First Fleet

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First Fleet is the name given to the 11 ships which sailed from Great Britain on 13 May 1787 with about 1,487 people, including 778 convicts (192 women and 586 men[1]), to establish the first European colony in Australia, in New South Wales. The fleet was led by Captain (later Admiral) Arthur Phillip. The ships arrived at Botany Bay between 18 and 20 January 1788. HMS Supply arrived on 18 January, The Alexander, Scarborough and Friendship arrived on 19 January and the remaining ships on 20 January 1788.


Ships of the First Fleet

Naval escorts:

Convict transports:

Food and Supply Transports:

Scale models of all the ships are on display at the Museum of Sydney.

Nine Sydney harbour ferries in current service were named after these First Fleet vessels (the unused names are Lady Penrhyn and Prince Of Wales).

People of the First Fleet

The number of people directly associated with the First Fleet will probably never be exactly established, and all accounts of the event vary slightly. Mollie Gillen [2] gives the following statistics:

During the voyage there were seven births, while 69 people either died, were discharged, or deserted (61 males and 8 females). As no complete crew musters have survived for the six transports and three storeships, there may have been as many as 110 more seamen.

Ropes, crockery, glass panes for the governor's windows, ready-cut wood, cooking equipment (including some complete cast-iron stoves), and a miscellany of weapons were needed. Other items included tools, agricultural implements, seeds, spirits, medical supplies, bandages, surgical instruments, handcuffs, leg irons and chains. A prefabricated house for the governor was constructed and packed flat. 5,000 bricks for construction and thousands of nails were loaded. The party had to rely on only its provisions to survive until it could make use of local materials, assuming suitable supplies existed, and could grow its own food and raise livestock.

The voyages

With fine weather the convicts were allowed on deck, and on 3 June 1787 the fleet anchored at Santa Cruz at Tenerife. Here fresh water, vegetables and meat were taken on board. Phillip and the chief officers were entertained by the local governor, while one convict tried unsuccessfully to escape. On 10 June they set sail to cross the Atlantic to Rio de Janeiro, taking advantage of favourable trade winds and ocean currents.

The weather became increasingly hot and humid as the fleet sailed through the tropics. Vermin, such as rats, and parasites such as bedbugs, lice, cockroaches and fleas, tormented the convicts, officers and marines. Bilges became foul and the smell, especially below the closed hatches, was over-powering. On Alexander a number of convicts fell sick and died. Tropical rainstorms meant that the convicts could not exercise on deck, and were kept below in the foul, cramped holds. On the female transports, promiscuity between the convicts and the crew and marines was rampant. In the doldrums, Phillip was forced to ration the water to three pints a day.

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