THE FIRST FLEET

Part 1

 

A Publication of talks given by the President of the Fellowship of First Fleeters Peter G Christian, a descendant of William Tunks, Marine, "Sirius" and Sarah Lyons a Second Fleet Jewish Convict

In 1786 Thomas Townsend, Lord Sydney, announced that His Majesty, George the Third authorised the establishment of a settlement at Botany Bay. The Admiralty and Treasury were ordered, and I quote' you do forthwith take such measures as may be necessary for providing a proper number of vessels for the conveyance of 750 convicts to Botany Bay, together with such provisions, necessaries and implements for agriculture as may be necessary for their use after arrival'.

The first Act in England, authorising the transport of felons was passed in 1597 being..'An Act for the Punishment of Rogues, Vagabonds and Sturdy Beggars… to be banished out of this Realm, and all other Dominions thereof…' Further Acts were passed in 1664,1666, and 1718, permitting transport to the American Colonies.

The American War of Independence had put a sudden halt to the passage of convicts across the Atlantic. From 1718 some 50,000 of Briton's felons had been sent to the American colonies as indentured servants, which, in effect, condemned them to slavery, so, after several attempts at a solution to rid the colony of convicts, which included a trial run to the West coast of Africa, resulting in the loss of many lives, it was Botany Bay that was chosen. The British Treasury arranged eleven ships to be prepared for the journey consisting of two naval ships, Sirius and Supply, six transports, Alexander, Lady Penrhyn, Scarborough, Charlotte, Prince of Wales, Friendship and three storeships - Fishburn, Borrowdale and Golden Grove. For some months stores were loaded, in addition to guns and ammunition. In the quaint language of the day the following were listed on the ships' indents----- Barrels of Flour - Firkins of Butter - Tierces of Beef - Casks of Water and Beer - Pipes of Rum and Brandy- Chords of Wood - Cauldrons of Coal - Baggs of Bread - Portable Soup -(one would hope that it was potable!!)- Hogs heads of Seeds - in addition the usual Pease, Cheese Rice and Pork. A fair amount of livestock was carried, much having to be replaced at CapeTown, in addition to seedlings and seeds for agriculture in the new colony. There were, of course, Tools and Agricultural implements, medical supplies, surgical instruments, handcuffs, leg irons, looking glasses and other trinkets for any natives encountered; also carried was a prefabricated tent for the Governor, 5,000 bricks and the piece de resistance was a piano stored on the Sirius and belonging to Surgeon George Worgan. On Worgan's departure from the colony some years later, the piano was given to Mrs Elizabeth Macarthur.

The Fleet eventually set sail from Motherbank, Portsmouth, on Sunday 13th May 1787 so aptly put by our pianist, Surgeon Worgan ,aboard HMS Sirius in his diary 'Thus equipped each ship like another Noah's Ark, away we steered for Botany Bay'

I say eventually because of a strike by the crews of the Fishburn and Alexander, who mutinied over wages and conditions. This strike, a portent of so many to come in the land we now know was only short-lived due to the lack of Public interest, no one in Britain would have been in the least interested that a fleet of some 1500 souls was sailing into the unknown. The news of the day, for those who were literate was the secret marriage of the Prince of Wales to Mrs Fitzherbert and the impeachment of Warren Hastings for alleged imperial crimes in India!

This successful voyage was due in no small part to the navigational skills of Arthur Phillip. Phillip was born in London of an English mother and German father. He had served in the British navy during the seven-year war with France, had also served with permission from the Admiralty with the Portuguese Navy. In 1781 he was promoted to the rank of Captain and again saw action against France in 1782 and 1783. In 1786 he was handed his commission to lead the expedition to Botany Bay and was given the daunting task of the setting up of an administration of the settlement that would lay the foundations to be built upon for years to come. Thea Stanley Hughes in her book "Arthur Phillip" writes' so in 1788 the destinies of Cook, Phillip, Britain and Australia were brought into close association'

The voyage of the eleven ships continued, The Canary Islands were reached on 3rd June 1787, and at the port of Teneriffe stores were taken on board. On the 6th August Rio de Janiero was reached and the fleet stayed here for nearly a month, more stores were taken on board, the ships were caulked and Phillip and his officers were made most welcome by the Portuguese colonists.
Phillip, writing to his friend, Evan Nepean of the Home Office said 'with respect to the convicts, they have all been allowed the liberty of the deck in the day and many during the night, which has kept them much healthier than could have been expected'

The Fleet arrived in Cape Town on 13 October after an uneventful trip of 39 days. I might add that there was a hiccup in Cape Town Harbour when one of the convicts, by name Phoebe Norton, [definitely a lady of quality] fell into the harbour whilst using the outside latrine of one of the transports. She was fished out by one of the sailors, none the worse for wear!!

It was at CapeTown that Phillip was involved in long and tedious negotiations with the Dutch to purchase provisions that eventually were provided. Midshipman Newton Fowell, whose letters now repose in our NSW State Library, writing to his father said…'Honoured father, before we sailed we took in a great quantity of stock such as oxen, six cows, sheep and hogs…. All the people thoroughly clear of scurvy as the Dutch supplied us with mutton, vegetables and all other things for the preservation of men's lives on so long a voyage'

Lieutenant Ralph Clark, marine on the Friendship, noted in his diary, with regard to the 30 sheep taken on board into quarters vacated by the female convicts 'I think we will find them more agreeable shipmates than the women were'!!!

The Fleet sailed from Cape Town on Monday 12th November 1787 on the last leg of its voyage to Botany Bay. This was the dangerous part of the voyage, as Phillip had to sail deep into the Southern Ocean to make full use of the Trade Winds, there was also the threat of icebergs in this region. The storeship of the Second Fleet, the "Guardian" came to grief after leaving CapeTown, jettisoning its vital cargo for the new colony, and just limping back to Table Bay.


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