1763 Following Britain’s defeat of France in the Seven Years’ War (1754-1763) Colonel de Bougainville, aide-de-camp to General Joseph Montcalm commander of French forces in the Canadian theatre of that conflict, switched from army to navy. See: A Tale of Two Cities: Quebec 1759 – Sydney 1788

1766 – Brest, December: Captain Louis Antoine de Boungainville in Boudeuse, accompanied by Etoile a support vessel, sailed from France seeking the fabled ‘Unknown Great South Land’.

With territorial expansion, trade and strategic advantage in mind, Bugainville’s voyage took him into the South Pacific where he investigated many places of interest to France amongst them Samoa, Vanuatu, Tahiti and Mauritius.

1767: On the return passage to France, by way of New Guinea the Moluccas and Java, Bougainville sailed along New Holland’s far north-eastern coast charting the Great Barrier Reef.

However, unlike England’s James Cook on HMS Endeavou,r Bougainville did not risk a landing.

There can be no doubt his book A Voyage Round the World raised the stakes in the race to see who would open up the Pacific first’. Arthur Herman, To Rule The Waves, Hodder and Stoughton, London, 2005

1769 – France, March:  After twenty-eight (28) months circumnavigating the globe Bougainville, the first Frenchman to do so, was home in France.


‘From the coast of China it [New Holland] lies not more than about a thousand leagues and nearly the same distance from the East Indies, from the Spice Islands about seven hundred leagues, and near a month’s run from the Cape of Good Hope…or suppose we were again involved  in a war with Spain, here are ports of shelter and refreshment for our ships, should it be necessary to send any into the South Sea’. Admiral Sir George Young , Frank Murcott Bladen, Historical Records of New South Wales. Vol.1

1768 – Plymouth, March: Meantime on the 12th of August 1768 Lieutenant James Cook RN, at the behest of Britain’s Royal Society, sailed the barque HMS Endeavour to Tahiti to observe the Transit of Venus.

Edmond Halley, the British astronomer of comet fame, had predicted this phenomenon would occur in the first week of June 1769. The Royal Society could not afford the entire cost of a such a venture so the Admiralty supplied the Endeavour and paid her captain and crew.

1769- Tahiti, April: HMS Endeavour sailing via Rio de Janeiro reached Tahiti on 11th of April 1769.

1769 – Matavai Bay,June: Charles Green, the expeditions’ astronomer, set up a temporary field observatory there from where on the 3rd of June the Transit was recorded.

Cook, having satisfied Admiralty’s obligation to the Royal Society, opened a set of ‘secret instructions’. Cook  like Bougainville, before him was to search for the ‘shadowy Great South Land’.

1769 – New Zealand, October: He set a course that took HMS Endeavour deep into the Southern Oceans. In October 1769 Cook began charting the coastlines of New Zealand’s two (2) islands.

1770 – New Holland, April: Sailing north Cook sighted the coast of New Holland in mid-April 1770. The crew went ashore at Botany Bay on the 28th of April.

During their short stay, nine (9) days, they filled their water barrels and explored the area. Botanist Joseph Banks, doyen of the illustrious Royal Society, collected and pressed a myriad local plants.Some of these still exist.

Astronomer Charles Green scanned the night sky marvelling at the splendour of  a cascading Milky Way and the brilliant Southern Cross.

Artist Sydney Parkinson a skilled draughtsman sketched Aboriginal families as they fished. He drew the plants they ate, the extraordinary animals they hunted, as well as the area’s natural features.

But when these pale strangers  took their fill of mullet, black-fish, snapper and, scoured the coastline for oysters and crab, they came into conflict with the local Bidjigal Botany Bay people.

1770 – Botany Bay, May 6: Cook weighed anchor on 6 May 1770 and set a northerly course.

1770- Great Barrier Reef, June : Endeavour was making good headway until in the middle of June when she ran onto a coral reef. Ripped  below the water line she was in danger of sinking.

Jonathan Monkhouse  a young midshipman, while sailing in northern waters, had seen a technique ‘fothering’  used successfully to save a sinking ship.

Cook wisely took the young man’s advise. Endeavour was saved but repairs took many weeks.

1770 – Cape York, August: On the 222nd of August, just before the Englishmen left the area, Cook landed on an island naming it Possession Island.

The English flag was raised. A volley of shots fired, a sailor took an axe and marked a tree. Cook ‘using a form of words’ claimed ‘discovery’ of the whole eastern coast of New Holland ‘from Cape York…to South Cape’ naming the territory New Wales for England’s King George 111.


1770 – Batavia, October: Endeavour headed into the wind. Cook set his course for low-lying mosquito-ridden Batavia present-day Jakarta.

Neither Green the Yorkshire star-gazer nor Parkinson the artistic Quaker saw home again.

1770 – Jakarta, December:  Before Endeavour left Batavia in December 1770 Cook had buried sixteen (16) crewmen. Most died of malarial  ‘fever’.

1771 – at sea: On 29 January 1771, en-route to the Cape of Good Hope, astronomer Charles Green succumbed to what appears from his symptoms to have been cerebral malaria. See: Cook, Harrison, Green – Three Yorkshiremen Walked Into A Bar – Maskelyne

Jonothan Monkhouse the midshipman whose innovative ‘fothering’ saved Endeavour from destruction, weakened by dysentery and malaria, died at sea on 6th February 1771. William his brother, Endeavour’s doctor was also buried at sea.

1771 – Cape Town, March:  Endeavour was taking on water when she limped into Table Bay on the 13th of March 1771. By then Cook had lost twenty-nine (29) crew.

1771 – April, Passage to England:  He hired local seamen to man Endeavour’s sails and hawsers. In mid April 1771, after a month of rest and repairs, Cook sailed for home.

Land’s End:  After three (3) years voyaging 55,000 nautical miles James Cook and his surviving crew sighted Land’s End on 10 July 1771.


‘Once more the discoveries of Captain Cook were influencing the direction of Britain’s overseas expansion’. Vincent T. Harlow, Founding of the Second British Empire 1763-1793, Vol. 2, Longmans, 1964

1785: France in ‘the race to see who would open up the Pacific first’ was first out of the blocks.

1785 – August, Brest:In 1785 Louis XVI quietly sent the Comte de la Perouse with two ships La Boussole & L’Astrolabe to survey likely spots for French settlements. Aboard were copper plates engraved with the royal arms to be used as permanent notification of French ownership’. Australian Discovery and Exploration, Michael Cannon, 1987

La Perouse’s wide-ranging voyage, modelled on those of James Cook, was estimated to take three (3) years. Mentored by Bougainville, La Perouse no doubt had with him Bougainville’s book published in 1771.

As well he carried a well-thumbed copy of Charles de Brosses’ Historie deNavigations aux Terra Australes. This scholarly two (2) volume work published in 1756 summarised what was known to that date of all nations’ exploratory Pacific voyages.


1785 – France: King Louis of France may have thought he had stolen a march on his rival King George III but did not reckon on Arthur Phillip ‘Sailor Mercenary Governor Spy’ arguably England’s most successful 18th century spy. See: Arthur Phillip – The Spy Who Never Came In From the Cold

France: Arthur Phillip spent most of 1785 ‘on holiday’ in France ‘surveying and making observations of French ports’. His ‘observations’ going to Lord Sandwich at the Admiralty.

Phillip returned to England armed with comprehensive knowledge of the French Navy’s numbers, ordnance and Louis XV1’s ambitions for the La Perouse expedition.

As with Britain French ambitions included ‘overseas expansion’. Britain had missed the jump.


1738 – London, October: Arthur Phillip- the Spy who never came in from the cold the son of an emigré  German language teacher and an English mother  was born within sounds of Bow Bells.

By the time his father died when he was 12 years , son of a German language teacher and an English mother  was born in 1738 within sounds of Bow Bells.He was aged 12 years when his father died. By then he was fluent in French, German and Hebrew.

Greenwich: He was accepted into the  the Royal Naval Charity School. On graduating aged 15 he spent nigh on two (2) years in the mercantile navy chasing whales in the Arctic Circle.

But when the winds of The Seven Years War (1754-1763) called he, joined the Royal Navy. His first stint on a fighting ship was as messenger- servant under tutelage of his uncle, the ship’s Captain Michael Everitt RN.

Whitehall – 1763: With peace came change. Now on the half-pay  the lang  the Phillip joined Britain’s Secret Service. To learn the art of espionage he entered into a Secret  Service marriage with Charlotte Denison a widow 18 years his senior.

As he learned and lived his cover – textiles -the languages Portuguese Spanish and Italian were added. The marriage was dissolved in 1769 and Phillip began to travel widely.

France – 1773:  He seems to have spent the whole of 1773 year in France.

Portugal – 1774: The Admiralty took a hand in Phillip’s career. He was seconded to the Portuguese navy and travelled to Lisbon where he took command of Belem a convict ship.

Brazil – Rio:  In 1775 Belem sailed from Portugal to Rio arriving there at the beginning of April 1775.

America – 1775, Lexington, April: That same month Britain went to war with America’s Patriot rebels.

Based in Rio de Janeiro on the Atlantic coast of South America Phillip fed solid up to date intelligence to Lord Sandwich, a fellow linguist, at the Admiralty.

America – 1776, July:  General George Washington’s Patriot rebels declared independence from ‘Mother England‘. Loyalists, faithful to the Crown, fought for England against their fathers and brothers.

Paris – 1778 February:  France recognised America’s Declaration of Independence in February 1778.

Spain – 1779: Spain formed an alliance with France in mid 1779. Britain saw the ‘Bourbon Family’ move as particularly problematic. Lord Sandwich continued to make good use of Phillip’s intelligence on the Spanish Navy.

Captain Phillip’s many requests to resume active service with the Royal Navy eventually met with success.

England – 1782: When America’s Revolutionary shooting war was over at the end of 1782 Phillip was in European waters and commander of HMS Europe 66 guns.

France – 1783, September: Britain lost the American war. Via The Treaty of Versailles signed in September 1783, Britain lost her ‘thirteen middle colonies’ and the right to transport convicted criminals to America.

Between 1717 and 1775 fifty thousand (50,000) criminals reprieved death on condition of banishment ‘from the realm’ were shipped sent to America where they were sold. See: A Rough Trade


France: Post-war Arthur Phillip was relegated once more to the Reserve List on half-pay and resumed spying. He arrived in Toulon in January 1785 just after Jean-Francois La Perouse was selected to lead a French exploratory expedition that was to include both Arctic and Southern Oceans.

1785 – France –  Brest: Phillip, no doubt hidden in shadow, watched as in the first week of August 1785 as La Perouse in La Boussole and L’Astrolabe with Paul Antoine Fleuriot Viscount de Langle at the helm, in a harbinger of what would befall the French voyage, worked a difficult exit from Brest Harbour.

1786 – London, August 6: King George III moved among his people in a continuing effort to garner their support. When alighting from his carriage in early August 1786 ‘a deranged women’ armed with a ‘butter knife’ rushed at him.

The assassination attempt fuelled ‘fear of the mob’ among England’s elite.

London:The King having been pleased to signify his Royal Command that 750 of the convicts now in this kingdom under sentence of transportation [initially America] should be sent to Botany Bay, on the coast of New South Wales’. Lord Sydney to the Lords of the Admiralty, Whitehall  31 August 1786. Cited, Historical Records of New South Wales, Vol. 1


Prior to the American War each year (1718-1775) a thousand (1000) convicted criminals had been shipped to America. During eight (8) years of conflict a ready-made army had been assembled on prison-hulks moored along the River Thames.

In April 1776 Parliament had passed the Hulks Act. The Act excluded female prisoners but permitted males to be confined on these stinking diseased condemned ships; their ‘service was for the Crown’.

‘Britain’s decision in 1786 to occupy New South Wales was partly to compensate for the loss of the American colonies to which unwanted convicts (some 50,000 before the Declaration of Independence in 1776) had been sent and partly to protect Britain’s control of the sea route to Asia via the Southern Oceans’. Professor Martyn Webb, Oxford Companion to British History.

1786 – Brazil, September: Arthur Phillip was ‘in the Brazils’ keeping track of La Perouse when informed he was to lead an expeditionary naval force into the Southern Oceans.

Britain had entered the lists – the race for New Holland was on.

1786 – 2 October, London: ‘George the Third, to our trusty and well-beloved Captain Arthur Phillip, greeting: We, reposing especial trust and confidence in your loyalty, courage and experience in military affairs do, by these presents, constitute and appoint you to be Governor of our territory called New South Wales extending from the northern most extremity…called Cape York…to the southern extremity of the said territory…South Cape’. Given at our Court at St James in the twenty-sixth year of our reign’. King George III, Historical Records of New South Wales. ibid.

1787 – 6 January, Portsmouth: The first of seven hundred and fifty (750) sick emaciated convicts hauled from prison-hulks moored along the Thames River began boarding ships of what became known in Britain and Australia as the ‘First Fleet’ as early as 6 January 1787.

1787 – January 11: ‘I find that 184 men [from hulks] are put on board [Alexander]…amongst the men some unable to help themselves…and 56 women on board [ from] the Lady Penrhyn’. Arthur Phillip. Historical Records of New South Wales

1787 – 13 May, Portsmouth: It was a full four (4) months before the ships of the ‘First Fleet’ sailed for Botany Bay on 13 May 1787 with 1300 men and 221 women. See: G for Gender

The ‘First Fleet’ dressed up and sold as a convict transport fleet was nothing of the sort. A large armed naval force of eleven (11) vessels, fully funded by government, undoubtedly it was ‘a military affair’.

‘In determining the daily ration no distinction was drawn between he marines and the [male] convicts, except in respect of alcoholic liquors which the Government decided should not be supplied to the convicts…the standard adopted was that of the troops serving in the West Indies’. Wilfrid Oldham, Britain’s Convicts to the Colonies, Library of Australian History, Sydney, 1990

Of its 1500 souls one-half were perfect cannon fodder. Convicted criminals deemed ‘too evil to remain within the kingdom’ . Post legislation the Hulks Act 1776, ‘their service [was] for the public’. See: McEntire – Death of a Sure Thing

Captain Arthur Phillip’s primary objective get to New Holland before the French.

‘New Holland is a good blind, then…stationary a large body of troops in New South Wales…when we want to add to the military strength of India’. Anon,Historical Records of New South Wales

And secure alternate sea routes to and from India, China, Asia and, via the Southern Oceans, Peru and Chile Spain’s South American ‘treasure’ possessions.


1788 – 18/20 January, Botany Bay: After eight (8) months voyaging across 13,000 miles (21,000 km) of ‘imperfectly explored oceans’, via Spanish Tenerife, Portuguese Rio and Dutch Cape Town, the entire fleet arrived in Botany Bay within thirty-six (36) hours – a remarkable feat of seamanship.

When leaving Botany Bay Phillip noticed two French ships in the offing…there would seem to be “some justification for the saying that England won Australia by six days”. Edward Jenks’ History of Australian Colonies, cited Hugh E. Egerton, A Short History of British Colonial Policy, Methuen, 1928

1788 – 24 January, Botany Bay: La Boussole – L’Astrolabe; by a short half-head Britain triumphed over France and won the glittering prize that was New Holland.

1788 – 25 January, Port Jackson: Next day Phillip quit Botany Bay in HMS Supply for Sydney Cove sheltered deep within Port Jackson arriving there just on dark – 7 pm. where the Union Jack was raised from a hastily erected flagstaff.

Phillip ordered the remaining vessels follow him to Port Jackson as soon as the prevailing wild weather abated. This would not be  accomplished  without danger to lives and ships.

1788 – 26 January, Sydney Cove:  At daylight on the 26th of January marines and convicts disembarked from Supply and began to prepare for the arrival of the main fleet.

HMS Sirius was last to leave Botany Bay just on sunset Captain John Hunter RN guided the French ships to safe anchorage in Botany Bay .See: A Band of Brothers and Mortal Enemies

1788 – 26 January: Sirius joined the other ships and the fleet sailed into Sydney Cove at 6 pm on the 26th January. Standing on deck they were greeted by the Union Jack already flying from a hastily erected flagstaff.

‘At sunset and apparently before the main fleet had anchored the whole party which had arrived in Supply assembled. A firing party formed up and fired a feu de joie between the vollies of which, toasts were drunk to His Majesty George III, the royal family and success of the new colony’. Marine Lieutenant Ralph Clark, First Fleet Journal, cited John Moore, The First Fleet Marines 1786-1792, Queensland University Press, 1987

Phillip’s mission accomplished letter to arch-intriguer William Petty, 2nd Earl of Shelburne, boasted; ‘here a Thousand Sail of the Line may ride in the most perfect Security’.

1788 – Sydney Cove, January 26: Between 6 am and 6 pm the fleet’s two hundred and twenty (221) women and their children, twenty-two (22) born during the voyage were rowed ashore.

1788 – Sydney Cove, February 7: Proclamation day: Governor Arthur Phillip RN on 7 February 1788, without consent of the First Nations’ Peoples, or entering into a treaty with them, claimed British sovereignty; ‘in and over the territory of New South Wales…from the latitude of 43* 49′ south, to the latitude of 10* 37′ south, being the northern and southern extremities of the continent of New Holland. It commences again; at 135th degree of longitude east of Greenwich, and proceeding in an easterly direction, includes all islands within the limits of the above specified latitudes in the Pacific Ocean.

By this partition it may be fairly presumed, that every source of future litigation between the Dutch and us will be for ever cut off, as the discoveries of English navigators alone are comprized in this territory’. Marine Captain Watkin Tench, Sydney’s First Four Years, ed. L.F. Fitzhardinge, Angus and Robertson, 1961

1788 – Norfolk Island, 14 February: ‘…all islands within the limits of the specified latitudes in the Pacific Ocean’. 

‘Nor have Government been more backward to arming Mr. Phillip with plentitude of power’. Tench. ibid.  See: John Macarthur The Great Pretender

Captain Cook on his second voyage in HMS Resolution landed on the uninhabited island naming it Norfolk.

Now Governor Phillip was making sure La Perouse and his men would not occupy it on their voyage home to France. He sent a number of couples to the island to seed and breed a white population.

1788 – 10 March, Botany Bay: La Boussole and L’Astrolabe departed Botany Bay for France on 10 March 1788 and were never seen again.


1793 – Paris, February 1: Governor Arthur Phillip departed Sydney for England on 12 December 1792. On February 1793 he was at at Rio on when France declared war on Britain on 1 February 1793.

By then Britain had ‘control of the southern oceans’ securing with an island ‘girt by sea’ a blockade-breaker for England.

‘Suppose we were again involved in war with Spain’. Britain’s military campaign for New Holland was pre-emptive. Within five (5) years Britain was at war with the world.

1793 – 1815, Waterloo: The French Revolutionary War, Iberian Peninsular, Invasion of New Holland, Dutch-Anglo wars – twenty-five (25) years of global warfare – broadly the Napoleonic Wars – ended at Waterloo in June 1815.

Britain was triumphant with an empire on which it was said ‘the sun never set’.

Nor did the misery and horror perpetrated on those who lost their lands, culture, freedoms, languages and in the case of Australia, lost by force of numbers, control of the future biological integrity of their First Peoples.

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