On this day …….. 13th May 1787
Conditions in England in the 18th century were tough: the industrial revolution had removed many people’s opportunities to earn an honest wage as simpler tasks were replaced by machine labour. As unemployment rose, so did crime, especially the theft of basic necessities such as food and clothing. The British prison system was soon full to overflowing, and a new place had to be found to ship the prison inmates. The American colonies were no longer viable, following the American war of Independence. Following Captain Cook’s voyage to the South Pacific, the previously uncharted continent of New Holland proved to be suitable. On 18 August 1786 the decision was made to send a colonisation party of convicts, military and civilian personnel to Botany Bay, New South Wales, under the command of Captain Arthur Phillip, who was appointed Governor-designate. The First Fleet consisted of 775 convicts on board six transport ships, accompanied by officials, crew, marines and their families who together totalled 645. As well as the convict transports, there were two naval escorts and three storeships. The First Fleet assembled in Portsmouth, England, and set sail on 13 May 1787. They arrived in Botany Bay on 18 January 1788. Phillip immediately determined that there was insufficient fresh water, an absence of usable timber, poor quality soil and no safe harbour at Botany Bay. Thus the fleet was moved to Port Jackson, arriving on 26 January 1788. Australia Day, celebrated annually on January 26, commemorates the landing of the First Fleet at Port Jackson, and the raising of the Union Jack to claim the land as belonging to England. Governor Phillip was a practical man who suggested that convicts with experience in farming, building and crafts be included in the First Fleet, but his proposal had been rejected. He faced many obstacles in his attempts to establish the new colony. British farming methods, seeds and implements were unsuitable for use in the different climate and soil, and the colony faced near-starvation in its first two years. Phillip also worked to improve understanding with the local Aborigines. The colony finally succeeded in developing a solid foundation, agriculturally and economically, thanks to the perseverance of Captain Arthur Phillip.