‘Before leaving Botany Bay Phillip had messages painted on the rocks of Bare Island near which the [First] 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’. Bruce Mitchell, The Australian Story And Its Background, 1965

1787 – 13 May, Portsmouth: A large armed flotilla of eleven (11) ships, known in Britain and Australia as the ‘First Fleet’, under command of Captain Arthur Phillip RN, sailed from England on 13 May 1787 bound for the invasion of the island continent of New Holland.

1788 – 18 January, Botany Bay: Captain Phillip in HMS Supply, found his beach head – Botany Bay – at 2.15 pm on 18th of January 1788. Supply dropped anchor in the open entrance to Botany Bay so she could be seen by the following vessels.

1788 – 19 January, Botany Bay:  At 9 am – Saturday 19 – Alexander, Friendship and Scarborough the first division ships – spotted HMS Supply entered the bay anchoring in the lee of Bare Island.

1788 – 20 January, Botany Bay: At dawn – Sunday 20 – the second division transportsCharlotte, Lady Penrhyn, Prince of Wales, together with Golden Grove, Fishburn and Borrowdale the fleet’s three (3) store-ships, led by HMS Sirius, were assembled off Botany Bay and by 9 am all eleven (11) ships were riding safely at anchor inside Botany Bay.

The remarkable accuracy of the fleet’s navigation can be attributed not only to Captain James Cook’s charts of 1770 but with K-1 a sea-going ‘watch’. See: Cook Harrison and Green – Three Yorkshiremen Walked Into A Bar

Lack of water was the fleet’s most urgent need, at 3 pm Supply’s pinnace was lowered and Phillip, accompanied by Lieutenant Phillip Gidley King RN and Marine Lieutenant William Dawes, the fleet’s chief scientific officer, with seamen and provisions for three (3) days loaded into two (2) long boats, set off to find fresh water and explore country to the north of Botany Bay.

Aborigines fishing on the shore-line saw; ‘the Governor or Somebody in his Boat signified that they wanted water…by putting a Hat over the Side of the Boat and seeming to take up salt water to his mouth’ they directed the strangers to a ‘run of fresh water’. Maria Nugent,

1788 – 22 January, Albion: Tuesday afternoon –  22 January – Phillip and his men returned  with good news – the ‘First Fleet’ had found a home. The Aborigines knew it as Woccanmagully, James Cook called it Port Jackson, Arthur Phillip named it Albion, we know it as Sydney Cove.

1788 –  23 January, Botany Bay: Wednesday – 23 January – dawned with both excitement and fear as the tall masts of two (2) ships appeared over the horizon – HMS Sirius signalled battle stations.

‘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, British Colonial Policy, Methuen, 1928.

Most hoped them relief vessels from England only Arthur Phillip knew exactly who and what they were  –La Boussole and L’Astrolabe –  French ships under command of Captain Jean-Francois La Perouse. See: A Band of Brothers & Mortal Enemies

Governor Phillip was elated. He had succeeded in what he knew to be the main game, getting to New Holland before the French and securing Britain’s supremacy over the Southern Oceans. See: Britain By A Short Half-Head


Three (3) years earlier (August 1785) Phillip watched, shrouded by shadow as, in a harbinger of what would befall the French expedition, La Perouse struggled with the elements as La Boussole and L’Astrolabe worked a difficult passage from Brest Harbour. See: Arthur Phillip – the Spy Who Never Came In From The Cold.

1788 – 23 January, Sydney Cove: Now in 1788 Phillip, fearing recognition and, despite deteriorating weather risked his life, quit Botany Bay in HMS Supply for Sydney Cove, nine (9) miles (14 km) north of Botany Bay.

Deep within Port Jackson, guarded by towering sandstone headlands, Sydney Cove, with a stream of clear running water the Tank Stream, made the area ideal for permanent settlement.

The voyage of the ‘First Fleet’ an armed squadron of eleven vessels, across 13,000 miles (21,000 km) of ‘imperfectly explored oceans’ had taken eight (8) months. Two hundred and fifty two (252) days on the high seas and sixty-eight (68) days in port – Tenerife, Rio de Janeiro and Cape Town. See: Lieutenant William Dawes & The Eternal Flame

1787 – 12 November, Africa: The fleet sailed from Cape Town on the final leg of its voyage to Botany Bay on the 12th of November 1787.

Twelve (12) days from Cape Town Phillip split the fleet into two (2) divisions. Alexander, Friendship, Scarborough – the fastest troop ships carrying mostly male prisoners, joined HMS Supply with Phillip aboard, to lead the charge to Botany Bay. See: A Riddle – When is an invasion fleet not an invasion fleet ? When it’s the First Fleet

The sixty-eight (68) day voyage from Africa to Botany Bay, far longer than forty-two (42) days at sea as recommended by Sir George Blaine, proved difficult and dangerous. See: Apollo 11 – Fly Me to the Moon.

Wild weather made sea-sickness inevitable and dysentery ‘to a violent degree’ appeared throughout the fleet. Water was rationed to three (3) pints a day thus making dysentery particularly problematic as crews became increasingly dehydrated and thirst tormented all.

Phillip, having assessed Sydney Cove with its guaranteed supply of fresh water an ideal location for permanent settlement, ordered the English fleet leave Botany Bay and join him there.

His order put lives and ships in jeopardy ;‘three vessels collided in the manoeuvre’.

‘We were obliged to work out of the Bay & wt. ye most difficult danger wt. many hairbredth escapes…Friendship carried away the jib-boom of Prince of Wales…Charlotte afterwards ran foul of the Friendship’. Surgeon Arthur Bowes Smyth Lady Penrhyn, First Fleet Journal, eds. Fidlon & Ryan, Australian Documents Library, Sydney 1979

1788 – 25 January, Botany Bay: At first light – Friday 25th January – the ships made first of three (3) attempts to leave and failed. Fluky shifting winds and strong currents running across the bay’s open face made departure impossible. Two (2) attempts made later that day also failed.

Earlier (23 January) similar weather had prevented the French ships entering Botany Bay forcing them to sail south and seek shelter at Sutherland.

‘Alarmed Phillip ordered a party be sent there [Port Sutherland] to hoist English Colours…He also stipulated that the move to Port Jackson be kept secret and that no one was to go on board the French ships’. John Moore, the First Fleet Marines 1786-1792, Queensland University Press, 1987

1788 – 26 January, Sydney Cove: On Saturday – 26 January – although the weather had not much improved orders were orders. The French sailors, no strangers to tragedy, looked on bemused as in shifting s-w/n-w winds the English ships, swung about, cut across each other and ‘a near-tragic drama was enacted‘.

‘Everyone blaming the rashness of the Governor in insisting upon the fleets workd. Out in such weather, & all agreed it was next to a Miracle that some of the Ships were not lost, the danger was so very great’. Bowes Smyth. op.cit.

Nevertheless by Saturday afternoon – 26 January – the entire fleet lay safely at anchor in Sydney Cove. The reason for Phillip’s ‘rashness’ became plain – checkmate – the Union Jack – fluttered from a hastily erected flag-staff.

1788 – 26 January, Botany Bay: Late on Saturday afternoon – 26 January – Captain John Hunter of HMS Sirius, last to leave Botany Bay, helped La Perouse lead La Boussole and L’Astrolabe to safe anchorage in an inlet known now as Frenchmen’s Cove.

1788 – 7 February, Sydney Cove: Governor Arthur Phillip RN with ceremony – gun-fire drum and fife – claimed British sovereignty over New Holland.

‘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. 61, Part 1, 1975. See: Abandoned and Left to Starve January 1788 to June 1790

The marines of the Sydney Garrison; ‘were tortured by their abandonment….So strong became their desire for rescue that for eighteen months after arrival  a marine party walked each week to Botany Bay in the forlorn hope that a ship might have called there rather than at Port Jackson.

Eventually the debilitating famine denied the physical stamina needed for such a reconnaissance and instead, on 30 January 1790, a lookout was established at South Head. From the lookout, every eye strained and every heart sank as the sea was searched for a ship. John Moore. ibid

The Englishmen women and children waited and waited, from South Head ‘every morning from day-light until the sunk sunk did we sweep the horizon, in the hope of seeing a sail’. Marine Captain Watkin Tench, Sydney’s First Four Years, ed. F.L. Fitzhardinge, Angus and Robertson, 1961

Home-sick [Lieutenant] Ralph Clark pleaded; God help [us] if  Some Ships don’t arrive’. Tench wrote; ‘famine besides was approaching with gigantic strides...the misery and horror of such a situation cannot be imparted’.

1789 – April: The ‘misery and horror’ had disastrous consequences for the First Nations’ People. A smallpox epidemic killed 50% of local Aborigines in April 1789. Inexplicably; ‘not one case of the disorder occurred among the white people’.  See: Joseph Jefferies, From New York to Rio and Old Sydney Town – One, Then There Was None 


1790 – January: ‘Our impatience of news from Europe strongly marked the commencement of the year…gloom and dejection overspread every countenance. Men abandoned themselves to the most desponding reflections, and adopted the most extravagant conjectures.’ Tench ibid.

1790 – 6 March, China: HMS Sirius evacuated 50% of the white population to Norfolk Island. Captain Hunter RN was to sail Sirius onto China and arrange a rescue mission.

1790 – 19 March, Norfolk Island: Sirius struck a submerged reef and sank. Her crew one hundred and sixty (160) Royal Navy personnel were stranded along with the evacuees.

1790 – 6 April, Sydney: HMS Supply had assisted in the evacuation she returned to Sydney with the devastating news. Sirius was lost and there would be no China rescue.

1790 – 17 April, Jakarta: HMS Supply sailed from Sydney for ‘fever-ridden’ Batavia to buy food and charter a Dutch ship to bring the tonnes of provisions to Sydney.

‘HMS Supply, captain Ball, sailed for Batavia. We followed her with anxious eyes until she was no longer visible. Truly did we say to her ‘In te omnis domus inclinata recumbit’.

See: Missing in Action – HMS Sirius & HMS Supply

‘From the 1st of April…without distinction; 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, per week, and to every child under eighteen months old, the same quantity of rice and flour and one pound of pork.

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’. Tench. ibid.

Despite Phillip being told; ‘a further number of convicts which you may expect will shortly follow you from hence [England], no convicts, no food or medicines; ‘no communication whatever having passed with our native country since the 13th of May, 1787 the day of our departure from Portsmouth’.

Not until mid-June 1790 did the shout ‘flag’s up’ ring out.

1790 – 3 June: ‘every heart rose’ the terrible isolation was broken when a lone ship Lady Juliana sailed through Sydney Heads on the 3rd June 1790 bringing two hundred and twenty-six (226) women prisoners and a small flock of sheep salvaged from the wreck of HMS Guardian. See: Titanic – HMS Guardian – Australia’s Titanic

1790 – 20th June, Sydney Cove: Justinian, a fully laden stores-ship, arrived from England with the first food and supplies on the 20th of June 1790. But Justinian very nearly went the way of HMS Guardian

Distraught, the Robinson Cruscoes of the ‘First Fleet’ watched in agony as high winds and rough seas of a strengthening east-coast-low weather system drove her perilously close to Sydney’s rocky shoreline.

Benjamin Maitland her captain was forced to take his ship back out to sea. He sailed north to shelter at Black Head near the entrance to Port Stephens.

1790 – 30 June: When the weather abated sufficiently Justinian beat a run down the coast arriving in Sydney Cove at the end of June.

Lady Juliana was first of four (4) ships that made up a second fleet ‘Britain’s Grim Armada’. Neptune, Scarborough, Suprize the fleet’s death ships, contracted to Camden, Calvert and King, a firm of slave traders working out of London, arrived at the end of June 1790.

The three ships had embarked 1017 prisoners, of whom 939 were men and 78 women,…Between embarkation and arrival 256 men and 11 women, a total of 267, had died’. Charles Bateson, The Convict Ships, Brown, Son & Ferguson, Ltd, Glasgow, 1959

One hundred and fifteen (115) officers and other ranks, first contingent of the New South Wales Infantry Corps, were distributed throughout the three (3) vessels. See: Machiavellian Macarthur

‘Four companies of Marines landed with the first Europeans to settle in Australia, and twenty-five regiments of British infantry served in the colonies between 1790 and 1870. Dr. Peter Stanley, The Remote Garrison, The British Army in Australia 1788-1790, Kangaroo Press, Sydney, 1986

Australia’s junk history has it the second fleet brought salvation. For the First Nations’ Peoples nothing could be further from the truth.

‘British troops 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 southern Africa’. Stanley. op.cit.







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