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On 26 January we celebrate 'Australia Day,' the anniversary of the arrival at Port Jackson of the First Fleet of ships carrying convicts from England to Australia. We have a great deal of information about the voyage of the First Fleet and the establishment of the new colony.

The First 'Australia Day'

The First Fleet of ships, carrying convicts from England to Australia, sailed from Portsmouth, England, on 13 May 1787. It arrived at Botany Bay on 18 January 1788. When that place proved unsuitable for a settlement the fleet made its way a short distance up the coast and, on 26 January 1788, entered Port Jackson, now known as Sydney Harbour, and anchored in Sydney Cove. We now celebrate this occasion as "Australia Day."

First hand accounts of the voyage and details of that first settlement can be found on our "First Fleet" page at These accounts contained few references to Aboriginal history and culture and the relationship between the new settlers and the Aboriginal people. Australians now acknowledge the fact that Aborigines had occupied Australia for over 40,000 years before that "first" settlement was established, as evidenced by the human remains found at Lake Mungo in south-western New South Wales.

The Governor of the fledgling colony, Arthur Phillip, had this to say of that first Australia Day:

"In the evening of the 26th the colours were displayed on shore, and the Governor, with several of his principal officers and others, assembled round the flag-staff, drank the king's health, and success to the settlement, with all that display of form which on such occasions is esteemed propitious, because it enlivens the spirits, and fills the imagination with pleasing presages. From this time to the end of the first week in February all was hurry and exertion. They who gave orders and they who received them were equally occupied; nor is it easy to conceive a busier scene than this part of the coast exhibited during the continuance of these first efforts towards establishment. The plan of the encampment was quickly formed, and places were marked out for every different purpose, so as to introduce, as much as possible, strict order and regularity. The materials and frame work to construct a slight temporary habitation for the Governor, had been brought out from England ready formed: these were landed and put together with as much expedition as the circumstances would allow. Hospital tents were also without delay erected, for which there was soon but too much occasion. In the passage from the Cape there had been but little sickness, nor had many died even among the convicts; but soon after landing, a dysentery prevailed, which in several instances proved fatal, and the scurvy began to rage with a virulence which kept the hospital tents generally supplied with patients. For those afflicted with this disorder, the advantage of fish or other fresh provisions could but rarely be procured; nor were esculent vegetables often obtained in sufficient plenty to produce any material alleviation of the complaint. In the dysentery, the red gum of the tree which principally abounds on this coast, was found a very powerful remedy. The yellow gum has been discovered to possess the same property, but in an inferior degree."

From: The Voyage of Governor Phillip to Botany Bay by Arthur Phillip

* * *

Watkin Tench, a marine on one of the ships, gives this description:

CHAPTER IX. - The taking Possession of Port Jackson, with the Disembarkation of the Marines and Convicts.

Our passage to Port Jackson took up but few hours, and those were spent far from unpleasantly.  The evening was bright, and the prospect before us such as might justify sanguine expectation.  Having passed between the capes which form its entrance, we found ourselves in a port superior, in extent and excellency, to all we had seen before.  We continued to run up the harbour about four miles, in a westerly direction, enjoying the luxuriant prospect of its shores, covered with trees to the water's edge, among which many of the Indians were frequently seen, till we arrived at a small snug cove on the southern side, on whose banks the plan of our operations was destined to commence.

The landing of a part of the marines and convicts took place the next day, and on the following, the remainder was disembarked.  Business now sat on every brow, and the scene, to an indifferent spectator, at leisure to contemplate it, would have been highly picturesque and amusing. In one place, a party cutting down the woods; a second, setting up a blacksmith's forge; a third, dragging along a load of stones or provisions; here an officer pitching his marquee, with a detachment of troops parading on one side of him, and a cook's fire blazing up on the other.  Through the unwearied diligence of those at the head of the different departments, regularity was, however, soon introduced, and, as far as the unsettled state of matters would allow, confusion gave place to system.

Into the head of the cove, on which our establishment is fixed, runs a small stream of fresh water, which serves to divide the adjacent country to a little distance, in the direction of north and south.  On the eastern side of this rivulet the Governor fixed his place of residence, with a large body of convicts encamped near him; and on the western side was disposed the remaining part of these people, near the marine encampment. From this last two guards, consisting of two subalterns, as many serjeants, four corporals, two drummers, and forty-two private men, under the orders of a Captain of the day, to whom all reports were made, daily mounted for the public security, with such directions to use force, in case of necessity, as left no room for those who were the object of the order, but to remain peaceable, or perish by the bayonet.

As the straggling of the convicts was not only a desertion from the public labour, but might be attended with ill consequences to the settlement, in case of their meeting the natives, every care was taken to prevent it. The Provost Martial with his men was ordered to patrole the country around, and the convicts informed, that the severest punishment would be inflicted on transgressors.  In spite, however, of all our precautions, they soon found the road to Botany Bay, in visits to the French, who would gladly have dispensed with their company.

But as severity alone was known to be inadequate at once to chastize and reform, no opportunity was omitted to assure the convicts, that by their good behaviour and submissive deportment, every claim to present distinction and future favour was to be earned.  That this caution was not attended with all the good effects which were hoped from it, I have only to lament; that it operated in some cases is indisputable; nor will a candid and humane mind fail to consider and allow for the situation these unfortunate beings so peculiarly stood in.  While they were on board ship, the two sexes had been kept most rigorously apart; but, when landed, their separation became impracticable, and would have been, perhaps, wrong.  Licentiousness was the unavoidable consequence, and their old habits of depravity were beginning to recur.  What was to be attempted?  To prevent their intercourse was impossible; and to palliate its evils only remained.  Marriage was recommended, and such advantages held out to those who aimed at reformation, as have greatly contributed to the tranquillity of the settlement.

On the Sunday after our landing divine service was performed under a great tree, by the Rev. Mr. Johnson, Chaplain of the Settlement, in the presence of the troops and convicts, whose behaviour on the occasion was equally regular and attentive.  In the course of our passage this had been repeated every Sunday, while the ships were in port; and in addition to it, Mr. Johnson had furnished them with books, at once tending to promote instruction and piety.

The Indians for a little while after our arrival paid us frequent visits, but in a few days they were observed to be more shy of our company. From what cause their distaste: arose we never could trace, as we had made it our study, on these occasions, to treat them with kindness, and load them with presents.  No quarrel had happened, and we had flattered ourselves, from Governor Phillip's first reception among them, that such a connection might be established as would tend to the interest of both parties.  It seems, that on that occasion, they not only received our people with great cordiality, but so far acknowledged their authority as to submit, that a boundary, during their first interview, might be drawn on the sand, which they attempted not to infringe, and appeared to be satisfied with.

From: A Narrative of the Expedition to Botany Bay by Watkin Tench

Further information about Tench and his two works covering the establishment of the colony can be found at

Colour Plates of Animals and Birds

Information about John White, surgeon on the First Fleet, author of "Journal of a Voyage to New South Wales", can be found at The HTML version of White's work at includes 65 magnificent colour plates of "non descript animals, birds, serpents, curious cones of trees and other natural productions," which were found in the colony at the time of the landing of the First Fleet.

Anthem, Song, and Poem

In this 'Australia Day' edition of the PGA Newsletter it seems appropriate to provide references for our official National Anthem, "Advance Australia Fair"; our 'unofficial' National Anthem, "Waltzing Matilda"; and an iconic poem about Australia, "My Country." The Wikipedia articles referred to contain words to the works as well as detailed background information about them.

Advance Australia Fair

Waltzing Matilda

My Country


Last month's postings

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Dec 2008 Thieves' Wit, Hulbert Footner                     [] 1723A or .zip
Dec 2008 Murder Runs in the Family, Hulbert Footner        [] 1722A or .zip
Dec 2008 Casanova's Alibi and Other Stories,Rafael Sabatini[] 1721A or .zip
Dec 2008 The Hair-Trigger Kid, Max Brand                   [] 1720A or .zip
Dec 2008 The Plague of Ghosts and Other Stories, R Sabatini[] 1719A
[Author Name: Rafael Sabatini] or .zip

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