As it is probable the ship’s company will be on salt provisions for some months after they arrive on the coast of New South Wales. [I] will be glad of two hundred pounds of portable soup in addition to fifty pounds already supply’d. Letter to Admiralty, 22 March 1787, Arthur Phillip.


1786 – August, London: ‘His Majesty [George III] has thought it advisable to fix on Botany Bay’.

1786 – October, Brazil: Captain Arthur Phillip then ‘ in the Brazils’ was informed he was to command a naval expeditionary force to New Holland, now Australia,  an island continent situated in the southern oceans.

In determining the daily ration no distinction was drawn between marines and [male] convicts….Apart from the allowance of spirits the standard adopted was that of troops serving in the West Indies’. Britain’s Convicts to the Colonies, Wilfrid Oldham, 1993

The fleet of eleven (11) ships with a complement of 1,500 souls that included seven hundred and fifty convicts ( 750). Five hundred and eighty-three (583) of them men, fed as soldiers and available  for combat.

1787 – January, Portsmouth: The first of the male convicts boarded Alexander, one (1) of six (6) chartered transports, boarded directly from prison-hulks moored in the River Thames.

1787 – March, London: The Admiralty authorised ‘a month’s leave for Lt. Riou…to attend his private affairs’. See: A Twelfth Man

1787 – April, Portsmouth: Captain Phillip was informed ‘a further number of convicts, which you may expect will shortly follow you from hence’. 

1787 – 13 May, Portsmouth: This large squadron of vessels, known in Britain and Australia as the ‘First Fleet’, sailed from Portsmouth, England on 13 May 1787 bound for Botany Bay, in the island continent of New Holland, now Australia.

1788 – 18 to 20 January, Botany Bay: Within thirty-six ( 36) hours between 18-20 January 1788, after a voyage across 13,000 miles (21,000 km) of ‘imperfectly explored oceans’ the fleet was at anchor in Botany Bay.

1788 – 26 January, Sydney Cove: Governor Arthur Phillip ordered his ships quit Botany Bay and sail nine (9) miles (14 km) north for the shelter of Port Jackson (Sydney Cove) where a permanent military and naval presence, manned in part by convict-soldiers, was established.

Before leaving Botany Bay Phillip had messages painted on the rocks of Bare Island near which the Fleet had been moored, to guide the ships which Phillip believed were following closely from England, around to Sydney Cove. This painted message was later replaced by a wooden notice erected on the island. The Australian Story and Its Background, Bruce Mitchell, 1965.

The initial allocation of portable soup ‘fifty pounds’ (23 kg) made from ‘all the offals of oxen killed in London for the use of the Navy’  – for the (2) king’s ships – HMS Sirius (160 personnel) and  HMS Supply with (50) together with Phillip’s request for more ‘portable soup’, taken together with his dispatches, are evidence logistical support and additional prisoners were expected to closely follow the ‘First Fleet’ to Australia.

But that did not happen. Reverend Richard Johnson, the fleet chaplain, wrote to family and friends and expressed the general feeling of abandonment as of being ‘buried alive’. Governor Phillip made as series of decisions, that lend weight to the argument; at least one (1) additional support vessel was integral to but missing from the ‘First Fleet’.

1788 – 2 October: Sydney to Africa: Governor Phillip ordered Captain John Hunter RN sail his command, HMS Sirius the fleet flagship, on a perilous voyage to Africa to buy food at Cape Town and save the starving settlement at Sydney from disaster.

1789 – May, Sydney:  Six (6) months had passed when HMS Sirius returned from Africa with limited amounts of flour and salted meats. Most of it destined for the two (2)  king’s ships, what could be spared for the settlement.

1789 – 8 September, England: Inexplicably Lieutenant Edward Riou, in command of  HMS Guardian, did not leave England with convicts or relief supplies for the marooned ‘Robinson Crusoes’ of the ‘First Fleet’ until 8 September 1789 .

See: A Twelfth Man – Edward ‘Neddy’ Riou

Guardian should have arrived in January 1790 and would have rescued the settlement from its state of most miserable starvation. A History of Australia, Marjorie Barnard (Eldershaw), 1963.

1789 – September, Plymouth: Given the date of her departure the earliest HMS Guardian’s supplies could have reached Sydney was January/February 1790. Yet books, clothing and personal items belonging to officers of the marine garrison, including a quantity of ‘scarlet cloath’ thought to belong to Marine Lieutenant Ralph Clark, were crated and stowed aboard. Clarke was not the only marine waiting anxiously for his possessions to arrive.

There was scarcely an officer in the colony that had not his share of private property embarked on board of this richly freighted ship [HMS Guardian]. David Collins, Journal, June 1790.

The tour of duty for the Sydney marine garrison – both officers and men – was limited to three (3) years at New South Wales, so these personal items would have arrived at the very end of the deployment. See: The Clue of the Scarlet Cloth. 

It was a very unfortunate thing for us the loss of the Guardian. The Complete Letters of Newton Fowell, ed. Nance Irvine, 1968.

1789 – Christmas Eve, mid-ocean off the African coast: Neither Captain Edward Riou RN nor HMS Guardian reached Australia. On Christmas Eve 1789, on the final leg of her voyage, Cape Town to Sydney, Guardian struck an iceberg. See: Titanic – Australia’s Titanic: HMS Guardian – The Missing Link.

1790 – January, Sydney: We had now been two years in the country, and thirty-two months from England, in which long period no supplies except what had been procured at the Cape of Good Hope by the Sirius had reached us. From intelligence of our friends and connections we had been entirely cut off no communication whatever having passed with our native country since the 13th May 1787 the day of our departure from Portsmouth. Famine besides was approaching with gigantic strides, and gloom and dejection overspread every countenance. Men abandoned themselves to the most desponding reflections and adopted the most extravagant conjectures. A Narrative of the Expedition to Botany Bay and a Complete Account of the Settlement at Port Jackson, Marine Captain Watkin Tench. See: Inertia

Death was never remote from the tiny colony perched precariously on the edge of an impenetrable continent, the threat of starvation was constantly present. Dr Bryan Gandevia. Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, Vol. 51 Part 1, 1975. 

1790 – 6 March, Sydney: Still no word or supplies from England. The supplies brought by Sirius, intended mainly for the king’s ships and what could be spared for the settlement, were now exhausted. Phillip decided to split the starving colony, he evacuated 50% of Sydney’s English population to Norfolk Island.

1790 – 19 March, Norfolk Island:  During the evacuation procedure in rough seas, HMS Sirius ran aground on a submerged reef and was wrecked, many provisions were lost. Worse still Phillip had planned HMS Sirius would sail to China for help those hopes were now dashed.  Along with the evacuees the Sirius crew were stranded on Norfolk Island.

1790 – 27 March, Sydney: Governor Phillip reduced the daily ration from approximately 1400 calories to less than one thousand (1,000).

Semi-starvation sustained over such a long period ( since 1788) had so weakened the prisoners they could hardly stand let alone work effectively. Phillip ordered work begin at sunrise as usual but cease at 1pm. Instead of  weekly food distribution, rations were now to be doled out each day between 1pm and 3pm.

1790 – 5 April, Sydney: Phillip called ‘all the officers of the settlement, civil and military’ to Government House in Bridge Street where:

‘His Excellency laid before every one present the Situation of the Colony….[and] pointed out the Great Necessity there was for an immediate Reduction of the Present Rations. Every persons opinion was asked respecting how Robbing Gardens cd. be prevented & what was the best made [sic] ye. cd. be adopted for procuring fish to make a saving of the Salt provisions. First Fleet Journal, David Collins, cited in The Push From the Bush, Alan Atkinson, No. 24, April 1987

1790 – April, Sydney: Governor Phillip ordered Lieutenant Ball sail the tiny HMS Supply (170 tons), the colony’s sole vessel, to Batavia for food. Even if Supply did survive the voyage to Batavia, which many thought doubtful and, Lieutenant Ball managed to charter a suitable ship, it would be months before any supplies could reach Sydney.

1790 – June, Batavia: Against all the odds HMS Suppy did reach Batavia and Lieutenant Ball did charter a Dutch vessel, the Waaksamheyd.

1790 – 2 June, Sydney: Justinian a stores- ship from England arrived unseen off Sydney Heads. Huge seas threatened to swamp the heavily laden vessel. Wild winds drove her perilously close to Sydney’s rocky shore-line forcing her master, Benjamin Maitland, take his ship far out to sea.

1790 – June, Port Stephens: Captain Maitland sailed a hundred (100) nautical miles north to seek shelter at Black Head, in the entrance to Port Stephens.

1790 – early June, Sydney:  The long silence ended early in June 1790. The first contact from England came with the Lady Juliana, the first vessel of a second convict fleet – ‘Britain’s Grim Armada’.

1790 – late June, Sydney: The remainder of the second fleet ships Suprize, Scarborough and Neptune brought another 1,300 prisoners (1,000 sick men, 280 women) and one hundred and twenty-one (121) officers and men of the New South Wales Corps, but few medicines and very little food for the colony.

1790 – 20 June, Sydney: A storeship – Justinian – from England arrived off Sydney. Huge seas threatened to swamp the heavily laden vessel. Wild winds drove her periously close to Sydney’s rocky shore-line and forced her master – Benjamin Maitland – take his ship far out to sea.

1790 – 20 June, Sydney: When the bad weather abated Justinian beat her way back down the coast. On 20 June she found safe anchorage in Sydney Cove.

We were joyfully surprised on the 20th of the month [June 1790] to see another sail enter the harbour. She proved to be the Justinian transport, commanded by Captain Maitland, and our rapture was doubled on finding that she was laden entirely with provisions for our use. Full allowance [3200 calories] and general congratulations immediately took place. Marine Captain Watkin Tench, First Fleet Journal.

1790 – July, Batavia: Lieutenant Ball, captain of HMS Supply purchased tons of food and medicines and hired a Dutch ship the Waaksamheyd to relieve the besieged, starving settlement at Sydney.

1790 – December, Sydney: The Waaksamheyd, captained by Dutchman Deter Smit, chartered by Lieutenant Ball arrived from Batavia laden with food and medicines. See: A Great Escape: Sydney – Timor – Cape Town – England

If the First Peoples, whose food resources had been ravaged by the Englishmen of the ‘First Fleet’, rightly expected to share in the provisions brought by Waaksamheyd and Justinian they were bitterly disappointed. What little was given was grudgingly.

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