Australia in the 1780s

The First Fleet

In May 1787 the First Fleet, commanded by Captain Arthur Phillip (1738–1814), left Portsmouth in England with six convict transports, three store ships and two navy vessels, including the flagship HMS Sirius. The fleet carried more than 1,300 people, consisting of convicts and their children, and marines and their families. They arrived at Botany Bay on 18 January 1788 after a journey of approximately 20,000 kilometres. Sir Joseph Banks (1743–1820) had recommended the site after travelling on the ship HM Bark Endeavour with the explorer Captain James Cook (1728–1779). However, Phillip perceived Botany Bay to be unsuitable for a settlement because of his belief that the area had poor soil, no safe anchorage and no reliable fresh water.

On 21 January, Phillip explored an area to the north of Botany Bay and found a natural harbour that he described in his reports as one of the finest harbours in the world. In a cove, he found a freshwater spring and the harbour water close to the shore deep enough for ships to berth and unload goods and people without the need to build wharves. He named this site Sydney Cove in honour of Lord Sydney (1733–1800), the British Home Secretary responsible for colonial affairs. This was the first known non-Indigenous landing in Sydney Harbour.

On 26 January 1788 Captain Arthur Phillip sailed into Port Jackson on HMS Supply and raised the British flag to proclaim the colony of New South Wales. With him were the 11 ships that made up the First Fleet. Two days earlier about 20 Cadigal men, the local people of the area, waded out to meet Phillip's boat in North Harbour. Phillip noted in his reports that they had a confident and 'manly behaviour' and decided to name this place Manly Cove. That night, the same group of Cadigal men joined Governor Phillip and his men while they dined.

The First Fleet _1780

A snapshot of 1788

  • January
    • Captain Arthur Phillip and the First Fleet sailed into Port Jackson.
    • The wife of Sergeant Thomas Whittle of the marines gave birth to the first non-Indigenous child born in the colony.

  • February
    • The first female convicts arrived at Port Jackson.
    • The Court of Criminal Justice Jurisdiction sat for the first time in the colony.

  • March
    • Lieutenant Philip Gidley King took formal possession of Norfolk Island.

  • June
    • The last of the cattle that arrived on the First Fleet strayed from the settlement. Some of the animals were still being found seven years later.

  • November
    • A colonial settlement was established at Rose Hill.

  • December
    • Governor Phillip ordered the capture of Arabanoo, a Cadigal man, to find out about Cadigal language and customs.


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