Proximity – Not Distance – Drove Britain’s Invasion of New Holland

Port Jackson – 1788: ‘Here a Thousand Ships of the Line may ride in Perfect Security’. Governor Arthur Phillip RN to Lord Sydney, Historical Records of New South Wales Vol. 1, Parts 1 & 2

England – May 1787: Captain John Hunter RN commander of HMS Sirius, flagship of the ‘First Fleet’ a fully funded naval expeditionary force and, second-in-command to Captain-General Governor Arthur Phillip RN, departed Portsmouth on the 13th May 1787 to invade the island continent of New Holland, now Australia.

Botany Bay – 1788: By the end of January 1788, after a voyage of eight (8) months by way of Spanish Tenerife, Portuguese Brazil and Dutch Cape Town, the eleven (11) ships with a complement of 1500 – 1300 men 221 – women, approximately 50 free children, were at anchor in Botany Bay. See: Botany Bay – Lord Sydney, Arthur Phillip & ‘Christopher Robin’ Mark 2

Port Jackson: Governor Phillip deemed Botany Bay difficult to defend. Hunter supported relocating to Port Jackson nine (9) miles to the north ‘[w]here’a thousand Ships…’

Sydney Cove – January 1788:  From myriad of bays and inlets Phillip chose a ‘snug’ cove deep within the vast harbour. He named it Sydney after Home Secretary Lord Sydney. By the end of January the entire fleet were anchored there.

September 1788: Although Governor Phillip, before leaving England in 1787, had been assured reinforcements and supplies would ‘shortly follow’ none had arrived by September 1788.

The English men, women and children of the First Fleet, ‘twenty-one’, according to David Hill’s Convict Colony were born during the voyage’, had been completely isolated from the outside world since November 1787 when the fleet sailed from Cape Town.

Supplies were well nigh exhausted, few medicines remained. Weevils had got to the rice and soon there would be no flour – no flour = no bread.

Africa: Phillip ordered Captain Hunter prepare HMS Sirius for a voyage back to Cape Town to purchase supplies from the Dutch.

To make space for the cargo it appears Phillip ordered a spare anchor and all but two (2) guns be removed along with the ship’s two (2) long boats. Their loss sorely tested Hunter. ‘I confess’ he wrote in the ship’s log ‘with reluctance obeyed’.

Port Jackson: On 2nd October 1788, Hunter with Lieutenant William Bradley his 2-1-C,  Sirius departed Sydney for the perilous voyage to Africa.

Cape Horn: A courageous, exceptional navigator Hunter had an encyclopaedic knowledge of the world’s winds and oceans currents. He chose to take advantage of prevailing winds and approach Africa via Cape Horn.

‘I am determined judging from the experience of those who had before made the eastern passage to pass southward of New Zealand and around Cape Horn’. Hunter Journal of Transactions at Port Jackson and Norfolk Island 1793, Bibliobazzar ed. 2008

Why did Hunter take a barely seaworthy Sirius eastwards deep into the Antarctic Ocean with its myriad ‘islands of ice’? He was very familiar with accounts of Captain James Cook’s three (3) voyages.

I endeavoured in sailing from New Zealand to Cape Horn to keep as well as possible on a parallel between the tracks of Cook’s the Resolution and Adventure voyage’. Hunter. op. cit

The Sirius voyage was extremely dangerous ‘frequently obliged to alter our course to avoid high islands of ice’. Her crew suffered severe sea-sickness especially so when Sirius battled her way through tumultuous Drake Passage, a daunting task even today.

And difficult ‘strong gales…heavy and frequent squalls’ meant pumps had to be manned around the clock by men much weakened by hunger and scurvy.

Cape Horn: After several severe storms delayed Sirius, Hunter says seventeen (17) days, the leaky ship rounded Cape Horn on Christmas Day 1788.

Robbin Island – New Year’s Day 1789:  Sirius anchored off Table Bay at Robbin Island, the Cape of Good Hope, on the first day of January 1789.

Hunter was astonished to be greeted by Lieutenant John Shortland RN who was en-route home to England in the badly damaged Alexander, largest of the ‘First Fleet’s six (6) troop transports. See: A Riddle – When was an invasion fleet not an invasion fleet? When it was the First Fleet.

For his part Shortland was devastated to learn that, since his departure from Sydney in wintry July 1788 no relief ships had arrived from England.  See: Asleep in the Deep – The Merchant Men of the First Fleet


Happily Hunter found, due to shifting political alliances, the same Dutch colonial administrators who, in October-November 1787 put a mountain of obstacles in Governor Phillip’s way, were now helpful.

He was able to purchase medicines and 127,000 lbs of flour. Most earmarked for the king’s ships but any surplus would be given to the starving settlers.

Cape of Good Hope – Feb, 1789:  When Sirius departed Africa on 20 February 1789 Captain Hunter set a course that saw him attempt a circumnavigation of the globe.

Sydney Cove – May, 1789:  After an absence of 219 days , on the evening of the 8th May 1789  HMS Sirius ‘the brightest star of the night’ sailed into Sydney Cove.

‘The night carried us by daylight in sight of the entrance of Port Jackson and in the evening we entered between the heads of the harbour and worked up to Sydney, where we anchored before dark after an absence of 219 days – 51 of which we lay in Table Bay Cape of Good Hope, so that, although during the voyage we have fairly gone around the world, we had only 168 days in describing that circle. Hunter Journal. ibid.

The Sirius voyage to and from Africa via Cape Horn was a triumph of courage, seamanship and of science. Hunter had with him an ‘eternal flame’ the K-1 chronometer. See: Lieutenant William Dawes – The Eternal Flame.

Hunter lauded K1, a faithful replica of John Harrison’s H-4 ‘pocket-watch’, a ‘Practical…Useful means of determining longitude’. A ‘means’ slanderously denied Lieutenant James Cook for the 1770 HMS Endeavour voyage. See: Cook Harrison Green – Three Yorkshire Men Walked into a Bar – Maskelyne


Paris: The Treaty of Versailles, signed in September 1783, had brought a formal end the American War of Independence 1775-83.

Under its terms Britain lost her ’empire in the west’ ;the colonies of North and South Carolina, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts New York, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Virginia.

‘Although the British were finished in the United States, their campaign in India was still under way. The conflict between Mysore and Britain simply had been put on hold’. The American Revolution A World War, Ed. David K. Allison, Larrie D. Ferreiro, Smithsonian, Washington D.C. 2016 

‘New Holland is a blind, then, when we want to add to the military strength of India’. Anon, Historical Records of New South Wales, Vol. 1 &  2. 

That the Sirius voyage – October 1788 – May 1789 -was undertaken so soon after such a humiliating defeat goes a long way to supporting the hypothesis proximity not ‘distance’ drove Britain’s invasion of New Holland.

‘In November 1784 Henry Dundas, probably [Prime Minster] Pitt’s closest advisor…warned that India is the first quarter to be attacked, we must never lose sight of keeping such a force there as will be sufficient to baffle and surprise’. Michael Pembroke, Arthur Phillip Sailor Mercenary, Governor Spy, Hardie Grant Books, 2013

Geographically New Holland was perfectly placed for the next world wars of domination; the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars 1793-1815.

In addition to Port Jackson’s proximity to India, naval facilities operating from the south-east coast of New Holland exposed Spain’s rich Central and South American colonies on the Pacific coast to direct attack from the Royal Navy. See: New Holland + Britain + America + India + France + Spanish South America = European Australia




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