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Digital Subscriptions > History Revealed > Christmas 2015 > THE FIRST FLEET

THE FIRST FLEET

The journey to the other side of the world was difficult enough in the 18th century but, making the trip for the first time with some 800 convicts in tow, the Captain of the First Fleet had an unenviable task…
FOR KING AND CONVICTS Marines raise the Union flag in Sydney Cove on 26 January 1788, marking both the British occupation of Australia, and the foundation of the continent’s first penal colony
TOPFOTO

TRANSPORTED TO AUSTRALIA: THE FIRST FLEET

During the height of the antipodean summer of 1788, 11 ships weighed anchor beside an alien land at the bottom of the planet. They intended to set up a new colony, built on the forced labour of convicts. A further 806 ships, carrying 162,000 prisoners, would follow in their wake over the next 79 years, in one of the biggest feats of forced human migration ever seen outside of commercial slavery.

When Captain Arthur Phillip came ashore at Botany Bay on 18 January 1788, it didn’t take him long to realise he’d been misled by the reports of Captain James Cook, who’d discovered the bay 18 years earlier. The great explorer had named the area for the profusion of plants found there, and one of his botanists – Joseph Banks – had recommended it as a potential place for a colony. But what does a botanist know about settlement?

SHIPS TO SHORE The First Fleet enters Port Jackson, where its marines and convicts establish the first antipodean colony
ALAMY X3, GETTY X1, STATE LIBRARY OF NEW SOUTH WALES X1

BRIEF ENCOUNTER

In one of his letters home, David Blackburn, Master of HMS Supply, describes his first meeting with the locals: “[the natives] came to us without fear armed with spears, but without any appearance of hostile Intention”.

Phillip found a bay with a bottom too shallow to make a good harbour, very limited fresh water, trees that appeared to be made from iron and natives who seemed none too impressed with his arrival. All of which left him in a bit of a fix. Stuck on the other side of the Earth, with no back-up plan, he was in charge of nearly 800 convicts and 323 disgruntled marines, along with their wives and families, who had all spent 252 days at sea and required somewhere to live.

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