‘The troops sent to garrison the Australian colonies participated in the great struggle at the heart of the European conquest of this continent…British troops helped to determine the civilization which would replace the culture of the Australian Aborigines. Dr Peter Stanley, The Remote Garrison, The British Army in Australia 1788-1870, Kangaroo Press 1986

1787 – January, Portsmouth:  Between January 1787 and mid-May 1787 a large squadron of eleven (11) ships, known in Britain and Australia as the ‘First Fleet’, assembled at Portsmouth, England. One-half of its complement, 1500 souls, were convicted criminals

‘In writing of the recruitment of criminals into the armed forces, Stephen Conway observed, ‘It was still found necessary periodically to clear both the putrid and congested gaols and the equally overcrowded and insanitary hulks’. Conway, cited in Alan Frost, Botany Bay Mirages, Melbourne University Press, 1994.

1787 – 13 May, England: The armed convoy sailed from Portsmouth on 13 May 1787, to invade the island continent of New Holland. Commanded by Captain Arthur Phillip RN this combined military and naval expeditionary force was fully funded by the British Government.  See: Apollo 11 – Fly Me To The Moon: Portsmouth – Tenerife – Rio  – Cape Town – Botany Bay – Sydney Cove.

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

Mortality on the ‘ First Fleet’ was reckoned at 4%

‘It seems clear that only a few men in the inner circle of [William Pitt’s] government knew the exact purposes of the settlement’. Professor Geoffrey Blainey, Gotham City, The Founding of Australia. The argument about Australia’s origins. Ed. Ged Martin, Hale and Iremonger, 1978

Hawkesbury, Dundas, Mulgrave, Liverpool, Pitt’s ‘inner circle’ with Nepean, Lansdowne, Sydney are names writ large on the landscape of Sydney and its environs.

‘I need not enlarge on the benefit of stationing a large body of troops in New South Wales…New Holland is a blind, then, when we want to add to the military strength of India’. Anon. Historical Records of New South Wales.

Following closely on Britain’s profound humiliation at the loss of her American colonies in the American War of Independence 1775-1783 the ‘exact purposes of the settlement’ were driven by ambition to reset the strategic, territorial and trade balance of power via dominance of secure alternate sea routes to and from India, China and Spain’s South American colonies.

‘In November [1784] Henry Dundas, possibly 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 well be sufficient to baffle or surprise’. Dundas, cited Michael Pembroke, Arthur Phillip Sailor Mercenary Governor Spy, Harper Grant Books, Victoria, 2013

HMS Sirius flagship 540 tons, the tender HMS Supply 170 tons, with two hundred (200) Royal Navy personnel escorted nine (9) chartered ships. Two hundred and forty-five (245) garrison marines were distributed throughout the fleet.

‘The naval and marine force that proceeded to New South Wales was not chosen solely to preserve discipline on the voyage; a much smaller force could have done that; it was but incidental to the duty of establishing a new British settlement and it is probably that in their selection that fact received first consideration’. Wilfrid Oldham. ibid.

In the late eighteenth century merchant vessels were crewed to a formula – eight (8) ordinary seamen plus one (1) boy per one hundred (100) ton – with specialist crew they would have numbered approximately four hundred and forty (440) merchant seamen available also for active service.

Three (3) stores-ships – Fishburn 378 ton, Golden Grove 375 ton, Borrowdale 375 ton, four (4) troop transports – Alexander 452 ton 195 male convicts, Charlotte 335 tons 88 male and 20 female convicts, Friendship 274 tons 76 male and 21 female convicts,  Scarborough 430 tons 208 male convicts. See: All The King’s Men the Criminals of the First Fleet

The fleet’s non-combatants, one hundred and ninety-three (193) female convict camp-followers, sailed in the Lady Penrhyn 333 tons 101 females and Prince of Wales 350 tons 49 females, Friendship with the remainder.

A civilian establishment consisted of twenty (20) officials, including seven (7) physicians, thirty-two (32) marine wives and approximately forty-five (45) free children of marines and convicts.


1788 – 20 January, Botany Bay: Within 36 hours, between 18 and 20 January 1788 all ‘First Fleet’ fleet ships were anchored in Botany Bay but with insufficient fresh water to support such a large number.

Captain Phillip set off next day to explore the adjacent country and nine (9) miles (14km) to the north found Port Jackson and  Sydney Cove with a guaranteed water supply was more suitable site for permanent settlement.

‘There would seem to be “some justification for the saying that England won Australia by six days”. Edward Jenks, History of Australian Colonies, Cited in British Colonial Policy, Hugh E. Egerton, Menthuen, 1928

1788 – 24 January, Botany Bay: The masts of two (2) French ships L’Astrolabe and La Boussole under commanded by Captain Jean-Francois La Perouse appeared over the horizon. Sirius cannon, rough seas and wild winds forced the French ships south to seek safety and shelter in Point Sutherland. See: Australia – Britain By A Short Half-Head

1788 – 25 January: Phillip quit Botany Bay for Sydney Cove ordering the other vessel join him when ‘foul’ weather abated.

1788 – 26 January, Port Jackson:  At first light Phillip stepped ashore raised the Union Jack and declared England’s victory over France.

‘It is much to the credit of those in office [Pitt’s administration] that an empire has been founded in the south, which time will render much superior to that which their predecessors [Lord North] have lost in the west [America]’. Anon. Historical Records of New South Wales, Vol.1

Despite continuing bad weather by 6 pm on evening of 26 January 1788 all English ships were anchored alongside HMS Supply.

1788 – 7 February: Sydney Quay: According to formal Instructions issued him on 25 April 1787, Phillip on the 7th of February  ‘without consent’ of its First Peoples; ‘Hoisted His Majesty’s Colours with the usual Ceremony’ and without consent or entering into a treaty 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’.



‘The slave trade is merciful compared with what I have seen in this fleet; the contractors [Camden, Calvert and King] had been in the Guinea [slave] trade, and put on board the same shackles used by them in that trade’. Captain William Hill, New South Wales Corps, letter to William Wilberforce, Sydney 1790.

1789 – June, London: William Grenville, first cousin of Prime Minister William Pitt, replaced Lord Sydney as Britain’s Home Secretary in mid June 1789.

Grenville authorised the Navy Board advertise for tenders to provide three (3) of the fleet’s four (4) vessels to transport convicts to ‘our territory called New South Wales’.

1789 – 29 July, Portsmouth: A contract to fit-out, crew and provision a fourth vessel, Lady Juliana (410 tons) was awarded to William Richards Jnr the Navy Board’s sole commercial contractor for the ‘First Fleet’.

At the end of July 1789 Juliana dubbed the ‘Brothel Ship’ sailed for Australia on a year-long voyage by way of Cape Town.

1790 – 3 June, Sydney Cove: Lady Juliana with two hundred and twenty-six (226) female prisoners eight (8) free children reached Sydney at the beginning of June 1790 with the first word from England.

She broke the ‘misery and horror’ of absolute isolation and crushing uncertainty for over one thousand (1000) English men women and children abandoned and left to starve 15,000 miles (23,000 km) from their homeland.  See: Abandoned and Left to Starve at Sydney Cove January 1788 to June 1790

Juliana, aside from a small flock of sheep, salvaged from HMS Guardian when that vessel, bringing supplies to Sydney, struck an iceberg off Cape Town, brought almost no supplies. See: HMS Guardian and Joseph Banks Garden

Meanwhile Camden, Calvert and King, a London slaving firm working ‘the Guinea slave trade’ submitted the lowest quote and won contracts to supply, crew and provision Neptune, Scarborough and Suprize, the fleet’s death ships.

These three (3) vessels were to transport one thousand two hundred and sixty (1260) predominately male convicts and a detachment of infantry troops to New South Wales. See:  Britain’s Grim Armada – The Dead and the Living Dead  

1790 – 17 January, Plymouth: Aptly named ‘Britain’s Grim Armada’sailed unescorted from Plymouth in mid January 1790. Camden, Calvert and King were paid per body boarded, as was usual with slave contracts. The earlier in the voyage a prisoner died the greater the company’s profit.

On the voyage, with an eye to profit, greedy ships’ masters reduced or withheld rations as punishment. The unfortunate prisoners were locked below decks and chained by the wrists, secured between the ankles by a rigid bolt measuring less than the length of A4 paper. The notorious ‘Guinea shackle-bolt’ fastened two (2) prisoners together so neither could move independently of the other.

1790 – 28-29 June, Sydney: Towards the end of June 1790 ‘cries’ were heard as ‘the ships  [Neptune, Suprize, Scarborough] came into the harbour’.

‘Some of these unhappy people died after the ships came into the harbour, before they could be taken on shore part of these had been thrown into the harbour, and their dead bodies cast upon the shore, and were seen lying naked upon the rocks’.  Reverend Richard Johnson, First Fleet Chaplain, cited by Jack Egan, Buried Alive, Allen and Unwin, 1999.

1790 – June, Sydney: The nature of the ‘Guinea shackle-bolt’ coupled with Reverend Johnson’s account, makes it highly likely, those ‘cries’ heard came from the living tethered to the dead as together they were ‘thrown into the [Sydney] harbour’.

Chaplain Johnson boarded Suprize; ‘I beheld a sight truly shocking to the feelings of humanity…some half and other nearly quite naked, without either bed or bedding, unable to turn or help themselves…nor move hand or foot…the smell so offensive I could scarcely bear it’.  Rev Johnson, Cited Egan. ibid.

Reverend Johnson’s experience on Suprize was so distressing he was persuaded from boarding Neptune and watched from shore as prisoners ‘all full of filth and lice’ emerged from  Scarborough and Neptune.

‘Upon being brought up to the open air some fainted, some died upon the deck, and others in the boat before they reached the shore. When come on shore many were not able to walk, to stand, or to stir themselves in the least hence some were led by others. Some creeped upon their hands and knees some were carried upon the backs of others’. Reverend Johnson. op. cit.

Neptune @ 839 tons – crew 83 – convicts 512 – 424 males, 78 females : 147 male and 11 female prisoners diedmortality 31%.

Scarborough @ 418 tons – crew 40 – convicts 259 males : 73 male prisoners died – mortality 28%.

Suprize @ 400 tons – crew 40 – convicts 256 males: 36 male prisoners died – mortality 14%.

The settlement’s medicine chest was all but empty. Despite strenuous efforts of the ‘First Fleet’ physicians, 15% of those who survived the terrible voyage died within weeks of arrival. A flat-pack hospital arrived with the fleet and, although instructions were included, it proved extremely difficult to erect.

1790 – June: One hundred and fifteen (115) officers and men of the New South Wales Infantry Corps, arrived with the second fleet, but they came without Major Francis Grose their commanding officer who remained in London to recruit sufficient numbers to satisfy establishment requirements.

‘Grose found it necessary to complete his enlistments from deserters in London’s Savoy Military Prison, rationalizing his actions on the grounds that desertion would be impossible from Botany Bay’. John Moore, The First Fleet Marines 1786-1792, Queensland University Press, 1987.

Lieutenant John Macarthur an ambitious unscrupulous junior officer took advantage of Grose’s absence. A teetotaller he organised his fellow officers pool their resources to form trading cartels to import ‘fiery Indian rum’ from Bengal with the express purpose of selling it for ‘exorbitant profit’.

1792 – 14 February, Sydney: Major Grose arrived in Sydney aboard Pitt a transport carrying 344 male and 58 female convicts.

‘When she [Pitt] arrived at Port Jackson, [February 1792] 20 male and nine [9] female prisoners had died on the passage, and 120 men were landed sick, many of whom died in the weeks following their landing’. Charles Bateson, The Convict Ships 1787-1868, Brown, Son & Ferguson Publishers, Glasgow, 1959

1792 – 12 December, London: Governor Phillip departed Sydney for England on the Atlantic on 12 December 1792.

Whitehall had failed to commission a governor to succeed Phillip. Nearly three (3) years passed before Captain John  Hunter RN, Britain’s second commissioned governor reached Sydney.

By default Major Francis Grose assumed governance of the colony; ‘for the length of the interregnum the government was greatly at fault’.

‘The decade that followed [Phillip’s departure] represents a particularly controversial period in the history of New South Wales, in which a succession of naval governors [Hunter, King, Bligh] strove unsuccessfully to curb the commercial monopoly established officers, both civil and military, of the colony. John Hunter, Introduction, First Fleet Journal




1795 – September, Sydney: Captain John Hunter RN the second commissioned governor would not reach the settlement until September 1795;


1792 – 12 December:  As Governor Phillip sailed away with young Yemmerrawannie and Bennalong, an older Aboriginal warrior, Bateson conjures up a desperate place.


Britain threw The First Nations’ Peoples to the wolves – wolves with guns and grog – the New South Wales ‘Rum’ Corps. See: Machiavellian Macarthur 

1792 – 13 December: The day following Phillip’s departure Major Grose dismissed all civil magistrates replacing them with officers of the New South Corps thereby exposing the First Nations’ Peoples not to English civil law, but military rule. See: Alice – Down the Rabbit Hole with Governor Hunter






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