1788 – 7 February, Port Jackson: ‘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. How grand a prospect which lies before this youthful nation’. Governor Arthur Phillip RN, Historical Records of New South Wales.

How ‘grand a prospect’ lay before this ancient land’s First Peoples?

1838 – 21 December, London: ‘You cannot overrate the solicitude of H. M. Government on the subject of the Aborigines of New Holland. It is impossible to contemplate the condition or the prospects of that unfortunate race without the deepest commiseration.  Still it is impossible that the government should forget that the original aggression was ours’. Lord John Russell to [Governor] Sir George Gipps, 21 December 1838, Historical Records of Australia, Series 1. Vol. XX

1788 – 6 February, Sydney Cove: At 5 am on 6 February 1788 all one hundred and ninety (190) women prisoners of the ‘First Fleet’ began to leave the ships that had been home for the past eight (8) months. By evening all were housed in tents erected by male convicts who had disembarked two (2) weeks earlier. See: Only Men – Aside from Seagulls How Many White Birds were on the ground in Sydney Cove on 26 January 1788 – None 

1788 – February 7, Sydney Cove: At 11 am on the 7th February 1788 with all the ‘pride, pomp, and circumstance of glorious war’.

Daniel Southwell a young midshipman wrote to his father the marine band belted out military tunes,‘suited to the business’ – the business of war.

Surrounded by fixed bayonets the convicts had spent hours sitting in a circle. Governor Phillip, accompanied by Marine Major Robert Ross, Chaplain Richard Johnson, Judge-Advocate David Collins and ‘other dignitaries’ marched amid ‘flying Colours’ through a guard of honour formed from ranks both arms of the naval service.

The troops sweltering in their scarlet woollen battle-dress stood at attention to hear Judge-Advocate, Marine Captain David Collins, read the minutia of Governor Arthur Phillip’s commission; ’embodied in the Act of Parliament…by which the colony had been founded’.

Westminster, Act 24, Geo. III (second session) c. 56; ‘From the passing of this Act the sentence “transportation overseas” became the usual one, the King in Council later determining the destination of the convicted’. Wilfrid Oldham, Britain’s Convicts to the Colonies, Library of Australian History, 1990

Governor Arthur Phillip RN, flanked by officers of both land and sea forces, took centre stage to address his audiences. One indigenous ‘belonging to the soil’ on which they stood.

The other ‘convicted criminals’ deemed ‘too evil to remain within the kingdom’ many would have their ‘vice, profaneness and immorality’ rewarded with grants of Aboriginal land. 

Captain Collins wrote a vain hope that; ‘we might not sully that purity [of the country] by the introduction of vice, profaneness, and immorality. But this, though much to be wished, was little to be expected.

The habits of youth are not easily laid aside, and the utmost we could hope in our present situation was to oppose the soft harmonizing arts of peace and civilisation to the baneful influence of vice and immorality’. Marine Captain David Collins, An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales, Vol. 1. ed. Brian H. Fletcher, A.H. & A.W. Reed, Sydney, Wellington, London, 1975

Governor Phillip before leaving England in May 1787 had been assured more ‘convicts and supplies would follow shortly’. Neither came. By mid 1788 the supplies brought from England were almost gone. See: Abandoned and Left to Starve @ Sydney Cove January 1788 to June 1790

1788 – 2 October, Africa: As the year wore on without the expected support Phillip, desperate with over (1000) thousand hungry English men, women and children to feed, ordered HMS Sirius sail to the Cape of Good Hope to buy food and medicines from the Dutch at Cape Town.


1789 – April, Sydney:  ‘Famine was approaching with gigantic strides’ Englishmen with guns and trawling nets competed with Aborigines’ spears, hook and line, for local foods. But even that inequity was not enough.

‘No person among us has been afflicted with the disorder [smallpox] since we had quitted the Cape of Good Hope, seventeen [17] months before. Marine Watkin Tench, Sydney’s First Four Years, ed. F.L. Fitzhardinge, Angus and Robertson, 1961

In April 1789 smallpox struck down Sydney’s Aboriginal families. The Cammergal on the south side of the harbour, Eora on the north and the Bidjigal to the south and west, killing 50% of their number. Phillip earlier estimated approximately one thousand five hundred (1500) had their homes in these areas. See: Smallpox – Dead Aborigines Don’t Eat

‘It is true that our surgeons had brought out variolous matter in bottles; but to infer that it was produced from this cause were a supposition so wild as to be unworthy of consideration’. Tench. op. cit.

Tench was right the ‘supposition’ – a deliberate release of ‘variolous matter’ – continues ‘to be unworthy of consideration’.

And Tench was wrong ‘no person among us has been afflicted’. Joseph Jefferies, a native American who joined as crew on HMS Supply  in August 1787 at Rio, died of smallpox in May 1789. See: Joseph Jefferies, From New York to Rio and Old Sydney Town:  One – Then There Was None

1789 – 5 May, Sydney Cove: HMS Sirius returned from Cape Town in May 1789 with limited supplies, mainly 127,000 lbs. of flour intended for the two (2) king’s ships and what could be spared for the colony.

‘Captain John Hunter, commander of the Sirius, wrote in his journal that initially the tribes of the Port Jackson region met the settlers of the the First Fleet with almost unrelieved hostility…Once smallpox entered the equation this changed’. Jeffrey Grey, A Military History of Australia, The British Period 1788-1870, Cambridge University Press, 2001


1790 – January 1, Sydney Cove: ‘Our impatience of news from Europe strongly marked the commencement of the year…no communication whatever having passed with our native country since the 13th May, 1787, the day of our departure from Portsmouth.

We had now been two [2] years in the country, and thirty-two [32] months from England…from the intelligence of our friends and connections we had been entirely cut off…in which long time no supplies, except what had been been procured at the Cape of Good Hope by the Sirius had reached us’. Tench. ibid.

1790 – March, China: Winter was approaching and much of what had been ‘procured by the Sirius’ was gone. Phillip drew on the experience of the previous year when the death of 50% of local Aborigines had taken pressure of available food resources.

Phillip ordered the evacuation of 50 % of ‘his people’ the starving white population to Norfolk Island two (2) weeks sailing time away. Sirius would then sail onto China for help.

1790 – March 19, Norfolk Island: HMS Sirius having successfully landed the evacuees struck a submerged reef and sank. One hundred and thirty (130) of her crew of one hundred and sixty (160) naval personnel were marooned on Norfolk Island along with the evacuees.

1790 – April, Sydney:  Weekly ‘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 [dried] pease’. Tench. ibid.

1790 – April 5, Sydney: HMS Supply had accompanied Sirius to the island she returned to Sydney in early April with Lieutenant Phillip Gidley King RN, thirty (30) Sirius crew and devastating news – the Sirius was destined not to reach China’.

1790 – April 17, Jakarta: HMS Supply sailed without delay to Batavia – modern day Jakarta – a matter of months sailing time away, to buy food and medicines from the Dutch and charter a ship to bring them to Sydney. See: Missing in Action HMS Sirius & HMS Supply

‘All our labour and attention were turned on one object – the procuring of food’. Tench. ibid. 

Tench tells;‘the misery and horror’ of absolute isolation ‘such a situation cannot be imparted, even by those who have suffered under it’.

‘There are two kinds of error: those of commission, doing something that should not be done, and those off omission , not doing something that should be done. The latter are much more serious than the former’. Russell Lincoln Ackoff, Forward, The Puritan Gift, Kenneth Hopper and William Hopper, I.B. Tauris, 2008

1790 – June – ‘a ship with London on her stern’

1790 – 3 June: Lady Juliana, first of four (4) convict transports of a second fleet ‘Britain’s Grim Armada’ broke that isolation at the beginning of June 1790. See: Transportation – The Hulks Act and How The Mindset of Slavery Came to Australia

Although it is widely held the Second Fleet brought salvation for the First Australians nothing could be further from the truth. Dissension, division and unbridled personal ambition sealed their fate as a free people. See: The Switch 1790 – Context – War With France 1793-1815

1788 – 7 February: ‘[We] have founded here a State which we hope will not only occupy and rule this great country, but also will be a shining light among all the nations of the Southern Hemisphere’. Governor Phillip, Historical Records. ibid

We the beneficiaries of Britain’s original aggression’‘and from all the lands on earth we come’ daily perpetuate its ‘immoralities’ by refusing to acknowledge the glittering prize, ‘this great country’ Australia, was not freely given.


2019: Brexit – Britain rages against a perceived loss of sovereignty. A rage no doubt complicated if, in no small part, driven by impending ‘Succession’.

Once more restructure and jockeying for power sees the ‘light’ again turned towards the ‘southern hemisphere’ and the ‘continuing connection’ between Crown and the Commonwealth of Australia.

There is an urgent need to shine a ‘light’ on the ‘vice, profaneness and immorality [of the] original aggressors [and] contemplate how grand [was the] prospect’ for Australia’s First Nations’ Peoples?

‘Still is is impossible that H.M. government should forget that the original aggression was ours’. Lord Russell.




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