, but nothing eventuated and the corps’ first expedience of war came in January 1795 on the Hawkesbury River north-west of Sydney’. Dr. Peter Stanley, The Remote Garrison, The British Army in Australia 1788-1870, Kangaroo Press, Sydney 1986

The south- eastern coast of New South Wales offered a jumping off point from where, via the Southern Oceans, Spanish possessions ‘Panama Peru and the Phillipines’  would be vulnerable to attack and ‘reduction’.  See: Arthur Phillip – The Spy Who Never Came In From The Cold


‘When I conversed with Lord Sydney…The check which New South Wales would ….could in time of war on both those powers [Holland or Spain] makes it a very important object when we view it is in the chart of the world with a political eye. 

Sir Joseph Bank’s high approbation of the scheme which I have proposed deserves the most respectful attention of every sensible, liberal, and spirited individual amongst his countryman we might very powerfully annoy either State from our new settlement in time of war’.  James Maria Matra, Plan for Botany Bay. Bladen op.cit.

Additionally, in time of war, land bases here could provide England a blockade-breaker and in peace-time support a ship-based ‘southern whale fishery’.

‘The place New South Wales holds on our globe might give it a very commanding influence in the policy of Europe’. Matra. op.cit.

The stakes were high.  Scurvy – Phillip was familiar with the work of  a Scottish physician Dr. James Lind on the prevention of scurvy. Lind favoured dosing crews at sea with regular amounts of orange and lemon concentrate.

The Royal Navy was slow to accept Lind’s solution.  When Phillip found citrus fruits hard to come by he turned to Dr. George Blane RN another Scots physician.

During the war of American Independence  (1775-1783)  Admiral George Brydges Rodney RN chose Blane as as his personal physician. By the end of that war Sir Gilbert Blane held the post of Physician to the Royal Navy’s North American fleet.

Blane’s research expanded on that of Lind and in 1780 he published A Short Account of the Most Effectual Means of Preserving the Health of Seamen .

Bland calculated scurvy appeared when the diet consisted chiefly of salted meats, dry beetle infested’ biscuits, water was rationed and ships were at sea longer than six (6) weeks forty-two (42 days).

Phillip, with these strictures in mind,planned the voyage to Botany Bay in five (5) stages; Portsmouth to Tenerife – St Jago – Rio de Janiero – Cape Town – Botany Bay.

At each stage the fleet would be at sea no longer than forty-two (42 ) days. At each stop-over water, bread, fresh meats and all manner of citrus and other fresh fruits and vegetables would be purchased.


1787 – Tenerife,  June 3:  First port-of-call, the Spanish island of Tenerife, was reached in 18 days.There one (1) vessel flying an English flag would have aroused suspicion; eleven (11) caused alarm.

Phillip, fluent in Spanish, was able to maintain the secrecy of his mission, while calming anxious port officials.

But due to drought the previous year, apart from limited amounts of onion, pumpkin,  figs and mulberries, no fresh foods were available to supplement the basic sea-diet of salt meats and dry biscuit. Plenty of fresh water was taken on board.

No paperwork accompanied the prisoners. Phillip knew nothing of the character of any of his hundred and seventy (570) male convict- combatants, nor the length of their sentences.

Carousing merchant-men, drunken soldiers and, a last minute convict escape, very nearly created a crisis Phillip was so anxious to avoid.

1787 – St Jago, June 10:  After a week the fleet departed Tenerife setting course for St Jago.

‘There being only a light Breeze of Wind there was little probability of getting the fleet to anchor that Night. The signal was taken down and we Proceeded towards the Equator, which we Cross’d. on Sunday the 15 of July & on the 2d of August saw the Coast of Brazil’. Letter, David Blackburn RN, Master HMS Supply. Bladen, Historical Records of New South Wales 

Brazil – August, 2: When the convoy lay off Rio de Janeiro Phillip proceeded with great caution. Earlier, in 1784, he had arrived at Rio seeking to repair his ship HMS Europa.    On that occasion all had not gone well.

Then (1784) Europa was a part of Sir Robert Kingsmill’s squadron on their way to ‘harass’ Spanish Monte Video when overtaken by a hurricane in the Bay of Biscay.

Kingsmill  returned to England in HMS Elizabeth with HMS Grafton and  the  supply ship. Phillip who it is thought had additional ‘secret’ orders to proceed to India, made for Brazil  to repair his damaged ship.

But when he attempted to enter Rio before offering Europa up for search a volley of shot raked across her bow.

Phillip was much surprised by the action.  As previously, seconded to the Portuguese Navy, he had spent nigh on four (4) years based in Rio assisting the Portuguese Navy, spying on the Spanish colonies and reporting directly to Lord Sandwich at the Admiralty .See: Hush ‘Whisper Who Dares’ – Monte Video

1787 – Rio August 4: Phillip always anticipated he would face difficulties with the Dutch at Cape Town. Now, with New Holland at stake, a wiser Captain Phillip played strictly by the rules. Before entering port he stood off and offered his ships for inspection.

The current Viceroy, who had replaced Viceroy Luis de Vasconcelos e Sousa of 1784,  was well aware of Phillip’s earlier invaluable service to Portugal in the mid-1770s and treated him with great respect.

Port authorities searched HMS Sirius but waived their right to inspect the remainder of the fleet. Nevertheless a cautious Phillip went so far as to script interviews to be used by his officers when presenting official documents.

Ships were thoroughly cleaned and caulked. Officers, marines and merchant seamen took shore-leave

It does not take much reading between the lines to realise, without Captain Arthur Phillip RN, the outcome at Rio could have been very different. See: Arthur Phillip -The Importance of Being Arthur

Rio – August, 4:  By the time the ‘First Fleet’ came to anchor the ships had been at sea for fifty-six (56) days. While the prisoners were not allowed to leave the ships at Rio they continued to exercise, drill and fed; the standard adopted was that of the troops serving in the West Indies’. Wilfrid Oldham. op.cit.

As old friendships were renewed Phillip set about re-provisioning his ships. An abundance of bread, flour, grains, fresh meats, vegetables, fruits, crates of oranges, paid for in English currency and Bills of Exchange, were purchased and stowed aboard Borrowdale, Golden Grove and Fishburn, the fleet’s three (3) store-ships.

If adequate provisions were denied him at Rio, Phillip may even have been pressed by circumstances to return to England. But as Jean-Francois La Perouse with two (2) French ships under his command were already on the high seas he knew New Holland was at stake.

For Phillip failure was unthinkable. His attitude stemmed from harsh experience.  Although he held no rank during the first battle of the Sevens’ War (1756-1763) at Minorca, while on his first training excursion on HMS Buckingham, under the supervision of his uncle Captain Michael Everitt, Admiral John Byng in command of  the entire  squadron was charged with ‘failing to do his utmost’.

Although at court-marital Admiral John Byng son of Viscount Admiral George Torrington Britain’s lionised hero whose bombardment was instrumental in  the initial seizure of Gibraltar from the Spanish during the War of Spanish Succession (1703-1713) Treaty of Utrecht was was acquitted of cowardice but found guilty of ‘failure to do his utmost’ ‘

Byng had failed to relieve the English garrison at Minorca because he was opposed by overwhelming numbers of French forces at the opening battle of the European phase of the Seven Years’ War (1756-63)

Admiral Byng’s first port of call had been to Gibraltar to pick up additional ships and arms.

He found the the port poorly defended with most of the officers on leave.He made the decision leave Minorca, return to the Fort and prepare to defend it rather than stay at Minorca to fight a battle he could not  hope to win.

This was not accepted at his court-martial and Admiral John Byng was executed by firing squad. His family’s recent request for justice was denied by the British Government.

Not yet a serving member of the Royal Navy Arthur Phillip was present on HMS Buckingham at Minorca.  Phillip ‘Sailor Mercenary Governor Spy’  knew what Britain demanded ‘do his utmost’. 

His zeal to comply may have been principal among many factors that led to his selection to spearhead the invasion of New Holland. See: England Expects  13 December 1790 – ‘Bring In the Heads of the Slain’


Captain Phillip also had concern for the one hundred and ninety (190) women prisoners some of whom were pregnant. They  had been issued ill-fitting, light cotton clothing that offered no protection from extreme weather.

‘The situation in which the magistrates sent the women on board the Lady Penrhyn stamps them with infamy – tho’ almost naked, and so very filthy that nothing but clothing them could have prevented them from perishing’. Phillip to Middleton, March 1787, Bladen, Historical Records of New South Wales

Phillip feared for their lives as, after leaving Cape Town their next port of call ,the fleet would sail south into freezing waters and be buffeted by icy Antarctic winds.

An inventory disclosed  a good deal of replacement small arms ammunition had been left behind in England. The convoy would be vulnerable if it came under sustained attack from pirates who roamed the southern oceans.

He held Major Robert Ross the marine commander, responsible for an omission that amounted to dereliction of duty. Fortunately Phillip was able to purchase 10,000 musket balls.

‘No one in the colony caused Phillip more trouble than Major Ross. Of all Phillip’s problems, including those of the terrible famine of 1789 and 1790, probably none was so harassing as the persistent antagonism, both covert and open, which Ross pursued against him’. John Moore, The First Fleet Marines 1786-1792, Queensland University Press, 1986

Antipathy between Governor Phillip and Major Ross, from different arms of the naval service, burgeoned during the long eight (8) month voyage. At Sydney the marine commander’s behaviour bordered on open rebellion. See: Rules of Engagement


1787 -September 2, Rio: ‘Dear Nepean, This is my last letter, as I hope to sail [for Cape Town] to morrow. You know how much I was interested in the intended [1783] expedition against Monte Video and that it was said the Spaniard had more troops than I supposed’. Governor Phillip to Evan Nepean, Bladen, Historical Records. ibid.

1787 – September, 4: With great fanfare and ceremony the fleet sailed from Brazil on the 4th of September setting course for the Cape of Good Hope.

1787 – Cape Town,  October 13: Thirty-nine (39) days later the fleet was standing off Cape Town. Ceremonial salutes between ship and shore were exchanged but a wary Phillip assessed the welcome cool.

Previously Phillip had been stationed at Cape Town. His cover story then was to supervise the refit of a squadron of Royal Naval vessels.

Phillip the spy was well aware of political manoeuvring between England, France and the Dutch who favoured the French.

Now, from English spies on the ground at Cape Town, Phillip learned La Perouse with two (2) ships La Boussole and L’Astrolabe was making ‘with all haste’ for Botany Bay.

Phillip and La Perouse – England and France – were running neck and neck in the race for New Holland so Phillip was not surprised when baulked at every turn by a hostile administration. See: Arthur Phillip – The Spy Who Never Came In From the Cold

He sought aid from General Gordon a Scot who commanded troops at Cape Town. Gordon helped Phillip pick a pathway through a colonial bureaucracy determined to obstruct.

For a month the fleet rode at anchor in Table Bay. Not unreasonably local authorities were apprehensive at having seven hundred and fifty (750) exiled English criminals in close proximity to their town and insisted all prisoners be shackled and remain on board.

While the rank and file drank, fought, were demoted, flogged or both, their officers went ashore to enjoy; ‘the refreshments and the pleasures of which we had so liberally partaken at the Cape’.

Phillip saw his male convict-combatants were fed adequate amounts of fresh meat and vegetables but their living conditions were terrible.

To add to the misery, buffeted by winds so strong some ships broke their moorings, the constant swell caused seasickness throughout the fleet.

Merchant seamen scoured, disinfected, caulked and tarred the decks and hulls of the ships. Carpenters built stalls and boxes for the soon to be loaded livestock.

1787 – November, Table Bay: Soon the ships began to resemble a Noah’s Ark. Crammed with plants, trees and livestock – sheep, pigs, goats, cattle, horses – three (3) mares, three (3) colts, a stallion – ducks, geese, hens, cocks, cats, a number of dogs – including Phillip’s greyhounds – and their collective sounds and smell.

Prodigious amounts of fodder and water needed to keep so many animals alive took up nearly all available cargo space leaving very little room for food.

Dr White, the fleet’s chief physician wrote,‘It is much to be lamented that the quantity we could find room for fell short of what we ought to have taken’. Dr John White, Chief Medical Officer, First Fleet Journal

The provisions Phillip purchased at great expense proved to be of poor quality. The meat was rancid, flour and rice full of weevils and vermin. Most animals were not in good condition including those intended for breeding.

Much poultry was already diseased when boarded. While the majority of sheep, fed dry fodder on the long last leg to Sydney, were destined to die from acidosis when turned out onto fresh grass.


1787 – Cape Town, November 13: To the strains of a quayside  brass band and a traditional gunnery exchange the ‘First Fleet’ departed Cape Town on 13th of November 1787.

First night out  ‘just as it was getting dark’  HMS Sirius sighted a vessel flying an English flag; ‘we was in hope of her being from England, probably to us.’

A surge of excitement ran through the fleet. She proved to be Kent a south sea whaler. Hopes were dashed but spirits rose when Kent; ‘informed us of some more ships being taken up for Botany Bay’.

They were not to know not until June 1790, would a word from England be heard. See: Abandoned and Left To Starve Sydney Cove January 1788 to June 1790


After leaving Africa the fleet was exposed to extreme weather. The last leg – Cape Town to Botany Bay – proved to be a nightmare.

1787 – at sea, November 25:  Responding to circumstances Captain Phillip ordered the fleet split into two (2) divisions. He boarded HMS Supply and, with Alexander, Friendship and Scarborough the faster of the transports, together with two (2) of the fleet’s four (4) marine companies, made a dash for Botany Bay.

Phillip had however failed to consult Major Robert Ross the marine commander, on what was without doubt a high-risk manoeuvre. Ross wrote of his ‘hurt’ to Stephens, Secretary of the Navy.

‘His Excellency’s not having given me the most distant hint of his intention prior to our quitting the Cape…I received my first intimation of his design from the mess of the Sirius’s gun-room’. Major Ross to Navy Secretary Stephens, 10 July 1788, Historical Records of New South Wales.

Any hope harmony or co-operation would exist between the two (2) arms of the naval service died in the; ‘mess of the Sirius’s gun-room’.

During its long sixty-eight (68) day passage to Botany Bay the fleet sailed into the ‘Roaring 40s encountering atrocious conditions battling mountainous seas and dodging gigantic ice-bergs shrouded in fog.

Ship-board life was miserable for soldiers, sailors, convicts and animals alike. Cargo shifted, sails froze and shredded, masts splintered, ropes became hard as steel, hawsers snapped and bones broke.

At times ‘without a breath of wind’ the ships lay becalmed. The fleet was at sea well beyond the planned forty-two (42) days.

Sixty-eight (68 ) days at sea, as anticipated, scurvy and ‘dysentery to a violent degree’ appeared in each ship’s company.


Dr. Bowes-Smyth of Lady Penrhyn,  the ship that carried the majority of the fleet’s women reports perhaps the worst moment of the eight (8) month voyage came very near its end.

’10 January 1788 : the Sky blacken’d, the wind arose & in 1/2 an hour more it blew a perfect hurricane…the Fishburn was very near us on the Starboard side & to leeward of us & every body expected we must have been foul of Each other…I never saw the Sea in such a rage, it was all over as white as snow… During the Storm the Convict Women in our Ship were so terrified that most of them were down on their knees at prayers’. Arthur Bowes Smyth, Surgeon, Lady Penrhyn, First Fleet Journal

1788 – 18 January, Botany Bay: At 2.15 pm – 18 January – eight (8) months and 15,000 miles (23,000 km) from England, HMS Supply with Captain Phillip aboard, a little ahead of Alexander Friendship and Scarborough entered Botany Bay.

1788 – 20 January, Botany Bay: Within thirty-six (36) hours – 10 am on 20 January 1788 – all eleven (11) ships – were ‘anchored on the north shore’ of Botany Bay in the lee of what is now Bare Island. See: William Dawes & The Eternal Flame

‘On the first day of my arrival I [Hunter of HMS Sirius] went to examine the south shore, in order to fix on a spot for erecting some buildings; but we found very little fresh water, and not any spot very inviting for our purpose’. Captain John Hunter RN, First Fleet Journal.

Hunter noted Botany Bay offered little protection from strong contrary winds and problematic cross-currents running across the bay’s open face.


1788 – January 21:  ‘The governor [Arthur Phillip], accompanied by me and two [2] other officers, embarked in three [3] boats, and proceeded along the coast to the northward, intending, if we could, to reach what Captain Cook has called Broken-bay, with a hope of discovering a better harbour, as well as a better country; for we found nothing at Botany-bay to recommend it as a place on which to form an infant settlement’. Hunter. op.cit.

1788 – 21 January: Taking Captain Cook’s charts of 1770, seventeen 17 miles to the north of Botany Bay, they found the opening to  a better harbour….Mr. Cook had given the name Port Jackson….as well as a better country’. 

From a myriad bays and inlets Phillip chose a ‘sung cove’ naming it for Lord Sydney, the Home Secretary.

‘The boats  returned on 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, 1981

1788 – 24 January, Botany Bay:  ‘Another sail’ struck my astonished ear…at first I [Tench] only laughed’.

On the morning of the 24th of January l’Astrolabe and La Boussole commanded by Captain Jean- Francoise La Perouse appeared over the horizon.  ‘We’  La Perouse recorded ‘spent the whole day of the 24rh in plying in sight of Botany Bay’. 

‘Aboard were copper plates engraved with the royal arms to be used as permanent notification of French ownership’. Michael Cannon, Australian Discovery and Exploration.

The arrival of La Perouse came as no surprise to Captain Phillip who, in August 1785 hidden in shadows, watched them depart Brest naval base.

‘New South Wales had been formally annexed by [James] Cook in 1770. If La Perouse had arrived at Botany Bay before Phillip, and had fronted him with a French annexation, the act would have been equivalent to declaration of war on Great Britain’. G.A Wood, Challis Professor of History, The Discovery of Australia, ed. 1969.

Phillip was aware in terms of international law, the French presence presented a serious complication but he had no stomach for blowing the gallant La Perouse and his men out of the water. See: A Band of Brothers and Mortal Enemies..

1788 – 25 January, Port Jackson:  Nevertheless there was; ‘alarm….consternation’ Phillip had not raised ‘English colours‘ at Port Jackson. It was imperative he get back there before the French.

‘When Phillip planted the flag at Sydney Cove in 1788 he was not claiming the land for the British to take it away from the Aboriginal people but to make sure the French did not make the claim first. Jean-Francois de Galaup, Comte de La Perouse was hanging around on an expedition with two ships’. Larissa Beherndt, Essay Settlement or Invasion,  The Honest History Book eds, David Stephens & Allison Broinowski

Delayed by a howling gale and dense sea-mist, on 25 January Phillip in HMS Supply put to sea and just on dark – 7 pm  – Supply threw out her anchor in Sydney Cove.

‘There is some justification for the saying ‘England won Australia by six days’.  Edward Jenks, cited. H. E.  Egerton, A Short History of British Colonial History, Metheun, London, 1928

1788 – 26 January, Sydney Cove: Next morning at first light marines and convicts disembarked from Supply. A flagstaff was erected and, ‘English Colours‘ the Union Jack of Queen Anne hoisted, signifying Britain’s victory over France.

‘A firing party of marines formed up and fired a feu de joie, in between the volleys of which, toasts were drunk to His Majesty King George III, the royal family, and success to the new colony’. Marine Lieutenant Ralph Clark, First Fleet Journal, cited John Moore, the First Fleet Marines 1786-1792, Queensland University Press, 1987


‘His [Phillip’s] failure to invite the French commander [Sydney Cove}….some fear that he might be known as a spy’ .Alan Frost Arthur Phillip 1738-14, His Voyaging.

1788 – 26 January, Botany Bay: Meanwhile despite ‘prodigious seas’ the remaining English fleet effected a dangerous exit that put lives and ships at risk.  By dusk – 6 pm – the entire fleet was riding alongside Supply in Sydney Cove.

1788 – January 27/28, Sydney Cove: Over the following two (2) days the marines and male convicts disembarked and set about preparing a settlement.

Governor Phillip lost no time in addressing the urgent problem of La Perouse with Lieutenant Phillip Gidley King RN his Aide-de-Camp. Long-term friends King had served under Phillip in HMS Europa on the aborted Monte Video Expedition.

It is highly likely Gidley King along with Captain John Hunter RN,  were the only men on the ‘First Fleet’ who knew Governor Phillip carried ‘secret plans‘ ‘ [for]  ‘expeditions against Panama, Peru and the Philipines’.

It was decided King and Marine Lieutenant William Dawes, the fleet’s senior scientific officer, would visit La Perouse at Botany Bay. It was up to Lieutenant King to set boundaries,  deliver an ultimatum for departure and assess La Perouse’s future intentions.

While Dawes’ interest would have been with the French navigators and their chronometers. Dawes had been entrusted by Astronomer Royal Nevil Maskelyne at Greenwich Observatory with K-1, a faithful replica of John Harrison’s H-4 chronometer.See: Harrison Cook Green, Three Yorkshire men Walked into a Bar

‘With his marine clocks John Harrison tested the waters of space-time….He wrested the world’s whereabouts from the stars and locked the secret in a pocket-watch’.  Dava Sobel, Longitude, Fourth Estate London. 1996

K-1 it was  said stopped ticking as Captain Cook died. Stabbed to death at  Hawaii on 14th  February 1779.  It is not difficult to imagine the reverence with which William Dawes regarded the chronometer,  See:  Lieutenant Dawes, The ‘Eternal Flame’ – Death of A Sure Thing

‘All Europeans are countrymen at such a distance from home’. La Perouse, cited Dr. John Cobley, Sydney Cove 1788, Angus and Robertson, 1980.

‘By land’ King and Dawes made their  way to Botany Bay where they dined on La Boussole. Talking well into the early hours King learned La Perouse had  twice attempted unsuccessfully to land on Norfolk Island before continuing onto Botany Bay.

Norfolk Island: This convinced King that despite the pounding surf and dangerous reefs surrounding the island the French would try again.

1788 – 30 January, Sydney Cove:  The two (2) English officers were rowed back to Sydney next day.  Governor Phillip took the extraordinary decision to commission Gidley King Lieutenant- Governor of Norfolk Island and preparations began to occupy the island.  

1788 – 31 January: Lieutenant King visited the Lady Penrhyn.  He selected six (6) female convicts. One, Ann Inett, would give King two (2) sons – Norfolk and Sydney.

1788 – February 6: Between 6 am and 6 pm the fleet’s two hundred and twenty-two (222) women and their children, twenty-two  (22) babies born during the voyage, ‘were rowed ashore’ from the ships that had been their home for more than eight (8) months.

‘At 10 pm a most outrageous storm of lightning, thunder and rain struck the settlement’. Lieutenant Ralph Clark, cited Moore. ibid

1788 – 7 February mid-day, Sydney Cove: At 11 am the following day – 7 February – the convicts were made sit in a circle while the soldiery paraded with fixed bayonets,  fife, drum and Colours flying, to hear Governor Phillip proclaim ‘British Sovereignty’ over the entire eastern coast of New South Wales ‘from Cape York…in the North..to South Cape’.


1788 – 14 February, Norfolk Island: At  6pm HMS Supply sailed out through Sydney’s Heads with Lieutenant King RN, two (2)physicians, a Petty Officer from Sirius, two (2) seaman, two (2)marines, a couple of volunteers, nine (9) male convicts, six (6) women prisoners and six(6) months supplies.

1788 – 17 February, Botany Bay: On the 17th of February 1788 Pere Laurent Receveur, a noted naturalist and the French expedition’s Chaplain, died of wounds he had received at Samoa on 11th of December 1787.

1788 – 10 March, France:  Seven (7) weeks after entering Botany Bay La Boussole and L’Astrolabe took to the open sea and turned for home. La Perouse and his men were never seen again. See: A Band of Brothers and Mortal Enemies


‘The combination of French and Spanish naval power has proven fatal for Britain in the American War…as Lord Sandwich admitted frankly’. Lord Sandwich cited R.J. King. The Secret History of the Convict Colony, Sydney 1990

A monument was later erected at the Sydney suburb of  La Perouse. It marks Pere Receveur’s burial place. Each year on or about the 10th of March, a ceremony is held in memory of Comte La Perouse and his men.


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