‘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 sent any into the South Sea’. Admiral Sir George, Historical Records of New South Wales. Vol.1

Captain Louis Antoine de Bougainville’s A Voyage Round the World published in 1771; ‘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

1763: Following Britain’s defeat of France in the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763) 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 – December, Brest: Towards the end of 1766 Captain Boungainville in Boudeuse, accompanied by Etoile a support vessel, sailed from Brest naval base seeking the fabled Unknown Great South Land.

Bougainville’s voyage, with strategic advantage, territorial expansion and trade in mind, 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 by way of New Guinea, the Moluccas and Java, Bougainville sailed along New Holland’s far north-eastern coast charting the Great Barrier Reef but, unlike England’s James Cook in HMS Endeavour (1770), Bougainville did not risk a landing.

1768 – 26 March, Plymouth: Lieutenant James Cook RN, at the behest of Britain’s Royal Society, sailed from Plymouth aboard the barque HMS Endeavour for Tahiti to observe the transit of Venus, predicted by Edmond Halley of comet fame to take place in the first week of June 1769.

The Admiralty supplied Endeavour paid her captain and crew so once Cook’s obligation to the Royal Society was satisfied he was free to open  ‘secret instructions’ and search for; ‘the British Admiralty’s shadowy Great South Land’.

1769 – March, France: Bougainville meantime, after twenty-eight (28) months circumnavigating the globe, the first Frenchman to do so, arrived back in France and recorded his findings. A Voyage Round the World was published in 1771.

An English translation followed quickly. The work was widely read in England where Bougainville, a mathematician of note and member of Britain’s Royal Society, was held in high esteem among the scientific elite.

1769 – July, Tahiti: Meantime Lieutenant James Cook RN left Tahiti in mid-July 1769 setting a course that took HMS Endeavour deep into the Antarctic and Southern Oceans in quest of the fabled South Land.

1770 – 28 April, Botany Bay: Cook sighted New Holland in mid-April 1770 going ashore at Botany Bay on 28 April 1770.

Cook’s men explored the area and found fresh water but, as they took their fill of mullet black-fish and snapper, they came into conflict with its people – the Bidjigal.

During a short stay botanist Joseph Banks doyen of the illustrious Royal Society, collected and pressed a myriad local plants. Astronomer Charles Green scanned the night sky marvelling at a cascading Milky Way and the brilliant Southern Cross.

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

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

1770 – 22 August, Cape York: In the far north of New Holland, at the Gulf of Carpentaria, Cook landed with a party of sailors on Possession Island. There the English flag was raised, an axe taken to a tree marked the spot, a volley of shots fired of and 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.

To that date the voyage had cost seven (7) lives but all that was to change when Cook left New Holland and set off for England via low-lying mosquito-ridden Batavia.

1770 – December, Batavia: Neither Green the star-gazer nor Parkinson the artistic Quaker saw home again. Before Endeavour left Batavia in December 1770 Cook buried sixteen (16) crew who died of malarial  ‘fever’. On 29 January 1771 astronomer Charles Green succumbed to dysentery and was buried at sea en- route to the Cape of Good Hope.

1771 – 6 February: Jonothan Monkhouse the midshipman whose innovative ‘fothering’ technique saved Endeavour from destruction when she was ripped below the water line by coral on the Barrier Reef, weakened by malaria died at sea.

1771 – 13 March, Cape Town: Endeavour, taking on water, limped into Cape Town in mid March 1771 and by then Cook had lost twenty-nine (29) crew.

1771 – April: Cook recruited local seaman to man sails and hawsers and, after a month of rest and repairs, Cook sailed for home in mid April 1771.

1771 – 10 July, London: 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

‘The race to see who would open up the Pacific first’ was on. France 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 a well-thumbed copy of Charles de Brosses’ Historie de Navigations aux Terra Australes.

Published in 1756 this scholarly two (2) volume work summarised what was known to that date of all nations’ exploratory Pacific voyages.

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

1785: Arthur Phillip spent most of 1785 in France; ‘on holiday…surveying and making observations of French ports’ reporting his ‘observations’ to the Admiralty.

Phillip returned to England armed with comprehensive knowledge of French ambition and of La Perouse’s plans. New Holland was in the mix and Britain had missed the jump.


Arthur Phillip born in London within sounds of Bow Bells, son of a German language teacher, fluent in French, German Spanish Portuguese and Dutch, his appearance a distinct advantage, this perfect spy was recruited into Britain’s Secret Service in 1769.

1773 – France: Phillip spent the whole of 1773 in France spying.

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

1775 – 5 April, Brazil: Phillip sailed Belem from Lisbon to Rio arriving there in April 1775.

1775 – April, Lexington: Britain went to war with America’s Patriot rebels in April 1775. From Rio during the war Phillip fed solid intelligence to Lord Sandwich at the Admiralty.

1776 – 4 July: Patriot America declared independence from ‘Mother England‘ in July 1776.

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

1779: Spain followed France’s example in mid 1779. Britain saw the move particularly problematic and Lord Sandwich, a fellow linguist, made good use of Phillip’s intelligence.

1782: Captain Phillip’s request to resume active service in the Royal Navy was eventually granted. When the shooting war was over at the end of 1782 Phillip was commander of HMS Europe a medium sized battleship.

1783 – 3 September, Paris: Britain lost the American war and, via The Treaty of Versailles signed in September 1783, her ‘thirteen middle colonies’ and the right to transport convicted criminals to America – 50,000 between 1717 and 1775. See: A Rough Trade

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

1785 – 1 August, Brest: Phillip, no doubt hidden in shadow, watched as La Perouse in La Boussole and L’Astrolabe with Paul Antoine Fleuriot Viscount de Langle at its helm, in a harbinger of what would befall the French voyage, worked a difficult exit from Brest Harbour.

1786 – 6 August, London: As King George III alighted from his carriage in early August 1786 ‘a deranged women’ armed with a ‘butter knife’ rushed at him.

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

1786 – 31 August, London:The King having been pleased to signify his Royal Command that 750 of the convicts now in this kingdom under sentence of transportation 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

1786 – September, Brazil: 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 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

‘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.

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 convicted criminals. Deemed ‘too evil to remain within the kingdom’ they were perfect cannon fodder.  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 ‘Britain’s control of the sea route to Asia’ was to get to New Holland before the French and secure alternate routes to and from India and China ‘via the Southern Oceans’.

‘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.

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 had triumphed over France and won the glittering prize – 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 was not accomplished and then, not without danger to lives and ships, until the afternoon of 26 January 1788.

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 saw the Union Jack raised that morning 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’. Moore ibid.

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’.


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

1788 – 26 January, Sydney Cove: ‘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

1788 – 7 February, Sydney Cove: Governor Arthur Phillip RN on 7 February 1788, without consent of the First Nations’ Peoples, 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. F.L. Fitzhardinge, Angus and Robertson, 1961

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 – 1 February, Paris: France declared war on Britain on 1 February 1793. ‘Control of the southern oceans’ secured a blockade breaker for England an island ‘girt by sea’.

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


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