‘This book is book is about the history of Britain…To write about this country without saying something about the West Indies and India, about Australia and Argentina is unreal’. Eric Hobsbawn, Industry and Empire, Vol. 3, 1750 to the Present Day, 1982

Just as unreal would be to write about modern Australian history without saying something about Britain.

1786 – 12 October, London: ‘And you [Phillip] are to observe and follow such orders and directions from time to time as you shall receive from us, or any other your superior officer according to the rules and disciplines of war.

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…South Cape’. Instructions: King George III to Captain Arthur Phillip RN, Historical Records of New South Wales.

‘Amity and kindness’ our nation’s founding myth – benign colonisation – Monty Python’s ‘all things bright and beautiful’ is just that – myth.


‘The troops sent to garrison the Australian colonies participated in the great struggle at the heart of the European conquest of this continent…They fought in one of the most prolonged frontier wars in the history of the British Empire and for the first half of their stay were probably more frequently in action than the garrison of any other colony besides that of South Africa’. Dr Peter Stanley, The Remote Garrison, The British Army in Australia 1788-1870, Sydney, 1986

1787 – May 13, Portsmouth: An armed convoy of eleven (11) ships with a complement of 1500 souls, one half convicted criminals 750 men – 193 women, commanded by Captain Arthur Phillip RN, known in Britain and Australia as the ‘First Fleet’, sailed from Portsmouth England for Botany Bay New Holland, now Australia.

‘In determining the daily ration no distinction was drawn between the marines and [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, 1993

1788 – January, 18/20 Botany Bay: The fleet arrived at Botany Bay within thirty-six (36) hours between 18-20 January 1788.

1788 – January, 24, Botany Bay: Two (2) French ships – La Boussole – Captain La Perouse and L’Astrolabe – Captain Clonard – appeared in the entrance to Botany Bay.

1788 – 25 January, Port Jackson: Captain Phillip aboard HMS Supply quit Botany Bay and sailed nine (9) miles (14km) north to Sydney Cove a safe anchorage deep within Port Jackson. There Phillip raised the Union Jack from a hastily erected flagstaff thereby claiming Britain had beaten France to the punch. See: Australia – Britain By A Short Half-Head  

1788 – 7 February, Sydney: ‘We have come today to take possession of 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, Historical Records of New South Wales. 

On the 7th of February with all the ‘pomp and circumstance of glorious war’ Governor Arthur Phillip, as per instructions, claimed British sovereignty over ‘our territory called New South Wales…from the Northern extremity of the coast called Cape York…to the Southern extremity…South Cape‘.

1718 – 1775: Prior to the War of Independence (1775-1783) Britain exported approximately 50,000 convicted criminals @ 1000 head a year to America where they were sold in regular ‘slave scrambles’ to owners of cotton and tobacco plantations.

1776 – London: Parliament passed Lord North’s Hulks Act permitting male prisoners sentenced ‘for transportation to America’ to be held-over on hulks, floating prisons moored along the River Thames, stock-on-hand ready for shipment at war’s end.

1783:  But Britain lost the American war, her colonies and off-shore prison. At least three (3) attempts were made to revive the American convict trade all failed with heavy loss of life.

‘The British criminal justice system had become addicted to convict transportation. The government had come to rely on the low-cost expedient of transporting its unwanted prisoners to America and now it had trouble finding alternatives’. Anthony Vaver, Bound With An Iron Chain, The Untold Story of How the British Transported 50,000 Convicts to Colonial America, Pickpocket Publishing, 2011

Government began to search ‘beyond the seas’ for a place of permanent exile. West Africa was tried but parliamentary opposition, led by Edmund Burke in the House of Commons, put paid to Africa as a penal destination.

1787 – 2 April, London: ‘His Majesty…hath judged fit…to declare and appoint the place to which certain offenders should be transported…the eastern coast of New South Wales’. Historical Records of New South Wales. ibid.


1787 – 25 April, London:We have ordered about 600 male and 180 female convicts…to the port on the coast of New South Wales…called Botany Bay. And whereas, from the great disproportion of female convicts to those of males…it appears advisable that a further number…should be introduced’. Instructions to Captain Arthur Phillip.

1787 – 1868: Britain transported approximately 163,000 convicted criminals to Australia between 1787-1868. Of these only 25,000 were women with 12,500 going directly to Tasmania. Zero female and 10,000 male prisoners were shipped to West Australia where transportation ended in 1868. 

See: G is for Gender


1788 – 1790:  Governor Phillip was told convicts and supplies would ‘shortly follow’ but not a word was heard from England until June 1790.

‘It had been imagined in England, that some, if not considerable savings of provisions might be made by the quantities of fish that it was supposed would be taken…400 hundred weight of fish being taken up it was issued’. Marne Captain David Collins, First Fleet Journal.

Taken without equity – the Sirius and Supply trawling nets versus Aborigines’ spear and hook. In winter fish leave Sydney waters to spawn.

‘They [Aborigines] certainly are not pleased with our remaining amongst them, as they see we deprive them of fish, which is almost their only support…last summer they would neither eat shark nor stingray; but the scarcity of fish in the winter, I believe, obliges them to eat anything that affords the smallest nourishment’. Governor Phillip to Home Secretary Lord Sydney, July 1788. Historical Records of New South Wales. ibid.

More Crusoe than Robinson Crusoe 1000 English men, women and children were left to starve. Not until 3 June 1790 was the terrible isolation broken with the arrival of Lady Juliana a convict transport with two hundred and twenty-six (226) female prisoners but little food.

Justinian the first supply ship from England arrived at the end of June 1790. Lady Juliana was first of four (4) vessels of a second fleet ‘Britain’s Grim Armada’.

Neptune, Suprize, Scarborough the fleet’s death ships reached Sydney in the last days of June 1790 bringing another one thousand (1000) males, convicts and the first contingent of the New South Wales Corps.

1790 – June, Sydney Cove: At that time the weekly ration was; ‘to every child of more than eighteen months old and to every grown person, two pounds of pork, two pounds and a half of flour, two pounds of rice, or a quart of pease.

When the age of this provision is recollected its inadequacy will more strikingly appear. 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 within it’. Marine Captain Watkin Tench, Sydney’s First Four Years, ed. F.L. Fitzhardinge, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1961

See: Abandoned and Left to Starve ,Sydney January 1788 to June 1790


1789 – April, Sydney Cove:It is true that our surgeons had brought out variolous [smallpox] matter in bottles’. Tench. ibid.

On landing Governor Phillip estimated local Aborigines numbered 1500. In April 1789 smallpox struck killing 50% of their number. Not one case of smallpox appeared in the English population although it numbered approximately sixty (60) malnourished infants and children.

As most, if not all children were without life-long immunity conferred by a prior infection, they should have been as susceptible to the smallpox virus as the Aboriginal population, but none were infected. See: A Lethal Weapon – Smallpox Boston 1776 – Sydney 1789

1789 – May Sydney Cove:Venereal disease was not only found to exist amongst the convicts, but the very sufferers themselves were known to conceal their having it’. Marine Captain David Collins, First Fleet Journal

Australia is a prosperous, vibrant first-world nation but at its heart is a third world nation engaged in a struggle not dissimilar to that of the distressed Britons sent 13,000 miles (21,000km) half-way across the world to invade and dispossess them of their lands.

‘The pattern of conflict in Australia ran parallel to the pattern of settlement. From the early days around Sydney Cove the hostility of the Aboriginal peoples to the depredations of the whites was clear to all’. Jeffrey Grey, A Military History of Australia, The British Period 1788-1870, 3rd ed. Cambridge University Press, 2008

2018: But not clear to all;  “Dispossession” is a concept which has never reflected the actual circumstances at any time…the tragedy of the Aborigines in pioneering Australia was that they died early and did not have many children.

For all Australia, the statistics, most of which are based on contested estimates give an indigenous population of 750,000 in 1788 declining to a minimum of 74,000 in 1933, after which it has returned to the 1788 number – but the figure requires considerable interpretation’. Robert Murray, To The Land, Boys, We Live In, The Past and Future of Australia Day, Quadrant, January-February, No. 543, Vol. LXII, Quadrant Books, 2018

 See: G for Genocide

‘Illness was the principal cause. The extent to which  it came unintentionally from the white presence or from many other factors, including smallpox from visiting Indonesian fishermen, is debatable and historians tend to avoid the subject as too complicated’. Murray, Quadrant. op.cit.

See: A Very Convenient Theory – Smallpox 1789 – It Was The Macassans Stupid


1788 – 7 February, Sydney Cove: ‘At 11 a.m. the detachment under arms and with flying colours and band playing formed a guard of honour to receive the Governor…they gave him the general salute due to a captain-general. Three volleys were then fired as the band played the first part of God Save the King between each volley’. John Moore, The First Fleet Marines 1786-1791, Queensland University Press, 1987

A review of the history Australia shares with Britain needs to take place if we are to become the nation of our rhetoric – the ‘fair-go’.

The contribution to the population decline of violent conflict with whites is contested, but probably relatively minor’. Murray. op.cit.

Similar reviews gave birth to the Gallipoli legend and the ‘indelible convict stain’ washed away on a tide of knowledge – family history.

‘To deny the existence of a state of war is to deny the status of combatant to Aboriginal peoples, with all the important attendant psychological ramifications’. Grey. ibid.

Non-Aboriginal Australia ‘and from all the lands of earth we come’ inherited war’s glittering prize – Australia – a prize not given freely.

‘Much of the information cited [here] has always been known…some elements had not been given sufficient attention others were immediately swept under the historiographer’s rug, and still others were “forgotten” because they did not fit the ideological needs of the evolving national identity’. Professor Shlomo Sand, the Invention of the Jewish People, 2009

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