First Fleet

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The ships sailing into Botany Bay

The First Fleet is the name given to the 11 ships which sailed from Great Britain on 13 May 1787, to start the first European colony in New South Wales. It was a convict settlement, the start of a plan to transport thousands of prisoners to Australia. The fleet was led by Captain (later Admiral) Arthur Phillip. This journey lasted eight months, and used a route across the oceans that had only been used three times; once by Abel Tasman and twice by James Cook.[1]:161

Carrying convicts[change | change source]

There were two navy ships, six convict transports and three storeships. The private ships were on contract to the British Government. The contracts were organized by William Richards, a shipbroker (ship salesman) from Walworth. He also supplied the food and drink for the ships. Zachariah Clarke went with the Fleet to look after things for Richards.[2]

The convict ships were set up in the same way as soldiers were transported. People slept in hammocks and there were tables for eating and stools to sit on. To keep the convicts secure, thick wooden walls were built across the deck (floor) from side to side. These had small holes in them so the guards could shoot in case of trouble. The hatches (doors up to the decks) were kept shut with cross bars, bolts and locks. Guards were almost always on duty at each hatch, and a guard with a gun was always on the quarter deck.[2]

Some of the convicts were taken to the transport ships at London, and the rest went on board at Plymouth. Many, especially those from smaller country gaols were not in good health. Phillip thought that he might have to make one of the ships a hospital ship to care for the sick.[1]:154 Newspapers wrote that they expected about 80% of the convicts would not survive the long journey.[1]:54 Several of the convicts died and some of marines were so sick that they were removed from the ships before they left England.[1]:125 The number of people that died on the trip was quite small, and shows that the planning and treatment of the convicts was successful.[1]:156 Most had put on weight and were healthier when they arrived in Australia than when they left England.[1]:155

Food and drink[change | change source]

Convicts were given two thirds of the amount normally provided for sailors. Each week a sailor was given:[2]

As well as this food, there was sometimes rice, dried fish, and soup. When the ships were in a harbour there was also fresh meat and vegetables. Women and children were given a slightly different list of food. Sick people were also given wine and spirits.

When the Fleet arrived in Sydney, Arthur Phillip worked out they only had enough food for 49 weeks. He should have been given enough for two years.[2]

Other supplies[change | change source]

The Fleet also took a number of animals, plants and seeds. The animals included[2] sheep, pigs, dogs, cats, goats, turkeys, geese, ducks, chickens, pigeons, horses, and cattle. Plants and seeds included[2] coffee, cocoa, cotton, bananas, oranges, lemons, tamarinds, guava, prickly pear, eugenia or pomme rose, jalap, ipecacuanha, figs, bamboo, sugar cane, esparto grass, vines, quinces, apples, pears, strawberries, oaks, myrtles, rice, wheat, barley, and maize. Some of this was brought from England, and the rest from when the Fleet stopped at Rio de Janeiro and Capetown.

The journey[change | change source]

The fleet left Portsmouth, England on 13 May 1787.[3] The weather was good and so Phillip decided to let the convicts up on deck.[4]:166

Some convicts on the Scarborough planned a mutiny but were caught,[5]:78 but most convicts were well behaved.[5]:78

On 3 June 1787, the fleet arrived at Santa Cruz at Tenerife.[3] Fresh water, vegetables and meat were brought on board. On 10 June they left to cross the Atlantic to Rio de Janeiro.[3] The weather was very hot and there were lots of storms.[5]:87 Many people became sick and there were lots of rats, bedbugs, lice, cockroaches and fleas.[5]:87 People were only allowed to drink three pints of water each day.[5]:88

The fleet reached Rio de Janeiro on 5 August.[3] The ships were cleaned and fixed. More water, clothing and lots of food was taken on board.[4]:167 The fleet left on 4 September and reached Cape Town on 13 October.[6] They bought plants, seeds and animals to take to Australia.[5]:100 The animals included: two bulls, seven cows, one stallion, three mares, 44 sheep, 32 pigs, four goats and poultry.[7] They left on 12 November.

It took the Fleet two months to reach Australia. Phillip took a few ships ahead to start building at Botany Bay. They arrived on 18 January 1788.[4]:174 The other ships arrived only two days after he did.[8]

Arrival in Australia[change | change source]

A monument at Brighton-Le-Sands, Botany Bay in New South Wales commemorating the landing of the First Fleet. The monument has the names of most of those who arrived on the First Fleet.

The first ship, Supply, reached Botany Bay on 18 January 1788. Aboriginal people from the Cadigal tribe saw the First Fleet ships arrive.[9] Phillip soon decided that this site, picked by Sir Joseph Banks, was not suitable. It had poor soil, no safe place to leave the ships, and no drinking water. Phillip decided to go north to Port Jackson.

On 26 January the marines and convicts arrived at Sydney Cove. 1403 people left Portsmouth. On the voyage 7 babies were born. 69 people died or left the ships. 1332 people landed in Port Jackson which is now known as Sydney. It was a successful trip, as only 40 convicts had died. Phillip named the settlement Sydney after Lord Sydney, the British government's Home Secretary.

The following people were on board the ships: Embarked at Portsmouth Landed at Port Jackson
Officials and passengers 15 14
Crew of the ships 324 306
Marines 247 245
Wives and children of the marines 46 54
Convicts (men) 579 543
Convicts (women) 193 189
Children of convicts 14 22
Total 1418 1373

The Aboriginal people from the Eora nation lived in the Sydney area.[10] They could not understand why the British wanted to own their land and make farms with fences. The British did not understand the Aboriginal people's way of living and there was a lot of fighting and many people died.

Ships of the First Fleet[change | change source]

Naval escorts:

Convict transports:

Food Transport:

Related pages[change | change source]

References[change | change source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 Alan, Frost (2011). The First Fleet: the real story. Collingwood, Victoria: Black Inc.. ISBN 9781863955294.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 "First Fleet". Australian Encyclopaedia IV. (1958). Angus and Robertson. 72-76. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 "The First Fleet". Project Gutenberg. http://gutenberg.net.au/first-fleet.html. Retrieved 24 November 2013.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Frost, Alan (2012). The First Fleet: the real story. Collingwood: Black Inc. ISBN 9781863955614.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 Parker, Derek (2009). Arthur Phillip: Australia's First Governor. Warriewood: Woodslane Press. ISBN 9781921203992.
  6. Hill, David (2008). 1788. Random House. pp. 120–123. ISBN 978-1-74166-800-1.
  7. Chisholm, Alec H. (ed.), The Australian Encyclopaedia, Vol. 4, p. 72, “First Fleet”, Halstead Press, Sydney, 1963
  8. "Timeline – 1788". The World Upside Down: Australia 1788–1830. National Library of Australia. 2000. http://www.nla.gov.au/exhibitions/georgeraper/timeline/timeline-doc-1788.html#. Retrieved 27 May 2006.
  9. Kensy, Julia. "La Perouse". Dictionary of Sydney. http://www.dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/la_perouse. Retrieved 24 November 2013.
  10. Derrincourt, Robin. "Camp Cove". Dictionary of Sydney. http://www.dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/camp_cove?zoom_highlight=first+fleet. Retrieved 24 November 2013.